The Triangle Raid (by Barbara)

Summary:  The Rats finally have two weeks’ leave and head to Cairo for some well-deserved recreation.  But, they get more than they bargained for when Hitch and Tully encounter a Femme Fatale.
Category:  Rat Patrol
Genre:   WWII Drama
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  12,225


 

 

After a grueling four months, the Rat Patrol had finally been rewarded with two week’s leave in Cairo. The ancient city was a long haul, but it had always been worth it. The first leg of the journey; get to Al Jaghbub. They approached the town as first light broke over the dunes. They left “Betty” and “Grable” in the motor pool for long overdue repairs. Hitch and Tully named their jeeps early in their tours. The vehicles were their lifelines and, sometimes, their salvation. They considered the Jeeps part of their unit.

Tully informed the mechanic that Betty needed new rubber all around and a new carburetor, too, while Grable was in worse shape and needed a complete overhaul of her engine and new brakes. The seats needed to be repaired as well. The springs had torn through the leather making the ride almost unbearable especially over the rough terrain of North Africa.

After a brief layover, the four men hopped into the back of an already occupied six-by for the dusty trek to the train station in Cara. The train would take them the rest of the way to Egypt’s “Jewel of the Nile.” They sat on benches that ran the length of the truck on each side. Troy and Moffitt sat on one side with Tully and Hitch facing them. The seating arrangement left little room for the men to stretch their legs.

Just out of camp and into open desert Troy already had his cigarette lit, Hitch had worked his bubble gum to just the right consistency, Moffitt had cracked his book and Tully was fast asleep. The private sat perfectly straight – his head bobbing with every nook and cranky in the road.

Moffitt could not help notice that, yet again; Tully could erase the war from his mind at the drop of a helmet. He nudged Troy with his elbow and pointed at Tully with his chin.

“The man can sleep anywhere.”

Troy looked over at Tully, fondly. Tully opened his eyes, winked at Moffitt, and then closed them again. The vehicle clattered on.

The truck finally creaked to a halt. The driver pulled right along side the train and the soldiers bailed out with their belongings. It only took minutes for them to board the train; after all there wasn’t a moment to lose. This part of the trip would be far more comfortable than the last. The train’s steam engine hissed as it powered its way out of the depot that consisted of a single shack.

“So. What do you and Tully have planned for this coming week?” Moffitt asked Hitch.

“Find some girls who’ll show us a good time. Drink ourselves into total oblivion and maybe see some sites. You know, like the inside of some hotel rooms.”

“How charming. Please try to remember the VD lectures you were given when you were recruited.” Moffitt quipped.

Troy smiled at his counterpart’s suggestion as Hitch tilted his head to the side and gave Moffitt a look that was so droll it made the Brit smirk.

“And you?” Moffitt asked Troy.

“First, I’m going to take a nice long, cool bath . . . with a friend, I hope. Then cruise some clubs, maybe look up a few acquaintances, if you know what I mean.”

Now Hitch was smiling.

“What about you, Moffitt?” Troy inquired. “What are you going to be up to?”

“I’m going to find the softest, cleanest bed and I am going to go to sleep for a very long time. I am not leaving that bed for a week. I’m going to eat breakfast and dinner and tea in that bed and then I shall go back to sleep again.”

The Patrol was battered and exhausted from a succession of difficult and dangerous missions. Troy was recovering from a badly cut knee. He was thrown from the jeep during a fight with Dietrich and when Hitch spun around to pick up his sergeant he cut it a little too close. The fender of the front wheel caught Troy in the leg and sliced it pretty badly. Hitch played doctor on that occasion and checked the cut every day to keep the wound as clean as possible. The desert was not the ideal place for open sores because the sand acted as an abrasive, preventing the wound from closing. No matter what you did, you could not prevent sand from entering opened skin. Hitch felt bad about what had happened and tended to Troy out of guilt.

Tully had a mild case of dysentery that progressed to slight dehydration. It was cause for concern, so Troy scrubbed a mission to take Tully to the nearest field hospital. He was afraid that it could get worse and he wanted to nip it in the bud. Troy could not afford to lose Tully. He could not afford to lose any of his men. He was determined to keep his unit intact until the war was over and send them home to their families in one piece. Besides, Tully was the man who kept them rolling under the most daunting conditions and his talent with the bazooka was second to none.

Hitch had an eye infection. Again the sand caused much of the problem. It lasted for several weeks, until an order came to report to the Mediterranean coast to rendezvous with a British submarine. The sea air cleared up that nasty infection within days.

Moffitt was covered in cuts and bruises from a fall down the side of a rock face. He had been precariously setting charges with Hitch when he lost his balance. He fell a long way and Troy and Tully thought he was dead. They used Betty to haul him up from the cliff face and when he reached the plateau Moffitt announced that he felt like he’d been hit by a truck.

Needless to say, The Rat Patrol was way overdue for a vacation and even though Cairo was still seven hours away, the fact that they had down time was appreciated. Moffitt continued to read quietly, Troy and Tully napped and Hitch stared into space dazed and battle weary. The coming week will be fun, he thought.

*****

After having the sounds of desert winds in their ears for over four months, the noise of Cairo was a shock. As the four rats disembarked the train, they crumpled their faces to try to get accustomed to the change of pace. Dogs barked, natives bartered and horns blared. They stood side-by-side with their duffel bags slung over their shoulders, waiting for the other to go their own way. A sea of people lay in front of them, and after the openness they were used to, the four men felt a little overwhelmed.

“Well? What are we waiting for?” Troy began.

“Surely we can cut the apron strings,” Moffitt wisecracked.

“Absolutely!” Hitch insisted and he and Tully moved ahead and waded into the crowd.

“Wait a minute!” Troy yelled after them.

The two privates turned, then walked back to the sergeants.

“We’ll meet you Thursday night at the Aussie Club.”

“Right, Sarge.”

“You guys have fun.”

“We’ll try.”

The two privates turned and walked away from the sergeants again.

“Hey!” Troy called again.

Hitch and Tully stopped and turned to make eye contact with Troy.

“Stay out of trouble!” he yelled over the crowd.

The two young men saluted casually, and disappeared into the multitudes. They never stayed out of trouble, and Troy knew it, but he felt obligated to remind his charges nonetheless.

“Well, Troy, try to get by without me.” Moffitt quipped with a wink. “I’ll see you at the Aussie Club on Thursday.”

“Jolly good!” Troy mocked and the two men parted. One followed the path that Tully and Hitch had just taken while the other moved back over the train tracks and down an alley between two gleaming white buildings.

*****

“Where to first?” Hitch asked Tully as they sauntered along the narrow streets looking at every woman who passed. There were too many to see and Hitch was starting to feel dizzy.

“Let’s check in somewhere and clean up.”

Hitch nodded and they headed for the hotel they had heard about – The Cairo Palace. Sounding far more elegant than it was. The establishment was humble and owned by Mrs. Saheem. She had turned her home into a hotel. Soldiers on leave liked staying there because the elderly woman took care of the boys, offering a room and breakfast for two bucks a night. When Hitch and Tully showed their faces through the modest front door, the landlady greeted them with hugs and kisses. This caught both men off guard but they took it in good humour.

Their accommodation was no bigger than a closet that held two narrow cots. It had a small balcony that hung over a common courtyard. The curtains on the windows flapped as the hot breeze entered.

Tully tossed his duffel next to the bed, threw himself onto it, placed his hands behind his head as support and crossed his feet.

“You go first.” he said to his friend. “I’m going to take a nap.”

“But, you napped the whole way here Tully.”

