Jerry came to visit me on my next day off, and I invited him back up to our perch on the water tower. It was mid morning when we ascended the ladder and plopped ourselves down into the lawn chairs. Beers were quickly opened and a joint was lit. I didn’t waste a bit of time getting to the main point. “Jerry, I want you to know right now that I believe your story. I may be crazy, but I don’t think you are. How do you think all of this happened? I mean, have you seen a doctor? Or, well, shit, I don’t know, but do you have any idea how a kid can get licked by a dog, or I guess you say that the dog bit you. Anyway, that’s, like, werewolf stuff, which I don’t believe is real, or at least I didn’t until now. What do you think, man?”
“I honestly don’t know” Jerry replied. “I’ve had this ability for so long now that I don’t think about it much. I just take it for granted. I really felt a personal connection to that dog in San Diego, but not like we talked to each other. I mean, he was just a dog. And the only urges I’ve had to commit mayhem were normal human things. That stuff with Dutch and Charlie, that was revenge pure and simple. What I do for the Army, and sometimes other military branches too, is because I believe that we’re the good guys. Not perfect, mind you, but good guys nevertheless. And what I do is intended to keep really big shit from happening if possible, so the werewolf model is not applicable at all.
As for doctors, what are they going to do? Run some blood tests? Take an X-ray? I haven’t read too many medical texts but as far as I know, ‘What To Do When A Guy Turns Into A Dog’ isn’t the title of any chapters. I’ve actually turned more to folk stories and mythology, and even then the human-to-animal thing usually doesn’t end well. There was a guy from a little flyspeck of a town in Arizona called Lukachukai. Well, that was the closest town. He lived fifteen miles up a dirt road from there. Anyway, Clifton Begay is 100% Navajo. I asked him in a roundabout way what he would think of people being able to take on the form of animals. Clifton just spat on the floor and said ‘Skinwalkers’, and it looked like something poisonous was in his mouth when he said it. I didn’t go any further with him on the topic, or with anybody else for that matter. You’re the only person on earth who knows what I do except for that priest.”
“What about that priest? You said that you told him about it.”
“That doesn’t count, because he didn’t believe me and I didn’t push it. He probably has forgotten about me, or thinks that I was a figment of his imagination. Nope, you’re it. At this point it’s just you, me an God that knows about this.”
“God!” I blurted out. “I don’t think there’s any God in the first place, and if I did I wouldn’t like him much for doing this to me.”
“Well, I didn’t believe in God either, not when I was getting the shit beaten out of myself on a daily basis. But you have to admit, math and science and logic and reason put together can’t explain this, but still it’s true; it’s real. There is no mechanistic philosophy that has a way to explain ‘Once boy now dog now boy again’. I can’t explain this, but i know it’s true. I know, I’m repeating myself. That’s how it’s been when I’ve tried to figure this thing out; I just keep looping over and over and come up empty. It just is and I don’t know why it is. But nothing natural gives me an answer, and so I have turned to the supernatural to sort this all out. I don’t know much about God, but I know that some source of my changeability exists and it doesn’t exist in the natural world.”
Thinking this deeply about things like that boggled my brain under the best of circumstances, and starting my second beer after finishing the first Saigon bomber were not the best of circumstances. Jerry sensed that and changed the topic, sort of. We spent the rest of the morning talking about home in San Diego and girls of course, whom Jerry liked even if nothing could ever come of that for him, and my plans for life after the Army. Jerry told of a few of his canine exploits, but none of them during his military experience. Jerry figured that he would remain in the military or some sort of intelligence gathering agency. “I’m pretty good at this” he said, and I agreed that it was most likely so.
At noon we descended from the tower and had lunch at the mess tent. While we were eating some facsimile of a hamburger and fries I asked Jerry if he would like to stay overnight and meet some of my friends. One of my hooch-mates had recently rotated back to the States and his bunk was temporarily unoccupied. Jerry was hesitant to accept.
