“Twenty-one bucks a month salary,” Moe said. “I figure that works out to about half a penny per step in drill.” 

Harry’s laughter echoed off the wooden beams of the empty barracks. “Quit griping, Freed. After all, you’re teacher’s pet. Maybe the Army will give you another two bits for good behavior.” 

Teacher’s pet. A few weeks before, he’d been Moishe Boruch Freed to his father, Moe to his classmates, and Moey to his sister. Now, he was simply Teacher’s Pet — like Harry the Jewboy, Laughin’ Lu, Captain Crazy, Flatfoot Freddie, and dozens of others. 

Perhaps it was still another way of the military divesting its recruits of their individuality. Maybe it was an attempt to put a little humor into a humorless situation. Or, as Moe suspected, it might have been sheer spite on the part of their sergeants and drill instructors. Whatever the reason, within two weeks of starting basic training, almost everyone in their platoon had been given a nickname, most of them funny, many with an edge of nastiness or good, old-fashioned prejudice. 

“Teacher’s Pet” Freed. Moe had to admit, with a surge of pride, that the nickname fit. He had Major William’s friendly and efficient assistance whenever he needed to deal with his religious requirements to thank for that. Not to mention Nolan’s Jew-baiting eye always upon him, daring him to mess up and take the consequences. Between William’s help and the desire to show up Nolan, Moe had — much to his own surprise — turned himself into a model soldier. His uniforms were the crispest, his salutes the fastest, his carbine the shiniest in his squad. When test results were posted, Freed’s name invariably topped the list. (No surprise there; it had been the same all through school.) 

Harry carefully placed the chess pieces back into their small burlap sack. He glanced at his watch. “C’mon, Moe, we’ve got four hours left to the liberty. It’s crazy to stay on base.” 

Moe stretched himself off the stool where he’d spent — could it be? — the last two hours in grim competition with his friend. “Nah, let’s just go for a walk.” 

“I don’t understand you. We’ve been stuck on base two solid weeks. Next week is war games; it’s not going to be a picnic. What’s wrong with a quick stop in town?” 

What was wrong with a stop in town? 

Moe had never had a friend quite like Harry. Students in Moe’s public school sometimes bullied him and often cheated from him on tests, but play with him? Moe Freed was a Jew, with a beanie and a baldy haircut — a pariah, a social outcast. Even in his high school years in Torah Vodaath, where he had, blessedly, studied with boys who understood Shabbos and Torah law, he’d rarely enjoyed social contact. Coney Island was a long way off from Williamsburg, and Moe had no desire to bring friends to his home. Who else lived in a boarding house? He could imagine his schoolmates meeting the yenta ladies who would interrogate them about their family backgrounds — or his father, whose serious gaze and solemn demeanor would intimidate the hardiest of teenagers. 

No, social life was not for him. Moe Freed had his studies — and his silence — as his sole companions.