“Yeah, well, all that napping made me tired.” The sandy-haired GI replied with a mild grin. His eyes were already closed.

Hitch strutted into the tiny bathroom and began his transformation back into a human being. Tully could hear the sounds of water trickling in the shower. He couldn’t remember the last time he had the luxury of an actual shower. He would savour his turn under the waterfall, but waited patiently as Hitch took his time, relishing his own moments of pleasure. Forty-five minutes later, Hitch opened the door with a towel wrapped around his waist. He waved Tully into the room, bowing like a matador.

Tully grabbed his shaving kit and a towel and nonchalantly entered the small, steamy room. He played with the faucets until the water was just the way he liked it–on the cool side of room temperature. As he threw his clothes to the floor, a cloud of dust wafted from them. He stepped into the bathtub and stood under the stream, grinning with relief. Rivers of wet sand ran from his hair and made a small delta by the drain. Tully didn’t move from that position for fifteen minutes, as if he was trying to wash away the previous four months of combat.

When he’d unwound, he picked up the soap and finished the job. He shaved, gave the front of his hair a trim, and then emerged from the bathroom to change into fresh cloths.

“Can you cut the back of my hair?” he asked Hitch. “And can you do it straight this time.”

Hitch took the scissors and carefully trimmed Tully’s mop. He was being so precise that his tongue stuck out the side of his mouth.

“Okay.” Hitch said after inspecting his work. “It’s a work of art. Can we go now?”

“As soon as I get some clothes on. Can you wait that long?”

The two men checked themselves in the mirror one last time, made sure they had money and left the room.

“Ladies? Look out. Because here I come,” Hitch joked as he swaggered down the hall. Tully ignored him.

They headed down the stairs and out the front of the hotel into the twilight of Cairo like two boys on their way to an amusement park. It was still as hot as Hades.

The pair headed for the pub that was recommended to them by the same soldiers that told them about the Cairo Palace. The Pink Pyramid was a dive with a hokey name, created for the benefit of soldiers on leave. The beer was cold and there was no cover charge for the floor show. Rumour had it that it was a particular favourite of British nurses, and while the two men loved nurses of any nationality, they had a particular fondness for those from England.

The pub was close to the hotel, which was convenient because, after a night on the town, coordination often became an issue. This night would be no different and Tully and Hitch would need each other to get themselves home. They entered the pub just as things were starting to hop; they laid claim to a table and ordered their drinks. Let the games begin.

*****

When she entered the bar, the woman was immediately drawn to the man sitting at the table in the corner. A spotlight seemed to be shining on him. He wasn’t clean cut like the other soldiers. They were dressed in starched long-sleeve shirts with their ties perfectly knotted, while he was quite the opposite, dressed very casually with an open collar with no tie. His goggles hung around his neck like a security blanket–a sure sign of a Desert Rat. His boots were wiped clean of dust and his hair was bleached from the sun. He was neat and clean, but he definitely stood apart from his preppy colleagues. His skin was tanned, and when he laughed, the corners of his eyes crinkled right down to his chin.

Margaret Lang had heard about these men who gnawed at the German’s in enemy territory but had yet to meet one. The goggles gave him away. They were a sort of Badge of Honour in the LRDG. The buzz in the dorms was to watch for these guys–they were the most interesting. Margaret was thunderstruck by him.

Tully sat with four soldiers and three female lieutenants who’d left the stuffiness of the Officers Club to seek out less formal fun. They were obviously having a great time. They were all drunk and being quite obnoxious. Hitch was smoking a cigar and held a beer like a baby bottle. His eyes were closed as he listened to “Take the A Train.” He let the music carry him away from the camaraderie of the circle of friends. When he finally opened his baby blues again, the British nurse that stood at the entrance of the pub took his attention. She was stunning to Hitch, and the first thought that entered his mind was, She’s the one!

Wide, emerald-green eyes set off Margaret’s sable hair. She was slender and tall with legs that just kept going. Her waist was slim and her breasts full. Her lips were painted dusty rose and they glistened in the lamplight. She stood at the top of the stairs hoping to be noticed by the sandy-haired soldier, but it was his friend who stood and approached her. Maybe he will introduce me to the one I want, she thought as Hitch approached her, cocky and confident.

“Well, hello!”

“Hello,” Margaret said timidly.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

“Surely. That would be lovely.”

Hitch took her hand. As they moved across the dance floor toward the bar, side-stepping the couples as they went, she stared at Tully. She’d never been this infatuated with anyone before, and it unnerved her. She had not yet met this man, but the effect he had on her was extremely powerful. Hitch was oblivious to her lack of attention to him.

“What’ll you have?” Hitch asked as he leaned on the bar top. He was still holding her hand.

“Pardon?” Margaret stuttered as her trance was interrupted by the question.

“What would you like drink?”

“Oh… ‘em, G and T, please.”

“Gin and tonic for the lady.”

“No tonic,” came the gruff reply from the bartender.

“Well, then, I’ll have a scotch neat, please.”

“Scotch neat,” Hitch reiterated. “Would you care to join me at my table?”

“Why, certainly. My pleasure,” Margaret said brightly. She smiled to herself as she realized her plan was working.

“The pleasure is all mine, ma’am.”

Hitch gently put his hand on the small of her back and directed her toward his table. The group was still in fits of laughter about something, but straightened up when they saw Hitch approach with the lovely lady. The men stood for her like gentlemen, but were still chuckling under their breath at the previous joke. The three lieutenants, who resembled the Andrews Sisters, giggled uncontrollably, and had the full attention of Tully and his buddies.

“This is James, Buddy, Matthew and Tim.” Hitch began to introduce his comrades. “And this is my partner in crime, Tully Pettigrew.”

“Margaret. I’m Margaret Lang. So nice to meet you, Private.” She forcefully introduced herself. Tully was almost thrown off-balance by her aggressiveness.

“Howdy.” He greeted nonchalantly.

Margaret sat down between Hitch and Tully. “You never mentioned your name, Private,” she smiled insincerely.

“It’s Mark. Mark Hitchcock.”

Tully looked around the table and raised his eyebrows mockingly. Their entourage chatted politely for the next couple of rounds. Hitch and Margaret danced, but she never took her attention very far from Tully.

Through the evening, Margaret tried desperately to get Tully’s attention with alluring glances, and by leaning gently against his shoulder. She’d laughed heartily at all his jokes and complimented him unabashedly. She tried to be funny and sexy but to no avail. Margaret was a skilled temptress but this soldier was proving to be more challenging than she bargained for. He was polite and charming, but Tully did not take much notice of her. Finally, around three o’clock Sunday morning, the party began to break up.

“I’m going to walk Margaret back to the dorm. I’ll see you back at our room later,” Hitch informed Tully. Then he leaned forward and whispered into the side of Tully’s head, “Much later.”

Tully semi-saluted with two fingers. It was more like a flick, really, as he and his buddies continued chortling. He took an “Andrews Sister” by the waist, pulled her into him and kissed her playfully. The lieutenant laughed and ended up falling off her chair. This sent the table into yet another round of hysterics.

“Good night, Tully.” Margaret took Hitch’s hand. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Night,” Tully replied as he helped Lieutenant Chambers off the floor.

As Hitch led Margaret out of the establishment, she gazed back at him. She envied the girls who remained and wished she was the woman now sitting in Tully’s lap.

“Good night, Tully. Nice to meet you,” the soldiers teased as Hitch and Margaret disappeared through the thick smoke of the tavern, up the stairs and out into the Cairo night. “Man. She sure has it for you!”

