Luz watched the new Lieutenant – Johnson or whatever his name was – and barely held back a groan. That boy had no sense of self-preservation. Absolutely none at all. The rumours about Speirs had spread far by now, even that kid must have heard some of them, and yet he was barging in like a fool.
“I wonder how long he's going to make it.” Luz said quietly, more to himself than to anybody in particular.
He got an answer anyway, from Perconte who was leaning against the wall behind them. “He just violated about every rule there is about dealing with Speirs.”
“You mean not to attract Speirs' attention if you're so lucky that he hasn't noticed you yet?”
“Yeah, that.” Frank agreed with a nod. “And he interrupted Lip. He just cut in without even realising that he was basically signing his own death warrant.”
Luz snorted. “Well, if Speirs offers him a cigarette, we know that the boy's meat.”
Frank made a vague gesture with his hand, including the new lieutenant and Speirs, who was currently bent over the back of Lip's couch. “Yeah, I wonder who gets him first, the Germans or Speirs.”
Luz pulled out a Lucky Strike and lit it. “My bet is on Speirs.”
Frank was quiet for a moment, observing the scene. “Now we just need the new guy to offer Lip a cigarette and he's dead for sure.”
“Yeah, not a wise thing to do when you're not me. Or Speirs.” Luz said with a huge grin.
Perconte turned to frown at him. “I always wonder why you can do that without him taking you apart. The rest of us definitely couldn't get away with it.”
Luz shrugged, he'd wondered the same thing more than once. Not that he'd tell Perco that. “Honestly? Because it's me.”
“George, you're so full of it.” Frank replied with a snort.
Luz just grinned. “No reason to be jealous, Perco.”
“I'm not jealous of you.”
“Course you are.” Luz leaned back with an incredibly smug expression on his face.
Perconte just patted his breast pocket. “At least I get to keep my cigarettes.”
“You don't even smoke.”
Frank shrugged. “True, but they're fantastic for trading.”
“You should better give them to me.” Luz said with an expression that resembled a pout. “I would at least smoke them.”
Perconte raised an eyebrow and threw him a calculating glance. “What are you willing to trade?”
“I hate you, Perco.”
Frank just grinned.
It was early morning when Luz entered the former living room that now served as the CP for Easy. Everything was just as dirty and half-destroyed as it had been the day before, but there was something that caught Luz' eye immediately. It was a piece of paper, on the wall behind Lipton's couch – and don't ask him when it had become 'Lipton's couch', but that was how everybody referred to it – and although it was crumpled, there was something written on it.
Luz suppressed a sigh. Another one of Sink's notes. Useless stuff that didn't make anybody feel better, anyway. Still, he would hear about it sooner or later anyway, and Luz preferred to be the first one to get the news. So he approached the wall with the damned letter and began to read.
'Easy's Cardinal Rules of Dealing with Captain Speirs:'
“No.” Luz stood in front of the paper and couldn't keep his mouth from hanging open. “He didn't.”
He couldn't help it, his gaze was magically glued to the paper and he had to read on as if he was under a spell.
'1) If Speirs hasn't noticed you exist, for god's sake, don't draw his attention, especially by being phenomenally stupid.'
All right, Frank had really done it. And this rule was definitely directed at that Jacob-Johnson-Jones-whatever character. Luz just couldn't help wondering where the heck Frank had gotten access to a typewriter, though. That the paper was reused was quite obvious, though. There were more stains than white.
The next rule was '2) Don't interrupt First Sergeant Lipton' and Luz just snorted. How true. Especially if Speirs was around to witness it. Or even worse, if he was talking to Lip at the time of the interruption. Oh, this new guy was toast. Luz almost felt sorry for him.
Then '3) Don't accept cigarettes from Speirs' and behind it, in pencil, as if it had come to Frank as a afterthought: '(or you WILL die)'. By now, Luz was grinning widely. Oh, this was fantastic. The boys would be on the floor with laughter once they saw this. It was bound to raise spirits for a long time to come.
