saints & sinners

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

an army vet must come to grips with his past before its too late.

CHAPTER 1: The Trip


Brock looked at the walls of his apartment, and while they said no words, they mocked him regardless. He had been home about 3 months from Afghanistan, and while he got an apartment and found employment as a local bouncer, he was lost. Brock missed the structure of the Army, its rules, regulations and social norms that he followed were not prevalent in today’s society. Coming home, he found people did not adhere to any visible professional conduct. This made him uncomfortable around most people.


Brock Nelson was 31 years old, 6 feet tall and 200 pounds of solid muscle. Years of working out, and the regiment of the military had toned his body. He wore his sandy brown hair short, of course, and he had recently grown a mustache he was not attached to as of yet. His eyes were the first thing people noticed, though. They were black dead eyes, which afforded him a look of menace, which he enjoyed so as to keep people at a distance. During the last year of his deployment, and since he mustered out, his demeanor had gotten worse. He knew he suffered from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. His exit physical and mental evaluation had told him what he already knew. He had been exceedingly angry and quick tempered that last year after coming off the front line. Drinking and fighting was his normal course of action, and the army had decided his enlistment had run its course. Armed with an honorable discharge and a referral to an army shrink, he was let out into the world with no idea what to do next.


He had come home of sorts, to New York City. When he left in the early 90’s, his neighborhood of the upper West Side was called Hell’s Kitchen, with seedy apartments and even seedier bars and clubs. When he was younger, the streets were run by an Irish mob named the Westies, run by Jimmy Coonan and Micky Featherstone. They had tried to recruit him several times as he was known to be good with his fists, but Brock was not a criminal, and was able to respectfully keep his distance from that element. Now his old neighborhood was called Clinton for some reason, and was filled with yuppie types of young people, running off to get their latte’s and vegan food. Old time bars like Murphy’s, have given way to juice bars and nail salon’s offering weird spa treatments.  Brock almost growled at the thought of where he was in life.


Brock reached for his cell phone, which made a noise that he had a message. It was his girlfriend, Sheila, who had called a few hours before to ask him to call her after work. Brock remembered that she was working on weekend plans for the two of them. He had dated Sheila for 3 months, and felt comfortable with her. She was about 5’8”, thin, with long blond hair. She had that washed out look of an ex addict, which she was. She had been straight for 2 years before he met her, and she was the one person unafraid of him. That was the attraction, because try as he did, she could see right through him. Whenever Brock got angry, which was often, she could calm him down to an extent. Lately, even Sheila’s charms were working less and less, as Brock began to act out more and more. They had been fighting, ever since he had punched out a guy who was pushy with her one night. Being a bouncer afforded Brock to do two things liked. Be alone, and sometimes confront people who needed to be confronted. Brock often used the analogy of Saints and Sinners, when he described himself. Some of the time, he needed the patience of a saint to break up fights and arguments. Other times, he was the sinner, taking apart a loudmouth who got out of line, only doing so to prove to himself he could. Sheila had been after him about acting as the sinner, and told Brock he needed to relax.


When he called her back, Sheila reminded him of a cabin her family had for years in the woods outside of Roscoe, New York. Sheila’s family was all gone, and it was her cabin now. She suggested a weekend getaway there, to allow him to refresh and enjoy the outdoors. Brock had to admit, it sounded like a perfect place to de-stress, so he had agreed. They decided to leave the next morning, to beat the NYC traffic.  That morning, Sheila met him at his apartment with her luggage and several bags of groceries. Brock had one piece of luggage, and he looked at Sheila’s number of items with disdain. Why do women pack as if they are going on a voyage no matter where they planned to be, he thought to himself. Watching Sheila putting the items in the back of his Ford pickup, he had to smile. She had such enthusiasm, he could not get upset.


That feeling lasted until they were outside of New York City, on US 15 heading north. Sheila had started to question what he wanted to do with his life now. He had been avoiding this question himself, as he had no idea. He did not want to hear it from anyone else, lest he admit he had no clue how to proceed with his life. Brock tried to play off the question with vague references of contacting army contractors, but Sheila was having none of that. He tried to explain he had to decide what he would like to do, as opposed to what he was capable of doing with his limited skill sets. The more Sheila persisted, the angrier Brock became. He began seeing red, his trigger for exploding into anger. Brock took a deep breath, and as Sheila was going on, he told her he wanted to paint landscapes. Sheila’s look of utter incredibility was hilarious, and Brock burst out laughing. Sheila looked at him for several seconds, then began laughing herself. Sheila asked him what kind of landscapes, and he replied he wanted to do for waxed begonias what Monet had done for water lilies. This set them both off again, and a crisis was averted.


