34. Milo the Militant

3/10/15
34. Milo the Militant

  • cute_smiley15Milo the Militant

    For the first time in his life, Yossarian prayed. He got down on his knees and prayed to Nately not to volunteer to fly more than seventy missions after Chief White Halfoat did die of pneumonia in the hospital and Nately had applied for his job. But Nately just wouldn’t listen.

    ‘I’ve got to fly more missions,’ Nately insisted lamely with a crooked smile. ‘Otherwise they’ll send me home.’

    ‘So?’

    ‘I don’t want to go home until I can take her back with me.’

    ‘She means that much to you?’ Nately nodded dejectedly. ‘I might never see her again.’

    ‘Then get yourself grounded,’ Yossarian urged. ‘You’ve finished your missions and you don’t need the flight pay. Why don’t you ask for Chief White Halfoat’s job, if you can stand working for Captain Black?’ Nately shook his head, his cheeks darkening with shy and regretful mortification. ‘They won’t give it to me. I spoke to Colonel Korn, and he told me I’d have to fly more missions or be sent home.’ Yossarian cursed savagely. ‘That’s just plain meanness.’

    ‘I don’t mind, I guess. I’ve flown seventy missions without getting hurt. I guess I can fly a few more.’

    ‘Don’t do anything at all about it until I talk to someone,’ Yossarian decided, and went looking for help from Milo, who went immediately afterward to Colonel Cathcart for help in having himself assigned to more combat missions.

    Milo had been earning many distinctions for himself. He had flown fearlessly into danger and criticism by selling petroleum and ball bearings to Germany at good prices in order to make a good profit and help maintain a balance of power between the contending forces. His nerve under fire was graceful and infinite. With a devotion to purpose above and beyond the line of duty, he had then raised the price of food in his mess halls so high that all officers and enlisted men had to turn over all their pay to him in order to eat. Their alternative—there was an alternative, of course, since Milo detested coercion and was a vocal champion of freedom of choice—was to starve. When he encountered a wave of enemy resistance to this attack, he stuck to his position without regard for his safety or reputation and gallantly invoked the law of supply and demand. And when someone somewhere said no, Milo gave ground grudgingly, valiantly defending, even in retreat, the historic right of free men to pay as much as they had to for the things they needed in order to survive.

    Milo had been caught red-handed in the act of plundering his countrymen, and, as a result, his stock had never been higher. He proved good as his word when a rawboned major from Minnesota curled his lip in rebellious disavowal and demanded his share of the syndicate Milo kept saying everybody owned. Milo met the challenge by writing the words ‘A Share’ on the nearest scrap of paper and handing it away with a virtuous disdain that won the envy and admiration of almost everyone who knew him. His glory was at a peak, and Colonel Cathcart, who knew and admired his war record, was astonished by the deferential humility with which Milo presented himself at Group Headquarters and made his fantastic appeal for more hazardous assignments.

    ‘You want to fly more combat missions?’ Colonel Cathcart gasped. ‘What in the world for?’ Milo answered in a demure voice with his face lowered meekly. ‘I want to do my duty, sir. The country is at war, and I want to fight to defend it like the rest of the fellows.’

    ‘But, Milo, you are doing your duty,’ Colonel Cathcart exclaimed with a laugh that thundered jovially. ‘I can’t think of a single person who’s done more for the men than you have. Who gave them chocolate-covered cotton?’ Milo shook his head slowly and sadly. ‘But being a good mess officer in wartime just isn’t enough, Colonel Cathcart.’

    ‘Certainly it is, Milo. I don’t know what’s come over you.’

    ‘Certainly it isn’t, Colonel,’ Milo disagreed in a somewhat firm tone, raising his subservient eyes significantly just far enough to arrest Colonel Cathcart’s. ‘Some of the men are beginning to talk.’

    ‘Oh, is that it? Give me their names, Milo. Give me their names and I’ll see to it that they go on every dangerous mission the group flies.’

    ‘No, Colonel, I’m afraid they’re right,’ Milo said, with his head drooping again. ‘I was sent overseas as a pilot, and I should be flying more combat missions and spending less time on my duties as a mess officer.’ Colonel Cathcart was surprised but co-operative. ‘Well, Milo, if you really feel that way, I’m sure we can make whatever arrangements you want. How long have you been overseas now?’

    ‘Eleven months, sir.’

    ‘And how many missions have you flown?’

    ‘Five.’

    ‘Five?’ asked Colonel Cathcart.

    ‘Five, sir.’

