...from the 'pen' of CHRIS GREGORY  



by Chris Gregory

Everything's gonna be O.K. That's what Carlo says and I believe him because when Carlo says something it ain't no bullshit. We'll get you out of here, he says. Won't take long, he says. Carlo, he's my best buddy. Me and Carlo, we go way back. Way, way back...

It was a normal Saturday night. OK, the fleet was in. But we'd never had a problem with that before. We ain't got no worries with my pal Vinnie on the door... That's what Carlo always tells everyone. Carlo's so proud of me. He says any time I see anything looks like trouble all I gotta do is show my teeth. Carlo taught me that in Nam. Just bare those teeth, Vinnie baby... he used to say ...Scares the shit outa them gooks...

Now and again me and the boys have to throw a couple of sailors out. Usually all I have to do is look at them real mean and they run like shit. One time we caught this sailor in the john trying to cut up one of the chicks. Bad business. We had to break a couple of his arms for that. Carlo said we was merciful. Did the guy a favour. If the other chicks'd got him they'd have had his balls.

Course, the chicks, they all love me. Usually, on Saturday nights Carlo lets me have a free one with one of them. Maybe Helga, or if I'm really lucky, Katrina... But not last night. When I think about what happened last night I just wanna cry. But I ain't gonna cry..... I ain't, I tell you. Carlo says I cry too much. One time I cried in that Snow White movie. Shut up, you big soft shit, Carlo told me....

Carlo, he's so good to me. Ever since we jumped ship here in '72 he promised to take care of me. Haven't I always been as good as my word, Vinnie, baby? He would say. ...Wasn't it me who pulled you outa that swamp when that gook bitch was about to finish you off? I try not to think about Nam. Better you don't, Vinnie, Carlo tells me. 'Course, he's right. When I think about Nam all I usually get is a kinda blur. A whole lotta colours. Green for the jungle, blue for the sky and especially bright screaming red. Then there's a lotta noise, everything shuts off and then I just wanna cry. Be a brave boy, Carlo always tells me. Grit yer teeth...

Seven thirty Saturday night, the club was swinging. The strobe lights were flashing. The strobes always give me headache but I do what Carlo tells me and wear my shades. I feel much better then. Disco music was playing. A few sailors had already arrived, but they weren't stirring up no trouble. Just making a few negotiations with some chicks at the bar. Then they'd slip away to the rooms upstairs. All hunky dory, no sweat. Janice and Helga, the go-go girls, were dancing in their cages in leather bikinis in the middle of the floor. Helga gave me a wink as I passed, licked her lips and ground her ass against the bars. Later, Vinnie, Carlo laughed. ...if you're a good boy tonight I'll let Helga give you a blowjob. Carlo was looking pretty slick himself. He's a little guy but the women always go for him. Tonight he had on his best purple lame suit. Yeah. Carlo is pretty cool. Tells me so himself. I don't wanna be too modest, Brian baby, he tells me. But I'll let you into a secret... I'm pretty hot stuff.

Carlo was in a good mood. Profits are booming, he told me. You be a good boy, you'll get another raise next week. The club was filling up. Yeah. The music was really swinging. '70s disco was this year's big thing. 'Sfunny, I remember Carlo saying. Most of these sailors were sucking dummies when we used to dance to this stuff. I remember tapping my feet as the DJ spun my favourite. Yeah. Old song by Abba. How does it go now?

Knowing me, knowing you...
There is nothing we can do...

Yeah, that's the one. I remember Helga waving at me and I was smiling and tapping my feet and yeah, everyone was happy and yeah, business was booming. Then I saw them. At first I couldn't believe it. I had to take off my shades. Rub my eyes. No, it couldn't be real. I tried to find Carlo. I tried to tell him. Yeah, I did. Carlo could have stopped me, I know. But there was too much light, too much smoke. Yeah, the music just seemed to get louder and louder:

Knowing me, knowing you....

It was their faces. Yeah, their faces. I saw them across the club and I thought I was hallucinating. Thought I'd gone back twenty years to that night on the Mekong. It was dark that night, so dark. Me and Carlo and Hank and Brother Joe in that boat on that dark, dark river. And Brother Joe had laid those two tabs on me and by the time we got to the village we were flying. Red flares, red dragons, blue exploding flowers lit up the night sky.