“I’m not really good with crowds” he explained. “I never was, but my need to be careful at all times makes a group setting, especially one with alcohol present, a danger for me. If I drop the wrong word or get too loose, bad things can happen.”
“Come on” I urged. “If you get uncomfortable let me know, and we’ll both leave the group.”
Jerry thought about that for a bit and at length nodded his assent. “Maybe a night out would do me good” he said. “God knows it’s been a long enough time since I had one walking on two feet.
So it came about that we were at the Enlisted Men’s Club for my battalion that Sunday evening. The buses had returned from Newport, and Chief and Strawberry and Big Plow and Ozzie, whom I now was less likely to hang around with, and Jerry and I had eaten dinner and were seated at a round table in the middle of the room. I introduced Jerry to the guys and he was accepted readily into the group. It was our habit to empty our pockets of any money that we had on us and pile it on the table. The server would then take what was needed for the next round and we would laugh and talk and tell bullshit stories about our sexual prowess and everything else that nineteen and twenty year old men; well, boys yet really, would talk about whether in the Army or in a locker room or a dorm room anywhere in the world.
Jerry was hesitant at first to become completely engaged with the group, and never really ‘got loose’ as we would say, but I could see that he was beginning to unwind a little. He let out several good belly laughs as the others told their stories and told one or two stories of his own that were so outlandish that everyone at the table thought they were the usual B.S, but I suspected differently. I began to see that this sort of social interacting, what Jerry had avoided half of his life, was something that he needed. Islands can be beautiful, pristine and serene, but islands can be lonely too.
I was pondering this when Frank Washburn and a couple of his friends entered the Club. Frank and I were not friends at all. He was not overly tall, maybe an inch or two more than me, but he was powerfully built. Added to his physical gifts was an attitude that made a wolverine look like Saint Francis of Assisi. Frank reminded me of a kid I had known in San Diego, a kid who was short and pudgy and got picked on a lot. One year that kid started to grow up very big and very intent upon payback for every slight that he had ever suffered. I didn’t now one thing about Frank’s childhood, but I most definitely knew that he emerged from it with a baseline attitude which could turn to rage in a heartbeat.
I crossed swords with Frank one evening when everybody was impossibly drunk and he called me out for being a hippy. At that moment I couldn’t have told you what a hippy was; I thought it might be something like a beatnik, but I wasn’t at all sure. I did like to wear beads and little round glasses with simple glass ‘lenses,’ because that’s what John Lennon wore on the cover of one of their albums, and I did smoke marijuana and listen to rock and roll music, but to put that into a coherent philosophy about anything would have been way past my skills. Frank was from cowboy country though, Wyoming or Colorado or somewhere like that, and he took exception to the appearance which I had elected to present to the world.
Once sufficiently lubricated I found my limit of Frank’s sarcastic comments and told him to screw himself. Bad move. Frank prepared himself to beat me to a pulp and I grabbed a tubular metal bunk extender to defend myself. I took a swing and Frank staggered backwards, falling into a defensive trench and breaking one of the bones in his forearm. That had kept Frank off of me for a while but now the break was healed, the cast was off, and Frank was back to being his old, miserable, mean and dangerous self.
“Oh, hey, look. The pussy’s come out from under his rock.” Frank’s voice boomed over the speakers that were just then blasting out Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” This situation did not make me very happy at all, and I tried to ignore it. Ignoring it didn’t work. One of Frank’s friends, a creole guy named Lucian who we all called ‘Lucy,’ said “Come on Frank. The punk’s about to pee his pants. Let’s just go and have some beers.” Frank didn’t buy it though, and said “Shut up Lucy. This punk’s had a beating coming and tonight he’s going to get one.”
My friends all sat rigid and stopped talking. They knew that I could not defend myself against Frank and they knew that Frank and his two friends could probably take on all of us. They didn’t just want to throw me to the wolves however, and the probability of several people being beaten up that night was very high. We all sat still as statues as Frank marched over to our table, threw a glass of beer in my face and spit on me.
