(Author's note: Its very late, the rest of this story is crap and full of typos, but I give up on it.)
Killing came easy to Andrew upon arriving in Vietnam. In fact, those in his chain of command saw he had a talent for it as someone might have for art or music. With nothing and no one to anchor his soul, the skills he began to discover during his initial training as a soldier were further honed and expanded remorselessly while on patrols in the jungle. Still though, during the moments he had to himself his thoughts would always drift back to Emily and the events in her family’s beach house.
During mail calls as Andrew and the rest of his unit would gather to receive letters from home he would silently pray for something as small as a postcard from Emily saying she had forgiven him. Except for the occasional package or letter from his mom, he received nothing. What small hope that he struggled to keep alive was finally killed the day he received the newspaper clipping sent by his mother.
It showed a picture of Emily embracing a guy with the article below stating his name was Gregg Morris. While examining the couple in the photograph Andrew recognized the ancient oak tree they were standing underneath, it occupied a far corner of her father's property and was a convenient place they had used to meet secretly while in high school.
Andrew was no fool, the situation smelled of arranged marriage but what puzzled him was the expression of happiness on Emily’s face in the picture. It was the same look of love he remembered seeing on her during their moments together. A seemingly clear statement that she had cast him aside for someone else, especially galling was the fact that her father must have approved of this new love interest. As a sign of acceptance that she had moved on, Andrew tossed the clipping and every other item associated with Emily he had with him into the nearest trash container.
Finding out about Emily's engagement to another guy was an intense body blow to Andrew but given the stress and uncertainty he was forced to live under it was not something he could dwell on and hope to survive. After two months Andrew found the hurt beginning to heal until he returned to his remote camp after a seven day pass to Saigon with his buddies. His infantry company's First Sergeant had called an evening formation to announce several changes in the upcoming schedule along with passing out the mail to the soldiers returning from Saigon. For Andrew it was the usual collection of letters from his mom along with several magazines and books. He did not see the fancy envelope with the name of "Emily Morris" printed above the return address until after he had showered and gotten his gear ready for the next morning.
Sitting on his bunk, he held the unopened letter in his hand for close to an hour trying to decide what to do. In his mind, he felt it was an unbelievable cruel thing for Emily to do to him. By using her new last name on the return address to Andrew, it adding a new insult to an old injury in her declaring she had married someone else. The solution as to what to do with her letter came to Andrew when he saw his best friend over by his bunk lighting a cigarette.
"Hey Barnes you butthole," he yelled while grabbing a nearby steel wastebasket, "throw me your lighter for a second will you?"
"Sure thing dickhead," his best friend said smiling.
After catching the lighter, he ignited it with one hand while holding Emily's letter in the other. Touching the lighter's flame to one corner of the letter Andrew watched as the paper was consumed. At the last second, he dropped it into the wastebasket and watched the remains turn to ashes. Feeling he had finally put the past behind him Andrew went to sleep and did not think of Emily again.
At the start of his last month in Vietnam, Andrew not only earned his sergeant stripes but a trip to his company commander’s office. The reason was no mystery to anyone, least of all to Andrew who upon being told literally dropped everything and ran to the small steel building covered with sand bags that housed his unit’s administrative offices.
“Well now,” Captain Roy Taylor said after returning the salute and giving the command for Andrew to be at ease, “it seems the selection board for the Special Forces has finally scrapped the bottom of the barrel.” Taylor said after looking up at the young soldier with a sly smile of pride showing on his face.
After indulging himself in a few seconds of open admiration at the young man he and his NCO’s helped train Taylor quickly returned to being the military professional. “I have orders here for you to report back to Fort Bragg to begin the assessment and selection phase of the Q-course. I hope you’re ready Wallace because while you have seen a great deal of action here it’s nothing compared to what the instructors are going to throw at you back at Bragg.”
“I’m ready to do whatever is required for my country and the cause of freedom, sir.” Andrew replied evenly.
“That’s all well and good son, as your commanding officer I would expect nothing less but scuttlebutt has it you were involved in a major blowup back home with your girlfriend and her family right before you reported for duty. Sergeant Wallace the army can use all the good men it can get but you can’t go into Special Forces training licking old wounds believing becoming some national hero like Audie Murphy or Alvin York will make you whole again or impress some girl.”
