The attack caught Chris completely by surprise. He had exited the cafe behind Calvin and had only just began to proceed across the small parking lot when a fist crashed into the back of his head. Chris stumbled forward, nearing falling. He grabbed at Calvin to hold himself up and turned to see what had hit him.
Chris was not entirely steady on his feet, and that helped him to avoid much of the next blow. He made an instinctive move to dodge the fist that flew at his face, and that, coupled with an erratic wobble that resulted from the first blow, caused the fist to mostly graze the side of his head. It hurt, but it did no real further damage.
Chris backed away from his attacker, who was one of the three men who had taken particular offense at Calvin’s presence in the cafe. He backpedaled until he felt the bed of Calvin’s truck behind him and used the solidity of the truck to steady himself. The man came toward him, not running but rather stalking his prey, and those few moments were well used by Chris to prepare his response.
He had seen that the glancing blow had been delivered by his assailant’s right hand, so he assumed that the next attack would probably come from the same quarter. It did, and Chris slid quickly to his own right, causing the man to miss him completely. Chris took this moment to look for Calvin and saw that the other two men were ganging up on him, and then he turned his attention back to his own problem.
His opponent came straight toward him, and Chris got a good look at his face. Chris had engaged in fights as a teen, but those were tame events compared with what he was engaged in on this night. Back then rules were observed. The fight would sometimes end with one of the combatants saying the word “uncle.” On some occasions the two boys fighting went on to become friends later. This would not be like those fights. The hate that Chris saw in this man’s face told him that tonight would be more like his last two years than his first eighteen. That hate told Chris that this would be a ‘no mercy asked, no mercy given’ event.
Chris took advantage of the man’s straight-in approach by throwing a hard left-handed jab into his face and sliding once again to his right. The blow was not a heavy one but it stung, slowing the man down. This gave Chris another moment to complete the clearing of cobwebs from his brain and vision.
He tried to guess his opponent’s next move, and he guessed right. The man came at him with a roundhouse left that Chris just managed to duck under. He then replied with a more powerful punch to the man’s gut than the earlier jab to the face had been.
The blow caused the man to flinch and drop his guard towards his aching stomach, and Chris reacted immediately with a blow, propelled from the shoulder and with feet planted, that caught the man squarely in the face. This punch had power behind it and the man was left hurt and confused and vulnerable to Chris’ counterattack.
And then something snapped in Chris. The berserker that had propelled him through life and death struggles in the steaming jungles of Vietnam, and that had nearly broken from his leash against the mouthy teen at the park on his first day home, now found himself fully unrestrained. A fire burned in Chris’ eyes as he began to rain blows, now to the head and now to the body; blows aimed at mouth, nose, ears, kidneys and everywhere else that pain and destruction could be administered. Eventually the man crumpled to the ground and lay there without moving. The berserker gave him a vicious kick to the abdomen and then turned to aid his friend.
Calvin was a big man, but the two men who were assailing him were not much smaller and were administering punishment. One held Calvin from behind while the other punched him in the face and anywhere else that he could hit him. The two men were so focused on beating Calvin to a pulp that they didn’t see the berserker come up from behind.
The man punching Calvin had his feet well apart and planted in order to give his blows leverage, and that gap made possible a clean and mighty kick to the testicles. The berserker put all of his focus, his fury, and his outrage into the kick, the landing of which raised the man a full five inches off the ground.
“Duck right” he yelled at Calvin. The imprisoned Calvin did as he was told, exposing the face of the man holding him. This allowed the berserker to explode a hard jab into the third attacker’s face. This caused him to let go of Calvin, who then whirled and began to land heavy blows on his enemy.
The berserker turned back to the man with the injured testicles who had fallen to his knees and was trying to gather his breath. Another kick caught him square in the teeth and the man tumbled onto his back. Now the berserker landed on him with a knee in his gut, raining vicious punches onto the man’s increasingly shapeless face.
And then he was pulled off of the helpless man by Calvin. The berserker nearly flew at his friend but, slowly and by degrees, it retreated back into its cage and Chris reclaimed his body.
“You OK, man?” Calvin asked him as the flamed faded from Chris’ eyes.
“Yeah” Chris said. “I’m OK. How about you?”
“Not so bad now, but I’m gonna feel like shit tomorrow. Come on, let’s get out of here. You follow me. We’ll go to my place and get some iodine on these cuts.”
Calvin opened the door to his truck and climbed in, and after a couple of coughs the engine turned over. Chris walked to his car, but before he opened the door he turned to the silent crowd that stood outside the door of the cafe. Most were patrons, but Chris could see the bartender and waitress in the crowd. His anger returned to him and he shouted at the group.
“You people would have stood there and watched three men beat two others to a pulp. Why? Because you hate that man’s ancestry.” He pointed at Calvin’s truck. “That man just finished a year in Vietnam. How many of you gutless shithooks have ever done anything like that? He’s ten times the man than any three of you are and none of you deserve to be in the same room with him.”
The berserker began to creep back toward the light. Chris walked over to the prostrate form of his first attacker, opened his fly and began to urinate on the beaten foe. Calvin re-emerged from his truck and walked toward Chris. “Come on, man. We’re done here tonight. Let’s get out of here before the sheriff’s deputies get here. You know that it’ll all be our fault if we don’t leave now.”
Chris was not able to think as clearly as his friend was, but he followed Calvin’s advice. He started the car and then followed his friend out of the parking lot, onto the highway, and off through the darkness towards Calvin’s home on the reservation. Calvin turned onto a small yet paved county road and Chris followed him. Almost immediately he saw a battered sign that said “Campo Indian Reservation.” There were several bullet holes in the sign.
As Calvin led on Chris down the darkened road he could see scattered lights, but it was too dark to make out clearly what the structures looked like from which the lights were shining. At one point a dog raced out of the dark to chase and bark at Calvin’s truck, and then the mutt disappeared back into the shadows.
After a few minutes Calvin pulled into a driveway, at the end of which was a darkened mobile home. Calvin stopped in front of the residence and turned off the motor. Chris pulled up next to him and did the same. He got out of his car and followed Calvin up the three wooden steps and onto the small porch. Calvin opened the unlocked door, turned on a light, and invited Chris to come in.
Chris entered what was obviously a very old and fragile mobile home. There was a minimum of furniture and only a clock and a brightly colored shawl or serape or something like that hanging on the walls. Calvin closed the door and locked it. Chris was about to ask him why he locked the door when he was home but not when he was away when he began to shake.
“What’s the matter, man? You OK? Here, sit down over here” Calvin said.
Chris allowed himself to be led to a large chair with a sagging bottom. “It’s all right. I’m fine” Chris said. “It would be like this a lot after some of the action in Nam. I just get so strung up that the unwind can be a little bit rough. It won’t last long.”
“I think I’ve got some medicine that will help that” Calvin said, and then went into the kitchen. He soon returned with two glasses full of dark fluid. Chris cocked an interrogatory eyebrow and Calvin said “Rum and Coke. In honor of the occasion, more rum than Coke.”
“Well done” Chris said. He lifted his glass and took a large swallow. The rum ignited a warm glow in Chris’ belly that spread over the rest of his body. He took another gulp and then raised his glass in a salute to Calvin. “Here’s to a couple of guys who can’t seem to leave the war.”
Calvin clinked glasses with Chris and took a drink of his own. he closed his eyes and let the warmth of the drink loosen up his aching body, and then opened them and looked at Chris. “You look like shit, man” he said.
Chris laughed and looked at the ugly, purple bruises that were beginning to bloom on Calvin’s already puffy face, amidst the lacerations, and replied “You ain’t no beauty to behold neither.” They clinked their glasses again and took another drink each, and then Calvin said “Come on into the kitchen. I’ll get some iodine and Band Aids.
For the next fifteen minutes they were engaged in cleaning and dressing their cuts. Chris had one nasty laceration by his left temple where the grazing blow had caught him early on. “That probably came from a ring on the guy’s hand” Calvin opined. “It probably should be stitched, or you’ll be bleeding out of that all night.” Chris looked at the nasty cut long and hard in a small mirror, and at last agreed.
Calvin had only some fishing line and sewing needles. He heated one of the needles to a glowing red and then had Chris hold it with salad tongs while it cooled. Next he wiped the fishing line with iodine and threaded it through the eye of the needle. The line was very small leader material, but it still required a rather large needle in order to fit through the eye. “You ready?” Calvin asked. Chris took a deep gulp of the rum and Coke and nodded his assent. “Here goes.”
A few minutes later Chris had a set of five fishing line stitches in his head, which closed it up nicely and greatly slowed the bleeding. Calvin flushed the area with more iodine and said “You’d better see a doctor as soon as you can. There’s a better than 50-50 chance that’ll get infected.”
“Yeah” Chris replied. “At least it won’t bleed and ruin my shirt.”
Calvin looked at the bloody mess that was Chris’ shirt and said “No, we wouldn’t want that.”
Chris peeled off the ruined shirt and put on one that Calvin gave him. It was too big, but it was clean. Calvin refreshed their drinks, with the Coke taking on an even lesser role this time around, and then they sat in the living room.
“Shit, man” Chris said. “Is that the way it always is for you out here?”
“One way or the other” Calvin replied, “it’s like that here or anywhere else. There’s always rules that have to be followed, and we broke a couple of them tonight.”
“Man, that stinks. I had no idea how it was for you. I still can’t believe it.”
“Well, after a few years you get to where you believe it, all right. It’s a matter of survival. But i told you earlier today that I wouldn’t unload my baggage on you, so I won’t. I’ll just leave it with this: That’s the way it’s always been and I don’t see how it’s ever going to change.”
Chris was silent for a minute, and then took a sip of his drink. “I’m really sorry, brother” he said.
“Huh? Sorry for what?”
“I’m sorry that you have to live with this crap. It’s not right.”
“It’s not your fault” Calvin said.
“No, but I’m sorry anyway.”
“Don’t worry about it. And besides, we sure laid those redneck sons of bitches out, didn’t we? That evens the score a little.”
Chris raised his glass in another salute and replied “Amen to that.”
The two friends finished the pint of rum and Chris agreed to sleep on Calvin’s sofa rather than drive back to the hotel. Calvin turned out the light and walked through the pitch dark living room into the bedroom, and his closing the door was the last sound heard in the mobile home until the sun was well up the next morning.
Chris awoke to the sound of the door being unlocked and opened from the outside. He expected to see Calvin, but was surprised to see an older man of uncertain age enter into the room. It took the man a moment to recognize that the recently sleeping body on the sofa did not belong to Calvin.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?” he growled.
Chris sat up quickly and fumbled with his words. “Uh, well, I’m uh, well, my name’s Chris and I – – -.”
“What the hell are you doing here!” the old man shouted. “Who said that you could come into my house?”
“I did” came a voice from the bedroom door. Calvin stood in the doorway, wearing the same clothes that he had on the night before. Apparently he had fallen into his bed fully clothed, just as Chris had on the sofa. “This is my friend from Vietnam. He’s a good man, and he’s my friend.”
“He’s a white man” the old man corrected Calvin, “which means that he’s no friend of yours.”
“Come on, Uncle. Just give him a chance. Not all white people are bad.”
“All the one’s that I’ve met are” the old man replied, and then noticed the bruises on Calvin’s face. “What the hell happened to you?”
“We got jumped by some guys last night. Me ’n Chris took care of them. I’d probably have gotten my ass kicked good if he hadn’t been there.”
“We wouldn’t have been there at all if it hadn’t been for me – – -“ Chris began
“Quiet, you!” the old man said to Chris and then turned his attention back to Calvin. “And where is this ‘there’ that you were at?”
“Sadie’s” Calvin replied, and his uncle’s eyes narrowed a bit.
“Sadie’s” he repeated. “You don’t have enough sense to stay out of there?”
“It was my fault” Chris began, but again he was cut off by the old man.
“I said be quiet, damn you. You can speak in my house when I let you, and I ain’t going to let you.”
“Uncle, he didn’t know and I thought that maybe we could get in and out of their without trouble. Besides, I just felt like having fish for dinner. So we got jumped by three guys and we polished them off.”
“Three guys, eh” the old man said. “You know ‘em?”
“No, never seen them before. The others there knew them though, so they’re from around here.”
“You jack ‘em up good?”
“Yeah. I had to pull Chris off of one of ‘em before he killed him.”
The old man rubbed the stubble on his chin and thought for a minute, and then he said “You know that you can’t stay here unless you stay on the Rez, and I mean right in the middle of it.”
“Yeah” Calvin replied. “I know.”
“Why can’t you stay here?” Chris asked, and at that the man swung around and prepared to yell at him, if not more, but Calvin stepped between them.
“Uncle, last night was bad. I had two guys beating on me. Chris fought his one off and then bailed my ass out. I might not be here today if Chris hadn’t been with me. Yes, he’s a white guy. But he might have saved my life and he took a beating doing it. I wish that you would cut him a little slack, for that if for nothing else.”
The old man looked at the bruises and lacerations on Chris’ face, and especially at the makeshift stitches. “You put those stitches in?” he asked, and Calvin admitted that he had. “Not bad work. And I’ll bet he cried like a little girl.”
“No, Uncle. He didn’t cry.”
“OK, so he’s not useless. You still have to clear out of here,and fast. And you better take your white friend with you.”
“Yeah. I guess I’ll go back and live with Mom. Maybe I can come back after things cool down.”
“Maybe” the old man said. “I’ll keep my ears open and see if I can find out who they are and how bad you messed them up.”
“It was pretty bad, especially his two” Calvin pointed at Chris. “I’m pretty sure people will be talking about it.”
“Talking about it and waiting for you to get an inch off of the Rez. The sooner that you get gone, the better.”
“Neither of my rigs are running now. You gonna need the truck?”
“Yes” the old man answered. “I am. Maybe you might need to lay low here for a while after all.”
“I can take you to San Diego” Chris volunteered, and then drew back from the expected wrath of the old man.
The wrath didn’t come. The old man just looked at Chris and then back at Calvin and shrugged. “Suit yourself” he said, and then walked into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.
“Why don’t you gather your stuff and call your mom.” Chris suggested. “I’ll go and get my gear from the hotel and come back for you.”
“Is there anything at the hotel that you really need to have?” Calvin asked.
Chris thought about the few items of clothing and the beer in his cooler. “Nothing that I couldn’t live without” he answered. “Why?”
“Then I don’t recommend that you go back there. People know that any white guy who helps an Indian can’t be local, and they’ll be looking for you wherever a non-local might stay. They’ll especially want to find a non-local guy that pees on the pride of Boulevard after he’s just kicked the prick’s ass.”
Upon hearing that the old man immediately stopped what he was doing and approached Calvin and Chris. “You peed on one of the bastards?” he asked.
“He sure did” Calvin said, again pointing at Chris. “Just like a Rez dog marking his territory.”
The old man examined Chris a little more closely and then turned and went back to the kitchen. He returned with a cup of coffee and said to Chris “You really peed on the bastard?”
“Yep” Calvin replied for Chris.
“Then you two should sure as hell should get out of here as fast as you can, and I mean like an hour ago” he said, and walked out the front door.