Zell Am See, Austria, July, 1945.
"Get Doc for me," Speirs said.
Tab ran to fetch him.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Grant had been shot in the head by a drunken American private.
Grant was somehow still alive.
Speirs recalled every Doc story he'd ever heard, like of the man who'd had his throat cut—not only had he lived, he had come back to active duty. The doctors had said it was impossible. But that was Doc.
Grant needed Doc.
As Speirs drove the jeep to the regimental hospital, Doc, sitting behind him with Grant, started the plasma going.
"What about morphine?" Speirs asked. He could see Doc in his rearview mirror.
"He'll get an anesthetic during surgery, so I can't risk it." Doc put his hand on Speirs's shoulder. "Ron, I don't think he can feel anything right now."
"All right," Speirs said. Doc's hand flooded him with confidence.
"Jesus," the army surgeon said.
"What?" Speirs asked. He was holding Grant's hand, still warm and alive.
The army surgeon didn't look at him, but at Doc. "He's not going to make it."
"You can't operate on him?" Doc asked.
"Not me. He'd need a brain surgeon. And even if you had one, I don't think there's any hope."
Grant can't die. No one else can die. Speirs could feel Doc agreeing with him.
Speirs turned to Tab. "You find the shooter. I want him alive. Come on, help me." He lifted one end of the stretcher. Doc immediately picked up the plasma.
"What are you doing?" Tab said.
"Going to find a brain surgeon."
Speirs stopped holding his gun on the Kraut brain surgeon, because Doc was looking at him funny.
The Kraut doctor kicked them out of the operating room, so they watched through a window. It was a while before Speirs realized Doc was holding his hand. Doc had to be desperate for reassurance if he was doing that, so Speirs did not let go.
Two weeks later, Easy played a baseball game against Dog, Speirs's old company, while Speirs watched from the sidelines.
Following Grant's successful operation, the men had returned to tennis, swimming, and roadblock duty. Speirs continued to scout the area for Nazi war criminals, passing tips directly to Liebgott. Liebgott never had any qualms about killing Germans.
Doc was first at bat. He got a single, then stole a base. Bull hit a double and Doc slid home. As Doc dusted himself off, Speirs cheered along with the rest of the men, then sat alongside Doc on the grass while he waited for his next turn at bat. Things had grown easier between them since Doc had come to Grant's aid.
Speirs was convinced Doc had saved Grant's life. There was no way to integrate his belief with what he knew of medicine, but he had always failed to add things up when it came to Doc.
Keeping his gaze fixed on the alps surrounding the lake, Speirs said, "Easy is going to the ski lodge for three days. It's our turn again. You didn't go last time. You should."
He somehow felt as if he were asking Doc for a favor.
"I don't know how to ski," Doc said.
"Most of the men don't. A lot of bones have been broken."
Doc smiled. "In that case, I'll go."
After Speirs spent the day skiing with Winters, he returned to his room on the top floor of the lodge, took a hot bath, put on a dress uniform, and went downstairs to the main hall.
The ski lodge was a Teutonic fantasy built in the 1920s, with huge stone fireplaces, leather covered sofas, and dark oak tables. A waiter brought him beer and fried potatoes. They were still at the end of the supply line, lucky to get rations. Potatoes and liquor were plentiful, but not much else.
He saw Doc walking with Heffron and nodded at them. They were also in dress uniform; it was all the men wore when they weren't playing sports. In Austria in the summer of 1945, the garb of a U.S. paratrooper awarded them more power than they had ever imagined.
"Any accidents?" Speirs asked when Doc came toward him.
"Martin sprained his ankle, but it's not bad. He can walk on it." Doc sat on the sofa next to him. "Look behind you."
Speirs turned away from the fireplace. The opposite wall had an enormous window looking down over the valley. The sun was setting behind the peaks, turning the alps a brilliant orange red.
"Have you been to the observation platform?" Doc asked.
