The latest

It’s been a while since I last posted and there’s a reason for that (maybe not a good reason but it’s all I got.)

Last March a week or two before my nasal surgery, I had my annual eye exam (since I’m diabetic it’s necessary.) The doc found newly formed but still very small cataracts; she said they are usually slow growing and would follow up at my next appointment. By August I realized my sight was failing. I had planned to drive to Austin for the Recon reunion in September but wasn’t comfortable being on the freeway with cloudy vision. As soon as I returned from Austin, I called the eye doc but couldn’t get in until mid September.

She discovered the cataracts were growing rapidly (I asked her if that made me special since cataracts usually grow slow) and she put me in for surgery. Finally got an appointment in late December. I didn’t realize it at the time but was exactly 90 days out.

At about that time I hung up my car keys since my vision was failing so fast. I missed many of my grandson’s basketball games as I was unable to tell who the kids were. I could only read with help from a magnifying glass so I cached a few hundred emails until I could read again without staring through the glass.

The doc’s office called a few days before my appointment and said he would be out of the office that day; they rescheduled me for late March – exactly 90 days out. I discovered in February that this is the tactic the VA uses when there isn’t a slot available – but if they maintain the 90-day appointment requirement, the administrators get their bonuses.

I was losing my sight so rapidly we decided to go private (my wife was tired of driving me around.) Only problem was I don’t have insurance and Medicare basic doesn’t cover out-patient surgery. So that set us back $7,500.

But, I can see again.

I’m not sure if it’s one of the drugs I take for various ailments or just old age, but my energy level has been about 75 percent of what it used to be and my brain seems fuzzy. As a result, I haven’t been writing. My brain seems to be improving (or adapting) and I have one story finished and ideas for a few more.

Here’s my latest. Hope you enjoy it.

Bad day at Oakton

It was a beautiful spring day in Oakton. A gentle morning rain had cleared dust and pollens from the air. The temperature had peaked at 78 and now, in late afternoon, was beginning to decline. Flowers were in bloom and the lawn in Courthouse Park was freshly mowed, supplying pleasing fragrances to the little town. Noise pollution was limited to a few local residents talking quietly, birds singing, and automobiles obeying the 25-mile per hour speed limit.

Richard Davis Winchester III, known as Richie, was perched atop a picnic table under in a century-old oak tree about twenty feet from Oak Street; his feet were planted on the bench and his bicycle, with the ball bag attached, leaned against the table next to him. His face was grim as he repeatedly pounded the baseball glove encasing his left hand. A deputy stood behind the lad between the table and the tree. Fifty feet beyond the oak was another massive oak with a two-year old 1959 Cadillac crumpled against it; the latter was the loser of the battle and the front axle was shoved half-way toward the passenger cabin. Several people, most in the uniform of the county sheriff’s department, were busy inspecting the car and taking photographs and measurements.

In his shame, Richie refused to look up as people walked by along the sidewalk, many of them speaking or waving to him.

Boy, I hope I don’t go to jail, he thought.

Over an hour ago he had been told by a cop to stay there and he had, refusing to look at the carnage behind him.

Only a few more minutes elapsed when a man wearing an almost new Sears suit and well-tooled cowboy boots seated himself next to Richie. “My name’s Detective Romero with the sheriff’s office. I called your coach and told him you’d miss practice today and he told me you’re scheduled to pitch tomorrow. Me and Coach Harlan go back a long way starting in grade school. We were both in the National Guard when we were called up for Korea. Your dad went with us.

“Are you eleven?”

Richie, still refusing to make eye contact with anyone, nodded.

“So, another year of Little League?”

Richie nodded again.

“Do you plan on playing Babe Ruth ball?”

Another nod.

“Good. Are you ready to tell me what happened?”

Richie gulped and finally looked at Detective Romero. “I w-w-was on my way to baseball practice and was walkin’ my bike a-a-along the sidewalk on Oak Street like I’m supposed to do when I ran into S-S-Suzie Cummings in front of Miller’s Hardware–do you know her?”