“Come on punk. It’s time for your ass-kicking. Let’s go outside so I don’t mess the place up with your sissy blood.”
Frank was leaning over the table and leering at me, no more than a foot away from my face. I knew that I had to take my chances, and I knew that it would be merciful if I died that night. I was seconds from pushing my chair back and rising when I felt Jerry’s hand on my knee. At the same moment he said “I’m sorry Frank – is that your name?- but I can’t let that happen.”
Frank’s narrow, almost piggish little eyes, narrowed even further as he swung his gaze to take in the form of Jerry ,sitting next to me without any sign of perturbation. “What did you say puke?” he growled.
“I assume your hearing is good enough to allow you to serve in the Army” Jerry replied, “so it’s a pretty good guess that your ugly, stupid ass heard exactly what I said.”
Frank was not accustomed to hearing language like this and he drew back a foot or two, his face turning beet red as his tiny little brain processed what he had just heard.
“OK punk” Frank snarled. “When I’m done with momma’s boy here I’m going to murder you next.”
“You’re not going to murder anyone” Jerry stated calmly, “and in fact, if you will just shut your filthy, ignorant pie hole and walk out of here right now, and never run your mouth to one of the soldiers here – he waved his hand at me and my friends – again, I will allow you to go about your business and do whatever else you like to do. But if you can’t do that, we have a problem.”
I thought that Frank would shit his pants. His face now turned a blotchy purple and it looked like he was about to launch himself across the table. Jerry, on the other hand, looked like he was listening to a scholarly dissertation on population migration in Central Europe in the fifteenth century. Frank’s friends grabbed hold of him, sensing that there was something new here, but Frank wanted nothing to do with that. He threw their arms off of him and moved towards Jerry who simply held up his hand.
“Hold on” he said. “If you want to make this physical it’s you and me, alone, outside. No show for the troops. No show for your friends or mine. Just you and me. If you’ve got the balls, let’s put this thing to bed alone and outside.”
Frank was fit to be tied and agreed to those terms immediately. “Order a round” Frank said to his friends. “I’ll be back inside in a few minutes and once we’re liquored up I’ll finish with this sawed-off piece of shit – he pointed at me – as a nightcap.”
Frank straightened up and bowed, waving his right arm in a grand and bowed sweep toward the door, inviting Jerry to step outside. Jerry laughed and said “I wasn’t born yesterday, shitbird. You first.” Frank got even madder at that, probably because he had intended to sucker-punch Jerry if he had walked in front of Frank. “Fuck you” Frank growled, and stalked out through the screen door, into the muggy Vietnam night. Jerry followed him and the screen door closed with a bang, and with every eye in the building glued onto it.
I pretty much knew what was about to happen. I remembered Jerry telling me about his settling of scores with Dutch and Charlie, and I hoped, just barely, that Jerry would leave Frank alive.
“OK, show’s over guys” I shouted to the room. “Two gentlemen have gone to settle their differences and have asked for a little privacy. I suggest we give it to them.”
The silent men in the room began to murmur, and then sat down and returned to their beers. My friend Yancy who ran the EM Club called out “Next one’s on the house” and turned up the volume of his stereo. In moments the room full of men had forgotten the little difference of opinion that was being settled outside and returned to drinking their beer and listing to the Doors belt out “Light My Fire.”
“Your friend’s probably dead by now” Lucy said to me. Lucy was usually an OK guy, and what he said to me was more in the way of a factual statement than a sneer. He had every reason to believe it.
“No, I don’t think so” I replied. “My friend has resources. He’s pretty good at taking care of himself. I think Frank’s in over his head right now. Have a drink, man. You know, you can do better than hanging around with Frank.”
Lucy voiced his doubts as to the veracity of my opinion but grabbed one of the beers that rested on the table before us. He was taking his first pull on the can when we heard a loud ‘Thud!’ against the back wall of the building. Lucy jumped up but I quickly motioned for him to sit down. “Jerry said to stay put, and Frank agreed with that. We’ll find out soon enough what’s going on.” Lucy sat down as instructed but was clearly uncomfortable with the whole scene. Jerry had been cool as a cucumber. I was obviously unperturbed, and this all ran completely counter to what Frank and his entourage had become accustomed to.
