|1 year ago :: Mar 15, 2012 - 8:51PM #1|
Dave was “having trouble” adjusting back to civilian life since his return from Afghanistan. His wife told him this (just before she left), his physiotherapist told him this. The army told him he was no longer their problem as his prosthetic left arm was their last gift to him, just as they were taking from him the only community that he could talk to. The VA psychiatrists were “helping him” and a group of vets with “problems” to readjust.
It didn’t help that the Army had let the preachers in. Absolutely the last thing a good heathen needed when trying to get a handle on his anger was having shrinks and missionaries double teaming him while reminding him he couldn’t ever be the warrior the gods called him to be. If it wasn’t for that smart-ass Luke, or Lukey as he asked people to call him, he probably would have already exploded.
Being a good Thor’s man, he had no time for double-talk, less for political correctness, like seemed to be required for being deemed “well adjusted” by the VA. One of the problems with convincing everyone that you were sane, was that none of people making the judgement about your sanity had any idea of what sights awaited him when he shut his eyes, what memories shaped his world, and what he had discovered he was capable of. Only the vets could understand his anger issues, and of those, only Lukey seemed to understand why he feared fire.
At the meeting, the head shrinker sat inset in the circle, to make it clear he was in charge, even while he pretended that everyone was equal . Everyone was forced to bow their head and listen to the preacher drone on his usual grovelling non-sense that already had Dave turning red and clamping his jaw with rage. He had enough trouble pretending he was still the man be without some Bible thumper trying to call him a helpless lamb, and his dead helpless victims and not fallen warriors. He swore, if it wasn’t for Lukey, this part would be enough to set him off.
There was one girl in the group, a Logistics Sgt who had made the papers back home. Her and her partner had been caught in a Talib ambush. Seeking to hit the soft targets, they jumped a cargo truck driven by two women, and ended up getting a surprise. After a twenty minute firefight, the surviving Talib had pulled out their casualties leaving Sgt Karin Debruin with a wounded partner and six rounds in her last clip. She hadn’t said a word in group since she got there, and everyone assumed her issues were PTSD from the firefight, but Dave wasn’t so sure.
The starting prayer had ended, and Dave was ready to burst already. His Thor’s hammer hung defiantly from his dog tags, in plain view of the disapproving preacher and counsellor. Lukey had the look of piety that (from him) meant he was bored enough to start something amusing, just to watch the explosion. “Buddy” as the counsellor liked to be called, was ready to start the “sharing”, or randomly picking people to tell about their problems of the day, so that he could demonstrate how wrong their feelings were, and how normal people should think. Lukey had the look, he was not willing to wait for Buddy to pick someone, he had decided to have some fun, and Hel take the bystanders!
“Buddy,” Lukey said clasping his hands before him like a televangelist, “I have been thinking of all those poor people that I killed, and I just feel so terrible about it all, the guilt it just keeps me from opening up and talking to anyone, just like Karin here”
Dave knew this was BS right from the start. Lukey was a joker, always smiling, always laughing, but his was a sarcastic gallows humour, an irreverent and capricious humour. His trade in the service was sniper, and as a consummate professional felt about as much guilt about servicing targets in combat as he did sharking people at the pool table. The damage was done though; all eyes fastened on Karin who looked caught in the attention like a rabbit by a rattlesnake.
Buddy began his probing of her, the tender conciliatory tones of a parent trying to talk a child off a ledge, or an owner trying to rescue a slipper from a teething pitt-bull. He talked about how hard it must be for a woman to live with the guilt, about how betrayed she must feel that she had to defend herself. He even went so far as to ask if her sex life suffered because she felt less feminine since “the incident”.
Karin finally snapped, and began to answer in tones that began loud, and ratcheted right up into thunderous.
“How’s my sex life? Well I tell you, getting back home to find that my beloved husband had moved in another woman to our home and our bed, and knocked her up while I was writing him letters every week dreaming of the chance to get home and start a family pretty much ended that! “
“Do I feel guilty? NO! I did my job, looked after my own, and to hel with the frigging Talibs; they picked the ground and died on it.”
“Why should I feel guilty?” She was screaming now “I stayed faithful, did my duty, held on to our plan of starting a family, only to come home to see her decorating our nursery for her baby”
While the rest of the men had the grace to look ashamed before her naked pain, Lukey was grinning his fox grin. Quietly leaning over, he whispered something to the preacher, who rose up and made the final mistake of the meeting.