“I just interviewed her. She’s pretty cute. Smart too.” A slight smile appeared on Richie’s face. “Go on, son, you’re doing fine. Just relax.”

“Well, she asked to see the new glove that my mom and dad got me so I dug it out of my bat bag and handed it to her. That’s when we heard Mister Cooper yellin’ down by the bank and then car doors slammin’ and a gunshot and the Caddy peeling out….”

“You only heard one gunshot? Are you familiar with guns?”

“I heard one shot. It sounded like a .38. Our family goes out to grampa’s farm to shoot all the time–even my little sister. I even have my own rifle. It’s a Higgins .22 semi-automatic. Mom has a .38 and I’ve shot it but it kicks a little too much for me to handle. Dad won’t let me shoot his .45 ‘til I get older.”

“You’ll grow into it. What happened next?”

“Well, the Caddy took off really pickin’ up speed on Oak Street but when it got to Second Avenue old Mister Axelrod double parked his pickup in front of Bailey’s Grocery to drop off a load of produce from his farm and the Caddy had to slow down and go into the other lane but Missus Granger was pullin’ out of a parking space and the Caddy clipped the front end and slowed some more but Missus Goldberg was crossing the street in front of Mister Axelrod’s truck when the Caddy nearly hit her so she threw the pie she was carryin’ and hit the guy in the back seat in the face.” He had to pause to catch his breath.

“Yeah, Missus Goldberg isn’t happy to have a perfectly good banana cream pie ruined. She was taking it over to the diner. Go on.”

“By then the car was gettin’ close to me and Suzie and I was mad at ‘em for hittin’ Missus Granger’s car and almost hittin’ Missus Goldberg, so I grabbed the ball out of the glove and wound up and pitched it at the driver. I think I hit him in the head and the Caddie veered off and jumped over the sidewalk and straight into the tree.” He looked down at the grass and gulped several times before speaking in a barely audible voice. “Did I kill him?”

“Nope. But that was a hel… uh, a great pitch. You hit him right in the temple and knocked him out. They weren’t going fast enough for anyone to go through the windshield but both men in the front seat dented it and the guy in the back went over the seat and landed on top of the other two. Deputy Strong was on the other side of the courthouse and heard the shot and the collision and got here before the criminals were able to disentangle themselves. It’s a shame that Caddie was destroyed.”

Still speaking softly Richie asked, “Do I have to go to jail now?”

“Jail? Is that what you’re worried about? No, sir, young man. You’re the hero of the day. You single-handedly captured the Johnson Gang. They’re wanted in four states for bank robbery and car theft and a lot of other charges.” He stood and extended his hand and Richie did the same as the two shook hands.

“Good job, son. There will be a good amount of reward money for you, too. But I have to keep the ball since it’s evidence. Now get on home. And tell your mom and dad I said hi.”

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Strange weather II

Last October I wrote about driving into a hurricane in New Mexico. The first nine months following that were typical and uneventful for Tucson. Then July rolled around. Our monsoon usually starts the first week of July but it tends to be spotty, with serious rain storms and thunder boomers hitting different parts of the valley each day. These storms can range from a few hundred to a few thousand acres to, more rarely, valley-wide storms. They all missed our little secluded part of town, leaving us with just a few drizzles.

A few days after the first gully washer, our Texas Ranger shrubs typically break out in a massive bloom – small light purple flowers that open within a few days of each other and nearly hide the leaves. Mother Nature apparently did not provide the trigger for the mass bloom this year so they bloomed through September. It was disappointing since only a few opened at the same time, although the bees appreciated it since they a had a source of nectar for several months instead of having to gorge over a week.