Once they arrived at the cabin, after putting their gear away, they went outside to the lake. There was a row boat there, and they rowed around the lake, taking in the beauty of the place. Brock felt himself start to unwind, and they enjoyed each other’s company for several hours.


Later that night, after dinner, the crises returned with a vengeance. Sheila asked him if he felt he had to stay in New York. She had a waitress job that was going nowhere. They gave her only about 30 hours a week, which barely covered her rent. She had been suggesting they start fresh somewhere else for a while now, but Brock had just got back, and he was not ready for that big of a change at this time in his life. The more she pushed, the angrier Brock became, and his eyes exploded into red. He felt light headed, and he began to phase out.


 What felt like a short time later, but was actually several hours later, Brock came to. He felt refreshed, and wondered how he could make it up to Sheila for last night. He thought for several minutes, and decided to clean the room, and make breakfast for the two of them. Brock liked cleaning, as it calmed him down, and gave him a sense of purpose. Using all kinds of cleaning products, he cleaned the entire cabin, from top to bottom. He would occasionally look at Sheila lying in bed, so peacefully. He sat on the bed, looking at her angelic face. He suddenly realized he would have to pay for his sins sometime in the future. He became disgusted with himself, as he remembered the things he did in Afghanistan. It seemed he could not run from himself, or what he had become. When this realization hit him, his eyes began to tear up. He was a monster, and would always be one. He carefully picked up Sheila’s body from the bed, and began the process of disappearing.








It had come to this. Ever since his last blackout resulted in Brock killing his girlfriend during a black out three years ago, he had been running. Not from the law, as nobody missed Sheila or reported her missing. No, he had been running from himself. And he wound up here, on a goddamn psychiatrist’s couch. Well, not exactly on the couch, but sitting in a chair. And sitting opposite him was a pencil necked scholarly type guy with a 60’s mustache and beard just looking at him. He half expected this guy to light up a pipe and start singing kumbaya. He felt that the shrink was waiting on him, but damned if he did not remember being asked a question. So, there he just sat, looking at the shrink, who returned his stare, unblinking. Brock finally said, “Look, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say here.The shrink, whose name was Lester, finally said, “Why don’t you answer the question? When Brock still did not answer the question, he asked; “What are your running from?” The question was like a slap in the face, and Brock instantly knew why he zoned out (Not a BLACKOUT). How in the hell did this guy know that???


Brock had indeed been running. He stopped here, in California; Venice Beach to be exact. The Left Coast, LA-LA land, the land time forgot and the island of misfit toys all in one place. In this town of wierdos, Brock felt he could hide here and be alone. That idea did not last, as he got into a fight with some asshole who complained about the U.S. Military. Brock did not black out, but he saw Red, and he wished he did not remember beating this jerk so bad he had to be hospitalized. This got him arrested for Assault, and after plea bargaining the charge down to a misdemeanor, he got away with just having to attend Anger Management Classes. And here he was.


The shrink kept looking at him, and Brock felt he could see right through him. Brock became pissed off, and shouted “You think you know me after an hour in our first session? You think you can figure out what’s wrong with me that fast??” Lester looked at Brock calmly and said, “One hour? I had you pegged after the first fifteen minutes. Arrests from New York to California, all various assaults. Moving from place to place, not staying very long or trying to put down roots for a future, its simple to explain. You are running from something in your past, which has you so scared you would rather keep moving that dealing with whatever it is.” This rocked Brock back in his seat. He just sat there, staring at the doctor, not knowing what to say. Lester stated, “Look, there is something you did that is tearing you up inside, and running is not going to make it any better.” Brock jumped out of his seat, and made a move towards Lester, menacingly. Lester just sat there, but Brock saw his body tense, ready to make a move. That stopped Brock, because he saw no fear in Lester’s eyes. And what he saw actually unnerved Brock, it was as if Lester was daring him to keep coming. Nothing was said for a minute, and finally Lester told him, “Our session time is up. I’ll see you next week, and maybe then you can keep your ass in your seat long enough for us to get at the real problem.”




