by Tim Deal
Dinklage was dead, but that came after the jump. The jump was the thing. The jump was everything.
Corporal Bill Daisy had the soundtrack for this moment. Squeezed in among four sticks of paratroopers on a C-141 bound for Panama, Daisy heard the opening percussive rim taps to Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Just the right amount of tension, grim ambience; serious men on a serious mission.
Dinklage talked in his sleep next to him, something about “puppies,” or maybe “guppies.” Dinklage was a true snake-eater, hard as hard could be, tabbed-out, Ranger-qualified. He’d almost been tossed out of Ranger School for talking in his sleep, but the kid maxed out his PT test and could write up and execute an OPORDER better than some of his instructors. Honor grad, no less, and would have been on the fast track to getting his sergeant stripes if he had not been caught in a gay bar in downtown Fayetteville. A full investigation was under way, Daisy had heard. He’d also heard that Dinklage’s squad leader and platoon sergeant insisted that he made this deployment. The kid may prefer the cock, but he was squared away.
Twenty-four hours ago, Daisy was in Raleigh pulling an all-nighter with an NC State cheerleader. The girl, a psych major or a sociology major, knew a very different Daisy. She knew the Daisy with a yellow mohawk fortified with Aqua Net (white can); she knew the Daisy with the painted leather jacket (Bad Religion, Misfits, Minor Threat), and hand-sewn plaid pants — the weekend Daisy.
“Are you in a band,” she had first asked him. “Let me read your palm.”
But now, Daisy was a composite of military nomenclature: BDUs, LCE, TA-50, ALICE pack, M16A2 rifle, M1950 Weapons Case, MC1-1B Parachute. Daisy wasn’t a snake-eater, but he wasn’t a complete pogue either. He passed every PT test, could hump twelve miles in under two and a half hours (full combat equipment), and had forty-two mass tactical jumps under his belt. Furthermore, he could stay up all night with an NC State cheerleader and not fall out of the 0600 Brigade Run.
Burke wasn’t a snake-eater either. He was a complete enigma. Twenty pounds overweight, a perpetual sniveler, and — much to the dismay of his roommate — a chronic masturbator. It was as if Burke had discovered his cock seven years after adolescence. He had been caught beating-off so many times he simply stopped lying about it. He’d offer a sly grin and then shuffle off to the shower. When Burke wasn’t skinning himself raw, he carried the pig. It was an unspoken rule in a rifle platoon that the fat guy carried the heaviest weapon, the M60 machine gun. The theory was that it would help him toughen up, lose weight. The reality was that Burke would only become tough enough to lug the pig on every other hump. In the intervals, he’d complain of stress fractures, shin splints, sprains, heat exhaustion, and general malaise. His chain of command became so tired of tearing into his ass that they would just pull him of the line, give the pig to Dinklage, and shuttle Burke to the aid station…