“What are you talking about?” Tully shrugged them off and ordered another round.

*****

At four thirty-five, Tully called it a night. Not that he noticed the time. It was the empty bar that tipped him off. It was just he and Tim who were left in the place. With all his concentration, Pettigrew stood and walked out of the bar. He staggered down the street toward The Cairo Palace, stopping several times to gain his balance. Finding the doorway to the hotel, the private began the trek up the long staircase, putting his balance to the test. He pulled out the key, shushing himself for making too much noise, and tried to find the keyhole. After several attempts, he was successful.

Staggering to his bed, Tully sat on the edge and leaned over to pull off his boots. The effort made his head swim so he gave up and fell back, his head missing the pillow. With his torso on the cot and one foot still planted on the floor, he passed out.

*****

“Tully.” Hitch shook his partner. “Tully!” He raised his voice slightly to make sure he awoke the private.

The only response Hitchcock got was a faint snore. Tully still had one foot on the floor as though he was bracing himself, or maybe merely preventing the room from spinning.

“Tully!”

“What?” The sleeping private grunted but did not move when he answered.

“Come on. Get up.”

“Why?” There was still no movement. He was somewhat annoyed.

“Come on, it’s 1330.” There was a momentary pause. “. . . it’s after noon.”

“So?”

“So, I’ve got us a double date. Me and Margaret, and you and her girlfriend, Sarah. So let’s go. Get up.” Hitch started pulling at Tully’s arm like a little brother on Christmas morning.

“Later. I wanna sleep.”

“Listen. I had Mrs. Saheem make us a picnic lunch, and we’re going to find a nice spot by the river, and it’ll be great.” There was another hesitation. “Tully? Please? Margaret won’t go unless her girlfriend goes, and her girlfriend won’t go unless you go. It was Margaret’s idea. So, come on. She’s pretty. Sarah’s real pretty. I met her. I saw her . . . Tully!”

“All right, damn it. Give me a minute.” Tully had still not moved a muscle.

Hitch straddled the chair that faced Tully’s bed and waited patiently. Tully slowly moved his head and pulled both feet onto the bed, then rolled over onto his stomach with a groan.

“I feel like shit.”

“Trust me. As soon as you see Sarah, you’ll feel better.”

“No, I won’t.” Tully insisted.

The awakening continued with Tully rolling onto his back and rubbing his head gingerly, making his hair point in every direction. He had not yet opened his eyes. “What time is it?”

“I told you, 1330. 1343 now. I told the girls we’d meet them at 1400. So, let’s go. I’ve got the shower going for you and everything.”

“Why is this such a big deal?” Tully moaned.

“I don’t know. I really like this girl. I think . . . I think maybe she’s the one.”

“What do you mean, ‘she’s the one’?”

“You know, the girl I’ve been looking for. You know . . . the one!”

“Yeah, right. What number is this?” Tully said as he pulled himself upright and sat on the side of the bed. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, then looked at Hitch. “A picnic, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Well… help me up then.”

*****

Tully and Hitch arrived at their rendezvous twenty minutes late. When Margaret saw Tully turn the corner, her heart skipped a beat and the blood rushed to her face. She hated feeling like this, but it still excited her.

The two men picked up their pace as they walked toward the ladies. Smiling broadly, Hitch was carrying a basket that held flat bread, various types of fruit, a bottle of wine and some cheeses.

Tully stared beyond the seated nurses. Still hung over and not really interested in company, he would try his best to be pleasant. He knew it was important to Hitch.

“Sorry we’re late, girls,” Hitch apologized as he gave Margaret a peck on the cheek.

“That’s quite all right, Private. We all had a late night last night,” Margaret said and immediately turned her attention to his companion. “It’s so nice to see you again, Tully. How are you?”

“Fine, ma’am.”

“Ma’am? Please call me Margaret. And this is my friend, Sarah. Sarah Macintosh, Private Tully Pettigrew.”

“Hello, Tully.”

“‘Lo.”

“Shall we find a spot by the river to sit and get acquainted?” Margaret suggested.

“Absolutely!” Hitch agreed enthusiastically.

Sarah hooked her arm into Tully’s and Hitch took Margaret’s hand. The foursome strolled toward their destination, chatting politely. There, under a palm tree on the riverbank, they found a lovely place to continue their outing. A hot breeze blew off the water, which was moving like black treacle. Margaret and Sarah sat on the blanket Hitch had borrowed from Mrs. Saheem, their legs primly tucked beneath them. Hitch sat cross-legged as he began to prepare lunch while Tully lay on his back, trying gallantly to keep his eyes open. His head pounded.

“So, Tully. Where are you from? The Southern United States, I suspect,” Margaret asked as her heart continued to pound.

“Kentucky.”

“Where in Kentucky?”

“I was born in Pikeville, but when I was two, we moved to Louisville.”

“I didn’t know that,” Hitch said with surprised. He thought he knew everything there was to know about his friend.

“When my uncle died, he left my daddy his ranch outside Louisville.”

“What does your father do?” Margaret gushed.

“Horse breeder.”

“Fascinating!” Margaret said to Tully, completely enthralled with his lack luster story.

“It’s not that fascinating,” Hitch interrupted, feeling a twinge of jealousy.

He stopped what he was doing to stare at the sandy-haired soldier, and he felt that he had to break up the fete. A private party seemed to be unfolding in front of him. “Margaret, why don’t you and I go for a walk so Tully and Sarah can get to know one another better.”

“Certainly. That’s a good idea,” she responded, sounding somewhat reluctant.

Hitch hoped her apparent disappointment was just his imagination. He held out his hand to help her up. When Margaret was standing beside him, he put his arm around her waist laying claim to her. He guided her down to the river where they knelt to test the water. He looked back at Tully who was still reclined. He raised his hand in a lazy salute as the only acknowledgement to Hitch’s announcement that they would be back later.

Once Tully and Sarah were alone, she asked, “Would you like me to make you a cheese buttie?”

“A what?”

“A sandwich.”

“Oh.. sure. Sounds good. Thanks.”

As Sarah moved slightly away from Tully so she could make him lunch, Tully grabbed her around the waist and drew her gently back toward him. He felt his energy returning as her perfume wafted through the air and softly filled his senses. Lifting his head, he pulled her closer. There was a slight hesitation before he placed his lips on hers. He felt her resist and try to fight him off. “Come on, I’m a lonely, hard-working soldier, far from home,” he whined boyishly, looking for sympathy.

Tully smiled and winked at her. But she remained staid. He pulled her gently again; testing her and she slowly gave into his smile and overt charm. They kissed timidly at first but it soon accelerated. It wasn’t until Tully tried to caress her breast that she protested vigorously.

“I’ll not go that far!” she insisted.

He smiled mischievously, looking for any excuse to continue. He kissed her neck and playfully nestled his head into her breasts.

“Listen, you, I’m a hard-working nurse,” she giggled, “who does more for hard working soldiers than keep them satisfied.”

“You smell so good,” Tully persisted.

“Now, Tully,” Sarah said as she held his face in her hands. She stared into his dark chocolate coloured eyes, trying to tame him, noses touching. “We’ve known each other for two hours.”

“All right.” He paused disappointed. “But after the fourth hour, watch out,” he grinned.

Tully felt there was a reason for her putting an end to their fun, he just wasn’t quite sure why. They were comfortable with each other though, and he knew they would be good friends.

*****

When Hitch and Margaret returned, Sarah and Tully were spooned around each other asleep. They sneaked up to the blanket and gently nudged them awake. Margaret was now the jealous one. She knew that Sarah had a boy back home. What did she think she was doing?

