Soldier | Bleader



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A little after 5 AM Sunday and the line for the cashier at the garage stretches all the way back to the pool table. This is a disaster. Fourteen hours driving and this is the reward? She's the one that double- and triple-counts every nickel too, so I decide to go back out and try to squeeze one last dollar out of the night. What I got was more than there was any need for at that wretched hour . . .

I'm heading toward the nearest late-night bar to see if any tardy revelers need assistance when he waves me down. A clean-cut guy in a peacoat, his only request is to smoke, his destination is the farthest northwestern reaches of the city. This is as much of his phone conversation as I can remember or reproduce.

"Ready for Wednesday? I've been keeping in pretty good shape, running every day except yesterday. Went out last night, oof. . . . Just hope it's not like my third deployment, it's gonna be rough. . . . Yeah, somewhere outside Kabul. . . . Huh? Man, no he's out of his mind, he started some shit with these navy guys two weeks back, went absolutely berserk. Totally unfit, can't believe they're letting him back in. . . . His plan is to go to Haiti but that ain't gonna happen, I HOPE they send him there because he won't take orders, he's just gonna go in and FUCK SHIT UP.

"My mom's not doing so well, doubt she'll make it more than a few months. Once she really starts going downhill, she'll fade fast. I'll have to come home, not gonna be in some foreign rat-hole when my mother's dying. . . . Dad's having a hard time. She can still do the everyday little things, but she can't handle the big stuff, she calls for help, he's losing his mind. . . . No that's not going well, it's pretty much over, she's just about done, she isn't about to commit to being single for one more year. It's understandable, I don't blame her, we had a pretty bad fight about it. . .

"You know, they'll have me running point the way they like, going into booby-trapped caves with folks that don't like us, it's gonna be bad. . . . NO, I'm not working with the __ Airborne again, they really fucked us last time. We were running intel for them, then we hear these blasts and they just mow down like 50 women and children. We NEVER ordered an air strike! Not a civilian male anywhere in sight and those psychos are celebrating. They just murdered 50 innocents and they're proud, what a clusterfuck. . . . You know what happened in Fallujah, right? . . . No, that's the story we told, but . . . So, he's searching the guy and he's already given up his weapons—his knife, his AK are laying down—he's searching him and everything's normal, then I look over and he just snaps his neck. The guy's partner sees this and I can tell he's about to start freaking out so I go over and slash his throat to just shut him up. . . . Bad shit, he won't listen to his COs, he should've been court-martialed but he's going back in instead. . . . I got a bad feeling the way the things are going over there. Should've gotten whacked two or three times over. Always get a bad feeling at the start of these. Bags are packed, HOO-HA, it's GO TIME! . . . OK, man, I'll see ya Wednesday . . . "

There's silence and he makes no mention of the conversation, just pays and gets out. I watch him in the rearview just standing and staring at the house, lighting another cigarette, not anxious to go in.

Back at the garage, the line's barely moved, watching paint dry would be an action-movie compared to this. Outside dawn is breaking, but it's no matter: that soldier's story won't fade away anytime soon and allow sleep to come.

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