It was now two days since Harris had decided to wean himself of the booze. It seemed a very stupid idea he thought to himself his head pounding like tow sledge hammers pounded alternately into each temple. If he moved even slightly, he felt like he would heave and for the first day he had disposing of everything within him from both ends. The dull ache in his ass was now a burning raw flame that send into convulsions overtime he squeezed his sphincter. Now on the second day all he could do was crawl to the bowl and suck water from the nozzle of the faucet which mostly sent him into cramps. Occasionally, he would simply pass out. Underlying all this was a naggingly simple little voice that said, “Go on and open that last fresh bottle and take one tiny little swig . . . just one!” Every time his hand reach out he thought of himself asleep leaning on the edge of the roof and then Swede’s head slowly rupturing from a high powered round. Then all the pain in the world was demoted to a minor scratch compared with the anger that he had to inflict the pain of guilt to let his buddy down. If the Devil showed up, he could have learned a few new tricks about inflicting torment.
Harris awoke in the predawn morning of the third millennium of the third day choking. The barrage laid down on their position had killed very man in the platoon except him and Swede and torn the remnants into fleshy scraps. He could see the NVA forming a line of attack in the bush some fifty yards ahead ready to come in ‘hug‘ and finish off what was ever left with ‘F1‘ grenades. He turned to look at Swede on his side of the trench and saw him tugging on the legs of a woman while two other monstrously large NVA yanking on the same woman on the other side up on the edge of the trench. A third evil ‘cocksucker‘ was trying to bayonet Swede but he would manage to pull out of the way of each thrust every time. And while the ‘dinks‘ were doing all this pulling a half-pint gray suited big headed gnome standing next to the open door to a big mirrored sphere was waving them in. This silent ballet went on until finally Swede’s head was blown clear off his neck by another pith helmeted ‘slope-eyed‘ officer’s AK-47. The mask of his face tumbling end over end towards Harris screaming at the top of its disembodied lungs until Harris blacked out and found himself shivering violently on the bed the dull light of morning on the wall opposite the window.
He tried to marshal as much of his rational self as he could. He put an arm down on the floor and tried to ease himself off the bed and the arm gave way and he crumpled on the floor rolling into a fetal position. It was another hour until he had enough energy to worm his way forward to the bathtub. He crawled clumsily over it’s porcelain retaining wall and worked his legs over after his torso so he was at least on his back. He turned the knobs in and got a cold continuous blast of water on his numbed limbs. Slowly his senses came back to him. The sun was up when he finally hoisted himself to an upright position and climbed out of the tub. He empty the last of the watery contents of his stomach in the toilet and standing upright for the first time in three days took stock of the effect of its chaos on the room. He felt far from durable but also knew that aside from the craving he was over the biggest physical hurtle. Now it was a matter of relentless conscience driven willpower on his part. The need to make amends in some small way after the fact demanding that he follow this thing through no matter what the cost.
The morning traffic swished past the little outdoor restaurant down the street that Harris and Swede had met at a century ago. The third cup of black coffee stood steaming up before him. How he had walked the two blocks to get here on the utter hell of the pain generated his two swollen ankles was beyond human comprehension. There was a message at the desk from the Medical Examiner’s office that Swedes remains had been transferred to Los Angeles National Cemetery where the veterans were buried. The internment was scheduled for the next day and it was obvious that someone was making great pains to have him there. It was already pretty much impossible to believe that the cops had just shown up to knock at his door then show him his friends blasted remains. Someone was counting on the shock value of it to get him to do something? The side trip to the jail right after and the Hispanic kid was the link, but how? He had stopped at the market and gotten some cleaner and sponges and after scaring up the maid’s cart for some clean sheets and towels and attend to straightening out the war zone of his room. There was no reason to let on that he had kicked. The after effects of his self-inflicted Torqemada of withdrawal could still be attributed to continued alcoholic abuse. He ported in some teabags and after washing out a few half pint empties filled them with tea cold brewed to the proper measure of color. Maybe no one was watching? Maybe they were. If they were half as clever as they seemed to be, the .45 was also a known quantity. He put the chair against the door knob and pulling the parts out from their hiding place checked and double checked the rounds and the firing pin to see if there had been any tampering. His ‘hairs‘ over the furniture drawers were still pasted in place from days before looking undisturbed
The room felt damp and humid with all his stuff hanging to dry after having been thoroughly washed. The sickly sweet alcohol tainted smell of the contents of his entrails persisted faintly around the place like bad whore perfume. He lay on his ‘rack‘ pondering his limited options. Physically, he was near to being a wreck. He felt as if an adolescent could knock him over with a tap. He had gotten some cash and reluctantly paid for another month of the unexpected in this hell-hole. He didn’t have a driver’s license for California or anywhere for that matter. The worst of it is that he was now totally alone. He couldn’t go to the bar as he already was in a battled with himself to backslide back into liquid oblivion. He didn’t know anyone here and those that he was familiar to on a daily basis where he had come from had probably been happy to forget him as soon as his presence was no longer in their proximity. The police however were on to him in some way. It was evident that they must have some for of basic data as they had not even asked to get more basic information on an official form or even have him sign anything like an affidavit or a release. Now he had seemingly been too cordially invited to attend his buddy’s funeral. The big question of “Why?” loomed in his mind. He’d to take a ‘Big Blue” down Wilshire as he had a coupled times previous but this time a little bit past the hospital. He figured to get a good night’s rest and rolled over on his back and stared at the ceiling to see if the demons trapped in his mind would allow him to get some ‘shut eye‘.
