This is Part 2 of the new SARGE Serial. Click here for Part 1 in case you missed it.
Linus was up before the sun, as usual. After making a quick trip to the bathroom he came out and dressed. His typical uniform was a pair of pressed BDU pants and a pressed button down shirt. Some things from his time in the Army just wouldn’t go away. He sat on the foot of the bed and put on a pair of Corcoran Jump boots. Taking a minute to buff the mirror like toe.
Dressed, he went to the kitchen to get breakfast started. As he came into the kitchen he hit the power button on a small radio sitting on the counter. This was pure habit, his routine was the same everyday, and when he was met with static from the radio, he paused and looked at it. Shaking his head he turned it off. Interrupting his routine he went back to the HAM shack. In a few minutes Johnny Cash was playing throughout the house. A CD player there was connected to speakers spread through the house.
With his world now right, he started on breakfast. The first thing done was to start the coffee. A couple of hen apples, cooked to a perfect over-medium, rye toast and four pieces of bacon. Going to the fridge he took out a carton of Florida Natural OJ and set it on the table beside the plate. Sitting down he poured the juice and looked at it, muttering, I’m gonna miss this in the morning.
After eating, he drained the bacon grease into a Mason jar and wiped the pan out with a paper towel before setting it back on the stove. He washed his plate and fork and set them in the drainer on the counter. His routine was efficient and consistent, two things he liked. Once the kitchen was clean he poured another cup of coffee and headed back to his bedroom. There, he strapped a holster to his hip and slid the Colt into it. Then a couple of mags went into a holder on his hip.
Picking up the coffee he headed out the back door, snagging an old 101st Airborne hat from a hook by the door as he did. The sky was beginning to lighten as he stepped out and looked around. It was cool and he thought about getting a jacket, but the brisk air energized him and he decided against it. Instead, he walked around the house and started up the drive. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just part of the morning routine to get the paper that would lying just inside the gate at the road.
As he walked, he suddenly wondered if it would be there. Fuck it, he thought. He liked the walk to the gate in the morning. He got to listen to the birds as they came to life, calling from their nests. He knew well the voices of Mocking Birds, Blue Jays and Cardinals and knew too about where he’d hear them from. It was a comfort when he heard them when and where he expected to.
The sun was now casting it’s light off the clouds overhead as it closed in on the horizon. And to his surprise, the paper was lying right where it was supposed to. As he picked it up he wondered if things weren’t as bad as he first thought. But he also knew the paper was usually printed in advance. So maybe things weren’t that bad. Tucking the paper under his arm he sipped his coffee as he headed back to the house.
After a quick stop to refill his cup and fill a thermos, Linus went back out and headed down towards the river. Down on the river he took a chair that was leaning against the fish cleaning station and carried it out to the edge of the dock and set it beside an upturned five-gallon bucket that would serve as a table. Right on time, his ass hit the seat as the sun broke the horizon.
The paper gave no indication of what was happening. It was just the normal useless news it always was. Dumb sons of bitches, he grumbled as he scanned the headlines, looking for any indication as to what happened. But there was none. Because of the potential scale of what was happening, he found it difficult to read about a proposed half-cent sales tax hike. Frustrated, his tossed the paper to the deck and looked out across the river.
The old Suwannee was still moving, totally unconcerned with the plight of man. Smoke rose from the coffee colored water as it continued it’s unending march towards the gulf. Linus sat and watched as Great Blue Heron glided gracefully inches above the water, before landing silently on the trunk of an oak tree that lay in the river opposite his dock. The occasional fish broke the surface with a slurp or a pop. But the river was mostly quiet. This was Linus’s favorite time of the day, sunrise on the river. He’d moved out here after retiring from the Army. He wanted a place with mild winters and on a river. He looked at several places in the southeast before settling on the ten acres here on the banks of the Suwannee. He bought it a year before he separated, using the time to have some things done to get the place ready. He biggest of those was the very dock he was sitting on.
