The Million-Dollar Wound

Free The Million-Dollar Wound by Max Allan Collins

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Authors: Max Allan Collins
Tags: Nathan Heller
one in a slightly different direction.
    He did it so quickly there seemed to be only one explosion.
    And one high-pitched scream of terror.
    And then Barney was standing up, bracing his rifle against the log, firing and screaming, “Got you, you dirty fuckin’ bastard!”
    Such profanity was rare from Barney, but he was right: he had got the dirty fuckin’ bastard, only more machine-gun and rifle fire was coming our way—not from as close as the guy Barney just nailed, but coming and coming closer.
    We started in firing again, and within fifteen minutes were running out of ammo. Soon we’d be down to the .45 automatics on our hips.
    “One clip left,” I said. Eight rounds.
    “Cover me while I go over and get the rest of the grenades.”
    I used my eight rounds sparingly, but they were gone before Barney was back. D’Angelo, groggy but willing, was suddenly at my side, handing me a .45.
    “It’s Monawk’s,” the kid said. “He won’t mind.”
    Monawk was out of it again.
    By the time I’d emptied the .45, Barney had scrambled back in, dropping handfuls of grenades like deadly eggs into a basket.
    “Gotta make another trip,” he said, and scrambled back out.
    I’d just taken my own .45 out of its holster when the mortar fire started in; I ducked down into the hole. The shells were landing close. White-hot shrapnel was flying, but it missed us.
    It didn’t miss Barney. He was on his way back to us with the rest of the grenades as the burning shrapnel ate into his side, his arm, his leg.
    “Bastards, bastard, bastards!” he was screaming.
    He stumbled back to the hole and I pulled him down in and put rough dressings on the wounds. The mortar barrage kept pounding on, and on. Like my feverish head. And everybody else but Barney in the goddamn hole was sleeping. That’s war for you—you end up envying guys who passed out.
    Then the shelling stopped.
    We waited for the lull to explode away; half an hour slipped by, and the lull continued. Darkness blanketed us, now. We’d be hard for the Japs to find at night. But hard for anybody else to find, either.
    “How are Fremont and Watkins?” I asked Barney.
    “Watkins is conscious, or anyway he was. Fremont’s got his finger in his stomach trying to stop the flow of blood.”
    “Jesus.”
    “Poor bastard doesn’t stand a chance.”
    “I wonder if any of us do.”
    “I thought the infantry or B Company would’ve come to the rescue by now.”
    “There was a chance of that, till it got dark. They sure as hell won’t try to advance at night.”
    He shook his head. “Poor Whitey’s still lyin’ where the boys dropped him. Dead by now. Poor bastard.”
    “Only difference between us and him is that we’re already in a hole.”
    The mosquitoes were feasting on us, crawling in our hair. Barney was chewing some snuff to keep his thirst at bay—he’d given his water to the wounded men—and I was having a smoke, shaking, sweat dripping down my forehead in a salty waterfall. The fever seemed to keep me from getting hungry, that was something, anyway. But Christ I was thirsty, Jesus I could use some water.
    It began to rain.
    “Thanks for small favors,” I told the sky.
    Barney and I each had a shelter half along, and we covered the two shell holes with the camouflage tenting, or anyway Barney did. I was too weak even for that. The rain seemed to rouse the wounded men and boys to the point of being able to move themselves. We huddled together. As the shelter half collected water, I stuck my head out and tilted the tenting over and drank from its edge; Barney did, too, guzzling at it greedily. We drained the water into a canteen and passed it around to the wounded. Monawk was in especially bad shape, now, conscious, but moaning like a dying man.
    The hole stayed fairly dry, but Barney and I would occasionally stick our heads out into the refreshing cloudburst; so did D’Angelo, who seemed in better shape than the others. Thirsty again, I drank from puddles

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