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Survivors' Guilt

Survivors' Guilt


By Reckless

Copyright 2001

Rated: R

Disclaimer: The A-Team characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.

Warning: MAIN CHARACTER DEATH; Violence, angst, swearing, war memories, severe mental distress, suicide.

Comments: Please. [Special thanks to Fingers and Lark for their comments]

Summary: A Vietnam veteran struggles with his own memories of the war and the team and meets up with an unexpected visitor.Set Post-Pardon.THIS STORY INVOLVES MAIN CHARACTER DEATH AND SUICIDE.

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It must have been the sixth Bud. Or was it the sixth toast? I can't really remember, but you have to forgive me. By that point, I was pretty far gone.

 

We'd started drinking early in the day, much earlier than normal. Dusty and Jinx and me had ridden our Harleys through the canyon all morning. None of us spoke. It was just something we had to do.

 

Just like parking at the Roadhouse and getting smashed.

 

Jinx was laying flat on the couch that ran along the western wall of the place. It was called "Dino's," but we just called it the "Roadhouse." As far as I could tell, there never was a Dino. The only guy I'd ever seen working here is Max, the barkeep. Max keeps us stocked in longnecks and gives us a place to sit around and swap stories.

 

You may wonder what I was doing getting drunk at four in the afternoon on a Tuesday, but that's not really the point. Well, maybe it is the point, but now's not really the time to explain. You may wonder about the Roadhouse and why I call it my second home. I'll tell you that.

 

The Roadhouse is our place. Ours. Us screwed-up rejects from a misbegotten war that the country pretty much wanted to forget about. Most of us spend all of our free time there. Oh, hell, who am I kidding? All our time is free. Most of us barely scrape by doing an odd job here and there. We pretty much live on disability pay, veteran's assistance and beer.

 

But the Roadhouse is a place where we're important. This is our place and everyone else is an outsider.

So I was just putting away my sixth beer. Jinx was singing along to some lame-ass ballad playing on the jukebox and Dusty was staring off into space. The bar was close to full, something that hardly ever happened on Saturday night, and definitely not normal for a weekday afternoon.

 

But this wasn't a normal day.

 

"Thish here's a shelebration," announced Jinx from the couch as he waved a bottle through the air. I knew he was about to give another toast and I tried to drown it out. Jinx was a crazy idiot, but we all knew there was nothing to celebrate.

 

Jinx was pretty typical of the crowd inside. He was a large man, with a beer gut falling over the top of his dirty jeans. A worn fatigue jacket from an army surplus store was pulled up at a collar nearly hidden by his long, unkempt hair and dark, bushy beard. Those kind of military jackets were a dime a dozen in the Roadhouse, outnumbered only by the leather vests that displayed our biker colors.

 

I never really understand how I'd come to be a regular here, but over time, the guys here have become my family. They're the only guys who really understand how I think. Jinx, for instance, had taken two bullets in the gut defending Hill 861A at Khe Sanh.

 

Hill 861A. Can you believe that shit? In WWII, people fought the "Battle of the Bulge," "D-Day," and "Iwo Jima." No, in 'Nam, we got to fight the battle of "Hill 861A." And, don't forget the memorable battle for "Hill 64," too. There's one or two other guys that hang around the Roadhouse who fought that one.

 

But going back to Jinx. It's not just how he looks that's typical of the men at the Roadhouse. Like all of us, he sees, hears and even smells things that aren't there. Too much sensory overload, I guess. It kind of left a permanent impression. Even after twenty years, it's still there.

 

Truth is, it's not just that we're vets that makes us different. Or even that we served in that hellhole in Southeast Asia. It's that even now we're stuck with our memories. In the daylight hours, we see our buddies dying and hear their screams.

 

Nobody outside the Roadhouse, or places like it, really understands. The world sees us as rejects, the one's who made it home, but didn't really. People pity us, but they don't really try to understand. But together, we discards have made our own way and found our place.

