For All Nails #19: A Chingazo
by David Mix Barrington
Carmen Valenzuela checked the IV again. Samuels' blood was flowing well into Gutierrez, and no longer from Gutierrez' leg onto the dirt floor of the barn. The bullet was out, and there was a good chance of saving his leg.
"OK, Samuels, I need you another five minutes."
"You got it, chica, I got no place to go right now."
That was true for them all, Carmen reflected. "Recon in force" had sounded simple enough at the briefing. Third Platoon was to walk over the line, check out an allegedly civilian target thought to be used by the banditos, and if necessary blow it up. They had found no banditos and no caches of arms, but the barn did have its military uses. It was now giving Third some measure of cover from the company of Tories that had them pinned down.
A chingazo, the men were calling it. A fuckup, particularly one where the officers left the grunts open and exposed.
"Carmen!" Lieutenant Martinez.
"Anything you can't leave down there?"
"Get up here!"
"Samuels, in five minutes pull that thing out of your arm and stick this tirita on yourself. Then do the same for Pablo here. You got it?"
"No problemo, senorita."
She warily climbed the wooden staircase and spotted Martinez by a window.
"I've got us a parley. You're coming with me."
Come to think of it, the firing had died down. She had hardly noticed...
"Lieutenant Jackson Martinez, 14th MDN Rangers."
"Captain Sir Perry Jameson, Harrison's Light Infantry Regiment. Care to tell us how you happen to be visiting the CNA on a fine spring day?"
"I'm afraid we were in hot pursuit of your irregulars again, followed by a bit of map trouble."
"No doubt. An understandable mistake, I'm sure, but the explanations are perhaps best made back at our camp at Fort Williamhouse?"
"I'm afraid I'm not authorized to surrender a platoon, Captain. And before you shell the building, you'll want to know that we've got five of your boys."
"How are they?"
Going over the Tories she had treated in her mind, Carmen said, "Three wounded, nothing too bad -- I did what I could but one of them could use a field hospital pretty soon."
"And your own?" Carmen confirmed with a look that Martinez wanted her to give the right answer.
"Two dead, twelve wounded, four seriously."
"I'm sorry, Leftenant." Carmen noted the affectation -- apparently part of the CNA officer corps (a "Sir", for all that -- an inherited title?) still thought they were British. The Tory was even carrying a swagger stick stuck under his right arm. Probably used a monocle sometimes too. "Well, we'd be even sorrier to have to subdue you by force, but we're perfectly prepared to do it."
Martinez kept his cool in the face of the Tory officer's threat. "There's a problem with that, Captain. We've kept radio silence up to now, but I can call for help. There'd be at least five combat gyropters here in about ten minutes. Even the odds a little bit."
"Indeed," Jameson said, his eyes narrowing. "Your superiors send you over here, forbid you to surrender, but authorize you to start a war on your own?"
"That's about the size of it. At least they told me they'd be here if I needed them. The AUSM isn't used to leaving dead and wounded behind, you know. By the way, if we're not back in fifteen minutes, that call goes out."
"Do you want a war today, Leftenant? Does your new so-called President? FN2 Does Mexico?"
"No sir, I don't, he don't, and we don't. If we have to, though ..."
"Do you have any suggestions?" Jameson was tapping his swagger stick with his thumb. Did he know he was doing it? It looked to Carmen like Martinez was doing a better job of hiding whatever anxiety he was feeling than the Tory.
"Carmen, how many of our wounded can walk back?" Martinez asked.
"All but Chavez, Gutierrez, and Delacroix."
"I can leave my dead and wounded behind, Captain. The rest of us walk back, no one else gets hurt today, you send the bodies back and take care of our wounded. I think we can count on you to do that." Carmen thought back to a skinny black bandito a few years before and how he had fared in captivity. But if this Captain Jameson gave his word...
"And what do I get out of this?"
"No battle. And you have proof positive that our regulars are across the border. I think the diplomats will want to talk about that, and frankly I'd rather it be them than us. Someone who could do something about your damned irregulars before it's too late, maybe."
"You're a bit of a poker player, it seems, Leftenant?"
"I'm partial to whist myself. But if I remember the game correctly, I'll see your three wounded and raise you a leftenant. And a medico, or should I say medica? I can't guarantee it, but I should think you'd be exchanged, after a good bit of discussion."
"I'll call, Captain. That means yes."
"Righto, then. We'll maintain the truce, and watch all but five of you over that hill in say, half an hour?"
Carmen breathed a sigh of relief. "Captain, can one of your medics come back with us? I'm out of neutral blood and anti-microbials. And I'd be happy to help out with your men any way I can."
The Tory captain nodded. "It was reckless to send you over here, Leftenant. I hope your superiors realize that."
"I'm a soldier, Captain, like yourself. I do what I'm told. Most of the time."
Forward to FAN #20: A Day at the Office.
Forward to 16 March 1972: Mangia!
Forward to Carmen Valenzuela: Sunday Morning Coffee.
Return to For All Nails.