Taylor’s comments unexpectedly touched a nerve in Andrew but he was able to keep his composure. “I fully realize that sir,” he said, “but it was my intention to make a career out of the army the minute I received my draft notice.”
“Yeah, both your platoon leader and platoon sergeant told me as much. They also told me you are the best soldier they have ever seen as well as a natural leader.” Taylor said still judging Andrew. “Well Sergeant I have only one piece of advice, while serving in the army is one of the most honorable things a man can do in his life don’t let it consume you. At some point, and it’s one of the few decisions the army lets you keep for yourself, you will have to make a life outside the service. So, try and keep some piece of your soul, there are times men have to fight but killing can become far too easy. If you have to kill make sure you have an honest and legitimate reason.”
Caught in a moment of candor Andrew could not help but ask the question that popped in his head. “Sir, how will I be able to decide if my reasons to kill another human being are justified?”
Taylor laughed, “Well sergeant that question is ultimately what separates us Americans from the bad guys like the Nazis, but if you are not careful the lines can become easily blurred, even for us.”
“Thank you sir,” I’ll do my best to remember that.”
Taylor then dismissed Andrew and after the required military protocol was satisfied, he watched the young man walk out of his small office, still unsure if the boy truly understood what he was trying to tell him.
The old man was sitting in the sand with his legs crossed while resting his head in his hands. While not asleep, the sound of the surf and the salt air lulled his mind into a deep, restful state allowing him to visit memories he had long buried.
The sound of sand being disturbed immediately brought him back. He stayed perfectly still sensing a person approaching him from behind. In hundreds of previous circumstances all over the world, others had paid with their lives attempting such maneuver. The old man at least had presence of mind to realize he was in no danger permitting him to control instincts that had saved his life many times.
“Hey mister,” a young male voice said, “you can’t sleep on the beach. Even if you’re staying in one of the rental houses, if someone sees you laying out on the sand they will call the sheriff.”
The old man looked up to see a teenage boy wearing a wetsuit and holding a surfboard. Enough time had passed since the old man sat on the beach to relive his memories that the sky had gone from black to blood red with the rising sun seemly sitting on the horizon. A brief second of irritation about being disturbed was replaced with the slightly humorous realization that he did not want another stay in the county jail with so little time left to live. “I’m sorry son,” he said while standing up and dusting the sand off his pants, “I didn’t realize that, the last time I was here people would occasionally lay a blanket out and sleep under the stars.”
“Damn sir, the boy said. “When was that?”
“May of 1969,” the old man said, “right before I left for Vietnam.”
“Did you see any combat?” The boy asked, clearly fascinated over the possibility.
“Yeah, you could say that,” the old man chuckled wearily, “not just in Vietnam but lots of other Godforsaken places all over the globe.” He said then immediately puzzled as to why he would share that information.
“What were you, Ranger, Green Beret, Force Recon, Delta Force, or navy Seal?” The boy asked overly eager.
It was absurd but the old man saw something uncomfortably familiar in the boy and wanted to test his knowledge. “I can say yes to three out of five of those and even more.” He said while raising his arm and pulling up the sleeve of his shirt on his right arm. On his exposed forearm was the tattoo of a Grim Reaper holding a flaming sword while riding a white stallion.
“Oh my God,” the boy said in awe, “you were a Deathwatcher.”
The old man took little satisfaction in the boy recognizing the semi-secret unit. Hollywood had long since blown their reputation far out of proportion, and then on the other hand, the old man told himself, there were many times in his career fact was far more strange and dangerous than fiction.
“Guilty as charged, please tell me you’ve read the official history and not that crappy adventure novel by Mantio or that damn movie with those fucktards, Norris and Stallone.”
The kid’s awkward silence was answer enough so the old man took a different tact. “What got you so interested in the mythical exploits of a CIA counterintelligence team?” The old man asked.
“I want to pursue a career in the military; in fact I want to attend West Point then go into special operations.”
