THE BEST LITTLE JOB IN THE WHOLE DANGED ARMY Pt. 2  

By Lois Overton, aka Foxhole Filly

Copyright 2000 by Lois Overton

The countryside was quiet except for the cry of birds in the trees and the hiss of steam escaping from the shattered radiator.  The automobile rested against a large tree whose bark now bore the deep imprint of its impact with the steel.  Behind it, a line of total destruction as if a tornado had gone through..

Little by little the passengers in the battered vehicle began to regain their senses.  The silence of the woods was replaced with the moaning, groaning, and eventually whining of female voices.  In the rear, the two men and two women found themselves in a tangle of arms and legs on the floor.  Dot sprawled face down on top of Caje, wedging him against the luggage and other debris.  He tried bench-pressing her up onto the seat, but she screamed and thrashed about so much that he gave up the notion.  One of her high-heeled feet shot out and clipped her sister's cheek.  

“Easy,” Saunders said as he grabbed Dot's foot to keep it from taking off someone's head.

“Oh, no!  Someone has hold of me!  Germans!” she screamed, her mind still fuzzy.

“Stupid, it's the blonde guy that has your leg.”  Marta reached over and gave her sister a swift cuff in retribution.  She moved bags, make-up, sheet music, and feather boas off her and the sergeant.  “You'll have to forgive my sister,” Marta said to Saunders, “she has Germans on the brain.”  

“Oh, man!  I think I'm gonna bleed to death,” Kirby moaned from the front.  

Saunders forced open the door on his side and fell out.  Marta tumbled out after him and crawled a few feet away from the car.  The sergeant moved to the front door and extricated Kirby, settling him on the ground near Marta.  Then he returned to the front seat and hauled out Letitia, who groaned and mumbled something unintelligible.

Caje tried the door on his side, but he could tell by the way it was crumpled that it wasn't going to open.  The freedom of the great outdoors was just a few feet away, but Dot wasn't moving, so neither was he.  Every time he tried to move her the least bit, she started yelling and thrashing about again.  

“Hey, lady,” Caje said quietly as he nudged her.  “Lady... please lady...you gotta move....” He gently patted her cheek, hoping to bring her to her senses.

Dot moaned and opened her eyes, but she was still woozy.  She found herself lying on top of a strange man, and her hand registered a resounding slap to his face.  Caje rubbed his cheek.  The slap had taken him by surprise, though he wasn't sure how anything the Bentley sisters did could come as a surprise.  Dot looked into the man's face and her mental fog lifted.  In an instant, she knew where she was.  And she knew what she had done.  Her hands covered her face in horror, and her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, Mr. Caje, can you ever forgive me?”

“Lady, could you move...I can't breathe.”

She scrambled onto the seat, allowing Caje to work his way along the floor of the car and out into the fresh air.  Dot, however, remained in the vehicle.

“Miss Bentley,” Caje asked impatiently, “are you getting out?”  

Dot shook her head vigorously.  “I'm never coming out.”  

Caje muttered a few words to heaven, then spoke calmly. “Miss Bentley...Dot... it's OK.  No one is mad.  We'd really like you to come out and join us.”

Dot turned slightly toward the Cajun.  When he held out a hand to her, she placed her fingers on his, and he led her out of the car to where her sisters sat on the grass.   

“Sarge, you're bleeding,” Caje said.

Saunders put his hand to his cheek, and it came away with a smear of blood.  “It's nothing.  Just a scratch.  How're all of you?”

“Oooo.  You poor pumpkin,” Marta cooed as she ran her fingers over the small wound.

“Hey, I'm the one who was shot,” Kirby announced petulantly.  “I should be gettin' the sympathy.”

Saunders removed Marta's hand from his face.  “Let's take a look at that, Kirby.”

The sergeant examined the private's leg carefully.  There was no blood anywhere except for a small amount on the tip of his right boot.  There he found a perfect, round bullet hole.  “Looks like you took one in the foot,” Saunders said.

“Man, I knew it!  Hurts like crazy!”

Saunders unbuckled and unlaced the wounded man's boot.  Pulling it off, he found the end of Kirby's sock soaked in blood.  He gently rolled the sock off.

“Will you look at that,” Sarge said.

Caje looked closely at the foot and whistled softly.

“What...what?  Let me see.”  Kirby struggled to get a look.

“Oh, my gosh!”  Marta gulped, unable to take her eyes from it.  

“Hey!  What is it?  Will someone please tell me?”  Kirby's voice was shaking.  “My foot's gone.  I can tell.  My foot's been shot off.”

“He got his foot shot off?”  Dot moved in for a closer look.

Letitia scrunched her face in disgust.  “Oooo!  However can you look at a man with his foot shot off?”

“I knew it.  That's why you won't let me see.  It's gone.”

“Relax, Kirby.  Your foot's there.  Just not...all of it,”  Caje said.

“Will someone let me see?”      

Kirby pushed the others away.  He grabbed his foot and gasped at what he saw.  There was no bullet wound... only a bloody stump where the last half of his big toe ought to have been.

“What've you done to me, woman!”  His bellowing reduced Marta to tears.  “What the hell are you crying for?  I'm the one who should be crying!  You blew my damned toe off!”

Marta's crying grew louder and more hysterical.

“Oh for crying out loud,” Kirby moaned and rolled his eyes disgustedly.

Marta's sobs continued.  Not exactly sure what to do, Saunders put a hand on her shoulder, and she hiccupped loudly.  

“Look, don't cry.  I was...I was wrong to yell at you,” Kirby lied to stop her loud blubbering.  “It wasn't your fault you shot me.”

His words brought renewed vigor to Marta's crying.  Saunders sighed heavily, looking helplessly at Caje; then he moved his arm around her shoulders, and she gratefully buried her face in his chest.  As she wept, the sergeant patted her on the back.  Finally, the tears subsided.  Marta grasped the front of Sarge's shirt in both hands and wiped her moist eyes.  After several swipes, she lifted her head and looked up at him through long lashes.

“I'm sorry I got your shirt wet, Sergeant,” she said quietly.

 

“Don't worry about it.  It'll...dry,” he said, looking down at the large, wet area pounctuated with two long smears of mascara and some other bluish make-up.  His tie, slightly askew on his neck, bore the red imprint of a pair of lips.  Something told him that lipstick on his clothes was going to be a little difficult to explain when he got back.

Caje leaned back against a tree, his forearms resting on his knees.  The bottom edge of his eye was already turning purple, and his forehead showed a strange wound, a crescent-shaped series of surface cuts.

 

“You OK?” Caje asked Dot, running his finger over her red, swollen lip when she moved next to him.  “Does it hurt?”

She shook her head.  “Not too bad, but my upper teeth hurt.  I think they're loose.  Must of hit something hard.”

“Yeah,” Caje said, rubbing his forehead, “something hard.”

“Does this hurt?” she put out her hand to touch his swollen eye.  Then without warning, she was screaming at the top of her lungs.

Saunders grabbed Dot and spun her around.  “What is it?  Are you hurt?”

 

“Aaaaaaaaa!”  Dot held her hand in front of his face.  Saunders observed a line of five fingers, each topped by a long, perfectly manicured blood-red nail...all except for the index finger, which was topped by a short, ragged red nail.  “My nail!  My poor nail!”  

She stuck it in front of Saunders's face and then in Caje's.

“You'll survive,” Saunders stated flatly.

“We're lucky to be alive, huh?” asked Marta.

“Kirby, you see a first aid kit or anything up front?”  Saunders asked.

“Gosh, I don't need a first aid kit,” Dot cried as she fingered the broken nail.

“I didn't look, Sarge,” Kirby replied, wincing in pain.  “I never thought I'd need one.”

“We could use some sulfa and bandages right now.  But since Mar...” he hesitated.  “Let's hope there's something in the car.”

Saunders and Caje made their way back to the Caddy.  Now that the dust had settled, they could see just how bad the damage was.  The hood was bent, and steam still hissed from under the tented metal.  The windshield was cracked, and the passenger side of the car was crushed where it had wrapped around the tree.

“Hey, Kirby,” Caje called, “Bastin's gonna be real ticked about you messing up his alignment.”

 

The sergeant circled back to the driver's side.  The heavy metal door groaned as he opened it and stretched out on the seat.  He searched the glove box and found nothing but a handful of maps.  Putting them on the seat, he slipped down on the floor.  Running his hand under the seat, he touched a hard, metal object.  Pulling out a first aid kit, he tossed it on the seat beside him and continued looking.

“Find anything, Sarge?”  Caje asked.

 

“Just some maps and this.”  He held up the first aid kit.  “Caje, check out the back and see if you can find anything on your side”

Caje immediately slipped into the back.  It was impossible to find anything among all the debris that littered the rear compartment, so he tossed things out the door in spite of the protests from the ladies.  When the back was finally clear, he dropped down and ran his hand under the seats.  Nothing.  Then he ran his hand along the leather seats, and he felt something jammed down between the cushions.

“Hey, Sarge, look what I found.”  He held up an expensive looking silver flask; shaking it, he determined that it was half full of something.”  The Cajun pulled himself back up on the seat.

“Looks like that's about it.”

Saunders and Caje took the items they had found over to where Kirby waited.  They spread them on the ground, and everyone except Kirby examined the treasure trove. Marta sniffed and thumbed through the maps.

“Rome, Naples, Italy,” she announced.  “Nothing much good here.  Georgie sure likes Italy, huh?”

Caje opened the flask and smelled the contents; then he sampled it, smiling appreciatively.  “I'd say Gen. Patton knows his gin.”

“Oooo.  Am I ever thirsty.”  Dot made a move toward the flask, but Caje pulled it back in time to keep her from claiming it.

“But I'm thirsty,” Letitia groaned as she tried to grab it too.

Kirby's eyes narrowed.  “We'd have water if the broad there hadn't thrown away our canteens,” he grumbled.

Dot eyed the metal first aid box hungrily, licking her lips.  “I sure hope there's food in there.  I'm starving.”

“Don't be stupid, Dottie, they don't keep food in a first aid kit.”

“I know that.  I'm not exactly stupid.  And don't call me Dottie.  You know I hate that.  You're just trying to be mean.”

“Ladies,” Saunders quieted them, “we don't need you arguing.  We need to work together.”

He placed the box on his lap and opened its rusty lid.  On top were two chocolate bars.  Dot grabbed them before anyone could say anything.  Her sisters made a play for them, but Dot held them out of their reach and the girls began to argue, pushing and shoving each other.  

“Stop it!”  Saunders threw aside the first aid kit and put himself between the angry women.  “You're sisters.  Act like it.  I have an injured man here, and I don't have time to deal with your squabbles.”

The women immediately settled down.  Dot divided the bars into three portions, reserving the largest pieces for herself. Her sisters grumbled, but grudgingly accepted what was offered.  Kirby and Caje watched expectantly, but soon realized that their stomachs were going to remain empty.

While Saunders was overseeing the women, Caje picked up the first aid kit and searched its contents for anything that might help Kirby.  There were two tiny squares of gauze, an empty metal adhesive tape container, a pair of rusty scissors, a cloudy bottle of some sort of liquid that looked a little old for current use, and a half-empty bottle of aspirin.

“Anything, Caje?  I need some morphine or something.  My foot's killin' me real bad,” Kirby groaned.

