Taz and Kodak

by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

The Art of War

The evening card game was going strong and even the observers offered their suggestions to the players. An ample amount of beer had begun flowing earlier in the evening. The supply seemed endless.

Kodak lay on his bunk reading 'All's Quiet on the Western Front,' another war story from his growing stack of novels. Each time he took the film to the airfield to be sent stateside there were a couple more books waiting for him.

The new novel was a different kind of war story and like 'The Red Badge of Courage' it told the story of a soldier who was neither hero nor coward, merely a pawn in the game of war. His life was no longer his own. The odds of him going home were in question. Kodak saw his professor in the story. He wanted to know everything about war but he wondered if he wasn't learning too much.

Kodak noticed when someone brought Taz a beer from where it was stacked at the far end of the tent near the card players. There was a ceremony taking place in plain view but it took Kodak some time realize what it was he was seeing.

He held his book in front of his face but he stopped reading to watch. One by one squad members walked to Taz's bunk to hand him a beer. Taz had the big rifle broken apart and was taking care to clean each piece individually. He was in his green army boxers, a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and the flip flops everyone wore to cross the compound.

As someone came to him, Taz sat whatever piece of his weapon he was working on down on the cloth to take the beer. Kodak expected something to be said. Taz simply nodded that single distinctive nod that told you he'd seen you. Taking the beer indicated the offering had been accepted and whichever soldier it was, returned to the card game. Taz put the beer beside the others next to the clip he kept on the cross member above his bunk before going back to his work.

This was all new. Kodak wanted to reach for his notebook to write it all down but he didn't. He kept his novel up to cover his spying. By the time Taz had begun to reassemble the big rifle, everyone but Jacoby had walked down to pay his respects. No one even looked at Kodak. The ceremony seemed complete and Kodak went back to his book, trying not to confuse the wars.

The beer wasn't at much risk of cooling off. The hot humid night along with the time the beer had been stacked in the back of the tent meant they were all hot, but Kodak knew it wasn't about the beer. It was about respect. It seemed a fitting tribute to the tiny tornado who fought like a demon.

Later that night with the rock & roll music rocking the tent, a bottle appeared from nowhere. It was in Taz's hands shortly after Jacoby went out and returned in the time it took for a pee break, so Kodak couldn't be sure he was the source of the booze. His nose was deep in the latest novel and he didn't see where it came from.

With most of the beer gone, Taz drank long after the noise mellowed and the squad was in their bunks, after the long day. Kodak knew there was only one result from Taz drinking too much for too long. It was obviously his reward for a job well done.

Taz had not left the tent and Kodak knew he'd need to be more vigilant if he wanted to catch where the bottle came from.

It was the following afternoon when Kodak was reminded Taz needed to be showered and at the mess tent by the evening meal. He thought the chore would be changed by the events of the day before.

He'd expected to be educated about war and he had been. Being educated about the men who fought the war wasn't a priority, until now. Kodak flashed back again to the characters in 'The Naked and the Dead.' Each was as distinctive as men can be. He'd not believed that to be true in 1st squad. Slowly it was becoming clear how distinctive the men of 1st squad were.

He'd stayed in his bunk for a long time earlier that morning, remembering the sequence of events from the day before, all the time looking at the drunk in the bunk across from him. He remembered the details with ease and didn't write anything in his notebook, until after he went over it in his head.

It was difficult for Kodak to see the soldier in the drunk. He had a respect for Taz that wasn't there before. The surly, taciturn soldier revealed a less harsh, kinder side. Kodak liked that Taz, even if it was a limited reconciliation. He expected the nicer Taz to remain, now that he'd surfaced, and Kodak knew it was his hope.

Kodak was anxious to get the prints back to see just what he'd captured during his first firefight, but that would be more than a week away. The flights came from and went to the States daily, but the paper had yet to have much to say about what he was sending them. It took at least a week for him to get prints from the rolls he sent the week before if processed them immediately.

Taz was on his belly, face down, unmoving, drooling on the green army blanket under him. He could be dead, Kodak reasoned, knowing dead drunk was more accurate. The fighting fool was an off duty mess, but why?

Taz had a greater degree of control over his actions than Kodak realized. That created an even greater contradiction. It took one firefight for Kodak to see Taz's place in the squad. He'd given his all on the battlefield. As a drunk he was unrepentant.

