The Devil and Carwood Lipton—Leaving Rachamps
France; En route from Rachamps to Haguenau February, 1945
Lipton tilted his head and squinted up at the sky. The sun was hazy and weak, too muffled by the low laying clouds to give off much heat. Still, the pale light was wonderful and he smiled. This must be how turtles felt after crawling out of a cold lake onto a warm log—slow and drowsy and utterly content.
“So, what’d he want?”
He glanced to the left. Luz was curled up beside him, arms crossed over his chest, eyes closed. Apparently not asleep, unlike the rest of the men, who had dropped off before the convoy had reached the first kilometer marker outside Rachamps.
Lipton, though, had struggled to stay awake. After living in the ground, freezing his ass off for what seemed like forever with never one day where he was fully warm, sitting in the sun in relative safety was an unexpected luxury and he hadn’t wanted to miss a moment.
“What did who want?” The words itched his throat and he swallowed carefully. He better not be catching a cold—that was the last thing he needed right now.
Luz bumped his shoulder in sleepy reproach. “You know who.”
“No, I don’t, George.”
Heaving a sigh worthy of a movie actress, Luz huffed, “Speirs. Speirs is the who.”
“Okay, so Speirs is the who. What about him?” Lipton didn’t bother keeping the irritation out of his voice. Luz and his shorthand way of speaking could be annoying some of the time and he’d learned to just ignore it.
“Jesus—” Luz sat up and combed his hair out of his eyes, glaring. In a voice he used with very young replacements, he stated, “What. Did. Speirs. Say. To. You. In. The. Church?” He glared again and slumped back against the truck rails, as if exhausted by the conversation.
A finger of unease traced Lipton’s spine. “Oh.”
“Yeah, ‘oh’.” Luz was mocking now, something Lipton found annoying pretty much all of the time. “What were you guys talking about?”
He fiddled with his rifle’s shoulder strap. “You know, just things.”
“Lip, so help me—”
“All right.” He gave his own exaggerated sigh. He shouldn’t have stalled. There was no reason, and Luz would never let go of it now—he was like a bull terrier that way. “All right. We just talked about his new command, what the men expected of him, stuff like that.”
“That all? You sure looked chummy.” Luz closed his eyes and crossed his arms again.
The unease that had centered in Lipton’s spine moved to his throat, making it hard not to cough, not to stumble on the words, “Well, yeah, that was about it.”
Clearly not believing him, Luz shook his head. “Okay. Whatever.”
Lipton tugged on the shoulder strap again and turned away from Luz to stare at the road behind them.
Lying had never come easy and he’d learned to avoid it at all costs. It always made things simpler in the end if you just told the truth. His mother had taught him that, from the time he was very young.
So he knew this, but for some reason he desperately didn’t want Luz to know what he and Speirs had talked about. It wasn’t because of the news that he had been bumped up in rank—it had nothing to do with that and the men would find out soon, in any case.
It was more of…
He frowned and shrugged, trying to dismiss his unease. He didn’t know why he was so hesitant to tell Luz. It wasn’t like he and Speirs had talked about anything important or secret. Men under fire, he’d found, tended to share the most personal—sometimes too personal—details of their lives. This conversation hadn’t been anything like that. It was just two guys talking. Business as usual.
A weak reassurance that was already familiar because he’d told himself that very same thing several times since Speirs had turned and left him standing in the church, happily stunned at the words of praise and the news of his commission. He’d replayed the scene a couple or three times: Before he went to sleep that night, curled up next to Malarkey. Waking up the next morning to Perconte’s faint grunts of pain.
Against the unlikely backdrop of gold candlelight and angelic voices, Speirs had talked about fear and control. About someone named Tercius and the power of the unexplained, the unexcused. Then he’d surprised Lipton further by saying he knew who had kept Easy together through the living horror that had been the Bois Jacques. ‘You don’t have any idea who I’m talking about, do you?’
It was true. Lipton had no inkling that Speirs had been paying attention to Easy. He would have said, if anyone had bothered to ask, that the Captain had enough to do just keeping Dog in line.
Finally—and this was the part that kept bugging him, the part that kept popping into his mind when he least expected it—Speirs had turned to go, then stopped and turned back. He’d looked Lipton up and down, a secret, intimate smile, and told him about the battlefield commission.
It was the look that was the heart of the problem. The look that had stilled time and had taken up permanent residence in Lipton’s memory. Speirs had been as filthy as the rest of the men, unshaven, grimy and tired. But for the first time he had really smiled and that smile had actually reached his eyes. And for the first time it had come to Lipton that Speirs was a very handsome man.
The memory of that odd, unexpected smile popped up again, and Lipton screwed his eyes closed, like that could make the image vanish. It didn’t, of course—it somehow made it worse. He cleared his throat and crossed his arms, clutching at his jacket, at his own flesh, using the pain to clear his head.
Next to him, Luz muttered something under his breath and leaned closer, forcing Lipton to brace himself so he wouldn’t fall off the back of the truck.
What would Luz say, if he found out that Lipton had been spending too much time thinking about Speirs, fretting over a five-minute conversation that now seemed hours long?
Fretting over the memory of Speirs’s gaze, his mouth…
Just the thought of Luz’s reaction had Lipton’s stomach twisting and he wished he were on his own so he had time to regroup and recover.
The summer he was fourteen, his mom had caught him with Dorie Lee Saunders behind the shed. She’d dragged them both out into the sun, scolding each of them in turn. Then she’d sent Dorie Lee home and told him to fill the wood box while she thought up a suitable punishment. When it came, the punishment hadn’t held a candle to the shame he’d felt and he spent the rest of the week avoiding both his ma and Dorie Lee.
Feeling the remnants of the same hot embarrassment, Lipton told himself that Luz didn’t know anything and he couldn’t read minds, that no one could. And anyway, the situation wasn’t the same. Not at all.
Still, when the truck hit a deep rut and all the men jerked up in alarm, including Luz, Lipton was grateful for the interruption. It jolted him out of his thoughts and reminded him where he was and what he was supposed to be doing.
He sighed and stretched his legs and watched as the men grumbled for a moment and then quickly fell back asleep. He snuck a cigarette and the lighter out of Luz’s pocket and lit up with a relieved smile. He was nuts. There’d been no secret undercurrents, no hidden conversations. No need for embarrassment or shame.
Speirs was Speirs: just another officer doing his duty. The fact that Lipton admired him no end was only natural. And the warmth he’d felt when Speirs had saved the day in Foy was only to be expected—any man would feel the same.
And, yeah, Speirs was handsome. It was natural that Lipton admired him for that, as well. It meant nothing.
Luz’s voice was soft and his eyes were shut tight—Lipton had thought he really was asleep this time. And even though he knew who Luz was referring to, he had to ask, “Who?”
Luz sleepily elbowed him. “Speirs. Bloody Speirs. He’s scary.”
Nudging back, Lipton said as lightly as he could, “He’s all right. Go back to sleep, George.”
Drawing on his cigarette, trying not to cough around the burn of the harsh tobacco, Lipton closed his eyes against the brightening sun, against the lurking memories, and tried to remember back to the days when he’d still been afraid of Captain Ronald Speirs.
Carwood Lipton/Ronald Speirs
Band of Brothers 1,500+ words
Episodes referenced: mostly The Breaking Point and The Last Patrol
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me