Later that night, after his session, Brock found himself in a bar, drinking alone. He was in the Prince of Whales Bar, a local dive in Playa del Ray on Culver Boulevard about a block from the ocean. It was early, so the bar was almost empty, and as he looked around the room he saw the long mahogany bar with the windows behind it. He did not worry about anyone trying to make small talk, his demeanor had always acted like a shield to keep people at bay. His thoughts went back to his session with Lester. Lester Farmer, psychiatrist, was way more than he projected to be. Lester came across as some home spun character, but there was a hardness to him that Brock recognized. Brock was taken aback by how Lester had seen right through him. If he could do that in under an hour, how much could he see if this continued? Brock thought back to his recent past. The shrink was right, he was running. But Brock had not touched a soul that did not start with him first in his fights. Brock had often come to the aid of some girl who was being mistreated, and his intervention had often resulted in the aggressor being pounded. Brock felt he was trying to make up for what he had done to Sheila. Brock tried to reason that he was acting the saint, repaying past debts to society. He knew deep down, that he would have to pay for that sin with Sheila in this lifetime. He often thought about turning himself in, admitting his guilt and facing his time in prison. It was either that, or killing himself, which is what he felt he deserved.


Lester Brown was drinking alone as well. Lester resided in a two-bedroom co-op on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. The neighborhood was full of younger people, younger than Lester’s 65 years. Living in that neighborhood kept Lester feeling young, and with the ocean so near, he walked along the beach nearly every day. Lester though about Brock, and realized he saw himself in the troubled man. He looked up at the one picture on his bedroom wall, of him and his fellow soldiers in the Binh Duong Province of South Vietnam. He had been assigned to the U.S. Army First Calvary Division, and fought in the battle of Ho Boo Woods. That battle had been brutal, and while Lester had fought well and certainly had killed some of the enemy, he also felt shame come on when he remembered killing the young boy of about 15. He had found the boy near the encampment, and assumed he was a scout. With his adrenalin pumping from the battle, Lester shot the youth. Searching the boy after he shot him, he realized the child was not PAVN, the North Vietnamese Army. The boy had been looking for a wayward goat, which they found a short time later. Nobody spoke of the incident, and it was kept out of the briefings. But Lester still carried his own thoughts on the incident, even after 50 years. Lester knew there was something similar in Brock’s past, and he was going to work with Brock to get him the relief that eluded himself.


Lester decided to walk home. He had to come up with a plan to get inside Brock’s head and get at the real problem here. Lester decided he might have to open himself up by admitting his mistake while serving in Vietnam. While he was lost in his thoughts, he felt himself run into something extremely hard, and before he could right himself, he was down on the ground. Lester groaned and looked up to see Brock staring down at him incredulously. “Jesus man, I thought I got him by a truck, just don’t stand there, help me up!”. Brock could not believe this, he was lost in his own thoughts about dealing with Lester, and here he walks right into him! He reached down and effortlessly brought Lester to a standing position. They looked long and hard at each other. Lester started, “Look, I think there might be a way for you to get through this, but you have to believe in me.” Brock shook him off,” Lester, I’m done. There is no way for me to fix what’s wrong with me, so…”. Lester immediately saw through what Brock was saying. “I didn’t think you were that weak, or such a coward.” He was immediately choking, as Brock had his hands around Lester’s throat. Just as Brock was thinking about choking the life out of Lester, a sharp pain in his right eye had him doubled up. Lester had poked him in the eye! Lester began coughing, trying to catch his breath, and had taken up a defensive stance against any further attack. Brock had also taken a step back, and was no eying Lester suspiciously, and with some respect. “Taking you own life doesn’t erase whatever you did” Lester croaked. Brock was stunned, he had been thinking about that. Brock thought to himself, “How is this guy so aware of everything I am thinking about?” Lester was looking at Brock and realized Brock had really been thinking about killing himself. There on Ocean Avenue, about two blocks from his apartment, Lester said something he had not spoken of in 50 years. “I killed an innocent civilian in the war, and covered it up. He was a young boy not near any enemy combatants, and I killed him. Then I buried the body and never told anyone about it. Fuck, I haven’t spoken about this to anyone else since it happened.”


With that, Brock sat down on the sidewalk. The air had left his lungs, and his head was spinning. Brock realized their situations were still entirely different, but he was shocked that Lester had confided in him. Lester sat down next to Brock on the sidewalk, as several people passing by barely noticed them. With a deep breath, with his head hung low and tears in his eyes, Brock began talking…



Submitted: May 19, 2020

© Copyright 2023 jmva93. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


J P Lundstrom

I like it. Although the undiscovered violent acts portrayed are kind of shocking, they are needed to make the ending more powerful.

Even if the story's focus is on Brock, you should go into a little more detail with the Sheila incident, so we can understand his guilt.

The page looks all marked up, but most of the marks have to do with mechanics, not the story quality. You've done a good job.

Thu, May 21st, 2020 1:45pm


Thanks so much for the review. Your constructive suggestions will be helpful going forward.

Thu, May 21st, 2020 7:15am

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