A Different Kind Of Soldier
And it came to pass that an angel of the Lord did appear before me clad all over in armor of gold, and in his hand he carried a sword of flame which he gave unto me to slaughter mine enemies and the enemies of my kind. His word to me was that the Lord would protect me and mine from the malice of our enemies that we might, from that day forward keep and honor His word and the word did go forth as many an enemy fell before that golden blade of righteousness. So let fear be banished, sent back to the darkness whence it came, and let courage and the will of the one true God be law upon the earth.
The vision of Janus
I never wanted to tell my story. To be honest, I’m afraid, and maybe a little ashamed of my story. To be honest,I don’t even remember the day that changed my life. I think honesty is very important when you are talking about your life. You don’t want people to think you’re dishonest, then they won’t trust anything you say.
You remember Richard Pryor and his story? It was so unbelievable that he had to tell it as a comedy routine. It was so outlandish that nobody believed it was his life story for a really long time. It’s funny when you think about that. White people laughed themselves silly as that poor guy stood up in front of them and told a tragic tale that was his life. That’s the way I look at it anyway.
The thing is, to just about everyone who has lived a normal life, my story is, well, unbelievable. So, if I’m going to tell my story, I’ll tell it my way, which is to tell the truth. So, I really don’t remember the day that changed my life. I don’t remember the next nine months either, but I do know what happened. I was a few months past eight years old when it happened. I got that from the news paper articles my mom clipped out and hid from my dad. She gave them to me just before she died of cancer in Florida. She didn’t actually give them to me; she also wrote me a twelve page letter that pretty much cleared up what my whole life was all about, and why things had turned out the way they had for me at home.
She put the letter and the clippings along with some other stuff in an envelope, and mailed them to me. Inside the envelope, one of those big brown ones they use in offices, was a note. In it my mom said she loved me, and I shouldn’t feel bad about who I was, on account of it wasn’t my fault. This was so astonishing to me that I had to sit at my desk for a long time just letting that sink in, because the one thing I did remember about my life up until then was that I was a bad person, and that just about everything was my fault. She also said not to open the big envelope until I knew it was time to open it. I really, really wanted to open that envelope right then. I had to know what absolution lay within it. More that anything I needed to make sense of the things I had done in the long years since I had parted ways with my folks. Time passed as it does in every life. I got cancer myself, diagnosed with stage four brain cancer and lived! Although I thought about it, I didn’t open the envelope during those dark and hopeless weeks in the Gethsemane of chemotherapy and radiation. I got bad news from my doctor that the chemo had wrecked my heart, so as soon as I was strong enough, I got a heart transplant. Didn’t open it then either.
By now, something had changed in the way I felt about myself. I began to see the envelope as some kind of talisman containing forgiveness, and that the possession of it freed me from my guilt the way that those wooden swords, rudiari I think they were called, conferred freedom upon gladiators, but only when it was with them. I became afraid to open the envelope, because, what if i did, and it was nothing but a confession of parenting gone wrong, which I had already worked out during the process of becoming a social worker? But I did open the envelope. Before I can tell you about that though, we have to go back in time.
I was just south of twenty one years old living in the last of Jimmy Carter’s America. Times were pretty hard then, because Congress and the senate had decided that a future favoring such communistic ideas as a working wage and alternative energy were a complete outrage; therefore Wall Street shut down the money spigot. Since, like just about everything else money runs downhill, there wasn’t much to go around at the bottom of the heap, which was pretty close to my neighborhood. Since I had a new wife, and a newer baby I had to hustle. Now, hustling isn’t just working hard. Hell, evrybody was working hard in those days. Sure, there were a few deadbeats then, but mostly, Americans had pride iGod knows there was enough of it to go around, seeing as the rich had decided they didn’t need any of it what with all the money they had. All you needed to do was watch an episode of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’, knowing that every kid in your crappy trailer park could go to college on what one of the ritzy Lamborghinis Robin Leach was drooling over cost.en themselves. Honor was what we substituted for money.
No, hustle was something people who were already working hard had to do.something extra. You had to do something more, maybe a little shady to make things work. And hustling wasn’t something just anyone could do either. If you wanted to hustle, you had to know somebody. You had to get a break.
I got my break when I was buying some plumbing parts at for my day job. The parts guy who had filled my order there followed me out to my truck talking amiably about the upcoming Cowboys Steelers game. The conversation took a completely different turn when we got o both ways as if someone might be listening to us. “I utside. Squinting one eye at the smoke floating up from a cigarette clenched in the corner of his mouth he lookeduh, I got a piece of work for you if you’re interested” he said. I was working at a rental company doing everything from that needed doing in a living unit. The list is long, so we’ll just call me a jack of all trades, and master of some.
