Sunday, February 8, 2015

Part 119

There wasn't a single grain of rice or drip of salsa reamining when the group that was testing me left to go to some cooks' meeting at the supply tent.  Testing me was the word for it too.  I noticed on the train that being around so many other people so closely was irritating but since most of them had their own groups that they were hooked up with I was left alone most of the time.  In camp I was having to deal with people on every side and I was just about done with it.  I do not ever want to shame my parents but I keep getting close.

Mom was more sociable than Dad.  Dad knew too much about people in town and they knew he knew; it made everyone uncomfortable though Dad never was one to gossip about work ... at least not to me though he might have talked to Mom sometimes.  I got a few warnings about people but rarely specific details and I was always told that I was expected to keep it to myself unless something happened that I thought Dad should know about.  Mom on the other hand liked to socialize though we didn't do it at our house which was too small for adult parties.  She was always helping to organize stuff at the church or neighborhood block parties or stuff for the scouts or school stuff.  Dad went along because it made Mom happy.  I always thought I was more like Mom as far as people stuff went but maybe I'm turning out to be more like Dad.  All I know is that at the end of everyday after being cooped up and having to deal with so many people, my brain feels like it has been in a blender until I can crawl off to have some quiet and pull it together.  But it is hardly ever quiet it seems.  The train I was on rarely stopped  for more than an hour at a time and was always noisy.  And now even this Base seems to murmur and rustle 24/7.  Even when I wake up in the middle of the night to have to hunt up the latrine there is always someone talking, working, or something.  It is enough to make me want to scream and tell everyone to shut up and stop moving so I can have just five minutes of silence.

I was almost finished organizing the remaining supplies when the redhead - whose name turns out to be Chris - and the blonde who never did tell me his name or if he did it didn't register, came back with a baker's dozen of squirrels all skinned and gutted.  I said, "I don't have anything to trade for the extra squirrels."

"Don't worry about it.  The Colonel actually paid us to clean the squirrels out of his tent when he saw us hunting up the first couple we caught.  He was complaining about how the rodents were getting into the paper files looking for nesting material and food.  Anywho my name is Chris.  What's yours?"

"DeeDee," I mumbled expecting them to make fun of it but they didn't so I relaxed.

I set the squirrel carcasses to cook with some salt and onions in the water and then showed Chris and the blonde guy how to wash and then stretch the furs so they they wouldn't dry all curled up.  "I don't plan on these things lasting very long or I would tan them ... you do that with brains if you don't have fancy chemicals.  I figure these will last until warmer weather sets in and I can just wear my plain leather coat after that.  I made it myself out of deer hide."  OK, so I'm a little proud about it.

"Serious?" the blonde asked like I was going up in his estimation.

"Serious," I said.  "There was this old guy who taught me that kind of stuff.  He was real tough, wouldn't settle and let me go to the next step until I got the one I was working on just right in his opinion.  Mr. Svenson taught me a lot."

"Where is he?"

"I hope he is somewhere safe with his family.  They got run out of the North Woods too - that's where I stayed last - and I probably would have gone with their group only I got separated from them.  It was too much like stupid to try and find them after that so I started out on my own again."

"What do you mean again?"

Since I could do what I was doing and talk at the same time, and because they'd brought me more squirrels than I'd asked for, I felt obligated to pay them with answers to their questions.  After I was finished with the squirrel pelts I started on the pizzas.  I had found a half barrel attached to the side of the hot dog cart and decided to disconnect it and use it as a reflector oven.  Chris and the other one didn't seem at all surprised so I figured it must have been one of the uses for it anyway.  When I found screen shelves made of flat wire mesh that fit in the slots inside the barrel I knew I had guessed right.  I was looking at a homemade reflector oven.

The "oven" had four shelves so I made four pizzas.  I figured I'd bartered one to Chris and Blondie, promised one to Shelly and the other women to make them go away, and that would leave two to feed the men that were testing me.  I knew two pizzas wouldn't go very far but they were testing my cooking not looking to get fat off of it.  That was also why I made the cake in the dutch oven.  Actually it was more like a dump cake than a regular fancy cake, plus it was shaped like the bottom of the dutch oven I cooked it in.

I tossed the contents of a large can of pie filling in the bottom of the dutchie, sprinkled a little bit of the brown sugar over that, and then made up a simple cake batter and poured that over the top of the gunk already in the dutchie.  I then set the dutch oven on a few coals and put a few on the lid.  It only needed about twenty to thirty minutes to bake up ... just in time for the pizzas to be finished.

Chris and blondie hauled theirs away like I might change my mind and renege on our trade.  They actually had it in their hats because it was too hot to carry.  Gross.  And it irritated me but I realized they didn't know me well enough to know they'd just insulted me so I let it go.  Besides, after dealing with Toddie and his friends I wasn't really surprised; I swear I think boys are hardwired for stupidity about half the time and they just can't help themselves.  It's like biological or something.

