Red and Me.
Let me tell you about Red and me, we go back a long way – I guess you could say that we were buddies almost before we were born. Our moms both went to the same grade school in Little Falls, New Hampshire. The town was so small then that folks used to say if you blinked as you passed the town limits sign on the way into town, then by the time you opened your eyes again you’d be passing the town limits sign on the way outta town. Town right ? Yeah well that’s what it said on the map. We had a City Hall, a red brick library, a Fire House, a 511 store and Delore’s Diner, and that was pretty much it, back then. Route 95 passed by our town, hell it did its best to miss our town altogether some thought, and the old wooden railroad bridge crossed right over 95. The railroad went south to Manchester, twenty miles away, and north up through the White Mountains where it eventually reached Conway.
So that’s pretty much Little Falls. There was a crystal clear river that ran down from the mountains and through the town, and Red and me spent a lot of long hot summers just goofing around in it – we made rafts from beers kegs roped together and imagined we were great explorers, navigating down the river as far as Red’s dad’s saw mill, where they boxed our ears for being so dumb as to get so close to the big log cutter. Like I said, our moms were best pals and got married on the same day and in the same church (we only had the one) and me and Red came along a year later, within a week of each other. As our moms were friends, it didn’t take much for Red and me to do the same. Red was six feet two by the time he was fifteen and solid muscle, a great mop of ginger hair and a permanent grin. Folks said he didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and I know that to be true.
Well me and Red went through school together, we both made the football team – although I was never as tough and well built as Red I was no skinny-butt neither, and on more than a few occasions Red and I stood back to back in the school yard during recess and took on all comers – and we never went down. I suppose we kinda drifted through school, neither of us graduated and at that time, that meant only one thing – ‘Nam. It was set to be another long hot summer, the day we walked down to the railroad trestle and waited. Pretty soon a train came by, slowing as they did to take the curve before the bridge, and we both jumped onto a flatcar. When we reached the depot at Manchester we were off across the rails like a pair of scalded cats, and into the town. There we found the recruiting office and fifteen minutes later came out as enlisted men in the United States Marine Corps. (We had heard that the guys who enlist got a better deal than the guys who got conscripted. With no hope of College we were certain to get the call so we figured we may as well at least decide our own fate, as far as we could that is).
We sank a few Buds in Town, then set out to hike back to Little Falls – the twenty miles was nothing to us then and we knew would be nothing to the Army neither, so best get some practice in, at least that was the idea. We had gotten about four miles out of Manchester when an Army Jeep pulled up beside us. The driver was the Gunney who had taken our oaths a few hours before. “ Thought I knew that hair son” he called out to Red, “ You boys need a ride ?”. So we jumped in and he dropped us back at the bridge. “Make sure you two boy are at the railroad station next week”, said the Gunney as he drove off. Next week. We had one week and then, Fort Bragg.
When we both got home that day we got a real roasting from our folks but at the same time they were both kinda proud of their boys, proud and fearful too – fearful that we might never come home again. Red and me were of an age when that idea really didn’t hold much water for us. We had a week of glory in Little Falls. Seems like everybody wanted to call by and shake our hands, and every pretty girl was fluttering their eyes at us. I was seeing Dolore’s daughter, Mary-Lou, off and on at the time, and on the night before I was due to ship out, she came across and we humped the night away in old Mr Armstrong’s barn. Many a long night in some stinking jungle I thought about that night as I waited for the gooks to show up.
Bragg was Bragg. A million American kids have passed through its gates and a million more will do so again. For Red and me it was the first time we had been out of state, save for a trip to Boston and a couple of trips to the sea. We met guys from all over. There was Hank from Kansas. Hank who had never seen the ocean and had never seen a mountain, spent his whole life in the corn fields of his family’s farm and ended it in a paddy field just outside Han Sec. Then there was Jed from Missouri. Quiet guy, just got on with whatever it was needed to be done. Didn’t mess with nobody. After a week they took us all to the range and dumped an M16 in everybody’s hands. We all let rip at those targets and there was bullets going everyplace. Jed’s target had two holes in it. The range officer laughed and said “Shit boy, you only hit the damn thing twice”. He didn’t add that both hits were bang in the middle. Then Jed spoke “No Sir, I hit it every time” he said.
“Shit you did soldier. I see two holes”, said the Officer.