    ‘Five, eh?’ Colonel Cathcart rubbed his cheek pensively. ‘That isn’t very good, is it?’

    ‘Isn’t it?’ asked Milo in a sharply edged voice, glancing up again.

    Colonel Cathcart quailed. ‘On the contrary, that’s very good, Milo,’ he corrected himself hastily. ‘It isn’t bad at all.’

    ‘No, Colonel,’ Milo said, with a long, languishing, wistful sigh, ‘it isn’t very good. Although it’s very generous of you to say so.’

    ‘But it’s really not bad, Milo. Not bad at all, when you consider all your other valuable contributions. Five missions, you say? Just five?’

    ‘Just five, sir.’

    ‘Just five.’ Colonel Cathcart grew awfully depressed for a moment as he wondered what Milo was really thinking, and whether he had already got a black eye with him. ‘Five is very good, Milo,’ he observed with enthusiasm, spying a ray of hope. ‘That averages out to almost one combat mission every two months. And I’ll bet your total doesn’t include the time you bombed us.’

    ‘Yes, sir. It does.’

    ‘It does?’ inquired Colonel Cathcart with mild wonder. ‘You didn’t actually fly along on that mission, did you? If I remember correctly, you were in the control tower with me, weren’t you?’

    ‘But it was my mission,’ Milo contended. ‘I organized it, and we used my planes and supplies. I planned and supervised the whole thing.’

    ‘Oh, certainly, Milo, certainly. I’m not disputing you. I’m only checking the figures to make sure you’re claiming all you’re entitled to. Did you also include the time we contracted with you to bomb the bridge at Orvieto?’

    ‘Oh, no, sir. I didn’t think I should, since I was in Orvieto at the time directing the antiaircraft fire.’

    ‘I don’t see what difference that makes, Milo. It was still your mission. And a damned good one, too, I must say. We didn’t get the bridge, but we did have a beautiful bomb pattern. I remember General Peckem commenting on it. No, Milo, I insist you count Orvieto as a mission, too.’

    ‘If you insist, sir.’

    ‘I do insist, Milo. Now, let’s see—you now have a grand total of six missions, which is damned good, Milo, damned good, really. Six missions is an increase of twenty per cent in just a couple of minutes, which is not bad at all, Milo, not bad at all.’

    ‘Many of the other men have seventy missions,’ Milo pointed out.

    ‘But they never produced any chocolate-covered cotton, did they? Milo, you’re doing more than your share.’

    ‘But they’re getting all the fame and opportunity,’ Milo persisted with a petulance that bordered on sniveling. ‘Sir, I want to get in there and fight like the rest of the fellows. That’s what I’m here for. I want to win medals, too.’

    ‘Yes, Milo, of course. We all want to spend more time in combat. But people like you and me serve in different ways. Look at my own record,’ Colonel Cathcart uttered a deprecatory laugh. ‘I’ll bet it’s not generally known, Milo, that I myself have flown only four missions, is it?’

    ‘No, sir,’ Milo replied. ‘It’s generally known that you’ve flown only two missions. And that one of those occurred when Aarfy accidentally flew you over enemy territory while navigating you to Naples for a black-market water cooler.’ Colonel Cathcart, flushing with embarrassment, abandoned all further argument. ‘All right, Milo. I can’t praise you enough for what you want to do. If it really means so much to you, I’ll have Major Major assign you to the next sixty-four missions so that you can have seventy, too.’

    ‘Thank you, Colonel, thank you, sir. You don’t know what this means.’

    ‘Don’t mention it, Milo. I know exactly what it means.’

    ‘No, Colonel, I don’t think you do know what it means,’ Milo disagreed pointedly. ‘Someone will have to begin running the syndicate for me right away. It’s very complicated, and I might get shot down at any time.’ Colonel Cathcart brightened instantly at the thought and began rubbing his hands with avaricious zest. ‘You know, Milo, I think Colonel Korn and I might be willing to take the syndicate off your hands,’ he suggested in an offhand manner, almost licking his lips in savory anticipation. ‘Our experience in black-market plum tomatoes should come in very useful. Where do we begin?’ Milo watched Colonel Cathcart steadily with a bland and guileless expression. ‘Thank you, sir, that’s very good of you. Begin with a salt-free diet for General Peckem and a fat-free diet for General Dreedle.’

    ‘Let me get a pencil. What’s next?’

    ‘The cedars.’

    ‘Cedars?’

    ‘From Lebanon.’

    ‘ Lebanon?’

