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Brotherhood Protectors: Soldier's Heart Part 2 (Kindle Worlds Novella), page 1
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Soldier’s Heart Part 2
Ilsa J. Bick
Table of Contents
SHIT DO ROLL
THE BLACK WOLF WILDERNESS, 2017
WHAT SOLDIERS CARRY
About the Author
Other Books by Ilsa J. Bick
If you’ve returned for Part Two, welcome back!
If you’re a first-timer, a word to the wise: best to read Part One. Just sayin’.
Which brings up an interesting point: the idea of closure.
As a shrink, I’m okay with ambiguity and actually prefer it. The idea that something I read or listen to might have multiple layers of meaning and be completely open-ended is my stock in trade. In my books, I rarely ties things up with a bow. Why? Because life is messy. Life delights in taking all your carefully thought-out plans and utterly derailing them. Then, too, until now I’ve written for a predominantly young adult audience. That doesn’t meant what you might think, that the themes are somehow juvenile or trivial. My books are deadly serious, and so are a lot of teens I know. Adolescence is a time of great flux and change, of possibilities and, yes, ambiguity. Nothing is neat. Because think about it: the kids I’ve written for and about are getting ready to walk out the door into a big, sometimes scary world. That’s true whether you’re on track for college and then a trade or professional school or a teen who gets a job right off the bat. For young adults, life is always about the door they’re about to open. (I actually ended a book that way, too. Had my kid turn a knob and step through and then . . . well, it’s a mystery.)
Why am I talking about all this? Well, because if you’ve been paying attention, this is Soldier’s Heart: Part Two. Part Three will hit in January, 2018.
Which means no nice wrapping paper, no pretty bow.
Now, some have trouble with that. They expect a story that resolves, and I hear you. But every book is a journey. Sometimes it takes a while for that train to pull into the station.
Fair warning, too: Don’t expect anything I write to end neatly. I’m just not built that way, probably—again—because of my training. For me, the end is another beginning. Shrinks try not to shut stuff down unless a patient’s really going off the rails—because it’s her story. So, sometimes a patient finds those words quickly, but often times, not. And that’s okay.
Every writer worth her salt tries to tell a story that has personal meaning. Me, I write about people who are different, in trouble, desperate, at the end of their rope. For them, life is a journey—and I’m so glad you’re along for the ride.
Which brings up another thing: a big hurdle for any author is visibility. A rating or review on Amazon is invaluable, and very much appreciated. Honest reviews and ratings boost a book’s placement in searches which, in turn, increases the number of those all-important eyeballs. Would I love it if you just flipping adored my work? Sure. But, be honest. Really. Rate or review this book, and don’t be stinting. Believe me, I have a nicely stocked liquor cabinet to dull the pain.
Above all, enjoy. And if you don’t…well, be gentle. My liver will thank you.
SHIT DO ROLL
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. What’s that smell?” Pederson, their doc on loan from Leatherneck, scowled up at the distant house, a mean, squalid little cube of sunbaked mud set high above Cham Bacha and so far away as to not be properly in the village at all. Pederson’s pinched features were oily, the squint lines on either side of his gray eyes drawn in caked grit. Arming away sweat, the doctor made a face, turned aside, then spat. “Air tastes like shit. I thought you said the patient was still alive, McEvoy.”
“She is, sir.” Barely.
“Coulda fooled me.” Pederson had a ferret’s sharp, knife-edged nose—an insult to ferrets around the world, really—and now gave the air another experimental sniff. “I’ve smelled burn shitters better than this.” He let loose with another foamy glob. “Christ, it’s hotter than a bitch.”
“Yes, sir. Hotter than a bitch.” Jesus, stop complaining, you putz. We’re all miserable. It was late, two hours past afternoon prayers, and the day was sullen, the August sun still high and hot, the dazzle bright enough to hurt, the merciless light so strong the valley far below was bleached to the color of old bone. In the intense heat, Kate was druggy and sluggish. The world wavered and shimmered, like a hallucination or the remnants of a bad dream.
After nearly an hour in Pederson’s company, she had also discovered the rumors were true. Pederson was a tight-assed needle-dick. Or perhaps he only favored the time-honored military maxim when it came to arrogant officers at the top and hapless enlisted at the bottom: shit do roll.
“You want to tell me what’s really going on, McEvoy?”
“It’s kind of a visual, sir.” She wasn’t giving him an inch more, afraid he would turn right around and hoof it back down to Cham Bacha. Probably give Jack an earful, too: You cut that McEvoy all kinds of slack and let me tell you, she is downright insubordinate, got a real mouth on her. If it was up to me, I’d blahdiddy-blahdiddy-blah-blah-blah. People like Pederson made her tired, and the man himself was a migraine in waiting Jack just didn’t need in a day that was already going badly for them all.