“I hardly got time for the jobs A.D. has lined up for me now” I said opening a side box on the truck’s bed.
“Don’t mean that kind of work.”
I looked at him for a long minute. His name was Doug, and he was fresh home from the war. Even though he’d done three tours in country, Doug was never going back to shooting slants for Uncle Sam; a section eight had seen to that. But nobody ever thought Doug was crazy, at least not out loud. Standing there in his blue checked short sleeves, and his boyish face under a civilian haircut, the last thing he looked like was a break. And yet, I felt it.
Taking a chance, I took a step closer to him and asked, “Well what kind of work do you have in mind Doug?” I might be blowing my break, but I also wanted all of the cards on the table.
“Heard about Mexico?” Seeing the wind was wrong, and wanting to maintain eye contact with me, he took the aggravating cigarette from his mouth and flipped it an impressive distance. “That kind of work” he says real cool like.
“ About six months ago a Bird colonel, some kind of big bug up in I corps and new to Fort Hood got his dishy fourteen year old daughter kidnapped by some bikers while he and his wife were out late doing the new officer thing. They’d done the right thing and hired a babysitter. The thing was though, the babysitter had a habit and she kind of sold the kid to some bikers. There was a huge investigation and manhunt that went on for weeks, and covered several counties. The FBI came in and turned Killeen upside down, and did little to spare Houston and Beaumont, the towns these scooter bums were from, either. People were arrested. People were sent to jail, but not for kidnapping. For drug possession and distribution sure. For illegal gun possession and felony warrant sure. But they never found the girl.”
“All the while they’re banging this poor kid in a converted barracks not a half mile from City Hall. When things cooled off and these losers ran out of dope, and seeing as she had a habit now, they sold her to some guys in a small settlement outside Temple named ‘Little Mexico’. The kind of place you might think twice about going if you were white.”
“So, a mutual acquaintance, J.M., a genuine bad man gets contracted to a guy I’ll call Junior go after the girl. Junior’s reputation as a bounty hunter and gun slinger was legendary. Known as ‘The Sheriff o Simmonsville’ he was where you went when all else failed. News of low men often reaches high places.”
“Once the idiots had sold the live bait, her whereabouts became known in the low places men frequent. Junior Put together a posse that was roughly the modern equivalent of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Old time gun slingers who had fallen on hard times in an emerging world of bureaucracy. The way I got a spot on the king’s posse was that I got a break. I happen by a chance of genetics to be one of those odd folks with a natural talent for guns, and I practiced. A lot. But more importantly, I knew somebody.”
“We missed the girl by two days in Little Mexico. News travels in both directions in the low places, and she was already on her way to Juarez. After fighting a minor war and leaving a more than a few bodies in that miserable outpost of alien occupation, a diminished posse went down into old Mexico. Some had been shot or stabbed, some had just quit because most men don’t take to violence on civilian battlefields. You might ask what about the cops? Well, for one thing cops who went to Little Mexico didn’t come back very often, so they figured a few dead Mexicans whose identities would be forever unknown wasn’t worth the risk; second, by now everyone in central texas wanted this thing done. They knew Junior Would do it bloody, but that suited everybody just fine.”
“We didn’t sneak across the border. Instead the colonel saw us in on a C 130, making that my first trip on a military transport. We got lucky the next day. The girl was making the rounds to the surrounding ranches on her way to the hog farm, and there were only sixteen men with her when we struck. By then we were pretty sick at what was happening to the girl, and even though most of them wanted to give up, we left sixteen bodies on that ranch. Several of the men attempted to surrender, and Junior Told them to throw out their weapons and come out with their hands up. We shot them like target practice.”
“The colonel got his girl back, Junior’s reputation grew larger, although some people said he was wrong to shoot unarmed men, which shows how much the world had changed. But me? I got five thousand dollars. It was the most money I had ever seen in one place in my life. One of the other men on that expedition, the one who brought me in actually, joked joyously that we were ‘thousandaires.”