Well, maybe not Speirs' spirits. But what was life worth without a bit of risk, anyway?
Luz read on and didn't find what he was looking for. Oh man, Frank had forgotten the fourth rule! Luz hesitated for only a moment, quickly glancing around to make sure nobody was there, then he pulled his pencil out of his breast pocket and scribbled, '4) Don't offer a cigarette to First Sergeant Lipton.' That should do. The list wouldn't be of any help if it wasn't complete, after all.
Luz grinned, satisfied with his work, and read on. 'effective Feb. 9th 1945, Haguenau' and in the next line 'signed:' and then, in Perconte's neat handwriting, 'Luz, George. Technician Fourth Grade'.
“What the hell?” Oh no, he wasn't going to let Frank push that on him. And hey, he had his pencil already in his hand anyway, so no harm in correcting this document a bit. Luz crossed out his name and scribbled 'Perconte, Frank J.' under it, then he turned to the headline and crossed out 'Captain Speirs', quickly replacing it by 'The Incredible Speirs'. Because really, who ran through a whole town full of German soldiers to get to another company, just to run the same way back afterwards when he could have stayed safely with said company? That was incredible – not that Luz minded. Speirs was their incredible commander, after all. And he really wanted to keep it that way, so Luz underlined the 'Cardinal Rules', then he decided it needed more emphasis and drew a box around it. That should do.
At the bottom of the page, as if Frank had tried to make it look official, he'd typed the whole credentials of Easy. 'E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army'. Nice work, Luz admitted and grinned while he put his pencil back into his pocket. He owed Frank for that one.
“Hey Luz. Morning.” Liebgott greeted him, rubbing his eyes sleepily, a metal mug with coffee in his free hand. “What're you looking at?”
Luz just turned with a huge grin. “Come here and see for yourself.”
When Lipton stumbled into the living room, aiming straight for the couch that the boys had begun to call 'Lipton's couch', he didn't pay attention to anything besides setting one foot in front of the other and reaching the safety of the couch without making a fool of himself. He was getting better, true enough, but as Doc Roe had put it, there was still a long road ahead of him. And he knew it, felt the exhaustion deep in his bones and the shivers that still ran through his body from time to time. He was always cold, and only at night, when he was sleeping with Ron pressed against his back, did he feel vaguely comfortable.
He'd been sitting on his couch for a few minutes before he became aware of Bull and Malarkey standing behind him, looking fascinated at the wall and suppressing laughter. That alone was unusual enough – especially Malarkey hadn't laughed much since Bastogne – but the fact that Bull had his omnipresent cigar sticking out of his breast pocket instead of his mouth was making Lipton truly curious. Enough to turn around to take a closer look, finding Bull glancing at him with such a huge grin that it was no surprise that the cigar wouldn't stay in his mouth.
“Boys, what is so funny?” Lipton asked and wished he had a hot cup of coffee to wrap his hands around.
“Oh, nothing, Lip.” Bull replied, the grin never wavering. “Just a few interesting new rules.”
Lipton had to suppress a sigh. “From Sink, I assume.”
Malarkey actually snorted. “Not exactly.”
Lipton frowned in confusion. “Who then?”
Bull shrugged. “I'd say 'undermined'.”
“What?” Really, Lipton knew he was still sick, but he was sure it was them not making sense. He groaned and got up from his couch to see what they were talking about. “Let me have a look.”
“Sure.” Malarkey said with a barely suppressed grin and made room for Lipton to step in front of the sheet of paper.
At the headline, Lipton frowned in confusion. When he'd read the first point on the list, he had to hide a grin. At the second, he snorted. At the third, he shook his head in amusement and at the end of the paper he was chuckling. Frank and George, no doubt about that, even if their names hadn't been written on the paper.
“So, what do you think of those new rules, Sarge?” Bull asked with his cigar back in its usual place.
