Thursday, August 8, 2013


There was a law against burning garbage in town but Bud didn't give a hot shit what those assholes on the town council thought. He crammed another cardboard box of garbage down into burn can and stirred it with his hoe. His house was barely in the city limits anyways and his neighbors sure as shit weren't going to complain. 
Bud for years had been the neighbor drunk, seems like every neighborhood has at least one. Quick with a joke and a slap on the back. Funny and harmless. Him and Hazel, his wife, were like fixtures sitting out on the back porch when the weather was decent, listening to the Twins on a cheap transistor radio and killing a case of Grain Belt in a night. They weren't your lay in the gutter with puke on the shirt and a turd in the pants kind of drunks. Bud was a foreman at the packing plant and Hazel ran her own beauty parlor in the basement. They worked everyday and went to church every Sunday no matter how crippling the hangover. Paid their bills on time. Respectable folk. But not anymore. The neighbors were leery if not goddamn outright afraid of Bud now.
Everything changed when Hazel caught the lung cancer and died. The x-rays of inside of her lungs looked she had inhaled a can of black paint. Three packs a day of Chesterfields a day will do that to you. From the day the doctor broke her the bad news to the day the boys from Bonnerup's Funeral Home picked her up and hauled her out on a gurney covered with a cheap white sheet that the funeral home charged Bud fifty bucks for, it was only two months. To the day. 
Bud changed overnight from the funny drunk to the bitter, mean kind of drunk. Switched from beer to Jack Daniel's. Smashed up his car. Lost his license. Punched out a neighbor whose dog took a crap on Bud's lawn. Threw his radio threw the picture window of his house when the Twins blew another one in the bottom of the ninth. The cops started to make visits to the house at night when it was reported that Bud was carrying a gun around neighborhood threatening to blow any son of a bitch who crossed him right out of his shit stained Fruit of the Looms. 
"Naeve Hospital has a good program going on up there," the cop had told Bud, "help you out with your problems." That may be what the cop said but Bud heard, "They’ll put you in a paper gown and matching slippers, talk to you about what’s going on in your head." Bud had told the cop to piss up a rope and to mind his own fucking business.
It all came to a head on September 11th. Hazel had been in the ground for almost five months and Bud still hadn't been able to get hold of their only surviving son to let him know the bad news. As if the ungrateful little bastard would even care anyway. The boy came back from Viet Nam all fucked up in the head. Couldn't settle down. His eyes were haunted, his body twitchy. Was always hoofing it all over the goddamn world. Now he lived somewhere down in Florida somewhere, last Bud heard was in Pensacola, on a sailboat for Christ's sake! No phone. No fixed address. Bud had no idea what he did for money. All he knew right then was that the mailman had just brought Bud's latest letter back with the words "UNDELIVERABLE AT THIS ADDRESS" stamped on it. 
Bud and Hazel’s first son, Dennis, had died young and hard. Not even seventeen, he had broken into the high school with some idiot friends of his and had torn the place up. Took a big shit on the principal’s desk. One of the kids cut himself on a broken window and spilled his guts out at the emergency room. Dennis got sentenced to a year at Red Wing, the state reformatory in Minnesota. Second night there he got buttfucked in the showers by some hardcases from Minneapolis. He fought back a little too hard for them, so they slit his throat and shoved a bar of Ivory up his ass.
When Bud poured a stiff one over ice and sat down and turned on the television on that fateful September day, the Twin Towers were smoldering in front of him.
There wasn't anything else on the tube for the whole day - since Bud didn't believe in paying for cable - and Bud sat in front of it, transfixed, chasing shots of Jack Black with cold Grain Belts. By the time the sun had gone down Bud had made up his mind. This whole mess of shit that was going on in New York was a sign. Maybe from God himself. A signal that life was short, could end at anytime. Hazel sure as shit found that out. Bud was going to start life afresh in the morning. He was going to quit drinking. Quit smoking. Start going back to church. Find him a woman. He couldn't remember the last time he had knocked the dust off of a pussy or had even popped wood for that matter.
But first he was going to get rid of everything of Hazel's and his no good son's so that he wouldn't have to be reminded of the heartache of his past. And he not only was going to get rid of it, he was going to burn the shit. Make a fucking statement. Fuck the nosey ass neighbors! A bottle of Jack Daniel's and a twelve of beer will do that to you.
It will also make you miss the fact that the last box you stuffed down into the golden flames and were currently stirring around with an old garden hoe had six full cans of hairspray from your wife's beauty parlor in it.
The sound of the explosion was like a mortar round going off and the force of the blast took Bud's head clean off.
Two days later down in the Keys in a bar called Captain Tony's, a man nursing his first ice vodka of the morning, saw his father's face up on the television screen. Jesus Herman Christ! Was he going through DTs? He hadn't seen the old bastard in over twenty years and there he was on CNN. What a fucking world we live in! The newscaster, who looked like she might have a side career in porno flicks, was trying to conceal a smirk while she described his demise.