The cemetery was tucked away beside a long low row of trees adjoining the anonymous expanse of white marble tablets. Their leafy ‘raison d’être‘ was as a buffer from incessant road noise coming from the route 405 freeway that ran along side just out of sight. The walk from the bus stop to the cemetery’s entrance had been slow in light of his diminished physical condition. He found an old guy at the gate that benevolently noticed his difficulty walking and offered to drop him off up by the cemetery’s chapel. He limped up the concrete stair stepped walkway to the small white and terracotta church that was built in a style copied from an old California mission. To Harris’s complete surprise there was a small crowd of mourners milling before the casket inside. Everyone fell silent mutually turning towards the door as he appeared through the doors. A uncommonly statuesque looking blond haired woman dressed in very stylish mourning cloth stood both as focus and towering center piece of a varied collection of business suits and military uniforms that made up this tight knit entourage. Harris hadn’t figured that Swede had any family besides his only missing daughter. He approached cautiously down the aisle toward the party growing somewhat surprised to detect a pronounced family resemblance shared by a couple of sturdy young Navy officers in common with the widow they were standing beside. The cumulative effect of the tableau before him was of an earthly Valhalla with its Valkyrie queen surrounded by modern versions of Viking warriors long descended from the ancient Scandinavians. Two of the young sailors in ‘dress blues’ wore the gold pin of an eagle bearing a trident and anchor signifying their identity as Navy Seals. The woman dipped down her dark glasses taking in Harris as he stood disheveled before this now silent throng feeling as if he were here to face a military tribunal for court marshal.
“You must be Christopher Harris“, the woman coolly said quietly. “Yes maam, . . . I am“, Harris replied uneasily. “Then you know about Tilda?“, she replied ‘matter of factly‘ while looking hard into his eyes to measure his response. “Yes maam, Swede’s, I mean Sven, you’re daughter . . .” he fumbled. “You mean my niece, . . . I’m Inga, Sven’s kid sister.“, she interrupting him and leaving a long silence in her wake. She formerly extended her gloved hand to him which he quickly took in a ceremonial geture of introduction with a single brief shake. Harris stood before her icy calm equally bewitched and intimidated as if cast in the role of an unruly peasant taken to task before the variable mercies of the land’s local regent. Much to his surprise he was also experiencing a sense of embarrassing physically attraction to this maturely regal female. A singular personage that in anyone’s book would have been judged on the level of a goddess by comparison to any other lesser earthly female. Harris retreated back slowly back to a pew at the middle of the hall as the halting conversation of the crowd now resumed. The heavy walnut casket in behind them seemed in odd contradiction to the mental sight of a partially quartered Swede sitting within his wheel chair and unwashed castoff’s as he had been just the week before. The mood in the room was one of somber brooding. As Harris panned the room he noticed another face which sprang unexpectedly into view before him. The same Hispanic kind from the police jail was standing inconspicuously towards the chapel’s back wing half shielded by some of the Vikings. Except this time he was dressed in a conservative business suit that contradicted the previous impression of a Mexican street ‘tough’. His demeanor like those immediately about him suggesting that he was also a part of this warrior clan. Harris’s physical pain seemed forgotten long replaced by a sense of intimidation. He hadn’t expected that Swede was the spear point of a much larger family initiative composed of a group of formidable players. One of Inga’s sons walked down the aisle towards him and sat down quietly saying, “My name is Gunnar, when this service is concluded let me drive you over to the grave site.” An offer to which Harris silently nodded in deference.
The late model car carrying the two of them past slowly down a narrow avenue through the moire of white marble markers. “My uncle and you did two tours together in Vietnam?“, he rhetorically asked as he drove down the cemetery avenue. Harris nodded. “He mentioned that you would be doing ‘recon’ for him the other night?“, said the young Seal calmly, “And that you had run into something a coupe of days previous that was . . . incontrovertibly odd . . . an Airforce kind of odd?” “That’s right.” replied Harris feeling inside like he wanted to explode into a million pieces on the spot. After a pause, the young man continued, “Then it wasn’t just swamp gas or . . . ” “Drink!“, Harris abruptly volunteered. The car slowed over to the road’s edge and young sailor quietly as took it out of gear and looked over. His eyes firmly took hold of Harris’ who stared back in silent anger. “No, crazy as that might seem, it was just as I saw it . . . .” The extended sound of road noise from the 405 cut through the silence. “Well Mr. Harris, you’re not the only one here who can say that with equal confidence!.” The man put the car back in gear and they both continued on from there.