Taz was far more difficult with Kodak than he had been with Washington. Kodak wasn't as strong or as experienced dealing with a drunk as Washington. This could explain his greater struggle in performing the same duty. Making it difficult for the new guy was half the fun for Taz. He enjoyed making Kodak work at making sense of him and his conduct. There wasn't a lot to do during off duty time.

Sgt. Jacoby roused Kodak from his reverie. The sun had worked its way around to shine into the open front tent flaps. It shinned in bright on the floor and on Taz.

"Go ahead and get him up and by the time you shower him the mess tent will have slowed down. You know he needs a meal or he'll get ornery. You don't want him to get ornery."

No, Kodak reflected, he didn't want that. He nodded as Sgt. Jacoby moved to the back of the tent, returning from the afternoon briefing. He knew he'd stalled for long enough. He had eaten lunch but he was in the mood for one of the mystery desserts and some coffee.

Kodak was facing the dilemma of a wardrobe shortage. He didn't for a minute think Taz was serious about his comments from the mess tent the day before, but it did put the imagery in his head. It's not the kind of thing he'd think of on his own.

With him wearing his last clean pair of shorts he'd most definitely need to keep them dry. He didn't want Taz to have more ammunition to hold against him, but he couldn't avoid it this time and he made a mental note to send for some long pants and extra underwear, when he wrote home.

Once Taz was up and the bed was stripped, the wet cot was carried outside and a replacement brought with a fresh blanket, while Kodak half carried and half dragged the drunken soldier to the showers. The dirt strip in between was empty and at the heat of the day most soldiers were busy staying as cool as possible.

The sun did make the shower warmer and that was a plus. Kodak eased Taz down on one of the benches to strip him out of his boxers and T-shirt before he stripped down. Taz was immediately complaining as Kodak forced him under the steady stream of water.

Once Taz was all wet the struggle was over. Kodak held onto him firmly from behind and waited for the gasp that would signal he was ready to stand on his own. For the first time Kodak realized that there was a certain excitement with being that close to someone. He'd managed to stay a virgin for twenty years, which was mostly due to his acne, reddish hair, and flight worthy ears, or so he had been convinced. Holding Taz was as close as he'd been to another human being, except for his sisters who delighted in hugging him to make him blush.

It didn't matter that he wasn't attracted to guys, because he wasn't attracted to anything yet. Feeling the warm skin of Taz in his arms was nice but hardly sexual. The feel of his well developed chest and the way his penis stayed in proximity to the crack of Taz's ass was disconcerting. He'd noticed none of this before and of course Taz still hadn't started sobering up yet.

Waiting for the telltale gasp, he was the sole support for the drunken soldier. Taz's fingers were alarming as they wrapped around his penis to move it to one side. Kodak was flabbergasted by the contact and almost dropped Taz without being certain he could stand.

He'd handled Taz's verbal assault on his character smoothly the day before, having readied himself for most anything Taz said. This was nothing like that and he felt himself blushing and was totally embarrassed. It wasn't something he expected to happen.

It was only after a minute of constant squeezing that Kodak felt he had to protest.

"Taz," he said softly, not sure of who might be within earshot. "You're creating a problem."

"Yes, and you're a dangerous, dangerous man."

"Let go," Kodak said, feeling flush.

"Not as long as you're behind me. That thing is way too ready for me to take the chance on you being a nice boy."

"I can't help it," Kodak said. "It was fine until you grabbed it."

"Leave me to stand on my own. If I fall down you can rush in and pick me up."

"Okay, but let go. You're hurting me."

"Yeah, well, with all that blood rushing into that thing it's a wonder you're still conscious."

"It's not that big," Kodak objected as Taz held fast.

"It's big enough I don't want it in my bung hole. A lesser man might have a chance if I was drunk enough."

"Taz, cut it out. I'll back up if you let go."

The bargaining ended and Kodak was left a bit dizzy and uncomfortable after an unexpected encounter. Each time he was sure everything was under control, he discovered it wasn't up to him. Each time he thought he'd learned all of Taz's moves, a new one surfaced.

Taz wasn't a man to dwell on the obvious, but he did enjoy making Kodak squirm. This was not going to be something Kodak wanted to talk about and he was glad when Taz let it drop while they finished up in the showers.

"I'm hungry. Where's my towel," Taz growled in his 'I don't like being sober' voice.

