Summary: Troy falls ill after a stop over at a local village. The Patrol is commissioned with a crucial assignment that affects hundreds of soldiers and Moffitt is forced to make some quick decisions… but are they the right ones?
Category: Rat Patrol
Genre: WWII Drama
Word Count: 9460
The jeeps limped into the small village of Madab. They were short on gas, short on water and the engines needed serious servicing. The Rat Patrol had just come off a grueling week of patrolling their territory in Northern Libya.
The natives of the village went about their business – they marketed and retrieved water and cared for their small children. The village had few buildings some of stone and others of clay bricks. Some of the structures were quite large while others were smaller dwellings where villagers sold their wares and where some lived. Three young boys kicked a makeshift ball to each other in the middle of the road that carved down the center of the town. Their laughter and camaraderie was infectious.
The Jeeps broke up the children’s game temporarily, and as soon as the vehicles passed them, the boys continued to play. Private Mark Hitchcock and Sergeant Sam Troy stopped first and dismounted as Private Tully Pettigrew and Sergeant Jack Moffitt pulled up behind them. Tully got out and joined the boys in their football game. He loved kids and often stole bubble gum off Hitch to give to them. Sometimes he’d save his USO Care Package Hersey bar for them – that is if he could keep it from melting in the desert heat. It wasn’t easy. He loved the native people and played with the children any time he could. Tully’s game ended when Troy called him away from it.
“Tully!” He yelled to the private. “Let’s go.”
Tully, always one to obey orders without complaint, gave a small wave to the children and jogged slowly over to where the rest of his unit stood. A trail of dust cascaded from his clothing as he went.
Private Pettigrew was a ruggedly handsome man with a straight nose and square jaw. He had sun-bleached blonde hair that met the back of his collar. Sergeant Troy was constantly telling him to get a hair cut, but he rarely did. Tully had dark chocolate coloured eyes that were filled with intensity, which contradicted his temperament. Other times his eyes revealed a gentleness so soft you could almost see into his soul. His skin was the colour of copper and had the texture of leather from months of solar rays and battering grit. He stood about six feet tall and his gait was slow but deliberate.
His desert khaki’s were topped with an American, army issue helmet. He usually wore his jacket open with no shirt underneath but when he did where a shirt, he made sure it was customized with cut-off short sleeves. He wore gaiters that helped keep the sand from entering his well wore-in boots. His goggles were so dirty that his companions were sure he could not see out of them. When he wasn’t using them they dangled from his neck like jewelry. Tully wore four silver rings – two on each little finger. Were they gifts from home or trinkets from Cairo? No one knew, but they were always a part of him.
A matchstick was his preference for chewing rather than the bubble gum that Hitch favored. There was one other thing noticeable about Tully’s garb and that was the presence of a foot long bayonet. He carried the blade in a scabbard that was tethered to his right thigh. Tully was the image of a desert warrior.
He had a knack for keeping engines running under the most dire conditions. He was creative in keeping them on the go by using string, shoelaces, leather, even sticks – just about anything he could find. He even had his patrol urinate into the radiator once.
“It’s the only way to keep her cool.” He said as his companions looked on with disgust. Tully stood with his hands on his hips beside the Jeep waiting impatiently for his lads to release the goods.
Tully loved Rita Hayworth and had a tremendous crush on her but he never told his unit of this. He would never admit to it – never. He kept it to himself as his own private infatuation. It made it more special he thought. He also loved animals – dogs and horses especially. He passed the time reading and writing letters home to his mother and two sisters. Tully was a man of few words, but when he did pipe up, it was pure and sensible. He was a spiritual sort and Troy, Moffitt and Hitch were always appreciative of his company. With Tully, what you saw was what you got.
“Let’s get these Jeeps fixed and load up supplies. Then we’ll all grab a beer. What do you say?” Troy announced as he looked around the town scouting for the local watering hole.
“A beer sounds great Sarge!” Hitch replied as he smiled brightly. “Let’s go!”
“Hold it. After we fix these Jeeps and load up.” Troy ordered while giving Hitch a severe look from under the brim of his bush hat. He waited to get Hitch’s attention and then let loose with his characteristic sunbeam grin. He gave Hitch a gentle punch on the back of his shoulder.
“Sure Sarge. Sure thing.” Hitch chuckled.
Moffitt stood looking around the village, taking in all the sounds and smells. He helped Tully remove the canteens from their vehicles and they both walked toward a large fountain spring surrounded by an ancient stone wall. It stood about three feet tall and was about twelve feet in diameter. It was obviously the center of town and its main source of water. And the water was good too. Both Tully and Moffitt washed their faces and drank freely, appreciative of its cool, clean taste. It wasn’t like the warm, stale stuff they were used to.
Troy walked up to a man selling figs and dates and traded a German Iron Cross he had found in the desert for a large bag. Troy saved a lot of these lost trinkets for trading with the natives. He had no use for them, especially the German ones. Troy pulled a few dates from the bag and ate them. He loved dates – always had. Here in the desert villages, they were plentiful. The natives even used them to feed their livestock.
“Date?” Troy asked Hitch while offering him the open bag.
“Uughch.” Hitch made a grotesque, throaty sound as he pushed the bag back at Troy with his face soured in disgust. “I hate dates. They look like bugs.” He returned to tinkering with the engine of his Jeep. Troy continued to munch without a flinch.
Moffitt and Tully rejoined Troy and Hitch and loaded the water cans into the dusty vehicles. Tully unlatched the hood of his Jeep and began to explore the injured engine. He pushed up the sleeves of his jacket, threw off his helmet and stretched into the grease pit. It was a familiar pose.
“Date?” Troy said while offering Moffitt the open bag. They were standing next to each other watching the private’s work as if it were a spectator sport.
