So he tore off the rest of his clothes, and the rest of hers, and got the condom and fumbled with it, but something about it was pinching him. He lost his erection and cried and she consoled him, and he blubbered that he loved her. She answered him that she loved him too.
But they did manage to have sex, many times after that, and she got pregnant. James proposed to her with an onion ring from Jack-in-the-Box, and she rolled her eyes and said, "I have no choice." Both of them tried not to laugh when the Justice of the Peace said that marriage was a choice that you had to think about a long time in advance.
But she thought about it now, and it wasnt as funny. She was six months pregnant. The process had driven out wild emotions in her, which also brought something out of James, that she hadnt noticed before. He was being eaten by the war.
She knew he was a veteran. He had announced it on the internet, even though she didnt quite understand the difference between a soldier and a Marine. All his tattoes seemed to have something to do about war. There were the lists of names, which were all his dead friends. There was one that said INFIDEL, that she thought meant he had a problem with religion. There was a script of arabic, which she didnt understand until he explained to her it meant Christian Crusader. He was angry. Not all the time, but sometimes it was bad, like something ugly was locked up in his heart and rotting him out from the inside.
He did things that freaked her out. He talked to himself, and when she asked who it was, he always said "Ryan" or "Lazirko" or "Jerel" and she knew they were people he had known then. Sometimes he would stand in his closet, and stare at his dress uniform, with its stripes and ribbons.
Nights were always the worst.
At nights he would scream or cry and sit bolt upright. When she would touch his arm it was covered in sweat. As if the time he had spent wrestling his demons and nightmares had caused him great exertion.
The bad luck and trouble seemed to follow not only her, but her family members. Her white aunt had lost her home. Aunt Linda made a living doing some sort of internet business, a form of online commerce that was a closely guarded secret from the rest of the family. They had boomed when the internet was booming, but now they were going bust. Her cousin Shazia was pregnant, and the boy that had done it to her had given her a mixture of genital warts and herpes. Christina from work was on her third child. And here in Texas, she missed everything there was about California.
Browning's character seemed to be a combination of generic American sameness, with the same fast food and shopping franchises as everywhere else, and border poverty. The citizens seemed hostile to her. There was a funny smell in the air, a bad stink from a nearby chemical plant. None of the fun things to do, like Disney or Knotts berry farm, or Six Flags Magic Mountain. She was pregnant and trapped in this small apartment, while her new husband slowly lost his mind.
She had gone away from home once before, when she was seventeen. Joanna had met a man on the internet from North Carolina, under similiar circumstances to how she met James. She had bought a bus ticket and traveled across the country. It had been fun, even. An adventure she had done herself. When she got there the man was skinny and had bad teeth. Her father had called her and asked her if she would come home, and she had said yes. They had attempted to have sex first, her and the man, but he was too largely endowed. Instead he had gone down on her, the first time anyone had done that and she had come so hard that she thought the world was exploding around her.
Major Fight took one look at the embedded reporter, and his heart sank, and dreams faded.
John Sach looked to be somewhere north of seventy years of age. His hair was stark white, under a black kevlar helmet that had the chinstrap undone. He wore a t shirt underneath the sort of bulletproof vest that would only stop a nine-millimeter pistol, and was entirely ineffectual for the fighting done in Iraq. His khaki cargo shorts revealed pasty chicken legs, and what looked at first glance to be combat boots, where in fact the sort of medical shoes diabetics wear, paired up with black socks pulled high on the ankle. He looked all in all like the idea of your grandfather, not in his early years, when the man might still have been the least bit virile, but when you were an adult, and he had already had been shipped off to Arizona or Florida, with a Do Not Rescucitate bracelet firmly in place around a shaking wrist covered in age spots.
"Who do you write for?" Fight asked.
"Are you a staff reporter?"
"I- Hauukaumph! contract, actually." The old mans cough was loud and hacking.
"Are you working on a book?"
"I'm not sure, if there's an article, or a book. It depends what I can get. Haauukumph!"
Fight felt uneasy. During the initial invasion of Iraq, an embedded reporter from Rolling Stone named Evan Wright had chronicled the various members of 1st Marine Recon, and now there was an HBO series on the way. Even better, several of the Marines involved had written their own accountings, or been promoted up the ranks. In the political game of being a Marine Officer, a sympathetic, (or even better, heroic) accounting by an embedded reporter was worth its weight in gold. And now Fight had been stuck with this old man, who might not have been scraped from the very bottom of the barrel, but was clearly nowhere near the surface.
"And you've been assigned to us." He said.
"That's right." Sach rasped. "This 'chosen company.' Tell me, why do you call it that?"
"What do you mean?"
"What are you chosen for, specifically. Are you some sort of special operations?"
"Well." Fight began. "Its a morale thing. Were company "C", actually, and usually company C is called Charlie company."
"From the military phonetic alphabet."
"And now, this chosen..."
"Well, Bravo Company became Battle Company, so we re-christened Charlie Chosin company. From the 'frozen Chosin', the battle in Korea, if you, ah will. Although we are special operations qualified." Fight felt a little naseous. He didnt mention that the qualification was based on a single training operation, before deployment, and not any actual SF status.
"Ah yes. I remember now."
"A horrible battle. So many men dead."
"Huh." Of course, Sach would be actually old enough to remember Korea.
"Tell, me, do you have an H company? I wonder if you would name it after Hue city? I covered that one."
"Well." Fight was sweating a little. "Well, H company is in 2nd Battalion. And this is first Battalion, 6th Marines. So, ah, any naming, for morale, that is done on the battalion level."
"And you dont have any control."