It had been a bitch getting through the airport. Flying out of Key West on the puddle jumper had been nothing. A troll like woman who was suppose to be watching the x-ray machine had literally been sleeping at her post when he boarded his flight. And just after that shit in New York! But the flight out of Miami to Minneapolis had been a whole new ballgame. Security was tight as hell and he had been lucky that he stuffed his pistol into his check on bag and the minimum wage security guard had missed it. Of course, the guard was Cuban. The whole goddamn state was literally crawling with them. Since Castro had outsmarted that idiot peanut farmer president and took all of the scrotum heads out of his prisons and shipped them off to the Florida on one massive boatlift, Miami had gone to hell in a fucking hand-basket.
The conspiracy freaks were always babbling on about how the Cubans hired Oswald to kill Kennedy. What a crock of bullshit that was! In his line of work he had worked with a number of Cubans. They were stone cold killers with not an ounce of mercy in their souls, and smart as hell. If they had wanted Kennedy dead they would have done it themselves and not hired some retard like that goddamn Oswald.
There wasn't a Cuban in sight in the Minneapolis airport that was for sure. Too fucking cold for them up in this godforsaken state. The airport hadn't changed much in all these years. Last time he was here had been when he had flown back from Viet Nam, but the rental car joint was still in the same place. The bimbo behind the counter dropped her upgrade shtick when she saw the look in his eyes. The economy class would do just fucking fine, thank you.
It was just under a hundred miles south to his hometown. It seemed to pass in a blink of an eye. Whenever you didn’t want to be going somewhere it always seems like that. And he sure as shit didn’t want to be doing this. He never had the urge to ever go back home, never wanted to see the dump again. Snow up to your ass six months out of the year, temperatures so fucking cold your tires would go flat on one side, the packing plant making the whole town stink like a giant fart, why would he want to visit such paradise?
Because his old man was dead. That’s why. He was going home to bury his father. He didn’t give a shit that he was dead. Hell no! The world was a better place without the dirty son of a bitch. To tell the truth he didn't have a realistic reason to be heading home other than the fact that he had recently committed a fuckup of enormous proportions and he could sense that his own end was near. He could remember as a kid when one of the neighbor's cats had gotten old and sick and had crawled down into the sewer to die. Maybe that's what he was doing.
Going back home to die. Crawling back into the sewer.
Jesus fucking Christ, how fucking stupid could he have been? Such a random act of fate. Strolling down the street of beautiful Pensacola, lit up on cocaine and shots of vodka, tasting freedom, enjoying the ocean breeze and the beautiful big titted women, seems like every broad had been getting fake jugs when he was off in the joint for the second time, just enjoying life, just enjoying not being locked down in a cell. 
Of course, the old prick didn’t look quite the same. Shit, he had aged a thousand years, was even walking with a cane while his wife dawdled along beside him. But it was him, there was no doubt in his fucking mind that it wasn’t him. Probably retired down here. He could still see him strutting across the prison yard in LBJ, chest all puffed up, surrounded by all his flunky MPs, just daring someone to make a run at him. 
So right there in downtown Pensacola, about seven in the evening, tourists all over the goddamn place, you pulled your 9 millimeter out, strolled up behind the old cocksucker, and calmly laid one right into the back of his melon. Without a thought. Just on pure instinct. 
It was him all right. The newspapers laid out his history for everyone to read. An Army colonel, highly decorated, the former assistant warden of the infamous Long Bihn military stockade in Viet Nam, gunned down in the Florida Panhandle as he took a stroll with his lovely wife. They also read how the pistol had shot out of his assailant’s hand when the weapon went off and how the police had recovered the weapon even though the murderer had gotten away. 
You hadn’t shot a piece since you got out of the slammer you dumb shit! The disease in your hands is crippling you but you hadn’t thought about that. You’ve done time in a federal military prison and a federal joint on the outside. They have your prints. It’s only a matter of time!
The exit sign off the freeway to Albert Lea snapped him back to the present. Albert Lea, Minnesota. Shit, he was already here! The town was named after some Civil War officer. Eddie Cochran, who wrote Summertime Blues, was raised here before he busted out and got his ass killed over in England. The first chapter of the Klan in Minnesota started out here in a little office over the downtown Woolworths. 
It was a mean little town full of mean little people. A packing plant town full of broken dreams and broken people. Everybody here wanted to be somebody else or somewhere else. The town was littered with churches, bars, and strip clubs. Places made for people who wanted to forget. Places with names like The Aragon, Name of the Game, Eddie's, The Elbow Room, and The Bend in the Road. Albert Lea didn’t allow their strippers to get naked. Had to wear g-strings and pasties. God, it was so sad. Those sad eyed farm girls up there strutting their shit, wasted on booze and downers, while the packing plant workers jeered and grabbed their dicks through their cattle and pig blood stained pants. The whole goddamn town made you want to stick a handgun in your mouth and end it all. 
Cal turned onto Broadway, the main drag of town. For years it was the only source of entertainment for the young people of the town. Get a tank of gas, load up your buddies, and cruise Broadway all night long. Just trying to be cool. Looking for booze, weed, and pussy. Cal could see the brick structure on the left coming up out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t want to look at it but he knew he was going to. The old feed lot store. Upstairs, in 1967, in that shitty little apartment, Mike Barnes, his best friend and business associate in a tidy little Quaalude dealership they had going, had fallen asleep on his ratty couch, toasted on ‘ludes and with a cigarette in his hand, had burned to death. The place was solid brick, like an oven at Auschwitz. Mike had been literally incinerated. 