The foursome packed up and headed back to their respective rooms to prepare for the evening festivities. They walked back, discussing the plans for the evening. Hitch with Margaret and Tully with Sarah.

“Are you free tonight? Would you like to have dinner with me?” Tully asked Sarah.

“I’d like to. I really would . . . but . . .”

“But what?”

“I’m sorry, Tully. I really like you . . . I like you very much . . . but . . . I’ve made a promise to a boy back home. Well, he’s not really back home . . . he’s a desk jockey in England. I met him when he arrived in 1940. He’s Canadian. We’ve promised to marry when the war is over and I plan to do just that. I feel quite badly about what happened this afternoon.”

“Aha.” Tully’s query finally answered. “I knew there was something.”

Sarah smiled at him.

”That’s okay. I think that’s great. Hope it works out for you. We’re just lonely, that’s all. Don’t feel bad.”

They continued to walk back to the hotel arm in arm – still friends. They chuckled about their three-minute affair as Margaret glared at them. She and Hitch walked arm in arm too, but Margaret was envious of Sarah and schemed as she strolled.

“If you are still offering, I hate to eat alone.” Sarah probed.

“Me too. Why don’t the four of us go grab a bite.”

“Thank you very much. You’re a wonderful man.”

“I know,” Tully said boastfully. Then the two looked at each other and laughed heartily.

That evening the foursome sat on the floor of a local eatery. They sat on colourful cushions, which surrounded a low table that bore a large platter of rice, vegetables and lamb. The food was tasty and so was the company. Sarah and Tully laughed and teased as if they’d known each other since high school. It was even more fun without having the pressure of attraction hanging over them. They had a lot in common and simply enjoyed each other’s company.

Margaret clung to Hitch, exercising her best flirtations, hoping it would make Tully jealous. He took no notice of her whatsoever so she decided on another tactic. Margaret excused herself, and when she returned, she sat as close to Tully as possible. When she did he threw his arm around the shoulders of both women playfully. Margaret placed her hand on Tully’s thigh and began a round of unabashed seduction. Tully played along, not realizing that Margaret’s intentions were serious. He glanced over at Hitch, and saw his friend’s face was crimson. Tully smiled, thinking it funny that Hitch was jealous at the innocent fun they were having.

Margaret finally gave up when she realized that Tully was using her to tease Hitch. He was still far more interested in Sarah’s companionship. Margaret returned to Hitch’s side, who reclaimed her with a timid smile. She knew he was upset, but poured on the charm to calm him.

“Margaret and I are out of here,” Hitch abruptly announced.

“Okay,” Tully and Sarah said at the same time.

“I guess I’ll see you back at the hotel.”

“Yep. See you.”

“Good night, Tully,” Margaret said as Hitch helped her to her feet.

“Nite,” Tully replied simply.

*****

“What was that all about back there, Margaret?” Hitch asked once they were outside the restaurant.

“Oh, Mark. I was just trying to make you jealous. Did it work?”

“It worked all right.”

“Come on. Take me back to your room and we’ll have some fun. Okay?”

“Sounds good to me!” Hitch pulled her tightly into his body, and the twosome made their way down the stone road that led to The Cairo Palace.

*****

Tully lay outstretched on the bed, reading a newspaper that was several days old, while Hitch primped and prepped for his date with Margaret. The scene at the restaurant the night before now forgotten, Hitch whistled as he worked.

“So what did you think of Sarah? Are you two going out tonight?” Hitch inquired for details.

“Nope. She’s engaged to some Canadian guy back in England. Nice girl though. We had a lot of fun yesterday.”

“Yeah, you sure looked like you were having fun!” Hitch grinned crookedly.

“How about you and Margaret? How you two doin’?” Tully ignored Hitch’s innuendo and did a little probing of his own.

“Great, Tully! Just great. I think I’m in love with that girl. I hate to admit it, but I think I am,” Hitch said quite happily. “We’re going out for dinner. What are you going to do?”

“Pink Pyramid,” Tully replied predictably. “Not till later though.”

“Well have fun. I’ll see ya when I see ya.”

Hitch sparkled by the time he left the room of the Cairo Palace. He was dressed to the nines–no wrinkles–not a hair out of place. Even General Eisenhower would have been impressed with this soldier. He dashed toward the dorm anxiously, pausing just long enough to purchase some flowers.

He reached the dorm’s entrance a little early, and wasn’t surprised that Margaret was not there waiting for him. Several couples came and went as Hitch stood patiently, waiting for his girl to appear.

They were to meet at 1815. It was now 1830, so Hitch asked another nurse if she’d seen Miss Lang, but she hadn’t. It was getting dark and Hitch was beginning to wonder if he was going to be stood up. Confused and hurt, he couldn’t understand what may have happened to change her mind. She’d seemed so happy and anxious to see him again when they parted late last night. They’d shared an intimate evening and Hitch thought she felt the same way he did. He waited another half-hour, then finally surrendered. As he walked despondently back to his hotel, he let the bouquet of flowers drop to the ground. The blooms shattered like glass when they hit the cobblestones.

*****

Tully was astonished to see Margaret sitting alone at a table when he walked in to the Pink Pyramid. He looked around for Hitch, but the other private was nowhere to be found.

As Tully walked toward her, Margaret locked eyes with him and her heart skipped up into her throat. She had hoped he would return to the pub.

“Where’s Hitch?”

“Oh . . . ‘em . . . he’ll be back. He had to go back to the hotel for something. He shouldn’t be long.”

“I didn’t see him when I was walking over here,” Tully said, puzzled.

“Well, that’s where he said he was going.”

“Oh, okay.”

Tully sat down on a chair across from Margaret. “Would you like a drink?” Tully offered suspiciously.

“I’d love one, thank you,” the emerald-eyed nurse replied.

Tully walked over to the bar and placed his order looking around the place for Hitch. He was confused. What was she doing here? he thought as he waited for his drinks. He was wary of what was happening. His gut told him to leave; that he had a situation here. Picking up his beer and her scotch neat, he headed back to the table.

Margaret had moved to the chair next to Tully. The private was feeling very uneasy now. He prayed that some of his friends would walk through the door and save him. They chatted small talk as Tully continued to search the pub for Hitch or Tim or Matt. Margaret was fixated on Tully and he was now becoming aware of it. As he raised his bottle of beer to his mouth, he felt her hand on his thigh. She began rubbing his leg and Tully glanced around the tavern to see if anyone could see what she was doing.

“Margaret. Uh . . . I don’t think you should be doing that.”

“Why not. Don’t you like me?

“Well . . . sure. But you’re Hitch’s girl. At least he thinks so.”

“Well. I want to be your girl. I’ve wanted you since the first time I set eyes on you.” Her British accent was so delicate.

Tully swallowed hard and the words of his comrades came back to haunt him, “Man, she’s really got it for you!”. Her hand was getting closer to the target and Tully closed his eyes trying to dismiss her advances. He put his hand on hers to stop the massage.

He could feel her breath on his neck, and, despite himself, responded to her nearness. It felt good. He’d been in battle for ten months and was starved for a woman, but he fought the temptation. His friendship with Hitch was far more important than a fling with an oversexed nurse.

She nipped his neck and blew in his ear. Tully kept drinking. She placed her hand high on his thigh again. With her other hand, she cupped his dimpled chin and gently turned his head toward hers until they were face to face. Before he could react, her lips were pressed on his. Against his will and better judgement, he returned the kiss. Then, a vision of Hitch watching them invaded his mind.