So now, looking at a smiling Doug the kind of work he meant. He wouldn’t tell me the plan until I committed to the action, so we did a little trading about hypotheticals, and the minute he descrIbed the hypothetical problem, I knew I was down for the solution. I may not have been in the military, but I had studied military tactics most of my life. There is something elegant about defeating your enemy through a knowledge of his strengths, and using your weaknesses to an advantage. Doug, who had really been sectioned out because he had killed too many people, knew all that, and he had great intelligence on our target, which was, as luck would have it, the same scooter trash that had earned me my first score.
They were moving Meth and heroin in, and money out. Their plan was to have the money rendezvous with the drugs in what would be a remote location at this time of year. The swap would happen at the reservoir created by a dam that served the Killeen Harker Heights area, as well as Fort Hood and Copperas Cove. The entire area was a bowl partly filled with water, surrounded by thick trees and brush. The ground rose steeply into the trees, and large boulders surrounded the rim not blocked by the dam. There was one road in and out. If someone had given me a map of the area I couldn’t have found a better place for an ambush.
Doug had explained that it could only be the two of us, because the M.C. was not likely to conduct a sloppy investigation into their lost loot, and I agreed. He also let it slip that his informant, a guy who was supposed to be in on the deal developed terminal laryngitis. A precaution, Doug explained.
They convoyed into the remote area of the Stillhouse Hollow reservoir to make the switch. Eight bikes and two vans were parked in a circle close to what would be a swimming beach in the summer. Because I could shoot at range, or up close it was up to me to make opening remarks. My first target was a huge man with a real wooden peg leg. I knew him to have been in on the kidnapping of the colonels daughter. He was a lieutenant in this club, so taking him out created a few precious moments of confusion. I hit him with a four fifty eight Winchester magnum round. The five hundred grain bullet strolling in at roughly twenty two hundred feet per second literally tore his left arm and shoulder from his body. The Wetherbe Mark V that I was using had E equals MC squared engraved on the barrel in fancy script. I didn’t see Peg Leg go down right away because I had already shifted to my next target, a man slouched on his bike, motor running some twenty yards to the left of the two vans.
Since he was at the periphery of the clot of bikes I reasoned that this would momentarily move toward the center, giving me some closely grouped targets. I saw that one go down because his boots filled my optic as he flipped over backwards. An undisciplined barrage of return fire aimed in a broad semicircle along the tree line I was just inside rattled out from the grouped men. None of the shots even got close.
One guy with a broom handle Mauser sprayed the bushes off to my right, and I popped him high above the collarbone, careful not to damage the weapon. Man, I just had to have that gun, it was so cool. Doug and I had agreed that we would make it look like a one shooter ambush until we had enough targets separated from the money and drugs, then we’d give them the bad news.
While I was shooting Doug was on the only road in or out of the place stringing up some improvised explosives we made from a couple of one oh fives. When the bad guys, and yes, I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights wondering just who the bad guys were, got tired of being carnival ducks, they mounted up and came for me. That was a mistake. Spread out as they were I didn’t want to waste our two claymore traps. So I switched to an Aug Steyr. Now, I knew that the Steyr is not terribly accurate beyond three hundred yards, but I can carve pumpkins with them at that distance, and they weren’t but a hundred and fifty yards out when I opened up on them. The two vans tore off up the road they had come in on firing something heavy from the rear of the second van. I still had four men on bikes out there in the woods, but they were making it easy crashing around, loud pipes blatting. I decided to move and take a position of concealment close to the road as planned.
There was no way anyone was getting out of that killing ground except the road. As I moved into my nest I propped the Weatherbe beside me and waited. In seconds I heard…and felt the blast of the first roadside bomb. It was bigger than I expected and i figured they would have heard it miles away. But mainly I hoped none of the loot had been damaged. I heard the distinctive chatter of Doug’s AK-47.
Reasoning that the ‘lone shooter’ had gone to the scene of the blast and was now killing their homies, the last two bikes made their charge for the road. At the last second I stood almost directly in their path and loosed two short bursts. A second later two riderless motorcycles zipped past me into the brush.
Doug and I split the money. I let him keep the drugs because, well, because I knew I was going to want to get some sleep in the nights to come. Doug left town, and I never heard from him again. That was easy in those days before the internet. I had thirty thousand dollars, more than I could have made in four years at my day job. I became a gambler for awhile, and it turns out I was pretty good at that too. Kind of gave me a cover story for the spending money I planned on spending pretty soon.
As to the day that changed the rest of my life? That was in the future for me as I was standing in my workroom counting blood covered money, and burning my clothes, so I guess that’s where it’s going to have to stay until I speak of it again. I guess that envelope will just have to wait.
The Butcher Shop