Ray’s mama raised him right. This is what he tries to tell Brad on the road to Nasiriyah, but Brad won’t listen.
“Motherfucker,” Ray says, “you wish you had my childhood. Man, we got to lick the batter from the spoon, you know what I mean?”
“Are you trying to blame your current dementia on untreated salmonella contracted in your infancy?” Brad asks. “Or was that your lackluster attempt at homoerotic seduction?”
“Nah,” Ray says, and taps the steering wheel. “I wouldn’t touch your hooker-diseased cock for a jalapeño and cheese and a one-way ticket to Thailand.” He pauses, thoughtful. “Bet you Trombley’d suck it if you asked nicely, though.”
“Hey!” Trombley says from the back seat. Ray ignores him.
That night, he has a fucking awesome jack. He watches artillery explode like it’s the Fourth of July and thinks about the LT’s hands holding him down. It’s pretty sweet.
Out on the road Ray has to entertain himself somehow. He’s usually got at least three or four things going at once – watching the horizon, trying to make Trombley cry, feeling the Ripped Fuel, singing in his head or out loud the lyrics to every Blink-182 song ever because Mark Hoppus is a fucking bro – but sometimes it’s not enough, and Ray gets twitchy. Or more twitchy. He’s been given to understand that when he gets more twitchy, he irritates the Iceman. Which he has been told he shouldn’t do. Yeah, and fuck you too, Brad (I fell in love with the girl at the rock show! She said what and I told her I didn’t know!).
So Ray has to entertain himself (and if I ever got another chance I’d still ask her to dance!), and sometimes he does that by thinking about the way Lieutenant Fick bites his lips.
“Living easy, living free – ”
“Season ticket on a one-way ride!”
Walt’s voice drifts in from the hatch. “Asking nothing, leave me be!”
Reporter leans forward. “Highway to Hell? Don’t you think that’s a little cliché?”
“It’s Iraq,” Ray says. “We can do whatever the fuck we want.”
He’s not lying. They can do whatever the fuck they want. If Iraq were a Missouri high school, they’d be the jocks. After Muwaffaqiyah Ray explains this to Reporter who’s eager like a hunting dog, tracking his face and writing it all down. It’s kind of pathetic.
“Okay, fair enough,” Reporter says. “But then who are the cheerleaders?”
Brad turns around in his seat. “The civilians,” he says. “They just keep getting fucked.”
They stay quiet enough that Walt doesn’t hear.
Poke’s ranting about the UN, like Doc with the Geneva Convention wasn’t enough. Ray’s pretty sick of it. He’d be waving a white shirt if he had one.
He’s tired. Mostly he just wants to shoot something.
“Keep your fucking distance from them!” Brad says about the line of refugees, and then “Get these people some water.”
Ray’s still tired and he still wants to shoot something.
Maybe Captain America.
Brad gives them ravioli. It tastes so good it makes Ray want to come. It’s a good day. He gets Walt to smile, and he also gets most of the tomato sauce off of his face before Lieutenant Fick walks by.
“Enjoying yourself?” the Lieutenant asks.
“Yes, sir,” Ray says. He doesn’t add Not as much as if you were fucking me, though, because that would be inappropriate.
Kocher’s got a diary, and Ray’s got Ripped Fuel. For now. It’s not gonna be a good time when it runs out.
Trombley tells Reporter that the point of being in Iraq is that they get to kill people, and he means that. Ray says he doesn’t know the difference, and he means that too. Brad tells Ray to focus, but all Ray can feel is the end of the war coming, and all he can hear is Bruce Springsteen in his head, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground, goddamn liberal fuckheaded self-righteous cunt. Pretty smart dude, though.
Baghdad is a fucking mess, but the gin is acceptable. The Lieutenant walks by and tells them to hide the bottles, and all Ray can picture is the LT’s ass on the cover of Born in the U.S.A.
“Aye, aye, sir,” he says.
They play football at Ad Diwaniyah. Ray’s bones rattle around his body and there’s no high left to chase. He hates coming down.
Rudy punches him and it’s a goddamned metaphor. Ray hates it, he hates this, he hates them all looking at his fucking face.
He gets around a corner of the building and stops and squints at the horizon. He hears something behind him and doesn’t turn around.
“Brad,” he says, “save your limpdick caterwauling.”
“I’m not Brad,” says the LT.
Ray still doesn’t turn. Fuck it. Fuck this ass-backwards country and the horse it rode in on. Fuck Rudy. Fuck command. He clenches his hands.
The LT comes up right behind him. Ray clenches his hands tighter. The LT leans down and presses in and talks low into his ear. “Corporal,” he says, “get it together.” Then he walks away.
Ray hands Brad a cup. The artillery in Lilley’s video is almost louder than Johnny Cash. Ray wants to tell Brad to stop eyefucking the LT like they’re a couple of pussies, that he should go find the LT and get some, but instead he smiles. Brad smiles back.
The video is like watching the inside of his own head on repeat. Farmers saving their sheep. Torsos. Trombley grinning.
He’s fucking smart, okay? He knows he’s triangulating. He doesn’t actually want Brad and the LT to fuck (unless he gets to watch, because that shit should be pay-per-view). Ray’s life is basically a Roy Orbison song, not that Brad will let him sing it.
He turns a corner in the hallway and the LT is leaning against the wall. He doesn’t look like he’s waiting. He looks completely casual for the first time since Ray can remember. It’s suspicious.
“Sir,” Ray says.
“Person. All squared away?”
“Yes, sir.” Ray can see how chapped the LT’s lips are. The skin is torn.
“When we get out of this,” and the LT gestures to include the whole fucking war, “when we get home, you should come find me.”
The LT pushes off the wall. As he brushes past Ray he leans close. “You’ll figure it out,” he says.