“Thank you. No. I’m not terribly fond of dates. My mother used to put them in her Christmas pudding. I always used to pick them out.” Moffitt said in his thick, upper crust English accent, grinning from ear to ear.
“Hey Tully!” Troy asked as he gave the young man a nudge. “Want a date?”
“What?” Tully grunted from under the hood.
“Do-you-want-a-date?” Troy enunciated a bit louder.
“Sorry Sarge. You’re just not my type.”
“Very funny.” Troy sneered. “Do you want one or not?”
“No thanks. Don’t like’um.” Tully chuckled at his own wit as he continued his repairs.
Troy seemed deflated that no one else cared for these little gems. He shrugged and finished a few more than shoved them into his duffel bag.
After Hitch and Tully had finished their mechanical duties and the Jeeps were in good shape to continue patrol; the four men strolled to the nearest pub to grab something cold. They really didn’t care what it was – it just had to be cold. They all settled for root beer of all things. Where the inn keeper got root beer, they hadn’t a clue. The Rats bantered about the previous week and of course Hitch paid his attentions to the women who lazed around the place. The squad drank up and walked out of the establishment that was just three walls that opened onto the street. It could barely be called a dwelling at all. The men returned to their mounts and took their familiar seats.
They had been ordered to patrol one hundred square kilometers to the northwest to clear the way for troops carrying supplies and ammunition to camps in Benghazi. They had been doing this same patrol without any action for ten days now and still had ten days of duty to go. The Rat Patrol found it boring but the rats made the best of it by taking time to read, sleep and gather their wits for the next more exciting mission from headquarters.
This latest assignment was not typical. In fact, Sergeant Troy found it a waste of his men’s time – babysitting. The Rat Patrol was the top LRDG unit in the desert and he made it respectfully clear to his superiors that this sort of mission was beneath them. They were used to action – lots of it.
Tully rode with Moffitt as usual. He started his Jeep and rolled it into first gear and smoothly made his way carefully past the gang of boys who were still playing football. Tully gave a salute and all of the children stood at attention and returned it. Moffitt smiled at them as they passed and he too waved. Hitch and Troy followed, but Hitch acknowledged the women he had seen in the pub. They eyed him seductively as he rolled past. Troy just looked at Hitch, shook his head and grinned.
“Let’s shake it!” he said forcefully.
They drove out of the village at a slow pace but as soon as they reached the edge of it, they picked up speed and side-by-side, headed for open desert. Within minutes they were out of sight. Only the tracks they left behind were the only sign that the Rat Patrol had even been in Madab at all.
An hour into their patrol Troy started to become irritable. Hitch had bored him with stories of his escapades in Cairo. The women in the village had reminded him of a story and Troy was a captive audience. Troy seemed far away though. He was uncomfortable and perspired more profusely than normal. He took his hat off and wiped his forehead with the heel of his hand.
“Did you hear that Sarge? Can you believe that? She slapped me. Just like that.” Hitch rambled. “Sarge?… Sarge?”
“What?” Troy asked seemingly absent. “What was that?”
“She slapped me!” Hitch continued.
“Slapped you huh? That’s hard to believe.” Troy said as he tried to sound interested. But pain in his head preoccupied him. It felt like someone had embedded a sharp stone in the center of his skull. Again he rubbed it to try to erase the throbbing.
“Who was there Sarge, you or me?” Hitch laughed unaware of Troy’s discomfort. They proceeded farther north in accordance with their orders, but there was nothing to hunt. All there was ahead of them were miles and miles of sand dunes and rocks. With every foot, Troy became more and more disturbed.
After five hours of patrol without a sign of the enemy, Troy called Tully and Moffitt over for a quick conference.
“Let’s call it a day. There’s nothing out here. It’ll be dark in about an hour anyway. Let’s set up camp.”
Troy said to Moffitt. But instead of his usual steady tone, he sounded down right angry. Troy had not only had if for the day, he had had enough of this mission.
“Tully. Radio HQ. Tell’em where we are and that we didn’t find anything today but we’ll go out again tomorrow.” Troy snapped.
“Sure thing Sarge. I just need to shake a rock out of my boot.” Tully replied reaching down to unlace.
“Do it now damn it!” Troy blasted.
Tully stopped what he was doing immediately and looked up at Troy with a hurt expression, like a child who had just been scolded by a parent for a minor infraction.
“Yessss – sssssir!” Tully answered sarcastically. He was unappreciative of his sergeant’s tone. He wondered what was the rush.
Moffitt and Hitch looked at one another shocked at Troy’s verbal attack on Tully. The message they sent to each other was clear.
What’s the matter with him?
Tully lowered his foot from the bumper and sidled to the back where the radio was. He fiddled with a few knobs before picking up the hand piece.
“Blue Fox this is Red Goose, come in Blue Fox” Tully said speaking into the radio mouthpiece while eyeing Troy who ignored him.
“Blue Fox this is Red Goose, do you read Blue Fox? Tully continued.
“We read you Red Goose. Over.” Came the hazy reply.
“We’re done for the day. We’re about 200km north of Madab. We’ll be here for the night. We’ll start out again in the morning. Over.”
“10-4 Red Goose. Sleep tight. Over and out.”
Tully replaced the radio mouthpiece in its cradle and then knelt down to unlace his boot to remove the stone. He put his boot back on and then rummaged around the Jeep for his bedroll, a water canteen and his duffel. He laid it all out carefully without uttering another word or making eye-contact with anyone. He was a little embarrassed. Hitch had started preparing camp too. He approached his friend.
“Don’t take it so hard Tully. I’m sure it was nothing personal. He’s under a lot of pressure right now and you know he’s not too thrilled about this mission.” Hitch whispered.
