Moving the bomb line did not fool the
Germans, but it did fool Major—de Coverley, who packed his musette bag,
commandeered an airplane and, under the impression that Florence too had been
captured by the Allies, had himself flown to that city to rent two apartments
for the officers and the enlisted men in the squadron to use on rest leaves. He
had still not returned by the time Yossarian jumped back outside Major Major’s
office and wondered whom to appeal to next for help.
Major—de Coverley was a splendid, awe-inspiring, grave old
man with a massive leonine head and an angry shock of wild white hair that
raged like a blizzard around his stern, patriarchal face. His duties as
squadron executive officer did consist entirely, as both Doc Daneeka and Major
Major had conjectured, of pitching horseshoes, kidnaping Italian laborers, and
renting apartments for the enlisted men and officers to use on rest leaves, and
he excelled at all three.
Each time the fall of a city like Naples, Rome or Florence
seemed imminent, Major—de Coverley would pack his musette bag, commandeer an
airplane and a pilot, and have himself flown away, accomplishing all this
without uttering a word, by the sheer force of his solemn, domineering visage
and the peremptory gestures of his wrinkled finger. A day or two after the city
fell, he would be back with leases on two large and luxurious apartments there,
one for the officers and one for the enlisted men, both already staffed with
competent, jolly cooks and maids. A few days after that, newspapers would
appear throughout the world with photographs of the first American soldiers
bludgeoning their way into the shattered city through rubble and smoke.
Inevitably, Major—de Coverley was among them, seated straight as a ramrod in a
jeep he had obtained from somewhere, glancing neither right nor left as the
artillery fire burst about his invincible head and lithe young infantrymen with
carbines went loping up along the sidewalks in the shelter of burning buildings
or fell dead in doorways. He seemed eternally indestructible as he sat there
surrounded by danger, his features molded firmly into that same fierce, regal,
just and forbidding countenance which was recognized and revered by every man
in the squadron.
To German intelligence, Major—de Coverley was a vexatious
enigma; not one of the hundreds of American prisoners would ever supply any
concrete information about the elderly white-haired officer with the gnarled
and menacing brow and blazing, powerful eyes who seemed to spearhead every
important advance so fearlessly and successfully. To American authorities his
identity was equally perplexing; a whole regiment of crack C.I.D. men had been
thrown into the front lines to find out who he was, while a battalion of
combat-hardened public-relations officers stood on red alert twenty-four hours
a day with orders to begin publicizing him the moment he was located.
In Rome, Major—de Coverley had outdone himself with the
apartments. For the officers, who arrived in groups of four or five, there was
an immense double room for each in a new white stone building, with three
spacious bathrooms with walls of shimmering aquamarine tile and one skinny maid
named Michaela who tittered at everything and kept the apartment in spotless
order. On the landing below lived the obsequious owners. On the landing above
lived the beautiful rich black-haired Countess and her beautiful, rich
black-haired daughter-in-law, both of whom would put out only for Nately, who
was too shy to want them, and for Aarfy, who was too stuffy to take them and
tried to dissuade them from ever putting out for anyone but their husbands, who
had chosen to remain in the north with the family’s business interests.
‘They’re really a couple of good kids,’ Aarfy confided
earnestly to Yossarian, whose recurring dream it was to have the nude
milk-white female bodies of both these beautiful rich black-haired good kids
lying stretched out in bed erotically with him at the same time.
The enlisted men descended upon Rome in gangs of twelve or
more with Gargantuan appetites and heavy crates filled with canned food for the
women to cook and serve to them in the dining room of their own apartment on
the sixth floor of a red brick building with a clinking elevator. There was
always more activity at the enlisted men’s place. There were always more
enlisted men, to begin with, and more women to cook and serve and sweep and
scrub, and then there were always the gay and silly sensual young girls that
Yossarian had found and brought there and those that the sleepy enlisted men
returning to Pianosa after their exhausting seven-day debauch had brought there
on their own and were leaving behind for whoever wanted them next. The girls
had shelter and food for as long as they wanted to stay. All they had to do in
return was hump any of the men who asked them to, which seemed to make
everything just about perfect for them.
Every fourth day or so Hungry Joe came crashing in like a man
in torment, hoarse, wild, and frenetic, if he had been unlucky enough to finish
his missions again and was flying the courier ship. Most times he slept at the
enlisted men’s apartment. Nobody was certain how many rooms Major—de Coverley
had rented, not even the stout black-bodiced woman in corsets on the first
floor from whom he had rented them. They covered the whole top floor, and
Yossarian knew they extended down to the fifth floor as well, for it was in
Snowden’s room on the fifth floor that he had finally found the maid in the
lime-colored panties with a dust mop the day after Bologna, after Hungry Joe
had discovered him in bed with Luciana at the officers’ apartment that same
morning and had gone running like a fiend for his camera.