Tully pulled away and shifted his chair several feet from her. “Listen, Margaret. I’m just not interested. I know how Hitch feels about you, and I would never do anything to hurt him.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. You like me don’t you?”

“Yeah, but not like this.”

“Well, like how then?” She pulled her chair closer.

“Well, like a sister, I guess, ma’am.”

“A SISTER!”

Tully raised his eyebrows, taken aback at her response. He thought that being straight with her was his best chance at controlling her. He was wrong.

“Damn you, Tully Pettigrew! I’ve been trying to get your attention for the last few days with every trick I know, and you have the nerve to tell me you like me like a sister!” she blasted.

“Well . . . I…” Tully stumbled.

Bemused, Tully watched as Margaret stomped out of the tavern then realized their clash had attracted the interest of the rest of the patrons. He picked up his beer, and found himself a table in a dark corner to escape the attention.

As Hitch approached the Pink Pyramid, he saw Margaret storming toward him. Expecting a contrite explanation, he was confused when she burst into tears and threw herself into his chest. Reluctantly, he wrapped his arms around her.

“Oh, Mark.”

“What’s the matter? What happened?”

“It’s Tully . . . he . . . he asked me to meet him at the Pyramid. He said he wanted to talk to me about something . . . and the next thing I knew he was kissing me.”

“What! Tully?!”

“Yes. He said he was worried about you and he had to talk to me about it. I had no idea he was interested in me. It was humiliating.”

Hitch hugged her tightly to comfort her, but inside his blood raced through his veins like river rapids. His heart felt like it was no longer encased in his chest. The pulse in his neck pumped. Telling Margaret to go and wait in his hotel room, he broke into a jog toward the Pyramid. He didn’t see the look of satisfaction that passed across Margaret’s face, or that she turned toward the dorm instead.

Hitch entered the pub and scanned it for his comrade. The smoke and lack of light made it difficult, but he spotted Tully at the corner table talking with Lieutenant Chambers. He made his way through the crowd and stood behind Tully. Eyes wide and on fire, Hitch’s stance was that of a bull ready to charge.

Unaware of his friend’s presence, Tully never saw the first blow. He somersaulted backwards; his feet flew up and knocked the table over. Landing on his hands and knees, spitting blood. Tully gasped for air as Hitch stepped forward and kicked him in the stomach. Tully staggered to his feet, disoriented, blood streamed from his mouth. His lip had been split right down the center. Holding his abdomen with one hand, he held up the other to defend himself.

Lieutenant Chambers stood in the shadows, petrified as the patrons cleared an area for the fracas. The music faltered, then stopped completely as the spectators quickly laid bets, Hitch being the favorite as he had the upper hand with his surprise attack.

“What the hell?” Tully yelled.

“You bastard, I’m going to kill you!” Hitch swung but missed as Tully ducked, then darted onto the dance floor.

Hitch followed Tully, and the two wrestled, grabbing each other’s shirts. Hitch broke free of Tully’s grasp, and threw a left cross to Tully’s face, sending Tully over and across another table and onto the floor.

The ring on Hitch’s finger sliced a gash over Tully’s eye blinding him with blood. Tully rolled, desperate to get to his feet. When he did regain his footing, with the help of soldiers anxious to see more, Hitch was waiting.

“I’m not going to fight you, Hitch,” Tully spouted as he felt himself losing consciousness. The words had barely left his lips when he saw someone restrain Hitch and then felt someone holding him up. Who that person was, Tully had no idea.

“Knock it off!” Troy ordered.

Moffitt tried to hold Hitch but he pulled free and punched Tully in the stomach. Troy lunged at Hitch and cracked him on the chin, snapping him back to his senses. The private was out of breath and sweat streamed down his face.

“I said, knock it off!” Troy roared. “What the hell is going on?!”

Moffitt ran over to help Tully but Tully pushed him away. Rolling to his hands and knees, he crawled to a chair and pulled himself up. As he sat, his head flopped backwards and he grimaced in pain. His face was bloody and had started to swell.

Hitch stood glaring past Troy at Tully, then started forward, ready to continue the fight.

Furious, Troy grabbed him by the collar with both hands and threw him into another chair at the opposite end of the tavern. “I said, knock it off!”

“He took my girl, Sarge!” Hitch gasped.

“All this over a girl?” Troy blasted with disgust. “Calm down!”

Troy walked over to Tully, but he kept his eye on Hitch who sat, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. The crowd looked on in fascination. The floorshow wasn’t as entertaining as this. “You okay?” He asked Tully.

There was no answer.

“He’s going to need stitches,” Moffitt said as he held Tully’s chin gingerly and tilted it from side to side, investigating his injuries.

“What are you doing here?” Tully asked through the haze.

“We’ve been called back,” Troy explained. “Thought I’d find you two here, but not like this. What happened?”

“Hitch fell for this girl, but she fell for me,” Tully began between heaves of air. “She came after me, Sarge.”

“Nice one,” Troy snarled. There was a pause as he assessed the situation. He stood with his hands on his hips in the middle of the dance floor between the two men.

“Moffitt, get him to the infirmary. Have him ready to move out tomorrow. No excuses. I’ll get Hitch checked out. His hand is pretty chewed up.”

“Righto,” Moffitt sighed. “Let’s go, Tully.” Taking the beaten private by the arm, he pulled him to a standing position, and tried to throw Tully’s arm around his shoulder for stability.

Tully pulled back, insisting on walking out of the bar under his own steam. He wanted to leave with some dignity. He clutched his stomach with one hand while holding Moffitt’s ascot to his eye with the other. Moffitt granted Tully his space but stayed close to offer support if needed. Tully walked painfully across the dance floor and up the stairs. Moffitt held the door for him as he exited the Pyramid.

“You okay?” Troy asked Hitch quietly.

“Yeah, Sarge.”

“Tully says that the girl was after him. That true?”

Hitch was silent.

“Let’s go,” Troy ordered. He put his hand on Hitch’s back and guided him toward the door. They were both upset but for different reasons. Hitch was angry and hurt, and Troy was fearful of dissention and disappointed in both of his privates. The show now over, the patrons took their seats and sipped their drinks. The band began to play.

*****

Tully was out like a light when Troy arrived to see how he was. He lay on his side with a pancake thin pillow placed carefully between his upper arm and his cheek. One hand dangled over the edge of the cot, the other was still holding his ribs. His eye was swollen and his lower lip looked like a plum.

“How is he?” Troy asked Moffitt, who sat in the waiting area reading LIFE Magazine.

“Four stitches over the eye and seven in his mouth. Not a pretty sight actually. No broken ribs though. The doctor gave him something to help him sleep. Where have you put the other one?”

“I bandaged his hand and sent him back to his room to pack up his and Tully’s gear. I told him to cool off and get some sleep.”

“We have a problem, don’t we?” Moffitt said, staring straight ahead while raising his eyebrows. He hesitated before he made eye contact with Troy who paused even longer.

“Yeah . . . we’ve got one hell of a problem.”

Moffitt decided to spend the night at the hospital with Tully since they were due to leave at 0600 anyway. Rather than make a trip back to the hotel, he had Troy collect his duffel. Moffitt had spent the previous three days in bed, just as he had planned, and was well rested. He didn’t mind relaxing and reading for a couple of hours. It was nice and quiet and he enjoyed the attention the nurses paid him, but it wasn’t long before he dosed off.

*****

“Sarge.” Tully muttered, “Sarge!” He put a little more energy into it.

Moffitt opened his eyes to find Tully dressed and standing slouched in front of him in the hallway of the hospital. The sergeant sat up on the bench where he had been snoozing.