“Man,” Caje whispered, “don't generals ever need first aid stuff?  This is a pretty poor haul if you ask me.”

“Caje, I'm dyin'.  There's gotta be something for the pain.  I can't take it.”

“Cut out the whining, Kirby.  It's not gonna do you any good,” Caje said. “We got aspirin and that's it.”

The Bentley sisters stuffed their mouths with chocolate.  The soft confection covered their lips and hands.  Then they licked the gooey chocolate off their fingers with great relish.  Kirby's stomach rumbled loudly; his mood was black.  “Not that I was hungry.  No sir.  Not me.”

The sergeant returned to where Caje and Kirby waited.  He and Caje sat aghast, watching the feeding frenzy.  Caje recollected having been taken to the New Orleans Aquarium as a teenager.  His parents had shown him the shark pen.  It had been feeding time and he recalled being sickened at the way the sharks attacked their food, ripping it to pieces.  Somehow he felt as if he were reliving that experience, watching the sisters feed on the chocolate.

Finally the girls licked off the final bits of chocolate and lay spent on the grass.  The two soldiers sat with furrowed brows and mouths open, disgusted by what they had witnessed.

“I'm still waiting,” Kirby demanded.  “Is somebody gonna help me?”  To punctuate his complaint, he groaned loudly and grabbed his foot again.

“Anybody got some soap and water?  I need to clean up,” Letitia announced from where she lay near the soldiers.  “I'm a mess.”

“A mess?”  Kirby yelled.  “A mess!  I'll show you a mess!”  

He thrust his bloody toe in front of Letitia's face.  She screamed and gagged as she crawled away on all fours and collapsed, unconscious, under a tree.  

Marta hurried to Letitia.  “Tish, honey...are you all right?”  She gently rolled her sister over and slapped her face.  “Dwight's going to hear about this.”

“Is she all right?  I'm the one who is hurt.  What's she got to feel all right about?” Kirby whined dramatically.  “How come...uh...Dwight?”

“Eisenhower,” Saunders responded.

Caje and Saunders consulted a moment; then the sarge knelt down and took hold of Kirby's foot.  “Hey...what you doin, Sarge?”  Kirby's eyes darted nervously between the two soldiers.

“Look, Kirby, we don't have any sulfa.  We're hoping the gin will help prevent infection until we can get you back,” Saunders explained.

“Is it gonna hurt?” Kirby asked with large, pleading eyes.

“Nah, you won't even notice it,” Caje lied as he poured a good amount of gin on the open wound.  

“Son of a...!”

Caje threw his hand over Kirby's mouth stifling the rest of the sentence.  “Kirby, the ladies.”

“They ain't no ladies if you ask me,” he cried as he pushed Caje away and pulled the foot from Saunders's grasp.  Kirby's cheeks puffed in and out like a bellows, as he blew on the toe as hard and fast as he could.

“Kirby, what are you doing?”  Sarge asked.

“My old lady always made us blow whenever she put Mercurochrome on something,” he said between blows.

“Did it work?” Caje asked.

“Well, how do I know?  I never didn't blow to find out,” Kirby cried.  “Does gin do anything good for wounded toes?”

“I have no idea, but it can't hurt,” Sarge shrugged.

“Oh yes it can!” Kirby screamed as Caje poured the last of the gin over the injured flesh.

“Caje, give me your handkerchief.  It'll have to do for a bandage,” Saunders said.

“Sorry, Sarge, I gave mine to Marta back when she was crying.”

“When wasn't she?” Kirby asked.

“I gave mine to Dot,” Saunders said.  Then he turned to the girls.  “One of you ladies have something we can use for bandages?”

The girls looked at one another repeatedly, each waiting for the other to respond. Caje ended the stalemate when he reminded them that they had a huge trunk full of clothes.  Surely something in there would make a bandage for Kirby.  The girls went from sheepish to adamant instantly, insisting that they could not possibly let any of their costumes be used as bandages.  They reminded the exasperated soldier that they had paid hundreds of dollars for each and every outfit, and that they still had a tour to perform.

 

“Look, girls,” Caje reminded them, “Kirby's wounded and needs help.”

“Preferably before I bleed to death,” Kirby added.

“Would a slip do?”  Marta rose to her knees.

“It would be better than nothing.”

Marta bent forward, put her hand under the still-unconscious Letitia's skirt and pulled off her sister's slip. “Here.  Use this.”  She casually, tossed the pink silk and lace to Saunders.

“Your generosity is overwhelming,” Caje whispered under his breath.

Saunders held the delicate material and tried to cut it with the scissors from the first aid kit, but the scissors were so dull that they refused to cut.  “Caje, gimme your knife.”

“Uh, Sarge...I don't have my knife.  Remember...Marta...the weapons...my cartridge belt?”

Taking two edges of the slip in his hands, the sergeant tried ripping the cloth, but it wouldn't tear.

“Strong.  Guess that's why they use it for parachutes,” the Cajun said.

“Knife...knife...knife,” Saunders's mind raced.  There had to be something for cutting.  Pulling a pair of fingernail clippers from his trousers' pocket, he snipped at the cloth.

“Oh, no you don't,” Kirby protested.  “You ain't putting no sissy stuff on me.  You can just think again on that one.”

“Don't worry, Kirby,” Caje tried to calm the soldier.  “No one will ever know.”  

 

“Yeah, right,” Kirby grumbled.

Sarge cut several long strips and rolled them like bandages; then he tossed away what was left.  The slip caught on a bush, where it hung like a flag.  Caje couldn't help wondering what some farmer would think when he wandered by and found the remains of the feminine attire in that field.

“Caje,” Saunders said, “I need your help now.”  Saunders wiped his forehead with his sleeve.  He tugged his tie loose and threw it aside.  Leaning into Caje, he spoke softly.  “You hold his leg tight 'cause this is gonna hurt a lot.”

“Hey, you two.  What're you talking about?  What're you doin' now?”

“Don't worry, Kirby.  We're just getting the bandages ready.  We're gonna take care of your foot.”

“You'll take care of it, all right,” he insisted.  “I ain't wearin' no frou-frou on my foot.  No way.  A man deserves a man's bandage.  White.  Plain ole white.”

Caje placed himself next to the private.  “Listen.  Most men here would beg to be bandaged with Letitia Bentley's slip.”

“Well, I'd rather wrestle a rattlesnake barehanded than let anything that has touched that woman near me.”

“We're fresh out of rattlesnakes, Kirby, so I guess you're stuck with this.”  He held up the roll of shiny cloth.  

“Hey!” Dot cried as she rose from the ground where she sat patting her sister's hand.  “You three sit there and yack while my sister could be dying.  I'll be sure to tell you-know-who just how we were treated.  He's not going to believe it, I can tell you.”  She planted her hands firmly on her hips and tapped her toe impatiently on the grass.  Saunders rose silently, his face grim and his jaw firm. Caje and Kirby exchanged knowing glances.  They'd seen the sarge in action before and looked forward to the fireworks that were bound to come.

“You get this clear, lady,” Sarge barked, inches from her face, “I've about had it with you and your sisters.  Now you sit down and look after Letitia.  I'm going to look after Kirby.  And when I'm done, I'll be over and help her.  Am I making myself clear?”

“Listen, here, sergeant...”

“Sit...down,” his voice rose and he moved toward her slightly.

Dot hesitated to say more, but still balked at doing what the man ordered.

“Now!” he thundered.

The woman flinched almost as if she had been hit in the face.  Then she stumbled back to where her sister lay moaning as she came to.  

Returning his attention to Kirby, Saunders explained what he was about to do.  Kirby nodded his understanding.  Sarge was the man who had led him all those months, keeping him safe and sound.  How could he not trust him.  His lips curled into the most piteous of faces and his eyes begged.  “Be gentle, Sarge.”

“Come on, Kirby,” Caje chided.  “How bad can it be?”

Kirby looked at him trying to figure out whether or not an answer was expected.  “Hey, you know how I've always had trouble with my feet.”

“This is gonna be a lead pipe cinch.  Remember when you caught that slug in your leg, and the sarge and I had to carry you back?”

“Yeah, you even found me a coffin,” Kirby recalled.  “That wound hurt like hell.”  He lay back on the grass and gritted his teeth in preparation

“Sure.  You've had it a lot worse than losing that little bitty piece of toe.”

The whole time Saunders swathed the toe in the diaphanous material, Caje held his buddy's leg steady and talked. Mostly about women. And carousing.  Caje did most of the talking, but Kirby kept in the conversation with teeth-clenched responses punctuated generously with expletives.

“Ok, Kirby,” Saunders finally announced as he knotted the strips, “All done.”

Kirby looked down and the end of his foot was wrapped in layers of shiny pink with a heavy ball of it where the big toe was, or what was left of it.  The last layer wound around with a half inch strip of pink lace.

“Sarge!  What have you done to me?” Kirby groaned.  “I can't go around like this!”

“Quit your whining.  At least you won't bleed to death,” Caje reminded the private.

Saunders stood and wiped his hands on his pants, looking down at his comrades.  He eyed the Bentley sisters clustered around the moaning Letitia.  Kirby and Caje needed no words to know what he was thinking, or how he felt about what he had to do.

“You want me to take care of it?” Caje offered.

Glancing over his shoulder, he shook his head.

By the time he got to the girls, Letitia was propped against a tree, and Marta was dabbing at her sister's face with the hankie Caje had given her.

“It looked like something had been chewing on it,” Letitia gulped, a few stray tears coursing down her cheeks.  “It was horrible.  So horrible.”

Saunders squatted in front of her.  “You all right?”  His voice was calm and reassuring.

“A lot you care...you ...you ...man!  You don't care one whit about me.  All you care about is...Korby.”

“Kirby!” Saunders corrected.

“Whatever,” Letitia shrugged.  

Marta shushed her and patted her hand.  “You must forgive her, Sergeant.  She just had such a shock.  She didn't mean it.”

“Stop talking like I'm not here,” Tisha said to her sister and then turned back to Saunders.  I do mean what I said.”

The sergeant rubbed his face on his sleeve, reopening the cut on his cheek and starting a small trickle of blood.  Marta was instantly interested in soothing the soldier.  “Oh, honey, you're bleeding again!” she cried and rushed toward him, exuberantly moistening the hankie with a small bit of spit.  “Here, here.  Let me help you.”  

As Marta moved toward him, she lost her balance.  She tumbled forward, sprawling on top of Saunders, who was still squatting.  Her face flushed brightly and her eyes misted.  “I'm so sorry, Sergeant.”

“Please don't start crying again.  It's all right.  Just get up.”

“Oh?” she said confusedly.  Placing a bony elbow in Saunders's chest for leverage, she pushed herself up.  “Sorry.”

Saunders rubbed his chest and handed her the white handkerchief.  “Don't worry.”

Caje dropped down next to the sergeant and offered him a cigarette.  “What're we going to do, Sarge?  You know it's kinda late to try getting help.”  He looked at his watch.  “Only about another hour of daylight left.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine.  Just a little bruised,” Caje replied.

“You're gonna have a nice shiner.”

“Really?” Caje fingered the flesh around his eye and winced as he felt a swollen, tender area.  “Sarge, we gotta get rid of those three before they kill one of us.”