The local cops were suspicious, they knew Mike Barnes, knew what he was up to around town. Things just didn’t check out. They searched Mike’s Mustang and found a jar of downers in the trunk. 500 Quaaludes in a little backwater dump like Albert Lea was a lot of weight back then. Prison weight. 
Cal panicked like a motherfucker, so in less than a day, he had driven up to Minneapolis, enlisted in the Army, and shipped out. He never bothered even calling his parents. 
Seven months later, he was literally up to his ass in the jungles of Viet Nam.
Cal pulled into the driveway of his parent’s house. The neighborhood was quiet, hadn’t changed much at all over all these years. The grass in the yard was way longer than the old man would have allowed but it didn’t cover up about twenty old rolled up newspapers scattered all over the lawn. For some reason, maybe because for years it had been his job to maintain the yard while the old man drank himself to death back on the porch, Cal walked around the front yard and gathered them up and threw them in the trash can alongside the garage.
He stepped up on to the front steps, he’d had have to break in, he had lost his house keys years ago in a whorehouse in Saigon. Twisting the doorknob, he was surprised to feel the door swing in. He stepped into the living room, the house smelled musty, old. Cal flicked the light switch on the wall, nothing, power must have already been shut off. On instinct, he walked into the kitchen knowing exactly what cupboard the flashlight was in.
There was someone sitting at the kitchen table!
Cal reached back and pulled the .38 snub-nose from his back holster. The smaller and lighter weapon fit better in his diseased hand. He aimed it at the intruder.
“Make one move, motherfucker, and I’ll blow your goddamn brains out.”
A match lit a cigarette, illuminating the intruder’s face, the features slightly resembled Cal’s, only older and more bloated. The smoke was exhaled with a raspy cough.
“You’ve got some nerve saying that shit to me, you little prick! Some balls, some fucking balls, you got even being in this house.” The voice was slurred and drunken but familiar.
“Uncle Larry?”
“Yah. Your Uncle fucking Larry! And I’m going to ask you again. What are you doing in this house, you little piece of shit?”
Cal had a vision of his Uncle Larry burned into his brain. Of coming home from school early and finding the house empty. He thought. Until he heard weird sounds in the basement, in the beauty parlor. Sneaking down the stairs he got a back shot of his Uncle Larry’s pimply ass, pants down to his ankles, Cal’s mother bent over a chair, eyes closed, a string of drool hanging from her mouth. Larry humping her madly.
“Maybe I should be asking you that, Larry? What are you doing in my house?”
“It’s my house now, asshole. Your Daddy willed it to me. I’m his blood. His brother. You were just the result of the cum running down the crack of your mother’s ass. You broke your father’s heart, you little bastard. You and that fucking punk brother of yours. You got nothing coming, boy. So turn around and get the hell out of here before the cops come back.”
Cal felt his guts tighten. “Cops! What the fuck do you mean, 'come back'? What the hell are you talking about.”
Larry laughed with a wet wheeze. “That’s right, tough guy. The fucking heat! (Larry had always been a fan of old cop shows and loved to use the lingo) They were in the driveway when I drove over from Rochester this morning. Seems they’re interested in talking to you about a murder down in Florida.” Larry leaned back against the wall and farted loudly. “Heh, heh! Now I suggest you get the hell out here before I give them a little call. For all I know there could be a reward out on your skinny little ass. That would sure put a goddamn cherry on the cake.”
"You can have the house, Larry, you drunk fucking cocksucker! It's got nothing but shitty memories anyway. In fact, here, let me give you little memory."
Cal stepped forward quickly and pistol whipped the barrel end of the pistol into his Uncle’s mouth, the spit, blood, and teeth of his uncle splattering onto his arm.
When he stepped out the front door the neighborhood was quiet except for the loud gagging of Uncle Larry that could be heard through the open window screens.
Cal steered the rental car four blocks to the south, pulled down an alley, and parked behind a local watering hole and overall toilet, Eddie's Bar and Grill. There was a drunk passed out against the dumpster. He was sitting in a puddle of his own piss.
The dude sitting by himself down at the far corner of the bar was giving the barkeep the fucking creeps. He been sitting there for hours and other than his first order, vodka over crushed ice with a twist of lemon, he hadn't uttered a peep. When he wanted a refill, he would simply slide the glass over with the back of his hand, look at the bartender with those clear blue eyes, eyes like a Siberian Husky's, haunted eyes, and give a short nod.
The bartender, whose name was Terry Klein, his buddies called him T.K. for short, and who had been forced to take this goddamn job which he hated because the goddamn turkey plant was laying off again and he had major league bills to pay since he bought that Chevy four wheeler and found out on the same day that his wife had another bun in the oven because Terry had forgotten to buy rubbers and she wouldn't get on the goddamn pill, would refresh the stranger's drink, wipe off the bar and place it in front of him, grab a fiver off the stack of bills the stranger had piled in front of him, and when he tried to put the change in front of him the stranger would lock those dead eyes on Terry and shake his head slowly.