“Yes Sir. I am not familiar with this weapon. There should be one hole.”
The Officer looked hard at Jed “ Boy, are you telling me you emptied a whole magazine through two holes? Is that what you’re saying boy ?”
“Yes Sir”, answered Jed. The officer took another magazine and handed it to Jed. “Tell you what son, you take this mag and you do that again while I watch your target. If you do what you claim you can do, then life is gonna get a whole lot better for you, but of you’re lying, you will not believe how bad life can be around here.”
Jed took the magazine and there and then clipped it into his weapon, spun around and emptied it into another target from standing. This time there was one hole. Nobody, but nobody had seen shooting like that ever. Life got real easy for Jed and he took out a whole lot of Gook officers when he got to ‘Nam including two Generals. Jeez, that guy could shoot. They got him in the end, one sniper shot too many. The gooks lobbed a mortar shell at his position and got lucky – blew him to bits.
I could fill a book with stories about the guys from Bragg and I figured someday I would, though that ain’t likely now. One other guy I’ve gotta mention here was Joe. Joe came from Orange County, California. He had a moment of fame. You must have seen the TV coverage when we got the hell out of Saigon ? There was that moment when the Huey came down onto the Embassy roof for the last time, all those poor guys trying to get on ? Well that guy in the open doors of the Huey who was puling ‘em up, that guy was Joe. Joe came back but we left a lot of good guys in the jungles and the rice fields. I can’t leave ‘Nam without telling you about one thing that happened with Red and me.
We had been ‘up country’ for about a month I guess. I was on a night patrol, running point. Red was trying to get some sleep back at our base camp. Somehow a couple of gooks took me out from the patrol, just came by, grabbed me, and gone. Nobody knew I was missing until they stopped for a quick rest. Oh sure, they looked around for some sign, but for a load of civilians in black pyjamas those gooks were good, real good. They took me to a native village that they had taken over. It was on the banks of a murky smelly river. Along the way they beat on me a few times, but I figured that was nothing to what I had heard they could no. Yeah, I was terrified. The gooks made a cage out of bamboo – to this day I cannot pass one of those stores that sells that bamboo furniture without a slight tremble; the guys that make garden chairs can be very creative with a few lengths of bamboo. So they made this cage and dropped a few rocks in it, then they put me inside and lowered it into the river until the water just about reached my shoulders, and it was cold and smelly. Every now and then they would drop the cage and just as my lungs were about to give up, they would haul it back up, laughing hysterically and money changing hands – I guess they were betting on me living, or dying. Whenever they needed a crap or to take a leak, they would do it over the top of the cage. After three days and nights of this I had just about decided that the next time, the very next time, I would take one deep breath of water and end their stupid game.
At dawn on the fourth day the jungle exploded. Red came out of that jungle with an M16 in each hand, hands so big that the M16’s looked like hand guns, and he was hosing down everything that moved. He was awesome. He took out fifteen gooks in about as many seconds, then it all went quiet. Red came over to the cage and hauled it out of the river with one beefy hand. In the corner of his eye he caught a movement. The gook Officer had not been hit after all, and now he was trying to reach a weapon. Red stamped on him, hard, then picked him up. I was out of the cage now and we put the gook in. The gook began to scream at us. We dropped the cage back into the river and then we watched. When the thin stream of bubbles stopped, we turned away, back into the jungle, back to base. After that I was never far from Red. When we both got wounded on the same day at Da Nang (for which we both got our Purple Hearts), we even lay in hospital beds, side by side, while they put us back together again. We both had the slugs they dug out of us so we had them made into a kind of medallion thing and hung ‘em around our necks on a couple of chains for good luck. That was Red. Red and me. We left ‘Nam about a month before Saigon fell.
There had been a few changes in Little Falls whilst we had been away. Not a lot of change – a town like that takes decades to grow, but changes all the same. There were a couple of new antique stores on what the Town now grandly called Main Street, attracting a small clientele of weekend tourists, and old Mr Armstrong’s barn was gone, replaced by our very own McDonald’s, and next to it, an Exxon gas station. Yep, Little Falls was slowly growing up. Mary Lou was married now, which cut me up for a while, but then I discovered the daughter of the McDonald’s manager and things began to look good again. Red’s father passed away a month after our homecoming so Red took over the sawmill. I couldn’t really get my stuff together for a while, but about a year later, Ellie (my McDonalds girl) fell pregnant, so we got hitched. Red was best man of course, and David was born two months after the wedding. I had a fair bit stashed away, so I took on a Ford dealership in Manchester and settled down to like with Ellie, David, and of course, Red.