“I know.  But not tonight.”  Saunders took a long drag from the cigarette and inhaled deeply.  “We need to find water.  That's critical.  We'll have to leave the girls and Kirby here while we scout around.  What we...  Wait a minute.”  Saunders reached back to his empty belt.  He looked through the items that Caje had thrown from the car in his search; then he climbed into the rear of the car, but he couldn't find whatever he was searching for.

“What is it, Sarge?”

“My pistol.  I gotta find my pistol.  It's the only protection we have.”  The sergeant returned to the girls and knelt before the blonde.  “Marta, what happened to my pistol?”

“What do you mean?”  Her eyes were wide with a lack of comprehension.  She looked beyond him to the woods.

Saunders took hold of her arms and directed her attention back to him.  “Marta, after you fired my pistol, what did you do with it?”  When she began to wail, he shook her just hard enough to get her to look at him.  “Marta, answer me.  Where is my pistol?”

“I don't know,” she wept.

Caje moved over to join the interrogation.  “What do you mean you don't know?”

The sobs grew louder.

Dot joined them.  “For crying out loud, leave her alone,” she demanded, knocking the sergeant's hands off Marta's arms.

“Listen, lady, we're alone out here.  We need the pistol.  We have no other protection.  If you haven't figured it out, there is a war going on.  Now I want that pistol.”  His voice was dangerously soft.

Letitia reached over and smoothed her sister's hair.  “Come on, Baby.  Tell the sergeant where you put the pistol.”

All eyes were on her.

“When he scared me,” she nodded toward Kirby, “I lost my hold on the pistol.  That's when it went off.  I didn't mean to...”

“Go on,” Caje coaxed.

“Well, I don't know.  Then the car spun out of control...the gun....”  Everyone leaned in, trying to make out her words through the blubbering.  “The gun...well...”

“What happened to it?”  Caje prodded..

“I think it fell.”

“Fell?  Fell where?”

“Out the window.  Please don't hit me!”  She threw her arms over her head protectively.

Saunders's shoulders sagged.  “Well, that takes care of that.  Listen.  Caje and I are going to scout for some water.  We need something to put it in.”

“The flask?” Caje suggested.  

“Yeah, that'll have to do.”  He turned to Dot.  “Can you keep her quiet?”  He nodded toward Marta.

“Yes, sir!”  She saluted insincerely.  “But I want you to know, I'm writing every bit of this down to tell...”

Caje grunted, “Yeah, I know.  Georgie.  Lady, the record is getting real old.”

Saunders strode over to the car and popped the trunk.  He tossed things on the ground haphazardly.  Luggage, bags, valises, hatboxes went everywhere.

“Just what do you think you are doing!”  Dot tried to stop him from heaving a pink garment bag onto the ground.

“Look, Miss Benley, I don't have time for this.  He pulled the tire iron from the bottom of the well.

The woman threw her hands over her face.  “Oh, please don't hit me!”  

Dot collapsed into the sergeant's arms.  The sergeant grudgingly caught her on the way down.  He looked questioningly to Caje.  “Why do these women think they're going to get hit?  No one's going to hit you, Miss Bentley.”

“Don't be so sure of that,” Kirby muttered.

“Oh,” she said, straightening her sweater, her fears apparently allayed.  

“Here, Kirby.  Take this in case of trouble.”  Sarge held the tire iron toward the wounded man.

Kirby shook his head.  “That ain't gonna do me any good...unless an attacker comes over and kneels down so I can hit 'em.”

“I can't leave you unprotected here while Caje and I reconnoiter.  Now take it.”

“Tell you what, Sarge, if the Krauts or anyone else comes by to make trouble, I'll just let the...ladies... talk 'em to death.”  He gave a quick scratch to his armpit.

Saunders pondered the words a moment and then decided that Kirby was right.  Kirby was in no position to defend the girls.  And both he and Caje were needed to scout the area.  With night falling quickly, they had too much territory to cover for either of the   men to stay behind. He would have to chance leaving the girls unprotected.   

“OK, Kirby.”  He gave the private a reassuring slap on the shoulder and took the tire iron with him.

“Sgt. Saunders,” Letitia said.  She parked herself in front of the sergeant, hands on hips, arms folded, and one eyebrow arched.  As she talked, her entire body bobbed back and forth with attitude.  “You are not seriously thinking of leaving us alone with Mr. Karby?”

“Kirby!” the private corrected.

“Miss Bentley...”

“Letitia, Sergeant.”  

“Miss Bentley, Caje and I are going to look for water.  You'd like water to drink, wouldn't you?”  Without waiting for a response, he continued.  “Now the only way we can find water is for you to stay and us to go.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, but...”

“Good.”  Saunders strode away, gave a hand signal to Caje, and the two of them disappeared noiselessly into the forest.

*   *   *   *   *   *

By the time the two soldiers returned, darkness was upon them.  In the light of the moon, Caje could just make out the forms of the three girls huddled in the grass where they had been left.  With a silence that was as natural to the soldiers as noise was to the Bentley sisters, the men were beside the singers before the women realized anyone was nearby.  When Saunders spoke at last, Marta emitted an ear-shattering squeal.

“For crying out loud,” she shot at him,  “you don't need to go sneaking up on people like that.  It could give a body a heart attack.”

Caje was glad that it was dark enough to hide his consternation.  “If there'd been any Krauts out there, you'd be glad we were so quiet.”

Letitia ignored the comment.  “Did you find any water?  I'm gonna die if I don't get a drink!”  She shivered in the chilly air.  

Caje noticed that the other two were huddled against each other in their jackets, and that none of them had offered anything warm to Kirby who sat a little way off.  Caje peeled off his jacket and tossed it over to Kirby.  “Here, Kirby, you need this more than I do.  I'm kinda hot from running around.”  Kirby grunted and pulled the jacket around his shoulders gratefully.  “We found a small stream.”  He held up the flask, its silver surface gleaming in the moonlight.   Letitia ripped it from his hand and took a long pull from it.  As if a signal bell at a wrestling match had been rung, the other two women scrabbled for the container.  Letitia, not being prone to generosity, struggled to retain control, but she was finally forced by greedy sisters to share the booty.

“How you doin', Kirby?”  Saunders squatted with his elbows on his knees in front of Kirby.  Caje was at his side.

“Aw, I'm gonna live...no thanks to those three.”  He sat upright and leaned into his buddies.  “Sarge, we gotta get rid of these dames.  You know I don't like to gripe, but if we don't do something, we just might not make it home.  I mean, look at them.  They ain't even about to share what little water we have.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”  Grinning broadly, Saunders reached into his jacket and pulled out a canteen.  Kirby unscrewed the cap and drank greedily.  Wiping his lips with the back of his hand, he took another long swig before handing it back to the sarge.  

“Where'd you get the canteen?”  Kirby watched the female combat out of the corner of his eye.

“Caje found it.”

“Yeah,” Caje explained, “musta been left by a soldier who was lightening his load when he came through.  Or got killed.”  

“Shame the ladies don't want any,” Kirby grinned.

Saunders gently examined Kirby's foot.  “How does it feel?” he asked.

“Hurts like hell.  Throbbing.  So where's Doc with his morphine when you need him?”

Caje chuckled.  He poured a few aspirin from the bottle into Kirby's hand and shoved the canteen toward the injured man.

Saunders sat down and rubbed his eyes with his fists.  He felt bone tired.  It was hard to remember being this tired.  Those Benleys took more out of him than the Krauts.  He stretched his back muscles, trying to ease the strain.

Caje capped the canteen and set it aside.  “What're we gonna do now, Sarge?”  

“Well,” he began, “the first thing is we get some sleep.  At least the car'll be a little warmer than out here.”

“C'mon, Sarge,” Caje pleaded, “you don't expect us to sleep in the car with them. I've never gone against one of your orders yet.  But if you ask me to do that, I'm gonna have to say I won't do it.  Look what they did to Kirby.  If I go into that car again, I won't come out alive.  Bank on it.”

“Yeah,” Kirby agreed, “No tellin' what they'd have to tell Georgie if we spent the night with them in the car.”

“Don't worry.  The girls're sleeping in the car.  We're sleeping out here.”

“Gonna get cold, Sarge,” Caje reminded him.

“I know.  That's why we'll have to find some things in the trunk.  With that much luggage, they're sure to have warm things...blankets, pillow cases, a tent.  Maybe the women have something we can put over us.”

Kirby's face glowed in the flame of a cigarette lighter.  “You'd think they'd be the ones to have to sleep out here.  I mean wouldn't ya think a wounded man should have priority?”

“Women and children first,” Caje reminded him.  “It's the rule of the sea.”

As Saunders had expected, the sisters put up no argument about the sleeping arrangements.  Piling into the demolished staff car, they began rearranging things.  Dot took charge of assigning everyone sleeping places, never stopping long enough to consider the soldiers outside in the cold.  The sergeant rapped on the window and lit his lighter so he could make sure they were going to be all right.  They had pulled sweaters and jackets and towels from the bags and had themselves cozy.  Letitia scolded him for peeking into the car while they were gettiing ready for bed.  Then she added insult to injury and locked the doors.  Saunders chuckled to himself as he fingered the keys in his pocket.

Caje and the sarge rummaged through steamer and bags strewn on the ground around the car looking for anything warm.  In the darkness Saunders felt three coats of long fuzzy pile that felt warm enough.  Caje wadded up what felt like wool sweaters and wrapped them in soft material that felt like nightgowns.  Then he put them under Kirby's head, and Saunders covered him with a coat.  Finally the sergeant and the Cajun lay down on either side of the injured man.  They put rolls of sweaters under their own heads and curled up under the coats.

Sleep quickly overtook Kirby in spite of the pain from his toe, and he was soon snoring loudly.  Caje, on the far side of the trio, turned and whispered, “Sarge, you asleep?”

“Mmm.”

“You got any ideas what we're gonna do tomorrow?  I mean the car's had it.  How we going to get Kirby back...not to mention those three...ladies.  I doubt they even have any shoes except high heels.”

“I guess we'll just have to figure something out in the morning.  Right now, we need to get some sleep.  Something tells me we're gonna need all the rest we can get.”

“G'night, Sarge.”

In only minutes Saunders could hear the regular breathing of the Cajun joining Kirby's noisy rattle.  Even the chattering from the car had ceased.  Peace came at last.  The sergeant rolled over on his side, curled up in the warm, fuzzy coat and waited for sleep or the answer to Caje's question about tomorrow...whichever hit him first.    

*   *   *   *   *   *

  

A cold, thin sun broke over the trees.  Marta Bentley opened her eyes.  She found herself curled up on the floor of the car.  Dot was stretched out on the leather seat, loud snores and snorts rattling in her throat. Pulling herself up and glancing over the front seat, she saw Letitia sprawled out on the front seat, one of her arms wound through the steering wheel; her open mouth a yawning cavern.  A small bubble of spit at the corner of her lips inflated and deflated with each breath.

“Oh, darn!” Marta cried.  “Darn, darn, darn!”

Dot startled awake with a final snort.  “Huh?  Huh?  What's wrong?” she asked, rubbing her bleary, swollen eyes.

“I thought this was a dream.  But it isn't.”  Marta erupted into tears and snuffles.  

