When Jasper busted into the B-hut carrying a load of firewood in his arms the two young boys with black hoods over their heads popped to attention like he was a three-star General. Jasper smiled to himself as he walked over and fed the wood into a potbelly stove.
“Sorry about the hoods fellas, it’s a standard security precaution.”
The two boys stood silent and still.
“Cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra ain’t it?” Jasper joked, rubbing his hands together for warmth.
Not sure how to respond, the two boy’s continued to fidget and shiver in place. Seeing this Jasper let out a laugh.
“Damn, you boys look about as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Here, both of you come over here and sit yourselves down in front of this stove so you can get warm!”
Jasper guided them over to two chairs and sat them down. He let the fire warm them for a few minutes before he spoke.
“So you are both Bill Carlyle’s grandsons are you?”
“Yes sir” The larger of the two boy’s spoke.
“I’m Grant and this is my younger brother Patrick.”
“Your grandpa is a damn good man. Shame what happened to him the other day at the store.”
The boys stayed silent.
Jasper smiled at how respectful and smart these kids were. Bill had raised them from the ages of three and five when both their mother, Bill’s only daughter and her husband were killed when a drunk driver hit them head on I-40.
“So what can I do for you boys?” Jasper asked.
Jasper knew all along why the boys were here, hell it didn’t take a mind reader to know they wanted payback for their grandpa getting roughed up. Problem was, Bill already told Jasper when the resistance began over a year ago that he did not want his boys involved in any fashion no matter what happened. He just could not afford to lose them. They were, quite literally, all that remained of the Carlyle bloodline.
“Well sir, we um heard that you know some people that are um, organized and well we would like to join up to fight if we could.” Grant nervously rubbed his hands together and rocked slightly in his chair.
Jasper took out a can of snuff and got a pinch.
“How old are you boys?”
“I’m seventeen, be eighteen in four months.” Grant replied.
“I’m fifteen” Patrick replied nervously.
Jasper leaned back in his chair and studied the two boys intently. After a while the silence made Grant nervous.
“Look, I know you might think we’re young and stupid but…”
Jasper interrupted him.
“No, I don’t think you’re stupid Grant. I think you want revenge for what happened to your grandpa and rightfully so.”
Grant leaned forward in his chair.
“So we can join!”
“Sorry bud, your Grandpa does not want you and your brother involved and that’s the end of it.”
“What do you mean he does not want us involved? Shouldn’t that be our choice? I mean it’s our lives.” Grant asked.
Jasper stood up and cleared his throat to signal that was the end of the meeting.
“Appreciate you boys coming by. The man who picked you up will drop you off outside of town.”
“Please sir, there must be something we can do!” Grant pleaded
“Actually Grant there is, there is something you and your brother can do for us.”
Jasper could sense the boy’s excitement in the air.
“You can keep your eyes and ears open at all times and if you see or hear anything out of the ordinary, tell your grandpa straight away, OK?”
There was a long moment of silence and then the boys turned to walk out the door. Before they did, Peter stopped and spoke.
“Me and my brother will be back to join you eventually. I love my Grandpa but he has to understand that some things in life are worth dying for because to live without freedom is a death in itself anyways.”
The kid’s words hit Jasper like a solid right hook and he stood there speechless as those two brave brothers walked out of the hut into the cool night air.
* * * * * *
Eighty eight year old SGM R.C. Jackson, US Army (Retired) sat inside his screened in back porch drinking coffee staring at a framed photograph of his late wife Kathleen (Kat) holding their dog taco. Teardrops fell onto the picture as the old soldier glanced back and forth between the photo and a small grave in the back yard marked with a small, simple wooden cross. Taco had been a sweet little feisty chi-weenie that had been R.C.’s only companion since Kat passed away eight years ago from breast cancer. As R.C. watched a group of thunderheads roll in from the east, the previous days hellish events came flooding back with crystal clear clarity.
A blacked out suburban with government plates rolled up to the house at half-past ten in the morning. Taco not used to visitors went absolutely nuts barking and running around the house in a mild panic. As is the standard routine when R.C. had the rare visitor or unwanted solicitor, he quickly grabbed taco and put him in his bedroom and shut the door. R.C. then put on his Korean War Veteran Army cap with his rank and CIB (Combat Infantryman’s Badge) displayed and went outside to greet the visitors.
As R.C. walked out his front door he took time to straighten his American Flag which had become tangled around the pole. Before he could turn around, a voice boomed out of a loudspeaker.
“Put your hands on top of your head and turn around slowly to face us. “
Confused by the command, R.C. turned his head to look and got blasted with another order.
