Don or Never Ending War Part III — short story

Don or Never ending war part 3

It must have been 110 degrees in that bus. I needed to get used to it. Vietnam would be worse. 

The bus passed through the gates to Camp Anniston. Why did I sign up? Maybe I would have beat the draft. I had pretty good luck. 

I was the second guy off the bus. Rob Meyers was first. As soon as our feet hit the pavement the Major pointed at us.

“Congratulations. You shits aren’t going to Vietnam. I need two clerks.”

The only thing the Army ever taught me was how to steal. That’s what clerks in the Army do. Your superiors ask for something and you get it. No questions asked. You get it. And if you don’t, well that’s why they needed two new clerks.

This privileged position had existed since the beginning of war. We were always one inch from the front line, but as long as we were good little thieves, we spent our nights drinking Schlitz at the titty bar.

2.

I entered the General’s office like many times before – Yes sir, salute, the whole song and dance. He gave me permission, and I took a seat and awaited my next mission.

“Homecoming is this week.”

“I wouldn’t know sir.”

“Yes, you would. I know you shits are fucking those high school girls, but at least you have the common sense to stay away from my daughter.”

There were so many things that I wanted to say, but you can’t in the military. Basic training is supposed to program these urges out of you, but the brainwashing did not take for me. I bit my lip.

“My daughter needs a convertible for her grand entrance on Saturday.”

“Is that all? What do you want? Mercury, Chevell, what are you thinking?”

“Don’t get smart with me private.”

“Sir, I can’t get a convertible by Saturday.”

The General looked out his office window. Soldiers with their bags packed were loading onto a bus. He knew I could see it. He slowly made his way to his desk and took a seat.

“Don. I like you. You have been one of my best clerks, but if you can’t do your job, then I have no use for you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re dismissed.”

Just as I opened the door to exit his office.

“Don, make it cherry red if you can.”

I nodded. “Yes, sir”

3.

“We’re fucked.” I told Rob as I walked into the depot.

“What is it?” Rob nervously replied. He was always nervous. He was lucky to have me around to take care of him.

“The General wants a convertible, Saturday.”

“How are we supposed to do that?”

“You know how.”

I flopped down in the seat behind my desk. I had a damn desk. I was somebody. I WAS somebody. Now I’m a dead somebody. I put my feet up on my desk. My boots looked good. Everything wasn’t so bad. We would figure it out.

Rob took off his hat and began scratching his head. 

“How do we steal a convertible? That’s a little much isn’t it?” He wanted me to agree, but I couldn’t. We knew this day was coming. The requests only escalate until it’s a little much, then the new clerks take over.

“We’re closing early today. I’ve got some thinking to do. Let’s get some beers”

4.

After three beers, my mind was ready to go. Stealing a convertible was out of the question. We’d have to find one first, then we’d have to figure out a way to jack it, if even possible. We needed to buy one or lease it or something. That would require a large sum of money that we did not have, so that was the plan. We would have to rob someone.

“We’re going to need a gun.” I told rob.

Rob nodded, but he was distracted by the bare chest in front of his face.

“You get the gun and I’ll get some guys to help.”

Robbed pulled his face back, and turned to me.

“Who are you going to get?”

“Don’t worry about it. I know guy”

5.

The best plans are simple plans. Less can go wrong. We would rob Carlo’s Pizza. With the money, we’d go to Birmingham. There was a junior salesman that would swipe a convertible for the night. If we had the money and more time, we could probably find a legit rental somewhere in Alabama, but we didn’t have much wiggle room between getting the money and getting the car to the dance. It wasn’t the best plan, but it could work.

The homecoming football game was Friday night. No one was cooking. Everyone was ordering pizzas. Carlo’s would be flush with cash and less protected than the liquor store or the gas station. 

Rob would be the lookout guy and driver, and I would go in with Williams. He was a marine. He would be the muscle – just stand there and look dangerous so no one tried anything stupid. It was simple. Get in and get out.

6.

Around closing time we pulled into Carlo’s parking lot. It was empty just as planned. Carlo’s wife was cleaning up.

“Where’s the gun?” I asked. 

“It’s in the trunk,” Rob said.

“Why is it in the trunk?”

“That’s where I put it.”

“Nevermind.”

The three of us pulled down our black ski masks and got out of the car. Rob unlocked the trunk with his keys. An M16 was laying all by itself.

“What the fuck is that?” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

“It’s the gun.”

“I know it’s a gun, but it’s an M16. It’s a fucking military rifle. They’re going to know we’re from the base.”

“You said get a gun.”

“Yes, a handgun. This is an armed robbery, not a combat mission.”

That was that. Even simple plans fall apart. I accepted my fate. It looked like my luck had finally run out. I was going to Vietnam.  

“Fuck it,” Williams said as he grabbed the M16 and began to walk toward the front door of Carlo’s Pizza.