 

I don't think other vets even get it. From time to time, some guy will stop in and start talking about how he was "in-country." Some of those guys even show up on Hogs, as if the bike is some type of ticket in. Usually there's a girl with him; some bitch he's trying to impress. Other times, a guy will come in with a teenage kid. He'll walk around the place, pretending he belongs to the brotherhood of Vietnam. But we know the truth.

 

We're museum exhibits. "See, son, this is how I could have ended up. But you should be proud, because your old man was better than that, better than these fucked-up drunks who can't get over the war."

 

Jinx was just finishing the toast. Number seven? Or was it eight? It didn't really matter. I just took another swig from my bottle and drained it as the door opened and the man entered.

 

I didn't know what he was thinking, but the only thing running through my head was that he must have had a deathwish to walk in here. Especially on that day.

 

From the dark suit and polished appearance, I immediately assumed he was a reporter. That happened from time to time. The local news would send out one of their perfect, young blond "talent" to interview the disheveled rejects that hung out at the Roadhouse. "Go ahead, give the world the 'Vet's-eye' view'" of whatever was on the damn news. Like when they picked that Asian girl to design the black wall memorial and all hell broke loose because there was no statue. As if we really fucking cared what the memorial looked like; we only cared that someone gave a damn about building something, anything.

 

Well, anyway, the reporters. Sometimes we went along with them and gave them their soundbites. In return, we usually got a round of beers courtesy of their station. But nobody was in the mood that day.

 

Dusty was first to react. "Nobody wants to talk to you," he snarled as he stalked toward the young guy in the black suit.

 

The man barely looked over. "So? Who wants to talk?" he said a little too calmly for the situation. Instead he headed to the bar and took an empty stool on the end. Everyone within ten feet of the guy decided it was a good time to find new seats.

 

From where I sat, Dusty probably outweighed the blond guy by about 100 pounds. And I knew from experience that nobody pissed Dusty off. I still could feel the bruises from the time I told a girl he was trying to pick up that he was bullshitting her about being a tunnel rat. Like she was really going to believe a 6'3, 300 pound guy could have run around in VC tunnels?

 

Holding a pool cue in his hand, Dusty approached the guy. "Didja hear me?" Dusty growled. "Nobody's gonna be your fuckin' guinea pig."

 

The guy looked up. I had to wonder what his bosses were thinking when they sent a pretty boy like that to the Roadhouse.

 

"Look," he quietly said to Dusty. "I'm not a reporter. I just want to have drink in peace."

 

I'm not sure what stopped Dusty from bashing the guy's skull in, but Dusty stopped. For some reason, I decided to speak up then. Maybe it was the day. Maybe it was the fact that we were all in pain that I felt there was no reason to take it out on some stupid fool who had walked into the wrong bar on the wrong day. Even if he wore a fancy suit.

 

"Dusty," I called out. "Leave the guy alone."

 

That did the trick. Dusty glared at the blond guy, but went back to the pool table. Still, nobody moved back to the empty seats around the guy. Instead, it was as if he had contaminated one side of the bar. We had our very own DMZ right in the Roadhouse. The stranger on one side. Everyone else on the other.

 

Taking another look at the fancy suit, I realized that the guy probably was telling the truth and he wasn't a reporter. That suit looked more like a lawyer's or a banker's. Hell, his shoes probably cost more than some of our bikes. Definitely one of them yuppies. Had probably driven over the canyon from the Palisades or Malibu. Probably had some fancy car outside and thought it would be fun to go slumming at the Roadhouse.

 

Well, fuck him, I thought.

 

I heard the guy order a whiskey from Max, but was surprised that he ordered the cheap stuff. Not that any of Max's stuff was great, but the guy asked for the type of swill that the rest of us laughed about. The stuff that reminded us of the crap we drank in Saigon whorehouses. This guy could probably have bought the best stuff off Max's shelf, but he chose the worst-tasting crap you could think of. Then the guy told Max to leave the bottle.

