Specialists Jimmy Marzan and Michael Rollins sat next to each other, packed tightly with four other soldiers into their filthy, rattling Humvee which itself was held together in places with duct tape and bailing wire. They rode in bumpy, dusty discomfort, barely speaking, much as they had done the day before…and the day before that…and the day before that… Marzan and Rollins had been in country together for so many months that they had come to the point in their relationship where they had run out of things to talk about—not unlike some old, married couple.
It had been a dull week. The only pleasant aspect of boredom in their dirty, third world ghetto, was the good fortune of unseasonably cool weather. But despite the lull, Marzan and Rollins could feel the omnipresent ‘little brown man’—as they referred to him—watching them, grinning at them with his crooked-toothed grin while covertly plotting their destruction.
Michael Rollins cynically understood this bleak, Goyan world all too well. He enjoyed the life he was leading in it, especially its moral relativism and its ruthless code. He was a muscular fellow of about five foot ten with blonde hair that was so fair and thin that it blended with the color of his complexion giving him the appearance of baldness. He had had a terrible bout of acne as a teenager which badly pock-marked his face and neck. His grin resembled that of a horse, and his bulging eyes were set too far apart giving him a face that resembled a praying mantis. This potpourri of unfavorable genes made Michael Rollins the subject of ridicule and a reject of the young ladies as an adolescent. From this cold incubator, Rollins matured into an embittered, angry, drifting man-child of twenty six years. Then Rollins and the Army found each other. Within its ranks Rollins felt, for the first time in his troubled life, acceptance in the form of the embrace of brotherhood that is woven amongst men placed in a milieu of destruction and terror.
Jimmy Marzan, conversely a handsome devil, noticed a fomenting agitation in Rollins over the recent days. He knew Rollins was wound too tightly for boredom and that he had exhausted his venting mechanisms. He was becoming quick-tempered and unpredictable. Just that morning, Marzan noticed when Rollins had discovered that his wristwatch had succumbed to moisture damage and ceased to function. Upon this realization, Rollins calmly removed the watch from his wrist, delicately placed it on the ground, and then hammered it fifteen times into tiny fragments with the heel of his boot.
“Typical Army-issue. Wrecked by water in the middle of a haji desert,” he complained.
Jimmy Marzan had grown accustomed to Rollin’s epithet-laced tirades. He did not encourage them but he did not protest, either. A protest of another soldier’s multicultural insensitivity would be classified as an act of overt pussification. The mere anticipation of reprisal would vastly exceed any discomfort associated with enduring the original offense. Jimmy Marzan forced himself to believe that Rollins meant nothing by it.
Colorful language was but one of Rollin’s four venting mechanisms, the others being: obsessively manicuring his toenails with his twelve inch Bowie knife, spinning his over-sized, silver, Osiris-eye ring which adorned his right middle finger, and head-banging to his catalog of death metal which sounded more like an M4 fired on full auto than actual music.
The sun was beginning to warm things up. It was going to be a hot day for a change.
Marzan’s and Rollins’ Humvee was one of a convoy that rumbled down a dusty road. Led by Captain Albert “Al” A. Rick, they blared his musical selection—Elvis—through their PA system, drowning out the morning call to prayer. They eventually came to a stop at a non-descript mud hovel. A dog, some multi-breed mutant, came tearing out of the yard and frothed away at the soldiers drowning out the verse of “…Then one night in desperation, a young man breaks away…” The music shut off and was replaced with the commands of an Army interpreter who was trying to coax the inhabitants out of the house from the safety of his armored vehicle.
The dog was a vile creature. Skinny and covered in a hide of ratlike fur, it barked and foamed and choked itself on its chain trying to lunge at the soldiers. It nearly took a chunk out of the captain’s ankle while he stood next to the road talking on his radio. No one would be able to get through the gate unscathed with that rabid beast guarding the way.
Rollins took matters into his own hands, firing one round at the dog, exploding its left hind paw and sending it into a yelping hysteria. Rollins grinned faintly as he aimed again, but he stopped short of finishing the job.
The man of the house burst out into the yard with his hands flailing, hurling incoherent dialect at a surprised Captain Rick. All rifles turned and aimed at him. Rick, who was not marked as an officer in any manner, drew the frantic man’s appeals. Marzan supposed that it was the Captain’s aura, if there was such a thing, that had betrayed his rank. The Captain was tall, with weathered skin, and a chin that looked as if it had been pounded into shape in a forge. In addition, all the other soldiers were arranged like spokes, eyes pointing inwards towards him. Despite making himself a target, Captain Rick couldn’t avoid looking like the man in charge. The interpreter was summoned out from the safety of his Humvee and spent about ten minutes describing to the native how it was necessary for the U.S. Army to search his particular mud hovel as there had been reports of a cache of insurgent ammunition stored in his neighborhood. Certainly the native would wish to clear his families’ name? In other words, some neighbor had rolled over on him. The native made many assurances as to his innocence in regards to hoarding ammo and RPGs and detonators but did not welcome the soldiers into his home. As a final nudge to get him to comply, Rollins finished off the crippled dog with another rifle shot. With that, the native ended his resistance and led them in.
Five soldiers, including Rollins and Marzan, stormed the well-kept shack and began their room to room search. They pulled a grandfather from his bed and walked him into the common room, setting him down onto a tiled floor in a huddle with three young girls and their mother. Household searches were messy operations and operations that were best not delayed with too much politeness. After three or four searches, even the pretense of restraint was ditched in favor of rapid efficiency. Get in and get out was the procedure.
The soldiers turned the place inside out in just a few minutes. They went through the cupboards throwing food and dishes onto the floor. They went through the bedrooms turning the beds over and yanking the drawers out of their chests. They ripped the laundry from the line dropping it in the dirt, and Rollins dutifully dug his filthy claws through the mother’s under things—as if an RPG might possibly be stashed in a lingerie drawer.
With his dog murdered, his children terrified and crying, and his wife screaming, the native man—a father and husband and a proud man as he had a decent house by his countries’ standards—sat cowering in a corner of his common room, shielding his face from shame and in fear of the bullets that might burst out of the two M4s pointed at his head.
After tearing the house apart and grilling the family for twenty minutes and after not finding any weapons or materiel, the squad extricated itself from the mess. Jimmy Marzan was the last man out and he left the house and the family with an apology, an apology that they could not understand as they spoke not a word of English.
But the U.S. Army did leave, Jimmy reasoned, and they did leave the man with his life and that was worth something. That’s how Rollins would process it, Jimmy thought. The little brown man’s ruined dignity was a small price for him to pay for being permitted to live. And the men of the U.S. Army were their liberators, after all.
That was the fourth of five searches for the 2nd Platoon of Bravo Company and it indeed ended up a very hot day for a change.