Read Three Sides of the Tracks Online

Authors: Mike Addington

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Thriller & Suspense, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Thriller, #Teen & Young Adult

Three Sides of the Tracks (8 page)

“Stop. Please stop, Slink. Please. Please,” Jason screamed, sobbing
harder and harder with every blow.

Ricky, Tim, and Chuck bolted. Ran harder than they had ever run.

“You the one thought this up, ain’t ya’?” Slink said, not expecting an
answer. Jason was fifty pounds heavier than the others and, even though the
same age, looked a lot older.

“Sold ya’ buddy out too, you little punk.”

The antennae broke. Slink grabbed the shotgun off the hood, wrapped his
fingers around the barrel, and raised it.

The car door popped open. A husky, smoke- and alcohol-tinged female voice
said, “C’mon, Slink. Let’s get out of here.”

The shotgun hung in mid-air when the woman spoke, and Slink seemed to
take a breath for the first time since he’d exploded with the antennae. He
kicked Jason in the ribs. “Sonabitch. Yeah, ain’t havin’ much fun now, are ya’?
‘Just havin’ fun,’ my ass. Sonabitch.”

He grabbed a handful of Jason’s hair. “Open them eyes,” he said and
tapped Jason on the temple with the shotgun barrel.

Jason’s face was caked with dirt and blood. His eyes opened slowly,
terrified at what he would see.

Slink cocked the gun and put the end of the barrels right between Jason’s
eyes. “You through havin’ fun?”

“I . . .” Jason croaked before terror overcame him. Urine soaked his
pants and ran down his legs. He tried to speak but his quivering lips made no
sound, and all he could do was nod.

The gun lowered, and Slink’s punch hit Jason full on the jaw, snapping
his head back and sending him sprawling in the dirt.

“Yeah, sonabitch, you through with havin’ fun.”

Slink slid into the front seat and drove off. 







Fields of high grass were scattered throughout the stands of trees and
undergrowth of bushes, briars, and weeds. Creeks, both wide and narrow, ran
fast through all of it, made so by the heavy rains. Narrow paths were the only option,
unless one chose to hack for an hour to move half a mile and then be covered
with bugs and creatures that defied description.

Bernard Davis was on point 50 yards ahead of his platoon, and he couldn’t
help but think how much some of this land looked like his native Georgia:
Benton, Georgia, to be exact, which was in middle Georgia. The farther south in
Georgia one went, the more it resembled Viet Nam.

Bernard swung his gaze from side to side but didn’t focus on any one
thing. That allowed him to catch unusual movement. His eyes swept the trail ten
yards at a time. Booby traps killed many of his friends, although, after six
months in-country, he tried not to make any more friends. Too hard when they
died. Although the point man was in the most danger, Bernard liked it because
he trusted himself more than he did the others. Except Akers maybe. Akers had
great instincts. Said he could feel the Cong. Smell ‘em too. Bernard could buy
the smelling part, but he wasn’t so sure about feeling them. Then again, who

Bernard saw some broomstraw on the path just ahead that lay cross angled
to the other dead straw. All in a row too. Like someone had laid handfuls of
straw on the ground.

Bernard raised his arm with clenched fist, the signal for the column to
halt. Two dozen men behind him dropped to a crouch. The top sergeant crept
cautiously to Bernard’s position. Bernard pointed to the odd broomstraw. “Could
be it just fell that way, or maybe not,” Bernard said then took off his backpack,
keeping the M-16 rifle in his hand and drawing the bayonet from its sheath.
“I’ll check it out.”

“Watch yourself,” the Marine sergeant said. He looked around. A tree line
was to their left, about ten yards off the trail with small bushes and high
grass underneath. To the right were intermittent patches of shrubs and stunted

Bernard stayed low and eased up the trail. He stooped to get a better look
at the oddly placed straw, a single twig balanced on top. He was about to brush
the twig aside when he saw fishing line tied to a protrusion on the bottom. His
eyes followed the line until it disappeared beneath a bush a few yards off the

 Bernard felt the bullet before he heard the sound of gunfire. It
screamed off the side of his helmet and knocked him down, which saved his life
as the booby-trapped mine wired to the twig was instead detonated by the Viet
Cong. Shrapnel flew above him as he lay dazed. He heard gunfire and rolled into
a small depression beside the trail. Flashes from the Congs’ weapons gave away
their positions. He picked one out and fired as he scrambled up and ran back
toward his platoon, knowing if he stayed out here by himself, he would be cut
off in case they had to retreat.

He heard the zip of bullets flying by, then something burning hot ran
from his side to his back. Bernard kept running.