The sawmill went from strength to strength, taking in building supplies and plumbing, and just sprawling right across the West end of town. Pretty soon Red had a fleet of trucks running up and down the Intertsate, he was really going places, not that I could grumble – I was shifting old Henry T’s finest as fast as I got ‘em delivered. Yep, it was good times. Red finally got himself hitched too – to a gal whose father ran a big building supplies outfit someplace down near Atalanta. Red had been in town on some kind of convention and things just went from there. Pretty soon it seemed they had four kids running around (every one of ‘em with a mop of red hair) and by then I had a daughter as well as my son. Things might have stayed that way for a sweet long time, but then the Barclays moved into town, in the Fall of eighty five, and things were never quite the same again.
Ours was a sleepy little town, the kind of place where you go out to work all day and leave your house unlocked knowing the worst thing that might happen is to arrive back home and find some neighbour had left a fresh baked apple pie on your table. It was a place where if you went out for anything you could leave the keys in your car, and not worry about it still being there when you got back. There was one summer when a group of boys got into playing mailbox baseball, but that was as bad as it got, until the Barclays hit town. In the first month after their arrival there were no less than seven auto thefts. Two of those were European Sedans that were never seen again – most likely driven down to, and sold in, Mexico. Another was Delores’s old pick up, but the Sheriff found that dumped in the river. The other four were all found minus their stereo systems, a few wheels and other parts, just tucked into the woods outside of town. Then things changed. Folks began to lock their cars – not at first, but later as more and more autos got stolen or broke into. Then we had us our first burglary, first ever in Little Falls. One of the antique shops on Main Street got cleared right out and nobody saw a thing.
Well by then, folks being folks and all, folks got to talking and it soon became the common feeling that all of this had begun when those damn Barclays moved in. There was just the father, Jack Barclay, and his two boys, Rip and Zeke – all three of them as mean as a snake. None of then ever seemed to do a day’s work and none of then ever seemed to be short of a buck or two. Nobody had the balls to ask if there was a Mrs Barclay and to tell you the truth, nobody much cared. Everybody knew it was them to blame, even the Sheriff said so, “but the law” he said, “The law needs proof, and there ain’t none. So lock up your cars and your houses and mind to your business, is the best advice I can give you right now.”
The following Spring the Barclays practically had the run of the town. Oh you might think that a couple of Purple Heart Vets like me and Red could take those fellows down without a second thought, but real life is not like the movies – there ain’t no Rambo in Little Falls to get the bad guys. We were both middle aged, still in not bad condition it must be said, family men. Peaceful men. ‘Nam was a whole generation in the past. Like everybody else in town though, we were getting near the limit. Something had to give. We wanted our town back. It was then, as feelings really took a hold on us good folk, that they got Red.
Red was set in his ways. No computer gizmos for him. He paid his whole damn company in good old greenbacks, cash. Well once in a while he would have to pay for a big shipment and then, what with the men’s wages on top, he could easily have $100,000 locked up in the old safe at the sawmill, and the Barclays knew that. On the Saturday it happened, Red had gone over to the Mill to be ready to pay the guys. He was there as usual, real early, just before dawn. The Sheriff guessed that whoever it was (and we all know who it was), was already there, waiting on him. Well that was one big mother of a safe he had and it weren’t going to be blown open none too easily, and there was no way it was going to be levered open. Nope, the only way in was the key, and Red had that on a chain around his neck. The first driver to check in was the guy who found Red, or rather half of him. The part of him from the waist down never was found, most probably dragged off by animals, but his top half was still laying across the log saw that the bastards had fed him into. From the look of his face he had a pretty good beating too. When they told me I cried like a baby. Red was gone. Of the Barclays there was no sign.
