36. General Scheisskopf
Dreedle was out, and General Peckem was in, and General Peckem had hardly moved inside General Dreedle’s office to replace him when his splendid military victory began falling to pieces around him.
‘General Scheisskopf?’ he inquired unsuspectingly of the sergeant in his new office who brought him word of the order that had come in that morning. ‘You mean Colonel Scheisskopf, don’t you?’
‘No, sir, General Scheisskopf He was promoted to general this morning, sir.’
‘Well, that’s certainly curious! Scheisskopf? A general? What grade?’
‘Lieutenant general, sir, and—’
‘Yes, sir, and he wants you to issue no orders to anyone in your command without first clearing them through him.’
‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ mused General Peckem with astonishment, swearing aloud for perhaps the first time in his life. ‘Cargill, did you hear that? Scheisskopf was promoted way up to lieutenant general. I’ll bet that promotion was intended for me and they gave it to him by mistake.’ Colonel Cargill had been rubbing his sturdy chin reflectively. ‘Why is he giving orders to us?’ General Peckem’s sleek, scrubbed, distinguished face tightened. ‘Yes, Sergeant,’ he said slowly with an uncomprehending frown. ‘Why is he issuing orders to us if he’s still in Special Services and we’re in combat operations?’
‘That’s another change that was made this morning, sir. All combat operations are now under the jurisdiction of Special Services. General Scheisskopf is our new commanding officer.’ General Peckem let out a sharp cry. ‘Oh, my God!’ he wailed, and all his practical composure went up in hysteria. ‘Scheisskopf in charge? Scheisskopf?’ He pressed his fists down on his eyes with horror. ‘Cargill, get me Wintergreen! Scheisskopf? Not Scheisskopf!’ All phones began ringing at once. A corporal ran in and saluted.
‘Sir, there’s a chaplain outside to see you with news of an injustice in Colonel Cathcart’s squadron.’
‘Send him away, send him away! We’ve got enough injustices of our own. Where’s Wintergreen?’
‘Sir, General Scheisskopf is on the phone. He wants to speak to you at once.’
‘Tell him I haven’t arrived yet. Good Lord!’ General Peckem screamed, as though struck by the enormity of the disaster for the first time. ‘Scheisskopf? The man’s a moron! I walked all over that blockhead, and now he’s my superior officer. Oh, my Lord! Cargill! Cargill, don’t desert me! Where’s Wintergreen?’
‘Sir, I have an ex-Sergeant Wintergreen on your other telephone. He’s been trying to reach you all morning.’
‘General, I can’t get Wintergreen,’ Colonel Cargill shouted, ‘His line is busy.’ General Peckem was perspiring freely as he lunged for the other telephone.
‘Peckem, you son of a bitch—’
‘Wintergreen, have you heard what they’ve done?’
‘—what have you done, you stupid bastard?’
‘They put Scheisskopf in charge of everything!’ Wintergreen was shrieking with rage and panic. ‘You and your goddam memorandums! They’ve gone and transferred combat operations to Special Services!’
‘Oh, no,’ moaned General Peckem. ‘Is that what did it? My memoranda? Is that what made them put Scheisskopf in charge? Why didn’t they put me in charge?’
‘Because you weren’t in Special Services any more. You transferred out and left him in charge. And do you know what he wants? Do you know what the bastard wants us all to do?’
‘Sir, I think you’d better talk to General Scheisskopf,’ pleaded the sergeant nervously. ‘He insists on speaking to someone.’
‘Cargill, talk to Scheisskopf for me. I can’t do it. Find out what he wants.’ Colonel Cargill listened to General Scheisskopf for a moment and went white as a sheet. ‘Oh, my God!’ he cried, as the phone fell from his fingers. ‘Do you know what he wants? He wants us to march. He wants everybody to march!’
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