Rick & Carol
Rick Medlock sat inside a ten by twenty makeshift building on a plywood toilet constructed over a deep, black, smelly hole—the odor wafting up only slightly offset by the smell of Pine-Sol. He leaned to one side. Perhaps by propping himself at an angle, he’d be able to get on with the bowel movement that seemed to be on hold. He felt stuffed from his solar plexus down. No, “bloated” was a better way to describe it.
For crying out loud—it felt like he’d been plugged with a cork.
No wonder. When you were at twelve thousand feet, strapped into a pilot’s seat, tethered by an oxygen line, you simply had to hold it. Now that he was back on terra firma in the semi privacy of the officer’s latrine, the time had come for another “bombs away.” But the bombardier was taking a nap.
He rotated his wrist. The radium dial read three o’clock. Nothing to do, anyway.
Sure was gloomy in here. The only light seeped in through cracks. Where was the obligatory Sears Catalog? The only possible distraction he could see in this smelly, forsaken bathroom was a Gideon Bible.
He reached for it.
No doubt this one had been swiped from a hotel room in the states, and transported to this fallen-down excuse for a bathroom. True, you needed one in this place. Well, maybe not this place. Here you needed diversion, more than solace for the soul. Someone at least could have hung up that ubiquitous pinup of Betty Gable looking over her shoulder, and sticking out her tush. Other than those few attached to nurses, such delights were seldom seen on this makeshift Army Air Corps base situated on the rocky outcrop of an island only fifty miles from the shooting war that raged in Italy.
A bead of sweat rolled down his temple. He shivered. The whole blasted Italian and German Armies—every soldier, and every officer, too, was out to annihilate him. He had nothing against them. He, they, every human on the planet was part of the same family, each a unique projection of the life force that permeates everything. But the United States government, via the brass that ran this place, had told him it was his duty to kill as many as possible with 500 and 1000 pound bombs. No wonder they returned the favor by trying to kill him with machine guns mounted on Messerschmitts, and anti aircraft cannons that belched out flak.
No wonder he spent the better part of each waking moment in a cold sweat.
No wonder he was constipated.
Of course, it was indisputable that Hitler and his cronies were anything less than psychopathic megalomaniacs who’d gotten control of a country, and were using it to take over the world. Someone did have to stop him. Medlock supposed he might as well join in the crusade.
He opened the Bible. His eyes caressed the page.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . .
He scanned the paragraph. His eyes came to rest. If God is for us, who can be against us?
Humm . . . The Germans? I’d say they’re against us.
An air raid siren let out a mighty wail, and in an instant the anti-aircraft batteries started up. Paow, poaw, poaw, poaw, poaw . . .
Another bead of sweat pushed its way out, this time in the middle of his forehead. He snapped the Bible shut; looked up at the rafters of the latrine. They vibrated in cadence with the anti-aircraft fire. Dust fell out between cracks. That drip of sweat trickled down his nose.
He tilted his head, listening.
Uh-oh. A sickening feeling spread throughout his gut. That pulsating drone. It had to be Stuka dive bombers.
The next sound began almost imperceptibly, then quickly built to a piercing whistle. Several more whistles joined in until the noise was like a Fourth of July fireworks pinwheel only two feet away.
Medlock’s insides now felt like bloated jelly mixed with sickening melted marshmallow. A dozen screaming whines grew louder with each millisecond as bombs plunged to earth, their piercing whistles screaming louder than the poaw, poaw, poaw of anti aircraft batteries that he could envision belching flak. The cacophony was now joined by the rattatatat of fifty caliber machine guns . . .
The sound of one of those whistle bombs grew loud, really loud, as thought it were headed straight for this broken down shack. Medlock grabbed his trousers with one hand, jumped to his feet, and pushed out the door, dropping the Bible. He squinted in the bright Corsican sun. Scores of men scurried across the baked field of pebbles, sand and dead grass like ants in a hundred yard dash, except every one raced toward a different finish line. The only sane place to be under the circumstances was the bomb shelter. Perhaps that’s why no one seemed headed there.