Lucy and the rest of the women set up eating not too far off from where I was serving the men.  It irritated me to have to keep an eye on both groups.  I kept waiting for it to turn into a cat and dog fight but it never did.  In fact as the cooks filed out they treated the women ... well not with respect exactly but they weren't anywhere near being disrespectful.

I handed Shelly the last of the cake as she'd instructed me to give the others there first and asked, "What gives?"

"About what?"

"How come those men acted ... I dunno ... different to you?"

I heard Josie said, "You ain't earned no respect yet girlie.  We have."

I took a deep breath and let it out and basically ignored her while still talking to Sherry.  "That's not what I mean ... I mean they acted ... different.  Are they ... uh ... civilians?  Like me?"

Sherry nonchalantly leaned back against the tree and crossed her ankles.  "They aren't civilians and technically neither are you.  Most cooks are contractors ... noncombatants.  Some in other units are active duty but our unit primarily uses contractors which sets you apart from the ranks of civilians you'll run into.  It doesn't give you any extra authority but it does give a little clout."

Slowly I said, "OK so it is kind of a military thing.  So what is the rank thing?  My dad was a cop so I understand rank ... but how does it ... I guess I'm asking how does it apply here.  I've got a job.  I'm a contractor.  Where does that stick me on the food chain?"

"On the bottom of my shoe grunt," Josie answered which caused Gayle to snicker right along with her.

Shelly gave them a look and they both tapered to a last snort.  She turned to me and asked, "Why do you want to know?"

"So I don't get in trouble or cause trouble.  No one has explained how things work to me, they've only hinted around about it.  And Sgt. Shadwell said that there are lots of rules here that there weren't back where I come from.  I don't want any headaches and I don't want to do stuff that gets people in my business.  If I know up front I don't have to make so many mistakes ... if I don't make so many mistakes people have no reason to feel like they have to get in my face and correct me."

Lucy glanced at me and said, "Well, if you can stay out of trouble it is more than our last couple of cooks ..."  She stopped when she caught Shelly giving her a scowl.

She turned back to me and said, "I guess that's a fair enough answer.  Sgt. Shadwell is actually Master Sergeant Shadwell.  If you get any correspondence from her you'll see her rank written MSGT rather than jsut SGT."

"But we just call her Sergeant?"

"Pretty much unless there are some people around that impose protocol, like high ranking officers.  That hasn't happened in a while though.  Most of those people stay in their walled compounds."

I asked, "What are you?"

"Sgt. Shelly Dreyfuss."

"A plain sergeant or a flavored one like MSgt. Shadwell?"

Out of no where Josie jumped up and tried to push me backwards.  She almost had me ... almost ... but Moses had made us practice ways of getting away from puss brains all the time and I'd had to use them to get away from a couple of the men.  Plus I had the element of surprise.  Josie thought I was a limp noodle but I am in a lot better shape than most people think.  Dad used to say I was as wiry as a monkey.  Moses used to complain that I was so small it was like trying to grab a rat.  Same difference I guess.  I turned in Josie's grip and swept her feet from under her and then went backwards and came up with my bat.

Gayle and Josie both started for me but Lucy grabbed Gayle and Shelly ... Sgt. Dreyfuss ... grabbed Josie and basically pinned her to a tree.  She growled at them, "Will you two stop being a couple of hormonal blockheads?  She was just asking questions.  I don't want to have to do anymore cooking.  You got that?"

[Note:  she didn't call them blockheads but it's embarrassing to write down all the words I've been hearing lately.  Definitely not cool.  Since this is my notebook I'll record it the way I see fit ... and without all the cuss words that would probably make even Mr. Svenson blush even with him being an old sailor.]

Josie and Gayle didn't like what they were hearing but Sgt. Shelly didn't seem to care and she turned her back on them and said to me, "You used up your only get out of jail free card.  You do that again and I'll let them have you."

"Over what?  She came at me.  I'm asking about ranks so I don't get in this kind of ruckus.  What's with the over sensitive act?  I sure as heck don't outrank anyone around here.  I'm having to pass some doggone stupid test just so I can go out and work my butt off feeding your unit and taking your carp."

Lucy said, "We're a tight unit.  You were being disrespectful to Shelly."


"Asking what flavor she is."

"Huh?  I just meant is she a sergeant sergeant or a fancy title sergeant.  I mean why the heck has she let me call her by her first name if this rank stuff is so important?"

Sgt. Shelly shook her head.  "It's a wonder you aren't dead."

"Yeah I've come close.  Puss brains are like that.  And so are perverts and freaks and all the other carp that I've had to deal with for the last two years.  But no biggie ... just beat the carp out of me and carry on.  It's not like you people in uniform are supposed to be different or anything."

Lucy shook her head and said, "It's not like that."

"Sure, you can say that.  They stick up for you.  Me?  Half of you want to beat my brains out like I'm an infected so excuse me if I don't agree.  No wonder this group can't keep a number five if you're like this.  I ..."

There was a scream and gun shots and the argument of the moment was forgotten.

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