Moe sat down heavily and stared at the shards of glass on the wooden floor: diamonds sparkling in a puddle of beer. His breath came in shallow, gulping gasps. The sudden silence seemed to have sucked out all the air in the room. His heart thundered. He knew he should get up. He should defend himself. He should pick up his arm, hardened after weeks of exercise, clench his fist tightly, and hear the satisfying clap of bone on bone. He should stand up for himself and for his people. 

But he could not. He was a piece of driftwood, being thrown back and forth on waves of nausea, dizziness, and fear. He was a little boy, sobbing on a bright-red wooden telephone booth. He was paralyzed, a Jew facing a Crusader, a Cossack, a Nazi. He was frightened, so frightened. 

Fights were not uncommon in Joe’s, or, for that matter, in any bar or restaurant in town. The army understood that if you take hundreds of young men from all kinds of backgrounds, drill them daily in violence, free them for a short while from the bonds of punishing discipline, and add in a large dose of alcohol, you had a recipe for mayhem. The MPs generally stayed out of it, unless there was danger to life. The army brass knew it had to give its soldiers an occasional outlet, and a booze-driven fight served as a convenient vent and kept everyone quieter back on base. 

Usually a fight was good for a few minutes of entertainment while the bystanders idly watched two soldiers go for each other’s throats. Then everyone turned back to their beer or whiskey. This fight was a little different, since it featured two interesting characters: Freed, the Teacher’s Pet, the brainy Jew everyone wanted to cheat off of during written tests and who’d showed amazing skill on the rifle range; and Big Bear Bob, a giant of a man, a Mississippi native whose name generally came in right after Moe Freed’s when the army posted test results. They were the two top soldiers in their platoon, and maybe in the entire company, and now they were going to go after each other, one on one. 

“Get up on your feet, you dirty little Jew,” Big Bear roared, stepping around the table to get closer to him. 

Moe stared up at him. His legs, his entire body, felt heavy, as if he’d been bolted to the floor. I have to get up. I have to fight him. His arms started to tremble. 

There was the sound of a chair being kicked back. Harry Cohn jumped up from his seat next to Moe. Harry was slightly built, and his hand barely made it to the Bear’s shoulder, but he managed to give him a strong shove. 

“I’m a dirty Jew too, Bear,” he growled. “What you gonna do about it?”