Kodak handed it to him from an arm's length and Taz was immediately rubbing his wet head before he dried off. Tying the towel around his waist, he headed off across the compound with Kodak still behind him, not sure why he hadn't remembered clothes for Taz.

Taz dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and headed off in the direction of the mess tent with Kodak in pursuit. The limited conversation got no argument from either of them.

The mess tent was nearly empty and Taz led the way through the line, loading up after a day without food. They sat on the corner of a table off to one corner of the dining area. Late lunch traffic was light.

Usually Taz ate alone and Kodak ate with his friends, but on drunk days, there was one meal Kodak ate with Taz. This time he didn't feel like he was doing something he had to do. He found he was more fascinated by the unconventional soldier than ever. His anger from ten minutes before was a thing of the past. Taz had the ability to anger him in a flash and it passed just that fast. There were no lingering hard feelings.

His would make a great story and Kodak wanted to write it, but where would he start? He wanted to learn a lot more about Taz. What made him tick? How did he become the strange soldier he was?

There were feelings now that complicated anything he wrote. He wanted to make it clear that Taz was unique beyond words and nothing in his experience could explain him.

An honest appraisal would be necessary to interest an audience, but it was all mystery at the moment, joined by shared random events. It would take work to get to the bottom of his identity.

There was no easy way to be with Taz, except on patrol. Showering him had created complications, and the silent meals they took together were no help. Only after the firefight the day before did he have something to say. He was excited by the combat and unable to keep it to himself.

The rest of the time Taz spent his time alone and resisted attempts to break in on the love affair he was having with the big rifle. He'd need to make the most of the times they were together and make inroads a little at a time. He wasn't unlikable but was he unknowable?

His response to the physical contact in the shower did make things more difficult. He didn't think of it as significant, but what if it was? Could he secretly be attracted to another man? He'd never had to face such an idea before. Taz was obviously aware of it and yet didn't make an issue out of it. It had happened. It had past.

Taz ate without taking time to speak. Kodak would give it some thought and find a way to work his way into the silent soldier's life.

The squad went three consecutive days without going out and all was quiet on the eastern front. There were rumors of a big battle taking place in the North at a Marine firebase. The information was sketchy until Kodak went into the airfield to send off more film and collect whatever books, correspondence, and especially any prints that he had taken for the squad.

The rolls of film had to be cleared before being put in the envelope to go back to the States. The desk sergeant asked what was on the film. As quick as Kodak told him it was sealed up to go out on the next flight.

Kodak listened to the correspondents who were seated at the tables inside the journalist's area, where they could connect with the outside world after a considerable effort being made before getting hold of someone to dictate their story over the phones provided.

He overheard the talk of hand-to-hand combat, Charlie getting all the way up to the perimeter wire of the firebase.

"The North Vietnamese Regulars attacked in battalion strength, facing machine guns, mortars, and grenades, they came. They fell back to regroup before coming again and again.

"The Marines kept fighting, Charlie kept dying, and the bodies, fresh from the North, piled up on the wire. The battle had been raging for days and when the North Vietnamese weren't attacking, cannon fire fell on the Marines' position. There was to be no rest for the battle weary US Marines.

"The perimeter was breached on the third day. Hand to hand combat ensued as the valiant warriors, outnumbered 10 to 1, pushed the enemy back outside the wire. They were running out of ammunition, water, and food as short lulls in the fighting began.

"Re-supplying the surrounded outpost couldn't be done from the air as helicopters came under intense fire and the brave pilots flew into deadly machine gun fire again and again, turning back short of reaching the firebase each time. The battle raged on.

"Even with the deadly fire, helicopter pilots volunteered to make another try to bring in needed ammunition to keep the men alive until the ground force, still some fifteen miles away, could break the siege and resupply the base.

Kodak listened as the correspondent dictated the images over the phone to whoever was getting it all down at the other end. He didn't want to hear any more. It was a compelling story but could his squad end up in such desperate circumstances? He had no idea of how well protected the camp was, but anyone could walk right in, except for the 180 soldiers with weapons that lined the hill in the camp.

On his way to Vietnam there had been no thought about the men who fought the war. It was less clear than that. It was about him taking good pictures and being recognized for his courage to get the story, but the idea of 1st squad being in such a situation made him sick at his stomach.

These were men he knew and liked and the idea of them fighting for their lives didn't appeal to him. He never thought that he too would be in dangerous circumstances if 1st squad was surrounded. The war was no longer about him. It was no longer an adventure he decided he wanted to have. He wondered what the outcome would have been if instead of running into a handful of snipers, they'd run into the main force?