Tully was wearing the same clothes he wore the day before. His shirt had a dried puddle of blood down the front that looked like chocolate pudding. There were smears and drops of blood on his pants. He had a fresh bandage over his eye that covered the stitches. The cut on his lip was more severe and was uncovered. The seven stitches were distinct as they stuck out of his flesh like barbed wire. The lip was still swollen and the redness from the night before had turned to aubergine. His body language was that of a defeated man. It was completely out of character.

“And how are we feeling this morning?” Moffitt inquired as he stretched his arms to the ceiling and yawned.

Tully just shrugged and pointed to the door with his head. “Can we go?”

Moffitt stood, looked him squarely in the face and winced sympathetically. “Rather nasty, I must say.”

Tully didn’t answer and moved aside to let Moffitt lead the way out of the hospital. He followed the sergeant with his hands in his pockets, his head down and his feet dragging. He was upset about what had happened, but was especially angry with himself. Not looking forward to meeting up with Hitch, he lagged behind Moffitt as the pair made their way to the depot. He hadn’t eaten, but it didn’t matter because he had no appetite. The injury to his mouth was too painful anyway. His head throbbed, his lip stung and his eye ached. The nerves in his stomach felt like he’d swallowed jar of centipedes.

*****

When they arrived at the train station, Troy and Hitch were not there. Tully felt a slight reprieve as Moffitt steered them up the steps of the train. It waited for its passengers, huffing and puffing. They sat midway down the car where Tully took the window seat. He immediately closed his eyes and concentrated on ignoring the pain in his face and the anxiety that plagued him. Anything to avoid the initial eye contact with Hitch. He was ashamed and hoped that Hitch would forgive him–or at least allow Tully to apologize.

He rested his elbow on the edge of the window and placed his forehead into his hand. His thumb on the temple and the rest of his fingers shaded his eyes.

“It’s getting on. I wonder what’s keeping them?” Moffitt said as he looked out the window. He glanced at his watch.

As he spoke the words Troy and Hitch boarded the train. Their presence made Tully’s gut tumble, and he raised his head apprehensively to make momentary eye contact with Hitch.

Hitch winced when he saw the damage he had done to Tully’s face, then looked away. He sat a few seats in front of Moffitt and Tully, slumping down in his seat with a thud like a grounded teenager.

Troy sat across from Tully. He got himself settled and then inspected the casualty. Taking Tully carefully by the chin, he lifted his head as if he was going to give Tully a shave. He squinted as he perused. “Ouch!”

“Yes, you’d think he’d been struck by a tank,” Moffitt uttered sarcastically.

“So, what’s the story, Tully? Hitch told me his side–now let’s hear yours.”

Tully ignored the sergeant and stared out the window at the crowd on the platform.

“That’s an order, Private. You’re not the only one effected by all this.”

Tully looked at Troy and lowered his head. He let out a sigh through his nose and began.

“She came after me, Sarge.” He reinterated. “Hitch said he was meeting her at he dorm. I hung around the room for a while after he left, then I went down to the Pyramid. She was there. I looked around to see where Hitch was, but I didn’t see him. The guys told me she had a thing for me.”

“Guys? What guys?” Troy probed.

“Matt and Tim. The first time she came into the bar a few days ago,” Tully continued. “Hitch picked her up and they sat with us. They saw her latch onto me, but I didn’t see it. I barely noticed her. She didn’t like that.”

“So what exactly happened last night?” Troy asked.

“Well, it was like I said. I saw her there by herself so I went over and asked her where Hitch was. I was a bit worried, you know? She said he went back to the room to get something. So fine, he’ll be back. I got us some drinks and sat down. Across the table from her, Sarge.” Tully emphasized. “Next thing I know, her hand’s on my leg, she’s getting closer, blowin’ in my ear!” Tully’s usual calm speech was hurried and frantic. His lip started to ooze. “Then she kissed me and I started getting a little hot! I kissed her back, but that was as far as I was going to go. I knew Hitch really liked her. I felt bad that she liked me and not him.” Tully was talking fast now. A trickle of blood rolled down his chin and dripped off like a raindrop off a leaf.

Troy had to smirk. He’d never heard Tully talk that much – ever! That was more than Tully had said in all the time he had known him.

“Okay. Okay,” Troy motioned for Tully to calm down. Moffitt offered a handkerchief to blot the blood.

“Next thing I know I’m on the floor with Hitch coming at me like a Panzer Division. I’d rather take on Dietrich single-handed than Hitch any day,” Tully said under his breath. “I’m sorry, Sarge. He never gave me a chance to explain. I wasn’t going to fight him. It wasn’t his fault. It’s her’s . . . and mine.”

Troy sighed and looked out the window. Moffitt stared at his hands.

“What did Hitch say?” Tully asked cautiously.

“He said you planned the meeting with her. He said you liked her all along.”

“I barely noticed her, Sarge. I went on a date with one of her girlfriends. I knew Hitch wanted her!”

“Okay. Take it easy. Let it lie for awhile–give Hitch a chance to cool off.”

Tully lowered his head with a few slow shakes then peered out the window again. He sighed deeply feeling better about getting his story off his chest. His gut seemed a bit calmer now. There was a short lull before Troy and Moffitt began to discuss the mission they had been assigned. They chatted strategy and Tully fell asleep. Hitch had not moved. It was a long, long way back to the front.

Tully drifted in and out, still woozy from the pain, still stung by the belief that he had betrayed his best friend, still worried that the unit’s trust had been compromised. All these thoughts rushed through his mind as the train clattered its way deeper and deeper into the desert.

The Rat Patrol reached Cara in the early evening–just when the sky began to turn from brilliant blue to a soft purple. They would spend the night there before their next leg on the truck. It had been a quiet trip so far, filled with tension. Troy and Moffitt did most of the talking, discussing the demolition mission on which they were about to embark.

Tully and Hitch were not included in the discussions. They didn’t care. They just did what they were told–they just did their job.

Two days and nights later, they finally poured themselves out of the six-by in El Almein. They took extra time to stretch, reaching and squatting and twisting their seized bodies. Dawn was breaking.

Betty and Grable were waiting for them like they were greeting family home from vacation. They looked great and were filled with supplies and ammo. All the repairs had been done. It was as if they had just rolled off the assembly line.

Tully got his stuff together, walked over to the jeeps and started loading up. He began his ritual of going over every inch of the vehicles, checking and re-checking like a pilot inspecting his aircraft before take off.

Hitch loaded his duffel and Troy’s, then sat quietly waiting for all to climb aboard.

Then Troy predictably blared. “Let’s shake it!”

Hitch and Troy led the way as usual with Moffitt and Tully bringing up the rear. They had a deadline to meet.

“How are you feeling, Tully?” Moffitt shouted to his partner over the rev of the Jeep’s engines. “How’s your mouth?”

“I’m okay, Sarge,” Tully replied, trying not to move his lips when he spoke.

“You and Hitch have to work this thing out.”

“I know.” Tully waited a bit. “I’m going to talk to him tonight.”

They traveled almost forty miles before the darkness shut them down. Parking the jeeps side-by-side a few feet apart, they set up camp. Hitch started a fire and the four men sat down to eat their meals, using the tires as back rests. Their usual camaraderie was absent.

Tully broke out the rations choosing a can of evaporated milk for himself. Chewing was not an option. Even his trademark matchstick was retired for a least a week. As he carefully sipped the milk right from the can, he kept his head down trying to muster up the courage to talk to Hitch who had not uttered a word to anyone since that morning.