 

Obviously I wasn't the only one who noticed. "Dave? What the hell's he thinkin'?" Jinx asked me.

 

I just shook my head. Hell if I knew. "Come on, Jinx. How 'bout another toast? You're starting to sober up."

 

As Jinx raised his bottle for another toast, I watched the blond man out of the corner of my eye. Somehow he got Max to give him three shot glasses and, lining them next to each other, filled them all. In the time that it took Jinx to finish his speech a short speech, I should add the guy drained all three glasses, one right after another. He was refilling the glasses when a high-pitch chirping sounded.

 

Again the room fell dead silent. All eyes were on the guy as he pulled a phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. If he was embarrassed about interrupting things, he didn't show it. But he should have been. That type of yuppie crap didn't go over in here. None of us needed reminding that we had no one worth calling or anyone who really gave enough of a damn to call us.

 

"What?" he said to the person on the other end. There was a short pause.

 

"I just stopped for a drink." He waited, listening to the voice on the other end.

 

"No, I don't think so. I'll be home when I feel like it." The man's voice was growing louder.

 

"No, damn it, just leave me alone. I don't need you, so fuck off and get out of my life."

I'm not sure the guy expected an audience, particularly for the last part that came out loud enough for even the guys in the john to hear. But he got one. I knew what everyone was thinking. The fucking yuppie had had a lover's quarrel and had gone out to get shitfaced. He'd probably go back to his girlfriend at the end of the night and fuck her brains out. None of us were particularly sympathetic.

 

Seeing the guy flip the phone closed with a loud snap and toss back another shot of the whiskey. I decided to step in before he got killed. Someone like Dusty would lose his temper; beat the crap out of the guy and then wind up doing five-to-ten at the CMC up by San Luis Obispo. We'd seen enough of our friends wind up there, and assaulting a rich guy like this was probably one of the best ways to get a one-way ticket.

 

I rose from my chair and crossed the room in his direction. I figured that I'd walk over to him, tell him that it was in his best interests to leave and he would go. I wasn't prepared for him to stand up and walk over to the wall.

 

Did I tell you about the wall? It's something special about the Roadhouse. It's not like the wall in D.C. It's just a bunch of pictures the guys and me brought in. Our platoons and units. Shots of our buddies, some still alive, but far too many dead and buried. On the wall of the Roadhouse, those photos stand like plaques. Each photo has a place of honor.

 

The blond guy stood staring at the wall, taking in the pictures. Sometimes when a stranger looks at them, I get angry. It's like the stranger's trespassing on our private shrine. But there was something in the way this guy was looking at them. He stood there serious and all respectful-like.

 

Walking closer to him, I gave the guy the once-over. I couldn't tell his exact age, but I guessed he was in his early thirties. Maybe 35 at the most. In truth, he wasn't that much younger than me. I was 18 in '67 when I got shipped to Lai Khe, so I was probably only seven or eight years older than him. But those years made every difference. The kid had been too young to serve in 'Nam. Lucky stiff.

 

He continued to stare and then I saw his hand reach toward the wall.

 

"Don't touch," I warned.

 

His hand pulled back as if he had touched a hot stove, but his eyes never left the photos. The kid obviously saw something, someone, in them. Thinking about his age, my first thought was that it was probably a brother. But there was something in the way he looked at the wall. Something told me that he saw someone more important.

 

"Your dad serve in 'Nam?" I asked.

 

He looked at me in surprise. Then he paused for a moment, looked down at the floor and raised his eyes back to the wall.

 

"Yeah . . . you could say that."

 

"What unit was he with?"

 

The kid hesitated again. "Fifth Special Forces."

 

I drew in a sharp breath. "Wow. A greenie. You must be proud of him."

 

"He's dead."

