Major Kelly was in the latrine, sitting down, his pants around his ankles, when the Stuka dive bombers struck. With good weather, Kelly used the last stall in the narrow, clapboard building, because it was the only cubicle not covered by a roof and was, therefore, considerably less offensive than any of the others. Now, in the late afternoon sunshine, a fresh breeze pouring in over the top, the stall was actually pleasant, a precious retreat from the men, the war, the bridge. Content, patient with his bodily processes, he sat there watching a fat brown spider weave its web in the corner behind the door hinge. The spider, he felt, was an omen; it survived, even flourished, midst stench and decay; and if he, Kelly, only spun his webs as well as the spider did, were as tenacious, he would flourish too, would make it through this damn war in one piece, One live piece. He had no desire to make it through the war in one dead piece. And that meant spinning tight webs around himself. Shallow philosophy, perhaps, but shallow philosophy was Major Kelly's one great weakness, because it was the only thing that offered hope. Now, mesmerized by the spider, he did not hear the Stukas until they were almost over the latrine. When he did hear them, he looked up, shocked, in time to see them sweep by in perfect formation, framed by the four walls of the stall, shining prettily in the sunlight.
As usual, the trio of stubby dive bombers came without the proper Messerschmitt escort, flaunting their invulnerability. They came from the east, buzzing in low over the trees, climbing as they reached the center of the open encampment, getting altitude for a murderous run on the bridge.
The planes passed over in an instant, no longer framed in the open roof of the last stall. A turbulent wind followed them, as did a thunderclap that shook the latrine walls.
Kelly knew he was as safe in the latrine as anywhere else in camp, for the Stukas never attacked anything but the bridge. They never bombed the cheap tin-walled bunker that was shelved into the soft ground near the tree line, and they ignored the heavy machinery building as well as all the construction equipment parked behind it. They ignored the headquarters which was half corrugated sheet tin and half clapboard and would have made a dandy target; and they were oblivious of the hospital bunker cut into the hillside near the river-and of the latrines behind HQ. All they cared about was pulverizing the damn bridge. They passed over it again and again, spitting black eggs from their bellies, flames blossoming beneath them, until the bridge was down. Then they bombed it some more. They transformed the steel beams into twisted, smoldering lumps of slag, unrecognizable and unusable. Then they bombed it some more. It was almost as if the three pilots had been severely traumatized by the bridge during their childhoods, as if each of them had a personal stake in this business, some old grudge to settle.
If he avoided the bridge, then, he would be safe. Intellectually, he was quite aware of this; however, emotionally, Major Kelly was certain that each Stuka attack was directed against him, personally, and that it was only good luck that the pilots got the bridge instead. Somewhere deep in Nazi Germany, some fine old school chum of his had risen to a position of influence and power, some old chum who knew just where Kelly was, and he was running these Stuka flights to have him wiped out as fitting retribution for some slight or other that Kelly had done the old chum years and years ago. That was it. That had to be it. Yet, as often as he considered his school days back in the States, Major Kelly could not recall a single old chum of German extraction who might have returned to the fatherland for the war. He still would not give up on the theory, because it was the only one which made sense; he could not conceive of a war, or any battle in it, that was waged on a purely impersonal basis. At one time, he was sure, Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt must have snubbed Hitler at a cocktail party, thereby generating this whole mess.
Now, caught in the latrine at the start of the attack, Major Kelly stood and jerked up his trousers, catching them on an exposed nailhead and ripping out half the backside. He slammed through the dusty latrine door into the open area at the south side of the machinery shed. He was just in time to see the
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