Sergeant Augie Toffer has a rock in his boot and it’s driving him insane. Which means that his mind isn’t on his job. Not that it matters, in the end.
The abandoned village up ahead is just a small cluster of buildings around a spot where the road widens into a stopping point. The American patrol is coming up the rutted dirt road. They’ve been out since dawn, marching up the foothills of the mountains of central Tunisia. At least it’s stopped raining, a soft drizzle that made everything miserable. Now the sun’s out and the clouds have retreated to the tops of the mountains in the north. It’s cold.
Toffer and his lieutenant, John Munger, a guy from Akron who, six months ago was a mid level accountant in a bank, have stopped the patrol about a half a mile away from the village. The men in the patrol have taken the opportunity to find dry places to sit and are taking the opportunity to rest. Toffer’s inspecting the buildings through binoculars and speaks to Munger who’s standing next to him. “Looks all clear, sir. The Ay-rabs have skedaddled and there ain’t no Krauts.” He spits to one side and wishes that there was time for him to take his boot off and get rid of whatever fucking thing it was that giving his foot the miseries.
Munger nods. “Good. Let’s head in and, this time, keep the men together, Sergeant. Don’t let anyone wander off and get lost. Remember what happened to Pendle, back at that last village.”
“Understood, sir.” He turns to the rest of the patrol. “Ok, all of you, on your feet!” There’s a general chorus of groans. “Don’t give me that shit! Get the fuck up and move out.” His tone turns viciously sarcastic. “And if it’s not too much trouble, please don’t wander off and fall down a crapper. I want to see a five foot interval between each man. That’s five, not ten, if you don’t fucking mind. Despite what it looks like, this ain’t no Sunday school picnic.”
Eventually they get moving and positioned to Toffer’s liking. And the patrol enters the village. They march past the abandoned buildings, alert and eyes moving to spot anything suspicious. Except for the two guys in the middle of the column who are talking about girls. And the guy who’s worried that he’s forgotten how to properly clean his gun. And Toffer, who’s limping and thinking about his fucking foot.
The first shot hits Munger in the face and drops him like that dead sack of meat that he’s suddenly become. Bullets stitch Toffer across his chest. He dies thinking about how much his foot hurts.
Screaming bloody confusion. The Americans try to find cover behind an abandoned cart and fountain. Firing at windows and roof tops. A heavy machine gun opens from a window and punches right through the cart, kills the soldiers crouching behind it. Three Americans who had been marching slowest in the rear are able to find the best cover and start to return fire. They actually manage to wound a German on one of the roofs. Then the heavy fire breaks their nerve and they make a run for it, firing blindly behind them. Two of them are shot down right after they break cover. But the last one makes it away.
“Amateurs.” The judgement is dispassionate and rendered by the Wehrmacht Captain on the roof. “At least the British are real soldiers.” Rickard Wetzel stands up on the roof where he’d been directing the ambush. His machine gun dangles in one hand as he lifts his binoculars to his eyes. He speaks to Stossel, the sniper laying on the roof beside him. “No prisoners.”
“Yes, sir.” The sniper fires once and the last American, running in the distance, crumples, dead before he hits the ground. Wetzel gives two long blasts on his whistle and his soldiers begin to emerge from their ambush points. The contrast between them and the Americans is clear. These are veterans. Seasoned killers, forged in the battlefields of the Reich of the last two years: Poland, Norway, France, Greece. None of them are distracted by the condition of their feet.
Wetzel makes his way down off the roof, followed by the sniper. On the ground, he meets his Sergeant, a burly black haired man named Krober. “Leave the bodies. Prepare to move out. Let’s make the next supply dump by night.”
“Yes, sir.” Krober turns away and starts to organize the men. A couple of jeeps, APCs, and trucks come out of hiding and Krober assigns soldiers to each one.
“Sir?” Wetzel turns and it’s Bleick, his radioman, holding out the handpiece of the rig on his back. “A major from Kesselring’s HQ in Tunis wants to talk with you.”
Wetzel takes the handpiece. “Wetzel here. Yes, sir. Where’s that?” He snaps his fingers at Bleick who hands him a map. “Yes, sir, I’ve found it. We can be there in 12 hours. Yes, sir.” He gives the handset back to Bleick.
Krober comes up. “The men are all ready to go, Sir. We just need a destination.”
“You ask and Headquarters provides. Which is the way it’s supposed to work, so that’s why I’m so worried. HQ wants us to head to a small town, Sidi bou Zid. We’ll get further orders there.” Wetzel shows Krober the town on the map he’s holding.
Krober takes his time studying the map. “Shouldn’t be a problem, Captain. It’s rather far behind the current lines. I doubt that we’ll run into any Americans in that direction.”
“How are we for supplies?”
“We should be all right since we’re heading away from the enemy. We’re down to 3 belts on the 42, but that’s the only worry. The men have enough ammo and the vehicles have enough fuel. But you never know. Do you think we’ll be able to re-supply at this town? If not, then I’ll start to worry.”
“I think that we’ll be able to resupply there. If not, we’ll make visiting a supply dump a high priority afterwards, just to make sure.” Wetzel folds up the map and hands it to Bleick. “Carry on, Sergeant! Lead us out!”
Krober salutes. “Yes, sir!”
He runs to the lead vehicle and gets in. Wetzel turns, pulls up his goggles over his eyes and gets in the passenger side of a jeep. The small convoy pulls out.
When it’s finally quiet, the dogs come for the bodies.