At length Jerry came back through the screen door and sat down next to me. There was an electricity that seemed to run through him. He just sat down, drew in a long breath, exhaled for what seemed like a full minute, and then grabbed a fresh beer and sucked down about half of it. When he had finished swallowing his beer he looked directly at Lucy and his friend Chase and said “Your friend is behind the building. He is hurt very badly, but none of his injuries are life threatening. I suggest that you pick his pathetic, bleeding ass up and carry him to his bunk. He won’t die, well, not tonight anyway, but he’ll wish he had when he wakes up. And you should both reconsider who you want to be your friend. Tonight I punished your Frank. Tomorrow I or somebody else might punish you. You can all do better than this.”
Jerry sat back in his chair and hoisted his beer again, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Lucy and Chase rose and went outside. Chief and Plow and Strawberry began to bombard Jerry with questions but I raised my hand and said “Why don’t we just put this thing to bed? In fact, I think that I’ve had enough for one night and I’m ready to pack it in. What do you say Jerry?”
Jerry drained his can of beer and nodded. “Yeah, I guess I’m ready for some shuteye.”
Since we’d already paid up with our pile of cash, Jerry and I arose to return to my hooch while the guys stayed to finish off the evening’s entertainment. When we arrived at my hooch I checked my bunk to be sure that Leroy the Snake wasn’t coiled up under the blanket and told Jerry to stretch out there. I posted up in the empty bunk and proposed to use a bath towel for my blanket. It never really got cold in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, so covers were not much of an issue.
We got snuggled in and, in the darkened hooch (because lighted hooch in Vietnam made great targets for VC mortar and rocket men) we stretched out on our bunks and began to talk. “I remember what you told me about Charlie and Dutch. How bad did you mess Frank up?”
“Pretty bad. He’s a tough guy, and I had to land a couple dozen blows before he began to understand that he was in trouble.”
“Is he going to live?” I asked. “Will they send him home because he’s unable to perform his job?”
“Yeah, he should live” Jerry answered. “I made it a point to cut him up good, but I didn’t try to do anything that might be fatal. If things wok out the way I planned he’ll be the sorest son of a bitch in Vietnam tomorrow, but he’ll recover.”
I thought about that for a while, and finally asked Jerry “Why is Frank such an asshole? I mean, why does he get so much pleasure out of causing other people so much pain? Frank does his work OK, and usually he isn’t a total shit. Why does he get like that?”
Jerry was silent for a while, thinking of how to say exactly what was to come next. At last he said “Frank’s a special case. I don’t know exactly what makes him tick, but I know how he’s wound. Frank’s a bully pure and simple. That’s a lot like saying Franks a human; it’s easy to see. I don’t know why he’s like that. Maybe his Dad beat him. Maybe he was a short, fat kid who grew up and took revenge. Maybe he’s just evil and enjoys hurting people. Well, actually, I know that he enjoys hurting people. he was going to give you a beating tonight that you possibly wouldn’t have survived; at least you would have been rotated home because you would have been of no further use to the Army. You should know as well as anyone that I have had a first rate education with bullies, and I know one when I see one and I know what they’re thinking.
Frank is a beast. I knew that I had to avoid being hit because he has a lot of power. Luckily, I could see his blows coming as if they were in slow motion, and I knew that he had his power from the right. He used his right hand to throw beer on you, and I had his number from that moment. He landed a few lefts but there was less power in them. When his right was down I loved into his face and, most important, his liver and kidney. After a few blows over the liver he became even slower on his feet, as I knew he would, and I began to pepper his face and head with jabs.
I made certain that my blows would cut and bleed him but not cause real, mortal, physical damage. Every time he looks in the mirror from now on he’ll see scars to remind him that somebody smaller than him who wants to be left alone just might explode in his face and maybe kill him. It won’t be me, but somebody might.”