Leaving his beer, Speirs followed Doc up a narrow path behind the lodge, until they reached stone benches still warm from the sun. They sat down and watched the sun sink.
After they had looked at the view for a few minutes, Doc spoke. "Martin told me you held a gun on Grant's shooter, but didn't kill him."
Speirs smiled grimly. "He probably wishes I had. I let the MPs take him. Turns out the MPs beat the crap out of him all night long."
Looking down into the valley, he could see their quarters, a tiny bright box on the shore of the lake.
"You've had enough of killing," Doc said.
Recalling his first days in France, Speirs remembered how he had changed. All of his senses were heightened. He saw more, heard more, tasted more. He moved and thought faster. Somehow, he had immediately understood it was not temporary. He would always be this way. The question was, was he ever going to get used to it?
Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. He would have forgotten his words to Blithe if they hadn't become part of the mythology of Ronald Speirs. He'd heard other men quote him.
The night he had spoken to Blithe after Carentan had been the first night Doc had touched him, so those words had to be at least part of the reason Doc thought he was a cold-blooded killer. But Speirs had only been trying to help Blithe. And he had. Blithe had fought bravely and well until he had been wounded.
He turned to face Doc. "I'd had enough by the end of D-Day."
Doc smiled at him expectantly. Speirs wanted to smile back, but it would take more than a couple of smiles to wipe away the memory of how Doc had looked at him in Buchloe.
"I know," Doc said. "I was there, remember?"
Doc's smile made no sense in the context of everything else that had gone on between them. It was sympathetic. Warm. Forgiving.
His apology had been accepted.
"Doc, why did you break curfew?"
"I knew you wouldn't leave me behind."
Speirs looked back at the view. Only a tiny sliver of sun still showed over the mountain tops. It gave him a sense of urgency, to speak before it slipped away completely.
"The view from my room is better than this," Speirs said.
"Not at night, it isn't," Doc said.
When the sun dropped behind the peaks, the temperature plunged sharply. They went inside to eat potatoes.
Speirs woke up at an unscheduled 0100. Yet nothing seemed wrong.
There was a soft knock on the door. He got out of bed, opened the door, and let Doc in.
Doc was still in his dress uniform, but without his hat and jacket. Speirs had been sleeping in PT shorts and a short-sleeved undershirt. He closed the door behind them.
"You were right. There's nothing to see at night." Speirs went to the windows and pulled the heavy drapes back to prove it.
"I can see stars," Doc said.
Speirs looked again. Now that all the lamps in the room were off, he could see a bright shining swath.
Doc let out a snort.
"What?" Speirs said.
"The mountains seem so big during the daytime, like they're the only thing you can see. But now they don't look like much. The sky is so much bigger." Doc turned away. "Close the curtains. They give me the creeps."
Speirs closed the drapes and turned on a lamp. "What gives you the creeps?"
"The mountains. We can't see them, but we can tell where they are because they hide the stars."
"They're just mountains," Speirs said.
Doc sat in a large overstuffed armchair that looked like something the Pope might sit in. Speirs sat on a large footstool near it.
"They remind me of evil," Doc said. "Sometimes evil is invisible until it blocks good. That's when you can see the shape of it."
"Doc, I think you are drunk." Speirs got up and walked to the room's bar, pouring himself some vodka. He had heard it was made out of potatoes. He was not surprised.
He poured vodka for Doc, handed it to him, then sat on the footstool again.
At night, with only a single lamp on, the room was oppressive, someone's ideal setting for deflowering German brides. The high walls were paneled from top to bottom in dark wood. All the furniture seemed the size of Panzers. The bed was largest, with heavy wooden posts girded with ironwork. The bedclothes depicted 17th century hunting scenes.
Speirs studied the embroidered faces of men and women gloating over heaps of dead animals. "I didn't shoot any German prisoners."
"I know," Doc said.
Why did Doc keep saying he knew? Doc didn't know anything. Doc had misunderstood everything he had ever done.