This had been going on half the night. It was way past midnight and it was a weeknight at that. Who in the hell sits and drinks in a shithole like Eddie's Bar and Grill on a weeknight? On top of it all, it had only been two weeks since that maniac camel fucker had flown those airliners into the Trade Center. The whole country was going down the crapper and here was Terry, fixing drinks for this mental case when he should be at home with his family instead of being here at Eddie's even though he was making a small fortune on tips.
The guy had almost killed a whole fifth of good Russian vodka, the only bottle of it's kind the bar had in stock and that had a name that Terry couldn't even pronounce, and the dude looked like he hadn't even caught a buzz. He'd take a long pull on his drink, shake a Lucky Strike out of his pack, snap open his Zippo with a shake of wrist, and then light it by smacking the flat of his hand against the lighter's wheel. He'd hit that cigarette so damn hard that it would burn down halfway in one drag. And that goddamn Zippo was old, it had some weird military insignia, the thing looked like it had been stuck up someone's ass.
Terry was used to the locals that normally hung out here, not this kind of guy. Eddie's was a shot and a beer joint. Cheap draft beer, pool table in the back, a combination of Guns and Roses and Willie Nelson on the juke, cheap microwave sandwiches that all tasted the same whether it was a ham and a cheese or a bean burrito. Eddie's was right across the street from the packing plant that first had the union busted and then burned down to the fucking ground about a year ago. It's boom days were long gone. It once had been the hangout of hundreds of packing house workers who would stop off to drink a few or a dozen cold ones to try to kill the memories of blood, the stench, the guts, the scream of calves, the death of the previous eight hours of their lives. Now Eddie's catered mainly to the neighborhood low rent drunks and alkies, or college students slumming when they were home from college for the weekend. The joint had a permanent funk of cheap beer and puke. Most likely some day an insurance policy and a book of matches would put Eddie's out of it's misery just like the packing plant.
But this guy was way different. Probably in his early fifties, long silver ponytail, black silk t-shirt, pressed Levis, looked like snakeskin cowboy boots on his feet. He looked like he may have pumped iron seriously at one time but gave it up. His skin was burned brown. Like he had been baking in the sun on some tropical island. He had tattoos running all the way from the tops of both of his hands to where they disappeared into the sleeves of his shirt. 
When Terry had gone back to take a piss he thought he saw the vague outline of a pistol through the back of the guy's shirt. That didn't shake Terry too bad though, Albert Lea was a redneck town, seems like every swinging dick around here had a shotgun in the rack in his pickup or a piece in his jacket pocket. But the fucker had what looked like blood on his shirt! What the hell was up with that?
For some reason what made Terry really jumpy about this guy was his hands. The fingers were curled up. Curled up to the point so that along with those tattoos his hands looked like claws. The claws of a big bird like a hawk or an eagle. His drink glass sat in the middle of his claws just as perfectly as a Big Gulp filled with Mountain Dew sits in the beverage holder in Terry's overpriced and behind on it's payments truck.
"What the fuck are you looking at?"
Terry felt his guts go to liquid. He had been staring at the stranger's hand and had gotten flat ass busted.
"Uh, sir. I'm sorry. I really am. I just.." 
The man dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "Forget it. Just give me a refill, will yea?"
Terry ran a rag over the bar and placed a fresh drink down. "On the house. Sorry about that."
"They say if you have the disease you've got the blood of Vikings in your veins." The man was squinting through a cloud of cigarette smoke at Terry.
"Excuse me?"
"This," the man held his claw like hands up, "it's a fucking disease. Called Dupuytren's Disease. The disease of Vikings. And not those fucking Vikings that stink out the stadium every Sunday. Nope, this is the disease of real Vikings. The son of a bitches that ran all over Europe, raping and pillaging. No goddamn cure for it. It's gonna cripple me, really already has. Already put me out of my job. My life's work."
When you're locked down in a cell twenty-three hours a day, you learn a lot about your mind. More specifically what not to dwell on too long unless you want to lose your fucking mind and start smearing shit on the walls or jacking off like monkey. 
The first three months that Calvin Peterson was locked up at the Butner Federal Psychiatric Facility that was precisely what happened to him. Cal was born for the outdoors, always had been, so when he was initially locked into his cage he went off. Went bugshit. Knocked an attendant's front teeth right down his throat. The shrinks shot his ass full of Thorazine twice a day, enough to knock a rhino on his dick, held his mouth open like a dog's and shoved pills down his throat, and when that didn't work they wrestled him down, strapped his ass to a gurney and started the ECT on him. That'll break a man's spirit in a goddamn heartbeat.
ECT. Electro-Convulsive-Therapy. Shock treatment. They can jolt you with you anywhere from seventy to a hundred and thirty volts. Whatever the doc prescribes. In Cal's case it was the full dose. Three times a week for four months. Turned his brains to refried shit. Just like old Randall P.'s in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
It made Cal think about the error of his ways. Start to agree with the Man a little more. Get his mind straight. Or at least let the Man think you are. He started to follow the program. The shrinks and the attendants started to back off of him.
He had been lockdown just shy of a year, he was out in the yard during recreation lifting weights, when he first felt the lump in his palm. Like a hard callus. 