Both he and Tully were in a crouched position making up their beds.
“I suppose.” Tully replied still upset by the exchange. His heart was pounding in his chest. The one thing he liked about this detail was the fact that each man respected the other. They were all equals – he thought. This was the first sign of either of his sergeants pulling rank. It hurt.
Moffitt walked over to Troy who had scaled a dune to scan the desert. He had lit a cigarette and stood atop the dune as a child would who was playing king of the mountain.
“Is they’re something the matter Troy?” Moffitt inquired cautiously. “Can I help?”
“No.” Came the short response from Troy who then made his way back to the small camp. Dejected, Moffitt followed him back down the dune slowly. He too felt shunned but was more puzzled than offended. Troy’s demeanor had changed so quickly. What was different? What had happened in the last six hours that had changed this man’s personality so drastically?
The four soldiers sat cross-legged around a small fire. It was dark now. They ate beans from a can and some flat bread they had bought in the village that day. No one spoke. They all concentrated on the meal in front of them. Troy sat slightly separated from the rest of his men. He only ate a few spoonfuls of food and put it aside in favor of another cigarette. He rubbed his brow with his thumb and forefinger so hard it left it raw and red. His eyes were closed tightly and he was sweating even though the temperature had dropped about forty degrees.
“Are you alright Troy?” Moffitt asked tentatively.
“I’m fine.” Troy hissed.
Moffitt could barely hear him.
Tully and Hitch looked up with their eyes but kept their heads down. They were curious to hear the conversation between the sergeants but did not want to let on that they were listening.
“Can I get you some water?” Moffitt offered.
“No. I’m fine I said.” Troy snapped again.
Troy got up and walked over to the Jeep for some piece and quiet. Moffitt followed him again, undeterred by his friend’s deflection. He would get to the bottom of this whether Troy liked it or not. The team couldn’t afford discension. Their unit was too dependent on one another and Moffitt was worried that Troy’s new attitude might adversely affect they way they all worked together.
Tully and Hitch still watched them, pretending not to notice the tension in the air. Then they looked at each other and shrugged and went back to eating their dinners. Moffitt rested his forearm on the hood and prepared himself for a heart-to-heart with Troy.
Sergeant Jack Moffitt wore a tankman’s beret issued by His Majesty’s Armed Forces. He wore it well too. The black of the beret contrasted his astonishingly green eyes that sparkled even at night. He wore a blue cotton cloth around his neck like an ascot and turned his collar up to block the sun from burning the back of his neck. He had sorrel colored skin from the suns beating rays too, but managed to elude the leather texture by keeping covered as much as possible. He wore his pants without gaiters; he sometimes wore short pants, and always wore his suede desert boots that matched the colour of the sand.
Moffitt was easily over six feet tall and couldn’t weigh more than one hundred and sixty-five pounds soaking wet. He was definitely a light-weight when it came to stature but not when it came to brainpower or physical strength. He was deceivingly strong. Moffitt had a quiet smile but it could still light up a room – it was true to his nature.
Moffitt loved a good read – usually history or his particular area of expertise anthropology or archeology. He also loved a challenging game of chess but out here all he had in the way of a strategy besides the war itself, was a game of checkers that Hitch had made. He and Hitch often ended their day with a few rounds. It wasn’t chess but it was still jolly good fun.
Moffitt listened to the classics but was always happy to slow dance with the ladies to Glen Miller or Benny Goodman. Back in England, just before the war broke out, he’d spent many Saturday nights organizing dances at Cambridge where he was class president. He was captain of the rowing team and an accomplished equestrian as well. He missed those days but rarely reflected on them. He was a live-in-the-moment sort of fellow who made the best of things no matter what. The “stiff upper lip” thing had been deeply ingrained in him from an early age. Even though these were the toughest years of his life, they were the most exciting and fulfilling. Moffitt loved the desert, he loved fighting for King and Country and he loved the men he worked with.
Tough when he had to be and caring when necessary, Jack Moffitt was a true British gentleman who tried to do the right thing at the right time. He was a brave soldier and a fine leader but he would prove to be an even better friend.
“Listen old chap.” Moffitt began with a jovial tone. “I know you think this mission is a waste of our time. But you have to admit it is a nice change.”
Troy looked him squarely in the eye and paused slightly before responding.
“What is HQ thinking! Two weeks of this! Don’t they know that we are needed elsewhere? Anywhere damn it!” Troy said in a way Moffitt had never heard before. Troy seemed almost inconsolable – possessed. Perspiration streamed down his face. He continued to rub his brow intensely.
“Look. Troy. We’ve got another week to do. Let’s make the best of it. If blasting Tully for no reason makes you feel better, then go ahead. He can take it. We all can.” Moffitt lectured.
Troy dropped his chin to his chest and sighed, then threw his head back and looked up at the stars. He looked over at his two privates who were stretched out resting on their elbows shooting the breeze. He saw two boys really, ripped from their homes and out in the middle of nowhere in the fight of their lives. Troy looked at them and realized how much they looked up to him. He was very fond of both of them. He realized that tearing into Tully was not only unfair but inexcusable.
“I’m sorry.” Troy finally said.
“Don’t tell me. Tell him.” Moffitt advised pointing with a flick of his chin.
Troy conceded and shuffled over to where Hitch and Tully lazed. They ignored his presence, afraid that if they acknowledged him, he just might snap at them again.
“Listen, Tully.” Troy began sheepishly. “I’m sorry about the radio thing. I’m …… well …. I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK Sarge.” Tully said looking up at him with a forced grin. “Forget it.”