The maid in the lime-colored panties was a cheerful, fat,
obliging woman in her mid-thirties with squashy thighs and swaying hams in
lime-colored panties that she was always rolling off for any man who wanted
her. She had a plain broad face and was the most virtuous woman alive: she laid
for everybody, regardless of race, creed, color or place of national origin, donating
herself sociably as an act of hospitality, procrastinating not even for the
moment it might take to discard the cloth or broom or dust mop she was
clutching at the time she was grabbed. Her allure stemmed from her
accessibility; like Mt. Everest, she was there, and the men climbed on top of
her each time they felt the urge. Yossarian was in love with the maid in the
lime-colored panties because she seemed to be the only woman left he could make
love to without falling in love with. Even the bald-headed girl in Sicily still
evoked in him strong sensations of pity, tenderness and regret.
Despite the multiple perils to which Major—de Coverley
exposed himself each time he rented apartments, his only injury had occurred,
ironically enough, while he was leading the triumphal procession into the open
city of Rome, where he was wounded in the eye by a flower fired at him from
close range by a seedy, cackling, intoxicated old man, who, like Satan himself,
had then bounded up on Major—de Coverley’s car with malicious glee, seized him
roughly and contemptuously by his venerable white head and kissed him mockingly
on each cheek with a mouth reeking with sour fumes of wine, cheese and garlic,
before dropping back into the joyous celebrating throngs with a hollow, dry,
excoriating laugh. Major—de Coverley, a Spartan in adversity, did not flinch
once throughout the whole hideous ordeal. And not until he had returned to
Pianosa, his business in Rome completed, did he seek medical attention for his
He resolved to remain binocular and specified to Doc Daneeka
that his eye patch be transparent so that he could continue pitching
horseshoes, kidnaping Italian laborers and renting apartments with unimpaired
vision. To the men in the squadron, Major—de Coverley was a colossus, although
they never dared tell him so. The only one who ever did dare address him was
Milo Minderbinder, who approached the horseshoe-pitching pit with a hard-boiled
egg his second week in the squadron and held it aloft for Major—de Coverley to
see. Major—de Coverley straightened with astonishment at Milo’s effrontery and
concentrated upon him the full fury of his storming countenance with its rugged
overhang of gullied forehead and huge crag of a humpbacked nose that came
charging out of his face wrathfully like a Big Ten fullback. Milo stood his
ground, taking shelter behind the hard-boiled egg raised protectively before
his face like a magic charm. In time the gale began to subside, and the danger
‘What is that?’ Major—de Coverley demanded at last.
‘An egg,’ Milo answered ‘What kind of an egg?’ Major—de
‘A hard-boiled egg,’ Milo answered.
‘What kind of a hard-boiled egg?’ Major—de Coverley demanded.
‘A fresh hard-boiled egg,’ Milo answered.
‘Where did the fresh egg come from?’ Major—de Coverley
‘From a chicken,’ Milo answered.
‘Where is the chicken?’ Major—de Coverley demanded.
‘The chicken is in Malta,’ Milo answered.
‘How many chickens are there in Malta?’
‘Enough chickens to lay fresh eggs for every officer in the
squadron at five cents apiece from the mess fund,’ Milo answered.
‘I have a weakness for fresh eggs,’ Major—de Coverley
‘If someone put a plane at my disposal, I could fly down
there once a week in a squadron plane and bring back all the fresh eggs we
need,’ Milo answered. ‘After all, Malta’s not so far away.’
‘Malta’s not so far away,’ Major—de Coverley observed. ‘You
could probably fly down there once a week in a squadron plane and bring back all
the fresh eggs we need.’
‘Yes,’ Milo agreed. ‘I suppose I could do that, if someone
wanted me to and put a plane at my disposal.’
‘I like my fresh eggs fried,’ Major—de Coverley remembered.
‘In fresh butter.’
‘I can find all the fresh butter we need in Sicily for
twenty-five cents a pound,’ Milo answered. ‘Twenty-five cents a pound for fresh
butter is a good buy. There’s enough money in the mess fund for butter too, and
we could probably sell some to the other squadrons at a profit and get back
most of what we pay for our own.’
‘What’s your name, son?’ asked Major—de Coverley.