He threw himself into the broomstraw where his platoon was spread out,
returning fire at the attacking Viet Cong. Akers was just to Bernard’s right,
and he pantomimed wiping his brow to signal Bernard that he had had a close
call. Bernard grinned then felt something wet on his leg. His right pants leg
was soaked in blood. He followed the stain and saw that it was coming from his
side. Funny, he didn’t feel any pain. He lifted his shirt and saw a bullet
hole, but there wasn’t much blood there.

Bullets stitched through the grass in front of him. Bernard hunkered
further down in the grass and took slow aim. He fired and saw a rifle drop. One
down. An M-79 grenade launcher went off, and a clump of bushes across the trail
exploded, followed by screaming Viet Cong as they stumbled toward a tree stand.
The platoon riddled them with gunfire.

An eerie noise pierced the sound of battle. A bugle, Bernard finally
realized, though he couldn’t tell where it originated or what it meant.

He looked over at Akers, who just shrugged. Then Akers’ helmet flew off.
The back part of his head went with it, and Akers slumped over, seeming to
Bernard like a balloon slowly deflating. Bernard stared in horror as the rest
of Akers’ brain slid down his neck.

Bernard started to his feet then realized there was nothing he could do.
He snapped his head around and learned what the blaring bugle meant. More Viet
Cong, coming from their rear.

Bernard tore grenades from his belt and lobbed them as fast as he could
toward the oncoming black shirts, just as Boyles turned his M-60 machine gun in
their direction. The machine gun ripped gaping holes in the Congs’ chests. The
grenades sent hot shrapnel tearing through the tightly packed men, and those
who didn’t die dropped to the ground to escape the deadly metal.

Bernard threw his last grenade then ran to Akers and snatched more from
the limp body. He tried to get closer to where the Cong had dropped, but,
suddenly, his left leg flopped as if controlled by a puppet’s string, and he
stumbled to the ground. Now, both legs were covered with blood. That was when
he first felt the pain in his back. He reached toward the pain and felt raw
meat, but he couldn’t turn his head far enough to see how bad it was. Now, if he
could just get his leg to cooperate. A blow to the back of his head was the
last thing he remembered.

The chopping sound of Huey helicopter blades broke through the noise of
battle. Trails of smoke streaked from the Hueys as they fired rockets at the
Viet Cong. Another bugle sounded; black shirts rose from the ground and ran
toward the trees. Rockets followed them, and intermingled treetops, limbs, and
body parts flew through the air.


* *    *


Danny saw the flashing lights a half-mile away as he returned home after
saying goodnight to Teresa.

“What the . . .”

He drove close enough to see or try to see what the commotion was about
then stopped and got out to get a better look.

“Holy smokes.” Fire trucks, ambulances, all kinds of police cars. Crap,
that was the SWAT team at the house next door to his.

. I bet he cracked up again,” Danny murmured, “but worse
this time.”

Bernard and Danny’s houses were separated by a quarter lot, about 20
yards. Danny helped mow his grass, picked up the errant newspapers and tossed
them on the porch, and sat and listened to Bernard’s stories of the war for
hours on end.

Bernard took a lot of medication. The VA gave him tons. Some for the
voices he heard; some for the nightmares. The VA also supplied him with wheelchairs
and other physical aids to help him be independent, which he otherwise wouldn’t
be because of shrapnel and bullet wounds. He even had a van equipped with a
lift and other devices that enabled him to steer and brake, but, thankfully, he
had enough sense to limit his driving to the days when he was cold sober, which
wasn’t very often. Bernard could walk a little with a type of aid that strapped
around his forearm and attached to a rod with triangular feet that helped him
keep his balance. Many times over the years, Danny had escorted him around the
block in case Bernard fell. That’s where Danny learned to curse. If Bernard
fell, the cursing reached its peak, and Bernard was an excellent curser.

Danny saw a bunch of neighbors gathered in the parking lot of the
neighborhood store across the street from Bernard’s.

A gunshot rang out. Then another.

Danny walked to the edge of spotlights the police had set up. All the
gunfire came from inside Bernard’s house, and he could hear Bernard yelling but
couldn’t make out what was said.

“Put down the guns, Mr. Davis,” a bullhorn rang out. “We don’t want to
have to come in there.”

“Oh, crap,” Danny muttered. “Those gung ho guys just as soon shoot him as

All the cops stood in front of the house.

Danny stayed out of the light and worked his way down the side road then
cut over the field until he came to Bernard’s back yard. He’d climbed through
Bernard’s kitchen window a hundred times on occasions when Bernard locked
himself out of the house.

Danny crouched low and ran as best he could to the back porch. He lay
down and raised his head enough to peer through the window. He didn’t want
Bernard shooting him by mistake.