He jacked up his pants with both hands, and took off—weaving between hurling bodies of American service men like a broken field runner for the fighting Irish, dashing desperately toward the goal. His mind was a whirling blur amid the din of men shouting, the screech of whistle bombs, the poaw-poaw-poaw of anti-aircraft cannons, the rattatat of machine gun fire, the wail of diving Stukas, and the ever-increasing pounding of his heart.
He heard his name shouted, but resisted pausing to look. He must get to the bomb shelter, and as if he were in a nightmare, it seemed farther away now than when he’d started.
“Lieutenant Medlock! Lieutenant Medlock!”
He glanced to his left just has a hand grabbed his shirt.
“Lieutenant Medlock, stop!”
He skidded to a halt, and turned. In a reflex action, he snapped his heels together and saluted. His trousers dropped to his ankles.
“Yes, Sir, Major Morchower, Sir.”
“Pull your pants up, Medlock, and follow me.”
“Follow, Sir? But, uh, you see, I was just on my way to the bomb shelter.”
The major squinted. “What th’ heck’s wrong with you, Medlock? We’re under attack and there’s a whole damn squadron of P-47s on the tarmac. We need to get ’em in the air before the Krouts blow ’em to hell.” He shoved Medlock in the direction of the airfield.
Medlock took a reluctant step. “But Major Morchower, Sir. I’m a bomber pilot. I’ve never flown a P-47.”
“Then it’s time you learned, Medlock. Get moving.” Again, he shoved. “We gotta get those P-47s outa there, Medlock. Move! Now! Ya want the friggin’ Krouts to win the friggin’ War?”
“Uh, well, no. I guess not, Sir.” Medlock started in the direction he was being pushed, still holding onto his pants. As he began to trot, he said over his shoulder, “Is it very different, Sir?”
“The P-47? I mean, flying it, as opposed to the B-17. For example, do you start the engines the same way?”
Furrows appeared in the major’s brow, but before he could speak his attention seemed drawn to the airfield where bombs exploded in rapid succession. The earth rolled underfoot. Medlock did his best to maintain balance as he dutifully ran ahead. Between bombs exploding and cannons firing, the roar of a Stuka made him look skyward. The plane seemed incredibly near, and it grew larger, filling his field of vision as it completed a bank, leveled out, and headed straight toward him. Fire spewed from cannons that jutted from its wings. Twenty yards ahead, spouts of orange-beige Corsican dirt formed sprouts that danced toward him.
Medlock’s legs suddenly gave out—the ground rose up to meet him. He no longer needed to worry about being constipated. His bowels had moved.
He inhaled a snout full of dirt just as his vantage point shifted. He was suddenly in the air above the air base, higher than the Stukas, looking down at the chaotic scene: Stukas diving, releasing bombs. Anti-aircraft cannons firing up. Flak shells bursting. Machine guns blazing.
This cannot be.
Holes appeared across a wing and fuselage of a nearby Stuka. Black smoke poured from cooling louvers. Slowly, the plane turned through 360 degrees, the nose rotated downward, and it plummeted like a kite that had lost its tail. Medlock saw the pilot exit the plane before it slammed into the ground next to the mess tent. Instantly, the craft burst into flames.
Strange that the pilot had no parachute, yet he hovered in the air below, watching the action, the same as Medlock.
Medlock would have to think about that later. Too much was going on, now. Just beyond, he could see that Major Morchower had almost reached the squadron of P-47s. A bomb hit the one closest, flipping it into the air. The major skidded, turned on his heel, and ran. The P-47 landed backside up, not fifteen feet from him, and burst into flame. The major dove to earth, his hands covering his head. The plane exploded.
Medlock wondered, If that’s Major Morchower. Where am I?
He shifted his glance to where he’d been when the Stuka dove at him.
There I am, lying on my stomach.
An angel stood over him, defused light haloing her head and shoulders. Odd. It had been eons since an angel had greeted him. As far back as he could remember, his teacher and guide, Otto, had been the first. He certainly hadn’t expected an angel. Not one he didn’t know. Immediately following the last two or three incarnations, he’d passed through the tunnel and into the light before seeing anyone. Yet this angel, beautiful though she may be, stood between him and the light.