The original dock was inadequate to say the least, resembling something out of southeast Asia. It was a rickety, narrow structure that did nothing more than provide a way to access the water. Linus wanted a place where he could hang out on the water. As well as keep his boat tied up. The river was the reason he moved here and he wanted to enjoy it.
But that old dock did have a couple of good memories. About six months before his retirement he was down at Patrick when he ran into a group of guys he hadn’t seen a while. He had a love hate relationship with them on the outside, but the reality was much different. He’d never admit it to anyone, but he loved these boys and trusted them explicitly. Well, most of them. Mikey was the wild card.
The guys were at Patrick for some training when he spotted Ronnie at McDonalds.
“Hey Doc, how the hell are you?” Linus asked as he slapped the man on the back.
Surprised Ronnie gripped his hand, “Good Top, how the hell are you? I heard you were retiring.”
“I am,” Linus replied with a nod. “Got about six months left. What are you doing here?”
“Just some training. You know the drill.”
“Indeed I do. Where are the guys?” Linus asked as the girl at the counter look and asked, “Can I take your order?”
The two men got their food and took a seat. “You guys been busy?” Linus asked.
Stuffing a Big Mac into his mouth Ronnie nodded. He chewed it down enough to speak and said, “Yeah. We went back to Kandahar again. It was a shit show.”
Linus nodded, “I hope you don’t have to go back.”
“Me too Top. I’ve seen enough of that part of the world.”
“You guys here this weekend?”
Ronnie nodded. “We are.”
Linus reached into a pocket took out a notepad. Writing a cell phone number on it he handed it to Ronnie. “Give me a call Friday. I’ve got a place on the river. We’ll go up there for the weekend and do some fishing, drink some beer.”
Ronnie folded the paper and stuck it in his shirt pocket, “I’ll do it. That’s sounds like fun.”
“Bring them idiots with you too. I’d like to see them.”
Ronnie laughed, “Yeah. Mike would like to see you too.”
Linus pointed at Ronnie with a French fry. “You tell that little fucker if he gets stupid drunk, I’ll drowned him in the river.”
Ronnie smiled. “It’s good to see you Top.”
That Friday Ronnie called. Linus gave him the address and said he be there waiting for them. The guys showed up about seven Friday night. Linus already had steaks waiting on them, as well as a cooler full of beer.
“Holy shit Top!” A voice called out.
Linus looked up from the grill and smiled, “Hey Mikey!” He placed the big fork he was poking at the steaks with and walked out to meet the men. Linus went to shake Mike’s hand, Mike looked at it and shook his head, “Naw, you know I’m a hugger!”
Mike wrapped his arms around the old man and hoisted him off the ground. “Damn it’s good to see you Top!”
“Put me down you fucking twat!” Linus shouted.
Mike howled with laughter and looked over his shoulder at the other two men said, “Look! I’ve got Top!”
It’d been less than twenty seconds and Linus was already over Mikey’s shit. He clapped his hands over Mike’s ears. This achieved the desired result when Mike dropped him and reached for his ears, saying, “Shit Top! That hurts!”
“Serves you right shit head.” Linus left Mike holding his head and held his hand out to another man. “Teddy. Good to see you.”
Ted shook his hand. “Yes, it is Top. Been a while. How you been?”
“Ah, fair to middlin. I’ll be doing better in about six months.”
“I heard you were retiring,” Ted replied. Then shook his head, “What the hell are you going to do without the Army?”
Linus leaned in close and replied, “Whatever the fuck I want.” He slapped Ted on the back and said, “Come on boys. These steaks ain’t gonna eat themselves and that beer ain’t gonna drink itself!”
They spent the night talking about old times. Focusing more on the bad times than the good. It was a morbid type of attitude to relish the worst of times and mock the easy or normal ones. But the beer flowed freely all night. About eleven Linus brought a crockpot into the livingroom and set it on the card table that occupied one corner.