“Hitch,” Tully finally said from under the rim of his helmet. “I’m real sorry. I know how you felt about her and I was . . . I . . . well . . . I’m real sorry.”

There was no reply. Troy and Moffitt were both looking at Hitch in anticipation of a truce, but there was to be none. Hitch kept eating.

“Hitch? Did you hear me? I’m sorry. I was stupid. What can I do to make it up to you?”

“You can go to hell!” Hitch fired. He stood abruptly with his plate, and walked around to the other side of the jeep and sat cross-legged in the sand.

Troy put his food down, wiped his hands on his pants and stood as well. He stepped over Moffitt’s out-stretched legs and approached Hitch for a heart-to-heart. The private had discarded what was left of his supper and was staring at the stars when Troy crouched in front of him like a baseball catcher. Hitch spoke first hoping to distract Troy. He knew what he was going to say.

“The desert is a beautiful place isn’t it, Sarge? When the war is over, I might stick around for awhile. See the place with no fighting. Just peaceful you know?”

“Listen, Mark. You are going to have to give Tully the benefit of the doubt here.”

“I can’t, Sarge,” Hitch said as he turned to face Troy. “Not yet. Margaret was important to me.”

“Tully is your best friend. He’d die for you. You’ll never see that girl again!”

Troy’s intense stare burned against Hitch’s skin. The private lowered his head in reflection, but did not reply.

“We’ve got a difficult mission ahead of us,” the sergeant went on, “Tully isn’t exactly one hundred percent right now. He’s running on aspirin and condensed milk. I need you more than ever on this detail. Do you understand?”

“I got you, Sarge.”

“Good. Now get some sleep, and in the morning you at least acknowledge Tully’s existence… and that’s an order!”

Hitch just nodded reluctantly.

Troy gave a brisk pat to Hitch’s shoulder and left him there to think about their conversation. When he came around the jeep, Tully was already curled up for the night and Moffitt was asleep, as well. Troy fluffed his bed as best he could, and turned in for the night.

As soon as Tully knew that all was quiet and everyone was asleep, he rolled onto his back and placed his hands behind his head. He needed time to think and looking into the indigo of the desert night always settled him. He loved the Sahara at night, there was no place like it. Black azure spotted with dazzling specks of light. Billions of them. Tully had pondered many a problem looking into this African sky. He sub-consciously curled his upper lip down over his stitches and felt them stick into him like tacks. He’d almost forgotten the pain. What do I have to do to make Hitch understand, he thought, This will all blow over in a couple of days… it has to. Tully closed his eyes.

*****

Troy spread the map out on the hood of the jeep as the unit gathered around. Though everyone was still walking on eggshells, Tully was feeling better this morning. He hadn’t slept well but the pounding in his face was waning. The cuts were unsightly, but looked far worse than they really were. The blow to his credibility was much more devastating.

Hitch, on the other hand, was pale and bleary eyed. He’d not slept a wink. He leaned on the hood of the jeep with his elbow, his chin resting on his bandaged fist. He stifled a yawn as Troy outlined the mission at hand. As Troy had ordered, Hitch exchanged guarded good mornings with Tully, but that was it.

“Here’s the target.” Troy pointed at the map. “It’s protected by this pass. We should reach the rocks in about two hours,” he said, looking down at his watch. “We’ll leave the jeeps about here. Moffitt, you and I will make our way right up the middle on foot. Intelligence says it’s lightly guarded. Hitch, you and Tully keep watch.” Troy pulled out aerial photos. “Convoys have been spotted going in and out, but there’s been no consistency, so we’re just going to have to play it by ear. If you do see anything, signal with these.” Troy handed Hitch and Tully two small mirrors, about 3” in diameter. “Set yourselves up so you can see what’s coming and going. We’ll wait for your signal before we go in. Got it?”

“Gotcha, Sarge,” Hitch affirmed.

Tully nodded as he thumbed the sutures in his lip subconsciously.

“Oh. And Tully, take the bazooka,” Troy said as an after thought.

Moffitt was already headed toward the passenger side of Betty before Troy had even started to fold up the map on Grable’s bonnet.

The rest of the Patrol followed Moffitt’s lead and took their usual positions. Moffitt placed his right foot on the edge of the front of the door opening. Tully picked up his helmet from the butt of the rifle that stood upright in its scabbard that was fastened to the jeep. He placed it on his head. Troy sat in the passenger seat next to Hitch and lit a cigarette. He motioned with his hand to move out.

*****

The small mountain range sat waiting for them in the distance, and the Rat Patrol headed straight for them. The heat made the rocks look like they were moving. It was odd seeing dark, gold mountains jiggle against the blue of the sky in waves of heat. There were no clouds that morning. It was perfect weather for traveling and the Rat Patrol would make good time.

Troy was right. They reached the base of the rocks in just under two hours. They sat at the entrance to the pass. It was clear.

Tully and Hitch hopped out of the jeeps and prepared all the supplies they needed – rifles, field glasses, grenades, extra ammo, water and, of course, the bazooka. Tully clipped the shoulder strap onto the weapon so he could carry it more easily up the hill. As they camouflaged the jeeps, Troy and Moffitt stuffed sticks of dynamite under their utility belts. When all four men were ready, Troy gave the word and each man darted toward their positions.

Hitch started to scale the rock face with Tully at his heels. It was steep and the footing was loose, but both privates were agile and athletic, and it wasn’t long before they were atop the mounds of rubble and rock. They looked for Troy and Moffitt who waited patiently for their lookouts to signal them. Hiding behind large boulders, the sergeants kept their eyes peeled for incoming traffic.

Tully moved forward so he could look down the pass while Hitch covered the opposite direction. Hitch looked at Tully and, after receiving the all clear, pulled out his mirror and signaled Moffitt and Troy. They were on the move instantly making their way catlike from rock to rock trying to stay invisible.

Hitch scouted the desert and then focused back on the sergeants, looking for any sign of unfriendlies. Troy and Moffitt were beneath Tully now, moving quickly and effectively down the pass toward the target.

Tully moved closer to the edge of the cliff trying to keep the men in view. Stumbling slightly on the loose stone, he hopped up onto a large piece of granite and stood on the edge.

“Hey!” Hitch called out, fearful that the rock would not hold.

As Tully turned his head to respond to his partner’s call, the rock beneath him gave way. His feet flew up above his head and he fell hard onto his shoulder blades and the back of his neck. His helmet went skyward as his chin hit his chest. The bazooka did anything but cushion the blow as it snapped in two. Tully’s arms sprawled out, flailing to grab whatever was there, but all they found was air. He twisted onto his belly, instinctively grasping at anything that would end his descent. Sailing down the side of the cliff, he tried in vain to stop himself from sliding any further.

Hitch ran to the edge of the rock face and watched helplessly as Tully fell further and further down the mountain. Stones and dust followed him down and Hitch temporarily lost sight of him in the mist of particles.

“Tully!” Hitch yelled. “Tully!” He could do nothing but wait for the tailspin to end.

Tully’s fall ended on a ledge. It stuck out of the rock like a balcony and when the dust settled, Hitch could see a body face down upon it. The animosity Hitch felt for Tully had vanished, replaced by fear that Tully was hurt or worse.

“Tully!” Hitch shouted again. He coughed as he breathed in the grime that rose from the trail the private had made. “Tully! Are you all right? Hey! Tully!” Hitch hesitated as he waited for an answer.

He saw Tully move his arm and hoped that he would respond.

“Yeah . . .” There was a long pause. “Yeah. I’m Okay,” Tully called up. “. . . I think,” He muttered to himself. “Shit!! I’m having a really bad week . . . God damn it!” Tully talked to himself with frustration.

