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"Captain Currie's War" Part 2
AMBALA, PUNJAB. 6TH MOTORIZED DIVISION HQ OF THE NEW ENGLAND EXPEDITIONARY FORCES - APRIL 27 1942
The faraway guns thundered again. Currie's heart sank even deeper into the pit of despair. Those had to be close to Delhi. The darkest hour since the Great War was at hand, the very future of the shattered Empire hanging in the balance. Yet Currie was trapped, ensconced in a bland little bungalow office behind rings of barbed wire. Locked in with the one group of Americans who had done their jolly best to avoid any fighting in one of the most turbulent times of modern history. He took a long, pained drag of his cigarette. All the other officers wanted to talk about was the situation in Europe. Every bragging tongue was sure that's where the real fight was, and that if only they were there, why the war would be over in six weeks. Big talk from small men who seemed more excited to fight the enemy thousands of miles away than the one three day's march from camp. It's no challenge, they'd say, stomping down starving scrawny Indians, when they could be in the 'actual' war, toe to toe against fanatical Communards showing Jerry how it's properly done. There were, however, a sizeable contingent of New Englanders who were real fighting men: former Feds from Mac's army, and thank goodness for them. They never said anything to Currie because they were out trudging, killing, and dying. Maybe it would be his turn to see some action soon. Why had he endured such an arduous and painful journey just to be stopped short only 200 kilometers from the front? He felt like the unluckiest man in India.
A commotion rose in the hallway outside. He recognized the voices of Corporal Howe and Sergeant Baker, but there was a new voice: one speaking the Queen's Public School English. Finally, another civilized person and these Americans were giving them the runaround. Inexcusable. The confrontation grew increasingly intense and shrill until the door burst open. An angry young Indian, slickly dressed in an expensive suit and tie stormed into the Captain's office. In one hand, a brown briefcase packed to the gills. In the other, a large map.
"There you are, Captain. A dubious honor to meet the commander of the most infamous and lawless unit in the entire Allied Army. The corporal outside tells me I need an appointment, yet it's abundantly clear I've caught you at an opportune lull," said the young Indian in the crisp and confident tone of a barrister with a bulletproof case.
"I don't know anything about that, I'm new here, Mr.-" stammered Currie, taken aback by the forcefulness of the intrusion.
"Deputy Minister Khan. Of course. Very convenient, sir. Our letters, telegrams, and telephone calls and every other missive have fallen on deaf ears, and our established channels have been deadly silent as your pack of villains pillage and plunder the Punjab!"
The Indian slammed the map down on the table and jabbed his finger into the center.
"Every one of these X's marks a village that suffered a 'patrol' from your men in the past three months. Here, the soldiers were yesterday morning. They stole the livestock of every single household at bayonet point, and then opened fire when the farmers tried to protest. Seventeen men and boys, gunned down in commission of a felony! We are at risk of a police munity and strike in the cities and a total revolt of the peasantry in the countryside thanks to your brilliant tactics. The Revolutionists couldn't have done a finer job rallying the masses to their cause."
"Now just a moment, those are very serious accusations, Mr. Khan."
"Deputy Minister Khan, Captain. If you deigned to leave the security of your office, you would see very clearly for yourself."
Currie stood up.
"Look here, sir. The armies of the Entente do not engage in such harsh measures, I can assure you of that. We are not Prussians or Totalists. And even if they did, on my honor as an officer, I would punish the guilty to the fullest extent."
"Splendid, Captain. Please take me to your men, and I will gladly point out the perpetrators and let the innocent go."
Khan now placed the briefcase on the desk and opened it to reveal reams of files, most of them with photographs attached. Khan took out a particularly fat manila folder and offered it to Currie. The Captain took one look at the photos it contained and turned ghostly pale. He picked up his phone.
"Operator, get me Colonel Amrose. It's of high urgency."
Khan glared at him as the connection was made. Currie drummed his fingers on the desk impatiently.
"This had better be good."
"Good afternoon, sir. This is Captain Currie, Charlie Company. Deputy Minister Khan is here, and he is alleging that our boys have been acting with severely mistreating the natives er, I mean the local civilians. Livestock thefts, destruction of property and even m... more serious offenses. He mentioned a Lieutenant Corte by name. We've a bit of a revolutionary situation on our hands. Please advise."
The other end of the line was silent before the gruff voice crackled over the line.
"Who the hell is this?"
"Captain Currie, sir. I'm new. We were introduced-"
"Is this some sort of joke?! Listen and listen good, whoever. I don't give a hoot in hell about goddamn natives or any native ministers or any of that nonsense. Don't you ever clog up my line with this foolishness again. Our boys are out there getting shot up by partisans and you call to bitch at me that they're blowing off steam?! I will skin you alive if I hear from this minster or priest or swami whatever again. Handle it, and don't you dare ring up my office unless I've ordered you to. Do you understand me, Captain?"
"Y-yes sir. Of course."
Amrose unleashed a torrent of vulgar epithets as he slammed the receiver down. Currie could have sworn he heard Moyers' sharp laughter in the background. The Captain gracefully hung up, took out a cigarette and lit it, then returned his full attention to Deputy Minister Khan.
"The Colonel assures me that the situation will be addressed. Now if you please, Mr. Khan, I have other pressing matters to attend to."
"Very well. In that case, I'll go to the colonel's office directly and I shall be sure to inform him of how helpful you were. And if he is too busy, I'll include in my report to the governor-general-"
Currie reached for the telephone so fast he almost knocked it off the desk.
"Get me Corte! Now! I don't care what he's doing, that's an order! Of course it's an emergency!