I chased after him.

“Whoa. Whoa. This isn’t going to work,” I explained. 

Williams just kept walking. I stopped and refused to go any further. I was not going to participate in this madness, but then Williams walked right in and began shouting at Carlo’s wife.

“Damnit.”

I chased after him.

7.

I jumped over the counter and got in between Williams and Carlo’s wife. More importantly, in between the rifle and Carlo’s wife. This was dumb for many reasons. I didn’t trust Williams. He was a fucking marine. They were all nuts. He would shoot me. He definitely would shoot me. Also, the bullet would likely rip through the both of us at close range. Either way, I needed her attention and I couldn’t get it from behind Williams.

“Give me the money,” I said calmly.

Carlo’s wife was in shock. She couldn’t speak. The shouting and the big gun were not helping. So I asked again and she still was unable to answer.

There was nothing in the register and nothing under the counter. 

“Is it in the back?”

Nothing. I asked again. It looked like she subconsciously nodded. That would have to do. I grabbed her by the arm and guided her to the back office. Williams followed behind with the gun pointed at us.

“Would you mind not pointing that at me?”

No response. Williams wasn’t talking either. Did everyone forget how to fucking speak?

Carlo was sitting behind the desk in his tiny office. The three of us stood outside his open door waiting for him to acknowledge us. My patience was wearing thin. He had to see us. Yesterday’s box scores could not be that fascinating. 

“How’d Rose do yesterday?”

Carlo sat down his newspaper.

“Two hits, but they lost to the Braves.”

“Where’s the money?”

“You’re not getting my money.”

Right on cue, Williams stepped forward and aimed the rifle at Carlo. He was just supposed to be muscle. At least he wasn’t pointing the gun at me anymore.

“Everybody take it easy. Just give us the money, and we’ll get gone.” I reassured everyone but myself.

“Why don’t you boys go back to base and forget about this mess.”

“Fuck,” I knew it. The goddamn rifle.

Carlo was right. He might call the cops or he might not. It didn't matter. I didn’t have a good feeling. I didn’t have a good feeling earlier. We needed to go back to the base.

“I’m going to blow your fucking head off, old man”

Williams meant every word of it. Fucking marines.

“You think I’m afraid of you. I ran into the gates of hell at Omaha Beach. You better shoot me right now because it’s the last chance you’ll get.”

I let go of Carlo’s wife’s arm and walked out. I could hear the voices rising behind me. I knew the next sound would be a pop. Halfway through the kitchen, guilt set in. It wasn’t just Carlo’s soon to be death, it was a year’s worth of lying, cheating and stealing. 

I couldn’t fix any of that now, but I could probably save Carlo. I looked to my left, there was a large wooden pizza pan with a handle. Rose would have gone four-for-four swinging this lumber. I picked up the pizza pan and turned around.

Carlo’s wife saw me coming. The other two were locked into a shouting match blind to the world around them. Goddamn, I didn’t want to go to Vietnam. I reeled back and swung the pan as hard as I could and the wooden board snapped on Williams’ head. I kicked him in the ribs several times for good measure.

Before I made my way out, I had to know. 

“It was the rifle wasn’t it?”

“What?” Carlo replied.

“You knew we were soldiers because of the gun.”

“No.” 

Carlo pointed at my boots.

“Those are Army boats.”

I shook my head and walked out ashamed.

Rob was eager to hear the news and for me to tell him to drive, but I didn’t say anything.

“Well?”

He knew to drive. It was his only job. Had this burglary gone well, and he did not immediately stomp on the gas, I would have been furious. That didn’t happen, so I sat quietly in the passenger side and imagined my future.

“Where’s Williams?”

“We’re fucked.”

8.

We sat in the depot with the lights off drinking a case of Schlitz. After three, I didn’t have any ideas, so we finished the case.

I told Rob to go back to the barracks. No one saw him at Carlo’s. The marine wouldn’t talk and neither would I. He didn’t need to go to prison. Rob didn’t argue. He was relieved and didn’t hesitate. After all, he was just the driver, he didn’t deserve time. However, he did steal a bunch of shit before that, so I didn’t tell him about the boots. I let him think he fucked it all up.

Shortly after Rob left, the police arrived. 

They threw me in the same cell with Williams. We stared at each other. I was expecting him to try to kill me. Without a pizza pan, I had no chance.

Williams didn’t do anything. He just smiled. Were we cool? Or was he smiling about something else. Fucking sadistic marines.

A half an hour later, two soldiers entered the holding area. They handed the guard paperwork. He looked it over and then walked over to the jail cell door. He opened the door and motioned to Williams. The marine slowly got up and smiled at me as he walked out.

The fucking marines take care of their killers. He was going to do a great job in Vietnam. Me, I was going to the big house for a couple years.

I laid down on the metal bench and put my hands behind my head. At least I wasn’t going to Vietnam.