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Tiger the Lurp dog scurried away from the tent and ducked behind the trash barrel as his main man, Mopar, stormed past smelling of adrenaline and anger. Mopar was trying to contain his anger, but the nose never lies, and Tiger knew enough to get out of his way.
Cursing under his breath about his eleven months in the field going unrewarded, Mopar shouldered his way into the tent and strode over to his cot. He kicked at his rucksack and missed, then, deflated, sat down on his footlocker and shook his fist in the direction of the operations bunker, where the lieutenant and Pappy Stagg were processing the new man into the platoon. There was no one else in the tent but Marvel Kim. Marvel could tell that Mopar was angry, but he refused to be impressed by his anger.
"What's got you so teed off?" he asked, looking up placidly from the M-79 grenade launcher he was cleaning. Marvel was strong and stocky. He had a chubby Buddha face and an Airborne haircut so short that it was little more than a dark shadow on top of his head. He was Mopar's best friend, but the normal things that upset Mopar rarely got a rise out of him.
"It's not good for you to get so pissed," he said. "All this anger is dangerous. Everybody knows that hotheads die young. Now, what's wrong this time?"
Mopar scowled. "It's Pappy Stagg and the lieutenant—a couple of real backstabbers! Here it is, not a week after I sign my extension papers—not two days after they say we're gonna get sergeant's stripes—and what do they do? They bring in a lifer E-6 and tell me he's gonna be our new team leader! Can you believe this shit?"
Marvel Kim shrugged and ran an oily rag through the barrel of the grenade launcher. He had no trouble believing that shit. That was the way the Army went about its business, and unpleasant as it could be, there was no use crying about it. The only thing to do was to wait with an open mind, and see what sort of luck the new staff sergeant brought with him. But Marvel knew better than to try to persuade Mopar of this. Poor Mopar had had his heart set on wearing sergeant's stripes home on his extension leave and bragging to that girlfriend of his, that Sybill Street, about his duties as a recon team leader. And while Marvel figured he owed him a sympathetic shrug, he couldn't see much good in helping him bitch about something that should have been expected.
Mopar was beginning to come down from his first flush of anger and disappointment, but he was still sore.
"A new lifer!" He frowned and slapped his thigh. "From the way they were carrying on about old times, he's another one of Pappy's Special Forces protégés. That's all we need—another ex-Green Beanie running around telling us how soft we have it, not having to go in the field with gooks!"
Marvel Kim let the word "gook" float past without comment. It was the one Korean word he knew of that had found its way into the military vocabulary, and it would have been impossible to object every time he heard it without sounding like some kind of softheaded peacecreep. He even used it himself from time to time, although he much preferred "dink" or "zip" or one of the other words that had been coined in reference to the Vietnamese.
Marvel sighed, then looked up at the doorway of the tent. "Can it, Mopar," he whispered. "Looks like we got a visitor."
Mopar turned around just as the staff sergeant he'd seen in the operations bunker stepped into the tent. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as he and Marvel looked first at the new lifer, then at each other, then back at the new man, who was standing there with his hands on his hips, seeming to fill the doorway of the tent.
Marvel smiled and waved an invitation. "Come on in, Sarge!" he said, and the new lifer stepped out of the gloom into the middle of the tent with the light streaming in behind him.
If anything, he looked tougher and meaner than he had when Mopar first saw him in the operations bunker. He'd been standing next to the gaunt and towering Pappy Stagg then, and he hadn't looked as tall as he did now. He had thick shoulders and the neck of a wrestler, but he stood light on his feet—light and alert, and yet relaxed.
He wore a teal blue Special Forces combat patch on his right shoulder, master parachute wings and a Combat Infantry Badge over his left breast pocket, and on the pocket itself there was a subdued, olive-drab Pathfinder patch with wings and torch of black thread. On the other pocket, beneath a barely legible name-tag, was an arrowhead Recondo patch. There were Vietnamese jump wings sewn above the nametag, but no wings on the new lifer's green baseball cap, and the cap itself looked like it had just come out of a box in supply. The new man's face was dark from the sun and seemed somehow too long and thin for his neck and shoulders. He smiled, and a network of tiny white scars wrinkled his upper lip, turning his smile into a leer.
"My name," he announced with the faint drawl of a professional NCO, "is Staff Sergeant E-6 Wolverine. But being as how I don't stand on ceremony, you can just call me Wolverine."
He nodded in Marvel's direction.
"You must be Spec Four Kim. Pappy tells me you're a halfway decent radio man, and about the best M-79 gunner in the Army." He smiled again, a little more warmly this time. "But tell me, where in the hell did your mother come up with a name like 'Marvel'—outa a comic book?"
Marvel smiled politely. He'd heard the same line in Jump School and then again from Pappy Stagg when he'd first come into the Lurp platoon, so it wasn't unexpected.