"Dupuytren's Contracture," the doc muttered through a cloud of Camel smoke as he looked at Cal's palm, "start of it anyway, that lump will grown into these cords that will spider up into your fingers, it'll eventually curl all your fingers into your palms. Cripple you probably. No one knows what starts it or what cures it. The ECT could have triggered it or maybe the meds you're on. It's genetic so maybe some backwoods scumbag relative of yours had it. The Vikings spread it all Europe raping women. Doesn't matter, you'll never get rid of it. And you sure as shit ain’t no fucking Viking." He stood up and opened his office door. "Now get the fuck out of here."
The disease can progress slowly or it can spread like wildfire. Cal's fingers started to curl in after just a few months. 
"What were you locked up for." Terry poured Cal another drink.
Cal paused for a second and then shrugged his shoulders. "Guess it doesn't matter much anymore if you know or not." He slammed back the shot and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and laser beamed those blue eyes at Terry. "I killed people for the government. I did such a good job in Nam for 'em that they hired me out as a private contractor a year or so after I got back from the war. Problem was that the Feds don't like you working for anyone but them. But I was working for anyone who'd pay me. The mob, jealous husbands whose old ladies were banging other dudes, drug dealers, whatever. Feds found out and they warned me but I didn't listen. So they picked me up on a trumped up charge. Locked my ass up in Butner and..."
Cal noticed the washed out pallor of Terry's face.
"What? Do you think I'm feeding you a line of horseshit, boy? You're not gonna barf on me now are you?"
Cal had been a quiet, painfully shy, and scrawny child growing up in Albert Lea. His first recalled memory of childhood was his father kicking the family dog to death in a drunken rage. Nice start in life for you when you're about four or five.
He spent his early formative years walking through life like a ghost. Cal lived life through television, books, and the movies. Having two Olympic class drunks for parents will really make a kid fade into the wallpaper. If he had died or been abducted by some pervert child molester before he got into high school scarcely anyone besides his immediate family would ever have know that he was gone. Once they sobered up. 
Early in his sophomore year of high school his life changed in the form of a red, white, and blue covered joint of shitty, ditch weed Mexican reefer.
"Come on. We can smoke up in the attic of my garage. My parents are gone getting hammered down at the Elk's Club." The joint was cupped in the dirty little hand of one of Cal's few friends, Billy Hawk. Billy had beady little eyes and yellow canine like teeth. Cal hated the smell of Billy's house. Like SPAM and old beer farts. His parents were just like Cal's. Losers and lushes.
"Wonder if we get addicted?" Cal had been afraid, he had seen the advertisements on television.
"You fucking crazy?" Billy had chortled. "Pot is as safe as a fucking aspirin. It's natural. Comes from the ground. Come on, man. Don't be a pussy." Billy had turned and headed for his garage and Cal had followed with hesitation in his steps. 
That one joint had changed Cal's whole outlook on life. Cal loved pot from his first hit. It's taste. It's buzz. It changed his whole line of thinking. He grew his hair long. Wore bell bottom jeans. Traded that Beatles and Beach Boys shit in for Steppenwolf and the Stones. Weed gave him confidence. Made him feel cool. For two joints that summer a hippy chick from the private college jacked him off in the alley behind Jake's Pizza. That sealed it for him.
Cal started to deal. First weed. Then white cross speeders. A little bit of acid. Money was rolling in so he dropped out of school. That led him to meeting Mike Barnes. Mike had connections with a dude in Minneapolis who could provide a shitload of weight in Quaaludes. Cal and Mike went into business together. Everything was cool. Everything was smooth. There was good drugs. Good music. Good liquor. Nice cars. Young high school and college girls giving it up to get high. Two local losers making it big. 
Then came the night of the fire.
The young dealers had made a run to Minneapolis to score another load of 'ludes, and the connection, with the assistance of a couple of grams of hard to find cocaine, had given them a tour of the local Twin Cities nightlife, and they had gotten back to Albert Lea burned out, edgy and jittery, and in need of some crash time. They had parked Mike's Mustang behind his apartment at the feed store. The stash for whatever reason had remained in the trunk.
They had shared a joint and drank a couple of beers. Cal remembered Mike's last words as if he had just spoken them yesterday.
"Dude, I need to get some serious sack time." Mike had pulled his boots off and stretched out on his couch. "That coke burned my ass out. Let's cut the load up tomorrow. I'll see you in the A.M., bro."
As Cal had shut the door he saw Mike light up a Marlboro.
He didn't hear about the fire until the next morning. The rumor on the street was the cops were looking for Cal. He had been spotted leaving the apartment just before the fire and they had a few questions to ask him.
Cal had driven straight to Minneapolis. The Air Force recruiter was gone for the day but the Army recruiter next door had beckoned him. Viet Nam was in full swing so a lot of questions weren't necessary. Cal was tested, probed by military doctors, and on his way to boot within twenty four hours.
Cal was bright and it showed on his entrance scores. The Army had offered him training as a medic and that sounded better than being a grunt since damn near everyone in the Army had their ass slotted for Nam. He was two days from medic school graduation. He was headed for the war but in Saigon working at the Army hospital.
The officer was Army intelligence. When Cal was called into his office he knew his shit was in deep trouble.
