Vic Russell did not sleep well. His sheets were first too heavy, then not enough for warmth; the pillow was too hot; the stub of his amputated leg itched. When sleep, after long mental exercises finally came, he was tired. At 0530, he got up and went to his office.
He was reading messages regarding his battalion’s business and working on a third cup of coffee, when the new XO (Executive Officer) David Hutton tapped on the open doorframe.
“Sir, may I come in for a few minutes?” Hutton said.
“Sure, grab a cup of coffee and sit down,” Russell said.
The Captain poured coffee in a mug, and looked around the coffeemaker for sugar and milk.
“If you want something in the mug besides coffee, you’ll need to get it from the outer office. All I have in here is black coffee.”
“Um,” Hutton said.
He left Russell’s office and returned in about two minutes, grinning, with his mug held high.
“Sir, I’ve been visiting the various elements of the command and I see that the
battalion is a fine operation. The reports are up-to-date and prepared in the correct formats. I’m impressed.”
“Good. From what I’ve read about your background, the battalion will be in excellent hands when I go back to the States.
Hutton beamed and ran a hand across the top of his head. His brown hair was thinning and he combed it over. His nervous gesture called attention to the problem. He also wore Army-issue glasses the troops called BCGs, or Birth Control Glasses, because they were so ugly that no one of the opposite sex would come near. If Vic could choose one word to describe the man it would be ‘soft.’
“Your name is Dave, isn’t it?” Russell said.
“Yes sir,” Hutton said.
“Dave, I’d like to have you up to full-speed action in the battalion’s operations within the next two weeks. I’ll be here to help and answer questions or provide advice,
but within that time, start preparing to take over gradually. Our mission is far too important to have an abrupt shift of leadership.”
Hutton nodded as Russell spoke and frequently parroted the lines back as the major spoke them. It was like being in an echo chamber with another person’s voice, in a higher pitch, bouncing back.
After about fifteen minutes, Vic’s patience was gone. He thanked Hutton for his visit and shook his hand.
“Dave, on your way to your office, please ask Sergeant Major Flynn to come in,” Russell said.
“Yes sir. Thank you sir.”
When Flynn came in, he nodded at the door. Russell nodded back and Flynn closed it.
“Bobby, let’s go over to the mess hall and see if they have any pastries.”
Flynn arched an eyebrow, and then caught Russell’s expression.
“Yes, sir. That’s a great idea. We need to make sure everything is up to par for the troops.”
On the walk over to the dining facility, Russell gave Flynn a bit of the reason behind their excursion.
“Bobby, I know you have connections with the chief NCOs of all the units around here. How long would it take to have someone come to my office and check for bugs— the electronic type?”
“Since it’s still fairly early in the day, I may be able to get someone from the local communications security detachment to come and do a sweep this afternoon. Why? We don’t have much that the bad guys would want to monitor.”
Russell gave Flynn his best bland look. The Sergeant Major returned the expression, but with eyebrows arched.
“Let’s go to the mess hall, or dining facility as it’s now known, and get some pastries and coffee. I may have something to tell you that’ll get your blood running faster than caffeine.”
There were few people in the dining room, so Russell led Flynn to a table in the corner nearest the kitchen. Sounds of dishwashing machines and the clatter of cooks preparing the noon meal rattled and clattered in the background.
“Damn, Vic. Do we have to sit here?” Flynn said.
“Yes, until I can make sure no one can overhear,”
Russell dropped a pen on the floor, making it look like an accident. He bent under the table, retrieved the ballpoint and cut a piece off the pie he’d brought to the table and began munching. He paused.
“Nothing I could see on the bottom of the table.” Russell said.
“You getting paranoid?”
“Yep. When the General took me to his car last night, he turned on a device to make sure no one could intercept our conversation.”
“That’s not bad, but who did he think might be listening?”
“From what he said, the big ears could come from the bad guys or the nosy ones on our side.”
Flynn’s expression would have terrified a young trooper who’d screwed up.
“I’ll make damn sure someone sweeps your office and your room ASAP, this
“Please do. Now here’s what the General told me.”
Flynn listened without interrupting until he related McCaskill’s wish that he, Russell, plan the operation to take the device from Taliban hands. His eyebrows looked like they’d curl into knots.
“Shit! Vic, the brass won’t let the Air Force strike the site and won’t let the guys from Delta or Seal 6 go after it; how the hell does the General expect us to do it?”
“McCaskill didn’t task me to run the mission, he wants me to figure out a solution. He said I could bring you on board, so here’s what I’ve been thinking about.”
In the next five minutes, Russell laid out a proposal that George Patton would have been happy to hear. The Blood and Guts General would have approved the approach and quoted one of his favorites, as Russell did.
“De l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace!”
“Okay, I don’t speak French. Tell me what that means,” Flynn said.
“It comes from Fredrick the Great of Prussia, or Georges Danton of the French Revolution, depending on who you believe. It means: ‘audacity, more audacity, and ever more audacity.’ That’s why General Patton liked it.”
“Damn, it’s audacious enough. What do you think our chances are that it’ll
“I’ll know better this afternoon, after we talk to Boyd. Let’s do that as soon as my office has been cleared.”