Troy smiled back then made his way over to his bedroll. He flopped down and fell asleep immediately. The three remaining men played cards for another hour and then they too called it a night. As Moffitt pulled his blanket over his shoulders he looked at Troy and wondered what kind of person he would be after a good night’s rest. He hoped for all of their sakes he would return to normal and today’s outbursts would be forgotten. But Moffitt had his doubts and as he closed his eyes, all he could see was Tully’s face looking at Troy with that wounded, puzzled stare. It will be all right Moffitt thought. It will be all right.
Tully was the first to rise. He puttered around the camp quietly, preparing a breakfast of flat bread, coffee, canned meat and some blueberry jam that his mother had sent to him. He made up a plate for each of his comrades.
He loved these mornings to himself. He scaled a dune and faced the east. The sun was just peering over the horizon and Tully took in all its beauty. The colours of the sunrise reminded him of Kentucky. It wasn’t often that he thought of home. Only mornings like this made him miss his family and a life that seemed so long ago and far away.
He stretched his arms over his head and reached for the sky. He shook his head to shake himself fully awake as he seemed to float down the dune to the camp below. He landed at the bottom with a gentle thud and sauntered over to Hitch and gently kicked his feet. Hitch moved slightly and groaned. His red kepi covered his eyes to shade them from the morning sun.
“Rise and shine sleeping beauty.” Tully joked. “It’s late.”
“Late?” Hitch said from under his hat. “Late for what?”
“Come on it’s almost noon.”
“Noon? The sun is barely up.”
Tully nudged him yet again.
“Alright, alright.” Hitch protested. “I’m up, I’m up already.”
By this time Moffitt was awake and doing his morning sit-ups. Tully just watched in awe. He didn’t know where Moffitt found the energy every morning but he did respect the effort and the discipline. Tully handed Hitch his breakfast. He was now sitting up but he still had his eyes closed. Tully chuckled at his friend’s relaxed expression and headed toward Moffitt to give him his plate. Troy was still asleep in the fetal position. Tully found that rather odd.
“Hey Sarge. Rise and shine” Tully said in a loud voice so he wouldn’t have to nudge Troy awake.
“Yeah. Yeah. OK.” Troy replied. Tully had never had to wake Troy before. The fact that the sergeant was not up and around at this time worried him even more.
As the three men ate their breakfast, they watched Troy struggle to his feet. He was still in a sweat but held a blanket around his shoulders like a shawl. He shivered uncontrollably. Troy stumbled to the Jeep and sat behind the wheel. He coughed and sputtered as he tried to make himself comfortable.
“Troy?” Moffitt yelled to him, “Are you all right? Troy?!”
There was no answer. Troy just sat there staring into space. He seemed to carry on a conversation with himself. He lowered his head into his hands and bellowed in pain. Tully, Hitch and Moffitt scrabbled to their feet, dropping their meals into the sand and ran to him. As they approached Troy, they were shocked by how white he was. His complexion was the colour of bathroom grout. Hitch placed his hand on Troy’s forehead.
“Sarge. You’re burning up. Come on back and lie down.” Hitched urged as he took Troy’s arm.
“They’re out there you know.” Troy muttered incoherently. “Over there. Let go of my arm. I’m all right. I’m ….. All…” his words disappeared and then he collapsed into the arms of Tully and Hitch. They caught him as he fell out of the Jeep and carried him back to his bedroll. Tully had his feet and Hitch held him under his arms. Moffitt followed holding the blanket.
“There’s only one way.” Troy continued his foggy gibberish. “We’ve got to get to them. There they are. There they are!”
“He’s delirious. He’s got to have a temperature of about 104° at least.” Hitch reported.
Tully ran to get water and a cloth to cool Troy down, while Hitch wiped the sweat away with the sleeve of his shirt. Troy thrashed about and struggled to get to his feet. Hitch and Moffitt had to hold him down. He fought hard until he got too weak to fight anymore. He lay back, closing his eyes and talking a mile-a-minute. Moffitt took the water from Tully and poured it on the cloth and placed it on Troy’s forehead. His hair was wet with perspiration and clung to his temples. Moffitt unbuttoned Troy’s shirt and opened it and found what he was afraid of. Red sores covered Troy’s chest and abdomen.
“Typhoid.” Moffitt gasped. “Bloody dates!” He whispered under his breath.
“Typhoid? How, where?” Hitch pulled back from Troy like he had just been burned. His expression was that of repulsion – the thought of contracting this disease made Hitch’s stomach tumble. His throat dried up and he felt a flush of blood rush up into his face.
“The dates. Troy was the only one to eat those bloody dates.” Moffitt replied through his teeth.
“What should we do?” Tully asked calmly.
“Red Goose. Red Goose. Come in Red Goose. This is Blue Fox. Come in Red Goose.” The radio blared.
Tully ran to answer the radio leaving Hitch and Moffitt to tend to Troy.
“This is Red Goose. I read you Blue Fox. Come in.” Tully said.
“We have reports of German Panzer Divisions approaching your area. They are on their way to El Shamin Oasis. They must be stopped so our guys can pass through. They should reach you by tomorrow. Do you read Red Goose?” The radio announced with slight panic. Tully could barely hear the report through the static.
“I read you Blue Fox. Over.” Tully answered back.
Tully paused for a moment to gain his composure. He looked up at the sky. It was cloudless and as clear as a diamond. He released a lung filled sigh in disbelief of the situation that was unfolding. He replaced the receiver in its cradle, took a deep breath and ran back to the rest of his patrol.
“German Divisions are on the road to El Shamin Oasis. We’ve been ordered to intercept.” Tully informed Moffitt anxiously.
“There they are!” Troy mumbled through the fever. “They’re there. There they are!”
“What do we do Sarge?” Hitch asked in a desperate voice.
“How many times have I told you not to call me Sarge!” Moffitt blasted and then paused to think.
