FICTION SERIAL (part fifteen): A Newspaper Man Changes Everything

Artist Unknown

Lieutenant Weldon suggests a scouting mission and regrets it.

“Weldon!” called the colonel who rarely made it up before noon.

“Yes, sir?”

James cleared his throat and spit, smelling as usual of the previous night’s whiskey as he entered headquarters. “I’ve noticed that you’re fond of putting things in order…always working on this or that report about what I don’t know.”

“You might to read them sometime, sir.”

James laughed. “Why would I want to do that? From my shady ramada I can see full well that, aside from the occasional intoxicated savage wandering in and cursing the government or the dogs humping each other on parade, nothing much is happening here. You entertain me with your harsh style of discipline though. Nearly drowning Lyons for drunkenness was such excitement we hardly ever have. My lovely wife takes bets on when an all-out mutiny will occur. Mrs. James is quite taken with you, Weldon, but I warn you– you may look, but you can’t touch.”

“I have no wish to be anywhere near Mrs. James, sir. As usual you’ve found a new way to disgust me,” Weldon said, dipping his pen and making to get back to work.

“Be careful, Weldon, I’m still your superior. I tolerate you because you foolishly take your assignments seriously. As you know, my hands are tied when it comes to real promotions—it’s the system.”

“I know, sir. Is that all?”

“Don’t be so quick to dismiss me, lieutenant. I may be of some help to you.”

Weldon glanced up, shook his head and went back to his papers.

“Really, Weldon, you might want to curb your suspicious nature. It’s off putting,” James advised as he fingered through the pile of papers on Weldon’s desk. “Now, we’ve come upon a problem with Beckenbauer. Although he’s tried his darnedest to run the commissary and the quartermaster departments here, he’s failed. On our last scout before you arrived he went plumb loco in the heat and is near an imbecile now. Mind you, he was always a little off. Men would find him fondling himself at strange and inappropriate times like when the Jesuits came for a visit. Anyway, it makes one sick to think that he ever handled food and such.”

“What will become of Beckenbauer, sir?”

“Oh, I’ll bring him up on charges and get rid of him, but that’s no concern of yours. This place is disease ridden, and a person has to be strong here to survive. I bet you could do with some extras for the little ones and Mrs. Weldon. General Stoneman has designated this location as a feeding station for the friendly Apaches—what a laugh—but we need someone to manage the books. There may be some financial incentives, too.”

“A raise in pay, sir?”

“Well, I’m not sure of the details, but I need an answer soon. I want the books in order before anyone comes snooping around.”

“May I ask why you expect snoops?”

The colonel huffed impatiently and his nose, enlarged from sun and drink, took on a purple glow. “If you must know every detail, I will tell you. I pitied Beckenbauer for far too long, and I suspect he may have made a right mess of the books. We can ill afford such incompetence when the supplies for the Indians arrive. I can order you to do it, but you’ll be better served if you accept my offer.”

“I’ll discuss it with Mrs. Weldon and . . .”

“My Weldon, I see you must jump through hoops to get that twat; maybe that’s why you are so hard on your men.”

“Sir, I’ll do my best to carry out your orders, but I wonder, sir, if you’ve given any thought to a scout.”

“Frankly, lieutenant, I never give much thought to scouts—I just jump in come what may when the mood strikes. And most of the men here don’t enjoy marching out and camping.”

“The better men have expressed an interest and are tired of the papers saying we’re not doing our job.”

“Oh, so you’ve convinced the men to work, have you? I’m sure they’re just avoiding being horse whipped by you. I told you having the local papers for the men to read would be a bad idea. We don’t answer to the Tucson papers.”

“Well, who do we answer to, sir?”

“The people of the United States; most don’t want us to do a damned thing. That suits me fine and you’ll find that most men agree with me.”

“If we aren’t going to do our job then there’s no point in drilling the men.”

“My point exactly,” James said, tapping the reports again.

“Some soldiers want to do their duty, sir.”

“Don’t you dare, Lieutenant Weldon,” the colonel said, looking hurt. “I served my time in Mexico and during the war. You’re nothing but a small time martinet with lots of big ideas you couldn’t possibly carry out. I asked about you and correspond with my friends in Washington. Seems you got quite a lot of men to go follow you in the Wilderness. I hear most ain’t around to tell about it, and you were rash and lacking in judgment. Don’t go insinuating I don’t know my job.”

Weldon’s heart pounded. “S-sir, if you allow me to organize a scout for the men wanting to go, I’ll be able to write a report to the papers showing we’re trying to protect the citizens. It would look good for you, sir.”

The colonel mulled over the idea and clapped his hands together. “Yes, Weldon, you may do it. You’re a pain in my arse, but you’ve hit upon something. It may keep the higher ups off my back if you write something favorable. But you had better not take my best Euchre players.”

“There’s no worry about that, and I’ll invite along the newsman.”

“A newsman? Well, that changes everything then. I shall come along, too.”

Weldon kicked himself all the way back to his quarters that evening and sat sullenly through another less than ample meal.

















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