    ‘We’ve got cedars from Lebanon due at the sawmill in Oslo to be turned into shingles for the builder in Cape Cod. C.O.D. And then there’s the peas.’

    ‘Peas?’

    ‘That are on the high seas. We’ve got boatloads of peas that are on the high seas from Atlanta to Holland to pay for the tulips that were shipped to Geneva to pay for the cheeses that must go to Vienna M.I.F.’

    ‘M.I.F.?’

    ‘Money in Front. The Hapsburgs are shaky.’

    ‘ Milo.’

    ‘And don’t forget the galvanized zinc in the warehouse at Flint. Four carloads of galvanized zinc from Flint must be flown to the smelters in Damascus by noon of the eighteenth, terms F.O.B. Calcutta two per cent ten days E.O.M. One Messerschmitt full of hemp is due in Belgrade for a C-47 and a half full of those semi-pitted dates we stuck them with from Khartoum. Use the money from the Portuguese anchovies we’re selling back to Lisbon to pay for the Egyptian cotton we’ve got coming back to us from Mamaroneck and to pick up as many oranges as you can in Spain. Always pay cash for naranjas.’

    ‘Naranjas?’

    ‘That’s what they call oranges in Spain, and these are Spanish oranges. And—oh, yes. Don’t forget Piltdown Man.’

    ‘Piltdown Man?’

    ‘Yes, Piltdown Man. The Smithsonian Institution is not in a position at this time to meet our price for a second Piltdown Man, but they are looking forward to the death of a wealthy and beloved donor and—’

    ‘ Milo.’

    ‘ France wants all the parsley we can send them, and I think we might as well, because we’ll need the francs for the lire for the pfennigs for the dates when they get back. I’ve also ordered a tremendous shipment of Peruvian balsa wood for distribution to each of the mess halls in the syndicate on a pro rata basis.’

    ‘Balsa wood? What are the mess halls going to do with balsa wood?’

    ‘Good balsa wood isn’t so easy to come by these days, Colonel. I just didn’t think it was a good idea to pass up the chance to buy it.’

    ‘No, I suppose not,’ Colonel Cathcart surmised vaguely with the look of somebody seasick. ‘And I assume the price was right.’

    ‘The price,’ said Milo, ‘was outrageous—positively exorbitant! But since we bought it from one of our own subsidiaries, we were happy to pay it. Look after the hides.’

    ‘The hives?’

    ‘The hides.’

    ‘The hides?’

    ‘The hides. In Buenos Aires. They have to be tanned.’

    ‘Tanned?’

    ‘In Newfoundland. And shipped to Helsinki N.M.I.F. before the spring thaw begins. Everything to Finland goes N.M.I.F. before the spring thaw begins.’

    ‘No Money in Front?’ guessed Colonel Cathcart.

    ‘Good, Colonel. You have a gift, sir. And then there’s the cork.’

    ‘The cork?’

    ‘That must go to New York, the shoes for Toulouse, the ham for Siam, the nails from Wales, and the tangerines for New Orleans.’

    ‘ Milo.’

    ‘We have coals in Newcastle, sir.’ Colonel Cathcart threw up his hands. ‘ Milo, stop!’ he cried, almost in tears. ‘It’s no use. You’re just like I am—indispensable!’ He pushed his pencil aside and rose to his feet in frantic exasperation. ‘ Milo, you can’t fly sixty-four more missions. You can’t even fly one more mission. The whole system would fall apart if anything happened to you.’ Milo nodded serenely with complacent gratification. ‘Sir, are you forbidding me to fly any more combat missions?’

    ‘ Milo, I forbid you to fly any more combat missions,’ Colonel Cathcart declared in a tone of stern and inflexible authority.

    ‘But that’s not fair, sir,’ said Milo. ‘What about my record? The other men are getting all the fame and medals and publicity. Why should I be penalized just because I’m doing such a good job as mess officer?’

    ‘No, Milo, it isn’t fair. But I don’t see anything we can do about it.’

    ‘Maybe we can get someone else to fly my missions for me.’

    ‘But maybe we can get someone else to fly your missions for you,’ Colonel Cathcart suggested. ‘How about the striking coal miners in Pennsylvania and West Virginia?’ Milo shook his head. ‘It would take too long to train them. But why not the men in the squadron, sir? After all, I’m doing this for them. They ought to be willing to do something for me in return.’

    ‘But why not the men in the squadron, Milo?’ Colonel Cathcart exclaimed. ‘After all, you’re doing all this for them. They ought to be willing to do something for you in return.’