Captain Currie was appalled by the barbaric appearance of Lieutenant Geronimo Corte. His uniform was heavily soiled and abused, the blouse open and the sleeves torn off. His wide face was covered in crude warpaint made to resemble a grinning death's head. His whole squad were done up in similar fashion, with feathers sticking out of helmets and awful trophies of all kinds hung around necks. Khan took one look, then began writing notes on his pad, with a burning focus and intensity. He said nothing.
As dreadful as the visual effect was, the enlisted men whispered to each other in awed, hushed tones. Here he was in the flesh, the god of war, the Philly Killing Machine. The man who once marched with MacArthur and ate reds for breakfast on three continents. A one man counter-revolution. Only soldier's soldiers were even considered for his legendary "Suicide Squad". Most officers would claim they'd sacrifice themselves for their boys. Corte boasted of how willing his boys were to sacrifice themselves for him. To fight with him was to fight for a higher cause, even if he was technically a mercenary. No one dared approach him lest they be burned by the aura of his fame.
The arrival of their trucks had kicked up great clouds of dust, which mixed with the smoke of battle and and clouds that promised rain but refused to deliver. The sun was blotted out of the sky, leaving the world in an eerie, supernaturally red haze.
Corte saluted crisply.
"At ease, Lieutenant. Explain the disarray of your unit," Currie blurted out, still scandalized.
Geronimo Corte sized up the new guy. Clean uniform, clean fingernails. Hair neatly trimmed. Clean shaved. Silver cigarette case and fancy Egyptian tobacco. His boots were polished into mirrors. No chance this Limey swell had ever seen a lick of combat. How did this fancy lad ever make Captain? Some corrupt backroom politicking, no doubt. A waste of skin, useless in the field. It was a sure bet that this chappie was busy sucking down gimlets at the officers' club while real men cleared basements in St. Louis. They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel.
"Fighting partisans is a dirty business, sir. With all due respect."
"I've heard stories about your exploits, Corte. I wish this meeting could have been under better circumstances, but I'm hearing serious complaints about the conduct of your unit. Care to explain yourself?"
"Permission to speak sir?"
"By all means."
"I'd just like to know, did you enjoy your steak dinner?"
Currie felt his face flush. Corte grinned.
"Seein' as how tight things are around here, my boys are doin' our best. Major said we oughta rustle up something nice for our new company CO, seein' as he's a swell fella. And rustle we did, even if the Reds put up a hell of fight."
"I well... It was... certainly. Thank you, Lieutenant."
Khan scribbled furiously.
"Now Corte, Mr. uh, Deputy Minister Khan here alleges your boys have taken a few liberties with the local civilians. I don't want to believe it, but he's got... documents. Explain yourself."
Corte's glance had drifted over to Khan. He was still smiling, but the veins in his neck bulged grotesquely. His eyes moved up and down rapidly like he was scouting a good place to stick a knife.
"Sir. With all due respect. Who are you gonna believe? Your own men out sweatin' and bleedin' fightin' to save civilization, or some upjumped native?"
"You shameless man!" thundered Khan.
"Mr. Swami has time to write all kinds of documents about this province, but he hasn't seen it with his own eyes. I have. Our business is destroyin' enemy bases and huntin' partisans wherever we find 'em, and sir, business is boomin'. Sir, unfortunately I see firsthand what happens when Syndie sets up shop. And unlike our cousins across the pond, me and my brothers knew we couldn't run, but had to crush that red serpent wherever it reared up its head. With all due respect. And sir, we may have lost our dear old USA but we stomped that snake. But you know India, sir. Full of snakes. And snake charmers. With all due respect, callin' us back from patrol is a show of weakness. Hear those big guns? Those guns are awfully close, sir. If we don't stick a fork in the rebels now, they'll stick a knife in us when the RA shows up."
Corte's passionate impromptu oration had drawn a great deal of attention to their little tribunal. All work had stopped, and every set of eyes was focused on the two officers. Currie leaned in to the Lieutenant's personal space to prevent any more of this sensitive matter from being broadcast.
"Whatever your methods, clean it up. Just clean it up. And clean up your men. That's the first and last time I'm going to get chewed out on your account, especially by a damned civil servant have you got that, Lieutenant?"
"Excuse me for sayin sir, but are you sure he's a civil servant? Has he showed any bona fides?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sir. You know the Reds do all kinds of dirty tricks. Can't trust these Indians. Assassination, sneak theifin'... impersonatin' officials to spy on us. Undermine morale. With all due respect, it's pretty convenient he shows up out of the blue to buffalo a naïve new officer fresh off the boat."
Currie swallowed hard.
"You watch yourself, Corte. Wait here."
The Captain stomped back over to Khan.
"Do you think you're going to make me look like a fool in front of my men, Mr. Khan?"
"What are you saying, Captain? What did he tell you? I promise you, I will not leave here until we get to the bottom of this."
"You are correct, you will not leave until we get to the bottom of this. Sergeant, please escort Mr. Khan to a very secure location."
The soldiers grabbed Khan and seized his files. His eyes were wide with shock.
"Currie! Have you taken leave of your senses? Who do you think you are?! This is a crown dominion, the military is subordinate to civil authorities! You are making a grave mistake! Currie! You- you son of a whore!"
As Khan was dragged away, kicking and struggling he ceased speaking English and began shouting and cursing in Urdu. The man swears like a poet, thought Currie as his new prisoner was hauled off.
Corte was very pleased by the turn of events.
"You did the right thing, sir. Can't take any chances when someone's tryna sell a bill of goods."
"That's absolutely correct, Lieutenant. That's why I will be accompanying your next patrol. And for your sake, I had better like what I see."
submitted by The_Bengal__11