Ghost. A hint. A flicker.
caught the blurred reflection in the subway car's dirty window
and saw a hint of a younger man. A different man.
The sharp eyes. . . well the eyes were still there... maybe
too sharp, too intense now. The jaw still solid. Mouth . . .
well, a horizontal crack in a stony plain, now, set firm in
a permanent rut of determination. The mouth that used to smile
so easily. Which brought those eyes to life and the girls to
The window didn't show the sunken cheeks.
The fine lines. The man reflected back wasn't shrivelled beneath
this old threadbare uniform. James Ratliffe's eyes drifted downward,
to the high gloss on his worn combat boots.
Veteran's Day. And he was the last of the 54th. Some long-forgotten
ethic had driven him to avoid the excesses of food and drink
and tobacco that had rotted the livers and bellies of so many
of those men he'd fought beside, men he'd known as boys and
watched grow old and die. They'd not been friends -- Jim Ratliffe
never had friends. But they'd been his men, he'd been their
sergeant, and he'd seen to it that not a single one of those
boys had fallen to a Nazi bullet or mine or grenade. It was
not out of love or even comeraderie - - it was simply his duty.
These were his men. And that was the alpha and the omega.