    ‘What’s fair is fair.’

    ‘What’s fair is fair.’

    ‘They could take turns, sir.’

    ‘They might even take turns flying your missions for you, Milo.’

    ‘Who gets the credit?’

    ‘You get the credit, Milo. And if a man wins a medal flying one of your missions, you get the medal.’

    ‘Who dies if he gets killed?’

    ‘Why, he dies, of course. After all, Milo, what’s fair is fair. There’s just one thing.’

    ‘You’ll have to raise the number of missions.’

    ‘I might have to raise the number of missions again, and I’m not sure the men will fly them. They’re still pretty sore because I jumped them to seventy. If I can get just one of the regular officers to fly more, the rest will probably follow.’

    ‘Nately will fly more missions, sir,’ Milo said. ‘I was told in strictest confidence just a little while ago that he’ll do anything he has to in order to remain overseas with a girl he’s fallen in love with.’

    ‘But Nately will fly more!’ Colonel Cathcart declared, and he brought his hands together in a resounding clap of victory. ‘Yes, Nately will fly more. And this time I’m really going to jump the missions, right up to eighty, and really knock General Dreedle’s eye out. And this is a good way to get that lousy rat Yossarian back into combat where he might get killed.’

    ‘Yossarian?’ A tremor of deep concern passed over Milo’s simple, homespun features, and he scratched the corner of his reddish-brown mustache thoughtfully.

    ‘Yeah, Yossarian. I hear he’s going around saying that he’s finished his missions and the war’s over for him. Well, maybe he has finished his missions. But he hasn’t finished your missions, has he? Ha! Ha! Has he got a surprise coming to him!’

    ‘Sir, Yossarian is a friend of mine,’ Milo objected. ‘I’d hate to be responsible for doing anything that would put him back in combat. I owe a lot to Yossarian. Isn’t there any way we could make an exception of him?’

    ‘Oh, no, Milo.’ Colonel Cathcart clucked sententiously, shocked by the suggestion. ‘We must never play favorites. We must always treat every man alike.’

    ‘I’d give everything I own to Yossarian,’ Milo persevered gamely on Yossarian’s behalf. ‘But since I don’t own anything, I can’t give everything to him, can I? So he’ll just have to take his chances with the rest of the men, won’t he?’

    ‘What’s fair is fair, Milo.’

    ‘Yes, sir, what’s fair is fair,’ Milo agreed. ‘Yossarian is no better than the other men, and he has no right to expect any special privileges, has he?’

    ‘No, Milo. What’s fair is fair.’ And there was no time for Yossarian to save himself from combat once Colonel Cathcart issued his announcement raising the missions to eighty late that same afternoon, no time to dissuade Nately from flying them or even to conspire again with Dobbs to murder Colonel Cathcart, for the alert sounded suddenly at dawn the next day and the men were rushed into the trucks before a decent breakfast could be prepared, and they were driven at top speed to the briefing room and then out to the airfield, where the clitterclattering fuel trucks were still pumping gasoline into the tanks of the planes and the scampering crews of armorers were toiling as swiftly as they could at hoisting the thousand-pound demolition bombs into the bomb bays. Everybody was running, and engines were turned on and warmed up as soon as the fuel trucks had finished.

    Intelligence had reported that a disabled Italian cruiser in drydock at La Spezia would be towed by the Germans that same morning to a channel at the entrance of the harbor and scuttled there to deprive the Allied armies of deep-water port facilities when they captured the city. For once, a military intelligence report proved accurate. The long vessel was halfway across the harbor when they flew in from the west, and broke it apart with direct hits from every flight that filled them all with waves of enormously satisfying group pride until they found themselves engulfed in great barrages of flak that rose from guns in every bend of the huge horseshoe of mountainous land below. Even Havermeyer resorted to the wildest evasive action he could command when he saw what a vast distance he had still to travel to escape, and Dobbs, at the pilot’s controls in his formation, zigged when he should have zagged, skidding his plane into the plane alongside, and chewed off its tail. His wing broke off at the base, and his plane dropped like a rock and was almost out of sight in an instant. There was no fire, no smoke, not the slightest untoward noise. The remaining wing revolved as ponderously as a grinding cement mixer as the plane plummeted nose downward in a straight line at accelerating speed until it struck the water, which foamed open at the impact like a white water lily on the dark-blue sea, and washed back in a geyser of apple-green bubbles when the plane sank. It was over in a matter of seconds. There were no parachutes. And Nately, in the other plane, was killed too.
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