Recruitment: A New Chapter
--=0700 HOURS - 2008-APR-02 - HURLBURT FIELD, FLORIDA USA=--
It was early morning, actually it was the ass crack of dawn if you wanted to be honest. What it meant was it was time to give Saints his daily briefing. Morning briefings were the time I got the short and sweet of whatever bullshit news Saints was obliged to have me pass on to the boys back at Tyndall from command.
Saints was old school, the father of the RED HORSE program. RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron. Basically a lot of words to say we specialize as combat engineers. If you name it we can do, will do, or have done it. We'll build it up, fix it right, or blow it the fuck up better and faster then anyone else. We were the Saint's Horsemen.
Saints was also the general hard ass the Air Force just couldn't seem to get rid of. Colonel Steven "Saint Tact" Lyons, among sappers he was a legend, a field commissioned grunt who clawed his way to Colonel during 'Nam. However, among military brass he was a pain in the ass who just wouldn't retire or allow himself to be promoted out of their line of sight.
But to his Horsemen in the 823rd, Saints was our god and almighty father. And me, well if he's our god then you could call me his prophet.
However walking down that hall I could feel it in my gut, something was off. This situation was not normal the question though was exactly how fucked up it was.
There is one thing you can say about Saints, he's a creature of habit for as surly and obnoxious as he tried to make himself. The fact that I couldn't smell his cigarettes was the first clue something was wrong. Unfiltered Lucky Strikes, same ones he'd smoked since he was a kid, and he always smoked them in the morning before his civvie secretary Irene got in at 0830 to bitch at him for it.
However, it was the second clue that was really making the hair on the back of my neck rise, I couldn't hear music, the hallway was dead silent especially since it was still an hour and a half till most civvies even arrived. Wasn't like Saints to sit in a quiet office. Never get him to admit it, and I wasn't about to tell anyone, but he got the shakes something fierce when it go to quiet. I don't know why and I don't wanna know, I just figure too much time in the jungles of 'Nam.
I'm also not ashamed to say my hand slipped instinctively to my hip, my service piece was where it always sat and it was reassuring under my fingers. Not going to let anyone else think I'm paranoid though so I let my hand continue to my pocket pulling out a piece of gum. I popped the gum in my mouth moving the stack of papers to my left hand over my hip and opened the door.
The old wooden chair was facing away from the door as I walked in. Saints wasn't a fan of too much artificial light so the only light in the room was what filtered in from the window to the right. Seated across from Saints sat a man. Aside from the soft creak of the door as I walked in the office was quiet as a grave. I crossed room at a decent clip catching a good look at the guy in the chair as I passed.
Late 30's maybe early 40's, gray hair, eye patch on his right eye and a look in the good eye that told me I didn't want to fuck with him. He was devoid of any rank insignia, but he had that look, the one that screams "Bad ass mother fucker" and "Leader" all at once. My guess was on him being someone Saints knew from one of the wars. Didn't make me trust him any more to be honest, Saints had some shady mates.
I dropped the reports on the desk disturbing that deafening silence and began to rattle off the normal list of shit, "Mornin' Saints, I got those reports on supply levels, and prepared the training itinerary for the rest of this year. Also got you the brief on the shit Jameson pulled downtown last night. He got picked up by the local boys in blue, I left him cryin' on his bunk this mornin' after chewin' him out. Also got a few of those budget papers you hate that need signin'..."
"Sergeant Jericho. "
Saints didn't have a loud voice as much as he just had a voice you couldn't help but hear and respond to without thinking. And that is exactly what I did. I didn't think, I just reacted, my hand flew to a crisp salute and my body straightened.
"Sergeant Jericho reporting as ordered Colonel Lyons, sir!"
Long tense silent moments passed. It felt like forever even though it was probably less then a minute before Saints spoke again, "You're to take 48 hours to get your shit in order, you ship out for a transfer at 0600 on Saturday. Get the boys in line and make sure Munoz knows how to handle everything."
The pit that had been forming in my stomach started to sour some, "Permission to speak freely sir?" points for me however I kept my voice level.
"Just fuckin' say it Jericho. " Least that sounded more like Saints.
"With all due respect, April Fools was yesterday, sir."
Saints turned around then and leveled a look at me, one filled with a combination of exasperation, awe, amusement and pride. Across from him there was something close to a chuckle from the mystery guest.