I was fascinated by all of this. “I still would like to know how he came to be like this” I said as a rhetorical question rather than directed at Jerry. I could sense the shrug of Jerry’s shoulders in the darkness.
“I have no idea” he said. People become bullies for as many reasons as there are people. I’ve already mentioned a few. Maybe he has a short pecker. Who can say? One thing was clear as crystal to me though. Frank wanted to fuck you up very bad tonight, and maybe worse than that. Why he likes dispensing pain I don’t know, but he planned to dispense it to you in spades. Sometimes people just act out of pain, but in a very small percentage of such cases people simply act out of pure evil. I think Frank strayed into the category of evil. Why? I don’t know, but he is there. He likes pain. He likes inflicting it. It makes him feel good. Frank had to be stopped.”
I thought about what Jerry had said, and I could not find fault with any of it. The thought did occur to me however that I might have the devil to pay when Frank recovered from his beating, and said so. Jerry sought to reassure me on that front.
“Frank will not be bothering you I made certain that he was fully conscious when I made it clear to him that what he was experiencing tonight was only a taste of what he could expect if he ever looked sideways at you or your friends again. I could see his body expressing first confidence, then doubt, then fear, and finally terror as I cut him and bruised him and finally let him feel all of the pain and fear that he had exacted from his previous victims. I told him that I would be around and he wouldn’t even know it. And if he lifted a finger against any of you I would know and I would cut his liver out while he was still breathing and eat it before he dies. At that moment I just may have shown him a wolf’s face, but I was distracted and I don’t exactly remember.”
I could sort of feel Jerry smiling in the dark at that moment, and I smiled too. Frank needed a good ass whipping and I was happy that he had gotten it. The mental picture of him looking through puffed up eyes at a canine gargoyle about to rip his throat out was quite enjoyable to me. While I was pleasantly engaged in that thought Jerry spoke again in the darkness.
“I know that this sounds grand to you. All of your troubles solved by superior physical and mental power. But this is really my curse. When I was the object of bullies, all I wanted to do was deal out pain in greater measure than the pain that was dealt out to me. I now have the ability to do just that, but it brings no real pleasure. Frank was an easy target. He would wind up but I would land three blows before he could unload, and then it was not great trick to see that he missed when he did swing. I chopped him, diced him and sliced him, and left him bleeding and cut all over. That sounds great at first, but after a while you realize that Frank is just an injured soul like the rest of us. He’s an asshole, but otherwise not all that different from you or me. It’s not hard to hate Frank but remember, he’s just another broken human and we all have a little Frank in us. Thankfully, a very little.”
At that point I laid back on my bunk and tried to sort out all that Jerry had said. The ability to beat all of your enemies into submission sounded like a wonderful thing to me. I mean, they had it coming, didn’t they? Jerry seemed to be telling me that violence doesn’t solve anything, but only after he had just beaten the shit out of Frank. But wait a minute. He didn’t say that violence doesn’t solve anything; he just said that violence shouldn’t be the first resort. Nor should it be celebrated. Violence in this case was perfectly acceptable because violence by the strong was about to be visited upon the weak.
This needed further discussion, and I opened my mouth to speak but was stopped when I heard the unmistakable sound of a snore coming from my bunk. I listened to a few more breathing cycles and decided that Jerry had indeed fallen asleep. I wasn’t quite ready to follow him so I lit my last joint of the night. In the guttering light of my Zippo I saw Jerry fully stretched out, peacefully still and obviously sound asleep.
Once the Zippo went out the hooch returned to darkness, except for the glow of my joint. Images passed through my brain as I lay there; the convoy, a battered Dutch, Frank with fear in his eyes and a young woman maybe having puppies. My friend, whom I had come to fully believe in, was different from all of what I had previously believed was possible. He opened my mind to the possibility that what I could see was not all that there was to be seen. I determined at that moment to dig deeper into that though the next morning when we were both awake. There were many things here that I wanted to know.