 

The kid when did I start thinking of him as a kid? didn't say it harshly and didn't want pity. He just announced it as a fact, so I didn't apologize. Hell, what was there to really apologize for?

 

Instead I just said the truth. "That war took away a lot of good men."

 

The blond guy gave me a once-over and nodded slightly. He didn't say anything else, but he turned away from the wall, walked back to the bar and poured another couple shots. What the fuck was he thinking? That much whiskey would probably kill someone like Dusty. I started to walk to the bar to take the bottle away, but then I got distracted.

 

"Hey. Turn that up." Dusty's voice thundered across the room and I spun away from where the blond guy was standing. Max had heard the order and was turning on the volume of the television at the far end of the bar. Everyone fixed on that TV. No one moved. No one said a sound. Most of us didn't even blink.

 

It was the reason we were here after all. It was the reason we were getting drunk in the late afternoon.

 

They showed the reporter standing outside the cemetery first. I wouldn't have had to look twice to tell that they were in Westwood. Even if I didn't know that Speedy and Jake had gone there to stand outside the cemetery, the rows of white crosses would have given it away.

 

Some of us had debated whether he should have been buried at Arlington. I thought the man deserved it, but the military brass didn't have the balls to let a convicted murderer dirty their sacred ground. It was probably for the best, anyway. From the news reports, the man's wife lived fairly close to L.A.

 

It really didn't seem right to call him a man. "Legend" sounded better.

 

After all, Hannibal Smith was a legend.

 

Nobody at the Roadhouse really knew what to make of his death. It made no sense. Some of the guys even thought it was a cover-up, like that mock execution a few years ago.

 

"No way Smith would have shot himself," they said. "The man was made of steel."

I didn't see it the same way.

 

The more I thought about it, the more I believed it.

 

We'd all been through it before. The more time you thought about the past, the more your memories ate you alive. Everyone in 'Nam had heard the stories about Smith's a-team. They'd been the army's most efficient commandos, its most ruthless killers. We'd all seen guys like that in-country. They weren't normal and never would be. A lot of them wound up in psych wards or in jail, because all they knew was killing and suffering. Why was Smith any different? Shit, when you thought about and remembered that he spent months in one of Ho Chi Minh's little playgrounds, it was a fucking miracle that he and his team lasted long enough to be framed for robbing the bank.

 

As I figure it, running from the government simply delayed the inevitable. I'd seen guys who seemed normal for awhile after the war, but then suddenly cracked. Dusty was a perfect example. He'd seen his best friend get his head blown off by a claymore. One minute they were talking about their next trip to a Saigon whorehouse; the next minute Dusty was holding a headless corpse and getting sprayed with blood from the carotid artery. But for four years after the war, Dusty had spent a quiet normal life with a wife and a job in the Ford factory. Then, in '75, he'd exploded in a violent rage and attacked his boss. You don't really recover after that. Oh, they let him out of the VA after about a year, but Dusty was never really the same.

 

He used to say that having the wife and the job held back the memories. I guess that's explains why there are some "well-adjusted" Vietnam vets out there who suffered Ho Chi Minh's worst. Guess some guys were lucky that they had enough distractions to keep away the worst of the nightmares.

 

I figure that's probably what happened to Smith. Twenty years of being on the run and taking out bad guys distracted him, so he never had to face the memories. But I guess when that all came to an end, Smith had too much time to think about things. That's probably why he did it. Damn shame, too.

 

"They say he told his wife he was going outside to check something. Next thing she heard was the shotgun blast." I was surprised that I had spoken out loud. Why? I wondered, and then I remembered the kid standing next to me. My eyes never left the television, but I continued to speak. Maybe he could understand what someone like Smith meant.

 

"Hannibal Smith, man. He was a fucking legend. The best. He was a green beret like your father, kid, but his team was the greatest ever. In 'Nam, you could almost hear the capital 'A' when people talked about 'Smith's A-Team.'"