"Jesus Christ, Doc! It's about the men, about keeping them alive!"
"Ron, take it easy," Doc said.
Speirs rubbed his face with his hands, then looked back at Doc. "I added up the numbers and figured it out."
"What numbers? Figured out what?" Doc asked slowly.
"My balance sheet told me my men and I wouldn't survive the war. Unless I was the best soldier I could possibly be. Then we might have a chance."
"Your balance sheet? You have a journal or something?"
Speirs tapped his forehead. "Don't need to write it down."
Doc looked at him funny.
"Doesn't everybody have one?" Speirs asked.
"I don't know, Ron. I know I don't."
"Then how do you know what to do?" Speirs asked. Doc always knew what to do.
Doc thought for a moment. "Right here." He touched the left side of his chest.
"So you have one," Speirs said. "It's just lower down than mine."
Doc smiled. "I guess so."
"We're on the same side, Doc. I save the men my way, you save them your way."
"I try," Doc said.
Why were all the men Speirs respected so modest? Winters. Lipton. Doc. It was downright irritating.
"I know what you are, Doc. A traiteur. When a man is in your hands, he's safe."
"It's not like that. The men are in God's hands. God does the healing."
Speirs laughed. He knew whose hands he'd rather be in.
Doc poured more vodka into their glasses.
"Doc, I know about the prayers. I know what you were trying to do for me. But I'm not sick."
"No, just misguided."
"You don't think I'm sick in the head?'
"Nothing wrong with your head. It's your soul. Your heart."
"When I said I thought you liked it, I meant it."
"I liked it."
Speirs's balance sheet underwent such a violent adjustment he stopped breathing. Finally he sucked in a breath.
"What I didn't like is the way you tried to buy me off all the time." Doc leaned back in the chair. At some point, he had taken off his shoes and unbuttoned his shirt half way down his chest. He wasn't wearing an undershirt, Clark Gable style. "I didn't like the way you turned your back on life."
"Pass the vodka please, Doc."
"You believed evil would get you through the war, guarantee your life. You never had a thing to do with it. Think of Dike."
"Dike lived," Speirs said sourly. Bastard hadn't been blown up after all.
"What does that tell you?"
"That the Germans have lousy aim."
Doc laughed and slid off the armchair onto the floor. Doc probably was drunk—he had been drinking champagne all evening with Heffron and Spina. Speirs had left them at ten, his brief spurt of confidence at the observation platform having ebbed away.
Doc crawled the short distance to Speirs's footstool and sat on the floor next to him, then spoke as earnestly as he could, which was so earnest Speirs thought it would make him cry.
"I prayed you would understand that God gave you life, and only he can take it away."
"I want to believe it," Speirs said after a minute. "But that might be only because you're saying it." He breathed shallowly as Doc moved closer to him, leaning against him.
Doc studied him for a while. "Maybe I'm wrong. Because you are the best soldier there ever was, Ron."
Speirs wondered if his balance sheet could zero itself out and disappear.
He touched Doc's hair. It was thick and rough, growing in all directions, like the fur of young animals.
"I felt alive when you touched me. That was the only time I felt alive during the whole damn war," Speirs said. "The rest of the time, I was afraid even to breathe."
"Ron. Time for you to shut up."
Speirs grabbed the front of Doc's shirt and yanked it to get the remaining buttons undone. Doc rolled onto his back. Speirs made short work of Doc's clothes, then peeled off his own shorts and T-shirt.
Doc stood up and got on the bed, burrowing under the heavy covers. Speirs turned off the lamp and followed him. He was afraid to touch Doc all of a sudden. Perhaps he didn't want Doc to feel his hands shaking. Fortunately, Doc touched him first. Warm, hard hands on his back and shoulders and neck.
Closing his eyes, he touched Doc. He wasn't sure what he was touching, then realized it was a knee. Doc's left knee.