“Oh, honey.  It's OK.  You'll live.  Just not well.  I need a drink.”

Marta honked into Caje's handkerchief.  “I need an omelet.  A nice cheese and onion omelet.  A little green pepper.”

“And I need sleep!” Letitia cried from the front.  “Are you two gonna go back to sleep or do I have to knock you out?”

Dot pulled her knees under her chin and wrapped her long arms around them.  “Oooo.  You're scaring me soooo bad.  It's morning.”  She leaned forward and hit the back of Letitia's seat.  “Time to get up.  You know the sooner we get on the road, the sooner we get back to civilization.”  But the only sound from Letitia was a snore.

“Oh, no!”  Marta screamed.

“What's wrong, hon?”  Dot asked, sliding over to her sister.

“My coat!  My coat!”

Dot pulled herself onto her knees and looked out the window where Marta was staring.  There in the dirt and weeds, were three mounds, each covered with a layer of pink mink.  She could make out a pair of combat boots sticking out from under the nearest one.

“What the...”  Dot's eyes were wide, and she was instantly wide awake.  “I don't believe it!  Tish...if you ever want to see your mink again, you'd better get moving... now.”

Dot and Marta piled out of the back seat and ran barefoot across the frosty grass toward the lumps.  Clothes and pieces of costume littered the ground where the soldiers had searched in the dark for things to keep themselves warm.  But it was the long pink blankets of fur covering the soldiers that held their attention.

“Excuse me, Sergeant!” Dot screeched, waving her arms, “Just what do you think you are doing?”

Saunders opened one eye, lifted his wrist to check the time, and shut the eye again.  “Sleeping.”

“I can see that.  What I want to know is... just who do you think you are, wallowing in the dirt with my mink coat,” she sputtered.

Saunders opened one eye again, pulled the edge of the coat in front of his eye, and closed it again.  “Saunders.  Sergeant.  227-06-22.  Be sure to give it to Georgie.”

“Very funny.”  

Marta reached down and pulled the mink coat off the center soldier.  Beneath it Kirby lay in fetal position, hands pressed between his knees.  Startled by the sudden action, he rolled over and sat bolt upright.  “Huh?”  He felt for his BAR, a reaction developed during months of sudden awakenings.  Realizing that he was in no danger, he rubbed his eyes and stretched away the sleep.  His head was turbaned in a pink silk gown, ostrich feather trim encircling his closely clipped head and hanging down the side of his face.

The third soldier rolled over, awake now, and blinked at the sight

“Kirby...I like it,” Caje grinned, rising onto one elbow.  “When we get back, maybe you can talk to Lt. Hanley about having them added officially to our uniform.”

A loose feather wafted gently in front of Kirby's face and he sucked it into his mouth.  “Hey, my head got cold.  I ain't got hair like you two,” he said spitting out the pink feather.  He pulled the silky material off his head and gave his body a vigorous scratch.

Saunders sat up, the mink falling into his lap.  He lit a Lucky Strike and took a drag.  It relaxed him, and at that particular moment, he needed to relax.  Seeing the flames so near her precious pink fur coat, Dot squealed and slapped the cigarette from his hand.  It arced into the air and came to rest in Caje's lap...his lap covered with the third of the matching minks.  Caje quickly searched through the creases trying to find the lighted cigarette.

“Ha!  Here it is!” he held it up in victory.  

Looking more closely, he realized that the fire was no longer on the tip.  It could only be one place.  A thin column of smoke rose from the coat.  Caje quickly located the burning embers of tobacco and fur and pounded the coat against the ground until the fire went out.  

Marta held up the coat, examining it closely.  She stuck her finger through the singed hole.  She looked inside the coat and found the label, relief flooding over her.  “Whew!  It's Tish's.”

“Oh, man.  She's gonna be furious.  She loves that coat,” Dot said.

Caje fingered the bottom of the coat.  “Hey, maybe she won't notice.  If you kind of brush the hair over a bit.”

“Hair?”  Dot's voice rose.  “Hair?  That is genuine mink, hand dyed.  There aren't three more like it in the world.”

“I can understand why,” Kirby said quietly without moving.  “Sure is pink.”

Dot whipped the gown off his hand.  Saunders offered up the third coat, and she snatched it in disgust, brushing the dirt from it.

“How's your foot?” Saunders asked Kirby as the women stormed away.  “Still hurt?”

“It feels pretty much numb.”   

The sergeant carefully felt around the swathed foot.  It seemed swollen, and when he got anywhere near the toe, Kirby flinched and groaned in pain.

“Easy, Sarge!”

Caje patted his friend on the back.  “Looks like it's not completely numb.”

“Sorry, Kirby,” Saunders said.  “I'm a little worried about infection.  Especially when the bandages aren't clean.”

“Excuse me?” Letitia, having awakened, yawned from the car window, “I don't wear dirty clothes.  That slip was clean.”

Saunders looked up and stated matter of factly, “You'd been wearing it all day, Miss.  What he needs is a sterile bandage.”

“Especially since we don't have sulfa,” Caje added.

Letitia joined the group.  She looked over at Marta who still held the burnt fur coat, then at Dot.  “What in the world are you doing with my coat?”  Taking one of the coats from Dot, she folded it over her arm.

“Sorry, honey, but this is your coat.  That one is mine.”  Marta pulled the mink from Tish's arms and shoved the one she held into her sister's arms.

“Boy, there'd better not be a single smidgen of dirt or grass stain on this baby,” Letitia said as she stormed off.  Her sisters decided to remain where they were, not wanting to be too close when she found her coat had a large, gaping hole.

“Sarge, I'm really sorry,” Caje said.

Saunders turned to Caje incredulously.  “Sorry for what?  You didn't do anything.”

“So if I didn't do anything, why do I feel so guilty?”

“Hey,” Kirby added, “it's those dames.  They'd make Dillinger feel guilty.”

“Uh, Kirby,” Caje shook his head, “Dillinger was guilty.”

“Well, he'da felt guilty even if he hadn't been.”

“Right, Kirby.”  Saunders stretched.

Marta surveyed the clothes strewn about.  “What a mess,” she scolded as she held up a pink gown.  “Oh, my!  Dot, just look at your Head!”  

“What's wrong with your head?  You hurt?”  Caje jumped up and ran his finger across her forehead searching for blood or other injury.

“My Head!” she screamed, grabbing the gown from her sister and holding it in front of Caje.  The impression of a muddy boot was planted in the center of the pink satin.

“Your dress?  Well, why didn't you just say so?  Why'd you say you hurt your head?”

“This,” she shook the gown in front of him, “is a Head, you moron.  Edith Head designed it just for me.  Do you have any idea what I paid for a Head original?  Do you have any idea!” Her lips were a vicious red slash across her face.

Caje sidled up to Saunders, and they walked over to the car to talk while the sisters scurried about retrieving items scattered on the ground.  He pulled out a cigarette and offered one to the sergeant, then glanced over at Kirby.  

“Have you told him what your plans are?”

“Not yet,” Sarge said.  “No point in getting him worked up.”

“Man, I'm glad it's you and not me that's gotta tell him.  What d'you think he's going to say?”

“It doesn't matter what he thinks.  We have no choice.”

“Choice about what?”  Letitia came up to them.  

“Ladies, please join us.”  Saunders motioned.  “We have to talk.”

They gathered around Kirby.  Pain lined the private's face, and Caje considered how brave the man was trying to be, as if this were all nothing more than a picnic.  When everyone had gathered, and the girls had ceased their chatter, Saunders hesitated a moment, trying to be sure in his mind that his decision was the correct one.

“We have to get out of here,” he began.  “The car is useless.”

Dot jumped in.  “Hey!  We could send out a signal...like a fire or mirrors.  Like S.O.S....”

“Don't be silly.  S.O.S. means 'Save Our Ship.'  We don't have a ship,” Marta hooted.

“Actually,” Caje corrected, “S.O.S. doesn't mean anything.  It's just letters that are easy to send and remember.”

“It doesn't mean Save Our Ship?”  Letitia asked more as a statement than a question.

“Ladies, I need your complete attention!  Kirby can't walk with his foot,” Saunders started again.  Kirby gulped at the anticipation of what was coming.  He watched the sarge intently.  

“We're leaving Kirby with you women.  You should be fairly safe here.  And you can get in the car to stay warm.  Caje and I'll go for help.  We should be able to get back to the main road.  Can't have been that far from it when we had the accident.”

“No telling how far it is to the road with all the twisting and turning that ... that...Letitia did,” Dot argued.

“Wait just a cotton-pickin' minute.  I am a very good driver...I just....”

“Both of you stop it,” Saunders growled.

“Sarge, you ain't leavin' me here with them three,” Kirby stated matter of factly.  

“Sorry, Kirby, but I need to take Caje.  If anything happened to one of us, the other could continue on for help.”

Kirby resigned himself to the inevitable.  He was to be left behind with the three she-devils, and it was the only thing that made any sense at all.  He hated it that Sarge was right.

Saunders motioned for Caje's help.  “Let's get Kirby in the car where he'll be warmer.”

“Wait just a minute.  If he's all sprawled out in the car, there won't be room for us!”  Marta stamped the ground.  

“I'll be fine out here.  Just hand me that coat, “ he pointed to the dirt-streaked pink mink, “and I'll be snug as a bug in a rug.  You know...the one with the....”

“Sergeant, help me get this soldier to the car,” Marta jumped up and rushed to help move the injured soldier.  

Saunders and Caje helped Kirby stand and carried him to the car.  They placed him in the back, and he stretched out on the seat.  The sergeant put a soft-sided bag under the private's bad foot and handed him the canteen while Caje pushed a bag of clothes behind his friend's back.  

Kirby unzipped Saunders jacket and tossed it back to him.  “Hey, you gonna need this.  You guys, hurry back,” Kirby said, “and I never meant anything more in my life.”

“Sergeant,” Dot purred, placing a manicured hand on his arm, “ He'll be fine.  Just fine.  Don't think anything about it.”

Looking down at the four long nails and the single ragged one that gripped his sleeve, he had a sudden feeling of dread at leaving Kirby in the hands of these women.

“Now I don't want any of you wandering off,” Saunders warned.  “Stay with the car.  We don't know where we are.  And even if there aren't any Germans, you can't be sure who is safe and who isn't.  There's people who have nothing to lose.  You can't take any chances.  I need your promise.”   

He turned to each woman and forced a promise to stay with the car.  Then he and Caje bade Kirby good-by.  They had gone no more than twenty feet into the woods when they heard the scream.  “My coat!  My mink coat!”

*   *   *   *   *   *

Saunders and Caje had traveled just over a mile when the sergeant signaled for a stop.  Something had caught his attention.  “What is it, Sarge?”  Caje finally whispered.

Saunders shook his head.  “I don't know.  I just thought I heard something.”

“Heard what, Sarge?  Krauts?”  

The sergeant's eyes darted from tree to tree and bush to bush, his head cocked, listening.  “I'm not sure.  It sounded like...singing.”

Caje concentrated, and very dimly heard something that did indeed sound very much like singing.  Gradually the sound came closer and the voices more distinct.  With realization came a sinking heart.

