Saunders glanced up. Checking him out from the rim of the deep foxhole was a pair of dark eyes set in a comical mask. Brushy eyebrows rimmed the expressive eyes and a mustache of monumental proportions enhanced an open laughing mouth, the overall effect not unlike that of a prim and proper British gentleman. All that was lacking was a pipe held firmly between the small white teeth. What the apparition did not resemble was a dog.
Had the situation not been so dire Saunders would've laughed out loud. As things stood he chuckled softly.
"What're you doing here, boy?"
Saunders reached out a hand. The dog sniffed the extended fingers and woofed in response. Although the sergeant could not see the dog's tail, he knew it had to be wagging furiously if the animated expression on the dog's face was any indication.
Saunders patted his thigh. "Come on, boy. Come on in."
The dog whined and seemed unsure if he wanted to join his new friend in the foxhole, but after a moment of Saunders cajoling, the little dog took the leap of faith, landing in the G.I.'s arms.
Saunders held the wriggling body close to his chest while attempting to keep the dog from thoroughly washing his face with its overly moist tongue. In a moment the dog relaxed and Saunders got the first good look at the animal.
Underneath a matted wiry coat, the animal was skinny to the extreme. Saunders felt the bones as he worked his way from neck to rump with his hands. The end of the long tail was missing and the pads of the feet were raw.
Saunders sighed. He put the dog down while he rummaged through his knapsack. A moment later the starving animal was enjoying his first meal in who knew how long, courtesy of the American soldier and an opened can of mystery meat. The mutilated tail wagged in bliss as the little dog got down to the business of eating.
"It's a wonder you remember how to eat."
The little dog, named Lucky by the men, became King Company's unofficial mascot. Lucky accompanied the men everywhere, becoming friendly to each of the squad members but remaining staunchly loyal to the man who'd first befriended him, Sergeant Chip Saunders. If Saunders left the dog behind due to a dangerous mission, Lucky waited patiently at the spot where he'd last seen the sergeant. No amount of coaxing or bribing would move the little animal from the spot. Only the reappearance of the sergeant could do that.
One day the sergeant did not return. Lucky waited and waited. The weather turned poor; rain pelted the ground and the wind blew madly, yet still Lucky sat, all his attention turned toward the road where he last saw his beloved sergeant.
"Well, Littlejohn? Where's Lucky? You said you'd get him in. Where is he?" Kirby sat on his pallet nursing a sprained ankle. He lit up a smoke and waited for his friend's reply.
Littlejohn held out his hand. At the base of his thumb several small punctures oozed blood. His shoulders were rounded with defeat and his expression was, well, hangdog.
Kirby shook his head. "Couldn't do it, huh? Couldn't get one little ole dog to come in outta the rain. Pitiful, Littlejohn. Just pitiful."
The big PFC sat next to Kirby on the floor. "You try then. Let's see how far you get!"
Kirby shook his head. "No way. Mama Kirby didn't raise no stupid children. If that dog don't wanna move for nobody but the Sarge, well then he can just stay put is all."
Littlejohn finished wrapping a handkerchief around his bleeding appendage before looking up at Kirby, his expression worried. "What if…what if the Sarge doesn't come back?" His voice was a whisper as if to say it out loud would make it come true.
"Aw, that's a stupid thing ta say. A course the Sarge is comin' back." But Kirby wasn't so sure. Saunders and Caje had been gone way too long for a simple recon. Kirby shifted on his pallet. "What a stupid thing ta say." He rolled over, showing Littlejohn his back.
Lieutenant Hanley stood in the doorway his attention focused down the road. Saunders and Caje had been gone almost 24 hours. The recon should've taken 8 at most.
The bedraggled shivering figure of the little dog caught Hanley's eye. He'd witnessed Littlejohn's attempt to pick up the animal and Kirby's furtive try at doing the same which, like Littlejohn's effort, ended in failure and some minor bloodletting.
Hanley tossed the butt of his smoke out into the wet street and ducked back inside his temporary command post. A moment later he reappeared, a worn towel in hand. Lucky never turned at his approach, but a low growl alerted the officer the little dog knew he was there.
Hanley crouched down and draped the towel over the dog. Lucky made no move to snap. In fact he raised his head and looked up at the lieutenant as if to say thanks. Whether it was thanks for not trying to keep him from his self-appointed post or thanks for the rain coat, it didn't matter to Hanley.
"That's okay, boy. I'm not going to move you. You just wait there for Saunders. He's coming back. You know it. I know it."