‘My name is Milo Minderbinder, sir. I am twenty-seven years
‘You’re a good mess officer, Milo.’
‘I’m not the mess officer, sir.’
‘You’re a good mess officer, Milo.’
‘Thank you, sir. I’ll do everything in my power to be a good
‘Bless you, my boy. Have a horseshoe.’
‘Thank you, sir. What should I do with it?’
‘At the peg there. Then pick it up and throw it at this peg.
It’s a game, see? You get the horseshoe back.’
‘Yes, sir. I see. How much are horseshoes selling for?’ The
smell of a fresh egg snapping exotically in a pool of fresh butter carried a
long way on the Mediterranean trade winds and brought General Dreedle racing
back with a voracious appetite, accompanied by his nurse, who accompanied him
everywhere, and his son-in-law, Colonel Moodus. In the beginning General
Dreedle devoured all his meals in Milo’s mess hall. Then the other three squadrons
in Colonel Cathcart’s group turned their mess halls over to Milo and gave him
an airplane and a pilot each so that he could buy fresh eggs and fresh butter
for them too. Milo’s planes shuttled back and forth seven days a week as every
officer in the four squadrons began devouring fresh eggs in an insatiable orgy
of fresh-egg eating. General Dreedle devoured fresh eggs for breakfast, lunch
and dinner—between meals he devoured more fresh eggs—until Milo located
abundant sources of fresh veal, beef, duck, baby lamb chops, mushroom caps,
broccoli, South African rock lobster tails, shrimp, hams, puddings, grapes, ice
cream, strawberries and artichokes. There were three other bomb groups in
General Dreedle’s combat wing, and they each jealously dispatched their own
planes to Malta for fresh eggs, but discovered that fresh eggs were selling
there for seven cents apiece. Since they could buy them from Milo for five
cents apiece, it made more sense to turn over their mess halls to his
syndicate, too, and give him the planes and pilots needed to ferry in all the
other good food he promised to supply as well.
Everyone was elated with this turn of events, most of all
Colonel Cathcart, who was convinced he had won a feather in his cap. He greeted
Milo jovially each time they met and, in an excess of contrite generosity,
impulsively recommended Major Major for promotion. The recommendation was
rejected at once at Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters by ex-P.F.C.
Wintergreen, who scribbled a brusque, unsigned reminder that the Army had only
one Major Major Major Major and did not intend to lose him by promotion just to
please Colonel Cathcart. Colonel Cathcart was stung by the blunt rebuke and
skulked guiltily about his room in smarting repudiation. He blamed Major Major
for this black eye and decided to bust him down to lieutenant that very same
‘They probably won’t let you,’ Colonel Korn remarked with a
condescending smile, savoring the situation. ‘For precisely the same reasons
that they wouldn’t let you promote him. Besides, you’d certainly look foolish
trying to bust him down to lieutenant right after you tried to promote him to
my rank.’ Colonel Cathcart felt hemmed in on every side. He had been much more
successful in obtaining a medal for Yossarian after the debacle of Ferrara,
when the bridge spanning the Po was still standing undamaged seven days after
Colonel Cathcart had volunteered to destroy it. Nine missions his men had flown
there in six days, and the bridge was not demolished until the tenth mission on
the seventh day, when Yossarian killed Kraft and his crew by taking his flight
of six planes in over the target a second time. Yossarian came in carefully on
his second bomb run because he was brave then. He buried his head in his
bombsight until his bombs were away; when he looked up, everything inside the
ship was suffused in a weird orange glow. At first he thought that his own
plane was on fire. Then he spied the plane with the burning engine directly
above him and screamed to McWatt through the intercom to turn left hard. A
second later, the wing of Kraft’s plane blew off. The flaming wreck dropped,
first the fuselage, then the spinning wing, while a shower of tiny metal
fragments began tap dancing on the roof of Yossarian’s own plane and the incessant
cachung! cachung! cachung! of the flak was still thumping all around him.
Back on the ground, every eye watched grimly as he walked in
dull dejection up to Captain Black outside the green clapboard briefing room to
make his intelligence report and learned that Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn
were waiting to speak to him inside. Major Danby stood barring the door, waving
everyone else away in ashen silence. Yossarian was leaden with fatigue and
longed to remove his sticky clothing. He stepped into the briefing room with
mixed emotions, uncertain how he was supposed to feel about Kraft and the
others, for they had all died in the distance of a mute and secluded agony at a
moment when he was up to his own ass in the same vile, excruciating dilemma of duty
Colonel Cathcart, on the other hand, was all broken up by the
event. ‘Twice?’ he asked.