This year July and August registered slightly below normal although September was an inch above and we finished the monsoon one-half inch above normal. October is one of our dryer months but this year we are well over an inch above normal. Non-desert dwellers may be mumbling “so what” to themselves, but when an area only sees twelve inches of rain each year, it’s a big deal. With a strong El Nino changing weather patterns around the world we’re hoping for more rain to partially replenish our aquifer.

Here’s a story for you.

George’s Night Out

George Grant sat astraddle his regular stool at the end of the bar in Bucky’s Tavern, his back resting against the wall. He was nursing his ninth–or was it tenth–beer of the night as he chatted with Bucky, the owner and night bartender of the small neighborhood bar. The two men had been best friends since kindergarten and had developed a well-deserved reputation as hell raisers in the small country town.

Bucky mixed a drink for one of the bar flies and returned to the end of the bar. “How long’s Glenda been gone?”

“Nigh on five years. It weren’t supposed to be like this–I was supposed to go first.”

“Know what’y mean. When Doris died I was shook. Took a long time to get back’t normal.

“Don’t know if I’ll ever get back to normal. With the kids livin’ out’a state the old house gets lonely.”

Bucky left to pour another beer for a customer and announce last call.

George had fallen into the ritual of cleaning up his paperwork on the last day of the month and retiring to Bucky’s for a long night of reminiscing and serious drinking. He seldom drank at other times, instead putting in twelve-hour days at his farm. He drained his glass, waved to Bucky, and headed for the door. His normal swagger was now impeded by a slight stagger.

The night had turned cold and George snuggled a little deeper into his coat. Rain had drizzled down earlier and any standing water was now covered by a film of ice. He walked two blocks to Oak Street and turned right. Instead of walking the mile to his house along the road, he always cut through the cemetery to cut the route in half. He turned left after three blocks to the entrance to the cemetery.

Being alone in the burial ground had never bothered him; five generations of his father’s family and four of his mother’s family were buried there and he visited often to pay his respects and tend the graves. He figured he would be the last of the family buried there since his kids had moved to various cities and their families had roots in the new communities.

The lane was slippery and his feet slid along the frozen asphalt. He moved to the shoulder where the footing was better. Icy grass crunched with each footfall. He neared the main building and dodged around it to the maintenance shed at the rear.

Another set of footsteps almost but not quite mirrored his own.

He partially turned to look over his shoulder. An apparition was about six feet behind him. It was dressed in rags with a hood partially obscuring his head. Its face, or where a face should have been, was a white skull. It grasped a scythe in both hands. A muted moan escaped from its mouth.

George never changed his stride but continued to the shed. Two more apparitions stepped from the shadow of the shed. Both were moaning. George reached into the shed and grabbed a hoe from its hook near the door. He swung at the form behind him and connected with a solid blow to its knee causing the apparition to fall. He turned as the other two forms approached. He swung at the first, connecting with a blow to the side of its body. It didn’t go down but yelled what sounded like, “Holy shit, man,” and took off at a lope. George swung at the third form but it was able to lift its scythe enough to absorb some of the blow although the hoe handle connected with its head. It collapsed, apparently unconscious.

“What’s all the commotion here?”

George brought the hoe up to a batting stance as he turned.

Bubba Black, the town’s chief of police and only employee of the department, backed off a step and raised both hands in surrender. “Relax, George, I’m the good guy, remember.”

“Sorry, Bubba, but you scared me comin’ all quiet like that. These three ghosts or goblins or whatever they are attacked me. One of ‘em ran off over that way.”

“They’re ghouls. Let’s see what we got here.” He reached down and pulled the mask off one and then the other. “Bobby Hendricks and Carl Benson. Bobby’s brother’ll be ‘round here somewhere.” He raised his voice and yelled toward the woods. “Jimmy Hendricks, git over here.”

Carl moaned as he woke from his brief, unintentional nap. Jimmy limped into the fringe of the group, his mask off and a sheepish grin on his face.

“I saw you boys at the Dairy Queen and figured you were up to no good, so I been keepin’ an eye on y’all. Anyone have anything to say?”