“You boys want some boiled peanuts?” He asked as he ladled a bowl full of the steaming nuts out for himself.
Mike was quick to reply, “Hell yes!” He shouted as he jumped up. Standing at the table he asked, “You got a deck of cards, Top?”
“What kind of a dumbass question is that? Of course, I’ve got cards!”
“Well, get ‘em out and let’s play some poker!”
Ted held a finger up, “Uh, Mikey, you forgotten the last time you played poker with him?”
“That was just luck. Come on, let’s play.”
Linus looked at Ted and Ronnie, “You boys want to play?”
Ted laughed, “Sure. Why the hell not.”
As the table was arranged, Mike said, “You’re about to get schooled old man.”
“Am I now?” Mike nodded and Linus said. “How’d that education you got from the last time work out for you?”
Mike looked down at the table. “I didn’t think she’d ever leave.”
Linus erupted into laughter. “That was the funniest shit I’d ever seen!”
“Funny is not the word for that,” Ronnie replied.
“Oh, come on Doc, it was hilarious. And besides, he made the bet!” Linus replied.
“Lucky for Mikey there’s no fat Korean Mamasan around here tonight,” Ted said.
“You just got lucky on the river,” Mike replied, “otherwise you’d have been sleeping with her.”
“How is your wife now anyway?” Linus asked.
Mike’s entire body shuttered. “That ain’t funny. That old fat bitch thought she’d found a ride to the big PX.”
“Oh, she found a ride alright!” Linus shouted back.
They played cards until the early morning hours. Doc was on a streak and by the time the game ended he had nearly all the chips piled in front of him.
Linus stood up and patted Doc’s shoulder. “You didn’t win a Korean grandma tonight Doc, but hell of a game.”
Doc looked at the pile of chips in front of him and replied, “We should have played for money.”
“I’ll see you boys in the morning,” Linus said as he started down the hall.
“Where we supposed to sleep?” Mike asked.
Over his shoulder Linus replied, “You’re a big boy, figure it out!”
Mike Said, “I’ve got the spare room!” Then looked around to see he was the only still in the room. He walked down the hall to find Doc and Ted already in the bed, back to back with one another and having a tug of war with blanket. “Son of a bitch,” he said as he headed back for the livingroom.
Being as the guys were up so late Linus let them sleep. He really, really, wanted to wake them up in loud, annoying fashion, but resisted the temptation. Instead he went to his HAM shack and fiddled with radios for about an hour before making his way to the kitchen. The smell of coffee, bacon and sausage and biscuits rising in the oven finally drove the men from their beds.
Mike was the first one to stagger into the kitchen. Rubbing his red eyes as he fumbled for a coffee cup. “Morning sunshine,” Linus said as he opened the oven and removed a sheet of fat, tall biscuits.”
“Morning Top,” Mike replied as he poured coffee into his cup, sloshing a little on the counter in the process.
Linus set the biscuits on towel on the counter and threw the one he used to hold the hot pan with at Mike. His was taking a sip from his cup when the towel hit him in the face. He didn’t flinch, just continued to sip the coffee.
“Clean that mess up on my counter,” Linus said as he turned his attention back to the task at hand.
Ted and Doc found their way to the kitchen shortly after and it wasn’t long before everyone settled in at the table. Linus knew these men well and he cooked accordingly. They ate like wild beasts, putting away more food than one could think possible. But double helpings of biscuits and gravy, eggs, grits and bacon eventually filled them.
Linus got to clear the table, but Ted told him to sit down. “We got this Top. You cooked it, we’ll clean it.”
Linus saluted him with his mug, “You’re a fine man Teddy. I don’t care what Mikey says about you.”
“That makes two of us Top,” Ted replied.
“I think I’m gonna puke,” Mike moaned.
“You better not puke in my kitchen. You think you feel shitty now. You’ll feel far worse after I make you eat it again,” Linus replied.