“Now Hitch, listen to me.” Moffitt began. “If you have to touch Troy, or give him water, you must wash afterwards. I don’t care if you have to wash you hands with petrol. Make sure you stay clean. All the water we have goes to him and give him plenty. Make sure he doesn’t stay in one position for too long. Roll him on his side or his back. Keep him shaded and as cool as possible and we’ll be back.” Moffitt instructed, taking the reins of the team instinctively.
“Back?” Hitch asked. “Back from where?”
“You’re not going back there? What for?” Hitch questioned – his voice raised.
“We’ve got to worn the villagers. Just on the other side of Madab is an Australian Field Hospital. We’ll get Troy some medicine and then we’ll be back.” Moffitt explained.
Tully stood over Troy shading him from the sun, watching Moffitt’s intense conversation with Hitch. His tongue wiggled the matchstick that hung from his lips and he squinted in sympathy of Troy’s discomfort.
“Shouldn’t we all go back to Madab and take Troy to the hospital?” Tully suggested.
“The trip would be too much for him. He would slow us down and we’ve no time as it is. He’ll be much more comfortable right here. We have to intercept that column tomorrow so we’ll be back as soon as we can. Five or six hours should saffice.”
Tully and Hitch looked at Moffitt in silent uncertainty.
“Troy would want us to take this mission. He’s been waiting for it for weeks.” Moffitt explained trying to convince the privates.
“But Troy’s in no shape to fight. What will we do with him while we’re intercepting?” Hitch questioned. “I think we should take him to the hospital and scrub the mission.”
“NO. It’s too rough for him and too hot. He’ll be much better off here.” Moffitt demanded. “We are the only unit in this area. We cannot scrub this mission. Our camps in El Shamin Oasis need those supplies and we’re going to clear the way for them. Understood?” Moffitt gave Tully and Hitch a cross look but then broke into a mild grin.
“Look. I know we are all worried about Troy. But he is just one man. There are hundreds of soldiers to consider. Do you want to risk the lives of hundreds for just one man?”
“But it’s Troy, Sarge.” Hitch said watching for any sign of submission from Moffitt. But he ignored Hitch’s plea and continued with his instructions.
“Hitch. Remember to wash. Do not share canteens. Do not touch Troy unless it is absolutely necessary.” Moffitt explained while staring straight into the young man’s eyes.
“Do you understand?” Moffitt asked.
“I read you, Sarge.”
“Tully, get one canteen and leave the rest for Troy and let’s get a move on.” Moffitt ordered.
Tully turned and jogged toward the jeeps. He pulled out a small water canteen and filled it and removed all the large water containers and placed them into the other jeep. He carried the containers carefully, as if they were explosives. Water was so precious; it was handled with care. Then he flung the canteen over his shoulder and sat in the jeep that he had just emptied. He looked over his shoulder and noticed the bag of dates Troy had bought in Madab the day before. He picked up the bag with his thumb and forefinger like he was carrying a rat by it’s tail and walked over to the fire and threw them onto the flames. Tully then looked at Moffitt who was watched him incinerate the culprit. Tully immediately washed his hands and returned to the jeep. He placed his helmet on his head and started the engine. He looked over at the camp where Hitch and Moffitt were still crouched over Troy – ready and waiting.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can.” Moffitt reassured Hitch.
“You take it easy. I’ll take care of Troy.”
With that, Moffitt sprang to his feet, ran over to the jeep and he and Tully took off in a blaze of dust. Hitch watched them until they were out of sight then turned his attention to Troy.
“No! No! There they are!” Troy screamed.
“Shhhh. It’s OK Sarge. It’s Ok.” Hitch whispered in a comforting voice.
He rang out the cloth and moistened it and replaced it on Troy’s forehead. He looked up again to see if he could see Tully and Moffitt anymore, but they were long gone. The desert became quiet all of a sudden. The wind that usually swirled by this time of day was absent. Hitch found it eerie. The only sound was Troy’s laboured gasps and the pounding of Hitch’s heart in his throat.
Private Mark Hitchcock could be described as the All-American boy-next-door. Blonde and blue-eyed, he was also the ideal human that Hitler was striving for – a perfect Arian specimen.
Hitch was built for speed. Very athletic and graceful, he was one of those guys that everything came easy to. Academics – love – sports – life in general. He was confident in everything he did or attempted. And besides this charmed life, he was liked by all. He was one of those guys that was headed for greatness; he had everything going for him.
He stood almost six feet and weighed a tidy one hundred and seventy pounds. All choice. His body was well proportioned with long legs, slim waist, broad chest and shoulders and a face of a cherub.
His hair was cropped very short with a longish fringe that blew gently in the breeze. Blue is too plain a description for his eyes. They were more robins’ egg-coloured with flecks of aqua encircling the pupil. A perfect nose pointed to a perfect set of lips that produced a perfect smile. His smile was used to reel you in. He used it as a weapon to lure women who could not resist it. Hitch knew it. But his smile charmed men too. They weren’t jealous of his talent, wit and confidence, they kind of cheered him on. How could one person be so likeable? Hitch was. He was a walking, breathing piece of art.
He was a good dancer; he loved to piece together models of cars and aircraft. He was a baseball player back home. A shortstop. Hitch loved dogs and big band music and golfing of all things. The only thing wrong with Hitch was the fact that he couldn’t see worth a darn. A flaw that he disguised successfully while enlisting. He actually memorized the eye test chart so he wouldn’t be rejected. He wore wire-rimmed glasses that he managed to keep intact so far. They were sometimes a burden though, and he understood why that might have kept him from the fight.
He wore a gold band on his wedding finger that was curious and a gold chain with a St. Christopher’s medal around his neck that his mother gave to him the day he shipped out. “It will keep you safe” she told him as tears streamed down her face. He was her only son and it was hard to let him go.