The old man groaned inwardly. “What makes you think you have what it takes? I’ve seen men twice as smart as me and far more physically able run crying from the training let alone being able to function in combat.”
The boy was clearly hurt by the question. “I want to serve my country and protect the freedom we all enjoy. My high school history teacher served in the military and likes to say during his lectures freedom isn’t free and I want to do my part.”
The old man let out an uncontrolled laugh, then sat back down in the sand. “What’s your name son?”
“David Blake.” He answered wondering if he should runaway.
“Well David, sit down and let me tell you some stories about fighting for freedom. Since your teacher likes to regurgitate flippant slogans suitable only for morons I am going to assume that only combat he saw involved fighting his barracks buddies over the last slice of pizza on a lonely Friday night.”
David silently sat down beside the strange man careful to maneuver his surfboard so it was positioned between the two. The old man then began telling him stories about the slaughter of innocents in dirty little villages across the world while politicians wearing thousand dollar suits who never served in the military spoke of grand battles against some evil horde out to corrupt all that is good and holy. He then told David about wars involving ancient feuds still being fought because it was based on some religious or ethnic wrong committed so long ago that it was more myth than actual history. The old man told David how no matter where he went from Southeast Asia, to Central America, to the Middle East nearly all wars were a fraud helpful only to those who sold the bullets.
“What about those wars that are not a sham, what about those where freedom or simply survival is on the line?” David asked the old man.
“Son,” I was once just like you.” The old man said. "And, like I am doing now someone once tried to tell me there was something more to life than fighting like some animal. I ignored him and became the very thing he tried to warn me not to become. What I will tell you is that sometimes you have to fight, but a huge part of the problems we face today is because there are far too many people like me in the world. We need far more doctors, engineers, and scientists that can solve problems instead of making things even worse. Even better, you need to find a purpose for your life that allows you to have one.”
Feeling exhausted and mystified why he would go to such trouble for a total stranger the old man stared out at the ocean for several minutes. David did not move and looked down at the sand going over what was said. “My grandmother is totally against me going into the military,” David said suddenly.
“Smart lady,” the old man said, “is she a local? I might have known her back in my younger days.”
“Yeah she’s a local. Her name is Emily Richardson, although her maiden name was Howard.”
Emily Richardson was awaken by the sounds of her grandson rambling through the old beach house getting ready to go surfing. While lying in her old bed she looked at the pictures of her family sitting on the bedside table. The one in the rear was of her first husband, Gregg Morris. While their marriage had been a quick and desperate act to conceal their socially unacceptable failings the two had protected each other’s secrets to the day he died of AIDS in the fall of 1985. Gregg had even given Emily a child after she miscarried six months into her pregnancy with Andrew's baby. Beside him was the picture of her second husband, Bob Richardson, a doctor who died in a car crash on a rainy night in 2005. Bob had tried his best but she never could love him the way he wanted. She missed them both but neither could replace her first and true love.
The thought of that lost love caused her to look at the picture of her daughter, Liza. Although Emily had failed at love, at least her daughter was happily married and had given her a remarkable grandson. Emily wanted so much more for her grandson David but he was so much like his long lost grandfather. Stubborn and quick to act without really thinking she worried David would run into similar trouble.
Unable to sleep Emily got out of bed and went downstairs to make some breakfast. Several minutes later, she was on the screened in porch sipping her coffee watching David walking back towards the house.
“What happened big boy, you look like you lost your best friend, “she said. I thought you were eager to surf this morning?”
“Granny,” David said, “it was the weirdest thing but I met an old man on the beach. We talked and he convinced stay out of the military and do something more productive with my life. But the strange thing is that when I told him your name he got really sad and left but he asked me to give you something.” David then dropped the old silver switchblade into his grandmother’s outreached hand.
Speechless for several seconds Emily eventually asked where the old man went. David told her that he had seen him drive off about the same time he came inside the house. “He said one last thing Granny, he wanted me to tell you he was sorry and hoped you might forgive him one day.”
Emily quickly got up and ran to the backdoor of the house that faced the island’s only road. She made it outside to stand on the porch only to see Andrew’s car disappearing off into the distance. “I did long ago Andrew,” she said hoping he might one day find some peace.