He felt it slowly, carefully, for a long time: the hard round bone he could move with his fingers, the sinews on the back of the knee.
Many times, he had seen Doc, wearing only shorts, running around the baseball diamond. Doc's hair and eyes were black, but his skin stayed white, even in the sun. Speirs had never seen anyone else like that. He touched Doc's thighs. They were hard and strong.
At that moment, Speirs felt so alive he could run up mountains. Hell, he and Doc had run up mountains. Carefully, he slid his hands up until they rested on Doc's shoulders. Even so, he knew Doc had felt his hands shaking. He moved his face closer until he could feel Doc's breath on his mouth.
Jesus Christ! Why was he moving so slow? They weren't going to break.
He jumped on top of Doc and kissed him hard. He grabbed Doc's hair, pressed himself against Doc's thigh, and ground himself into him. He could feel Doc grinding back, just as strong as he was, just as hard.
Doc put his hands on Speirs's shoulders and shoved, so he moved down and kissed Doc's neck. Then Doc put his hands on top of Speirs's head and pushed down even harder.
When his head had been forced down as far as Doc's chest, he finally got the hint. Good thing, as Doc was about to break his neck. He slid down the rest of the way, kneeling and grabbing Doc's legs. He tried to go slow, but failed, using too much speed and suction and teeth. Moving Doc's legs up over his shoulders, he wanted to have so strongly it hurt.
Doc was saying stuff in French, but it was not a prayer, unless he was praying for Speirs not to stop.
His hair was pulled. He was kicked a few times. He didn't back off. He could feel the moment of turning approach, Doc losing his self-control, at last letting Speirs take it and guard it for a moment that went on and on.
He moved up and kissed Doc, then, taking his cue from Doc on how to communicate, he shoved Doc until he rolled onto his stomach.
Speirs shouldn't even be thinking about this. Doc most likely had never done it. Not that Doc was inexperienced. Far from it. Speirs had a hunch Eugene had finished his sinning early.
Then he remembered the hair pomade, greasy stuff that made his hair completely flat and slicked back. He leapt off the bed, found the tin in the bathroom, and returned seconds later. He put his hands on Doc's ass and kneaded.
Doc was moving on the bed, as if he were dog paddling, but he wasn't going anywhere. Speirs dipped his finger into the pomade and rubbed it on himself, breathing sharply, then scooped up more with two fingers and rubbed it all over Doc's ass, finally narrowing his approach.
"You sure you want to try this?" Speirs felt his fingers hit just the right spot, and he pushed them in.
"Yeah." Doc panted. "Now."
Speirs's hands weren't shaking anymore, his whole body was. As soon as he felt himself sink in slightly, he pushed in all the way. He came back to himself in time to stop moving. Damn his impatience. That had to have hurt.
"Unh," Doc moaned. "Fucking Mary Mother of Christ!"
Speirs hoped that meant it felt good, because it turned him crazy. His hips pumped so hard the heavy bed bashed the wall. He grabbed Doc's hands and hung onto them. Minutes or hours later, he found himself kneeling, with Doc on his knees and elbows, and his hands on the back of Doc's neck.
He had studied engineering before enlisting, and somehow he must have known this gave him the best leverage, short of building some kind of machine to hold Doc for him. As soon as the thought came to him, his mind instantly drew up a plan of the apparatus, complete with Doc in it. He screamed himself hoarse.
He woke up too early, five in the morning. For a moment he didn't know why, then he felt the weight of Doc next to him. He shook him gently. Doc grumbled and rolled off the bed. Speirs helped him gather his clothes. Doc got them on. Speirs kissed him at the door and asked Where? Doc told him his room number in the lodge, then left to get there before anyone else was awake.
Speirs pulled the drapes open and climbed back into the bed to wait. The sun was just coming up. In a little while, he'd go to Eugene's room, and they would go down to the dining hall to eat breakfast together.
Looking out at the infinite sky and the insignificant mountains, he could feel that the war was going to end soon.