If there was a single person in our company I disliked, it was the Rev.
Got the nickname by the time we hit Germany, even before they started calling me Bulldog. Nobody's fault but his own. He wore a cross necklace and kept his little Bible right in his pocket. Not much for the subtle approach, the Rev.
Suited me just fine. I like knowing where I stand with a man.
We bunked together in Balad. I wasn't about to get sucked in.
“Something like that,” Rev said, grinning at me as he marked his place in Psalms.
I grinned back, harder. “Just keep your -” I unleashed a string of swear words that would have made my Uncle Jim blush. That usually did it with these types. “Out of my face, got it? I didn't enlist to get preached at.”
Rev just kept smiling. “Wouldn't dream of preaching at you, Bulldog.”
You find plenty of things to curse when you're a military driver out here. If you don't get some crazy man with a bomb coming at you, like as not you'll hit one that's buried. The roads, the heat, the government, and the man sitting next to me were all treated to a regular round of verbal abuse.
The Rev used to talk to me about home while we drove. He asked about my nieces, my hometown, my dog. He said it was because I tended to swear less and relax more – both qualities he appreciated. His way of telling me to keep a lid on the profanity. It worked, too. Sometimes, if I was tired of talking, I'd ask him stuff.
“What made you get religion?”
“Thought you didn't want me preaching.”
Before I could think of a comeback, he'd lunged over and jerked the wheel to the right, hard enough to feel the truck tilt a bit on her wheels. I righted her and turned on him, swearing by all he held holy.
First time I'd ever seen him blaze up outside of battle.
“Don't use His name like that,” he bit out.
“Don't get us killed for a prank.”
He pointed out the window at the tiny girl scrambling off the road. I'd missed her. My heart skipped two beats, but I wasn't about to give Rev the satisfaction.
“Probably had a bomb strapped to her.”
“Then I just saved us all.”
The silence was intense.
“Don't use His name like that,” Rev repeated. “That's my battle buddy you're swearing by.”
About a dozen comebacks popped in my head, but I couldn't bring myself to use a single one.
Rev jerked me toward him. A bullet whined past my temple. Inch or so to the left, and that would've been the last thing I ever heard.
“Thanks. You good?” I asked Rev.
He nodded. We both dove to the ground, joining the doc and three others. The rocks shook with an explosion nearby. The air filled with dust and smoke.
I felt Rev stiffen, then go limp beside me. Not a sound. I looked over and saw the shrapnel in his neck. He was still breathing, though. I wanted to swear, but there weren't strong enough words. Instead, I shouted for the doc.
Rev opened his eyes for just a moment.
“Much pain?” I asked.
Then I did swear. I knew what that meant.
“Not my battle buddy,” he managed. “Not unless that was a prayer.”
“Me, pray? You'd be hallucinating, Rev, and you know it.”
“'S always hope,” he slurred, before collapsing again.
I was there with him when the doctor told him the news. The paralysis was complete from his armpits down, and his arms and shoulders would probably never regain complete movement. Rev blinked, his battle-worn face tensing and twitching as he absorbed the news.
I motioned the doctor to get out. Rev had closed his eyes.
I didn't even have the heart to rile him up with a good curse. This kind of pain, you don't make light of it.
It was a whisper, tight with pain and an thick edge of anger. But I knew it wasn't the way I would have used the word.
I wanted to snort, but couldn't. Maybe his battle buddy could help after all. Always had before.
Guess I'd have to stick around to find out.
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