Rank has its Privileges
Saunders kept his gaze to the ground careful where he placed his steps on the pockmarked road. A wrenched knee ached like the devil and another misplaced footfall would leave him in agony. He'd fallen way behind the other men, but since they were behind American lines that fact didn't concern him overly. And Lieutenant Hanley should be showing up any moment. A leg wound got him a ride in Captain Jampel's jeep. Rank did have its privileges.
So involved was the sergeant with his own difficulties he almost failed to notice the white dog lying at the edge of the road. A low, rumbling growl quickly turned Saunders' attention outward. He stopped.
Black eyes looked up at him through slitted lids and for a moment the sergeant wondered how the dog could see through such narrow apertures. A red tongue lolled from the corner of the opened mouth and at Saunders' words of welcome, the lips drew back in what appeared to be a smile!
Saunders laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen a dog actually smile before."
The whip-like tail beat a staccato rhythm against the ground and the smile grew broader. The sergeant bent over to pat the triangular head, scratching the spot between the upright ears. The growl intensified for it was no growl at all. Had the dog been a cat the sound would've been called a purr. As it was…
The sergeant limped to the side of the road and sat down on a fallen log. The dog followed, limping badly on a sore hind leg.
"Seems we're in the same boat, uh, boy?" Saunders reached into his shirt and withdrew a c-ration box which he tore open. The dog sat expectantly at his feet, at attention, or so it appeared, waiting for what he seemed to know would be coming his way.
Saunders opened a can of tinned cheese and offered the dog a chunk. The food was wolfed down in a second. The tail whipped furiously now and the laughing expression widened. The cheese soon found its way into the white dog's empty belly. Saunders made do with dry crackers washed down with canteen water, the water he also shared with the dog.
"Don't think I've ever seen a dog that looks like you before." Indeed, the head was egg-shaped, the profile most unusual, the coat short and beneath dirt and grime, white. The eyes were mere slits and the nose shiny black. The body was medium-sized and sturdy even for an animal who'd been going hungry; Saunders thought it was the barrel chest that made the dog appear so. The legs were short with the back ones slightly bowed. And that silly, laughing face made the sergeant grin despite himself.
Saunders rose to his feet and tried out the bad knee. It nearly buckled as he put some weight on it, but a few short steps and he realized walking was possible if not painless.
He and the dog made it back to the road. They hadn't gone fifty yards before Saunders heard the sound of a speeding vehicle. Too late for him to take cover in the nearby brush, he and the dog limped painfully off to the side and waited. American-held territory or not, Saunders kept his finger on the trigger of his Thompson.
He needn't have worried. The vehicle was the jeep carrying Captain Jampel and Lieutenant Hanley. It came to a stop beside Saunders.
Hanley grinned. "Found a friend, Sergeant?"
"Yeah, seems that way, Lieutenant."
Hanley's grin turned serious. "I've seen that dog before." He pondered a moment before turning to the captain.
"How 'bout you, sir. Have you seen this dog somewhere?"
Jampel wasted no time in answering, but got out of the jeep to crouch at the dog's side. His ministrations were met with the same thumping trail and happy expression as had Saunders'.
The captain looked from the dog to the sergeant. "Don't you know whose dog this is?"
Saunders shook his head.
Jampel looked at Hanley. "And you, Lieutenant? Any ideas?"
Hanley frowned. "No, sir."
"Guess neither one of you men reads Stars and Stripes then."
Saunders shrugged and Hanley looked somewhat embarrassed.
Jampel got to his feet and lifted the dog into his arms. "This dog is a bull terrier named Willie and he's been missing from his master for two weeks."
"And his master would be, sir?" Saunders asked.
"No less a personage than General George Patton." Jampel replied. "Willie's disappearance has been big news through the grapevine." He settled Willie into the back seat of the jeep next to the lieutenant. The dog smiled into Hanley's face. Hanley smiled back. "There's a reward…"
Saunders sighed, but not deeply enough or loudly enough for Captain Jampel to hear. Officers and privileges, he thought.
"One week R and R in London." Jampel took a blanket from the floor and wrapped it about Willie's shoulders before climbing into the jeep's front seat.
"Hop in, Saunders. There's room next to the dog."
Saunders nodded, limped to the far side of the vehicle and eased himself in next to Willie. Willie laid down, resting his head on the sergeant's knee.
"Thanks for the ride, Captain."
"No trouble at all, sergeant. Besides, the general will want to thank you in person for finding his dog. His CP's just ahead."
The driver put the jeep in gear and the vehicle roared off in a cloud of dust. Jampel turned in his seat, shouting over the din. "Know where you'll spend that week in London, sergeant?"
Saunders just smiled. Rank indeed.