Bobby struggled to stand, his leg not fully supporting his weight. “We weren’t aimin’ to hurt ‘im none. Just tryin’ to scare ‘im.”

Bubba tried to swallow his smile. “No harm done. Anyone want to press charges?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, git on home. And next Halloween, I’ll be watchin’.”

 

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Reunions and comradery

I just returned from a five-day reunion of 3rd Marine reconnaissance Battalion from the Vietnam era and I gotta tell y’all it was great.

Those who never served in combat environs will never understand the comradery that developes from a small, tight unit.

A Recon battalion is an elite unit somewhere in the hierarchy between infantry and special operations. We operated two to twenty miles beyond any friendly forces in eight-man teams and relied on each other for everything, including our lives. We spent our days in the bush patrolling and looking for signs of the NVA or we holed up in an observation post watching for them. At night we slept in a harborsite, preferably in a bramble patch that required us to crawl into to avoid being tracked. Our packs and radios were stacked in the center with our heads near the packs and our legs radiating outward, the men on each side within touching distance: we could easily fit into a dining room.

When in the rear we had our own hooch (tent) for the team and we spent nearly every hour of the day together from cleaning gear to going to chow to working parties to packing for the next patrol. We knew each other well: where we were from to our girl friends to cars we drove to foods we ate.

To say we were “tight” is a gross understatement.

I never had a “home” since my dad worked construction for the big contractors (Peter Kiewitt and Morris Knudson mostly) building dams and bridges. We moved a lot and I attended five schools in three states in first grade, three more elementary schools (all in Antelope Valley, California) and two high schools (Antelope Valley and Las Vegas). So, when people ask where I’m from all I can say is every state west of the Rockies except Utah and Hawaii. Although I have a few close friends along with numerous friends from those days , I was never able to develop life-long friendships with school pals. I never developed close relationships in boot camp or in the motor pool when I was stationed at El Toro in southern California.

And so it came to be that I developed a very close relationship with the Recon Marines of Marblechamp, 3C1, 3rd Recon Battalion. Marblechamp was our radio callsign and we were the first team of third platoon of Charlie Company.

Of the fifteen or so who served with Marblechamp during 1968, six of us were at the reunion, thanks to the efforts of Smitty who called and cajoled us to insert to the San Antonio Drury Hotel.

We hugged like long-lost family and ordered beer. After discussions of where we had lived and what we had done over the past 47 years (everything from oil patch workers to cops to executive types) we began talking about various people we served with and patrols we ran. It was like we had just shared a meal of C-rations in the hooch last week. We were blessed with a good staff of officers and NCOs so there was limited bitching about the officers, although a couple of junior officers (who only lasted a few weeks before they were reassigned to other units) caught a bit of criticism.

It was a great time to reminisce. To Smitty, Dick, Steve, Wayne, and Jerry: Welcome home brothers and Semper Fi. That goes for the other members of 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, and 3rd Recon. That includes Steve and Jeff from 3C2 as well as Tutone and Roberto who I shared the sergeant’s hooch with for a short period.

If you have a reunion of old chums, be it school, fraternal, or military, do your best to attend. You’ll not regret it.

 

Not many people have heard of the Arizona Rangers but they did exist for about a decade. Here’s a story I just finished.

The Arizona Ranger

Tired as he was Ollie Webb sat the saddle well as he approached a newly established and still un-named mining town along the San Pedro River. He kept Coal, his pure black stallion, at a walk since the animal had been on the trail for nearly three weeks in the stifling heat. Early June in southeast Arizona was hot and dry and would remain so until the summer rains started in early July. The San Pedro had waned to a largely underground stream although water could be found in small pools.

The town came into view then disappeared as the wagon trail crested a small rise then dipped into a small valley. He entered the town that consisted of fourteen buildings stretched along both sides of the trail, which was also the main street. The saloon was the last building on the left and a livery stable was the last building on the right. He passed through the town, his head slowly turning as he looked for signs of life but not a soul was on the street or in doorways or looking out windows.