“Fam fee iddy fiddy and a momma fiddy foo.”  Giggles sounded and then singing again.  “Fim faid de mama fiddy fim if ou tan, and dey fam and dey fam right over de dam.” The voices were deep and throaty, and the air was rent with squeals and giddy laughter ... of the Bentley sisters.  Feet crunched noisily through the crisp fall leaves.  Bushes and twigs popped and cracked.  Then two women, their arms linked, tripped through a heavy wall of brush.  

“Well, it's about time you two stopped.  I'm completely out of breath trying to keep up,” Dot panted.

Saunders pushed his helmet forward over his eyes.  He took a deep breath and released it in a loud, disgusted stream, so angry he couldn't look at them.

“Tell me I'm seeing things,” Caje said, arms folded on his chest.

The women had changed from the light skirts and sweaters of the day before to outfits that they thought would be more apropos for the location and the season... wide leg wool slacks, heavy sweaters, and jackets. All in pink.  Marta's long blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail and wrapped with a large pink bow, and Dot had woven pink and white ribbons into her braid.  Their make-up and heavy gold jewelry were all perfect.  They looked like they were on their way to a lawn party.

The girls flopped wearily onto a rotting log.  Dot had a small scratch on her cheek, and she immediately started to whine about having been disfigured.  Caje looked her over and assured her that there would be no permanent damage.

“Will you get a load of my shoes!  They'll probably never come clean.”  Marta cried, lifting a leg to display a high heel clodded with mud, bits of leaf, and the remains of a decapitated worm.

“You walked all this way through the woods in high heels?” Caje asked incredulously.

“Actually, we spent so much time getting ready, we ended up having to run part of the way.  Good thing we're in great physical shape,” Dot flexed a muscle.

“And will you get a load of all these little thingies on my pants,” she cried as she picked off the burrs that clung to the wool trousers.  “I've never seen so many ...thingies in my life.  Wonder what they are.”

“Oh, wow!” Dot said, picking pieces of debris from her sister's hair “Look at all this stuff in your hair.”

“What stuff?”  Marta's voice rose to near hysterical levels.  “Get it out.  Get it out!”  She swatted wildly at her head.

“For goodness sake, it's just some twigs and stuff.”

“Exactly what do you two think you are doing here!”   Saunders wanted to take both women over his knee and deliver the spanking they deserved.

Dot started to respond, but the sergeant cut her off before she could get a running start.  “I told you to stay at the car.  Where is Kirby?”

“Well,” Marta started, “Letitia wanted some time alone with Mr. Kirby.  I think she has a thing for him.”  This time it was Saunders whose response was cut short.  “Now, now.  The love birds have the right to a little privacy.”

“Love birds?  Kirby can't stand...”  Caje tried to interject.

“Who'da thought it?” she continued.  “I would've given you even money she hated him.  But it seems that there is just a natural attraction between those two.”

“So,” Dot added, “we are all yours.”

Caje and Saunders exchanged looks of disbelief.

Saunders shook his head.  “No, you're going back.  Now.”

“But Sergeant!”  Marta cried.

“I said now.  Just march yourselves back the same way you came.”

Marta s scraped mud from her shoes.  “And what if we get lost?  Or maybe run into a German patrol?”

“Or step into quicksand?”  Dot hastened to add.

Caje folded his arms over his rifle, trying hard not to laugh.  “Quicksand?”  

“It'd be both your faults.  Georgie wouldn't be happy at all.”  She lobbed Patton's name toward the soldiers like a hand grenade.

“Yes, you'd be in a lot of trouble,” Dot added, using a torn, red nail to flick dirt from under the rest.  Do you have nail clippers, Sergeant?

Saunders ignored the question.  Heaven knows he wasn't going to hand over their only weapon!

As the sisters chattered on and continued to pull “thingies” from their clothing, Saunders and Caje drew together.

“Sarge, they have a point.  If anything happened....”

Saunders shook his head.  “I know, but we can't take them with us.  Look at the way they're dressed.  We need to cover some distance, and they can't walk through rough territory in shoes like...that.”

“So we send them back?”

The sergeant was silent a moment as he considered his options.  “Much as I want to, we can't.  They have us between a rock and a hard place. We can't send them back alone.  And if we take them back, what happens to Kirby.?  We need to get him to a hospital.”

“Oh, Sergeant...Mr. Caje,” Marta called, waving her delicate hand at them, “We're ready.”  

“Lead away.”  Dot saluted him.  “You're the boss.”

“That'll be the day,” Caje said under his breath.

Like raccoons with their hands caught in a trap, the men faced the reality that they were not in a situation that was winnable.  Resignation won over distaste.

“Caje, take the point,” the sergeant said, trying to control his annoyance.  Then he motioned for the ladies to follow the private.  He took up his position at the rear, and they marched single file toward what Saunders hoped was a road or a farm or someone who could help.

*   *   *   *   *   *   

As Kirby awoke, the first thing he was aware of was the pain.  He hurt from the pounding in his head down to the throbbing in his toe; his whole body was in misery.  Judging by the slant of a shaft of sun that was breaking through the heavy canopy of leaves outside, he'd been asleep most of the day.  His back was stiff from the hours of sleeping in such an uncomfortable position, and it protested severely when he moved even the slightest bit.  A few short days before, he had thought that life couldn't get any better, but now he wondered if life could get any worse.  He had a pain in his toe, a pain in his temple, a pain in his back, and three pains in the neck.  That was a whole lot of pain.

As he began to work the kinks out of his cramping muscles, it occurred to him that it was unusually quiet.  He knew that if the girls were nearby he was bound to hear them.  There was no way they could keep quiet for any length of time.  Lifting himself up until he could see over the top of the seat, he surveyed the area around the car.  

At first he saw and heard nothing.  Then he spotted Letitia standing at the edge of the clearing.  A large mirror had been stuck into the crook of a tree, and she was applying make-up, pressing her lips together as she finished applying bright red lipstick.  She ran her fingers through her hair leaving it tousled perfection.  In spite of the cold, she wasn't wearing a coat.  Just a long, tight pink skirt split up her thigh and a fluffy pink sweater with a loose neckline that drooped seductively off her shoulders.

This was not a good sign.  Kirby looked around quickly.  Where were the others?  They had to be around somewhere.  No sound.  Nothing.  Another bad sign.  Then he watched Letitia wapump the ball of a large atomizer, a cloud of perfume enveloping her.  Things had gone from bad to worse.  It was obvious no one else was around, and that couldn't be just coincidence.  He, William G. Kirby, was sitting in the back seat of a military vehicle watching one of the world's most desirable women getting all dolled up.  For him?  There could be no other conclusion.  She had plans.  And that spelled trouble for Kirby.  Letitia Bentley was one dangerous woman.

He sank back on the seat, giving his arms a rest, pondering his situation.  Before he had time to figure anything out, there was a knock on the back window.  Without waiting for an invitation, Letitia slipped into the car and perched on the edge of the seat beside him.  Her perfume filled the compartment and left Kirby feeling almost woozy.  She leaned against him and looked at him with soft eyes and ran her long, thin fingers down his cheek.  Puckering her luscious lips, she closed her eyes, waiting for him to kiss her.  Kirby was dazed, all reason gone.  He put his hands on her shoulders...her soft shoulders....

“Have mercy!” he whispered, his mouth mere inches from hers, ignoring the window handle that was pressing into his back.

Letitia adjusted her position beside him, pushing his legs over, and at the moment their lips met, Kirby screamed in agony as his wounded toe was wedged against the hard leather seat back.

“Oh, you poor boy.  Let Letitia help,” she cried.

Intending to put his legs in her lap so that she could nurse his wounds, she grabbed the pink-clad foot and lifted it up.  The toe clipped the ceiling, and Kirby screamed louder.  As she dropped the foot into her lap, it slid on the shiny satin of her skirt and plopped onto the floor with a thud.  Kirby's screams rose to a new crescendo.

“For crying out loud!  Stop your bellyaching.  It's not that bad.  You'll be better in no time.  Right now I'm here to make you feel better.”  Letitia reached out toward him.

With pain Kirby regained his senses.  He pushed her away.  “Listen, I don't know where you're coming from, but...”

She puckered her lips again.  “Don't you want me, Karby?”  

“Want you?  Houh,” he snorted, “I don't even like you, lady.”

“Well, you...you...man!” she sniffed and scooted toward the door, her high heel mashing the top of Kirby's wounded foot as she sought leverage to push herself along the seat.  

“Don't slam the door on your way out,” he groaned as the door slammed.  He pulled his foot into his lap and rocked it back and forth, blowing furiously.  “Come on, Sarge.  Where are you?  Please get back soon...please.”

*   *   *   *   *   *   

The four trekkers had made their way through the woods, their feet leaving a trail in the brown, red, and burnished gold leaves that had piled on the forest floor.  It was cool, but they were pleasantly warm from the exercise.  For the soldiers, it was just another hike.  But for the two women in heels, it was an opportunity to complain...and they never stopped complaining for a moment.  At the head of the line, Caje could somewhat tune out the chattering.  Saunders, on the other hand, marched behind the girls and was the one who picked them up when they stumbled or when a shoe caught in the soft ground.  First Marta would stumble, and he had to help her.  Then Dot lost her shoe altogether, so he called a halt while she put it back on.  He had to call a halt so Marta could massage her sore feet, and before long, Dot ordered them to wait while she used the bushes nearby.  It was like watching a tag team wrestling match.

Finally, the group came to a wide pasture cut by a stream.  The girls squealed with delight, and before Caje or Saunders could stop them, they had cast off their shoes and waded into the water, holding their pant legs high on their thighs to keep them dry.  

“I wouldn't do that,” Caje cautioned.

“It's cold, but it feels so good on my feet,” Marta cried.

“Ladies, get out of the water immediately,” Saunders ordered, but they ignored him.

“If you get wet, you'll wish you'd listened.”

“Well, we are not going to get wet.  We aren't that stupid,” Dot announced as she waded up to Marta in the middle of the stream.  “See?  There's not a drop of water on my pants because I'm very careful.”

Caje turned toward Saunders and shook his head.  “Do they ever listen to anyone?”

“Georgie.”  Sarge said seriously.  Then a grin settled on his lips.  He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and offered one to Caje.  “Just think.  At this moment, we could be storming a Kraut machine gun nest.”

Caje took it gratefully, smiling.  “Sounds good to me.”  Caje leaned in so Saunders could light the cigarette, and they dropped onto the grass watching the women wade in the cold water.  “Sarge, their feet are going to be freezing soon.”

“I know that.  What do you want me to do?  Like you said, they don't exactly listen.  So they'll learn.”

Caje leaned back on his elbows.  “You know, I never thought I'd say it, but I can hardly wait to get back to the war.  At least there I have some idea what the rules are.  With the Bentley sisters, there aren't any rules.  You can't win, Sarge.  Y'know what I mean?”

Saunders nodded and puffed the last of the cigarette.  “You girls better get out now.  We have to move on.”

“Party pooper.”  Dot kicked out, sending a stream of water in Saunders's direction.  Her leg caught Marta in the back and knocked her off balance.  For a moment Marta teetered; then she fell backward into her sister and the two of them toppled over, sending up a small tidal wave when they hit the cold water.  The girls screamed with the shock of it.

“Sergeant!”  Marta's voice pierced the air, destroying the calm.  “Do you have an extra towel?”

Caje turned to the sarge.  Saunders appeared to be studying his hands as he considered his words.

“Sergeant!  Towel, please,” she insisted again, trotting up to the two soldiers, long arms wrapped around herself as her body trembled.

Saunders patted his pockets as if he were looking for something.  “Sorry.  I don't have one on me?”

“Well, what are we to do?”  Dot cried through chattering teeth.  She stood over the men, water dripping off her head and wetting the sergeant's boot.  “I'm just a mass of goose bumps.”

“I guess you'll have to drip dry.”

“I told you not to get into that stream,” Caje shook his head.  

Saunders lifted himself off the grass.  “Let's go.”  

He pulled off his field jacket and tossed it to Dot.  Marta said nothing, but her eyes were full of whining.

Caje pulled off his jacket and handed it to her.  Then he turned and led the small column across the field.  The girls stumbled along in his tracks, their shoes making squishing sounds, and once again Saunders trailed behind.

*    *    *    *    *    *  

The sky turned dark and night came without word from Saunders.  Kirby had sat in the car waiting patiently for hours.  Since his encounter with Letitia, she had maintained not only a proper distance, but what she considered a punishing silence as well.  To Kirby, however, the silence was a welcomed treat.  The woman had spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside on a log.  Even her mink coat was not enough to fend off the chill, so eventually she retreated to the car.  She sat up front, the coat tucked under her chin.  Although she was not talking, she cleared her throat what Kirby guessed was about every five seconds.  He knew the whole scenario was designed for no purpose other than to drive him nuts.  

Kirby began doing a little mental math.  60 seconds divided by 5 was 12.  60 minutes times 12 was 720.  720 times 2 was 1440.  She had cleared her throat 1440 times since getting into the car.  1442 times!  At that rate, she'd be lucky if she had any voice left for singing by the time she got back.

“Aaa-aa-aaagggccch!”

Kirby rolled his eyes and dug his body farther down into the seat.  His brow crinkled as he gave himself over to dark thoughts of the quirk of fate that had decreed that he should be the one to be deserted by his buddies...left in the clutches of a ...a...she-cat with a hairball.  “Maybe,” he decided, “Lewis's father had been right.  Don't volunteer for nothing.”  

“Aaa-aa-aaagggccch!”

Kirby punched the back of the seat in front of him and pulled himself forward.  The leather seat creaked with the shifting of his weight.  “Lady, if you make that sound one more time, I'm gonna toss you out of this car,” he threatened.  “So help me I will!  Do you hear me?”

The woman turned her head slightly and responded in a haughty, condescending voice.  “Well, excuse me for living.  I suppose you'd be happier if I choked to death on phlegm.”

“I don't care whether you choke or not.  I just want you to be quiet!” he shouted.

“Aaa-aa-aaagggccch!”  

“That does it.”  He started to hoist himself over the seat.“  That does it!  I'm gonna...”

His words died out instantaneously at a sound that Kirby's finely tuned hearing picked up.  He froze.

“If you lay one hand...” Letitia whined.

Kirby slapped his hand over her mouth to silence her.  The woman clamped her teeth on the fleshy part of his palm.  He gritted his teeth, but held his hand in place.

“Let go!” he hissed quietly through the pain.  “I heard something out there.”  She kept her teeth against the man's flesh, but did not clamp down as she listened intently.   

“There it is again.”  His voice was hushed and intense.

Letitia froze.  Her eyes grew wide, and her body began to tremble.

“I'm gonna remove my hand.  Now when I do, you gotta be quiet.  You understand?”

She nodded her head timidly.  Kirby released his grip on her mouth, grateful that she was no longer gnawing on his palm.  But his mind was on other things.  The noise was growing louder.  Twigs snapped and cracked.  There was another sound...a strange one he had never heard before.  It was like an extremely large person was lumbering heavily through the woods.  There was a snorting...snuffing...noise.  

As whatever it was came closer and closer, Letitia Bentley's shaking worsened.  Without warning, she hurled herself over the car seat and landed in the back next to Kirby.  She grabbed his shirt and hung on for dear life.  “Oh, Korby!  It's Nazi's!  You were supposed to protect me.  So go out there and start protecting.”

“Honey, I'd love to,” he whispered, “but that dingbat sister of yours left all our weapons in Lee Haver.  Remember?  You want I should kill 'em with my canteen?”

She threw her arms around his chest and cried hysterically.  “Germans do awful things to captured women.  They'll hurt me.  Korby!  Oh, Korby!  Don't let them take me!”  In her frenzy her foot came down on Kirby's toe.

“Get...off...me or I'll hurt you!” he hissed as he tried to pushed her away with a sweep of his arm.

Still holding onto Kirby's chest for dear life, the woman tumbled onto the floor, dragging the soldier off the seat.  He landed on top of her just as the noise came to a stop.  Everything was quiet except for the heavy breathing from the floor of General Patton's wrecked staff car.

Footsteps could be heard moving toward the car.  “Korby,” Letitia moaned, “don't let them take me alive.  Kill me, will you?”

“Don't think I haven't thought of it,” he mumbled.

The door handle creaked as it opened slowly.

“No!”  Letitia screamed at the top of her lungs.  “Take him!  Take Korby!  Just don't hurt me.  Please don't hurt me!”

“Kirby, you here?” the familiar French-accented voice called from the open door.  

Saunders flicked on his lighter.  By the dim light, they found Kirby lying on top of the screaming Letitia.  

“What are you doing to her, you animal!”   Dot  pushed herself under Caje's arm and crawled onto the seat.  She reacted without thinking, as she pounded her fists into Kirby's back.

“Sarge!  Get her off me!” Kirby yelled, trying to protect himself from her blows.

Caje grabbed Dot around the waist and dragged her from the car, her fists still flying.

Dot screamed at the top of her lungs, “If he laid one hand on you, I'll...I'll....”

“Hold it!”  Saunders shouted, poking his head in the door.  “What's going on here?”

Kirby looked up at the sarge.  “Sarge, nothin' is going on.  I swear it.  Nothin'.”

“You animal!”  Dot screamed, still fighting against Caje's strong grip.

Letitia gulped huge breaths of air and hiccuped loudly, “I was so scared.”

Marta struggled to see into the car.  “Of course you were, Tish.” she sobbed, spurred on by Dot's ranting.  “He'll pay for what he did to you.”

“He...he...he....”

“Kirby?”  Caje looked stricken at the thought that his buddy could have done anything.

“Hey!  This is all a mistake.” Kirby's eyes had taken on the look of a trapped animal.  “Tell em, lady.  I never touched you.”

“He...he...he...”  Letitia sniffed.

Dot's arms and legs flailed wildly.  “I'll kill him!  I'll kill him!”

Saunders inserted himself into the back of the car.  “We haven't heard anything from either of them.  Let's not jump to conclusions.”

After helping Kirby onto the seat; the sergeant picked up Letitia and pulled her out of the car.  He gently sat her down in the door opening.  Caje released Dot, and she raced to her sister's side.  Then the sergeant knelt in front of Letitia and held her hands.  “Miss Bentley...”

“Tisha.”

“Uh... Miss Bentley,” he spoke matter of factly, “tell us what happened.”

Letitia cleared her throat and sniffed.  “Well, we heard noises in the dark.  I got scared.  I thought it was Nazis and ...and...I jumped in the back seat with Korby here...”

“Kirby,” he bellowed, “With an I!”

“So like a man, always putting himself first.  Go on, Tish, honey,” Dot smoothed her sister's hair.

“Well, I think I landed on his foot...sorry about that,” she added to Kirby.  “He pushed me to keep me from hurting his foot further...or is it farther?  You know I can never keep those two words straight.  Marta, is it further or farther if I say...”

“Further.  Just get back to the story!”  Saunders shouted.

“You do not have to raise your voice.  I am not deaf.  Anyway, I fell on the floor.  But since I was holding onto Karby, I kinda accidentally pulled him off the seat.  He landed on top of me.”  She reached out and touched his arm gently as he sat quietly on the seat.  “Karby saved my life.”

Kirby rolled his eyes.  “I didn't save nuthin' but pain.”

Saunders turned to Dot.  “Well, I guess you can see that nothing happened to her.”

Letitia, hand still on Kirby's arm, smiled at him, “I think he deserves a medal for what he did.  He's a true hero.”

“Y'hear that, Sarge?”  Kirby added.  “She says I deserve a medal.”

“I heard.  How you feeling, Kirby?”  

“Gotta admit I could use something for my foot right now.  Hurts to beat the band.  Don't suppose you found a drug store out there.”

“We'll be getting out of here at first light.  You'll be in a field hospital in no time.”  Saunders grinned reassuringly and gave the man's shoulder a quick pat.  

Seeing that everyone was calm again, the sergeant flipped the lighter closed and disappeared into the dark.  The three sisters joined together in a huddle, leaving Caje and Kirby alone.  The soldiers could hear the women's hushed giggles from somewhere in the dark nearby as they rummaged for dry clothes.  Kirby was sure he heard the word “marriage” wafting back on the cold night breeze.

Caje slipped into the car beside his buddy.  Neither of them spoke.  They sat in the darkness saying nothing.  Kirby's silence spoke volumes.  Finally Caje pulled out a rumpled pack of cigarettes and removed two.  He stuck one between the BAR man's lips and lit it.  Then he lit his own.

“You know, Caje,” Kirby began.  “I think I'm in big, big trouble.”

Caje shook his head.  “Nah.  Once Sarge explains how the accident happened, you'll be fine.”

“I didn't mean that.  I mean them dames.”  He turned to his friend, his face creased with worry.  “That Letitia.  She wants me.”

Caje grinned behind his hand as he took a drag.  “Are you sure?”

“Oh, yeah.  Listen, she was all over me while you guys were gone. Yup.  She wants me.”

“That's what you get for being such an...irresistible guy.”

“Houh,” he snorted.  “You can say that again.”

Caje nodded.

Sgt. Saunders stuck his head in the car.  “Just rounded up your transportation.  We gotta get you back, don't we?”  He pulled the glowing cigarette from Kirby's mouth and flicked it out the door.  “In the meantime, you need to get your rest.  Something tells me it's gonna be a long day tomorrow.”

“Well, don't let that ...that... Letitia Bentley drive.  And keep the other two away from me too.”  He stretched out again with his back against the door.  “I've about had it with those dames.”  Kirby's eyes closed and his voice trailed off as his head dropped onto his chest.

A while later, the Bentley sisters, quiet for the first time, all climbed into the front seat of the car, not wanting to disturb the sleeping man in the back.  They wrapped their pink minks close around their necks and soon fell into quiet breathing.

Outside, the night air had turned cold.  Caje and Saunders lay shivering under a tree, their blankets of the previous night now being used by the girls in the relative warmth of the car.

“Sarge, I don't think I've ever hated anything more than I have hated the last two days.  Know what I mean?”  Caje's teeth chattered.

“Yeah.  I know.”  The sergeant tried to retain body heat by curling up with his knees against his chest.

“Hey, Sarge?”

“Huh?”

“Do we really have to escort them to Paris after we get them to Lille?”

“That's what the orders said.”

“Sarge?”

“Huh?”

Caje pulled his slightly damp jacket under his chin.  “Think there's any way we could get out of this duty...get someone else to take over?”