"And you ..." The new man looked over at Mopar and tried not to frown. Mopar was a wiry young troop, gray-eyed and thin of face, with a head of light hair too short to comb, yet long enough to stand up in clumps and cowlicks. His uniform seemed to be in order, but there was a thin gold earring in his left ear, and a knotted bodycount rope of green parachute cord around his neck.
"You must be Spec Four Mopar. I hear you're going to be my assistant team leader."
Mopar shrugged. He'd been Farley's ATL when he was alive, and before that he'd been J. D.'s number two man on a few missions, and he wasn't exactly bowled over by the honor.
Staff Sergeant Wolverine hadn't had much authority as an E-6 in Special Forces—at least not over American troops—and he tried to remember how to sound commanding but fair as he looked around the tent.
It was a regulation U.S. Army General Purpose Medium tent, with room for ten cots. There were four of the tents in the Lurp compound, three for the troops, and one for the team leaders, Pappy Stagg, and the lieutenant. This tent was the closest to the operations bunker, but by far the shabbiest. Instead of tent poles it was supported on a large wooden frame that allowed for a screen door in front, but the canvas was old and patched, and there were puddles on the ground to show where it leaked. Even so, the bunks were even and well spaced; each man had a foot-locker and hooks on which to hang his gear, and for a nice homey touch a few of the bunks were partitioned off from their neighbors by sheets of plywood on which were taped pictures of cars and monsters and naked women.
Sergeant Wolverine pointed to one of the pictures and grinned.
"Now that's what I call a bloodflushin' rodraiser of a huliding," he said, throwing in the Vietnamese for "fox spirit," just for the cameras, just to show a little class. He pointed again, with his chin this time. "That one there—with the red hair and the shaved bush and those bouncy little pigsnout tits. Let me tell you troops, I'd eat a mile of commo wire just to hear her fart over a field phone!"
He grinned and ran the tip of his tongue over the little white scars on his upper lip. "Just whose bunk is that? The man has got some excellent taste!"
"Used to be Jessup's," Marvel answered. "He's dead, but we kept the picture. The guy who sleeps there now is on R&R."
Sergeant Wolverine took this in with a judicious nod, then decided to change the subject. "Now these footlockers," he said with a wave of his hand, "I want them moved off to the side of the bunks. We start taking rockets, everybody'll be scrambling for the bunkers, and I don't want nobody tripping over the footlockers. Get them back out of the way."
Wolverine wasn't sure he should have said that. It wasn't a good idea to come into a new unit and start changing things around. But now that he'd committed himself, he knew he had to go on. He pointed to the candle on Marvel's footlocker and frowned.
"Them candles got to go. They're a fire hazard. Why don't you have electricity in this tent?"
Now Mopar spoke up. "I been asking the same thing myself. They got lights in the team leaders' tent, which is a damn sight further from the generator. I guess we just don't rate."
Wolverine decided to ignore the sarcasm. "Well you rate now," he said. "If I have to kiss ass all the way up the chain of command to LBJ himself, I'm gonna see that you have lights in this tent. I don't take no stumbling dick-steppers out on my team. You're gonna need lights, because before you load up on any insertion ship with me, you will have your maps and codebooks memorized. Got that?"
Marvel nodded like a good soldier, but Mopar had had enough of this new lifer and he didn't care who knew it. "Got what? Got enough of you coming in here throwing your weight around, Sarge? Sure, I got enough of that! Got enough sense to study our maps and codebooks? Yeah? Well we got that too, damnit! You can't come in here treating us like a bunch of goddamn Basic Trainees!"
Marvel was trying desperately to shut Mopar up before it was too late, grimacing, shaking his head, rolling his eyes, and tapping his lips with his finger, but Mopar ignored him and went on.
"I've had just about all I'm gonna take of this shit. I don't care who you are, or what you've done—you can't come in treating us like we don't know our job! We don't fuck up—we don't half-step, and that's why we're still alive!"
Marvel thought that Mopar was fucking up pretty seriously, but he sure wasn't half-stepping. He was going all the way, and from the look on the new staff sergeant's face, Mopar was talking his way into either an ass-kicking or an Article 15 and bust back down to slick-sleeve Private E-2. But suddenly the little scars above Sergeant Wolverine's mouth tightened and pulled his lip up into another leering smile. Wolverine held up his right hand and shook his head, still smiling.
"All right, all right. I've heard enough. Pappy said you'd be a might touchy, and I can see the old buzzard was right. He also said you're a good man, and maybe he's right about that, too." Wolverine paused and tugged on the bill of his baseball cap, then sighed and shook his head once more.
"Now, I'm gonna let you slide this time, Spec Four Mopar—just to show how big my heart is. So let's have no more of this contentious bullshit, and we'll get along fine." He glanced over at Marvel, then turned back to Mopar and nodded. "Now, I want you to round up the rest of the team. I'm gonna go stow my gear, and I want everyone here when I return. I don't care what sort of detail they're on—pull them off it and get them back here. You got that?"
