The Trench Rats: Part 11
HE TAPPED HIS fingers on the desktop in a maddening pattern, staring at the report in his other hand. His face grew darker with every passing second. The paper had been typed up hurriedly and was full of misspellings and errors, yet that wasn't what bothered him. What bothered him was that it was exactly the same as the handful of other reports he had received in the past several months.
The two soldiers standing at the other side of the room shrank back in on themselves when he crumpled the paper in his hand with an enraged growl and stood, throwing it across the room. Then, for good measure, he toppled his desklamp and sent it crashing to the floor.
"I want this to be our TOP priority!" he roared. "To find this Rat, catch him, and make him DEAD!"
"General," the lieutenant said, calmly as he could, considering. "Several attempts have been made to capture the Silbergeist but all have failed..."
"I DO NOT CARE!" Schavich bellowed, kicking the remains of the lamp away. "And you will call him by what he is--a FILTHY TRENCH RAT!"
"He kills everyone who sees him!" the other soldier, a sergeant--and the same one who had been knocked out by the Ghost--blurted out. "No one survives once they see the Silber--"
"ENOUGH!!" the general roared. The two soldiers cowered again, the sergeant especially as Schavich came up and shouted in his face. "You speak out of line, Sergeant! There are those who HAVE survived seeing the filthy thing. Such as yourself! And you will STOP AFFORDING HIM RESPECT HE DOES NOT DESERVE--HE IS NOT A DAMNED GHOST!!"
Schavich fumed and headed back toward his desk. He felt like hurling his chair ten feet. Instead he sat down in it heavily. "Lieutenant. Give me news. And it had better be good news. If I hear he managed to break into yet another of our centers and twist everyone's necks, then I will be twisting necks!"
The two others swallowed. "General," the lieutenant said again, stepping forward. "I received word today that a certain someone I have sent for should be arriving at any time now. He should be able to help us with our Trench Rat problem."
Schavich fell silent for a brief moment, eyeing him suspiciously...with his one good eye, that is. The other he had lost, to the Trench Rat sergeant himself. This fueled not a little of his anger. "Who do you speak of?" he demanded.
"A specialist I called in from the north. He has had much experience dealing with vermin such as this. I doubt the Rats would give him much trouble. Please just be patient, General, and he will arrive shortly."
"Shortly?" Schavich scowled. "The wait had better be short--for my temper grows short as well!"
The lieutenant merely nodded, apparently knowing any other words would have no reassuring effect. The two stood like statues, and Schavich sat back in his chair, fingers tapping anew.
They must have waited for about twenty minutes before the sergeant's ears pricked up and he turned to look out the window. The other two followed suit. A small Jeep was pulling past the building and around in front, beyond their line of view. When Schavich sat up again with interest the lieutenant opened the office door and murmured something to the person standing outside. He then shut the door and nodded at the general.
"General. I believe he's arrived. I've sent Klemper to fetch him to us with all haste."
"This had better be good."
"Trust me, General, it's worth the wait."
Schavich muttered to himself but said nothing.
Tap-tap-tap. He wanted to start digging his nails into the desk to see how deep a groove he could leave when the door opened again and a private stepped in, saluting, one arm held out stiff.
"Sir! Someone to see you. He says he comes on request to help with our problem."
"Send him in already! You'd step into a room before a guest, Private?"
Klemper flushed and withdrew his arm, stepping backwards. He motioned with one hand even as Schavich jerked his head for the other two to get out. They saluted and left, and the one they'd called for came in.
Schavich looked him over with some interest as he approached, yet couldn't tell why this particular person had been called in. He was taller than many of their number, but not overly so, and not as tall as Schavich. He wasn't thin, but neither was he muscular; lithe might have been a better word. He wore a plain olive drab uniform with no insignia, and the only way Schavich could tell his rank was by the bar on his pocket. When he reached Schavich, the general got a good look at his eyes--pale blue, they had a strange, slightly amused yet aloof look to them. His fur was medium-light gray and from his angular face Schavich could tell he was of good northern stock. Schavich stood and saluted, only to be surprised when the newcomer responded by touching his hand to his forehead, in a normal salute.
