The War That Came Early: West and East

The War That Came Early: West and East by Harry Turtledove Page A

Book: The War That Came Early: West and East by Harry Turtledove Read Free Book Online
Authors: Harry Turtledove
spotted him.
    Demange came back just before sunset. “Got a job for you,
Corporal
Harcourt.” The stress he gave the rank convinced Luc it would be a dirty job. And it was: “When it gets good and dark, take a squad to the German lines, nab a couple of prisoners, and bring ’em back for questioning. The boys with the fancy kepis want to know what the damned
Boches
are up to.”
    “Thanks a bunch, Sergeant!” Luc exclaimed.
    “Somebody’s gotta do it. I figure you have a better chance to come back than most.” After a moment, Demange added, “If it makes you feel any better, I’m coming along. I played these games in the trenches last time around.”
    Actually, it did make Luc feel better. The sergeant was a handy man to have around in a tight spot. Luc was damned if he’d admit it, though. He rounded up the men he’d been leading since he made PFC: a couple of veterans and the new fish just finding out what the water was like. The news thrilled them as much as it had him.
    “Why us?” one of them whined.
    “Because you’ll get your miserable ass court-martialed if you try and wiggle out, that’s why,” Luc explained. “Maybe the Germans won’t do for you. Your own side? You know damn well they will. Be ready an hour before midnight.”
    Nobody bugged out before the appointed hour. The French soldiers must have feared their own
gendarmerie
worse than the Nazis. Sergeant Demange said, “We’ll get ’em at the latrine trenches. Easiest way I can think of to nab the sons of bitches. C’mon.”
    He made it sound easy. Of course, sounding easy didn’t mean it was.Luc had already had that lesson pounded into him. They had to make it across no-man’s-land without any German sentries spotting them. The night was dark, but even so.… Then they had to get past the enemy’s forward positions. Luc was sweating enough to let him smell his own fear.
    Sergeant Demange, by contrast, took everything in stride. “This is too fucking simple,” he whispered as the Frenchmen crawled past the German foxholes. “No ten-meter belts of wire, no continuous trench line … Nothing to it.” He sounded affronted, as if he’d expected the Germans to do a better job and wanted to ream them out for being sloppy. Luc wasn’t so choosy.
    Finding the latrine trenches proved easy enough. Something in the air gave them away. The Germans used lime chloride to keep the stench down, but even that couldn’t kill it. Clutching their rifles, the Frenchmen waited in the bushes nearby.
    They didn’t have to wait long. A yawning
Boche
ambled over and squatted above a trench. Demange hissed at him in bad German. Luc thought he said he’d blow the Nazi a new asshole if he didn’t get over here
right now
. That made the enemy soldier finish what he was doing a lot faster than he’d expected to. He didn’t even try to clean himself. He just yanked up his trousers and followed orders.
    “Amis! Amis!”
he whispered in equally bad, very frightened French.
    “We’re no friends of yours. Shut up if you want to keep breathing.” After a moment, Luc added, “You stink.” Abstractly, he sympathized. He’d stunk worse than this a time or two.
    He was just glad the prisoner didn’t want to be a hero. That would have shortened everybody’s life expectancy. A few minutes later, another German stood at the latrine trench and unbuttoned his fly. Sergeant Demange asked him if he felt like getting circumcised with a bullet. The
Boche
pissed all over his own boots. After that, he was amazingly cooperative.
    “We need more than two?” Luc asked.
    “Nah. They asked for a couple, and that’s what we’ll give ’em,” Demange answered. “Now let’s get the fuck out of here.”
    Luc had never heard an order he liked better. The German captiveswere at least as good at sneaking across broken ground as the
poilus
herding them along. They didn’t let out a peep till they were inside the French lines. They seemed pathetically grateful still

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