While in the desert he sported a red French Foreign Legion Kepi that he found on his first day in Alexandria while waiting for his first assignment. His goggles were propped atop the brim. He wore standard-issue army desert khakis – the shirt and pants only, held up with a utility belt and gaiters like Tully. The utility belt held nothing though. No side arm, no water bottle, and no knife. Just plain and simple. No accessories.
As a soldier he was prepared to do what ever it took to win. Competitive by nature, he would give his life for his unit and country, no questions asked. He would do anything above and beyond the call of duty. Today he played nursemaid and gladly. He cared so much for Troy. He looked up to him and respected him. He felt bad that this had happened to Troy and tried to make him as comfortable as possible.
Troy’s ailment made Hitch nervous. He didn’t want to get sick. It scared him more than fighting the Germans did. This fever was too hot – too severe and Hitch did everything he could to avoid touching Troy. He wanted to comfort his sergeant, but could not bring himself to do so. When he gave Troy water or wiped his brow, he put on his leather gloves and then washed his hands two or three times. Hitch did not understand why Typhoid scared the wits out of him, he just wanted Troy to get better and fast.
“David? David?” Troy whispered as he looked up at Hitch.
“No Sarge. It’s me. Hitch.”
“Help me Dave. I’m sick. Help me … I’m… “
“I’m not your brother, Sarge. I’m Hitch. It’s gonna be okay.” The young private comforted. “Moffitt and Tully are getting you some medicine and then you’ll be fine. It will make you feel better. Just hang in there. It’ll be okay.”
Hitch did his best to reassure Troy but it fell on deaf ears. Troy had returned to his fevered blackness.
“Where are they?” Hitch said glancing at his watch and then out into open desert. They had not yet been gone two hours but Hitch’s’ anxiety crept up on him and he felt helpless. A sitting duck. It was a feeling he did not like or want. His comrades could not return soon enough.
Tully and Moffitt entered the town of Madab quietly. The temperature had risen to 112°. They had raced across the rocky terrain in a fight with time, but when they reached the outskirts of the village they slowed to a snail’s pace afraid of what they might encounter. They pictured a plague, like something out of medieval England, but found none. It was 10:37 am. They had made good time. As they moved into the center of Madab, they were struck by how normal everything appeared. All seemed calm with no sign of epidemic.
Tully stopped the jeep right in front of the stand where Troy had bought the dates but it had been abandoned. There were only a few merchants left now and Moffitt walked over to one of them to do some questioning.
“The man who sold dates here yesterday, do you know where he is?”
“He only sell, maybe one time in one week.” The man answered Moffitt in broken English.
“Do you know where he lives or where I can find him?” Moffitt probed.
“I don’t know him. I don’t know where he come from.” Came the reply.
Tully stood in silence slightly behind Moffitt looking around the village for any sign of sickness. He stood with all his weight shifted onto his right leg with his thumbs hooked into his belt loops. It was his favorite stance.
“Has anyone taken ill in the village?” Moffitt continued.
“No. No one is ill. I have not seen.” The man answered.
“Thank you. Thanks for you help.”
The two soldiers moved away to mull over their options. They were both confused.
“It looks like the dates are not the culprit after all.” Moffitt confessed.
“Nope.” Tully agreed. “Everything looks normal round here.”
“Well. Let’s get to that field hospital and get back to Troy as soon as we can.” Moffitt took Tully’s arm and physically turned him toward the jeeps. They jogged over and hopped in. Tully started the engine and gunned it. They sped through the town to the Army hospital. They said nothing to each other knowing their mission. Tully aggressively gnawed his matchstick and Moffitt sat quietly scanning the terrain. The hospital was an hour away but Tully could not drive fast enough. Moffitt looked over at him and grinned slightly but Tully did not return it. He was not sure about Moffitt’s decision making. He still believed that they should have brought Troy with them. Was Moffitt getting sick too?
Tully had only doubted Moffitt once before when the Rat Patrol was on their first mission together. Moffitt made them drive through the desert in the dark, a move Tully resisted but obeyed. They were assigned to find a German supply dump and in the end Moffitt did find it under fifteen feet of sand. He had proved himself to his unit but now Tully was doubtful again. He drove as fast as he could and all he could think about was that Troy should be with them – that this time, Moffitt was wrong.
To say that Sam Troy had chiseled features would be an understatement. His face resembled a Michelangelo statue. His cheekbones were high, his jaw was square and his nose was sculpted to perfection. His steel blue eyes, surrounded by long dark lashes, were deep set and hooded by sun bleached eyebrows. Troy’s hair was dark and shone like sable. He was a handsome man.
Troy was small and compact with unusually large hands. He stood 5’ 10” tall and weighed in at one hundred seventy pounds. His body was muscular and fit. It was thick with dark hair that made Troy look virile. He took short steps when he walked but could move like a jaguar when he wanted to.
During his desert tour of duty, Troy wore a dashing Australian Bush Hat. The long straps always dangled down to his chest. He never fastened them. It was a gift from a buddy he chummed around with in Alexandria. His Aussie mate was a drill sergeant too and as they went their separate ways, Troy to head his Long Ranger Desert Group and Avery Bradford to a desk job in Cairo, they traded headgear as a remembrance of their time together. Good luck charms, they said. So far, so good. As far as Troy knew, Avery was safe in Cairo and Troy had survived up until now.
Tall western-style boots were his choice for trudging through the sand and they worked much better than the army issue footwear most soldiers donned. A khaki long-sleeved shirt was tucked into khaki pants – his pants tucked into his boots. It was a functional outfit. A water bottle and side arm as well as other important accessories dangled from his utility belt. He wore a complicated wristwatch but no other jewelry what so ever.