‘I would have missed it the first time,’ Yossarian replied
softly, his face lowered.
Their voices echoed slightly in the long, narrow bungalow.
‘But twice?’ Colonel Cathcart repeated, in vivid disbelief.
‘I would have missed it the first time,’ Yossarian repeated.
‘But Kraft would be alive.’
‘And the bridge would still be up.’
‘A trained bombardier is supposed to drop his bombs the first
time,’ Colonel Cathcart reminded him. ‘The other five bombardiers dropped their
bombs the first time.’
‘And missed the target,’ Yossarian said. ‘We’d have had to go
back there again.’
‘And maybe you would have gotten it the first time then.’
‘And maybe I wouldn’t have gotten it at all.’
‘But maybe there wouldn’t have been any losses.’
‘And maybe there would have been more losses, with the bridge
still left standing. I thought you wanted the bridge destroyed.’
‘Don’t contradict me,’ Colonel Cathcart said. ‘We’re all in
‘I’m not contradicting you, sir.’
‘Yes you are. Even that’s a contradiction.’
‘Yes, sir. I’m sorry.’ Colonel Cathcart cracked his knuckles
violently. Colonel Korn, a stocky, dark, flaccid man with a shapeless paunch,
sat completely relaxed on one of the benches in the front row, his hands
clasped comfortably over the top of his bald and swarthy head. His eyes were
amused behind his glinting rimless spectacles.
‘We’re trying to be perfectly objective about this,’ he
prompted Colonel Cathcart.
‘We’re trying to be perfectly objective about this,’ Colonel
Cathcart said to Yossarian with the zeal of sudden inspiration. ‘It’s not that
I’m being sentimental or anything. I don’t give a damn about the men or the
airplane. It’s just that it looks so lousy on the report. How am I going to
cover up something like this in the report?’
‘Why don’t you give me a medal?’ Yossarian suggested timidly.
‘For going around twice?’
‘You gave one to Hungry Joe when he cracked up that airplane
by mistake.’ Colonel Cathcart snickered ruefully. ‘You’ll be lucky if we don’t
give you a court-martial.’
‘But I got the bridge the second time around,’ Yossarian
protested. ‘I thought you wanted the bridge destroyed.’
‘Oh, I don’t know what I wanted,’ Colonel Cathcart cried out
in exasperation. ‘Look, of course I wanted the bridge destroyed. That bridge
has been a source of trouble to me ever since I decided to send you men out to
get it. But why couldn’t you do it the first time?’
‘I didn’t have enough time. My navigator wasn’t sure we had
the right city.’
‘The right city?’ Colonel Cathcart was baffled. ‘Are you
trying to blame it all on Aarfy now?’
‘No, sir. It was my mistake for letting him distract me. All
I’m trying to say is that I’m not infallible.’
‘Nobody is infallible,’ Colonel Cathcart said sharply, and
then continued vaguely, with an afterthought: ‘Nobody is indispensable,
either.’ There was no rebuttal. Colonel Korn stretched sluggishly. ‘We’ve got
to reach a decision,’ he observed casually to Colonel Cathcart.
‘We’ve got to reach a decision,’ Colonel Cathcart said to
Yossarian. ‘And it’s all your fault. Why did you have to go around twice? Why
couldn’t you drop your bombs the first time like all the others?’
‘I would have missed the first time.’
‘It seems to me that we’re going around twice,’ Colonel Korn
interrupted with a chuckle.
‘But what are we going to do?’ Colonel Cathcart exclaimed
with distress. ‘The others are all waiting outside.’
‘Why don’t we give him a medal?’ Colonel Korn proposed.
‘For going around twice? What can we give him a medal for?’
‘For going around twice,’ Colonel Korn answered with a
reflective, self-satisfied smile. ‘After all, I suppose it did take a lot of
courage to go over that target a second time with no other planes around to
divert the antiaircraft fire. And he did hit the bridge. You know, that might
be the answer—to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of.
That’s a trick that never seems to fail.’
‘Do you think it will work?’
‘I’m sure it will. And let’s promote him to captain, too,
just to make certain.’
‘Don’t you think that’s going a bit farther than we have to?’
‘No, I don’t think so. It’s best to play safe. And a
captain’s not much difference.’
‘All right,’ Colonel Cathcart decided. ‘We’ll give him a
medal for being brave enough to go around over the target twice. And we’ll make
him a captain, too.’ Colonel Korn reached for his hat.
‘Exit smiling,’ he joked, and put his arm around Yossarian’s
shoulders as they stepped outside the door.