Gavin walked around the car to the driver’s side window. He knew it would take her some time to figure out there was no ignition switch on the dashboard. Big Bob had asked for a floor starter when he ordered the chrome behemoth. Surprisingly, the car started. She wasn’t as stupid as he thought.
Millie threw the car into gear and smashed down on the accelerator. Gavin reached in and grabbed the steering wheel with both hands. The car tires spit pebbles and sand as it picked up speed down the narrow road, his legs slapping against the side of the car as Millie jerked the steering wheel side to side, trying to knock him loose.
Gavin’s right hand fell loose of the steering wheel and he grabbed the window frame to support his weight. His feet bounced off the gravel road nearly knocking him off the speeding Buick. With his left hand he turned the steering wheel to run the car off the road.
Millie reached her right hand inside the crease of the seat and pulled out a knife. She must have hidden it there, earlier. The blade popped out of the switchblade’s handle and glimmered in the fading sun. She screamed as she drove the blade deep into his hand.
As my best pitcher was about to throw the ball, I heard a baby cry so loud I thought it must be very sick. Everyone turned to the sound, which was not a baby’s cries, but the painful wailing of a mule deer, its foot caught in a trap about a hundred yards outside the security fence. The traps were necessary to keep the foragers from the lettuce and cucumbers and my precious beets that I carefully planted, so yeah, it was them or us and the deer could always eat grass while we couldn’t.
The front gate had been opened earlier to let a truck in. Before anyone could stop him, Bill Hijikata ran out the gate and onto the field in the direction of the trapped deer. The idiot was going to get himself killed either by Hair-Trigger Joe’s machine gun or by the crazy mule deer. I yelled. “Bill—stop! Come back! Come back!” first in English, then Japanese. He didn’t hear me or didn’t care. Then all in the crowd yelled to him but it did no good. He was still far from the bleeding, kicking deer when the guard laid out a burst of machine gun fire at his feet. The camp was eerily quiet after that until the silence was broken by the rough tenor of the guard’s voice.
“Get back here, Jap! Get back or I swear I’ll shoot again!”
Bill stood motionless, staring at the guard but then turned back to the pitiful call of the crippled deer. He walked slowly toward it as if to calm the animal.
“I warned you, goddammit!” The guard fired another volley near Bill.
“No! Stop!” I cried over the gunfire and ran outside the gate. As I went by the watchtower, I yelled again to the guard. “I’ll get him! Wait please. I’ll get him!”
When I was almost to Bill, he took off in a run toward the deer. The guard fired a short burst that blew the back of my third base coach’s head off. I knelt over Bill to help, but no, so I lifted his lifeless body into my arms and walked slowly back to the compound, my stare challenging the guard to dare to fire again.
Bill’s blood covered half of home plate as I laid his body on the orange clay.
The platoon had been in an earlier firefight and they were exhausted, including Jackson, who had watch. The men lay in a circle around the fire, somehow managing to sleep amidst the cacophony of nighttime jungle noises. Jackson was reading the second page of Karen’s letter when the monkeys and birds and whatever else was out there, went quiet. He stood and scanned three sixty with his M16, the attached Starlight NVD scope painting the jungle green. His heart raced despite smoking some smack earlier. Good shit that kept a middle class boy’s head level after seeing your buddy’s brains on your shirtsleeve.
Nothing. Jackson turned in a circle one more time and as he aimed the rifle over heavy scrub nearby, he saw green eyes stare back. He emptied the clip on auto and then ducked as the other twenty-six men woke and stood as one, also empting their clips into the black void. Nothing should have lived through the fusillade, but two VC came over the shrub and into the circle of Marines, bent on suicide and taking as many of the enemy with them.
One of the VC screamed as he fired twice into Jackson’s sergeant. Jackson butted the small man, but then the insurgent came up thrusting with an antique rifle taller than he was. Jackson sidestepped the bayonet and wrestled him to the ground, pummeling him with his fists, only to be thrown over on his back by a man half his size. Before Jackson could stand, the VC thrust three fingers into his Adam’s apple. The pain paralyzed Jackson. He watched helplessly as the soldier prepared to run him through, until someone’s M16 nearly cut the bastard in half.
Paula sat Lily on the steps in front of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church and pounded hard on the faded wooden doors hoping someone inside would come. She’d always found solace back in Santa Rosa de Cabal at the Basilica Las Victorias whenever she or her family needed help from the attentive and consoling priest, Father Miguel. Wouldn’t an American priest give sage advice also?
In truth, she only wanted to hear a priest tell her what she already knew: leave Javier and either move back to
Lily grabbed Paula’s ankle and teethed roughly on her. She’d be hungry soon. Probably was already. The breast milk had not come, probably from stress, and the formula was so expensive.
“Soon, Lily. The priest will help.” She picked Lily up. Her diaper was soiled and she flinched when Paula touched her cheek with the back of her hand. The tooth was close. Damn Javier. Damn him and damn the priest who would abandon his church when there were people like her in need.
She gave up and walked down the steps and across the street to a small diner. The plastic sign had a cartoon soldier in a gray uniform holding a saber. Painted below him was the name: Dixie Diner.
She would ask for a job but if there were none here or elsewhere, she would have to call him to come and get them. She had no choice.
As she walked on the sidewalk toward the diner, she saw the two motorcycles speeding in the distance. She instinctively held Lily close
Frank left the stunned group and walked over to the bed to get a closer look. Each of the others tentatively followed him. He used the barrel of his pistol to move the shiny red hair off of Jennifer’s face. Michelle gasped and stepped back when she saw the bloody blue and purple gash on the right side of Jennifer’s head. A large red smile had been drawn on the face that extended from each side of her mouth all the way up to her ears. It gave her the perverse look of half-weeping, half-smiling, circus clown. Frank rubbed his finger along the unreal smile and showed the red mark to Bennie.
“Blood,” he said quietly.
Lying across her body from her shoulder to her knee was what each of the five had already presumed to be the murder weapon. Frank supported their assumption when he pushed up on the head of the golf club with his gun barrel and the candle light shone on its bloody titanium face.
Officer Levinson walked around the bed carefully, trying not to knock over any of the candles. He aimed his flashlight beam at the sheet.
“Chief, take a look at this.”
All four walked around the naked body, now in the advanced stage of rigor mortis, and stared down at a crude drawing of a red heart on the white sheet. Like the obscene smile, it was drawn with Jennifer’s blood. Inside the heart were the letters, F.P.D.
Frank jerked when his cell-phone unexpectedly vibrated in his shirt pocket. He opened it and read the text message:
“Isn’t she beautiful?”
Bob Wilson stepped back instinctively against the bar, Branson’s gun still pressed against his stomach. As the gun barrel moved higher up his chest, Bob resigned himself to his inevitable death at the hands of his diminutive assassin. Suddenly,a gray blur flashed by his face and the gun fired three times in rapid succession causing him to jerk his head to the right. As the bullets whizzed by his ear, a mirror shattered and fell to the barroom floor.
He dropped down next to a barstool and crawled away from Branson and his gun. He looked up to see Roger Poe lifting Buddy Branson about two feet above the bar. As Roger shook the man, the gun knocked loose from Branson’s grip and fell onto the parquet floor. Like a lion shaking a baby antelope, Roger smashed Branson repeatedly against the counter. Each time Branson’s body hit , the unmistakable sound of breaking bones could be heard over the screaming of the bar patrons and Branson’s moans. In one final effort, Roger threw Branson across the counter and into the broken mirror frame. The