Lipton knew he should take this list down, should enforce the respect for superior officers, but he also knew this little piece of paper, within half a day, would be able to raise the men's spirits more than a complete week of warm showers. He smirked and glanced at Malarkey and Bull. “I think they should be shared with the class. But the teachers shouldn't know.”
Malarkey grinned. “We will take care of that.”
“Good.” Lipton replied. “I know the Captain is gone with Major Winters until this afternoon. By then, this should be gone.”
“It will be.” Malarkey agreed with a fake serious nod.
“Still, I don't want to see any more quirky notes on that paper. We don't want this thing to get out of hand.” Lipton looked at it for a moment, then he pulled out the stump of his pencil and wrote with an amused shake of his head 'Boys, stop it.'
When he returned to the couch, still smirking, he heard Bull chuckle behind him. Within the next two hours, Lipton heard more laughter and chuckles from behind his couch than he had heard in a very long time. Around noon, when he was alone in the room, bent over the list of much-needed supplies he was writing, his gaze wandered back to the piece of paper on the wall. He couldn't help wondering how Ron would react should he see this list. Until now, Ron had only run through the CP once this morning on his way to meet with Winters, and he hadn't paid much attention to the surroundings. But once he did...
After a moment, Lipton got up and added a second line as a reminder. 'And remove this before he sees it.' Better safe than sorry. He liked Luz and Perconte, and he wanted to keep them unharmed, he thought with another smirk.
It was cold, and Lipton couldn't suppress the shivers that ran through his body. He'd retreated to the room he shared with Ron, hoping it would be warmer than the CP with its broken doors and windows. It didn't help much, though, and he guessed that it wasn't really the temperature that was so low, but his sick body's perception of it. He'd wrapped all four blankets around himself, but he was still cold.
The door opened and Ron entered, closing it firmly behind him. He took one look at Lipton's miserable expression and the tremors that shook the whole pile of blankets, then he removed his belt with all its gear and came over to the bed.
“Move aside.” Ron said with a smirk and sat down on the mattress, sliding up to lean with his back against the headboard. Then he took hold of Lipton's shoulders and pulled him close until his head rested against Ron's chest. He pulled the blankets over them and his arm wrapped around Lipton's shoulders with a firm grip. Lipton allowed his eyes to shut and he huddled closer to the irresistible warmth of Ron's body.
“Thanks.” he murmured into the fabric under his face.
Above him, he heard Ron chuckle. “We don't want you to freeze to death now that you've survived your pneumonia, do we?”
“Hmmm.” Lipton was too comfortable to bother with a reply, and Ron chuckled again and pressed a kiss on the top of his head. Then he pulled out his cigarettes and lit one. Lipton raised his head and eyed the Lucky Strike, but Ron shook his head.
“You're in no condition to be smoking. You know what the Doc said.”
Lipton just sighed and let his head fall back down. He knew Ron was right, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
“When you're better, I'll offer you a cigarette.” It was quiet for a moment with Ron smoking, relaxed against the headboard of the bed, and Lipton enjoyed the rare closeness and the comfortable silence. The cigarette reminded him of the list of rules from the living room. It had been gone when he'd been down there this afternoon, so he guessed one of the boys had taken his advice and removed it. His guess was that it had been either Bull or Malarkey, not one of the alleged authors.
Ron moved under him, searching for something in his pocket, the Lucky Strike pressed between his lips. Lipton didn't pay too much attention to his movements and kept his eyes closed, until there was an amused snort. He raised his head in surprise and found Ron with an unfolded piece of paper in his free hand.
“I know for a fact that you're excluded from rule number three.” Ron said and turned to look at Lipton with a teasing smirk tugging on his lips. The paper was very familiar, stained and bent and crumpled, and Lipton didn't need to read it to know what it was. He couldn't hold back a groan and hid his head against Ron's neck.
Oh dear. He really didn't want to know how Ron would make the boys pay for that. He should have made them take it down this morning. Now he would to have to tell Ron that he'd allowed it to remain on the wall for the better part of a day.
Ron just grinned and seemed highly amused. “And I am most certainly excluded from rule number four.”