“Put your hands on top of your head NOW!”
R.C. smirked and slowly obliged. When he had turned around he was surprised to see a man in a black mask wearing sterile (no unit patches) multi-cam camouflage, body armor and carrying an assault rife R.C. had never seen before heading toward him.
“For somebody dressed to storm the Reichstag you boys sure are a scared of an arthritic old man!” R.C. laughed.
“Are you armed sir?” the man asked gruffly as he began patting him down.
“Not at this very moment” R.C. replied with a bewildered look.
“A yes or no will suffice. You can put your hands down now.” the man replied stoically.
“So what can I do for you?” R.C. asked, a look of impatience on his face.
“Do you have any weapons or contraband material in the house?” the man asked
Figuring these three goof balls were UNDOD, and recently reading about the latest crackdown on civilian ownership of firearms by the newly formed “Commission on Public Safety and Well Being”, without hesitation R.C. gave a very firm and resounding “No!”
The man motioned for his partners waiting by the car to come over.
“Regardless we are going to have to search your house and property for weapons and contraband so please step aside…”
R.C. bristled and stood his ground.
“Now wait a damn minute. You are on my property without my invitation and without any probable cause as far as I can see. I know you don’t have a warrant, so what is the meaning of all this?”
The goon shot R.C. a hard glance and then answered him impatiently.
“This area harbors an armed guerilla group that operates a pirated radio broadcast. We need to ensure the local populace is not supporting them.”
“And you think I am supporting them? I’m eighty-eight years old son! If you think I’m part of some damn resistance group you and your friends here are dumber than a bag of hammers.”
One of the goons pointed to R.C.’s cap.
“You’re a military veteran with combat experience I see.”
R.C. nodded with pride.
“Uh-huh, sure as hell am. Used to stack them chinese commie zipperheads like cordwood. Does being a man who served and defended his country automatically make me a suspect for being a guerilla?”
The lead goon started moving toward R.C.’s front door.
“Now wait a damn minute! Regardless of who you work for or what authority you think you have, a group of armed and masked thugs can’t just barge into somebody’s private residence like this! Who is your commanding officer? I demand to speak with him right now!”
Without hesitating the goon closest to R.C. swung the butt of his rifle into his stomach with a thud, causing him to fall to one knee and vomit.
As R.C. wiped his mouth with his sleeve and tried to catch his breath, he watched the goons stroll up his sidewalk. As two of the goons busted into the house the third one paused at the flag pole, studying it intently.
“Come here old man.” The goon called over his shoulder.
R.C slowly hobbled up the sidewalk to find the goon staring at the flag with contempt.
“According to regulations I could take you to a re-education camp for flying this piece of capitalist, racist shit, you know that? Take it down right now and don’t ever let me see it again!”
R.C. shook his head in disgust as he took the flag down and put it in his pocket, still out of breath from the gut shot.
As the third goon opened the door to go inside R.C. watched as the other two assholes ransacked his living room like a pack of rabid monkeys.
Suddenly taco’s shrill bark could be heard through the bedroom door.
“That’s just my little dog, let me get him out of your way before you go in there.” R.C. wheezed in a weak voice.
As R.C. was about to step into the house, one of the goons yelled at him to stay where he was at until the “search” was secured.
As the lead goon opened up the bedroom door taco busted out as expected. R.C. called him over but taco was too excited to listen. He made a loop around the couch and came up behind one of the goon’s and nipped him in the back of the boot. Without hesitation the goon drew his sidearm, turned around and fired and in an instant taco’s skull exploded sending brain and bone fragments all over the carpet.
“You sonofabitch!” R.C. yelled out as he ran over.
“That will teach you some respect and manners old man.” the goons sneered as he holstered his pistol.
R.C. picked up taco’s limp body and held it close to him in a state of shock. He could not believe what was happening. He pulled a blanket off the couch and gently wrapped his body in it and cradled it close.
After ransacking the other two bedrooms the goons came out with a smirk and their hands empty of any “contraband.”
“Remember what I told you old man. I don’t want to see you flying that piece of shit flag anymore. The new flag of the regime is the only acceptable flag to be flown. Read the handbook and follow the instructions or next time we visit you can take a trip to prison.”
The soldier took out a small paper manual and threw it down on the couch next to R.C.
R.C. looked at the book and then looked up at the goon with a cold stare.
“I wipe my ass with your commie manual you murdering piece of shit.”
The goon smiled at him for a long moment before walking out the door.
After they drove away R.C. sat in silence holding taco’s body close for over an hour. Several thoughts ran through his head all at once. Why did he let those sorry excuses for human beings trample over him and murder taco like that? Why didn’t he do more to stop them? R.C. shook his head as the tears came like a flood.
