“The first thing I am going to do when I get back to Howell is to see you and your mouthy buddy, Patrick, knocked back to privates. You, I am gonna have your fat ass digging ditches and I am gonna have Patrick cleaning latrines.” General Mark Richards threatened.
“Don’t you think that is a little bit harsh?” General Rife asked. His mama had always counseled him that a mild answer turns away wrath. Besides, Rife wasn’t worried. They were the same rank and Rife had more time-in-grade.
“You and Patrick haven’t showed the brains God gave half-wits. In fact, both of you have been total fuck-wits” Richards shouted at the microphone.
It was 5:30 AM and Richards still had not received a shipment of supplies from Howell.
Three convoys sent out, four if you count the abortive trip up Mason Road, and not a single drop of water or round of ammunition had arrived at the front.
“Look” Richards said, “we haven’t had a single problem with these rubes. And Benicio has been afraid to crawl out of his hole.”
“The only thing I need to drive a wooden stake into their heart is MORE SUPPLIES!” Richards bellowed.
Rife responded “Since you are so sure it is easy, and since you have damned near every tank and flat-bed, why don’t you just send a dozen or so back here to collect your supplies.” In spite of hisself, Rife was getting hot under the collar. He prided himself on being competent and Richards somehow knew right where to sink the harpoon.
“I just may have to do that” Richards said, nastily. “And you might want to start looking for a shovel that suits you, fatty.”
Richards pitched the radio into the corner of his mobile office.
Richards was actually relieved that the other side was scheduled to surrender in three-and-a-half hours. He pretended to not hear the muttering but even he could see that his troops were running on fumes. He wasn’t sure that the twelve trucks he sent east toward Howell would come back.
For that matter, he was pretty sure a convoy of twelve trucks would have to stop multiple time times on the two hour trip back for drivers to run into the bushes to crap.
And he really, really needed the supplies he was going to demand as tribute.
At 6:15 AM, one of his aides was finally brave enough to approach Richards and inform him that significant numbers of soldiers had deserted in the night.
That was not a total surprise to Richards. After all, he had given the order to machine-gun deserters seen walking back to Howell. After the deserters stopped going by and he figured the problem had been solved.
A quick nose-count by radio along the line indicated that a third of the men had fled during the night. There were some stretches on the extreme northwest end of the line where virtually every fire-position had decamped.
Richards was decisive. “I want all firing-positions from the east end to where the line hooks north to be manned. Then I want every other position manned until we run out of people.”
That movement of people turned into a goat festival in the blink of an eye.
On paper, the easiest way to do it was to have groups slide east and south to fill the gaps. The problem with that method was on the ground. Virtually every fire-team had to break camp and move. They were told to leave their supply truck because none of the deserting fire-teams had driven away. But the soldiers still had to lug all of their personal gear, the gear issued specifically to their fire-teams and their weapons.
The other alternative was to let the fire-team stay in their position if that position was slated to remain manned. Then to maximize the number of fire-teams who only needed to move a mile. Finally, a few teams were going to have to move a long distance but the smart commander would have waited for the short-movers to get settled in before uprooting the long-distance travelers.
By choosing the easy way on paper, nearly two-thirds of the Howell line was not dug in and totally disrupted by chaos.
Richards showed up at “Bishop Inn” at 9:15 AM, fifteen minutes after the scheduled start. Richards was a firm believer in setting the tone of the meeting.
The enemy had taken the time to push most of the tables to the sides of the room. Two rectangular tables had been pushed together to form a six foot square.
The three enemies had arranged three chairs at one corner and three more at the opposite corner.
Richards swaggered in, selected a chair and pushed it over to the corner where the enemy clearly intended to sit.
“What are you waiting for?” Richards demanded. “My time is very valuable.”
Chernovsky was smirking inside. His messenger had informed Chernovsky of Richards’ assumption that Capiche and Benicio were surrendering. Chernovsky was going to get a great deal of satisfaction in rubbing this guy’s nose in the pile of crap he was making.
“First, a few house-keeping details” Chernovsky said. “We are going to run a hot-mike so a few of the folks back-home can keep tabs on how this goes down.”
There were actually three hot-mikes running. One was transmitting on a frequency monitored by Chernovsky's team-leads. One was transmitting to Benicio. The third was blasting out on Richards' "open frequency" and being picked up by every swinging richard on the line.
“Over-ruled. I won’t allow it.” Richards said.
Chernovsky coolly looked at the two aides Richards had brought along. They were a couple of nervous, bookish young men...the kind that used to be derogatorily called “pencil-necked”.
Chernovsky had borrowed one of Benicio’s lieutenants, an older man named Ramiro with the battered face of a street enforcer and Chernovsky also had Donnie Galigan watching his back.
“I suppose you can try to stop us, but bear in mind that we are transmitting now. We ARE at war and if you try to touch any of these radios I will either shoot you or break your neck.” Chernovsky said.
Physical bravery was not Richard’s forte.
“Our demands are simple” Chernovsky said.
“You leave your weapons on the ground. You leave your tanks and your flat-beds. You and your ‘soldiers’ get on your buses and go back to where you came from” Chernovsky said.
"I ordered our side to honor a cease-fire until 10:00 AM. After that, it will be game-on. Unless you surrender now."
It took Richards a few heartbeats to catch up with the fact that Chernovsky was not surrendering. Rather, he was dictating the terms he was willing to accept from Richards.
“We are through, here” Richards said.
“Before you walk out that door” Chernovsky said. “You need to be aware of one thing.”
“This is your one-and-only offer. After this, no mercy” Chernovsky said. "You can end it now. Or not."
Richards pivoted and walked out the door, with his aids scurrying after him.