“Did I do something wrong?” he said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Awake, are you? Just try to relax. I’m trying to find out.” She bent toward him, reaching out a hand.
“I appreciate your being here,” he said. “But it really isn’t necessary. I know the way.”
She gave him a quizzical look. Then wide, alert hazel-green eyes continued searching about his head and shoulders. “It’s true, I haven’t be able to find anything major. Some nicks and cuts. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones.” Auburn hair fell to her shoulders. A wisp of freckles danced across her nose. She had broad shoulders, strong arms and hands.
He looked past her. “You’re between me and the light.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “You mean those holes that the guns and bombs ripped in the tent?” She stood, and put her hands on her hips. “You know, I think you are okay. At least, no big holes in you anywhere that I can find. A lotta dirt, a few scratches, an accident in your pants, but that’s par for the course. No serious bleeding. Even so, I don’t think you should try to get up just yet.”
“Why shouldn’t I pass into the light?”
“Simple. You need to take it easy for a while.” She leaned closer to him, put her hand on his forehead, and kept his eyelid from closing with her thumb. “Well, I take that back. Maybe you can get up. Your pupils don’t seem dilated. Say, do you have one green eye and one blue one?”
“Can’t say that I’ve ever seen that before,” she said. “Tell you what, why don’t you see if you can sit up. It wouldn’t hurt the atmosphere around here if you took a quick trip to the latrine.”
He felt his brow furrow. “Sit up? Latrine?”
She pursed her lips. “They brought you here from the parade ground, which as you will see when you do pass into the light outside on the way to latrine is pockmarked with bomb craters. You were out cold, and at the very least may have suffered a concussion. Your eyes don’t look like it to me, even if one is green and the other blue, but we can’t be absolutely sure. So don’t go to sleep, okay? You need to make an effort to stay awake. Sometimes people who get knocked in the head go to sleep, and then slip into a coma.”
“So, what you’re saying is—I’m not dead?”
Head cocked, she stared.
“I thought I was dead,” Medlock said.
She nodded. “Okay. Now I get it. You thought you were dead, and that I was an angel, right? I’ve heard that one before, Corporal.”
“No, no, it’s true. I was wondering where Otto was.”
“An angel. Uh, teacher. I’m not sure now. I can’t remember.”
“And you think I look like Otto. Is he cute?” She feigned a smile.
“No. At least I don’t think so. I must have been dreaming.”
“Let me be sure I have this right. What you said wasn’t a line because in fact you mistook me for a guy who’s a friend of yours. Is that it, Corporal?’
“I guess I was confused.”
“It has been pandemonium around here. Bombs falling like raindrops. It can definitely get confusing, I’ll grant you that.”
Medlock searched his memory. “I opened my eyes and saw you looking down at me—you were so beautiful. I thought an angel had come in Otto’s place. But that doesn’t make sense, does it?”
“You’re good, Corporal. It’s impressive how you worked your way right back to that line again.”
He looked into her face until what she said had registered. Then he chuckled. “It’s clear to me, now. I’d just come to, and things were fuzzy. In my dream—I’m sure it was a dream—I thought I was out of my body. So naturally, I had to be dead. Then the dream ended. Seeing you is the first thing I remember.”
“Lucky you, being out of your body while the rest of us were out of our minds.” Her nose wrinkled, and this time it was as though she caste a spell. It hit home full force that he was talking to a real, live, flesh and blood woman—a spirited one—tall, slim and strong, with breasts that pushed against white linen so that two middle buttons strained to hold her blouse together. Her mouth twisted up at one end, which gave her an impish look. Maybe that’s what made him feel drawn to her like. He was like a compass needle pulled by a magnet—except that she radiated a force field strong enough to lift a car, and he was little more than a paper thin cutout of stainless steel.
She turned to leave. He heard himself say, “Could I buy you a drink, sometime, Miss—?”
She looked back at him. Her hazel eyes rolled. “You G.I.s are all alike, Corporal.”
“Corporal?” He checked his shoulder. The silver bar had been torn loose. “Look, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I’m a lieutenant. A bomber pilot.”
Her brows lifted. “Lieutenant?” She looked him over as if for the first time. “You might even be cute, too—sorta like Jimmy Stewart, except with one blue eye, one green. Yeah. You’d be okay if you weren’t all scuffed up and covered with dirt.”