This action was in the north of the country and they were in the middle of the country far from the firebase under siege. They'd yet to catch sight of a major force, although Taz had alluded to hearing a lot about going in search of a major force. It wouldn't bother Kodak if they never caught up with them.

As the pool driver drove him back to camp, Kodak contemplated the battle of Dien Bien Fu from the 1954 battle in which the French were defeated in the fight for control over French Indochina.

The French base was bordered by a river and it backed up to a mountain too rugged to climb, or so they believed.

The Vietnamese used the steady rainfall during the rainy season to cover the fact they were pulling dozens of cannons to the summit of the mountain from behind the French position. When the rain stopped the cannons opened up, firing down on the French encampment. The French were trapped and surrendered, leaving Vietnam.

Why had America taken up where the French left off? Kodak wondered as he left the jeep and walked up toward the camp's quarters. It was obvious the Vietnamese were willing to die for their cause.

There were thousands of troops in the area, and this wasn't an isolated firebase near the North Vietnam boarder. Kodak pushed the information aside. Certainly the briefings covered it and the sergeants all knew. There was no point in dwelling on it with their men. It wasn't what he was there to do.

On the fourth quiet morning in a row Kodak lay in his bed watching Taz pamper the big rifle. They hadn't talked much or gone to the mess tent together since the day of Taz's last binge. There had been no beer and no bottle since the firefight.

Kodak had a lot to ask him and a greater feeling of affection for him. This didn't bother him under the circumstances. He wanted more information to fill in some of the blanks on Taz. He'd been waiting for Taz to give him an opening, except he hadn't. Kodak figured he had to take a shot.

"What is it?" Kodak asked, watching Taz take pride in the cleaning of the big rifle.

"It's a Browning Automatic Rifle," Taz revealed in an unexpectedly easy reply.

"No M-16. I can remember M-16. It's just an M and a 16," Kodak reasoned.

"B.A.R." Taz said each of the letters precisely.

"B.A.R.," Kodak repeated, placing a word with each of the letters he'd been given, and then saying both the name and initials again.

He watched Taz buffing the wooden stock, once the B.A.R. was reassembled, after it was all in pieces a few minutes before. Kodak had trouble putting batteries in his radio at home. Taz knew his weapon as most men knew their names.

There was a feeling of loyalty to Taz now. It replaced his curious contempt. Taz had stood up for 1st squad and Kodak. It couldn't help but leave an impression on the soldier he looked down on. Then, when he had a chance to pay a little payback to someone who spoke ill of him, he hadn't. He proved to be bigger than Kodak in actions and in deeds. It did change everything.

When the shorts came back from the laundry, the evidence of his mishaps would be erased and Taz remained above it all. This allowed Kodak to accept the affection he felt for Taz. It was all quite simple, except for the unfamiliar feelings. It was all easy to accept except for that.

Taz was a fighting machine but it was what happened between firefights that Kodak wanted to write about. He wrote in his notebooks, mostly when he was alone, so no one could see what transpired inside his brain. This was to be the book. He'd change the names later and talk honestly about the men he went to war with.

Was this a betrayal of trust?

He pulled out the notebook to write down B.A.R. on the top of the first page. He didn't want to take the chance of forgetting this detail. He never would. His fear of missing something important loomed large. Taz had paid no attention when he wrote the letters down.

There were no more questions and Kodak went back to reading one of the new books that came back with him from the airfield. He handed them off to Hale once he finished with one, and he'd seen Sgt. Jacoby with 'The Naked and the Dead' and Washington was captivated by Fahrenheit 451. These were books about tormented men who were at war with their worlds, not simply at war in it.

That night there was a camp beer bust. The beer was iced down in large kitchen devices with the beer stacked in cases that stood six feet high near the mess tent. The music blasted out over the camp's loud speakers and soldiers rocked and rolled with beer in hand. No officers could be seen and even the sergeants maintained a low profile. The kitchen help didn't mind continuously adding beer to the ice to keep it cold, which made a remarkable difference in the taste but not the effects.

Kodak had never liked beer but he took a couple cold brew to wash away the dark red dirt from his hot parched throat. They all breathed in the dust any time vehicles came or went. He did achieve a buzz, something he wasn't likely to do back in the world.

