By John-Paul Marciano
It took Sgt. Jim Hanson the better part of an hour to make it back to his original hole. He lay on his back collecting his thoughts. He really craved a cigarette but decided to resist the urge. He had things he needed to get done before daybreak. An hour crawling on his belly gave him time to think about how to bag that sniper and, if possible, the German Maxim machine gun too.
“Chicago?” Jim called softy.
“Yeah, Sarge,” Chicago replied.
“I’m coming over for a visit. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Don’t shoot me.”
“I’ll be waitin’.
Jim grew up in the Yorkville section of Manhattan on East 81st Street between Madison and Park Avenues. He stood 6-feet-1-inch with brown hair and thoughtful brown eyes. Although he was sharp he was aimless. So with no idea what he wanted to do with his life, he joined the army after graduating from Xavier High School to give himself some time to think about it.
Just before he came to France with the American Expeditionary Force, Jim was given his first stripe. He earned a second stripe at Cantigny a week after his 20th birthday. From all outward appearances it seemed as though he made the right decision. But after the last few days he was starting to have his doubts.
After gathering his thoughts, Jim slung his rifle over his shoulder and rolled onto his belly. Making the sign of the cross he slid out the left side of his hole and began the crawl over to Mordecai.
Because Mordecai dug his hole deeper than usual, Jim awkwardly fell in head first on top of Mordecai; the business end of his rifle jabbing Mordecai hard in the ribs. Mordecai grunted and then he and Jim arranged themselves side by side on their backs.
Jim composed himself and said, “Nice place you got here.”
“Hey, Sarge, thanks fer stoppin’ by,” Mordecai quipped. “What’s on yer mind?”
“You got any ammo left for that French machine gun?” Jim asked.
“Ya mean the Chauchat? Yeah, I got a couple full mags. Whatcha got in mind?”
“I want to draw that sniper out. See if we can’t shut him up permanently.”
“I dunno, Sarge,” Mordecai said sounding dubious. “The sights on the damn thing are crap, all out of whack. If I hit him it’d be pure luck.”
“Yeah I know. I was actually hoping H.B. or Sam would be up for some plinking.”
Sam would be Sam (Bird Dog) Littleton from Arkansas. Sam was a lanky individual standing 6-feet-3-inches who always seemed to have a chaw of tobacco and looked like his pants needed to be taken in at the waist. But the reason H.B. tagged him with the moniker “Bird Dog” was because Sam’s oversized ears, droopy jowls and a keen sense of smell reminded him of his spaniel back home.
“Them boys is always up for a little shootin’; kind of a sickness with them two. One of them two should be able to nail him,” said Mordecai. “But why ya askin’ ‘bout the Chauchat?”
“I’m going to get the sniper’s attention. See if I can’t get him to give up his hide,” Jim answered. “But I need you to keep that Maxim gunner occupied.”
“That’s a dangerous game yer playin’ at.”
“It’s a dangerous world we live in,” Jim replied. “So what do you say? You game?”
Mordecai thought it over for a moment. “Oh what the hell, I sure got nothin’ better to do. I’ll play.”
“Good man,” Jim said patting Mordecai on the shoulder. “Look, it’s going to be daylight soon. I need you to get H.B. up to speed on this while I tell Sam what we’re planning. Tell H.B. the sniper’s about 300 yards directly in front of your hole. The air is dead so that should make it a little easier. The Maxim’s a bit to his left. I just need you to pin him down for a couple minutes. Taking him off the board is a bonus.”
“Got it,” Mordecai said.
Jim got to his knees to climb out of the hole. Over his shoulder he said, “See you when this is done.”
As Jim turned back to leave Mordecai said, “Hey, Sarge.”
“For the record, my money’s on H.B.”
“I like Sam for this one.”
Mordecai smiled and said, “Two bits?”
“You’re on,” Jim said and crawled out of the hole.