The kitchen was dark. Light came from the front rooms. He heard Bernard
screaming at the “gooks.”

Another rifle shot rang out.

Danny pulled out the bottom of the screen then jerked it loose from the
grooves at the top. He laid the screen down and pushed the window up slowly.
When he raised it two feet, he held it up with one hand and slithered through.

Bernard screamed out again. “I’ll kill all you mothers, every last one of
ya’. I’m gonna kill ya’ momma’s, ya’ babies, ya’ dogs. Then I’m gonna burn ya’
huts down and piss on all ya’ rice. Ya’ rice eatin’ gooks.” He fired the rifle
several times in succession at the end of his tirade.

Danny crept through the bedroom separating the kitchen from the living
room. The living room looked like a stage with all the searchlights focused on
it. He eased his face around the doorframe and took a quick look before pulling

Bernard sat in the wheelchair with the control button in his lap. He rolled
back and forth across the living room shouting and firing off rounds from an
AK-47 he’d bought at a gun show.

The next time Bernard came close to Danny’s position and turned the
wheelchair, Danny jumped. He wrapped his arms around Bernard, pinning his arms
to his chest. Bernard wailed out a curse and squeezed the trigger until the
clip ran out. All the bullets went through the roof.

Danny grabbed the gun and threw it across the room then held Bernard’s
head steady and leaned in close to be eye to eye.

“Bernard. Bernard. It’s me, Danny. Wake up. Wake up, Bernard. I got your
newspaper for you, Bernard. Wake up. Time to read the paper, Bernard.”

Bernard’s eyes were focused far away, and Danny knew then that Bernard
hadn’t been taking his medicine. He’d been able to bring him out of some of
these spells—although not as bad as this—but not when he’d stopped his

There was nothing else to do. “Y’all can come on in,” Danny called out.
“I’ve got his gun. Don’t shoot now. Nobody’s got a gun. Come on in.”

“Who’s that?” a voice called.

“It’s Danny Taylor. I live next door. Y’all come on in, and don’t shoot
nobody now. I got his gun away from him.”

The door splintered into a hundred pieces as the heavy iron battering ram
the SWAT team used blasted the door apart. Seven men ran into the room one
behind the other and spread out into an attack formation, with automatic
weapons and shotguns pointed at Bernard and Danny. They looked to be dressed in
space suits, but it was really a combination of bulletproof vests, helmets, and
goggles that gave them that appearance.

“Damn, it ain’t gooks; it’s aliens,” Bernard shouted. “Nuke ‘em. Nuke
‘em. That’s the only way to deal with them kind. I seen it before. Nuke ‘em, I

Danny stood in open-mouthed astonishment when the door splintered and the
men rushed in. He was holding the arms of Bernard’s wheelchair when two of the
men slung their weapons over their shoulder and rushed him.

They threw Danny to the floor, jammed a knee in his back, and handcuffed

More police came in. One of them stood over Danny. “How’d you get in
here, boy?”

Danny strained to look up but couldn’t move with the knee in his back.

“I said, how—”

“I ain’t telling you shit till you let me up from here. I helped y’all
out. Take these dang handcuffs off me.”

One of the cops who handcuffed him kicked Danny in the ribs. “Watch how
you talk to the captain.”

“Screw you,” Danny said.

The officer kicked him again.

A policeman with three stripes on his sleeve walked over and pushed the
SWAT team cop off Danny. He reached down and unlocked the cuffs. “Answer the
captain, Danny.”

Danny rubbed his sore wrists, red welts where the cuffs squeezed tight.
He looked at the man who had taken them off: Randy Keyes. Randy’s little
sister, not much younger than him, had been on the swimming team with Caroline,
and he and Danny had talked a few times. Enough to know each other anyway.

He nodded to Randy then looked at the captain. “I was coming home when I
saw all the lights. So I parked the car and walked up, heard the shooting and
saw all y’all standing outside. I figured Bernard had gone on one of his
spells, so I snuck around back and crawled through the window and took the gun
away from him. Didn’t want anyone getting hurt.”

Danny glared at the SWAT cop who had handcuffed him. “Specially,

“You little punk,” the policeman said and took a step toward Danny.

“Oh yeah. Take off that goofball helmet and we’ll see,” Danny said.

“Shut up. Both of you,” the captain yelled.

A tall man accompanied by a policeman came through the opening where the
front door once stood. His head stayed at one level as he walked, which made
him seem to glide. “What y’all doing to my uncle?” Slink said in a tone smooth
as his walk.

Danny breathed a sigh of relief. He knew of Slink, and he knew that Slink
hated cops and cops hated Slink.

“Maybe they’ll get off my back,” Danny muttered to himself.

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