Kodak wasn't a party animal and didn't need company to find things to entertain him. He liked nature and solitude. It probably had something to do being raised with a bevy of sisters, who disregarded any need he had for privacy as a boy. This was different. He belonged with 1st squad and so he partied when they partied and a good time was had by all.

Kodak had always been what he was told to be. He went to school, played in the high school band, acted in his senior play, all because he was told he should, was expected to, had no reason not to. He responded to what he was told until he went away to college to study business and economics.

For the first time in his life, Kodak did something because he wanted to. Once he'd enrolled in journalism classes, he put his picture taking talent into action. Before the end of his second year and before he turned twenty, he decided he would go to Vietnam.

Journalism wasn't something anyone told him he had to do. While all the other college kids were busy avoiding the war, Kodak knew this is where the story was. Kodak never used ambition to drive him. Once he took an interest in journalism, being a good journalist was all he wanted out of it.

He'd written in his journals at home, finding places to hide them to keep his sisters from reading them. He'd always written things down. He had a desire to record the high points and low points of his life. He wrote down new facts and things he'd learned on any given day. The idea of writing a book only came to him after he arrived in Vietnam.

He stood in amazement listening to the correspondent dictating his story of the pitched battle in the north. Kodak knew he couldn't do that. He had seen the picture, felt the situation, and knew of the desperation, and it flowed like a river out of him.

Kodak left because it was too graphic and he was too close to it, but he knew if he could ever do his job as well as that correspondent did his, he'd be blessed. It was art, like the photographs he took.

Writing was something that came from your essence. Getting it out to readers was the trick. Making them give a damn was how it became art.

There had been no ruffles and flourishes in the correspondence's words. These were the facts, the truth of war. It came without emotion and with an easily understood simplicity. The reader would add the emotion back as he read.

This was the reporting of events. Kodak couldn't write about 1st squad without emotion. He'd given up his ability to be objective by becoming one of them. He was a member of 1st squad. He went where they went. He did what they did. He ate their food. He drank their beer. The book would allow him to write about them but reporting on them was no longer possible.

Kodak carried a camera and recorded their exploits on film. Each picture told a story. Pictures were the story. Each picture he spread out on the card table evoked a response. Each man found himself in the images. Each picture reminded them of being together as 1st squad and a part as individuals.

Some pictures were of 1st squad on patrol. Some were 1st squad at rest and at play. The candid shots the soldiers never knew were taken were the favorites. They'd put a finger on a particular picture displayed on the table and eyeball Kodak for permission to remove it from the display to send home with their next letter.

This was Kodak's contribution, no matter the expense he might be responsible for later, but the positive part of the pictures was he owned them. He received no pay and the newspaper would buy the rights to publish whatever pictures they used, but so far no one had mentioned paying him anything and the price of film was going up.

While 1st squad appreciated him capturing an instant in time, there was nothing to tell Kodak anyone back in the States cared one iota for his photographs. The notes that came with his supplies usually consisted of a bill for notebooks, pencils, and lately even film was listed as an expense.

Kodak didn't know who he was. Being fascinated by war stories was only part of his motivation. Great war correspondents like Ernie Pyle and Hemingway set the bar pretty high, and only fools saw themselves following in those giant footsteps, but this was the journey Kodak envisioned himself being on. He would go as far as his talent took him.

Kodak had been with his squad for nearly a month, adapting completely to the military culture. It was his squad. He didn't engage the enemy but he caught them on film, mostly by accident as 1st squad advanced. Kodak was getting better at capturing better images.

Kodak was one of the guys. He played cards, chatted for hours on end, drinking when the beer flowed, and he went on every patrol. The pictures reminded 1st squad he was always with them. It was almost like he was in the army, except everyone knew Kodak could go home when Kodak decided it was time for him to go home.

It all began simply enough. His professor suggested going to war to earn credibility. "Do something for them and they'll let you hang around to get the Pulitzer Prize photograph. Once they forget you're there, you'll get your best shots."

There were no prizes. There were only images caught in the heat of battle, men risking their all, because someone told them it was what they were supposed to do. There were no prizes for war. There were no winners, except for the officers who claimed responsibility for things that made them look good.

Becoming fond of the men was a bad idea. No one had to tell Kodak that and Kodak told no one about what his professor had said. He'd see his professor as exciting and an excellent teacher before he saw war up close. Now when he thought of his professor, he saw the professor in 'All's Quiet on the Western Front,' who encouraged school boys to go to war to find glory.