They didn’t get far. A week later they were picked up in Ellsworth, over in Maine – said they had gone there for a little R and R. Yeah right, like nobody goes to Ellsworth for R and R. The Sheriff really did his best, he truly did, but the fact is that not one shred of evidence was found to connect the Barclays to the sawmill, and in the end the Sheriff had to let them go, which he duly did. Things should have ended there, with the FBI now looking for a lead and with me trying to comfort Red’s wife and kids and me still grieving for him – me and most of the town that is, and I guess they would have too, but for chance. You never know with chance. Chance is that you might cross the street tomorrow and not see the thirty-two wheeler that creams you into the ground, or you might buy a state lottery ticket for fun, and win the big one. Who knows ? Well it was chance that had me driving a new Mustang convertible over to a customer, and it was chance that had the cut over the river shut for repairs, and it was chance that sent me down on past the Barclay place. And there I saw it. There was Jack Barclay, sitting on his deck with a cold six pack, playing cards with his boys, and around his neck a chain. I knew what that was with just one glance – I had the matching one under my shirt, where it had been since, since a long time ago. There was only one way he had that chain. I guess I should’ve gone to the Sheriff, but so what, what did that prove. He would as like say he found it someplace. But I knew.
That night, that very same night, I put the kids to bed and told Ellie I was watching a late movie – like I did sometimes. When the house was real quiet I went down to the storm cellar and opened up a chest I kept that nobody but me knew I had. I could still get into my jungle greens, and I slipped them on. In my belt I tucked the Browning Auto, and my combat knife. From the cellar wall I took a nail gun and clipped that on too. A few smears of grease on my face, and I went out. I rolled my pickup down onto the road, let it roll as far as it would then fired it up and headed over to the Barclays. I coasted the last few yards to their place with the lights out and stopped. Getting in was real easy – no locks on their place, I mean, who would be dumb enough to rob them ? Their dog did find me but he knew me and just made a kind of whimper when he saw me, but I still took out my knife and drew it across his trusting throat. He only took a minute or two to die.
I was in no mood for politeness. I found Jack in his room and hit him hard, real hard, with the butt of the Browning, and then trussed his hands with some cable ties I had picked up in my cellar. I found the two boys sharing a stinking filthy room. I had hit one when the other stirred so I hit him fast, and there it was, it was really that easy. Three Barclays in the bag. I took them out to the pick up, one at a time, and slung them in the back. I was none too gentle. Zeke began to holler so I hit him again. The other two decided to keep quiet after that. I drove on down to the railroad bridge. They could see from my eyes that something real bad was going down here, and they were right. After I had seen to Zeke, he was first because he was still out from when I last hit him, Jack and Rip’s eyes were pulsing with terror. Zeke was crucified up on the trestle, that nail gun did a good job. As I nailed up Rip beside him, Zeke opened his eyes and the pair of them made a pretty sound as they hung there, cussing and screaming all at the same time. Finally I got to Jack. I tore the chain off his neck and stuffed it into my pocket. I had a real treat for Jack, and he got to hang upside down in between his two ill conceived bastard sons.
I spent the rest of the night just sitting there, thinking about the times me and Red had, and watching the Barclays die. Rip began to really grate on my nerves after a time so around three of four, I can’t be certain when, I shot him. Just the one bullet, I am still a pretty good shot. As dawn broke, Jack just died. I guess his hear gave out because he never made much of a sound all night long, so that left Zeke who was still conscious but had long stopped his shouting and was sort of babbling away now. Those Barclays weren’t so tough. A buddy of mine got taken by the gooks one time in ‘Nam and they pinned him up on a tree with bayonets. He hung there for two days until we found him – runs a hire shop over in White Rock now.
It must have been sometime around seven that morning when the morning flyer to Manchester thundered across the bridge. The shaking of the trestle made Zeke scream. I saw the eyes of the engine driver almost pop out of his head as he passed us. The Sheriff came for me about thirty minutes later it was with tears in his eyes. The town did all they could but National TV had the story by then, and pretty soon I became a ‘crazed vet killer’. The trial was not that long, besides, I pleaded guilty. Most of all now its my family that I miss, and Red of course, still Red. So I guess I never will write that book about ‘Nam, or anything else for that matter. Little Falls is still growing, but I won’t see how far it goes. I won’t see my kids marry, and I won’t ever be a grandfather. I hope the town remembers me though, remembers me as they remember Red that is. I was his friend. The lights just got brighter in here, as they always do just before, you know when the extra generator kicks in. After four years on ‘The Row’ you kind of get used to the ways of the place, to your neighbour’s door opening one day as he takes ‘The Walk’. Well, its my turn today. I hope its fast – as fast as they say it is. The Governor and the Priest have just come in so I guess its time now. I hope Red is waiting for me.
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