“There’s more,” he said. “I went to Yale, and plan to become a doctor. I can even do a pretty darn good Jimmy Stewart imitation—‘Aw shucks, Miss, now why’d ya have to go an do a thing like that?’”
She covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. “No more, please spare me.” She forced a serious look. “Let me be sure I get this straight. You put off med school because it became clear you were going to be drafted.”
She tapped a finger on her chin. “You’re Ivy League, from a wealthy, privileged background. Daddy probably owns a munitions factory . . . ”
“You’re quick,” he said.
“Hold on, more’s coming.” She stepped closer. “Your Daddy could have gotten you out of the present conflict since he does lots of business with the War Department. He easily could have given you some sort of job considered by the government to be essential to the war effort. So you had the option of riding out the hostilities in the lap of luxury behind a desk. A cute little blond secretary sitting on your lap, taking dictation—doing other stuff at the drop of a hanky. But dang it all, it was your country at war. You didn’t have to ponder what was right. You didn’t even hesitate. You joined the Army Air Corps.”
“Amazing. How did you know all that?” he said.
She shrugged. “Makes perfect sense for an Ivy League guy like you. Fly planes. Drop bombs. What could be more important?”
His brow furrowed. “Actually, I wanted to fly fighters. It seemed more dashing. But, you know, the best laid plans—”
“Say no more. Bombs can be so brutal, they sort of take the dash out of dashing, don’t they? And they aren’t very selective about who they fall on.”
“Whom,” he said.
“So, now, you do your best to confine the ones you drop to Italian and German soldiers, munitions factories—German and Italian ones, of course—that sort of thing.”
“Right,” he said. “And an occasional petroleum dump. Bridges—now and then. But I make a conscientious effort to sidestep the sidewalk cafes.”
“Mustn’t forget air fields like this one—the other side’s, of course.”
“Good point,” he said. “In fact, in all three missions I’ve flown so far, I’ve yet to drop bombs on Americans, or any other allies, not even the Brits under Montgomery, and no one can be absolutely sure whose side they’re on. So, having a clean and clear conscience, there’s really no reason not to have a drink with me. Besides, what’s the point in staying sober? Looks like the Germans seem to have finished bombing us for today, anyway.”
“Perhaps. But before I say yes, let’s recap the situation to see if I’ve got it straight. You’re an Ivy League, sex starved bomber pilot far from home. You’re looking for companionship, especially of the female kind. Worst of all, your next mission could be your last.” She looked for confirmation.
“What can I say? Mea Culpas.”
“Now he’s a budding lawyer.” She shook her head. “Sorry, Lieutenant. No deal. I’ve been there, done that.”
“Come on. It’s just a drink at the officer’s club. We’re both officers. How can that hurt?”
“Can’t hurt? Let me tell you what would happen. You’ll get me a whisky sour. I like whisky sours when I’m not into martinis. But you’ll have the bartender put in twice the whisky knowing the lemon flavor covers up how strong they are. We’d drink a couple of toasts. You’ll buy me another. And another. Then you’ll jump to the part about how your high school sweetheart when to public school, and your family didn’t approve of her. She was from the wrong side of town, across the tracks, but you loved her—were mad about her. Your father said no. Your mother said no. But you stood up to them. They weakened. They said at least to wait until after the War. This was not what you wanted to hear, but you love and respect your mother and father, and you agreed to compromise. You pledged your undying love to the young woman from the wrong side of town. She promised hers to you. You made out passionately the night before you shipped out. You got to first base, second, third—but stopped short of home plate. She heard you knocking but wouldn’t let you in. Then, you hadn’t been in boot camp more than four weeks, and you got a Dear John letter. She broke the news that after a two-day whirlwind romance, she’d married your best friend the very day he shipped out—”
“Well, I’d say you’re almost on the money. Except, he wasn’t my best friend. Certainly not now, anyway.”
