There was a flash of light . . .
. . . followed by the sound of two bodies running smack into each other, a third and fourth falling over them, the tinkle of shattering glass, and a blue streak of Amideutsch. That in turn was cut short by “Fire! Gunter, you’re on fire!”
Recruit Johann Mohr quickly dumped his canteen over the unfortunate Gunter’s trousers.
“What’s going on here?” an authoritative female voice demanded. “Fall in!”
Recruits Mohr, Sauer, Boller, Gunter, and Metzler quickly assembled themselves in a line. Recruit Tauler attempted to and collapsed. He clutched his ankle.
“What exactly happened here?” Jessica Hollering’s voice was utterly controlled and icy.
“Boller fell on me!”
“Sauer tripped me!”
“Tauler’s just a klutz!”
“We were hunting . . . “
“I’m going to break your . . . “
“Silence! Recruit Gunter, as your pants are literally on fire, I’m not inclined to believe you.” She dumped her own canteen over his cuffs, which were still smoldering. “Hunting?” she ventured.
“A snipe hunt.”
Jessica Hollering’s mouth dropped open. And then she took a couple minutes to express her opinion that none of their parents had been married and that their pedigrees quite possibly included canine ancestry. She finally concluded, “I will hear the entire stupid story back in camp. Mohr, Sauer, grab each other’s wrists. Make a chair. You’re carrying Tauler back to camp. Boller, pick up what’s left of that lantern. Gunter . . . Stop smoldering.”
Henderson Coonce was a brand-new captain. He was supposed to be developing a combined up-time/down-time basic training curriculum for the new regiments. Even though he had a good group of sergeants who knew a lot more about basic training than he did, supervising the training at Camp Saale took up a lot of time—which was why he was still at his desk late in the evening when Corporal Hollering knocked on his door.
He glanced up. “Yes?”
“We have an injury.”
“What it is?”
“Sprained or broken ankle.”
“In the barracks?”
“No, sir. On a snipe hunt.”
Coonce put one hand over his eyes.
A few minutes later they had Recruit Tauler deposited on an examination table in the medical cabin. The other soldiers were outside, and Drill Sergeant Sloan had taken up where Corporal Hollering had left off. Coonce’s lips twitched as Sloan informed the unfortunate soldiers that he was renaming them Dopey, Clumsy, Angry, Nutty, Moron, and Torch. And he was demoting each of them from “recruit” to “dwarf.”
“Guess that makes me Doc. Does this hurt?” Coonce poked Dwarf Clumsy in the ankle.
“Ow!” Tauler winced in pain.
Coonce poked some more and delivered the bad news—which wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. “You’ve got a sprained ankle. I’m going to wrap it.” The cloth strips he had available weren’t nearly as good as an ace bandage or athletic tape would have been, but they were all he had. “Ice, aspiri . . . ” He corrected himself. “Ice. A few ice cubes in cloth like this.” He demonstrated. “Twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off. Marijuana for the pain. Two sticks a day. And keep walking on it. But no running. Come back Friday. You’re on restricted duty until then.” He glanced at the duty roster. “So while you’re rolling cartridges, put your foot up on another chair. Now, go stagger into formation and don’t do anything else stupid.”
After Tauler limped out of the medical cabin, Coonce shook his head. Back when Greg Ferrara had suggested that some of the teachers join the army to lead the students, he had thought the science teacher was being patriotic. But more and more, he was coming to the conclusion that it was simply practical. He’d been an elementary school physical education teacher, dealing with physical fitness and ten-year-olds who ran into each other. And now he was an army captain, doing pretty much the same thing.
Drill Sergeant Sloan came in and saluted as Captain Coonce was putting away medical supplies, such as they were. Coonce returned the salute.
“How is Tauler, sir?”
“Sprained ankle. I put him on restricted duty until Friday. Cartridges. Ice and pot.”
“If it’s all right with you, sir, I’ll have the rest of them roll cartridges, too. After they clean a few things for me.”
“Absolutely. Do I want to know how six soldiers managed to sneak out of their barracks?”
“Sir, we pulled the chosen men out of the cabins after dinner tonight for the extra classes that we aren’t telling them are really sergeant school. So Spitzer, Meier, and Strauss were in one of the classroom cabins. It’s still their responsibility. The whole platoon cabin’s, really.”
Coonce kept his face impassive. He’d tried pretty hard to avoid punishing a whole class just because a few kids were messing around. But he knew it was best to leave this in his drill sergeants’ hands.
“All right, Sergeant. If that’s everything, I’m going back to my paperwork.”
One of the civilians was waiting outside Coonce’s office. He really hoped that the army wasn’t going to take wives, significant others, and children on campaign. But there seemed to be no practical way of keeping them out of Camp Saale. The veterans told him there were fewer civilians than most armies had. That was progress, he supposed.
What he said was, “May I help you, ma’am?”
“Ja. Ich bin Barbara Dankerin, a laundress for Sixth Regiment.”
Coonce nodded. Okay, that pretty much made her a civilian contractor.
“I watch Drill Corporal Hollering yell at die dummköpfe. I can be better soldier than them. Und soldier pays more than laundress.”
Coonce blinked. “You want to enlist?”
“Do you understand that we’re going to war?”
“Well, come back in the morning, and we’ll discuss it.” Having bought himself some time, Coonce immediately went and found Corporal Hollering.
Jessica said, “I’ll find out about her and brief you before morning formation, sir.”
Coonce finally went back to writing curriculum.
Captain Coonce approached his office before it was completely light out. Corporal Hollering was waiting for him.
After exchanging salutes, Coonce asked, “What did you find out?”
“I talked to a couple of the other laundresses. Barbara Danker is from somewhere up north, they think. She was a servant in a reichsritter’s Schloss. One of the groom’s sons was a soldier, and they ran off together. He died a few years ago. She kept following the army. She’s thirty-five or so.”
“Camp follower?” Coonce asked carefully.
“The other laundresses said she’s been known to damage men who couldn’t take no for an answer. I don’t know if she’s pure as the driven snow or not, sir, but her business is just laundress. And the others have heard her say that being a soldier pays better.”
“Well, she’s right about that. People enlisted for financial reasons up-time, too. And General Jackson’s policy is clear. Talk to her when she shows up, and if she still wants to, we’ll enlist her.”
Hollering opened the door to go, then turned her head and mouthed, “Here she comes.”
“Corporal, you may as well tell Sixth Regiment Supply that we sniped one of their laundresses. And after you designate one of the empty cabins as the women’s barracks, assign Snow White to the dwarves’ squad.”