“Not likely...if they're smart.  Ever wonder why they chose us in the first place.  Why the duty wasn't given to officers?”  Saunders shifted slightly to remove a rock from under his hip.  “Now go to sleep.  We have another hard day tomorrow.”

Caje lay there a few minutes longer.  He heard the sergeant's breathing even out and the first few wheezes of a snore.  He longed for a nice, rough army blanket and some thick, dark coffee.  “Don't volunteer for nuthin.”  The words kept rolling around in his head.  “Good advice,” the Cajun whispered to himself.  “Good advice.”  Then, gradually, sleep overtook him.  And everything was silent.

*    *    *    *    *    *

A cock crowed in the distance.  Light broke over the rim of the trees.  Hidden in the forest beneath the tall trees, Kirby awoke.  Bleary-eyed for a moment, he was unsure where he was; he only knew that his stomach was rumbling pathetically.  He had been dreaming that he was home in his mother's kitchen, and she was at the stove preparing his breakfast...bacon, eggs, toast, fried potatoes, a few pancakes....  One of the girls, probably Letitia, was snoring heavily in the front seat.  Paradise lost.

Kirby lifted his head and looked outside.  Saunders and Caje sat under a nearby tree talking quietly, their arms folded around their chests trying to keep warm.  As each man spoke, a cloud of frosty breath enveloped the speaker.  Kirby realized how chilled he was.

Saunders said something to Caje that made him laugh.  Then the sergeant rose and walked into the woods, Kirby assumed for personal business.  But he returned a moment later holding onto the mane of a bony, emaciated horse.  Its ribs showed, and its back had a definite sag. What was left of its tail and mane were matted and straggly.  Judging by its large, heavy legs, Kirby assumed it was a work horse...or had been.  Its working days appeared to be long over.

Caje moved over to the car.  Knocking on the windows, he called hellos to those inside.  The girls refused to awaken, so Kirby yelled at them and punched the back of the front seat, jostling them.  They arose grumbling at him.  For his part, he was sick of the whining, and he told them so.  At first Letitia tried to calm him down, calling him honey and baby.  But her entreaties did no good.  Kirby had crossed the Rubicon and wasn't about to come back.  

“Everybody out.  We're leaving,” Caje announced as he pulled open the door.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Marta grumbled.  “I need a bath.  I need to wash my hair.  I'm starved.  I need food.  And I need it now, do you understand me?   Now!”

Caje hesitated a moment before answering, giving himself time to simmer down. “Well, there isn't anything to eat,” he said, trying not to give in to what he really wanted to say.  “So the sooner we get out of here, the sooner we find food.”

Dot sneezed loudly and added, “Now look what you did to me...I'm catching cold.”

“Look, Caje,” Kirby started, “I'm not gonna...what you did to her?”

“Long story.”

“Well, I won't be able to walk on this foot.  The pain is worse than ever.”

“Your chariot, Kirby,” Saunders announced, leading the horse to the car.

“Whoa!  If you think I'm...no way, Sarge.  I'm a city boy.  I ain't never been on a horse, and I'm not about to start now.”

“Fine,” Saunders tried to sound agreeable.  “If you don't want to ride, you don't have to.  We'll let you walk.  We'll get the Bentley sisters to help hold you up.  They can be your crutches.  Since you're afraid to....”

“Hey!”  Kirby announced.  “William G. Kirby ain't afraid of nothing.  And them girls ...well, you keep 'em away from me.”

“So, Kirby,” Caje offered, “let me help you get on your steed.”  

“So that's what they call it,” he said, eyeing the creature.

Caje held out a strong hand.  Kirby took it and slid across the seat.  Groaning loudly, he was helped out of the car and onto the horse, settling deep into the curve of its sagging back.  The horse nickered and its skin twitched.  “Whoa!  What's he doin', Caje?  Is he supposed to do that?”

“Sure.  All horses do that.  It's how they keep flies off their skin.”

“Hope he knows I ain't no fly.”

The girls crawled out and stood shivering in the frosty air.  

“Where are we to ride?”  Dot questioned.

“There is only room for Kirby.  You'll have to walk,” Saunders told them.

“I don't think so.  I do not intend to walk anywhere.  Georgie will certainly...”

“Listen, Lady,” Saunders spat, “I don't care who you tell.  Right now I am in charge and we're going.  You stay or go.  Frankly, I don't care.”

“Where are we gonna put our luggage?”  Marta whined.

“We aren't,” Caje added.  “You take what you can carry.”

“But...”

Saunders grabbed hold of the horse's mane.  “We're leaving.  Like I said.  Go or stay.  It's up to you.”  He picked up a pink silk scarf and tied it around the horse's head as a lead.  

The girls scurried around, gathering up their minks and make-up and a few odds and ends.  They tried to bully Caje and Saunders into carrying the steamer trunk of costumes, but the sarge held firm.  The girls could bring only what they could carry.  The pink teddy bear was left to guard the rest in their absence.

“Sergeant, when we get back, I'll bring charges against you.  All of you.  You have been horrible!” Letitia screamed as she picked up a pink costume bag.

Saunders was well aware that he was treading on dangerous ground.  How far was he prepared to carry it?  He wasn't sure himself.  He only knew that Kirby needed a doctor.  He'd worry about charges later.

Caje took off in the front position as usual, holding the tire iron ready for any emergency.  Next came Saunders, leading the horse bearing Kirby.  The girls straggled behind, trailing a line of clothes as they hurried after them.  

Caje turned and called to the girls.  “I'd come up here and walk at the front if I were you.”

“Well,  “Letitia announced haughtily, “you aren't I.”

Within a few minutes, the men heard a scream from the rear.  The small column halted and the sergeant moved quickly to find out what was going on.

“Oh, my gosh!”  Marta cried.  “Look at this mess.”  She lifted her foot, displaying a lovely pink high heel covered with a thick, brown mass.  “I'll see that horse ends up in a glue factory!”

Caje covered his mouth to hide his amusement, pretending to be rubbing his nose.  Saunders fought desperately to maintain a serious face.

“This is all your fault, you muskrat.”  Letitia pointed to Kirby, as Marta began to dig at her heels with a small stick.

“That's weasel,” Kirby snickered.

“I don't care if it's a bloody ox!”  Letitia shouted, having crossed over into hysteria.  “It's your fault!”  

“Me?  Hey, Caje warned you.  But surprise, surprise... you did what you wanted...as usual!”

“Well,” Saunders suggested, “walking will probably clean your shoes just fine.  But I still suggest you walk in front of the horse this time.”

He turned on his heel and led the horse away.  The girls ran to the front and assumed their positions behind the scout.  They grumbled and griped, but they moved along.  At least they were making progress.  

*    *    *    *    *    *  

The olive green jeep sped down the road, kicking up a trail of dust that enveloped the two vehicles behind it.  Lieutenant Hanley sat in the passenger seat scanning both sides of the road for any sign of his men.  It had been more than twenty-four hours since anyone had heard from them.  The men were escorting very precious cargo...three sisters willing to risk life and limb in order to entertain the men at the front.  Delivering the women safely should have been an easy job, especially for soldiers as savvy as Saunders, Caje, and Kirby.  If they were missing, something was seriously wrong.  The lieutenant had no difficulty convincing the brass to let him take third squad out for a look.  The last thing they wanted was to have anything happen to three stars, especially ones with very close ties to a couple of important generals.

Hanley signaled for the column to pull over, and as soon as it stopped, he hopped out to speak with the men in the second jeep.  “It'll be dark soon.  If we haven't found any sign of them in the next hour, we'll turn around and head back.  Maybe they pulled over somewhere and we missed them.  Keep your eyes peeled, Sergeant.”

“Lieutenant, are you sure...?”  The sergeant hesitated to finish his thought.

“Yes, Driscoll?”  Hanley's voice was tense.

“Well, I...nothing.”

Hanley returned to his jeep, and they took off again.  The sun was low in the sky, and shadows were deep in the woods on both sides of the wide road.  It wouldn't make it any easier to find them...especially if they were hurt or unable to make their presence known.  But there was no sign of them anywhere.  

He decided they would push on past a curve up ahead; then they would turn around, the search over.  If they didn't find them on the return trip, it didn't appear that they would find them at all.  The jeep accelerated around the curve and slowed down at a spot where the road widened a bit giving them an opportunity to turn on the narrow road.  The corporal who was driving eased the vehicle off the road and made an arc to the other side.

The first jeep had already completed the turn, and the second.  The third jeep had eased to the side, and just as they prepared to turn, the private sitting beside the driver called out that he thought he had seen something down the road.  Driscoll shouted for the lieutenant, who turned to look in the direction he pointed.  At first Hanley saw nothing, but as he squinted, something began to take shape.  It looked like a line of...could it be people?  Animals?  No.  It was something on an animal.  And several smaller figures that were walking in a strange, jerky manner.  And the noise. A shrill noise that grew louder and louder.  

As the men in the jeeps watched, whoever or whatever it was came closer and closer until it was near enough to be seen.  Hanley and the rest of the men jumped out and ran toward the figures.  

“About time you got here.”

The voice was instantly recognizable.  “Saunders!”  Hanley called as he trotted up.  “We were really wor...what in the world?”

The Lieutenant stopped, his eyes wide in disbelief.  Caje stood before him, a tire iron in his hand.  Next were three women.  They gingerly limped along in high heels, trying to spare their feet.  They were totally disheveled, clothes torn and dirty, hair wild and tangled, faces streaked with dirt.  Behind them Sgt. Saunders led a broken-down animal that might have been a horse at one time.  A fourth woman sat on the horse.  She was dressed in a pink fur hat, a long pink mink coat, and her right foot was wrapped in some kind of a pink, lacy material.  She lifted her head a bit and moaned, “Sarge, are we there yet?”

“Almost, Kirby,” Saunders reassured.

“Kirby?”  Driscoll looked the private up and down.  He chuckled.  “Man, he's never gonna be able to live this one down.”

Hanley moved to the horse and pulled the hat off what they all had assumed was a woman.  Kirby was drenched in sweat, and his face was creased with pain.  “Medic!” the lieutenant yelled.  “Caldwell, give me a hand here.”

The private was there is a second, and the two of them helped Kirby slide off the horse's back.  They carried him to the edge of the road, and third squad's medic began tending his injury.

“He's had a fever for some time,” Sarge said.  “That's why we put the...uh...coat on him.”

“He'll be OK once we get him back to a hospital,” the medic reassured.

Hanley turned to the nearest woman.  “Miss Bentley?”

“Call me Letitia, Sweetie.”

“Miss Bentley, as soon as Kirby can travel, we'll have you back on the road.”

“Thank goodness!” the redhead cried.  “Civilization at last!”

“Are we gonna have to walk any more?” the blonde asked.  “My tootsies are killing me.  They never cared about my feet.  Just...his.”  She nodded toward Kirby.

“Don't worry,” Hanley assured her.  “You'll be traveling by jeep.”

“For goodness sake!  My hair is gonna blow for sure.”  She limped off toward one of the vehicles.

“Saunders?”

The sergeant shook his head.  “It's a long story.  I'll fill you in when we have time.”

“Sarge, what'll we do with Georgette?”  Caje asked.

Hanley looked confused.  “Georgette?”