 

I kept talking, not waiting for any reply.

 

"I saw him once, in a bar in Saigon. The man looked like he was ten-feet tall. You know how in the pictures he has that head of white hair? He had it then. When I saw him, my first thought was that he was some ten-foot albino. I figured Charlie just shit their pants when they saw him. Dropped their guns and ran at the sight."

 

"You wouldn't really understand, kid, but over there we needed heroes and Smith was larger than life. Even in some skanky bar in Saigon, he just took over. There he was holding court with the rest of his team. I remember seeing Baracus you couldn't really miss him but I mostly watched Smith."

 

Why the hell was I telling this to some snot-nosed, pretty boy? He couldn't understand what it was like to walk out of the stinking jungles after a hump covered with the days worth of sweat and dirt and blood. Even if his father had been a greenie, he wasn't there. If you weren't there, you couldn't understand.

 

And he couldn't understand what it was like to go into a bar and see your hero sitting their holding court. That's what Smith was. Our hero and hope. We used to tell the FNGs, those recruits so cherry that we didn't even want to learn their names, that they didn't have to worry if Charlie caught them. Smith and his team would bust them out. They'd done it more than once. I'd heard all the stories before I saw him in that bar. Course, that was before his own team got taken. But in that bar, Smith was a white-haired god who was worshiped by us lowly grunts.

 

"You know, kid, there was brawl that night. Smith and his men were right in the middle of it. Someone said that Peck, he was Smith's X.O., had started it by trying to steal a girl from some Navy SEAL. I dunno, but it sounded true; guys said Peck would screw anything in a skirt. I don't really know. I never really got a look at him or the crazy pilot that night, but I remember Smith fighting in the back of the room. He laughed the whole time, like he was having the time of his life. His eyes were like blue ice, all cold and on fire at the same time. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's the only way to describe it. And Smith just stood at the back and took on all-comers. By the time the MPs showed up, he musta laid out a dozen grunts."

 

Even as I spoke, I could hear the groans of the men on the floor who were spitting out teeth and trying to stop the blood flowing from their broken noses.

 

"There was this stupid kid lieutenant leading the MPs. He took one look at the place and at Smith and his men still standing, and arrested them. Kid, it was a sight. They probably could have beaten the crap out of the MPs, but Smith just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Then the L-T asked why Smith had attacked the other guys, and I swear, man, Smith looked at the kid with this silly-ass grin and said that he 'needed to break in a new pair of gloves.' Then he asked if his room at the brig was ready. It was great, kid. And you know what happened then?"

 

I didn't give the blond guy a chance to reply, but answered my own question.

 

"The rest of us in the bar stood up and whooped and hollered like we had just seen one of those Playmates they would send to the USO shows. And, as God is my witness, as the MPs were putting the cuffs on him, Smith took a bow. Like he was the fucking star of the show."

 

I took another drink from my beer. When had Max given me another beer? I didn't remember, but it didn't matter.

 

I always wondered what Smith must have made of us. Did it bother him to see us standing there and applauding. Did he understand how much we looked to him for our strength? Did he have nightmares thinking how we needed him to succeed in his missions so that we could get through our own firefights? Or did he lock those thoughts away for twenty years, only to have them come back once he was a free man? Once his team left him?

 

I let my eyes focus back on the TV images. They were showing some speakers at the funeral. The president should have been there to pay his respects, I thought, but the news said his advisors had told him it wasn't a good idea. Didn't matter. There were too many politicians and uniforms there as it was.

 

I watched as they showed the honor guard folding the flag and handed it to a dark-haired lady. I'd heard she was a doctor. Guess not the type Smith really needed.

 

"Why do they always show them folding the flag?" I asked, not really expecting a response from the blond man standing silently beside me. "Fucking empty gesture, if you ask me. Do they really think after being screwed by the government for more than 20 years that Smith cared about being buried with a flag?"

