Black Bart

A Halloween Tale

Captain Nicolae Bartholomew was not what he seemed.

Captain Nicolae Bartholomew commanded a company of Rangers, ran like a wraith, and effortlessly knocked out a cool 100 textbook pushups in two minutes on his PT test. In combat he was ruthless. He had a professional reputation for reliably getting the job done. That often meant people got killed.

Bartholomew had no friends. He was most comfortable operating at night and spent much of his free time alone in his hooch. The other officers in his Ranger Battalion thought him distant and aloof. His soldiers called him Black Bart whenever out of earshot. They both respected and feared him. The enemy generally just died.

PFC Samuels was a replacement straight out of RASP. Thirsty for his first taste of combat, he requested the most hard-charging company in the battalion. For his sins Samuels drew that of Black Bart.

The First Sergeant led Samuels to the briefing tent where Captain Bartholomew was finalizing the details of the evening’s mission with the Battalion S-4. The Captain was not just fit. He was enormous. His heavy body armor seemed no more an encumbrance than was his uniform. By the sickly light of the briefing tent Bartholomew’s skin had a refined, almost porcelain, quality.

“PFC Samuels reporting for duty,” the young man said at his first opportunity. “Is this where I go to grease some Tangoes, sir?”
Bartholomew took the new Ranger’s measure in silence.

“We’re on a cordon and search tonight,” the Captain said without emotion. “Hit time on the line of departure is 90 mikes. We’re a man short in the command chalk after the ambush last night. That SAW work?”

The Captain gestured to the young Ranger’s weapon.

“Hooah, sir,” Samuels answered.

The Captain paused again, “Very well. You’re in my chalk. Follow my lead and you’ll survive the evening. Do something stupid and you’ll fly home tomorrow in a bag. The First Sergeant will get you a basic load of ammo and pyro. I want you back here in 30 mikes for the final brief. Make it happen, Top.”

“Hooah, sir,” the First Sergeant responded. “C’mon, hero, let’s go get you some bullets.”

Once out of the tent the First Sergeant turned to the young Ranger and said sincerely, “He’s not yanking your chain, son. The Captain can seem a bit strange, but that is one seriously bad man. Do what he tells you and you’ll see another sunrise. Screw something up and he’ll just as likely eat you for dinner.”

“Roger that, Top,” Samuels said. “I’m dialed in.”

Soldiers volunteer for the Rangers for a variety of reasons. In the case
of Captain Nicolae Bartholomew, a guy’s gotta eat.

The Rangers fast-roped from MH-60 Blackhawk helicopters into the target tenement, a hive of insurgent activity. Samuels struggled to keep up with the big Captain as they ran through the dark hallways. The heavy weapons and support elements peeled off at their assigned positions, eventually leaving Samuels and the Captain alone.

Captain Bartholomew dropped to one knee and held his left hand up in a fist, the M-4 in his right tracking like some kind of sentient thing. They had cut the power to the building prior to the assault, and the Captain’s hulking form shone green under Samuels’ NVGs. The Captain’s breath was measured as he pulled air softly in through his nose.

“They’re close,” he whispered. “Get ready. When the shooting starts, I want you to…”

The darkness exploded in noise and light as an AKM opened up. The Captain caught the entire burst. The big man’s body stiffened under the impact, and he fell backward into Samuels, momentarily pinning him to the floor.

Three insurgents ignited a flare that bathed the corridor in a ghostly, penetrating white light. Samuels rolled to his side and saw that Bartholomew was dead. Most of the heavy rounds had spent themselves on his chest plate but at least one had caught the big man squarely in the throat. Bartholomew’s eyes were glassy, gray, and empty.

Rangers own the night. Army photo.

Samuels acted on instinct. Rising to one knee he brought his SAW to bear and held down the trigger, emptying a full 200 rounds blindly down the hallway. Pushing himself to his feet he staggered to the ambush site, mindlessly dropping the empty ammo case and replacing it with a fresh one from his vest.

Two of the insurgents were dead, cut literally to pieces. The third writhed, clutching his left thigh. A round from Samuels’ SAW had shattered the man’s femur.

Before Samuels could react, a hand fell heavily on his shoulder and pushed him bodily aside. Samuels fell backward against the wall and instinctively raised his SAW. Captain Bartholomew glanced at the machinegun and then back up at Samuels, his face passive. The ghastly wound in the man’s throat closed as he moved. The Captain pressed the muzzle of Samuels’ SAW aside and stepped over the corpses of the two dead terrorists.

Bartholomew took the wounded insurgent by the neck and lifted him effortlessly aloft with one hand, pausing briefly to study his face as he struggled. He then pulled him close, turned his head slightly sideways, and tore out the man’s throat with his teeth.

For a few short horrible moments Samuels watched dumbstruck. The Captain lingered with his face pressed hungrily into the dying man’s neck. Having drunk his fill, the Captain let the corpse fall to the floor. He retrieved his carbine and turned to Samuels — blood, filth, and gore covering his face, uniform and equipment.

The big man’s eyes shone faintly gray as he leaned forward and said, “Not a word of this to anybody, do you understand?”
Too terrified to speak, Samuels simply nodded, unable to look away from the hulking figure in the darkening hallway.
“All right, then,” Bartholomew said. “Follow me.”

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