His voice was like gravel and when he spoke he had a demanding tone. But it was more than his voice that commanded respect it was his professionalism. His men looked up to him and he repaid them with his loyalty, his friendship and his respect. He was perfectly made to be a sergeant – the right combination of grit, stamina and balls.
He had been an instructor in the army after he enlisted for the war and he remained an instructor at his new post of Alexandria in North Africa. But Troy knew that his days as a teacher would be numbered and he looked forward to the fight. That was why he joined the army in the first place. He wanted to fight and he knew deep down that he would be good at it. Bravery had always been a strong point.
As a child, he’d been challenged on many occasions to do dangerous things while his younger brother looked on from behind the scenes. Jumping off cliffs into ponds, playing chicken with trains or climbing the largest tree were his friend’s favorites. “Let’s get Sam to do It.,” they’d say, because they knew whatever they suggested Sam would do. Why? None of his friends knew for sure. Sam knew. He felt the need for danger and the need to overcome fear. It thrilled him even then. Reckless he wasn’t. Just pure, unadulterated confidence.
Troy was intense. Most of the time he was a serious person. He was in serious surroundings after all. He had men to take care of and a cause in which he deeply believed. But sometimes, Troy’s severe side would give way to a more mellow mood. He could enjoy a job well done. He could enjoy the company of his men and did. During these rare swings in personality he’d produce the most brilliant smile. It was infectious.
There was a hidden talent that Sergeant Troy had that none of his troops knew about. He was a gifted artist. While in college he studied and was to embark on a career as a commercial artist. He had not done any works since he’d left the states though; afraid that whatever he painted over seas would just be a reminder of the horrors that surrounded him. He felt the urge to sketch his men as souvenirs because he had not felt closer to anyone else in his life. These four men were like one. Troy cared for them ardently. But he fought the drive to put paint to paper. He was determined to leave this war with memories only. Nothing material.
Now, he had never felt worse. The fever that engulfed him was like nothing that he’d ever experienced and he tried his best to over come it. But, it had him. He thought if the end was to come during this war it would be from a bullet not from illness. The fact that something had control over him made him angry. It was a sickness that he thought would kill him. Most of the time he was in another world. His was a world of dreams and nightmares and of blackness and then brightness. His conciseness gave way to darkness then spun in every direction, out of control. He was hungry then nauseous. He was thirsty then overcome with sweat. Troy was shrouded by typhoid fever. He was in pain. He thought he was going to die.
“There it is!” Moffitt yelled over the roar of the engine as he pointed Tully at the army hospital.
“I see it.” Tully said as he stirred the jeep toward the camp.
As Moffitt and Tully drew closer to the hospital they could see they were drawing attention as everyone puttering around the camp stopped and looked in their direction. They all watched as the jeep pulled up to one of the tents with a large Red Cross on it. Moffitt hopped out of the jeep before Tully had even come to a full stop. By the time Tully had disengaged the engine, Moffitt was already at the entrance of the tent. Tully dismounted and followed him inside.
“Where’s the doctor?” Moffitt inquired.
“Is one of you hurt?” asked a pretty nurse as she turned away from plastering a cast on a soldier’s leg.
“No. We’ve left our sergeant about six hours from here. He’s ill with typhoid?”
“How do you know?” Came a voice from behind Moffitt. The doctor had just entered the tent. He’d seen the jeep arrive.
“He’s got red spots on his chest and stomach” Moffitt said. “Yesterday he ate some bad dates in the village of Madab.”
“Well, if the spots have already appeared then he’s had typhoid for at least six days. There’s no way those dates caused the fever. Why didn’t you bring him with you? He could die before you get back to him. What were you thinking sergeant?”
“Well, I thought I was doing the right thing. We’ve been ordered to defend the road to El Shamin Oasis.…. and … well, I thought that the trip would be too much for Troy …. and I …. I’m …..” Moffitt was now lost for words. Tully stood in the background burning stares into the back of Moffitt’s head.
Tully put his chin to his chest and looked up at Moffitt from under the brim of his helmet. Moffitt turned to get Tully’s reaction to the doctor’s revelations but he gave him no reaction at all. Moffitt swung his head around to lock eyes with the doctor.
“I’ve been mistaken.” Moffitt paused and stared at the ground, then back at Tully and then to the doctor again. “I’ve… I’ve done the wrong thing and Troy may die because of it. I’ve been a fool. I’m afraid my decision was hastily thought out.”
“I’ll give you what I have. I think there is some sulfur antibiotic in the other tent. Nurse could you get that for me please. Of course you two will have to be quarantined. You’ve been exposed.” The doctor said to Moffitt and Tully. “You’ll have to give us directions to where your sergeant is so we can go and get him.”
Tully watched the nurse leave the tent then walked toward Moffitt who stood red-faced and out-of-breath.
“It’s OK Sarge. Troy will be all right. He’s stronger than all of us put together.” Tully tried to sooth Moffitt.
Moffitt looked at Tully with remorse and managed a faint smile. He placed his hand on Tully’s shoulder.
“You were right. I’m sorry. I’ve … Everything is ….” Again Moffitt was lost for words. Tully did not say anything; he just returned Moffitt’s grin in acceptance of his apology.
The nurse returned to the tent and gave the medicine to the doctor.
“That’s good. There are four vials here. And nine syringes. I’ll get two medics to go out and get him. Hopefully they can get him back here before …. “ The doctor choose not to continue realizing that Moffitt felt bad enough. “Nurse. Take these men to the supply tent and set them up there. Sorry mates. That’s the only place I can think of to put you.” The doctor apologized.
Moffitt and Tully were escorted to the exit and they walked out into the bright sunlight. The calm surroundings were suddenly interrupted. Movement on the horizon distracted Moffitt. Then Tully was aware of it too. A jeep. Hitch’s jeep. Did he have Troy? Was he dead? Moffitt and Tully watched in anticipation of Hitch’s arrival.