He pulled himself into a sitting position and started to inspect his injuries. The stitches in his lip had split. His hands were ripped to shreds, there were cuts and bruises on his chest and forearms. Both knees were bloody, but no bones were broken. Looking up, he could only see the sharp edge of the cliff against the cyan sky.

“Hitch,” Tully shouted again. As he looked up, he scanned the terrain to see if it would be possible for him to scale back up the rock face. No chance. He looked down to see if a path would miraculously appear–negative. He sat about three stories up–trapped.

“Hitch!” Tully called again. As he rose to his feet, dizziness overcame him. He stood precariously on the ledge with his back to the cliff, arms spread eagle to ease the vertigo. “Hitch. Are you there?”

He’s going to leave me here, Tully thought. Still dazed from the fall, his battered mind became irrational. This is how he’s going to pay me back. He’s just going to leave me here. God damn it. Shit!!

“Hey! Help! You’re not going to leave me here, are you? . . . Hitch! . . . Hitch!!!!”

Beginning to panic now, he thought his heart was going to bust out of his chest as it pulsated rapidly.

Tully stood as still as possible. It was quiet, and there was still no sign of Hitch. Tully scanned his position and began calling for help again.

“Tully! Keep it down . . . Kraut column,” Hitch called to the private. “Can you see them?”

“Yeah. Now I can.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to hold tight while they go past. I’ve got to signal Troy. Hold on.”

“Gotcha,” Tully called back with a sigh of relief.

The column was small and obviously not armed for combat. Tully crouched and tried his best to blend into the background. His dust-covered khakis helped. Without his helmet, his sandy hair blended into the rocks.

Then without warning, a huge explosion ripped through the air. It startled him and he temporarily lost his balance. The sound of it echoed through the valley, shaking even more rubble down onto Tully’s head.

He braced himself, afraid that the ledge he was perched on would give way. Another explosion sounded. They did it, Tully thought. Now get out of there and get me off this God damned ledge!

The column came to a grinding halt right beneath Tully. They didn’t seem to know what to do or where to go. Tully could hear the German officer blaring orders to his confused men. The vehicles then turned and moved away from the smoke and fire. They retraced the tracks they’d made not ten minutes earlier. They knew they were not prepared for what lay ahead.

“Chicken shits,” Tully mumbled.

When the column was far enough away, Tully again called out for Hitch.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here.”

“Get me off this thing.”

“I’m workin’ on it. Did you hear that blast?”

“Of course I heard it . . . the whole . . .”

“Hang on,” Hitch interrupted. “I see Troy and Moffitt. Are you okay down there?”

“I’m okay. But hurry up!!” Tully spouted with frustration.

“You know what?” Hitch continued the conversation as if they were sitting in a bar, talking over a couple of beers.

“What.”

“I think I should leave you down there.”

“What!?”

“I SAID . . . I think I should leave you down there after what you pulled in Cairo with Margaret.”

“You’re kidding right . . . Hitch? You are kidding me . . . right?” Tully gasped. His heart went into overdrive again like someone had hit him in the chest with a sledgehammer. “Hitch!!!??” Tully shouted desperately.

All was quiet again. The German column had all but disappeared into the midday sun. Tully looked down and then strained to look upwards. Troy and Moffitt won’t leave me here. I could die out here. I’m really thirsty. God it’s hot. God I’m hungry. That’s how I’m going to die . . . I’m going to starve to death on this ledge. How am I going to get down from here? This is it. I’m not going to make it. Shit . . . I’m having a bad week.

***** 

Moffitt and Troy approached Hitch out of breath from their climb up the hill.

“Mission accomplished.” Troy declared proudly.

“Piece of cake actually,” Moffitt quipped with a crinkled grin. He wiped his hands together in a dismissive manner trying to discard the gravel and dust from his palms.

They looked down the valley to make sure no one had seen them and to admire their handy work and then scanned the cliff top for their other man.

“Where’s Tully?” Troy asked still breathing hard. At first he was angry that Tully wasn’t where he was supposed to be, but then he became worried.

“He’s down there, Sarge.”

“Down where?”

“He fell down that cliff. He jumped onto a rock and it gave way, he went flying and now he’s down on a ledge. He’s trapped.” Hitch explained with a wicked smirk.

The two men scrambled to the edge and peered down at the top of Tully’s head. Hitch sauntered up behind them. He knew he was all right and his mischievous side was getting the best of him. He wasn’t angry anymore, but that wasn’t going to stop him from having some fun at his buddy’s expense.

“Tully!”

“Yeah, Sarge.”

“What are you doing down there?” Troy teased realizing that the private was not hurt. “Did you have a nice trip?”

“Very funny. Get me off this rock, will you? I’m bleeding!!”

“Why didn’t you say so? We’ll see what we can do. Don’t go anywhere OK?” Troy was reminded of all the times that he had left his little brother in similar situations. He smiled broadly.

Tully gazed out into the desert swearing to himself. Assholes! He was not amused. He rolled his eyes and shook his head with wrath. As a matter of fact he became down right angry. But, being a patience soul, a trait he was famous for, he waited in uncomfortable silence for his rescuers.

“Should we leave him down there for a while, just for fun?” Moffitt said impishly.

“Na. I think Tully has suffered enough for one week.” Troy grinned back. He looked at Hitch in hopes that he would agree with his statement. “What do you say, Hitch?” Troy inquired with one eye squinted.

Hitch looked cross but eventually broke a smile, “I guess you’re right, Sarge.”

“Well, go down to the jeeps and get a rope.”

Hitch turned and jogged to the edge of the mountain and began his descent to the jeeps.

“Do you think this thing between Hitch and Tully is over, Troy?” Moffitt questioned as they watched Hitch exit the scene.

“I hope so. It’s going to be a long war if it isn’t.”

Tully’s muscles started to tremble from propping himself squarely on the ledge that had saved him from probable death. He was becoming nauseous from the height, too. The, out of nowhere, a rope hit him on the head, startling him. “Thanks for telling me! You scared the shit out of me!”

“Sorry,” Hitch apologized insincerely.

It’s about time! Tully turned to face the rock face and he threw the end of the rope around his waist. He tied it securely expecting that his hands may not work. He placed them warily on the rope above his head and gave the word to his comrades to pull. Troy anchored, with Moffitt and Hitch at the front. Tully leaned against the rope around his torso and began walking up the side of the cliff. He was so focused on reaching the top that he did not feel the stinging in his hands. He gritted his teeth causing his lip to start bleeding yet again.

Hitch held out his hand to Tully, who took it gladly. Hitch pulled him the rest of the way, and both men ended up sitting on their butts, side-by-side, with their legs dangling over the edge. Tully lowered his head in relief, and as he did, he felt a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Thanks,” Tully said to Hitch as he gasped for air.

“No problem.”

“I’m really sorry about Cairo.”

“Forget about it.”

“I will, if you will.”

“Forget what?” Hitch smiled sarcastically.

Troy and Moffitt stood behind their men. This is exactly what they hoped for, even if it was harrowing physically and mentally for Tully. “Come on, you guys. I’m starting to get misty,” Troy teased.

“Right, Sarge.”

Hitch helped his friend to his feet. Tully brushed himself off. Troy led the way, with Hitch and Moffitt trailing. Tully stood on the edge of the cliff and looked over.

“Things are starting to look up,” he mumbled. He glanced at his scrapped hands, patted the cuff of his sleeve on his lip to blot the trickle of blood and slowly limped back to his unit and the real woman in his life . . . Betty.

***The End***

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