"We know what happened back in Minnesota with your buddy, private. How he would up as a crispy critter."
"What do you mean, sir?" He could feel his heart beating like a fucking drum. 
"Don't lie to me, asshole, it's not real smart. But I don't give a shit. It's your choice. I got you by the nuts. I can either send you back home to the local authorities or you sign your name on this volunteer roster. This unit needs a medic and you're their bitch." He shoved the document across the desk to Cal. "You don't look like you have the necessary qualifications to handle penitentiary time so I suggest you take the deal."
A special unit. All volunteer. Hit and run, gathering intelligence in places we weren't supposed to be. Calling in air strikes. Laos. Cambodia. High turnover rate. Mostly because everybody got fucking wasted in the first couple months.
Cal went as the unit medic but his unit's LT quickly gave him another assignment. Sort of a collateral duty. Cal was thin and wiry, he could slither down those spider holes of the gooks like a fucking snake. His LT was a good judge of character, he had to be in his line of work. The LT was straight CIA.
Armed with only a flashlight and two Colt .45 government issued pistols, Cal shot more slopes in three months than most GIs saw in the whole goddamn war. His days as a medic were over. His true calling had been found.
He was a goddamn stone cold killer! A fucking life taker and heartbreaker!
The adrenaline rush was intense. Better than mainlining. Pumped up by a hand full of bennies washed down with a cup of joe, with a thin rope wrapped around his wasted in case he ran into some shit, Cal would crawl through the tunnels a light in one hand and his pistol in the other. Gathering intelligence, setting explosive charges, killing any motherfucker who was down there. 
The pistol going off was deafening. The smell of gunpowder was like a aphrodisiac. The rounds lighting up the tunnel like the fourth of July. He scalped men and cut off their ears. Wore them around his neck on a piece of twine.
The China white heroin that was needed to bring him back down at night became a source of concern to the LT. He thought Cal was burning out. Needed some R and R. The LT cut Cal a pass for two weeks in Bangkok.
Cal fell hard for a beautiful hooker in Bangkok that he met his second night there. They didn't have women like that back in Albert Lea. She did shit to him he didn't know was possible. He had wined and dined her. Talked about taking her home with him when he rotated back to the world. The H was clouding his mind. Not letting him think in reality. He showed up early one night at her place and caught her screwing a Marine captain. She was bent over the bed just like his Uncle Larry had his mother that time in the basement. 
The captain was drunk and had taunted Cal. An incident ensued. 
"You lost your mind, asshole? She's a goddamn whore, for Christ's sake! What did you think? She was going to marry your scrawny fucking ass?" 
Cal had pulled a piece and shot the Captain straight in the dick.
The local MPs had shown up at Cal's hotel. He was arrested shipped back to Saigon in shackles. Cal was court martialed and sent to LBJ for two years.
The prison was hell. Blacks against whites. There was no brotherly love in that concrete box of shit. Cal's first week a couple of brothers cornered and tried to turn him out. Fuck the white boy in the ass. Just like had happened to Cal’s brother at the reformatory in Minnesota. But they weren't counting on the shank that Cal slashed across both of their faces. One brother lost both eyes.
Cal went to the hole. For a long goddamn time. He became the pet project for the assistant warden who didn't like the fact that Cal had shot a fellow officer square in the nutsack. Cal had no mattress. No running water. The food was shit. He had to piss and take a crap over a hole in the floor. The assistant warden had Cal's light shut off for days. Turn a hose on him to wash the cockroaches and lice off that crawled all over his body.
The riot in Long Bihn military stockade would finally cut Cal loose. The Blacks were tired of taking shit from Whitey and the end result was one of the worst prison riots in U. S. penal history. Luckily for Cal, the Brothers couldn't find the keys to the segregation unit or Cal's asshole would have been so big you could have parked a Buick in it. 
When the Army finally took the prison back, Cal was shipped back to California and finished his sentence in a stockade in California. They let him go with a dishonorable discharge, a hundred bucks, and a cheap suit.
Cal hopped on a bus and disappeared into the back streets of Los Angeles. He loaded trucks. Tended bar. Dealt weed. Carried a shotgun behind the one way mirror at a whorehouse. Anything to make a buck Anywhere where no one would ask for references or too many questions.
"A guy came looking for you last night." Sharon, the obese day bartender with a horrible looking harelip greeted Cal as he came in. She actually turned tricks on Hollywood Boulevard when she was short on cash, which was always.
"What guy? What the hell did he look like?"
"A real square john. Suit and everything. Said he'd be back tonight after I told him it was your night off last night."
The square john was his old LT.
They were alone in the bar. 
"Sorry about that shit in the stockade, Cal. I tried to pull some strings but I couldn't get anything done until after the riot went down." The LT had taken a long pull on his gin and tonic before his spoke again. "But I can make it up to you, Private.”
“And how can you make it up to me, LT? I got a DD. I can’t even vote or carry a goddamn gun. You gonna offer me a high profile government job in D.C.?"
“I know what you're like. What makes you tick. You don't give a fuck about anything, you got iron balls. I can use a man like you."
The LT had stood up, thrown a sawbuck on the bar along with a business card.