Mopar nodded unhappily. He got it all right, but he wasn't going to say so out loud.
Wolverine turned and started for the door, then stopped and turned back around.
"One more thing," he said, suddenly worried that he'd come on a tad too strong and was getting off on the wrong foot with the troops. "I told you my name and I expect you to use it. Let's have no more of this 'Sarge' bullshit. You just call me 'Wolverine' or 'Sergeant Wolverine' and we'll get along fine. Got that?"
Marvel nodded, but Mopar waited until the new staff sergeant was gone before answering.
"Got it Sarge." He hefted an imaginary foot-long penis in his hand and shook it at the doorway of the tent. "Got it dangling, you fuckin' Lifer Pig!"
He turned on Marvel Kim, who was grinning that goofy grin of his, and appeared to be on the verge of giggling.
"You think this is funny, don't you, you silly gook? All your talk about luck and omens and figuring the odds, and you can't spot bad luck and trouble when it comes walking into the tent. Always looking to the future, huh? You think he's got two, maybe three tours? Shit, Marvel! You're looking so far down the line you miss out on the bad luck that's at your feet. If that prick hadn't come into the platoon we'd both be making sergeant, and I'd be a Team Leader! That's bad luck. Marvel—bad luck in the here and now!"
Mopar swung his boots up on his cot and stretched out with his hands clasped behind his head.
"Giggle away, you goofy dork!" he said, breaking into a smile now, in spite of himself. "And while you're at it, you better step outside and police up Tiger. He was avoiding me the last time I saw him."
Wolverine shook his head and sat down on one of the foot-lockers. They were still in the aisle, still blocking the way to the bunker, but he decided not to say anything about that now. He wasn't feeling as much like a hard-driving leader of men as he had ten minutes before. He took off his baseball cap and scratched the top of his head, and even Mopar, who was still reluctant to give him the benefit of the doubt, had to admit that he looked a good deal less formidable than he had on his first visit to the tent.
"This is the whole team? Two Spec Fours and a raggedy-ass little brown and black dog?"
He glanced over at Tiger, who was curled up on a pile of dirty fatigues, chewing contentedly on an old green field sock. With his dirty brown coat and black stripe markings, Tiger looked like he'd been born in a camouflage suit. He was a medium-small dog, lazy and self-indulgent, yet alert and shifty—a true recon dog. He looked up at Wolverine and wagged his tail in casual greeting.
"What's he do? Carry the support radio?"
Marvel Kim looked over at Mopar and saw that he wasn't in the mood to answer, so he answered for him.
"Tiger's the sneakiest little thief and coward in the world," he said. It was exactly what Mopar would have said, but Marvel didn't say it quite as well. "Mostly he sleeps and eats and pisses oh things. But when we come in from the field he's always there on the berm above the chopper pad, wagging his tail to welcome us back. It's good to see him there, even if he won't come down off the berm until the pilots kill their engines."
This wasn't the answer Mopar would have given, but it was much closer to the truth. Mopar credited Tiger with all sorts of unlikely wisdom and insight, and it was just as well that he hadn't bothered to speak up, even though Wolverine had directed the question to him in the first place.
"So this is it? This is Team Two-Four of the Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol?" Wolverine sighed and put his cap back on his head. "Where the hell is the rest of the team, for chrissake?"
Now Mopar spoke up.
"Two of them's dead. Gonzales is on R&R, and Ketchum got out of the Army. We've been floating—filling in on the other teams and pulling more than our fair share of radio relay."
Mopar hated radio relay. While Marvel Kim thought it was deceptively dangerous duty, sitting on a fire base with nothing but straightleg artillery for security, Mopar just hated the boredom and frustration of following the teams on the map and missing out on all the fun they were having out there in the mountains.
"Well, you can forget about that." Wolverine was pleased to note the impatient scorn with which Mopar had mentioned radio relay. "I'm the ranking team leader in this platoon, and I'll go tooth and nail to get us missions. If you guys are as good as that old buzzard Stagg says you are, I'll see that we spend ninety percent of our time in the field."
It was an extravagant promise. There was no way any reconnaissance unit could get that much field time. But Wolverine was determined to spend as much time as possible out in the field, even if it meant volunteering the team for rinky-dink security patrols or even point work for the infantry. Just about anything was better than sitting on radio relay or filling sandbags in the rear.
"All right," Wolverine stood up and stretched. "Now that we got that out of the way, I think I'll take me a little stroll around the compound—get in some terrain familiarization. Anyone want to show me around?"
He addressed the invitation to both of them, but since Marvel Kim had finished cleaning his M-79 and was now working on his rifle magazines, it was up to Mopar to accept. He got to his feet slowly and took his time putting on his floppy Lurp hat. He pulled on the brim and styled it until his eyes were lost in shadow, then reached down and snatched the sock away from Tiger.
Excerpted from Tiger the Lurp Dog by Kenn Miller. Copyright © 1983 Kenneth E. Miller. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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