Taco, the only thing he had left to connect him to Kat, was gone. He cursed himself as an old impotent fool.
R.C. placed taco’s little broken body in a shoebox with his favorite chew toy and buried him that afternoon out in the yard.
Later that day Frank Tanner, R.C.’s nearest neighbor came by to bring him some fresh squash from his garden. As R.C. told Frank what had happened Frank just shook his head in disbelief and disgust.
“I’m glad they left me alone.” Frank said in his mountain twang. Frank lived alone with an old red bone hound dog in a small two room log cabin so they did not bother him.
R.C. knew Frank was kin to one of those guerilla’s those goons were hunting, so he was sure news of all this would get back to them soon enough.
A peel of thunder suddenly shook R.C. from his painful recollection and his eyes popped wide open. The rain began coming down in buckets and as the temperature dropped, R.C.’s arthritis began to throb and he decided to go back inside. Once he had placed the photo of Kat and taco back on his bedroom dresser he went over and laid down on his bed to read a while and relax. It wasn’t ten minutes after he had cracked the book open a strangely familiar voice broke the silence.
“What in the hell are you doing Sgt. Jackson? You mean to tell me you are just going lay there and mope like a damn woman all day?”
R.C. was so startled by the sound of the voice he almost fell out of the bed. When he got to his feet he could not believe his eyes. Standing there at the door was his best friend, Sgt. Paul O’Sullivan decked out in his dress uniform.
“What…what the hell is this?” R.C. muttered, rubbing his eyes, confusion all over his face.
“This ole’ buddy is what the top head shrinkers down there at the VA might call a ‘Post Traumatic Incident’ brought on by all that bullshit yesterday by them asshole commies but in reality it is just an old friend dropping in to say hello.”
Paul smiled his toothy, goofy grin as he walked over to the dresser and examined himself in the mirror, the sound of his boots on the hardwood floors echoing through the room.
“But, but you were killed at the Chosin over seventy years ago! I was right next to you when you got hit!” R.C. yelled out his eyes wide like a madman with disbelief, his bottom lip quivering uncontrollably.
“Now, now don’t get yourself all worked up and excited! Your blood pressure will get all out of whack! Sit down and relax R.C.!” Paul motioned with his hand for R.C. to sit.
“I must be finally going crazy.” R.C. muttered to himself, sitting back down on the bed holding his head in his hands.
Paul walked over and sat on the bed next to R.C. The smell of freshly shined boot leather, starched cotton and Bay Rum after shave filled the air around him.
“My God, it’s really you!” R.C. said looking up with tears in his eyes.
“Of course it’s me you old fart! And you’re not going crazy either so settle down! I got a message for ya’ from Kat.”
R.C’s eyes got wide as saucers.
“A message from Kat? You saw Kat Paul? Is she here? Where is….” R.C.’s voice faded off as he frantically looked around the room for his one and only love.
“No I have not seen her and no she is not here. All I can tell you is the message I was given.” Paul took out a Lucky Strike and lit it with his silver 3rd Infantry Division Zippo.
A thick cloud of pale grey tobacco smoke hung in the air as R.C. quickly fanned it away with his hand.
“Well what’s the message?” R.C. said excitedly.
“She told me to tell you to follow your heart and it’s time for you to let ole’ Jolene out of the bag.”
At that very moment R.C. was awoken by one of the loudest peels of thunder he had ever heard. He rose straight up out of bed like he had been shot. Swinging his legs off the bed he sat there for a moment and got his bearings, the rain thumping on his metal roof like an orchestra.
“I must have dozed off and was dreaming!” R.C. said aloud.
“It was just a crazy dream!” R.C. laughed as he got up to go to the bathroom.
As he was walking out of the room something on the dresser next to the picture of Kat and taco caught his eye. Walking closer he saw that it was his Silver 3rd Infantry Division zippo.
“Now how the hell did you get out here?” R.C. thought aloud as he picked up the lighter. He knew this had been in his shoebox of mementos at the bottom of the closet. He was positive it had been at least ten years since he had seen it.
Suddenly R.C.’s heart started thumping and small beads of sweat formed on his forehead. The dream! Paul and the Lucky Strikes! R.C. stood there in a state of shock and wonder and just for a quick moment, he thought he could smell cigarette smoke.
“Sgt. Paul O’Sullivan you wily son of a bitch!” R.C. whispered under his breath.
The dream was real. The message from Kat was real.
R.C. knew now exactly what he had to do.
To Be Continued…