Mike’s head lolled to the side. He looked at Doc and asked, “You bring your bag?”
Doc was picking plates up from the table and replied, “I’m not giving you a drip because you drank too much.”
“Aw come on!” Mike shouted, then immediately regretted it when his head started to thump.
The sun was now almost above the horizon. Linus was smiling to himself at the thought of the guys being there. He hadn’t seen them in a couple of years now. But Ted kept him informed on what they were up to. He liked to keep tabs on his boys. Spinning the top off the thermos, Linus went to pour another cup, but only a couple of drops dribbled out of the bottle. He spun the lid back on and got up to head to the house for a refill. As he looked up the long dock towards the house, the images of that day with the guys came back once again.
He could see Mike running down the dock towards the river, howling like a fool. But it wasn’t this dock, it was the old one. It was narrow and old. And just before Mike was to jump into the river, a board broke and sent him cartwheeling into the stained water. There were howls of laughter from all of them. When Mike surfaced he was he was screaming in pain.
Doc and Ted fished him out of the water to find his shins skinned from the knees to the ankles. It took Doc some time to patch him up and they spent the rest of the day basking in the sun. And drinking beer, of course.
In the kitchen Linus refilled the thermos and decided to go down and take the boat out. He wanted to see how things looked from the river. He put the thermos in the holder he’d fashioned for it, it’s importance couldn’t be underestimated, and untied the boat. Giving it a little shove it was soon out in the current and drifting down river. The Mercury cranked on the first pull and he started motoring upriver, taking it slow to allow him to observe.
At some houses he saw people outside, cooking on their grills, or over open fires. This was a very rural area and relatively poor. So folks out here just made do. He passed a clapboard shack that sat on a bluff over the river. A young girl, maybe twelve or thirteen was down at the river filling a bucket with water. She waved and Linus smiled and waved back.
As he came around a bend a familiar sight came into view. Linus smiled and moved the tiller to steer him towards the a rickety dock with a just as rickety man sitting on the end of it. But seeing the dock as rickety was an understatement. It was a collection of various pieces of wood assembled haphazardly. Linus always wondered if Joe even owned a saw, or if he just hammered new pieces on wherever he saw fit.
Joe retired from Maine and moved to Florida so he’d, never have to throw another shovel of snow for the rest of his life, as he put it. Joe’s thick Maine accent was always humorous to Linus and he enjoyed talking to Joe, even if he was batshit crazy. Seeing the boat coming towards him, Joe waved. Linus eased the boat up to the edge of the dock and tied it off to a piece of 2×4.
“Morning Linus,” Joe said as Linus climbed out of the boat.
“How you doing this mornin’ Joe?”
Joe nodded at the rod resting in a hole in the dock, its line trailing off into the water. “Slow this morning.”
Joe shook his head. “Not yet.”
“How are things here?” Linus asked.
Joe shrugged, “Power’s out. But I figure them co-op boys will get it back up soon.”
Linus kicked a bucket over and took a seat. “I don’t about that Joe. I got a feeling this may be a little more serious than a power outage.”
Joe cocked his head to the side, “You were in the Army too long. You see commies in everything that happens.”
Linus laughed, “Joe, I never went toe to toe with a commie. Lots of camel fuckers though.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”
Linus was watching Joe’s rod and saw the tip twitch. “I hope you’re right.” The tip bounced harder and Linus asked, “You gonna get that?”
Joe shook his head. “Not yet. Just like with the power, nothing’s happening yet.”
Suddenly the rod doubled over, and Joe fought to free it from the dock. He cussed as he fought the large fish, causing Linus to laugh at him.
After a short fight Joe heaved a large catfish up onto the dock. It was fine fish, probably ten pounds.
“Looks like breakfast,” Linus said.
“And supper,” Joe added.
“Just goes to show you though,” Linus replied.
“Just how fast nothing can turn into something,” Linus replied.