The next few days were pretty uneventful; Toddy and Simon came back from HQ, we had a few customers at the checkpoint and we hiked out in an endurance test, but nobody got hurt and we didn’t seize any contraband from travellers on the ridge road. Then, as things were calming back down, Hill Billy’s replacement showed up.
Sgt. David Drenten, or Big Tits as he was known, was a bitter man. None of us knew what had got him that way, and soon none of the boys cared enough to find out. He wasn’t there twenty four hours when he had already caused trouble in the ranks. Junior had been eating in the chow tent when Big Tits intentionally bumped shoulders with him and knocked his dinner onto the wooden plywood floor.
Now, Junior was small and young but he had balls like a damn dragon! He took one look at Big Tits and sized him up for a thrashing. In part because I didn’t know how Big Tits held up in a fight and in part to let Junior blow off steam I decided to let them at it. I wasn’t disappointed.
First of all, as I said, Big Tits picked this fight with a much shorter and less sturdy looking guy than he was, thus, he made himself look like a bully. That doesn’t make him one though. Maybe he had heard Junior was a beast in hand-to-hand and wanted to challenge a damn good fighter. That would make him either brave or stupid. The trick was to see how he would handle the fight, and regardless of whether or not he won it, how he would react to the win or the loss.
Junior stood up and dropped his empty plate without breaking eye contact with Big Tits. The clatter on the wooden board drew everyone’s attention and everyone looked at me, even Big Tits. With a raise of my eyebrows and a grimace I gave permission and Big Tits sucker punched Junior in the side of the head. It was a dirty move but he landed the first punch, which ended up being one of his last. I’d seen people put it up to Junior before and he had handled himself well, never once needing to kick a man when he was down. This time he was having none of it though. Big Tits had broken a cardinal rule, so Junior felt entitled to go all out.
Junior weaved, then bobbed, then exploded. Big Tits was busying himself with a third wild swing when Junior came up from under his arm and rammed the butt of his palm under Drenten’s chin, stunning him. Staggering two steps back gave Junior enough time to move around Big Tits’ back where he stamped on the back of his knees as if he was breaking fire wood, and grabbed him by the back of his collar. Dragging him down and kneeling at the same time, Junior used all of his own and Drenten’s body weight combined to force his knee into his opponent’s mid spine, winding him. Scrambling around and on top of Big Tits, Junior knelt on the new guy’s throat until his passed out. In less than thirty seconds Junior had his opponent out cold on the plywood and was stuffing the food that had been knocked from his plate into Big Tit’s mouth. Every single one of the boys loved to see a fight, most of all when Junior was involved, so by watching the crowd I got a bead on morale too. It was hard going out in the sand and the snow, so blowing off some steam and checking out the boys, new and old, was a win-win.
Big Tits cleaned himself up, once he regained consciousness, and to everyone’s surprise stuck his big meaty hand out. Junior, though young, was a gentleman and accepted his offering with magnanimity. The show over; everyone turned back to their business like nothing happened.
That night I waited for Drenten to peel off from the boys to answer the call of nature and nabbed him for a yap on his way back.
“You did well earlier, Drenten,” I began.
“Little fucker caught me sweet, Sir. I didn’t do any good at all.”
“I meant the handshake.”
“Oh, ah of course I had to shake his hand, Sir. Fair is fair, he ain’t the enemy.”
“That’s why I brought this up Drenten. You’re the new guy and these lads don’t know if they can trust you with cooking chow, let alone with watching their backs.”
“It’s the truth. Get used to it. I’ll tell you though, by shaking Junior’s hand today you went a long way to being accepted here. How long you been in The Service?”
“Sir. Two years, Sir.”
“This your first tour?”
“Well this is a great bunch of lads here. Ask around about how Longshot got his name and you’ll see. So watch and learn, and link up with Sgt. Thumbs to get the lay of the land. I’ll tell him to expect you tomorrow.”
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
“Good. You’ve got piss and vinegar coming out your ears Big Tits, you’ll fit in grand here. Just keep your rifle clean and don’t get into any more fights. You won’t win, trust me.”
“Sir!” he said crisply as he snapped to attention.
I saluted him and gave him the nod and stood there while he turned and headed to his bunk. It had to be around midnight and he was due on watch about an hour later. He wasn’t bad, he was just inexperienced, as I had been and as we all have at some stage in our lives. It wouldn’t be long before he would be one of the lads. It just took time.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey