Heroes, p.23
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       Heroes, p.23

           Leigh Barker
 
“Bolivia?” Jerry Winter said, and put down his coffee. “Have you ever been to Bolivia, Top?”

  “Yeah, lots of times,” Ethan said, lying a little for the sake of credibility.

  “Define lots,” Winter said.

  Ethan made a show of counting them off on his fingers, caught Chuck’s look and smiled. “Okay, twice.” He saw the look again. “And one of those was a transfer.”

  “The cartels down there don’t welcome US marines with open arms,” Winter said.

  “Who does?” Chuck Petty said.

  “True.”

  “Locals who need our help,” Loco Mendez said, and continued trying to see into his beer bottle without risking tipping it up. “Least until they turn on us and shoot us in the ass.” He grinned. “Hey, you know Bolivia is—”

  “Where Butch and Sundance got killed,” Winter and Chuck said together in a mock-tired tone.

  “Okay, listen up,” Chuck said. “Top’s got orders, so we’ve got orders. Anybody who doesn’t want to come say so now.”

  They looked at each other; then they all looked at Loco, who gave up on his bottle and tipped it up to see if there was any left. “Shit!” He brushed the beer off his shirt.

  “Outstanding,” Ethan said, and sighed.

  “So we’re all volunteering to go on a little trip?” Chuck said, still watching Loco.

  “Yeah, Gunny, count me in,” Loco said, and gave him a big grin. “Wouldn’t let me stay behind anyway, would you, Gunny?”

  “Sure,” Smokey said, punching Loco on the shoulder. “After he shot you for desertion.”

  “Don’t get shot for deserting now. What ya think? This is WWI?”

  “Loco’s right,” Chuck said. “I couldn’t shoot him, being a sergeant and everything. You’d have to do it.”

  Smokey stood up. “Well, if that’s an order, I guess I’ve got to obey it.” He pulled his Sig from his belt holster and made a show of looking for the safety.

  “There’s no safety,” Winter said. “You can just shoot him whenever you like.”

  “Cool,” Smokey said.

  “I’m coming with, for chrissakes,” Loco said, waving at Smokey to put the thing away.

  “When you kids have all finished,” Ethan said, “we’ll do military stuff.”

  “Got any more beer, Top?” Loco said, holding up his now empty bottle.

  “Yeah.” He let Loco jump to his feet like an excited puppy. “We’ll all have a beer. When we’re done.”

  Loco pouted for a second, then joined Ethan at the side of his bed that was doubling as a chart table. “What we waiting for, then?”

  “The rest of the squad,” Ethan said, and tipped out more maps from the attaché case.

  Nobody spoke; they just looked at each other.

  “We’re all here, Top,” Loco said. It had to be Loco.

  “We’re two men down,” Ethan said.

  “Yeah, sure,” Winter said. “Bailey committed suicide by cop—”

  “And Ben got blown to hell by the missile,” Chuck said.

  “So we’re light,” Ethan said, without looking up from the map he was studying.

  “Top, we’re too tight a squad to try to shoehorn a replacement in,” Loco said.

  “There’s always replacements in war,” Winter said.

  “We’re not at war,” Loco said.

  “Says who?” Chuck said.

  “But he’s got a point,” Smokey said, backing up his amigo. “We’re at the door, ready to jump. No time to train some rookie up.”

  Before Ethan could answer, there was a quiet knock at the door and he nodded at Loco to go answer it.

  Loco opened the door a few inches and looked out. And froze. He recovered and looked back over his shoulder. “It’s a girl.”

  “You gonna let her in?” Smokey said, checking himself in the mirror over the dresser.

  “Not that sort of girl,” Loco said, still not moving.

  “Loco,” Ethan said quietly.

  Loco pulled the door wide open and waved the visitor in.

  “You Petty Officer Andrea Shea?”

  She stepped into the room and stood to attention. “I am.”

  Ethan waved her hand down. “Save that stuff for the brass. Welcome aboard. You can lose the overcoat, you’ll be staying a while.”

  “Thank you, Top.” She looked around quickly.

  She took off her navy blue overcoat, turned and hung it on the hook on the back of the door. The marines did what they were supposed to and looked her over while her back was turned.

  She was petite, five-two, five-three tops, had military-approved short hair in a close pixie cut, and wore a dress-blue jacket, buttoned and hugging a slim and not over-curvy figure. Her regulation blue skirt ended just below her knees. And she had on sensible shoes.

  She was okay, not a head-turner. Looked like somebody’s sister, a little plain, but competent. In a firefight they’d all prefer that to stunning and useless.

  The thing they all noticed right off was she didn’t make eye contact with anyone. That was unusual. The women marines they’d met would have checked them out as openly as they were checking her.

  “Andrea is a techy,” Ethan said, with a quick glance at her.

  “Information technology specialist,” she said quietly.

  “That’s what I said.” Ethan gave her a smile to ease her in. “These are the elite troops.” He pointed at the men in jeans and T-shirts, lounging around his hotel room. “The angry-looking guy with the baby blues is Chuck Petty, he’s our gunny. That’s Jerry Winter with the hair to match his name. That one looking like a NFL fullback is Smokey Vernon, he’s the spotter for our sniper, Loco Mendez. Say hello, Loco.”

  “Hello, Loco.”

  Ethan shook his head. “You’ll get used to it.”

  “No, you won’t,” Winter said.

  “Gather round,” Ethan said, before it went where it usually did from here.

  The techy was on board. Nobody gave it another thought as she joined them at the side of Ethan’s bed and looked at the papers and maps spread out on the crisp cover.

  He glanced at the girl. “You been briefed on the mission, Andrea?”

  “I have, Top.” She looked down. “Friends call me Andie.”

  “Then that’s what we’ll call you,” Loco said, and raised his hand in preparation for a back slap. Quickly aborted.

  “Good,” Ethan said, exchanging a quick look with Chuck. “Let’s get to it.”

  Chuck pulled a map over and examined it closely.

  “Colonel Rafael Milaris has a place three hundred miles south-east of La Paz,” Ethan said.

  “That’s nothing but rainforest and mountains,” Chuck said, tapping the map.

  “What were you expecting, five-star hotels and spas?”

  “How do you want to play this, Top?” Winter said.

  “Usual,” Ethan said. “Loco will be overwatch and Smokey will spot for him. You and Gunny will run interference, and I’ll go with Andie and get the data. Walk in the park.”

  “Which park would that be?” Loco said. “Central Park on Saturday night?”

  “I’d rather take this gig,” Ethan said, and pulled the only chair in the room closer to the bed. “Do your thing, Gunny. Let’s all come back from this one.”

  “Copy that,” Gunny said, and waved the others closer.

 
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