Behind Enemy Limas
Where Have You Bean?
Jack raised his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the valley floor. He and his men had the advantage of higher ground, at least thus far, but the enemy had the numbers. No doubt about that. The bean counter in him stopped tallying at sixty-three. Most of them seemed to be lentils, quite green judgning by the look of them, but he could also see some tough-looking limas, no doubt well-seasoned veterans. A open attack would be dangerous, but sneaking around this encampment would cost valuable time.
He placed a hand on the box that never left his side, the box that had cost him two good men, far behind enemy lines. It had to be delivered before midnight at all cost, those were his orders, and he was not going to back down on them. Jack knew he was just a common bean, but his pride was in this now. Failure was not an option.
A quick glance at his watch showed oh-seven hundred, sharp. Any second now, his diversion was set to go off. The Faba brothers had been working all night, drawing wires in the dark and setting up the charges. Any second now...
Just then, the early dawn silence was torn by a massvie explosion, followed immediately by two more. Jack barked out orders, and his men took their positions. A mottled-looking veteran came up to him and stood to attention.
"Take your men down to the left flank. We're gonna need your fire support when we move in for the kill."
"Yes sir!" The bean saluted him, grinning broadly. "We'll be in place en un segundo."
He called out more orders while the sergeant set off. Pinto was Jack's most trusted man, and he knew that he could trust him with his life. With all their lives. Off to his right, the last of the Faba brothers' explosives went off, and the echo from the blast rolled around the low hills surrounding the encampment.
"Just my luck..." he muttered while he donned his battle helmet and checked his gun one last time. "Just my rotten luck..."
It had started, he thought back while he waited for Pinto's signal, as a simple grab-and-run operation. The box was to be picked up and delivered, no big deal, but then they had ran into a whole bunch of enemies where there should have been none. Oh well, no time for self-pity. A couple of gunshots could be heard from the left flank, then the radio crackled to life.
"We're in position, mi capitán."
Jack blew his whistle, and began the attack. As he had expected, the veterans were all investigating the explosions, and so at first everything went smooth as can be. The lentils that were left to defend the encampment put up a little bit of resistence, but as soon as they came under heavy fire, they retreated. Jack's men reached the outer barracks without taking a single hit.
Their advantage didn't hold for long, though. Inside the encampment there were plenty of places to dig in, and soon even the greenest of the enemy beans made a stand. At the same time, the right flank began taking heat from the limas. Jack ducked behind an abandoned Jeep, returned fire, and then raised his radio to call for the left flank. Before he could press the send button, though, Pinto's voice came through, higher in pitch than usual.
"...under fire! Repeat, we are under fire! Capitán, they have... they have cans!"
"Fall back!" Jack shouted into the radio, even as he heard the sound of diesel engines roaring to life. "Fall back to the centre line!"
"Cut off! We're cut off! They're gonna..."
The radio fell silent, and seconds later the handgun fire, too, ceased. All Jack could hear was the roaring engines and the sound of caterpillar tracks against hard soil. Sounds that were rapidly coming closer.
"Grenade launchers!" he yelled, and his artillery officer immediately fell in by his side. "They're coming up at ten o'clock, get ready!"
Just then, one of the deadly steel machines appeared over the top of a low hill. The first shell exploded just a little way away, and showered them with dirt. Their own artillery returned fire, but even two direct hits weren't enough to dent the cans. Ducking another shower of dirt, Jack waved at his men to fall back towards the right.
They were trapped now, caught between the advancing steel beasts and the enemy's strong flank. In desperation, Jack ordered his artillery to move uphill, while the infantery lay down covering fire. No fire deterred the cans, though, and Jack watched in horror as the first artillery group was taken out. The other managed to find shelter, though.
"Track!" he shouted into the radio. "Take out the tracks!"
"We're baked, man!" someone screamed just beside him, and he turned to see a young pigeon bean throw down his rifle. "Baked!"
"Get a grip of yourself, soldier!" Jack yelled, slapping the boy's face. "Fight, damn you!"
Just then, an explosion took out the caterpillar tracks on the nearest can, rendering it immobile. Jack's men cheered, but it was the next sound that made Jack's heart lighter. From behind the cans came gunfire that made the limas retreat, and at the same time another explosion stopped the second can.
Jack immediately ordered an offensive, and before long the enemy had been forced into full retreat. Once the encampment was secured, the remaining enemy had been locked up and the wounded had been tended to, Jack went to find his old friend. He spotted Pinto posing to have his picture taken with one of the ruined cans.
"What took you so long? Thought you were all chili for sure."
"Ha!" the old bean laughed. "Took us by surprise, those cans did. But it takes more than that to refry an old sword like me."
"One of my hombres took a kidney shot, but he'll be fine. You?"
"Lost artillery one." They both lowered their heads for a moment. "That, and a couple of injured."
"Can you hold this place? Just while I deliver this box?"
"Con facilidad. We have good cover here, no?"
"Sure." Jack slapped Pinto's shoulder, then went to fetch his box. "Take care!"
"You too, capitán."
* * * * * *
Despite his best efforts, it was half an hour after midnight when Jack finally reached HQ. Try as he might, he hadn't managed to get ahold of a winged transport, and travelling by road had been excruciatingly slow. He was out of breath and in a foul mood when he was let into the general's office. In spite of everything, the high officer seemed to be in a pretty good mood.
"Ah, Jack, my bean. Did everything work out?"
"We had a few casualties, general Phaseolus, sir." He placed the box on the general's desk, then snapped back to attention. "Here it is, sir. Not in time, but..."
"Oh well, can't be helped, can't be helped. Shame, though." The general brushed his thick mustache with his fingers, then set about to open the box. Jack watched, perplexed, as he pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper. Battle plans? Blueprints of some secret weapon? "I had hoped to present this to my wife while it was still her birthday. I guess a late present will have to do."
"Nobody told you? We found this in the enemy HQ we captured, over in..." The general laughed, a good-hearted, humorous laughter that made Jack's insides boil with anger. "You mean nobody told you?"
"What is it, sir?" Jack managed to make his tone civil, even though his teeth were grating. "What did we die and bleed for?"
"Oh, my wife is an art collector, you see." He unrolled the paper and held up a painting of a puppy dog. "Genuine Soya! Worth a small fortune. Shame it missed her birthday."
"A... painting...?" Jack started counting to ten, but he had reached no more than six when he closed the distance between them. "With all due respect, general, sir."
The punch was not hard enough to injure, but still sent the general reeling and made him sit down heavily in his desk chair. Jack dusted off his knuckles, then tossed the dog tags of his KIA men right in front of the stunned man.
"Our blood for... that?" He picked up the painting and rolled it up, then stuffed it underneath his arm. "Well, it so happens that it is my sergeant's birthday since about forty minutes ago. I'm sure he will like it."
With that, Jack turned and left the office. There was not a word of protest from the general, and Jack had a feeling that there would be no repercussions whatsoever. He laughed as he left the building and went in search of transport back to the encampment. It was true, Pinto would probably love the painting. The whole regiment would. After all, beans and dogs went well together.