Hitch made a beeline for the camp and as he got closer, both Moffitt and Tully started to jog toward him in anticipation. But, Hitch was at a deceiving distance. The flatness of the desert made him look like he was so much closer. Moffitt and Tully stopped about one hundred yards out and waited. They both squinted to see if Troy was with him. He was. They greeted Hitch as he pulled up to them and ran along side the jeep as Hitch made his way to the main hospital tent.
“How is he?” Moffitt asked. Troy was slouched in the passenger seat; his head was resting on Hitch’s’ shoulder. He was still shivering and in a sweat.
“He’s about the same Sarge.” Hitch said as he helped Tully shovel Troy out of the jeep and onto a stretcher.
“What are you doing here?”
Hitch did not answer. He helped Tully carry an unconscious Troy into the tent. Moffitt followed them inside.
“What are you doing here?” Moffitt repeated.
“The mission was scrubbed.”
“What? What happened?”
“Weather. Bad weather.” Hitch explained slightly out of breath. “I’ve been running from it for about an hour and a half. Sand storm. A big one!” Hitch explained while he raised his eyebrows, slowed his speech and widened his eyes. “We’ll get some of it but not as much as where we were camped.”
“Did headquarters scrub the mission?”
“Because of a sandstorm?” Moffitt said skeptically.
“Yeah. They radioed us and told us to high-tail it out of there!” Hitch said. “Headquarters scrubbed the mission and chased us out. I guess the Krauts are in the middle of it now. The road to El Shamin Oasis isn’t even there anymore.”
He turned his attention to Troy and so did Tully. Moffitt, satisfied with Hitch’s’ tale, concentrated on Troy as well. The doctor examined the sergeant and confirmed Moffitt’s typhoid diagnosis and injected Troy with the antibiotic immediately.
“How is he doc?” Tully asked.
“Well, it looks like the fever has certainly run its course. The next 24 hours will be crucial. You’ve done a good job of looking after him private.” The doctor paused and walked toward the tent flap and opened it. “Like I said, I’m going to have to quarantine you mates. Nurse Mitchell and I will tend to you. Please do not leave the supply tent. I don’t want an epidemic on my hands.” The doctor instructed. “Set them up, would you Lindsey? You’ll have to keep to yourself too.” The doctor continued. “Make sure you’re gloved, masked and gowned at all times.”
“Yes doctor.” The nurse responded. She was blonde and brown-eyed and smallish. She caught Tully’s eye the moment he saw her.
“David? Where are we? Dave?” Troy had awoken and was disoriented.
“He thinks I’m his little brother.” Hitch said.
“Let’s get him into the supply tent and make him comfortable. Then I’ll get you men some blankets and water. Are you hungry, would you like something to eat?” Nurse Mitchell asked. She mesmerized Tully and Lindsey knew it but she tried to ignore his glances.
Hitch and Tully carried the stretcher toward their new home. Moffitt and Nurse Mitchell followed. All other personnel had been warned to keep their distance and watched the entourage from afar. When they entered the tent, that already had a sign that said “quarantine” on it, they laid Troy down and began to make the place more livable. They would probably spend the next five days there – at least.
“This isn’t so bad, eh chaps?” Moffitt said looking around the place.
“Yeah. I’ve seen worse, that’s for sure.” Hitch replied as he moved crates and made space for them to live. He set up a table out of two barrels and a spare door.
“I have a feeling we’ll be playing a lot of checkers, huh Sarge.”
Moffitt smiled at Hitch and walked over to him.
“I’m afraid I have to apologize to you Hitch. Tully and I found out that the dates were not the cause of the typhoid. His illness is too far advanced, according to the doctor. Thanks for taking care of Troy. I should have cared for him much better than I did.” Moffitt explained.
“Piece a cake Sarge. We all make mistakes. I’ve made lots of um – believe me.” Hitch chuckled.
Moffitt smiled in appreciation of Hitch’s’ obvious forgiveness and turned to give Tully a hand with the rearranging. Tully moved the boxes but kept looking back at the nurse.
“Why don’t you and Lindsey take a walk. We can settle Troy in.” Moffitt suggested. He was aware of the chemistry in the air. You could cut it with a knife.
“Thanks” Tully said gratefully and sauntered over to Lindsey who was preparing Troy’s medical tray. “Would you like to do that Lindsey. Go for a walk I mean?”
“That sounds nice. But we’ll have to stay well away from the others” She said timidly.
“There’s a whole desert out there Lindsey. I’m sure we can find a place to ourselves.” Tully said as he looked back over his shoulder at Hitch and Moffitt. He smiled and winked at them and gave his full attention to Lindsey as they walked arm-in-arm out into the sunshine.
As the days went by, Troy got better. The Rat Patrol found themselves bored but grateful that they had come through this one fairly unscathed. By the fourth day, Troy was sitting up and eating. The red spots on his chest were disappearing. They had already received a new assignment from their commanding officer, which would begin in three days. Troy would be fit by then.
The sandstorm turned out to be the storm of the century and the road to El Shamin Oasis had indeed been lost. It had been buried under twenty feet of sand and dust. The storm lasted two days and brought the war in the desert to a standstill. It was capable of killing Hitch and Troy, but instead it ended up saving them. The fact that a new path would have to be found to the supply camps would make life difficult for both the allies and the Germans.
Hitch, Tully and Moffitt never became ill with typhoid. Only Troy was a victim of its fever. They never found out what caused it. The past week had been a difficult one for all of them but it was not a complete loss. Troy found health, Moffitt found humility, Hitch found strength and Tully – Tully found romance.