[Author’s note: You can read this as a war story standalone. Or, if you’re a Combat! fan, this is my take on what happened to Doc #1]
“Un autre verre du vin rouge, Mademoiselle. S’il vous plait.”
The young woman looked down the bar at the ragged GI sitting there, bearded and scowling, but who’d spoken to her in good French and with decent manners. Ignoring the two sergeants and a corporal who’d charged up to her, waving scrip, she poured the red wine and set it down in front of the soldier.
“Merci beaucoup.” Their eyes met, and he considered trying to engage her for later, after the bar closed, and decided against it.
She saw the idea come and go and shrugged to herself. There were other Amis there. “De rien, M’sieu’,” she tossed back casually as she picked up the money in front of him and moved back to wait on the non-coms.
I should have gone back – marrrde, I should have. Why didn’t I? In his heart, he knew why. I’m a soldier. I follow my leader. I obey orders. But I should have gone back.
“If you don’t let go of that glass, it’s going to shatter.”
The quiet voice broke through his reverie. Caje looked over his shoulder to find Saunders there, and released the glass, which wobbled uncertainly until he steadied it. “Sarge.” The Cajun turned back to face the bar, body rigid, face set.
“What do you think?” The scout hissed at him, avoiding looking at the man who led his unit, the man he thought of as a friend, or as much of one as he’d let himself have, after Theo.
“I think you’re still angry.” There was a tiny bit of wry humor in Saunders’ voice, but it faded completely with his next words. “How many times have I told you that you can’t carry this stuff around with you? Haven’t you learned yet?”
“I obeyed the order. I’m here.” He slammed the wine back and nearly choked.
“We couldn’t have gotten him out of there. I’m no doctor –“
“No, you aren’t. And now, neither is he!” His voice rose to a shout, and he stopped suddenly as he realized he was attracting attention, and not in a good way.
Saunders pressed on, disregarding Caje’s anger. “One, he wouldn’t have made it, not at the pace we had to travel. And two, the Germans had moved around us. Even if he’d had a chance, sending someone back would have been suicide.”
“I could have made it. I’d have found a way. Maudit, Sarge! It was Doc! He wasn’t like us, he wasn’t…” Caje’s voice trailed off, pain evident. He thought of the gentle medic. Of all the people to leave alone, dying –
“We pull out of here tomorrow. Should I tell Hanley you’re staying behind? You want a transfer?”
For a long moment, the scout focused hard on the empty glass. To have to start over again. Leave the others behind, maybe never knowing what happened to them. Slowly, he began shaking his head. “No. No, I’ll be ready.”
“Good.” Saunders knew better than to push the Cajun scout. He waved off the waitress and turned to leave. “You’re on watch tonight.”
“I’ll be there.”
The non-com exited into the twilight while Caje glanced at his watch and then signaled for another glass of wine.