"Call me at this number at anytime. Day or night. I can make you a lot of fucking money, Cal." He stood in the middle of the bar and looked around. "Unless you like working in fucking dumps like this."
"Once it gets in the blood you never get rid of it, Cal." The LT had shouted out as he walked out the door.
Cal made the phone call and had signed on. The government has lots of people that drive a weed up their ass and they sometimes need someone to shut those people up. That's what Cal did. He shut them up.
It was a sweet deal. Every third month or so, the LT would pay a visit to Cal. The LT would have a envelope packed with photos, documents, maps, just about the whole goddamn life history of the man or woman that the Company wanted taken care of.
The LT provided Cal with all he needed. Plane tickets, rental cars, expense money, and of course, the weapon. Once he got used to it, Cal preferred to do it up close. So close that he could smell what they had had for lunch on their breath. His method was as simple as his choice of weapon - a Colt .22 with a silencer - at close range. He was fearless on the job. Within two hours after the hit, Cal would be either on a flight out of town or was a hundred miles away on the interstate. 
The LT wired the cash into Cal's account as soon as the hit was confirmed. Within five years, Cal wasn't a millionaire but he wasn't hurting either. He owned a beautiful tricked out vintage Pontiac Firebird, a chopped Harley, lived on a sailboat down in Florida, took yearly vacations overseas to Europe and Asia, sailed his boat all over the Caribbean, he had more money that he knew how to spend.
Cal lived a life that movie scripts are based on. He had a good idea who whacked Kennedy, he knew for a goddamn fact who killed MLK, he went to dinner with the dude who iced Hoffa, he banged a hit woman that could have posed for Playboy and who had killed over two hundred people, he was with Johnny Wadd, the porn star, when him and his scumbag friends beat four people to death with baseball bats over a drug robbery gone bad.
The job gave Cal an opportunity to tie up some loose ends, also. With some information provided by the LT, Cal tracked down and took out the two thugs that had raped and killed his brother in the reformatory and the two Brothers that had tried the same on Cal back in LBJ were dealt with a year or so later. He shot the blind one in the spine twice and left him to live out life like as a blind cripple.
He'd been working for the Company for about ten years when Cal first got friendly with some members of the Mob and started to contract out on some jobs for them. The LT would catch wind and warn him, the Company did not believe in part time side employment, and Cal would back off for a while but the money and the buzz was just too fucking good. Jesus Christ! He had lunch with Gotti whenever he was in New York and he sat next to Sinatra at the Leonard-Hearns fight in Vegas. Comped fucking seats! How was he going to pass that up?
The money, the power, the vodka, the cocaine, were all starting to cloud his mind. Taking away his edge.
"You need to cool your fucking jets down, Private. You make good money with the Company. Leave those fucking dirtbag Guineas alone. When they get pinched your ass will go down with them. You'll find your skinny ass in Leavenworth."
"No problem, LT. I was at the fight and just bumped into Frank. No big deal. Won't happen again."
When he whacked the rock star up in the Pacific Northwest the phone call that followed was more serious. 
"Goddamn, Private. That's the last fucking straw. I can't protect your ass forever. Taking out that shitty singer was fucking stupid. It's all over the goddamn news. You keep on like this I don't what I'm going to say to the higher ups."
The Company and the Feds were drawing a line in the sand.
Cal told them to piss up a rope.
"You know, Lt. I really don't give a shit what the fucking higher ups say. But I'll tell you this right now. I've documented every hit I've ever pulled for you boys. All that info is locked up in a nice secure safety deposit box. Anything happens to me , I got someone who's going to take all that intelligence going straight to the press. The shit will hit the fan."
The shit hit the fan in Louisiana. Cal was heading out of New Orleans after spending Mardi Gras with some local tough guys with questionable backgrounds. The highway patrolman had his gun out when he walked up to Cal's window. His partner stood behind Cal's car shining his flashlight in through the window.
"What's this all about, officer?" Cal flashed his license with a hundred tucked in next to it. "Was I speeding? There's no need to have that firearm out. I'm just a businessman on h...."
The muzzle of the .357 nuzzled up against Cal's cheek.
"Get out of the motherfucking car and assume the position, dildo."
Cal found himself sitting in the back of their squad watching them plant a pound of smack in his trunk. 
He spent two days in the local lockup with all the dregs, skells, junkies, fuckboys, and lowlifes of NOLA while he awaited arraignment. His phone calls to the LT went unanswered.
Lunch was served about an hour before he went before the judge. Cal thought his coffee tasted weird. It should have. It had a mega dose of liquid LSD-25 in it. By the time Cal got in front of the judge he was tripping so bad and so far our of his mind that his behavior could be considered erratic at best. 
"Let me out of here you fucking bastards! I know people! I make one motherfucking phone call you'll be dead by morning you stinking fucking assholes!"
Since he was up on federal charges he was sent to the Butner Federal Psychiatric Facility for mental evaluation. He was there for a week before he could figure out just where in the hell he was.
His case file got lost. No one knew where he was. No one came to bail him out. His soul was lost among vials of drugs and doses of shock therapy. His hands were slowly being crippled by the Dupuytren's Disease. 