Schavich gaped at him a moment before glaring at the private.
"Sir!" Klemper said again, sticking up his arm. "First Lieutenant 'Ratdog,' formerly of our Fourth Battalion."
"Ratdog?" Schavich peered at him again, frowning. "How do I know that name?"
"Sir. He was responsible for planning the attack that killed seven Trench Rats just last winter."
"I could have asked him this myself, Private! You'll keep your mouth shut until I ask you to open it!"
Another glare from the general, this one impatient and annoyed. "Lieutenant. You've obviously been called here without any prior knowledge on my part, you may as well make yourself of use."
"Yes, General." His voice was as neutral as his stare. Schavich bit down on his tongue.
"My own lieutenant says you're well used to dealing with our little 'problem'? Killing seven Rats is no indication that one knows what they're doing."
"I well understand, General. I make no claims to be infallible."
"Yet you believe you can get rid of these pests?"
"I believe that I am the best shot you have, General."
The general's eyes darkened. He didn't like how the lieutenant never said "Sir." It struck him as...uppity, somehow. "Very well then. Seeing as the only way you can prove you're the right one for the job is to do the job straight out, perhaps then that's what I'll have you do, taking care of these vermin." He glared at Klemper, who stiffened at attention, and pointed at the ball of paper wadded up on the floor. "Private! Bring that here!"
A salute. Klemper went to retrieve the crumpled report, handing it back to him, then giving yet another salute. Schavich wanted to break his arm off. Instead he nearly tore up the paper as he unfolded it and smoothed it out.
"I want you to take a look at this, Lieutenant."
Ratdog took the wrinkled paper and looked it over. His expression never changed, not even when he handed it back and touched his hand to his forehead again.
Schavich frowned. "Well?"
"I am not certain what you're asking for, General."
"Didn't you read it? The Silbergeist. He murdered four more of our men last night, and because of him our prisoners were later allowed to escape."
Ratdog just stared at him, neutral as ever.
The general had to bite down his temper. "In case you didn't comprehend that time...the Silbergeist. He has been active again. This is their second raid in just as many months, and they're only stepping up their attacks. Lest you grow too confident, he could be snapping your neck next."
When Ratdog still didn't say anything, he added, fuming, "He is responsible for singlehandedly killing at least thirty, more likely fifty or so of our number. His stealth actions have likely led to the deaths of up to four or five times that amount. He is the one Trench Rat we most want DEAD, and he is also the one who seems most impossible to stop. As my sergeant would have loved to tell you, he kills anyone who gets in his way. That would include you."
"If the purpose of this information is to give me second thoughts about accepting this mission, General, then I am already decided to go through with it. With your permission."
Schavich just stared at him again, eyes wide. It was a moment or two before he could even speak.
"Did you not read the report in full? Have you never heard of this Rat?"
"I merely browsed the report but I did look over the important parts. Four of your men with their necks broken. One male and one female survivor. And having had dealings with the Trench Rats before, of course I know of their Silver Rat."
The general narrowed his eyes. "This is what you call him, 'Silver Rat'? Everyone else calls him the Silbergeist. Perhaps you've been too far afield, too long?"
"Not likely, General. But he is merely a Trench Rat and not a ghost. Granted, an exceptionally skilled Trench Rat, but only a Rat just the same."
Silence. Klemper started shifting from foot to foot. After a moment an ominous grin came to the general's face.
"Well," he commented. "Someone after my own mind. It's about time someone else realized that we're dealing with a filthy Trench Rat and not some specter. Yet this still leaves open your solution to the problem. I've assumed already that you plan on attacking the Trench Rats somehow, whether solitary or in units?"
"And how are you going to deal with our lovely Silbergeist?"
"Easily, General. Bullets do not kill ghosts. But they kill Rats." Ratdog tilted his head forward, catching his eye. "Most effectively so."