The sailors were coming towards me. And there were four of them. One was a big guy, broad shouldered, big muscled, losing a little hair on top. Another was a little fat guy, smoking a cigar, wisecracking. Another was a thin blonde haired guy with glasses. Another was a black dude with a permanent smile. They were coming closer and closer, across the dancefloor. All I could see was the glare of the lights, the customers dancing, the plastered faces of the chicks, Helga's little tits in black leather, bouncing against the sides of her cage. I looked for the guys. Gimme some help, gimme some help, I tried to shout. But no words came out.

Then I started to cry. As the guys came closer to me I could see their faces clearly. Yeah. I had no doubt. The little one with the cigar was Carlo, the black guy was Brother Joe, the tall guy with the blond hair was Hank and the big guy was me. All exactly as we were that night, twenty years ago, that night when we moored the boat and landed at that village.

Routine clearance work, the C.O. had told us. Yeah, that was easy. Shoot in the air a little to scare them. Grab a couple of young gook women, beat them around a little. Brother Joe knew enough of their language to get a little info from them. We'd usually get some reliable dope on V.C. movements.

The guys came closer. I was still blinking. Somehow, I'd lost my shades. Then I heard the big guy say: "Hey, man, who's the big ugly-looking jerk in the monkey suit?"
"You ask me..." The tall blond one said "I'd say he was looking fer trouble." The black guy swung on a bottle of Pils. "Yeah...." He was laughing now. "Sure looks like one mean motherfucker." Then the little guy came closer and looked me straight in the eye. "You know, guys, I don't think he likes the look of us."

I tell you, right then I was just frozen to the spot. Yeah, frozen. I knew that these guys were me and Carlo and Hank and Brother Joe. I knew it. This was all some kinda weird flashback. "Hey, guys..." I tried to say. "Listen, I know you guys, I-"

Then I felt a rabbit punch in my stomach and the toe of a steel capped shoe rammed against my ass. And laughter. Laughter that went on and on, on and on, and never stopped.

So we swung the boat down and approached the village together, four feet apart, case there were any V.C. ready for us. But there was no-one, just faces of the villagers staring at us. I remember them. I remember their eyes. Those damned eyes, unmoving, just staring and staring and staring. So we approached. This was gonna be easy, Brother Joe laughed. Easy as pie.

And those damn eyes, peering from behind straw, still watching...

As we got closer we all started to laugh. We were all peaking on acid now. Yeah, that was it. The straw huts kept changing colour, from yellow to blue to green to orange and the night sky was suddenly full of bright red trails.

When the noise came it was beautiful. Most beautiful noise I ever heard. Like the earth moving, the sky cracking, like the voice of God calling me. Then I saw the white sheet of flame turning into a million colours, and the bodies of Brother Joe and Hank burning, burning beautifully, consumed in seconds.

Then the sky turned black, deep deep black and me and Carlo looked at each other. It was a V.C. booby trap. They'd known we were coming.

Then I felt The Rage, rising in me, burning and boiling, and moments later me and Carlo were inside one of the huts and there were thin women there, mothers and grandmothers and four, five sick children and they all had big, big staring fucking eyes ,eyes so big they burned into us, damn them damn them. And then we were letting them have it. It was so easy. Yeah, so goddamn easy. So easy to let the rage out, and it was all so sudden, so quick, so soon it was all over and the pile of bodies was cowered by the far wall but we came closer and closer and riddled those bodies full of machine gun bullets again but even those those goddam big eyes kept staring at us. Staring and staring, cold, lifeless but they wouldn't stop staring...

It was the same Rage I felt, you see. When I snapped that big sailor's spine it was so easy, like breaking a twig. Yeah, just like that. And when I stuck my knife into the little guy it was so easy, so natural, so obvious that he should fall. Vaguely in the background I could hear voices, voices and the pounding Abba beat, but nothing could stop me now. Yeah, I was hot. I was untouchable. I ripped one of the iron bars from Helga's cage out and let the others have it.

It was funny, afterwards they just lay there in a pile, not moving, their eyes just staring up at me, so wide, so open, so helpless. I almost wanted to bend down and kiss them all.

Now Carlo says he'll try to get me off the charges. Said something about 'diminished responsibility'. Get me transferred to some more comfortable place, he said he would. Of course, Carlo's a good guy. Carlo's my buddy. Carlo does everything for me. All I have to do is wait. He'll see me right. He always sees me right.




Digital Generation