“Hold on, I’m not finished. Where was I? You’ve got me loaded, feeling sorry. Tomorrow you’re flying a mission. Oh, yes, I remember. You might not come back. No one’s waiting Stateside with a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree. And you’ve never even been laid. Not even by the high school huzzy, because you were a boarder at an all male prep school. Oh, you went to a whore house once with a bunch of guys, but chickened out at the last minute. You never let on to your friends, of course.”
“Wait a minute here. Are you some sort of psychic? Or is every guy you ever met my double in disguise? How could you have heard all this?”
“I went to one or two movies before I shipped out. I keep my ears open. And most of all, the nurses around here never heard the adage about not kissing and telling.”
“Uh-huh. So you never ever heard, or experienced any of this firsthand from any other guy?”
“Heck no. Not from any corporals, anyway.”
“But I’m a lieutenant.”
“Right, and one expects lieutenants to be more worldly, which is why, if you’ll let me finish, I buy every word hook line and sinker during this hypothetical drink we’re having. And whatta ya suppose happens? We leave the Officer’s Club. I’ve got my head on your shoulder, breathing in your ear. It’s a starry night in Corsica. Romance is in the air. Arm in arm, you walk me home. We stop at my cabin door, and like a fool, I invite you in for a nightcap.” She looked into his eyes.
“Please, don’t stop now. This is getting good.”
“You sit next to me on the sofa, and I say, ‘I don’t know you very well, Lieutenant. What’s your name?’”
“Medlock. Call me Rick. What’s yours?”
“Carol Tinker. Captain Carol Tinker. But now we’re off the subject. We were on the sofa, remember? You can imagine what happens next. You stick your tongue in my ear, passion erupts—”
“My, my. Sounds like good old fashion fun. Seriously. Are you free tonight, uh, Carol?”
“I’m not sure we’ve known each other long enough to get familiar. Perhaps you ought to call me Captain.”
“Are you free tonight, Captain?”
Her brow furrowed. “Is it true you’ve never been laid, Lieutenant?”
He looked at her sheepishly. “Never.”
Her lips pursed. “An Ivy League lieutenant, future rich doctor from a rich family, who’s never been laid. Not bad, even if they did make their money in munitions.”
“Oh, sorry. The family business is hats.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so? An Ivy League lieutenant, future rich doctor from a rich family that makes hats—who’s never been laid. I’ll have to admit, that is hard to beat.”
“So that means you’ll do it?”
“Go for a drink.”
“Oh, that.” Her brow wrinkled. “But what if you don’t come back from your mission, Lieutenant? Suppose I get pregnant? What happens if I actually find I like you?”
“Uh, may I make an observation, Captain?”
“Be my guest, Lieutenant.”
“You think too much, Captain.”
“You sound like my analyst, Lieutenant.” Her eyes held his.
“And, may I make a suggestion, now, Captain?”
“We’ve come a long way in the last thirty seconds. We know each other well enough, Captain. May I call you, Carol?”
“Okay, Rick. So you fly off on that mission. What happens then?”
“Simple. I come back, Carol.” He held her gaze. “Trust me. If I have you to come back to, I’ll be back.”
She broke away. “Uh-huh. I’ve heard that one, too.”
“Look straight into my one blue and one green eyes, again, please.” He waited until she complied. “Now, look carefully. See if there’s even a smidgen of deceit, or doubt. . . . I promise I’ll be back.”
“Okay, we’re on, but you’ve gotta do one thing,” she said.
“Get over to the latrine and get that load out of your pants.”
Rick got himself cleaned up, including a hot shower, went to his room in the barracks, quietly shut the door, and lay down on his bunk. He needed to recover physically from that ordeal, and he also needed to spend some time in thought. He’d been terrified by the bombing, could not remember being more afraid, but now it didn’t seem to matter what happened. If the attack were to resume at this very moment, he’d just lie here, and keep doing what he was doing.
His grandfather had always told him that when his number was up, it was up. Not before, not after. The moment was decided by higher forces. Fear and anxiety on his part wasn’t going to change it. Rick knew his grandfather was very wise, and believed whatever he was adamant about was true, even if it didn’t seem logical. But now, on this particular point, he felt that his grandfather was right. His grandfather had always told him to trust that feeling of knowing.