It was the next afternoon while he was deciding which book to read next, he got the call.

"Better get him up, Kodak," Jacoby said, passing in quick time.

"We going out, Sarge?"

"Looks like. Time for him to be up anyway. I want him ready just in case. Charlie's on the move again."

It was all routine. 1st squad had been out twice that week already and it was only Thursday. Taz hadn't drunk after the first patrol but he did a bang up job after the patrol the day before.

Kodak tried to count the patrols he'd been out on but they'd begun to run into each other. He wasn't sure it was Thursday. It could be Wednesday, or Friday. Time was illusive, except on the days he took pictures in to the airfield, and then the day became obvious. It was written in big letters on the blackboard next to the sergeant's counter.

"Take your time, but get him fed. No rush at the moment, but don't be surprised if I tell you it's time to get moving. Make sure you eat a good meal too. It's getting late and if we go out we might need to walk back," Jacoby said, walking back up to speak to Kodak as he sat on the side of his bunk.

He took off his shirt and socks and went about rousing Taz from his stupor. Any thought of it becoming easier was soon forgotten with Taz being his usual offensive and fitful self. It was hard work just getting his feet on the floor.

Kodak ripped the bedding off the bunk, adroitly kicking the cot out of the way to deny Taz a place to sit back down. While there was nothing new in the process, Taz had remained his feisty self, but he didn't insult Kodak or question his intentions.

Over the weeks Kodak was lulled into a false sense of complacency, imagining his affection for Taz was a shared affect. It was always dangerous to assume too much where Taz was concerned. Any idea that he was predictable was to be discouraged at all cost. It was always more fun for Taz to do the unexpected.

In the shower Kodak stood behind Taz, waiting for the gasp and the cussing to begin once the water was running full force over his head. He did his best to hold him up, while not taking anymore of the cold shower than necessary. The water was way cooler on this mostly cloudy day and Kodak was thinking about a nice hot cup of coffee.

"Damn, get off me," Taz finally fussed, choking up water as he spoke. "I'm sober already, asshole. You trying to drown me? How can we make love later if I'm drowned? Get your dick out of my ass."

"I love you too, Taz, but your knees tell me if I let you go, you'll fold up on the floor. You sure you're okay?"

"So, what, I'm done dancing already. Besides, I told you I don't dance with dudes."

"I know, but I am taking you out to eat," Kodak answered. "I've got a nice spot picked out. Fine dining. I'll even stop and pick you some posies if you dress yourself."

"Yeah, yeah, is that before or after we screw. Get your dick out of my ass, asshole. I'm not that kind of girl. You are persistent. Curb that thing will you?"

"You used ass twice in one sentence. Twice in two words in fact. That takes talent," Kodak admired, so far refusing to take the bait and sensing Taz was out of ammunition.

"Look, if I want a date I'll go to town. I don't go with no guy with a Howitzer for a dick," Taz spat water and words as he expanded his complaint into new territory.

Taz wasn't able to stand on his own yet and Kodak wrestled to keep him all wet. It was a kind of a dance and a kind of brawl.

"You need to go to town," Taz recommended, squeezing Kodak's penis as he moved it out of the line of fire. "You're making me nervous here, old buddy. I'm still not convinced that thing ain't got my name on it."

"I've never…. I don't…. That's crude," Kodak argued after a couple of false starts. "Let go of it, Taz. I'm not kidding. That hurts. I don't like this any more than you."

"Your lips say no no but your dick says bend over. I ain't letting go until you disarm this thing. My momma didn't raise no fool."

"Taz, let go. You're hurting me."

"We'll call a truce. You let go of me and I'll let go of Herman here."

Kodak backed up to let Taz stand on his own, but was embarrassed by his condition as he stood in the middle of the dressing area fully exposed. Grabbing a towel he wrapped it around his small waist for cover. He was flush and getting more so. Taz had gone too far.

Taz reached for the cross beam that ran down that side of the tent, holding himself up with it, letting the cool water revive him before using the bar of soap to wash off the smell of piss and whatever else he'd slept in the night before.

Kodak finished drying off and dressed quickly to hide the evidence of any passion going on between them. The idea his penis would stand up while he was holding Taz was still distressing. It was further proof that what was going on he couldn't deny. There was no denying his feelings were growing more intense. It would have been fine if Taz wouldn't grab onto him that way.

