Poke was pissed. Not his normal mid-level misanthropic tendencies. Full out, cut a bitch, pissed. Of course he was pretty sure that's why Brad pulled him aside and made sure he was the one to share the news with him. "So let me get this straight? Captain America stomps all over a POW, Tuck and Redman pull him off the Haji and they're the ones who end up suspended."
Brad nodded. "That about sums it up. Eric said they relieved Captain America of duty for about 20 minutes, but it seems he's got an uncle in high places."
Poke shook his head. "White man always does. Someone needs to frag that motherfucker."
"With our luck, the next one would be worse."
Yeah, Poke had some experience with bad commanders, so he got that. "True that, dog. But damn... That could be us. That's what scares the shit out of me. Not the Hajis. Not this fucking place. The fact that but for the grace of God, that could be us."
Brad sat down with his back against the Humvee and motioned for Poke to do the same. "You must be seriously fucking pissed, Poke. If you of all people are bringing God into it."
Poke settled beside him. "Shit rolls downhill. I get that. I live that, but when some shitbird like Captain America gets a free fucking pass and his men get ripped, it makes me question God and war and the motherfucking Marines."
"Fick's doing what he can through his channels. We're lucky though, the LT'd never pull a stunt like that."
"I know. But they're on his ass like a bitch in heat. He contradicts command a few more times and we may find ourselves in a worse position than Tuck and Redman."
Brad turned to face Poke. "The LT knows how the system works. He'll be fine. But we've got to keep our guys in check. Fick making judgment calls is one thing. Our guys sticking up for him with command is what makes him look bad. We need to reign 'em in."
Tony nodded. "I hear you dog. They're just terrified to end up with Captain America or worse."
"Which is way we need to lay down the law. They're not helping."
Poke had seen Brad in all kinds of situations, from firefights to drunken stupors, but this wasn't the reaction he was expecting. Tucker and Redman were his friends. They'd come up through the ranks together. Sure, they let Poke tag along, but he'd not been there since the beginning like the other three had. "Why you so calm about this?
"Oh, I already had my hissy fit." Brad smiled. "LT's words, not mine. He made me calm down and see reason."
"Wow, Fick really is a miracle worker. Who knew you had that in you."
"Fuck you, Poke."
"Nah, my wife'd cut my balls off if I left her for a white bitch like you."
Brad laughed and stood up. "Talk to your guys, Poke. I'll talk to mine. The LT can take care of himself."
Poke looked up at Brad. "I got your six, dog."
"I know you do, Tony. You always do."
Poke hated to admit it but he liked Rolling Stone. The guy had more cojones than some of guys in Alpha and definitely more than the reservists.
"What are you doing here Tony?"
Poke leaned back and started in on his old routine. "You see the white man likes to invade countries where he can steal from and enslave the indigenous brown population, so this here mission is just another rung up that very long ladder."
Rolling Stone laughed. "I meant Bravo Company."
"Oh that? I'm here for the same reason you are, dog."
Quirking an eyebrow, Rolling Stone pulled out his notebook. "Care to explain that?"
Poke nodded. "Yep. Not that he'll ever admit it, but he got me into Bravo Company. And he decided you might just be the right kind of crazy to come along for the ride."
Rolling Stone put his notebook away. Poke liked that about him. He knew what to put on the record and what to keep off. "Why do you think he did that?"
"Not only is Iceman the calmest motherfucker in a firefight, he's also got some weird sixth sense about him. He can look at someone and size them up. He's the one that greased the skids with a lot of the guys in the platoon for the LT. Nobody wanted a green, wet-behind-the-ears Lieutenant telling them what to do, but Brad knew he'd do right by us. And he has. You make sure you put that in your article, dog."
Rolling Stone nodded. "But what about you?"
"In Afghanistan, I was stuck in Delta, not with the reservists, thank fuck, but with a commander that gave Captain America a run for his money. We did a Recon mission with Brad's team. It was a clusterfuck from start to finish. Iceman saved all our asses and then I saved his. Next thing I know, I'm being transferred to Bravo with a promotion to ATL."
"And you think it was Colbert?"
Poke nodded. "I know it was. But as I said, the motherfucker will never admit it."
Six months earlier in Afghanistan...
"Sergent Colbert, a word."
Brad got up and began walking with Nate.
They were almost half a klick away from command before Nate began to speak. "We've got our mission. We're going to Iraq."
Brad stopped and turned to face Nate. "When?"
"We start training in Kuwait in three weeks."
That was surprising. "That soon?"
Nate nodded. "They want us in place ASAP. We need to start assembling our team."
Nate looked Brad square in the eyes. "Yes, Brad. We. I have absolute confidence that I have the best person on my six. So who do you want on yours?"
Brad didn't hesitate. "Espera."
Nate cracked a smile. "Really? Not who I would have thought you'd pick."
"He may be a cranky fucker, but Poke's good in a firefight. And he's kept his team alive without the benefit of a decent command. If you're asking my opinion for ATL, it's him."
Nate nodded. "I trust your judgment. If Espera's who you want, the job's his. Let me get his transfer started and then the three of us will figure out who else we need to complete the team. Anyone else is on your wishlist?"
This time Nate full out laughed. "And people say you aren't crazy."
Brad shrugged and smiled. "Ray's an acquired taste."
"That he is. He's in your vehicle, Sargent. Anyone else?"
"Let's take Reyes too."
"Well we certainly will be the most colorful company in Iraq that's for sure."
Brad smiled. "Well, Lieutenant, you're the one who always says it takes all kinds."
"Yeah, be sure to remind me of that the next time Rudy's doing his striptease."
Brad smiled again. "Will do, Sir. So this is really going to happen?"
Nate started walking back toward base. "Nothing's written in stone, but it looks like it. Packing us all up to Kuwait means they're serious."
"Bravo company will be ready."
Nate nodded. "I have no doubt, Sargent. Keep this on the downlow until the official orders come down tomorrow. I'll get the paperwork started on Poke. And Person, really?"
Brad laughed. "You never have to worry about falling asleep on patrol with Ray at the wheel."
"You never have to worry about sleeping again when Ray's around."
"He grows on you."
"If you say so. I'll inform Espera of his transfer. Let's plan on meeting at 0700 to start mapping out our team."
Poke sidled up to Brad in the mess hall and sat down next to him. "Yo dog. Funny thing happened. Lt. Fick just informed me I'm moving up the food chain. Assistant Team Leader, Bravo Company."
There was no reaction on Brad's face. Not that Poke really expected one. "Really? Guess you really are working for the white man, now."
"No offense to Fick, but he don't know me from Adam, so how'd I get in his line of sight?"
Brad shook his head. "Haven't a clue. Maybe that affirmative action thing is finally working out for you, Poke."
Poke punched Brad on the shoulder. "You can't bluff for shit, dog. You got me this."
Still no look of acknowledgment on Brad's face. Another reason he was the Iceman. "Why would I do that?"
Poke wasn't falling for it. He knew he had Brad to thank for this. "Cause you know you need a brother like me watching your six."
"The LT wants to meet at 0700 tomorrow to go over team assignments."
Poke shook his head. "So you ain't gonna admit it was you?"
Brad smiled and stood up to leave. "You forget, Tony. I'm just a white man and therefore only ever take credit for shit that ain't mine."
That made Poke laugh. "You're a lot of things, Iceman. But you'll never be just a white man. I'll make you proud."
Brad walked away before turning back around. Maybe he was going to admit it. "Hey Poke?"
"You too, man, you too."