Vin Steele looked over at the newest member of his squad. He hated them young like this. Like they didn’t know what end of a razor to hold, let alone how to use it. But they were down men and a lot of patrolling needed to be done. Too much chatter on the radio and not enough hours in the day, let alone manpower.
He made sure his earpiece was set, looked around at everyone else, and said, “Testing. Lift your right hand if you hear me.”
No one made a sound; everyone lifted their hand. Good, they could follow orders.
First Class Tim Roseman, the newest member, looked up and smiled. There was no reason to be smiling right now. Not when they were getting ready to leave base. “You’re with me,” he said to Tim. They’d have a little one-on-one chat about staying focused. About staying sharp.
How this was serious.
This was war.
Vin climbed into the Humvee and nodded his head to Tim to get in the passenger seat. The rest knew to climb in the back, gear all in place, ammo strapped on, M4 carbines in hand.
“Listen to instructions. Don’t go off on your own,” Vin said.
Vin looked over and saw the smile Tim was trying to hide. He’d give him credit for trying at least. “What’s so funny?”
“Then why are you so happy?” Vin asked, trying to figure out what was going on. Yeah, he could be happy, but not now. Not when leaving the camp. Not even when preparing to leave camp.
“Just excited to be working with you, sir.”
Vin rolled his eyes. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that, and didn’t want to ask. Did he know his name had been thrown around as an up-and-coming commander? Sure, he did. But he didn’t let it go to his head any more than he was letting this frustrating conversation with Tim get to him. If he was one thing, it was focused when he needed to be.
“Keep sharp at all times.”
Vin stopped talking at that point and concentrated on driving down the dirt road. It was hotter than the gates of hell right now. Dust blowing around like snow in a Chicago winter storm. Everything was brown and just dismal here, though, not white and pure.
The sooner they got this over with, the sooner they could get back to camp and the sooner it’d be tomorrow. The faster the tomorrows came, the faster they could all get home safe and sound.
That was the end game to him. Home. Safe and sound.
They pulled into the town they were instructed to canvas. Ordered to patrol, even try to find out any information. Look for anything suspicious.
Chatter was just that. Chatter. Nothing concrete, and everything to make his skin crawl like the nasty bugs he’d never seen before he showed up here a year ago.
When he shut the vehicle off, his squad got out of the back, he and Tim out of the front. “Stay alert and scope out the area. Keep your distance and look for anything cagey.” He lifted his hands and pointed his team into groups of two, then waved them in the directions he wanted them to go.
“You’re still with me,” he said to the newcomer. At least his smile was gone, replaced by a bit of nervousness. Nerves could be good if they kept you on your toes. Bad if they made you careless.
“What are we looking for?” Tim asked.
“Anything out of the ordinary,” Vin said quickly. He glanced around, didn’t see anything that stood out. “Stay here. I’m going to cross the street and check in the buildings. You keep an eye on the civilians.”
Tim stayed where he was instructed, his rifle in front of him at attention, his eyes shifting around, taking in everything and anything, Vin noticed as he crossed over.
He looked into two buildings, all the while keeping his eyes on Tim, ears open to the rest of his team. Not many were talking, and that was the way he liked it. They’d say something if there was something to say.
He came out of the last building and saw Tim moving toward a child crying on the side of the road. “Halt, Roseman. Don’t approach the subject.”
“He’s just a kid and he’s hurt. He’s harmless.”
The gap was closing now, just two feet away when Vin saw the kid’s hand go under his torn and ragged shirt. “No!” Vin shouted, but it was too late—the explosion knocked him off his feet and out cold.