For starters, most of the kids she knew hadn’t shown for her clinic—and what was up with that? Where were Fatimah and Sabera? Afifa? Although Pederson would have dealt with the boys, she hadn’t caught so much as a glimpse, not even of Jawad, Fatimah’s older brother, who always made sure to meet up on the sly for whatever goodies like books and pens and paper she might have brought. He’d then dole this out to the others, even the girls who weren’t allowed to read at all. Being a boy, Jawad was allowed the privilege of a nominal education, though the only book allowed was the Quran. A voracious reader, he practically inhaled the novels she picked up cheap in Lashkar Gar before passing them on to other boys. Jawad was also teaching girls like Fatimah how to read on the sly.
Yet, today had been strange. Cham Bacha felt . . . off. For example, only the very youngest children appeared for her clinic, chaperoned by tight-faced mothers who regarded her with sharp, unfriendly eyes. What was up with that? This was so unlike her previous experience with these people. All the villagers seemed edgy, almost mistrustful, despite their earlier enthusiastic greetings. She thought it had started when Jack introduced the villa
She didn’t think things were better, either. When she’d checked in earlier with her request to go to Palwasha’s, Jack sounded preoccupied and tired. She ached to ask what was going on, but the timing wasn’t right. Later, once back at Kessel, they would talk.
Then we leave, and there will be Christmas in Wisconsin. He would meet her parents, tramp through the woods, go snowshoeing. They would chow down on cheese curds and brats and Friday fish fry, with plenty of time for talk. She felt a small flower of warmth in her belly, a sharp lance of desire in her chest. They finally would have time and space and the freedom for so much more.
“What are you smiling about?” Without waiting for her reply, Pederson hawked again. “If you dragged me up here on some damned wild goose chase, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“No, sir, no damned wild goose chase.” This guy spat more than a camel. At the rate they were going, she was going to sweat so much, she’d shrivel up into jerky. “All due respect, sir, it’s a hundred and ten, and I’m about to melt into a grease spot. The faster I can show you, the sooner we can get out of here.” And I can avoid heat stroke. She bet Pederson would let her brain parboil out of spite.
Pederson didn’t like it. She could tell from the way the tip of his ferret’s nose twitched. Pulling out his water bottle, he uncapped it, gestured toward her vest. “You should drink, McEvoy. Keep yourself hydrated.”
“Been drinking, Doctor.” At his guzzling glug-glugging, her stomach cramped. Having already trudged up these mountains twice—first at Bibi’s insistence and now with Pederson because she needed the asshole’s blessing—she was soaked through with sweat. Worse, her bottle was nearly empty. The water wasn’t a huge deal. She could refill her canteen just as soon as they got back to the village. Sweating was good, too, though she worried she wasn’t keeping up. She’d gone through a quart of water every three hours and still didn’t need to pee. That wasn’t optimal. Man, when she got home, she was heading to Lake Superior and jumping in. She might not surface for a month. Breathe through a straw, if she had to. “I’m good, sir.”
They crunched up the rest of the way in silence. The smell went from bad to awful, reminiscent of the reek of a bloated raccoon stewing on superheated asphalt under a sun in high summer. It was the kind of smell that made her want to burn her uniform, maybe even shave off her hair. If she could unzip and then cram her skin into the wash, throw in a bottle of Clorox, and hit heavy soil, she would.
She wasn’t squeamish. Hang out with sweaty soldiers who’ve seen nothing but baby wipes for ten days straight, and a girl got over a little BO PDQ. (Teeth were different. She could go a week without a shower or uniform change, but separate her from a toothbrush, and there was apt to be violence.) Combat had its own peculiar aromas: flash-fried blood, raw meat, the chalky reek of blasted desert, the astringent nip of gunpowder and hot brass. Shit splooshing from ruptured guts. Bodies of people, cows, goats, dogs in in various stages of decomp.
What rolled down this high mountain was a different magnitude of awful. No matter how much she brushed her teeth, she would taste this for days, months, and maybe forever. In a way, the taste was Afghanistan all rolled into one.
Tompkins was where she’d left him standing guard. As they came around the final bed, he relaxed his stance and gave Six, who also stood at the ready, a hand signal to stand down. Sinking into a sliver of shade at the edge of the house, the big sable shepherd let out a grateful groan and resumed panting, his foam-flecked tongue unfurling in a limp pink ribbon.
“You’re okay, buddy, you’re all right.” Pulling out a soft-sided collapsible bowl from his vest, Tompkins unfolded the nylon then doled out water. “Here you go, boy.”
“Poor thing.” Six had to pause every second or third slurp just to breathe. The dog was panting so hard, his whole body shook. If she only sweated through her mouth, palms, and feet in hundred-plus heat while also sweltering in a thick fur coat, she’d be chuffing like a locomotive, too. Kate reached for her nearly empty bottle. “He can have mine. I’m okay.”