 

Then the camera flashed to three men in the front of the crowd. The big, black guy I recognized right off. You couldn't really forget Baracus. I couldn't really see much of the other two, but I figured one must be Peck and the other was probably that pilot. Yeah, I could see that Baracus and one of the men, even though in dark suits, were wearing berets. The other man with the beret probably was Peck. The third man had on a regular army cap, so he wasn't Special Forces. Yeah, I thought, probably the pilot.

 

"I wonder what they were thinking?" I said out loud. "They must have known Smith was hurting." Hadn't they been on the run with Smith for twenty years? How could they have missed the signs for so long? "It's a damn shame, kid. You'd think they would have stuck with him."

 

The camera had flipped back to the reporter who was talking about Baracus and Peck. As if we didn't know, she reminded us about their pardons and how the A-Team had turned up a few years after being "executed" completely alive and well. Well, I guess we know the truth about that statement now. As she talked, the camera showed Baracus up close. He was scowling, exactly like I remembered him scowl in that bar. Then they cut to another man who I assumed must have been Peck. I wasn't completely sure, because he had a hand up in front of his face as if he didn't want anyone to see him while he pushed through a crush of reporters.

 

I couldn't really tell what was going on, but the man on the screen suddenly leaped at one of the reporters and began beating the crap out of him. Peck's back was to the camera, but, between the bleeps, I could hear him call them "vultures" and yell at them to "get away."

 

Then he was pulled off the downed reporter and I saw Peck's snarling face.

 

Oh shit.

 

I jerked my head to the side, but the kid was gone. I spun in a complete circle, my head spinning from the combined effects of the shock and the booze, but he was nowhere in the room.

 

Everyone else was still riveted on the TV. None of them had made the connection with the image on the screen and the stranger. They watched, still unaware of the legend that had walked into this dump of a bar.

 

Without thinking, I raced out the door and onto the patio that fronted the bar.

 

The sun was going down, but in the fading light, I saw him in the parking lot. He fumbled with the keys in his pocket as he stumbled to his car. It was one of those super sports-cars, Italian, I thought. Ferrari, Lamborghini or something like that. I was never really into cars. A bike I would have known right off, but, fuck, it didn't really matter did it?

 

"Wait," I called out to him from the top step. "Peck."

 

He didn't slow at all, but all that whiskey was having an effect. He got to the car, but his hands wouldn't cooperate. They shook and the keys flew up in a high arc. He made a last ditch attempt to pluck the keys out of midair, but he missed and the keys fell to the asphalt with a clatter.

 

Peck made no attempt to pick them up. He put both his hands on the roof of the car, rolled his shoulders forward and lowered his head. The blond hair that had seemed perfectly in place only a little while earlier hung over in his face. And even from where I stood, about fifty feet away, I could see that the kid was panting, as if he couldn't catch his breath.

 

A kid? Had I called him a kid? Peck had seen shit worse than most of us could imagine, even in our nightmares. And I was sitting here, thinking of him as a kid.

 

He didn't look like a kid anymore. I watched him shut his eyes and hold them closed. I'd seen the look before. Dusty got it right before he began to talk about Saigon whorehouses with his dead, best buddy. Hell, I probably got it before I saw the flashes and heard the explosions of VC artillery as it landed all around me. Peck had that look now.

 

"C'mon man, what do ya see?" I asked in the same voice I used when I tried to stop Dusty from breaking something. "Where are you, Peck? The camps? The jungle?"

 

Though he shook his head as if to say no, I knew the answer. He was every place; he saw everything. All at once. Torture, pain, death. His back and shoulders shook. The rest of his body didn't move.

 

"Peck, man, don't do that to yourself. You're drunk, man." As I spoke, I moved down the stairs toward him. "Why don't ya come back inside? We can talk. A lot of the guys would like it."

 

His eyes snapped open and he laughed, that type of half-snort laugh that says you just said the stupidest thing he's ever heard. "Yeah? So you and your buddies can beat the crap out of me? Or are you gonna give me a standing ovation?"

 

My face got hot when I thought about what I'd said or at least what I thought I'd said. A lot of it wasn't very clear anymore. How much had I said so he could hear it and how much had I rambled to myself?

 

"You said he was larger-than-life, but he wasn't," Peck said as he reached down and calmly picked up his keys. He didn't yell or anything, just said it like it was as plain as day. "You have no idea what he was like."

 

"Man, I didn't mean to lay that on you."

 

"He was just a man. He said he wanted to be left alone. He wanted to be with his wife. He wanted us to have our own lives." Peck's tone didn't change.

 

"Peck, it's not your fault." As I spoke, I extended a hand.

 

That's when he exploded. He whirled in my direction, his face contorted with anger. Even in the dim light, I could see the crimson flood his features. Peck swung his right arm around, sweeping my outstretched arm away.

 

"Get the fuck away from me! You said it yourself. We should have known. We should have stuck by him."

 

"Man, we all know what you're going through."

 

"No," he cut me off. "You have no fucking clue what I'm going through."

 

"Yeah, Peck, I do. We've all been through it. We all lost friends we thought would make it. We all suffered. But, man, the memories will eat you alive."

 

His fury suddenly disappeared and he just seemed, I don't know, tired. He stood there exhausted, but uncertain. I saw his eyes dart to the car for a moment and then back at me. I'd seen the look before when Jinx hit a dog up on Kanan Road one time. When I tried to help it, the dog kept looking back and forth between me and the side of the road. Just as I reached to pick it up, it took off and ran. Right into the path of an oncoming truck.

 

Peck looked like that wounded dog.

 

"Please, man, come inside. You belong here."

 

He looked up at me and I noticed his blue eyes for the first time. They weren't icy like Smith's had been. Peck's eyes seemed cloudy and confused. But he didn't try to run. Instead, he nodded.

 

"Okay," he said.

 

"Here," I said as I reached for the keys, "Give those to me. You shouldn't be driving in your condition anyway."

 

He smiled back at me. Nobody could fake that type of smile. Then he spoke again. "Thanks. It's nice to know there's someone out there who gives a damn. But if you don't mind, I'll hold onto them."

 

I nodded. We had reached an understanding. "Come on inside, Lieutenant," I said.

 

I never saw it coming.

 

Next thing I knew, Jinx and Dusty were lifting me off the pavement. My head was swimming and, from the lump that was rising on the back of my head, Jinx said Peck had probably hit me with his gun.

 

-------------------------------------------

 

I paused from my tale, set down my bottle and looked at the man at the bar.

 

"That was three days ago."

 

I picked up the bottle again.

 

"You know where 'Sheriff's Honor' is?"

 

The man seated next to me at the bar shook his head.

 

"It's a turnout up in the canyon on the way to Malibu. A place where families can park their cars and look at the mountains. Some deputy drove off the cliff up there years ago, so there's a little monument that says 'Sheriff's Honor.'"

 

I took another swig of my beer.

 

"They found Peck's car at the bottom of that cliff."

 

The guy said nothing.

 

"It's ironic, you know," I continued. "A guy who was chased by the military and the police for 20 years killing himself at a site honoring a cop."

The guy at the bar nodded and took a drink from his bottle. I'd never seen him in the Roadhouse before, but I've been a little more welcoming to strangers the last day or so. This guy seemed normal enough and his jacket pegged him as a vet. Hell, no one else would walk around in a leather jacket that said "Da Nang 1970." He finished his drink, adjusted his baseball cap and gave me a goofy, but sincere smile.

 

"It's been nice talking to you."

 

"Yeah, you too," I replied. "Are you heading into the city?"

 

He stopped and shrugged his shoulders.

 

"No . . . I'm gonna head up into the canyon and see a friend."


Survivors' Guilt by Reckless

 

 


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