“Dear child,” the preacher intoned gravely “you must give yourself to Jesus, and pray for forgiveness!”
Dave jumped out of his chair, shocked that anyone could be so crass and stupid at the same time with a woman who was clearly the wronged party by anyone’s definition. Lukey was laughing and clapping like a child at the circus watching the clowns fall down.
Face streaming with tears, but voice thick and clear like a bell, Karin tore open her blouse, popping the first two buttons. At the curve of her cleavage over her left breast was a tattoo of three interlocking triangles, a symbol Dave recognized and Lukey clearly expected from his chortling, but one that meant nothing to the assembled group.
“This is a valknut you moron!” she rasped at the preacher, “Odin’s sign.”
“My gods want my loyalty and my courage, not my forgiveness. Why can’t I find a man who is loyal and brave enough to wait?”
She turned to rush from the room, and when the counsellor tried to stop her, Dave body checked him out of the way, and he and Lukey rushed after her.
She had strode out of the conference room, straight out of the building and was striding away from the rear parking lot, seemingly towards the pub at the other end of the block. Dave and Lukey caught up to her and bracketed her on the sidewalk. Between Dave’s fierce glower and Lukey’s predatory grin, no one on the night streets was foolish enough to comment on the distraught blonde with half-bared frontal armaments.
They found a booth in the bar and Dave ordered a pitcher. After cooling off a bit, Karin realized her state of undress and tucked her blouse in to make the cleavage more of a suggestion and less of an outright statement; best that could be done without buttons. Dave shared his own marriage failure, while Lukey admitted to having had a wife in Afghanistan and one here too. Both Dave and Karin just shook their head, but Lukey seemed beyond the entire concept of shame.
Lukey strode over to the bar, and slipped the barman a twenty and some whispered instructions. He slid back to the booth and put an arm around Dave and Karin. He began with an apology for singling Karin out earlier, which should have been an alarm for both Dave and Karin, for Lukey feels no shame at all, unless it is required for dramatic effect. He went on to say that it was only fair he even the scales between her and Dave. Since we got to hear your dark secret and see your goodies its only fair you get the same chance. Just as Dave opened his mouth to object, his gaze caught the waitress, and he froze, like a rabbit before a coiled rattler. As the waitress brought over the flaming Sambucca shooters Lukey had ordered, Dave was visibly shuddering.
“Old stumpy here got that hand in a little road misshap with an IED. Not all that unusual when you do as much convoy duty as wax-boy did. What makes our little wax hero over here different is when his vehicle got hit, it burned baby.” Lukey wove patterns with the flaming shot-glasses, painting signs and sigils with fire in the dark bar air.
“Now stumpy here got himself out OK, but his driver was pinned inside, burning.” Lukey gave Karin her drink, shot one then mimed throwing one at Dave to make him flinch. When he threw up his stump to save his face, Lukey tore open Dave’s shirt, revealing the white/pink layers of scar tissue, like melting wax that covered his chest.
“Our Dave her just wouldn’t stop trying to pull out his buddies, even when he was on fire, I think that’s just too stupid for words, right?”
Lukey looked over in sardonic amusement. As he thought, Karin’s eyes were on Dave’s. As he tried to hide the terrible scarring that had driven away his wife, the scars of his loyalty were no turn off for a woman to whom loyalty was the first virtue. Lukey looked over at the soon-to-be couple as she ran her hands along his chest, stopping him from hiding his shame. As they gazed deeply into each other’s eyes, he rolled his own.
Tossing back the two remaining flaming shooters he looked at the waitress.
“You know, they won’t even invite me to the wedding. Shocking actually. Keep them pouring as long as they last darlin’ “ Lukey drawled as he slapped some bills on the waitress’ tray, and a quick slap on her rear. Her smile was half way between amused and scandalized.
As Lukey started towards the door, a huge red bearded bouncer and the grizzled white bearded owner descended on him like two fullbacks, each taking an arm and escorting him to the door.
The grey beard rasped gently as stone can get
“You’ve done enough Lukey, time to leave them alone.”
Lukey snickered and asked with the full false piety of earlier
“You don’t trust me? I am hurt”
The red beard grunted with some humour
“Not today. But a little Lukey is more than enough”