"Thats right." Fight actually had no control of the naming of Chosin Company, either. And he hadnt told the entire truth. The actual story was that India Company had to be renamed after Al Jazeera ran a story about a unit of Marines deployed to Pakistan named after its ancient enemy. After that, to soften the blow the renaming was passed on throughout the entire Marine regiment. Despite all that no suitable morale boosting title was found for the offending India,( the one suggestion, 'Inspection Company', was found to be universally disliked) and it remained simply company I.
Fight stood up from his desk. "Here." He said. "Let me show you about the Camp, and then you can talk to some of the men." A thought crossed his mind, "Wait, here's Corporal Swinney, he can do it just as well as I can. Give you a chance to talk to someone thats on the ground."
Swinney glared slightly at the request, but put on his helmet and body armor. Fight rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. Ten minutes conversation with Swinney, who was quite obviously gay, would be enough to put the company in a liberal, more favorable light. Which by extension worked for his own purposes. And if it was possible to catch whatever horrible thing was dying inside John Sach, it wouldnt be him.
Swinney calmy pointed out the different areas of interest around Fallujah, which at first glance appeared almost indistiguishable. A mass of connex containers and a few tents. Swinney strode with determined purpose, and Sach hobbled alongside, or sometimes behind, coughing vigorously all the way.
"You seem very young." Sach said. "How old are you?"
"Twenty." Swinney said. There was the slight trace of a lisp in his words, in the manner of the genteel faggotry.
"What made you want to join the Marines?"
"It was something I wanted to see if I could do."
"Do you like it?"
"Most of the time. Its not as bad as some people make it."
Sach put his hands on his knees and bent over. "I have to rest." He said. "Its very hot out here."
"It usually is."
"Tell me, do you have some water."
Swinney offered him the hose of the Camelbak. "There's water in here." He said, and Sach sucked eagerly. It was lukewarm, but still good. He grinned. "Thank you."
"I dont see a lot like you here. Or am I mistaken."
Swinney lifted a manicured eyebrow. "You mean, black people? There's more than you think"
Sach blashed fiercely. "Thats not what I meant." He stammered. "Nevermind."
"I'll show you to where the rest of the platoon is." Swinney said. "Someone there will want to talk to you. I dont have too much to say."
They walked out the wire, through the side gate to the rooftop where the platoon was still staying. It had turned into a more permenant encampment then before, with the addition of camo netting to keep out the sun and MRE boxes to serve as furniture. The music from Psyops was gone as well. Sawyer was playing cards with three others, Easterling, Lopez, and Sgt. White. He grinned when he saw Swinney.
"Hey sweetness." He said. "Is that your new sugar daddy?"
"Watch it." Sgt. White snapped. "Dont talk to an NCO that way."
Sawyer raised his hands, in a gesture of my bad, without saying anything. "Your insubordinate as fuck, Sawyer." White continued.
"I'm John Sach." Sach said. "I'm a reporter from Esquire."
"Wonderful to meet you, sir!" White said. "Sergeant Timothy White, United States Marine Corps. I believe I can represent the platoon."
"Talk to Sawyer afterwards." Swinney whispered in the reporters ear.
They found some relative shade and comfort on the second floor of the building to talk. Sach fumbled with a small hand held voice recorder. White took off his helmet and Sach could see that he looked almost exactly like the sort of Marine found on a recruiting poster, or a Hollywood movie. He was tall, with a lantern jaw and the bristling of a very close cut high and tight. Looking at him Sach could see the way the other Marines looked over young in their gear, with huge packs and skinny limbs sticking out of bulky ballistic vests, but White filled his out appropriately.
"Now." Sach said. "You said your name was Tim?"
"Timothy White." He said. "I usually go by Timothy. Sergeant White, when I'm being addressed by the platoon."
"Do you have a nickname?"
"What do you think about all this?"
"I believe the Marine Corps is the single greatest job in the world. Its a brotherhood that's not for everyone. We keep Americans safe at night."
"I was talking about the war, actually. Here in Fallujah."
"Americans were attacked. We have been sent here to provide a measured, appropriate force against terrorist actions. I think Operation Phantom Fury will be a resounded success."
"Is that what its called?"
"Ah, I'm not sure if thats still classified or not. You probably shouldnt print that."
"But our mission will be a success."
"Where are you from?"
"I'm from the greater Cleveland area."
"Thats right. My father was a lawyer and a pacifist. A Buddhist, actually."
"Is he of asian descent?"
"No." Sawyer laughed. "As you can tell from my decidedly non slanted eyes. He was more of a hippie. Or a wannabe hippie. I was raised under pretty liberal circumstances. Which I embraced. I'm a member of SHARPS."
"Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. Its a pretty large movement in Ohio. We respect the lifestyle and the music, without the racism."
"And what I've realized over the years, which led to my joining the Marines, is so much of that liberal thinking is just wrong. At the end of the day, you need strong able bodied people to stand on the walls and protect society. Thats what matters, strength. Which is something that I got into as a body bear."
"A body bear. I'm sorry, I'm throwing all these acronyms at you without even thinking about it. When I got done with boot camp, I was selected for Eighth and I-"
"Thats another one."
"I'm sorry. To clarify that, the Marine barracks at Eighth street and I street, in Washington DC. Informally reffered to as Eighth and I. Those are the guys you see in dress blues, drilling with rifles, throwing rifles around without any given commands. The silent drill time?"
"Yes, a dress barracks. For ceremonies."
"Thats right. Elite stuff. Now, the body bears, we were the body bearers. For formal military funerals. We carried the coffins. And some of those guys could get pretty heavy, so we spent a lot of time in the weight room. Lifting weights and getting big. That was an experience I enjoyed. I think I managed to take some of that discipline and bring it here, to a rifle company."
"You seem very comfortable with what you do."
They talked for nearly another hour. Then Sach excused himself, to find Lance Corporal Sawyer.