“Nom d’un nom!”
He made Demange laugh again, this time in real amusement. “The war may go on a long time, sonny, but it ain’t gonna last
“Well, maybe not.” Luc chuckled, too. It wasn’t a bad line, and a sergeant’s jokes automatically seemed funny to the men he led.
German 105s started going off in the distance. Luc looked at his watch. Yes, it was half past two. Those shells would land on a road junction a kilometer and a half to the south. When the
weren’t trying to pull the wool over your eyes, they could be as predictable as clockwork.
Sergeant Demange said with a contemptuous wiggle of his Gitane. “Like we’re going to run anything through there at this time of day! What kind of jerks do they think we are?”
“The same kind they are, probably,” Luc answered.
“Then they really are dumb,” Demange said. “Maybe Englishmen wouldn’t notice what they’re up to, but we’re French, by God! We’ve got two brain cells to rub together, eh?”
“Most of us do. I’m not so sure about our officers,” Harcourt said.
That was safe enough. Any sergeant worth his miserable joke of a salary looked down his nose at the men set over him (privates looked at sergeants the same way, something sergeants tended to forget). And Demangehad been a noncom a very long time. “Oh, officers!” he said. “You’re right—officers can’t find their ass with both hands half the time. But they’ll have sergeants to keep ’em from making donkeys of themselves.”
“Sure, Sergeant,” Luc said, and left it right there. Yes, lieutenants and captains did need sergeants at their elbow. But that said more about their shortcomings than about any great virtues inherent in sergeants. So it seemed to a new-minted corporal, anyhow.
Demange stamped out his cigarette just before the coal singed his lips. Then he lit another one and strode off to inflict himself on somebody else in the platoon.
Luc lit a Gitane of his own. It wasn’t as good as Gitanes had been before the war. Everything had gone down the crapper since then. Captured Germans loved French cigarettes, though. Luc knew why, too: their own were even worse.
Poor sorry bastards
, he thought, puffing away. And what they used for coffee! A dog would turn up its nose at that horrible stuff.
Almost as big as a light plane, a vulture glided down out of the sky and started pecking at something in the middle of the kilometer or so that separated the French and German lines right here. Maybe it was a dead cow or sheep. More likely, it was a dead man. If it was, Luc hoped it was a dead
. The Germans had been falling back in these parts, so the odds were decent it was.
Closer to him, blackbirds hopped across the torn-up, cratered dirt with their heads cocked to one side. Plenty of worms out there—and plenty of new worm food, too, even after the vultures ate their fill. The vultures and the blackbirds—and, no doubt, the worms—liked the war just fine.
You could walk around out in the open. Sergeant Demange was doing it. Odds were the Germans wouldn’t open up on you. Luc didn’t want to play the odds. It would be just his luck to have some eager German sniper itching to test his new telescopic sight right when he decided to take a stroll.
Peeking out of his foxhole, he could see Germans moving around in the distance. That had happened last fall, too. The
had stayed veryquiet in the west while they were flattening Czechoslovakia. The French had advanced a few kilometers into Germany, skirmished lightly with the
, and then turned around, declared victory, and marched back across to their own side of the border.
marched into France, it didn’t dick around. If Luc never saw another Stuka—better yet, if no Stuka pilot ever spotted him again—he wouldn’t shed a tear. And, if the war ever ended, he would happily buy drinks for all the Stuka pilots who hadn’t