"I'm done," Taz announced. "I'm afraid I'll fall on my face if I try to walk over there. I'm dizzy. You have that affect on me."

Kodak brought Taz's towel, drying his hair and shoulders before handing it to Taz.

"Thanks," Taz said as he sat down. "You come here often, cowboy?"

Taz vigorously wiped the rest of his body as Kodak stood waiting to walk him back to get dressed before he made sure Taz got to the mess tent.

"Don't look so sad. I don't mean anything I say, but I do have one question that seems appropriate," Taz revealed, wiping his legs from his seated position.

"What's that?" Kodak said, dropped his guard.

"Didn't your mama give you any toys?" Taz inquired, looking directly at the bulge in Kodak's shorts.

"That's not funny," Kodak remarked unpleasantly, still uncomfortable from the previous comments and how casually Taz took it all.

"No, I'd say you're right. That's some serious something in there. I'll take you with me the next time I go to town. That will attract some serious babes."

"That's not funny," Kodak repeated.

"Going to town is serious business."

"That's crude. You're crude," Kodak said in spite of himself.

"You raised with all girls, Kodak? You were, weren't you?" Taz calculated as he put on the boxers Kodak brought for him.

"Why do you ask that? Why do you care who I was raised with?"

"You act like a girl. We all got one, Kodak. Admittedly not measuring up to yours, but they all do the same thing. It's not a crime. Most of us figure out how to use them. I just don't want to be the one you practice on. Guys raised with all girls think they got the only one."

"Taz!" Kodak declared. "You don't know anything about me."

"No, I'm trying to find out. We going out?"

"Taz!" Kodak objected harshly.

"On patrol. We going out on patrol? What am I doing sober? You know I don't do sober well."

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe. Jacoby said get you up just in case."

"Lighten up. We all might be dead tomorrow, Kodak. Next time I get drunk I'll consider letting you have your way with me. I'll be the last to know."


"Oh, that's just perfect. You were raised with girls. I knew it," Taz said, standing up to go back across the compound to dress, he swished as he walked as soon as he saw Kodak behind him.

Taz had to catch his towel once it started to slip. He held it closed so he could keep tossing his hips as he walked.

Kodak had three older sisters. His parents divorced when he was three and he became the man of the house. His mother and sisters pampered him, until he reached twelve, his sisters picked on him about being a little boy, which was quite a demotion.

How could Taz possibly know that? Why was he so crude? Why did he worry so much?

This set Kodak back a bit. Once again he viewed Taz as unpredictable. He may have earned the right to be a jerk but that didn't make Kodak feel any better. Once again Taz had thrown Kodak off balance but he was still a jerk.

Kodak remarked he'd eaten with Hale and Washington earlier and Taz didn't respond. Kodak liked coffee in the afternoon and there was still some of the tuna surprise he liked without him being sure it was tuna.

"I had two plates of this at lunch. It's the best food yet," Kodak remarked after being tired of the silence.

"Yeah, but you're eating for two. You've got to keep your strength up to get that thing loaded and ready to fire," Taz said with a smirk. "Once you get all worked up showering me it stays hard for an awful long time. I feel guilty for being such a stud."

Kodak stood up enraged by the comment. Once he stood he realized he couldn't hide the evidence. He was even more embarrassed that Taz hadn't let it go.

"You're an asshole," Kodak blurted as the other half-dozen late eaters looked their way.

"That's one. Do you want to go for two asses in the same sentence? Come on, you know I'm irresistible. You can't help yourself."

"You're gross. You're so gross."

"Who me?" Taz said innocently. "You know what your problem is, Kodak?"

"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me."

"You can't deal with the fact you're attracted to me."

"I am not," Kodak objected, realizing he was now standing up.

Kodak charged out. Taz shrugged as if he was baffled by Kodak's conduct. Everyone went back to eating. Taz wasn't sure why he enjoyed taunting Kodak so much but it was probably a reflex response, coming from liking him more than he was comfortable with admitting.

When Kodak found himself drawn to Taz, it made him uncomfortable. Waking up at night, thinking about them showering together was alarming. He couldn't ignore it, but Taz's approach complicated the issue. He wasn't sure why he got so pissed off at Taz being Taz. If nothing else he was consistent.

Kodak went back to quarters to sulk and wonder why he hadn't finished eating.

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