A storm system with temperatures in the mid-forties and twenty mph winds swept into the area.
Chernovsky left a skeleton crew pulled from the team in Squad Three that had seen no action. He had the rest of his men stand-down. They needed to lick their wounds and recover.
They went to Kates Store. Chernovsky had been called back to discuss redeployment closer to home. Clearly the aggression-profile of the hostiles was evolving.
Chernovsky gave them permission to visit Gabby’s Bar in turns. He did not want all of his fighters incapacitated at the same time. He figured they had earned a chance to blow off a little bit of steam. Their weapons were locked up and he read them the riot act about behaving themselves.
He decided he could use a bit of snake-bite medicine himself before he had to do an unpleasant task. He had yet to inform Spackle that Buddy had passed away. He reminded himself to go easy on the sauce. He hadn't had a snort in four months and had lost fifty pounds while on deployment. He was not the man Rick Salazar and Paul Seraph had recruited in January.
Chernovsky heard scuffling, grunts and the sound of falling furniture even as he rounded the corner.
His fighters were under an overhang attached to the barn. Walt “Preacher” Shaw had a larger man in an arm-lock. The man's left arm was behind his back and Walt had the elbow torqued as far up and forward as it would go. It looked like Walt was trying to unscrew the man's arm and intended to stuff the man's fingers into his right ear canal.
The man’s face was mashed into the spilled beer and windblown rain on the table top. Shaw's feet were skittering on the wet floor as he sought to gain purchase.
This was not a "for show" fight. Shaw was doing everything in his power to rip the man's arm off.
Looking at the other fighters, Chernovsky deduced that any one of them would gladly have taken Shaw’s place. Whatever the man had said or done, it lit-off every one of his guys, including “Preacher.”
Chernovsky decided it was time to use a little bit of humor to defuse the conflict.
“Preacher, that is not normally how you are supposed to baptize somebody. Generally, it is supposed to be voluntary.” Chernovsky said.
The man took advantage of the distraction and struggled to break free but that only gave Walt the chance to lock one of his legs into the seat of the picnic table and exert even more pressure.
“What’s the story?” Chernovsky asked. One of the other fighters started to pipe up but Chernovsky silenced him. “I wanna hear what they have to say, first."
The larger man whined “I was only joking. Fucking idiots don’t know a joke when you hear one.” The man’s voice was muffled because his face was mashed into the table top.
By now, Gabby and Janelle had come out the door and were watching. They seemed entirely willing to let Chernovsky handle it. The last thing they needed was to have ten fighters come unglued.
“Don’t matter.” Preacher said. “There are some things you don’t joke about.”
“What was the joke?” Chernovsky asked. He could not imagine anything that would have made his calmest and most religious fighter go bananas.
“I said ‘she would make a great girlfriend.’” the man said.
Chernovsky gestured with his hand to continue. There had to be more. “Who would make a great girlfriend?”
“Dysen.” the man said.
Chernovsky had time to look at the man. He was young enough to have been a fighter but had never interviewed for a position.
Further, the man looked...soft. Times were hard. People were working hard physical work and this guy looked like a grub, soft and white.
Chernovsky raised an eyebrow.
“That wasn’t all he said.” Preacher said as his free foot continued to scrape and slip on the wet floor.
“What else did you say?” Chernovsky asked.
The man was running out of breath and Chernovsky had to lean in to hear what he said.
“It was a joke. I said she would be a great girl friend because she had three pussies.” the man said.
Chernovsky frowned. What the man said made no sense at all.
“I don’t get the joke.” Chernovsky said.
“Yeah, she has the one between her legs and two on her face; one where the bullet went in and one where the bullet came out.” the man said.
Chernovsky considered himself a thoughtful man. He was as surprised as anybody when his hand came up and smashed the asshole’s elbow upward with the heel of his beefy right hand, dislocating the man’s arm. The man screamed and Walt stepped back in surprise.
“Get out of here and don’t come back.” Chernovsky’s voice was cold enough to freeze helium.
Things could have gotten ugly except Janelle heard what the loser said about her cousin.
Something in Chernovsky's unmodulated, atavistic defense of her cousin's honor thawed a part of Janelle's heart that had long been frozen.
Janelle felt as much as saw Gabby start forward.
"I got this." Janelle said. "Go back to your office and play with a spreadsheet or whatever it is you do in there."
Gabby was struggling to deal with her younger siblings as full adults but there was something in Janelle's voice that advised her to let Janelle handle the situation. Gabby walked away.
“Will there be any more trouble?” Janelle asked.
“Not as long as that jerk stays away.” Walt said.
Looking at the Preacher’s nine squad mates Chernovsky said “I don’t think there is much risk of him coming back.”
"Ordinarily I would have to ask you to leave." Janelle said. "But considering the circumstances I think the next round is on me."
After Janelle had served the men, Chernovsky asked 'Preacher', "Who is she?"
Walt told Chernovsky that Janelle was Dysen's cousin.
Chernovsky was enchanted. Some men are "breast" men. Others are "face" or "leg" men. Chernovsky was into the entire package. He favored healthy, aerobic dancers with muscle definition over ornamental girls with spaghetti-thin legs and painted on faces.
"Wow!" Chernovsky said. "She has a great set of legs."
It didn't hurt Janelle that she had lost so much weight that she was wearing the clothes that no longer fit Gabby. Gabby had the taste, budget and inclination to buy clothes that flattered a woman's figure, far more than Janelle ever had.
Dysen woke up later that afternoon with a bloated, throbbing head. She could tell by the wall paper and curtains that she was in Kate and Rick’s house. She assumed Nyssa was caring for her.
From the next room she heard voices she recognized. Chernovsky was ripping Quinn a new asshole.
“Can you give me one good reason why you blew the operation for a civilian?” Chernovsky said.
Chernovsky felt he had failed, the squads had failed because of Buddy’s death and the deaths of the two fighters who had been in the observation post.
“Sir.” Quinn started. “I finally figured out that Dysen was the girl that you said would be a member of my squad if she made it back to camp and pulled her own weight.”
Unseen by Dysen, Chernovsky made a hurry up gesture with his hands.
“I helped carry that first cooler full of cookies.” Quinn said. “By my figuring, Dysen hauled 90 pounds of cookies to camp in the first two weeks she was bringing us cookies. By that accounting she pulled her own weight back to camp.”
“It is my mission, as squad leader, to respond to threats to my squad members.” Quinn concluded.
“And sir, with all due respect, let me remind you that you never rescinded your command to protect Cookie Girl’s cargo and to take all steps required to never, EVER let it fall in enemy hands.”
Quinn, and Dysen in the next room, waited in silence for Chernovsky’s response.
Finally, “Well played, Quinn. Well played.” It was the first time Chernovsky had ever used Spackle's first name.
Dysen then heard the sound of Chernovsky’s footsteps leaving the room.
The beginning of the saga