Saints never looked his age, he was in his 70's, but could pass for a spry 50 without much effort. He also had a hell of a left hook, and I'm far from ashamed to admit the man scares me fucking silly. He was the dad I never had and one of the best men I'd ever known, and right now I could tell there was more to this then what he was saying, and I took a gamble. Another bonus point for me, I was right.
"Sergeant are you implying that I might actually attempt to pull a fast one on you? Lets be straight here Jericho, you know more about my shit and what I'm doing at any given god damn time then I do. If I say I want sugar in my coffee and you say I don't like sugar I'd be prone to believe you over myself. You're like the damn wife I always wanted and in three tries never managed to marry."
Despite my best efforts a grin started to tug at the corners of my mouth. Saints narrowed his eyes at me as he realized I'd one upped him. Standing briskly he grabbed the pack of Lucky's from his pocket and lit up striking the match off his desk. Inhaling slowly and exhaling even slower he took a moment to enjoy it before he continued.
"You're destined for better things then mucking my shit the rest of your life. I fought hard to keep you here, especially after the war with all that knowledge of Rikti Tech in your head. The feds wanted you something fierce and the military brass wanted you away from my sphere of influence." He took another drag and leveled a look at me, "However, I'm not enough of a a bastard to horde you from this sort of chance."
It was odd that this conversation was happening in front of the mystery guest, Saints usually kept us all strictly formal in front of anyone who wasn't part of the 823rd's family. Something else was up here I just wasn't sure what.
"Then with all due respect then Saints, Munoz can't handle my job."
"Oh you're right, Munoz and both of the worthless lieutenants under me combined couldn't handle all the shit you do as competently as you do it. But they're gonna have to grow a set of bollocks, stop being girls and try to fit into the shoes of a real man. They'll never be you, but they sure as hell gotta grow up sometime and get the hell off their momma's apron strings."
"And what if the attacks start escalating again, I'll be needed here to..."
"Sergeant Jericho, " Saints rose his voice and I shut up, his nostrils flared for a moment and he stubbed out the cigarette in a act of frustration. "Stop fuckin' arguing with me, you have to much shit to do before Saturday, go get it all in line and break the news to the girls. It wasn't a option it was an order and you better get on the bounce NOW or I'll write you up for insubordination. You're dismissed."
Many soldiers would have frozen here in fear, afraid to react or to screw things up more. Those soldiers wouldn't be combat veterans, and having seen my own fair share of combat action I knew better then to hang around a shit storm. Saints was pissed, it didn't seem like it was at me, but I was a target of opportunity, and right now it was better to run and not provide that opportunity.
Saluting again I spoke quickly and thankfully still evenly, "Sir, yes sir!" and turned heel and ran.
* * * *
Slumping into his chair, Saints leveled the look he'd just had on Cherry towards the guest. He took his time pulling out another smoke giving himself a chance to simmer down to only a low boil.
"You might have bitten off more then even you can chew with this one Jack." Saints exhaled leaning back in the chair.
"I noticed she seems to have taken lessons in cursing from you."
Saints laughed, "Her tongue isn't my doing, she came to me with that razor whip firmly planted in her mouth." He paused a moment looking at his cigarette carefully, "She's the best damn engineer I've seen in a long time, and she's a even better sergeant... Cherry is as loyal as they come, a true soldier, they don't make em like that anymore, you know that as well as I do."
"They do Saints, its just harder to find them, kids nowadays are soft."
Saints eyed the other man partially with contempt for a long moment before speaking, "Jericho has a way of overwhelming people with her energy and intelligence, and she's good at keepin' things in order. But don't let that foul mouth, brash attitude, or the pretty looks fool you. All of it is a front. She's the most calculated and analytical son of a bitch I've met since workin' with you. And not even god can help you if you piss her off, she's scarier then a rabid wolverine and all three of my ex wives combined."
Saints exhaled and watched as Jack stood up tossing a plain folder onto the desk in front of him, "I don't let pretty looks fool me Saints, you know that. I know the sacrifice you and the 823rd are making, but you'll survive, and I need people like her right now."
"The 823rd always survives, even after that cluster fuck in Paragon during the first war took out more than half the group. Horsemen don't lie down and die. Slayton... you Navy grunts would be lost without us. But just remember the 13 other men who survive did so because of her, there is going to be a void no matter what I do or say."
Turning away Jack laughed a bit as he walked out the door, "I'll be in touch Saints... you still owe me that drink."
"I don't owe you shit now after this, that debt is now well past paid." Saints paused a moment before finishing, "Keep the fight alive Slayton, shit changes too fast and most of us are getting too old now."