The keyword is HEAD.
Here we go...
Another muggy day in Viet Nam, but the discomfort was dispelled somewhat by the fact that, in the interest of crew cross-training, Sonny was driving. His throttle foot didn't seem to have any intermediate settings between off and full, so we were getting a nice breeze, and setting a new M48 land speed record.
A VW could easily outpace us, but a VW doesn't weigh 50 tons, so it felt pretty good.
We were on the return leg of a scissors sweep; we'd be met by the New Guy Tank, outbound, at the hinge, halfway home. The thick air didn't keep down the dust, but it sure made it stick to us, and the dust being a reddish-ochre, it made us look like the Mechanized Sioux. Watch out, Custer!
The Dude was sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch, Sonny's usual travel perch. It too loud to talk, but he suddenly grabbed my shoulder and pointed behind me.
A grunt platoon was clustered on the far side of a paddy field, by a deserted ville, but one of the yokels was splashing toward through the young shoots and water and nightsoil, waving and shouting.
"Driver, halt," I said into the mike, but Sonny was ahead of me, and was already slowing the tank and easing it toward the side of the road.
"I'll see what he wants, TC." The Dude vaulted part me, direct from the turret roof to the ground. Eleven feet.I was impressed.
Over the idling engine I heard snatches of conversation, and then The Dude's voice, high-pitch in horror. "He's got a leech WHERE???"
He turned to look at me, eyes wide, and an unusual procession set out toward us from the ville, bearing a figure aloft. The figure was naked from the waist down, and its legs were spread wide.
The Dude ran back to the tank, and climbed up. To my question, he nodded, and said, "Yeah, TC. Half in, half out."
"Ugh." I shuddered.
"Well, that's not the worst of it. He tried to smear bug juice on it, but that didn't work. No one had a dry cigarette, so they thought C4 would work instead." You can boil a cup of water in about thirty seconds by setting a tiny piece of C4 alight, It won't blow up; it needs a detonator to do that. Well, usually.
I nodded. "That may not have been the best thing to do."
"No, TC, it wasn't. The C4 lit off the bug juice, and burned him pretty well, while the leech went pretty much the only place it could to get away. This kid's got to go to BAS; they've got a surgeon waiting."
The patient was being gently slid onto the front-right fender. The headlights had long-since been ripped away by something long-forgotten,, so the fender was actually a pretty good place to carry him. Even though the kid was heavily doped, he was holding his legs wide apart. The affected area was several shades of red, ranging from claret to scarlet.
Sonny was watching from the driver's hatch. "Why don y'all put 'im ass-fahwahd? Get some ahr cundishunin whar he done need it?"
"Makes sense," I said. The grunt LT had come up to the tank, and when I looked at him, he nodded.
"You can't get him down the turret, I'd imagine." He spoke with the patrician tones of Harvard Yard; it was kind of a treat to the ears.
"No, sir," I said "I wouldn't even want to try. Would you?" I just wanted to hear him talk again; after months of boonie rap, it was a cool glass of water miraculously appearing in the Sahara.
"No, sergeant, I find that I agree with you. I'd rahthah you keep him on the fender. I'll detail one of my boys to help hold him in place." He waved a young PFC forward, and boosted the boy onto the tank. "There you go, son. Hold a place for us at the bar, won't you?"
He nodded to me, and the rest of his men followed him back across the paddy.
The PFC looked around nervously. "I ain't not ever never been on a tank before, sir...what do you want me to do?"
"I'm not a sir," I replied.
"He hasn't been knighted yet," said The Dude, "But I have. You can call me Sir."
The PFC's eyes were wide. "Uh, ok...sir."
Sir Dude continued, "Just make sure he doesn't slide down the front of the tank, or get dumped over the side. If he does he'll get hung up in the sprockets, and that's a real mess to clean up."
The PFC gulped, and nodded. He was very young. He had to learn fast, that life was cheap here, and death was always worth a laugh. He sat down next to his...well, not wounded, but very unwell friend, and I told Sonny to start off again...but not like he was trying for a 0-60 record. We couldn't do much over 45, anyway. On pavement.
The start was surprisingly gentle, and we'd gone about a mile, almost within sight of the hinge where we'd meet New Guy Tank, when The Sir Dude had an idea. "TC," he said. "want to play with the New Guys' heads?"
The return sweep was like going downhill, and I was happy. "Sure."
"You know the meurochrome in the aid kit..."
Within a few minutes we had a mildly protesting but giggling Biff reddened and emplaced on the left fender. The Dude jumped off the glacis, rad a few yards, then turned around. 'Beautiful! Red headlights!"
The PFC said, "Y'all tankers are crazy. Y'all know that?" But he was smiling, too. Leech Guy was in Morphia's warm embrace, and couldn't know of the extent of his participation in our little joke, so The Dude got his beloved Leica out and took a few pictures, to be mailed to Leech Guy's parents, for them to hold for his return. We prided ourselves on our considerate nature.
The timing was perfect. We were underway again, Biff holding tight, when New Guy Tank came into view.
"Driver, slow down, let's give them the best show in town."
I could see New Guy TC glassing us with his binocs. The Dude took ours and glassed him in return.
Then he said to me in a n ominously casual tone, "TC, I think that's the Boss."
The figure in the commander's cupola still had the binocs to his eyes, and as the distance closed I could see he was eyeing our new accessories.Then he lowered the glasses, and yeah, it was the company CO.
The Boss had taken one of his rare jaunts outside the wire; he didn't like to go far, because the corncob that nature had apparently placed up the chuff made travel difficult.
There was a rumour that he'd smiled once, at the end of Old Yeller. I expected him to stop us, and perhaps shoot us pour l'encouragement les autres
But no. The New Guy Tank glided past us on the left, gleaming through its coat of road-dust, Biff waved to The Boss; the occupant of the gunner's hatch had dropped down, to save his innocent eyes from the sight.
The Boss turned his head as we passed, and I turned mine, maintaining the eye contact that made me feel like a tiger's next meal.
And then the New Guy Tank stopped. The Boss disappeared into the turret, no doubt to bring out the hand weapons, and perhaps some light line to use to bind us.
"Driver, halt." Sonny eased us to a stop, and we waited in guilty stasis.
The Boss re-emerged from the commander's cupola, and looked at us sternly. No smile, no mercy in his eyes. A recruiting-poster Marine officer.
And then with a flourish, he turned, dropped his pants, and bent over to grab his ankles.
Apparently they had meurochrome too.
And a toothbrush...for his wide and inverted grin was scarlet as well.