“Naw.” Tompkins waved her offer away. “He’s tough. We’re good. But let’s get this over sooner rather than later, okay?”
“Won’t get any arguments from me.” Pederson peered at the house with all the enthusiasm of a patient waiting for a root canal. “I don’t want to be here in the first place.”
“No, sir.” Tompkins’s face was a perfect blank. “And we sure don’t want to be here with you, either.”
Biting down on a cheek, Kate corralled a laugh before it could trip over her teeth. For his part, Pederson only nodded. “Roger that,” the doctor said, and it might have been her imagination, but she thought she heard a touch of and we’re all men here. She wouldn’t put it past Pederson to bro-punch Tompkins in the arm then hitch up his pants and spit again.
Instead, Pederson only gave a crisp nod. “All right, then. Let’s get this over with.”
Pederson made it only two feet into the house before reeling back. “Jesus.” Muffling his nose and mouth with an arm, he gagged. “Are you going to tell me what that is, McEvoy, or do I get to guess?”
Tompkins answered for her. “Goat, sir . . . No, I don’t think so, Six.” Now that the humans were moving inside, the shepherd had scrambled up. Roping back the dog, Tompkins slipped past Pederson to take his place along the wall. Following, the dog sat obediently enough but turned a look up at Tompkins that seemed to say, Boss, you sure I can’t roll around in it just a little?
“Yeah, yeah.” Tompkins grinned down at his dog. “I know this smells that something you just gotta roll in, buddy, but the last thing I need is you stinking like roadkill. Come to think of it, roadkill might smell better.”
“Goat? Are you serious?” Pederson rounded on Kate. “Is he serious? Goat?”
“As a heart attack, sir,” she said. “Actually, it’s only the stomach.”
“The stomach? You are shitting me.” Turning aside, Pederson aimed a gob of spit at the earthen floor. “Who the fuck does that?”
She really wished he’d stop with the spitting. This place might not be much, but it was someone’s house. “Local healers.”
“A very respected man in the next village, perhaps a day’s journey?” Officer Bibi Nagir slipped forward from the shadows to Kate’s left. Bibi tipped her head at a young slip of a girl whose left wrist the policewoman had in a death grip. The girl wore a rough dun-colored dress, matching head scarf, and the terrified expression of a kid who knew she was in deep shit.
“Palwasha here says the healer bartered for an entire roll of cloth, and, speaking of which. . .” With her free hand, Bibi tugged up a fold of her gray head covering over her mouth. “There are moments one is grateful for a hijab. Not many, but this is one such instance.”
Pederson’s glower deepened. “Why would anyone use a goat?”
Clearly Pederson’s mother had never talked to her son about what happened to little boys who spent too much time complaining and not enough smiling. Then again, if Kate had to listen to Pederson kvetch, she might be a little tired, too. “The stomach’s supposed to draw out bad blood and evil spirits from the baby.”
“Bad spirits. In a baby?” Fuming, Pederson rooted in his medical kit and pulled out a mask. “Don’t these people know there are doctors and medicine?”
“Yes, sir, but doctors cost money and are days away, if that. So, they go to local healers who cost less or will barter.” Pulling out her own mask, Kate offered a small shrug, though she didn’t feel nonchalant in the slightest. One look, and she’d known the chances this baby would pull through without more advanced care were slim to none, an
“Little more than a servant, if that.” After a whispered aside, Bibi slid the girl’s right sleeve to the elbow. Even in the poor light, the bruises were black stains. “Routinely beaten by her mother-in-law and the first wife. She is lucky they agreed to allow for a healer at all.”
Pederson’s mask puffed as he snorted. “You call this luck?”
“I just call it Afghanistan.” Tompkins and Bibi exchanged a look, and then the handler continued, “I know there are customs and all, but some deserve to die. Beating kids, for one. Hell, beating anybody. These healers can all take a hike, too.”
“I do not disagree, Corporal.” Bibi’s voice held an indecipherable note Kate couldn’t parse. “My mother was a great believer in folk remedies when it came to us girls. I always thank Allah I was a hardy child and rarely ill. Even when I did get sick, there is nothing like the experience of having egg yolk mixed with anise seed smeared on your head to dissuade you from ever again mentioning that you’ve got loose bowels.”
“These people.” Pederson jerked his head at Kate. “All right, McEvoy, let’s take a look at this train wreck.”
At their approach, a swarm of black flies lifted with an indignant buzz in a shimmery cloud from a limp bundle squared on a rough woven mat. Only five months old, the baby was a virtual skeleton—her limbs thin as brown twigs, the skin tented tight over her skull—swaddled from chin to groin in a thick, oozy gray-green membrane.
“What in God’s name?” Pederson pointed to several large, ragged holes. “Animals?”
by Ilsa J. Blick have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes