Gabilan used to handle the whole place by himself. It was something he did well and enjoyed, and in the beginning the ranch was the only thing that kept him sane, if you don't count the tequila. Lots of drunks excuse their addictions, and their actions, by claiming that God has got it in for them, as if Job in the OT was a piker. Whether or not that was the case, after Ana Maria died, Gabilan drank. And after he failed to kill himself with Mexican Coffee and smack, Gabilan got sober and busy in about equal amounts. It's what they talk about when they say “don’t leave five minutes before the miracle happens.”
He always approached Hondo's hooch as loud as he could. Oso helped with that; his panting and his collar and his forays back and forth, back and forth, kept things noisy. Like snakes and certain sorts of women, Hondo, the poor bastard, didn't like surprises. The man was having a tough time living inside of some very bad place in his head, and the guns and grenades he kept in his hooch were the least of it.
The starlight threw their shadows, dog and man, out in front of them. Gabilan made sure his silhouette was well above the ridgeline they were about to cross.
--Hondo! Gabilan whispered. Oso chimed in with a whine.
--Who goes there?
--It's Gabilan, sarge. And Oso, Friendlies comin' in.
The two of them rattled down the incline to the hooch, barely visible in the night.
--Coulda lit you up, greaser, said Hondo, who didn't stand on ceremony or political correctness. He clicked the safety on his M-16 and lowered it to his lap. Oso wagged towards him and, sitting there in the dark, Hondo chucked the dog under the chin. Oso thumped his big otter tail and licked Hondo’s hand.
--Hey, Oso! How's Oso?
--I know you coulda lit me up, said Gabilan. It's what you do. And one of these nights you might, and you know? I won’t give a shit.
--There it is.
Hondo motioned for Gabilan to pull up a camp chair. The dark was a comfort to him.
--Just thought I'd check up on you boys, said Gabilan, see if you needed anything.
--Rafe and Cristobol are out on patrol. The Nigger ain’t back from the VA yet. I don't expect him tonight. They don't commit his sorry ass he'll have t' walk a piece 'n' he don’t like the dark.
Hondo’s eyes were like an agitated cat's, darting this way and that. He took a nervous pull on a canteen cup of coffee, it smelled like.
--Ain’t seen Cake since he pulled a night op a month ago, last time you were here, said Hondo morosely.
He poured a second canteen cup, offered it to Gabilan, who took it with a silent nod. He toasted Hondo, who raised his own cup back.
--'sall we got left, Cap'n, said Hondo. Fucking Charlie wiped out the entire rest a my squad. We buried 'em about two clicks out. They was startin' t' stink.
He took a reluctant pause. After a long slow exhale he said matter of factly:
--I gotta write their moms a letter. They was good troops. Moms should know that.
--That's right, Hondo, said Gabilan. You got that, brother.
He took a long pull on his coffee, chicory and lots of milk, New Orleans-style, the way King Cake had taught them all to make it. After a quiet beat, where only the insects had anything to say:
--Well, now, Hondo, said Gabilan, gentle but firm. You know King's bivouacked up towards my place now. You remember that, right? He’s got a TV and everything, right? And I saw you just a couple days ago, remember? Helped you lay out those claymores in the rain?
Hondo looked confused. Oso was watching him very carefully.
--We blew the claymores, Cap'n. Ever damned one of ‘em, in the firefight that got Boychick and the Duke.
--Fuckers just kept comin. AK's crackin' like popcorn, yellin' that gook shit they yell. I emptied a full clip in the point man's face and he never even blinked.
--OK, Hondo. Take it easy, troop. Easy, said Gabilan.
Gabilan leaned across the table, placed his hand on Hondo's shoulder. Oso set his big head on the poor man's knee. Hondo was sobbing now, which, in the continually evolving lexicon of Gabilan’s whacked out Back-40 psych ward and wild west show could only be termed a Good Thing.
A twig suddenly snapped like a thunderbolt. Men and dog swiveled violently in the direction of the sound.
--Who goes there? hissed Hondo.
--Friendlies, came a man's voice out of the night, slightly perturbed. Cristobal, he said. And Rafe, you whacked out motherfucker. Whassup Gab? Who wants pizza?
It was the loosest of affiliations Gabilan had wrought: five brothers in arms who would basically be fighting the Vietnam War for the rest of their lives. How each of them ended up in Gabilan’s big back yard in sunny southern California is a story in itself. The fact is—they were there, and there was nowhere else to be, despite Gabilan’s hope that somehow, maybe, he could help them turn their lives around.
To their credit, Hondo’s Hobos were pretty much self-sustaining, except for the pizza, of course, and the very occasional trips to the nearest whorehouse, a little Korean massage parlor in Hemet, which was a hell of a hump overland, day or night.
If misery loves company, then so does sobriety. It was the never-ending war against drugs and alcohol that held the little band together, if together is what they were. The irony was, Gabilan kept them busy during the day, working the vegetable garden and the little vineyard that defined the eastern quadrant of his property. He sold the grapes they nurtured to all the wineries-come-lately that had begun to redefine this lonely stretch of California back country. As any MBA could tell you—it was a win-win situation, except for the nightmares.
Next: Blackbirds at One O'Clock
Intruso, a cinematically postmodern love story
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers
- Her voice was shiny
- Timed Writing
- On Location
- In the Beginning was Rock n Roll
- Cell Phone Interruptus
- The Hooch
- Blackbirds at One O'Clock
- Probiotics and the Muse
- Email by Rodney Strong
- Dope and Flax Seed
- Free to a God Home
- Lemonade and Consequences
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten