round up the bulls, enter the matador
look at the fools that we are fighting for
-david berkley, matador
6 December 1941, outside Tobruk, Libya, 1400 hours
Captain William Boyd surveyed the group of men playing a game of cards in the tent with a critical eye as he stepped through the open flap. Nothing but a mess, he thought taking in their unkempt hair, wrinkled uniforms, scuffed boots, rolled up sleeves and unbuttoned blouses. Fuck, the Colonel would have a goddamn coronary were he to see this display.
“Dressed to impress, I see,” he said impassively, his face showing none of his thoughts.
“Oh, it’s you,” Sergeant Gerard Butler said dismissively.
Boyd snorted. “Yes, Gerry, it’s me and you better be happy about that little fact because Colonel Gordon is visiting our fine oasis of joy and poking his large nose into everything. He’s a stickler for regulation.”
“He’s on the fucking front line. I’d say he should get used to seeing people not at their best,” Lieutenant Ewan McGregor said, rolling his eyes.
“Well, there’s ‘not at their best’ and then there’s you sorry lot,” Billy said disparagingly, looking the group up and down in an exaggerated manner.
“Fuck off, sir,” Sergeant Sean Bean said.
“At least close the fucking flap if you’re going to hang about like slatterns,” Billy chuckled as he reached up to pull the tent flap down over the entrance.
“We’d not be seen flaunting our non-compliance of the regulations if we didn’t leave it open, Billy,” Corporal John Hannah said, smiling up mischievously at Boyd.
“You boys will be the absolute death of me someday,” Billy said, shaking his head as he laughed.
“You want in?” John asked, indicating the deck he was shuffling in preparation for dealing the next hand.
“I couldn’t be seen with you raggedy sods. I have my standards, and low as they are, none of you meet them.”
The men around the table roared with laughter under Billy’s gentle smile.
“So what’s the word, Fearless Leader?” Lieutenant Orlando Bloom asked.
John’s quick hands stilled on the cards and every head turned to look at Bloom.
“The word is ‘Sassenach,’ Sassenach. And what that word means is shut the fuck up and let a real man speak,” Butler said.
“I always thought it meant, know your betters and your betters are us,” John added.
“Shut it, all of you,” Billy commanded and they fell silent, giving him their undivided attention. “The word is we’ll be off on our second mission either tonight or tomorrow night. Urban, have your temporary duty papers come through yet?”
“Yes, sir,” Second Lieutenant Karl Urban answered.
Billy looked sharply at Urban. “If I were to take a little wander over to chat with Major Stelling, would he tell me the same?”
“Well, sir, it’s like this, see…these papers, they take some time to go through the proper channels and…”
“Save it, Urban. If there isn’t a signed TDY order on the C.O.’s desk, I do not want to see you with my group when we depart for this mission. Are we clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Urban replied, crestfallen.
“I’m going to check with Stirling. I’ll be back for you lot, so for the love of God, make yourselves presentable. I’ll need my arse for the mission, ye ken?”
Another round of laughter followed Billy out of the tent. He shook his head as he walked purposefully toward the HQ tent. He entered to find a tall, thin man staring at a map of North Eastern Libya.
“What do you reckon, sir?” Boyd asked.
“Let’s not stand on ceremony, Billy-my-lad,” Captain David Stirling said with a smile as he turned to face the much shorter Boyd.
“Right you are, then, Davey-boy,” Billy said, grinning as he inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“As for what I reckon, we’ll go tonight. The weather report is with us this time and the longer we wait, the more chance the Germans will get wind of what we’re planning.”
Boyd nodded. “Everyone going to get briefed, or just the officers?”
“William,” Stirling said with the faintest of smiles, “Your lot will never be invited to a briefing. You do realize that, yes?”
“Of course, I do, David,” Billy replied with a grin. “And they’d not have it any other way.”
Stirling chuckled as he clapped Boyd on the shoulder. “Briefing will be at 1600. Go make sure none of your lads get picked up for some minor violation before we can get out on the mission.”
“Aye, sir,” Billy replied as he left the tent. Davey-boy had a point. His lads were bored and looking to see how far they could push the envelope, thus the performance earlier of appearing out of the approved uniform and of actively gambling. Billy knew they all skated a thin line out here, but what they were trying to accomplish just wouldn’t work without some softening of the regulations that bound the Regular Army. True, he pushed further than most, but his lads worked better that way and maximizing their ability to stay alive under intensely dangerous circumstances was the most important thing to him. Everything else could be worked around. He shook his head as he headed for the tent once again.
6 December 1941, 1700 hours
“What’s the word, Bill?” Bean asked before Billy could even get all the way in the tent. The briefing had gone on much longer than anyone had anticipated and he could tell the boys were dying of curiousity.
“We’re a go for 1900 tonight. We’ll be inserted by the Long Range Desert Group rather than parachute this time—“
“Oh you mean they aren’t going to just throw men out of a plane into a fucking sand storm this time and hope all goes well?” Butler interjected with a rude snort.
“Our targets are the Axis airfields at Agedabia, Sirte and Agheila and we won’t know which we’ll be hitting beforehand,” Billy continued on as if Butler hadn’t said anything. “I have the feeling Davey-boy’s going to request we go to Sirte, since that’s likely the most heavily guarded, but I’m not for sure. What this means is that we pack extra weapons, ammunition, and Bloom, bring some special gifts along, won’t you?”
“Absolutely, sir,” Bloom replied, smiling as he considered which particular “gifts” to bring with him.
“What about me, sir?” Urban asked.
“Urban, Stelling says he hasn’t seen your papers yet. What that means is that I cannot allow you to take part as a member of my team. I’m sorry, but it has to be that way, and I’ll thank you not to make me repeat myself again.”
Urban looked as though he was about to argue, but stopped, a considering look coming over his face. “I understand what you’re saying, sir,” he said, meeting Billy’s eyes squarely.
“Excellent.” Billy smirked as he pushed back the flap to the tent. “18:45, lads. Don’t be late.”
A chorus of “yes, sirs” rang out, some more respectful than others. Billy waved a hand in what could nominally be referred to as a salute and left to pack his own bag.