He began to look for an easy way out. Slash the wrists or use a bed sheet for a rope.
The call came on a Saturday. Cal was just coming around from his latest treatment which had lit him up like a fucking Roman candle. He was laying on his bunk looking at the words "Larry Flynnt was here, motherfuckers!!" scratched into his wall.
"Phone call, Thompson." There was an attendant standing in Cal's cell door. A gigantic steroid junkie with the temperament of a pit bull who hated Cal’s guts with a passion.
"What? Huh? Phone?"
"Yes. A phone. A fucking phone call, you dipshit!" The pit bull had stormed out.
"Hello? Is this you, Dad?" Cal could barely speak above a ragged whisper. He was in bad shape. Smelled like the piss that had rushed out of him when he was hit by a hundred and thirty volts.
"No, Private. This is your old LT. Son, it's time to end this bullshit. Start playing the game or you'll get carried out of there in a box."
Cal never knew if that was a hallucination, a dream, or really was his old LT. He just followed the advice.
One day the doors of the jailhouse swung open.
"You're running a line of bullshit by me, aren't you?" The bartender, Terry or TK as his friends called him, was pouring another shot of iced vodka for Cal and looking at him with a look of pure unadulterated "you've got to be fucking kidding me" disbelief. TK had also had a few beers and was working on a case of liquid courage.
“What is it you think I’m bullshitting you about?” Cal asked.
“Jesus Christ! You say you know who killed Kennedy. Who whacked Hoffa. That you killed Kurt Co…”
The ringing of the phone shut TK up.
“Eddie’s Bar and Grill. Can I help you?” Terry listened for several seconds and then looked over his shoulder at Cal.
“Yea. I mean yes. Yes, sir. He’s here. Would you like to speak to him, sir?” Terry stretched the fifteen foot phone cord over to Cal and then retreated over to the other side of the bar. The receiver smelled of a combination of stale beer and funky vomit breath. Just like the bar.
Cal lit another smoke and held the phone to his ear without speaking. He could hear someone on the other end who was breathing like they had inhaled Cuban cigars for their entire adult life.
There was a loud hacking followed by a hoarse “fuck.” Cal recognized the voice like he had just heard it yesterday.
“Hello, LT. How they hanging?”
“I’ll tell you how they’re hanging you dumb shit! I get your sorry ass sprung out of Butner and you repay me by blowing that old bastard out of his socks down in Pensacola. Then I get woken out of a dead sleep by a phone call informing me that one of my best operatives, you, you ignorant prick, is about to be picked up on an assault charge in some goddamn backwater town in Minnesota. That’s how they’re hanging!” There was some loud hacking followed by the spitting up of a lunger. 
Cal was quiet for a few moments. “Are you OK, LT?”
“No, Cal, I’m not fucking OK. It’s lung cancer. I’ve got a couple of months and then I’ll be in the bone yard.”
“I’m sorry, LT. Not just for that, but for you having to put your ass out on a line for me all these years while I was being an asshole. You didn’t deserve that. You’re a good man, Lt.”
“Aw, cut the horseshit, Private.” The LT sounded like he had just ran a fast mile. “So what are you going to do now, Cal? The local cops haven’t found where you are yet. You have time to get the hell out of there.”
“How did you know where I was at, LT, if they don’t know where I’m at?”
“Goddamn, I’ve had someone tracking you since you flew out of Key West. Shit, someone has to watch out for your crazy ass. I wanted to give you one more chance if you wanted it.”
“I appreciate that but I think the time has come to hang it up, LT. It’s been a long haul and shitload of fun but I’m old and tired and crippled.” Cal tossed back another shot. “Thanks again, Lieutenant. I’ll look you up on the other side.”
There was a moment of silence on the phone. "Goodbye, son."
Cal tossed the phone back to Terry and pulled the .38 out of the back of his pants and put it on the bar. 
“Give me a piece of paper, kid.” Terry slid over a pad and a pencil and warily eyed the pistol as Cal scrawled something on the paper.
“Here you go, TK. This is the marina where my boat is moored and here’s the keys. The boat is yours if you want it, give you a chance for you and your family to get out of this toilet of a town.” Alongside the keys, Cal slapped down a roll of hundreds. “You might as well take this too for a little traveling money." 
Cal took the pistol, his drink, and his cigarettes over to a corner booth and sat down.
"All I need you to do is dial 9-1-1 and hang up the phone. The cops will be here shortly after that so you better get the hell out of here quick after you do it.”
TK dialed the number, grabbed the boat keys and money, and backed out towards the front door.
"Don't worry, kid. I'm not going to shoot you. My killing days are over." He opened the cylinder on his .38 and ejected the bullets underneath the booth. "When the cops question you about this down the road you just say that this gun was loaded when you saw it. Now get the hell out of here and don't lock the door."
His drink wasn't quite finished when he saw the red flashing strobes through the dirt streaked windows of the bar.
The message came through a bullhorn. "Calvin Thompson, this is the Albert Lea Police Department. We know you have a weapon. Put it down and come out the front door with your hands on your head."
Cal laughed uproariously. Just like in the movies. His life was going to end just like it does in the movies.
"Come and get me, you fucking coppers!" Cal screamed out with a laugh.