He stopped at the livery, dropping the reins over the hitching post. After a good stretch Ollie entered the building to find a boy of ten or eleven sweeping out stables. He looked up at Ollie. “Can I help you mister?”

“Can I stable my horse here?”

“Yes sir. Four bits a day with grain and grass.”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll bring ‘im in.” He whistled and Coal walked in to the stable a few seconds later.

“Wow. Well trained horse, mister.”

“That he is. I spent a long time training him when I was about your age. Which stall is his?”

“The front one is open. Want me to rub him down?”

“Nope. My horse, my job. Where’s your pa?”

“At a meetin’. Be back in a bit.”

“You have any law in this town?”

“Kind’a. That’s what the meetin’s about.” He looked more closely at Ollie to see a man of medium height and thin build wearing range clothes with a holstered revolver at his hip. He looked to be about sixteen but had an older look in his eyes. “Wait a minute. You ain’t runnin’ from somethin’, are ya?”

Ollie laughed. “Nope.”

After tending to Coal, Ollie walked across the street to the saloon, eased the batwing doors open and stepped inside. Only the bartender and one customer, who sat at the far table, were visible. “Hit me with a whisky, kind sir.”

The bartender poured a shot, and quietly asked, “Name’s Gus. Lookin’ for work?”

“Naw. Got me a job down in Cochise County. Just passin’ through tryin’ to get there. What do y’all do for law ‘round here?”

“All we got is sheriffs from Pima, Cochise, and Graham Counties. Seems like we’re in the middle of nowhere and no one is sure where we belong.” His voice lowered even more. “The man at the back is an Arizona Ranger and he’s got a fine fer everything. Killed my business. Miners ain’t comin’ down from the mountain and the town folk are just stayin’ away.” He started to say something else but the other customer butted in.

“Hey. Kid. You don’t look old enough to drink. I’m gonna fine you a dollar. Bring it over here.”

Ollie didn’t turn but his right hand slowly moved to his Colt and removed the thong attached to the hammer. “I’m old enough to drink.” He turned to face the man and saw a heavy-set man of about thirty wearing town clothes with a tin badge on his vest. “Name’s Ollie Webb. Who are you?”

“Name’s Stewart Smith. Stu to my friends but you ain’t one, so call me Ranger Smith. Now bring me that dollar.”

“Hold your horses. Do you know my uncle? Dave Webb? I heard he’s a ranger. How long you been a ranger?”

“Don’t know no Dave Webb. Been wearin’ the badge fer over a year. Now what’s with all the questions? I fined you boy, now pay up.”

“Who’s your boss? If I decide to be a ranger who do I contact?”

“I work for Captain Barnes. I’m gettin’ tired of you asking me questions. Toss me that dollar.”

“Do you know Captain Mossman?”

“Never heard of ‘im.”

“He’s a friend of my pa. After Cap’n Mossman heard that I fought with Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, he asked me if I wanted to be an Arizona Ranger­.”

“You’re too damned young to have fought at San Juan Hill. That was three years ago.”

“I was there. I’m twenty years old. And, I’m an Arizona Ranger.” With his right hand hovering over his Colt, his left hand slowly opened his vest to reveal a gold, five-pointed badge. “This is what a real Ranger badge looks like. I was just in Phoenix to be sworn in and your name was never mentioned. I never heard of Captain Barnes. And Rangers are supposed to not announce their presence. You, sir, are a fraud.”

Smith lurched to his feet and drew his own Colt but was too slow. Two bullets fired by Ollie found their mark in Smith’s chest.

Still holding his revolver, Ollie walked over to Smith and saw he was dead. “Gus, pour me another drink and go get the town folk. I need to find out who this fool is. Y’all can split  any money he has and you can send the burial fees to Ranger headquarters. If y’all need any more help I’ll be workin’ outta Benson.”

 

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