Sunday, March 29, 2009

What's Cracklin'

"Name of the game is Texas Hold 'em..." Pete dealt the cards slowly to each of us. He gave the same introduction every week, every single week for a year, and we always played the same game, Texas Hold 'em. "You get two cards, there will be a flop which consists of three frags of hope, a turn, which only make some of you knuckleberrys even more hopeful, and then that river which will win me the pot."

Tony rolled his eyes at the Sargeant as he always did and Corporal Timmons shot him a glare... as he always did.

I hoped I'd win, as I usually did.

Marks sweating like a call girl in confession, told us for the 5,000th time he was "Burning up. Dang. This is fucking hot."

Iraq is hot. Steaming, burning insufferable heat. You could taste the sand in the wind and we were located in the most wayward, godforsaken corner of the desert any troop could hope to be. We called ourselves the Lost Guardsmen.

We were entrenched in a large camp, basically guarding a hatch in the ground. A couple of men from DC, CIA surely, had dropped in and taken a look, left and then six months later nothing. Still we guarded it.

Day after day of nothingness. Not that we'd complain. Plenty of guys we know elsewhere dealing with road side bombs and citizens who wave at them one minute shooting at them from a window the next. No in terms of Iraq, despite the boredome we had it pretty good. Most of us had already gotten enough of a taste of action in Afghanistan to know it was all it was cracked up to be.

If whatever we were guarding was valuable the Iraqis hadn't figured it out yet. We didn't feel like soldiers or guards we felt more like inmates. Every couple of weeks a copter would fly in with supplies and fresh decks or cards and we basically played poker and traded our salaries around like it was gold.

That's what Marks thought was in the hatch. Gold. Babylonian gold.

We tried to talk the officers into letting us peak in the hatch but no dice.

Somebody said that they were actually chemical weapons. A warehouse full of anthrax or something.

Others said if it were gold or munitions some warlord would have come looking for it. But nothing.

So we waited and "guarded."

Every night when it got cool and not too windy we played poker. Jackson, from Jackson, Mississippi, had somehow gotten some Makers Mark into camp and we were sipping it. I no longer bothered keeping track of where my rifle was and I thought of a TV show my dad got on DVD recently, Sgt. Bilko.

As we passed around the cards, Pete went through the texas hold'em rules again, and we kept sipping the Makers Mark and talk shifted to the hatch. Jackson spoke first in a quiet whisper, "I've been down there you know..."

"Down where?" The corporal asked.

"Don't get all narc on me, but I've been down the hatch... went last night," I couldn't take it no more.

"You went down the hatch?" The corporal swelled up.

"Yeah, and if you want to know what I saw, you'll agree to shut the fuck up, right?"

"Corporal you can keep it quiet right?" Tony got real close to Corporal Timmons.

The corporal wilted, "If the sarge is fine with it..."

"Of course, I'm fine with it. Now, Jackson, from Jackson, what's in that hatch of ours?"

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