THE RISING HORDE: Talkin’ Smack
This is what happens when Special Forces NCOs sit down to dinner. Warning: saucy language and even some (gasp!) double entendres.
Gartrell sat at a table in the D-FAC taking down a surprisingly tasty steak sandwich when two Special Forces NCOs approached him. They carried trays loaded with fooxzd and energy drinks. Master Sergeants Donald “Dusty” Roads and Rick “Barney Rubble” Forringer looked down at him as they stopped at the table.
“You mind if we dance with your dates?” Roads said, parroting a line from Animal House. He even screwed on the urban black accent. Gartrell had to smile at that. It had been a while since he’d thought about the boys from Delta Fraternity.
“Have a seat, guys,” he said.
“You sure?” Forringer asked even though he immediately pulled out a chair and plopped down into it. He definitely did look like a real-life Barney Rubble—straw blond hair, big nose, weak chin, small eyes—but the fact that he looked like a living cartoon character was undercut by the fact he was one of the sharpest SF demolitions soldiers Gartrell had ever known. Roads was an intelligence operator, much taller and leaner than Forringer, and had looks that approached Hollywood handsome. Physically, they couldn’t be more different, but personally and professionally, the two men worked well together. Both men carried their weapons with them.
“It’s a free dining facility,” Gartrell said, “but don’t waste any time sitting down or anything, Barney.”
“I gather no dust when it comes time to chow down,” he said.
“The only thing he does faster than sit down to eat is lie down to go to sleep,” Roads said as he put down his tray and pulled out a chair. The D-FAC was starting fill up, and with the addition of the civilians that had been brought into the complex, room was at a premium. Roads glanced at one of the pole-mounted flat screen TVs that stood nearby and shook his head. The battle for Austin was within a few days of commencing, and the entire 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment had been pulled out of Fort Hood and sent to the area.
“Wow, you know how long it takes me to fall asleep? That’s kind of creepy, man,” Forringer said. He dug into his barbeque chicken without delay.
“Why’s that creepy? I thought the two of you were engaged,” Gartrell said.
Forringer frowned. “Please—I’m trying to eat.”
“Like the commentary is going to throw you off,” Roads said. “I figure half the Ranger battalion could be attacking you with a tube of Astro-Glide and you wouldn’t even notice.”
“Boy, do I miss the days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Seems like Dusty’s about to make a confession, Sarmajor.”
“Try not to get anything on the walls, boys,” Gartrell cautioned.
Roads grinned and started in on his own meal. It had been a while since the three of them had broken bread together, especially since Gartrell had moved over to the Special Warfare Center and started training the next generation of Army Green Berets. Roads and Forringer had remained operational, though Roads had stepped out of the alpha det regime and worked directly for Major “Switchblade” Lewis as the senior intelligence NCO with the bravo detachment. Gartrell asked Roads how he liked working with the walking mountain known as Captain Chase, and was happy to hear a favorable review. Even though Chase was Big Army, Roads thought the huge officer was sharp as a tack and could read a situation for what it was without having to pull anything.
“All right, all right, enough foreplay.” Forringer had finished his chicken, and his lips were smeared with barbeque sauce. He licked them clean and reached for a cob of corn. “We’re here to find out the straight poop, Dave.”
“What happened to Keith and the rest of the guys in the Big Apple?” Roads asked. “I knew Rittenour pretty well, we were pods from the 90s.”
“Ah.” Gartrell finished his steak sandwich and leaned back in his chair. He looked from one man to the other. “Keith’s team handled themselves really well. Rittenour and Leary especially so—those guys were leaning forward in the foxhole the entire time. If not for them, I wouldn’t be here right now. Or I’d have a different pallor and would be eating you.”
“Did McDaniels screw the pooch again?” Roads asked. He and Forringer knew all about the bad blood that existed between Gartrell and McDaniels—a lot of folks inside the community of Quiet Professionals had the inside line on that, since Gartrell hadn’t been the most restrained of individuals in his younger days.
Gartrell took a moment to gather his thoughts before answering. “I’m not sure that Bill Meadows himself could have done things any differently,” he said finally.
Forringer gaped at the invocation of one of the luminaries of the Special Forces universe. “You’re mentioning McDaniels and Meadows in the same conversation? I think this qualifies as a ‘what the fuck’ moment, and it frankly has me scared.”
“Try not to spot your thong,” Gartrell said.
“You want to try and clear that up a bit, Dave?” Roads remained fixed on target, which was what made him such an unflappable type of operator.
“Clear what up, exactly?”
“What happened in New York…and how McDaniels is suddenly a stand-up guy in your eyes.”
Gartrell was annoyed by the questioning, but he tried not to let it show. He thought back to what he had gone through, both with McDaniels and after. The truth of the matter was, Gartrell had always prided himself on being able to keep his emotions in check. He’d always thought that he had the ability to suppress his personal desires and put the mission first. But if that was truly the case, then chances are good he never would have pulled a weapon on McDaniels and threatened to kill him over another disagreement over operational matters.
And then, there was the boy, Jaden. An autistic three-year-old boy Gartrell had tried to save by leading him and his mother through the black subway tunnels beneath New York City. A boy whose final moments in life were full of terror and pain.
“Dude, you all right?”
Gartrell looked up and saw Forringer and Roads looking at him, concern on their faces. He wondered what they had seen in his eyes in that moment when he thought of Jaden and his mother, and the fate he had led them to beneath the streets of Manhattan.
“Dave?” It was Roads prompting him this time, and Gartrell looked at him with a heavy sigh.
“Guys, there’s no mystery to it,” he said finally. “I last worked for McDaniels in, what, 2007? A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Things change. People change. McDaniels has changed. And me, too. He did what he had to do in New York, and he accomplished the mission. Now Keith, Rittenour, Leary…all the troops who went in with us are dead, that’s true. But it wasn’t because of McDaniels. It was because of the fucking stenches.” Gartrell pointed at the nearby TV, which showed a Stryker unit opening up on a gaggle of zombies ambling up a trash-littered highway somewhere in the middle of Texas.
“So that’s it, then?” Roads asked. “Nothing more to it? Things change, and McDaniels is a stand-up guy again?”
“Dusty, do you want to ask him for yourself? I realized I bitched about the move he made in Afghanistan, and I still have reservations about it…but in the end, it was his call. He has to live with the fallout too. And right now, we’ve all got a pretty big fight to get ready for, so we need to put aside the petty shit and soldier like we’re supposed to. We’ve got a butt-load of civilians in the compound now, and we have to protect them as well as this facility and preserve it so it can be used to accomplish its mission.”
Forringer cackled. “Hah, this is the command sergeant major talking, right?”
Gartrell didn’t smile. “Guys, I’m all about the mission. I’m the quick reaction force senior NCO, and I report directly to the lieutenant colonel in charge. We can discuss the guy’s merits all night long, but in the end, he’s the one calling shots. That shouldn’t be a gray area, right?” As he said this last, Gartrell looked directly at Roads.
Roads shook his head immediately. “Not for me, bro. I’m good with it.”
“Same here,” Forringer said. “If anyone’s interested, that is.”
“Of course we’re interested in what you have to say, sweetheart,” Gartrell said. “But what was your name, again?”
Forringer shook his head. “I knew it—you’re the kind who just won’t respect me in the morning.”
“Man, we don’t even respect you now,” Roads said.
“Damn you…damn you to hell,” Forringer said in his best Charlton Heston voice.
And there you have it. Usual disclaimers apply, draft stuff, might not make it into the final, blah-blah-blah.