“Another long story,” Saunders replied.  “We'll turn her loose, Caje.  Maybe she'll find her way back to wherever she belongs.  You have any C rations, Sir?”

“Sure, you must be starved.”  Hanley called for C rations, but Saunders interrupted him.

“I need four or five.”

Hanley eyed the sergeant.  He surely must be starving.  The lieutenant called to one of the third squad soldiers to gathere up the men's rations.  Saunders ripped into them, but  instead of eating them, he fed them to the horse.

“Saunders?”

“He earned his chow.  He got Kirby back, and a good meal is about the least we can do for him.”

By the time the horse had eaten its sufficiency, and the sergeant had sent him on his way with a quick slap on the rump, Kirby's foot was out of the pink bandage and into a clean white one.  The medic administered a shot of morphine; then he called several men over to help him move the injured man.  They carried him to the third jeep, settling him prone in the back and covering him with blankets.

As soon as he was secured, Hanley motioned toward the other two jeeps.  “Ladies...if you will.”

“Mercy bowcups.”  Marta smiled and moved daintily toward the vehicles.

Dot joined her sister, but Letitia demanded to ride back with “Korby.”

“KIRBY!” a weak shout pierced the air.

Hanley had no problem with letting her ride wherever she wanted, but Saunders insisted she ride with her sisters.

“Is something wrong?”  Hanley asked.  When the sergeant hesitated, Hanley figured he'd go along with Saunders's decision.  “I know.  It's a long story.”

“Right.”

Letitia joined her sisters in the jeep.  Driscoll handed a wool blanket to each of the girls and climbed into the front seat beside the driver.  He sniffed a few times.  “Do you smell something?” he asked the corporal.

“Yeah, I've been smelling it for a few minutes now.  It smells like...”   The corporal looked at the sergeant as if trying to believe the unbelievable.  “Nah.  No way.”

Driscoll turned back toward the women and smiled.  They sat demurely without moving.  As soon as the soldiers turned their attention elsewhere, Marta pulled off her shoes and chucked them into the bushes.

*    *    *    *    *    *

“...that's just the greatest song that am, honey lamb...” The music was building for the climax.  The audience  response was growing. “Ah-ha-lex-aaaan-deeeeers  rag-time  Alex-an-ders  rag-time baaaaaaand!”

Caje sat on a heavy log outside the barn being used for the show.  The thunderous applause, the harmony, and the accompanying band blended as the Bentley Sisters finished their final number and took a bow.  The cold evening air was rife with catcalls and yells of endearments, some repeatable and some not.  Caje sighed heavily.

Saunders spotted the Cajun and signaled him as he approached.  Joining him on the log, the sergeant propped the brand new Thompson against his thigh.  Neither soldier spoke for a moment.  

“How is Kirby?”  Caje asked at last, blowing on his hands to warm them in the cold night air.

“He's complaining as usual.  Making a big deal.  To hear him tell it, he carried us all back to safety in the middle of a Kraut invasion.  The nurses love it.  They're hanging all over him.”

“What about the car?  You speak to Major Edwards?  How much trouble we in?”

“The major didn't seem concerned at all.  We should have been in really hot water.  But strangely enough, we aren't.  Probably the fact that one of the young ladies shot a soldier left them in a pretty difficult position.  He just gave me a new set of keys and told me to have the girls in Paris on time.”

“Something tells me that we aren't the first ones to butt heads with the naughty Bentley sisters.  Remember how fast those navy men beat it after handing the girls over to us?”  Caje rose and paced back and forth in front of Saunders.

“Uh huh.  It's obvious they were glad to be rid of them.”

“And we have to take the girls on to Paris,” Caje moaned.

“Evidently, the major thinks it's  punishment enough.”

“Man, Sarge, I don't think I can stand one more minute with those girls.  And we gotta take them all the way to Paris, listening to them whine and complain?  I just can't stand it.”

Saunders looked at Caje with concern.  The private was usually the most even-tempered, calm soldier he knew.  He had nerves of steel.  And yet there he was, virtually shaking at the prospect of having to escort three beautiful women to Paris.  The trouble was that the sarge knew exactly what Caje meant.  He, too, dreaded the next few days.  He would rather land at Omaha Beach again than get back in a vehicle with those three shrews.

“No fancy staff car this time.  They're giving us an ambulance.”

Caje straightened the beret on his head.  “Well, at least it's an appropriate vehicle.”  

“It won't be that bad,” Saunders lied.  “You can drive.  That'll keep your mind off things in the back.

Caje snorted.  “Driving is what got Kirby in trouble in the first place.  You know, I'm beginning to think that he's the lucky one.  Getting out of this assignment only cost him a piece of toe.  Sarge, you gotta get me out of this duty.  I've never asked you for anything in all this time, but I'm begging you now.  Please, Sarge?”

“Look, Caje, I've got to have your help.  I can't do this alone.”

Caje moaned piteously as he dropped down beside Saunders again.

The roar had become almost deafening, and then a crowd of sweat-drenched GI's noisily pushed their way out of the barn.  The men were pounding each other on the back, talking loudly, and whistling in appreciation of the girls who had just put on a show to end all shows.  Littlejohn, Lewis, and Billy fought their way to the side of the crowd and made it over to where Saunders and Caje sat.

“Well, well, well,” Caje said, “the Bobsey Triplets.”

“Man, I can't believe you two stayed out here instead of watching the Bentley sisters.  Now that show is something I ain't never gonna forget,” Lewis moaned.

Billy was euphoric.  “Oh, wow!  Wait till I tell my mom that I got to see the Bentley Sisters in person.  She loves 'em.  So tell us...what's it like?”

“Like?” Caje asked.

“What's it like to be escorting the three most beautiful women in the world?”?  

The two soldiers looked at each other, their eyes making a silent agreement.

“You wouldn't believe it if we told you,” Sarge announced with every bit of smile he could muster.

“Those girls are...they are.... well...”  Caje  stammered.

Saunders stepped in to help him out.  “They are just beyond description.  Beauty, brains, talent...what a package.”  He stood, removed a long, thin cigar from his pocket, and stuck it in his mouth, rolling it over and over while trying to act nonchalant.

“Yeah,” Caje glanced at the sarge, “what a ... package.”

“Man,” Lewis grimaced, “a package and me not there to accept the delivery.”

“Take it  easy, Lewis,” Littlejohn warned. He turned his back to Lewis and faced the sergeant.  “My ma told me that she saw them at a bond drive at the canteen in Des Moines.  She said they are just the sweetest little things.  That's what she called them.  The sweetest little things.”

“Yup,” Caje nodded, his eyes flashing, “the sweetest little ... things.  Yup.”

“Yup,” Sarge echoed, finally lighting the cigar.

Lewis shot glances at Littlejohn and Billy.  They nodded back to him as if some coded message had passed between them.  Sarge noticed and watched intently, waiting to see where it was going, and for the first time in two days, being hopeful.

“OK, Sarge, this is the way it is,” Lewis said finally, his voice edgy.  “I'm speaking for the three of us.  We think it stinks that you three got to do the whole job, and we got left out in the cold.”

Billy jumped in.  “Look, you guys, you got to bring them all the way from Le Havre.  We think it is only fair that someone...else should take over from here to Paris.”

“You think so, Billy?”  Saunders puffed on the cigar.

“Yeah, it is only fair,”  Littlejohn added.

“Gosh, I wish I'd volunteered.  I'd give anything to spend some time with them.”  Billy smacked his fist in his palm..  

Once more Caje and Sarge exchanged quick glances.

“So, Billy,” Caje questioned, trying to maintain calm in his voice while his heart threatened to pound a hole in his chest, “who do you think should get that job of taking the girls to Paris?”

“Well, I... we...we think we should.  Lewis, Littlejohn, and me.”

Saunders turned his back to them and rested his arms on a stone wall that ran alongside the building. “I don't know...”

“Why should we give up this wonderful job and let you have it?”  Caje added hastily.

The three were stumped until Lewis came up with an idea.  “Because we're a team.  And teams take care of each other.  Think what it would mean to Billy.  And to Littlejohn... to tell his ma.  Teams share.”

“Yeah,” Saunders winked secretively at Caje,  “that's true, but Hanley would never let you trade.”

“Sure he would,” Billy cried.  “We already asked him.  He said we should ask you.”

Lewis quickly jammed his elbow into Billy's middle.

“Hey,” Billy whined, “that hurt!”

Lewis motioned with his eyes and tried to tell Billy what to say.  

“What?”  Billy questioned Lewis.

“Look, Sarge, bottom line is we'll give you fifty bucks,” Lewis offered.

Saunders turned to face them.  “Fifty apiece?”

“Apiece?”  Littlejohn cried.

“Apiece,” Caje reiterated.

“Apiece,” Billy stated.  “Then it's a deal?”

Saunders looked at Caje.  He looked to the men.  Then he looked back to Caje again.

“What you think, Sarge?”  Caje responded.  “They are awful beautiful.  And when they sit in the car, and they have to get in real close...”

The three soldiers were being drawn in like fish on the line.  Saunders remembered Kirby's words at LeHavre.  “Listen...a fish sees a worm, and it bites.  He don't even think what is holding that good looking worm on the line. He just grabs it and POW!  He's hooked.  Bye bye fishie.  Now that is dumb if you ask me.”  

“Real close?”  Billy gulped.

“Sixty apiece!”  Littlejohn shouted, clutching a wad of bills.  

“Well, we really shouldn't do this, right Caje?”  Saunders said trying to sound disappointed.

“Right,” Caje replied.

“And the Lieutenant said it was OK if we traded?”  Sarge continued.

“Right,” said Littlejohn.

“You are right.  We're a squad, and squads share and share alike.  It isn't fair for us to have all the fun.”  Saunders let them squirm for a moment.  “OK, we'll let you in...for 60 apiece.”

“What happened to the squad thing?”  Billy wondered.

Caje reached out and took possession of the money, while Saunders dug the ambulance keys from his pocket and handed them over to Lewis.  Then Sarge handed over the map of the route to Paris and the instructions that told where to take the girls and when.

From the rear of the barn they heard a lilting, female voice calling, “Oh, Sergeant...”

Saunders and Caje looked to each other nervously.  Billy, Littlejohn, and Lewis turned toward the sound, eyes ablaze with love.  

Saunders took Caje by the sleeve and led him away from the building.  “Well, Caje, we'd better let these soldiers get on with their job.”

“I'm only sorry it won't be me going to Paris,” Caje said in mock regret.  

“Sergeant Saunders!” the woman called more forcefully.

Lewis rubbed his palms.  “You guys ain't gonna change yer mind, are ya...and decide that you gonna take care of them dames?”

“When Hell freezes over,” Caje said under his breath.

Saunders elbowed Caje and gave Lewis a half-smile.  “Nah.  A deal's a deal.  They're all yours.”

“Yoo hoo!”  The soldiers turned at the sound of the lilting voice again.  “Sergeant...Mr. Caje.  Our bags are ready.  Please come get them.”

While the three soldiers were listening in awe, Saunders and Caje slipped away into the darkness.  Billy, Lewis, and Littlejohn exchanged smiles and started toward the back of the building.  The keys Lewis held aloft in front of him tinkled gaily.  

“Coming, my dears,” Billy purred.