Perhaps even more monumental about today was his meeting of Carol. He’d met dozens, if not hundreds of pretty girls in his life. But something much more than physical beauty had affected him. What had taken place might be compared to Jesus walking along and seeing one of his future apostles, such as Matthew or Peter, and saying, “You, fisherman. Follow me.” The disciples had been right in the middle of their lives, with families and jobs. The logical thing would have been to say, “Thanks a lot. Give me a rain check on that, okay?” But they hadn’t. They’d dropped what they were doing, and they’d followed.
Of course, she was no messiah. That wasn’t the point. The point was the magnetic pull. He’d come to a crossroads, had received a call, and had made a conscious decision to take a new direction in life. From now on it was “us” rather than “I.”
Peter and Matthew must have experienced the same.
Now that he thought about it more, she hadn’t asked him to follow. He’d been the one. Never before had he asked for a date without some assurance the answer would be in the affirmative. Yet this time, he’d been bold. “Pushy” might be more accurate. He’d persevered after she’d turned him down. And he’d done it with a load in him pants.
It was true. He’d never been laid. The few times he’d had a chance, it had just not seemed the right thing to do. Besides, to be truthful, he was sly. And, face it, apprehensive. How could he be sure he would, or could, perform?
By early evening, a knot in his stomach had grown to the size of grapefruit. It was time to get dressed, and meet her. He forced himself to shave. Put on cologne. He gave his best black shoes a touch up buffing. Put on his best-starched summer uniform. Why was he so filled with anxiety? He no longer feared death. Surely, he could face a woman.
He stepped out of the barracks into the darkness of the blackout.
Not that it was all that dark once his eyes got used to it. He’d been told the weather in Corsica was almost always clear this time of year. Tonight was no exception. The great arch of sky formed a pitch black backdrop for a billion sparkling stars and a half moon that gave off sufficient glow to cast dark shadows of the buildings that he passed, and of the other men who strolled by.
He arrived at the quonset hut that housed the officer’s club, and entered, first through the door, and then the blackout curtain. The furnishings were sparse to say the least. It was half full with men and woman in uniform standing at the bar, or sitting at tables—drinking, laughing, and talking. Ceiling fans turned overhead, but did little to disperse the smoke that ascended from numerous cigarettes.
To his surprise, she was seated at a table by herself near the juke box. He walked to her, hoping the knot wouldn’t block the air he’d need in order to speak.
She started to get up.
“No, please,” he said. “Keep your seat.”
“Rick, is it?”
“Right, uh, Carol.”
He sat in the seat adjacent to hers, turning his at an angle to face her.
She propped her head on her hands. “I’m glad you’re prompt. I already had to give four guys the brush off.”
“I’m glad, too. When I saw you here already, I thought must be late.”
That impish smile appeared that instantly had won him. “Unfortunately, arriving early is one of my faults.”
“I’d hardly call it that. But I’ll remember next time.”
A short private with a tray and a towel stopped at their table. He clicked his heels. “What’ll it be, officers?”
She said, “I’ll have a double martini, light on the vermouth. And ask the bartender, please, to throw in a couple of extra olives. I haven’t had anything green, today.”
Rick eyes stayed on her an extra second. He turned to the private. “Oh, I guess I’ll have a beer. Whattaya have?”
“Carling, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz.”
“A Black Label, then, thanks.” He turned back to her. “Y’know, I was thinking of starting with iced tea. What ever happened to whiskey sours? This could end up being a short evening.”
“The citrus in whiskey sours can reek havoc on ones digestive system. Besides, martinis work faster. Don’t complain, Lieutenant. I’m trying to help you out.”
“I see. You really do think all I want is to get you drunk, and, and . . . ”
“Not necessarily. If you hold true to form, it’s the ‘and’ part that tops your list.”
Brows elevated, he nodded. “So, you say you’ve been out with one or two military men?”
“Been in the Army since I graduated nursing school in 1939.”
“Man, oh, man. I’ll bet you’ve seen a lot.”
“More than I bargained for. Today was no exception.”
“A lot of casualties?”
The smile was gone. “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about you.”
“No, no. You already know all there is to know about me. Let’s see. What did you get that you did bargain for?”
The private put down their drinks.