(Click here to see our previous episode; go here to return to the beginning of our epic.)
A young soldier named Harvey returns from Vietnam to his New Mexico hometown in the desert, to say goodbye to his mother and a friend or two, thence to go on to discover his own path through the cosmos.
Two days later, and five people have already died violent and meaningless deaths.
But on the other hand Harvey has been hired by the blowhard rancher Big Jake Johnstone to act as guide to the mysterious and beautiful Dick and Daphne Ridpath at the then-outrageous salary of $100 a day. So Harvey’s got that going for him, if he lives long enough to spend the money.
Meanwhile at the nearby air force base...
Lt. Perkins had reported as instructed directly to Col. Masterson in his office.
“It disappeared,” repeated Col. Masterson.
“Yes, sir. Or -- rather it -- it appeared to disappear.”
“It appeared to disappear.”
Perkins had the unfortunate habit of stuttering and stammering and repeating random words when speaking to authority figures. He was painfully aware of this habit, and well aware that it made him seem to be lying even on those occasions when he was not. But this awareness only made him stutter and stammer all the more.
“And you’re sure it was an army truck.”
“W-well, it -- it might’ve been, uh, air force or m-marines. Or national guard? Or --”
“Except it had this this this --”
“Weird camouflage pattern. Pattern. Pattern.”
“I heard you. Camouflage. Pattern.”
“Yeah. I mean yes. Sir. I -- I mean it l-l-looked to me like one of those, um, standard old, you know, um, S-studebaker, Studebaker, Studebaker army trucks. Sir.”
“So it might’ve been army surplus.”
“Th-that’s possible, sir. B-but there’s still a lot of those trucks being used, sir. W-we’ve got the same kind on this b-base. Base. Sir.”
The colonel was quiet for a few moments, tapping his right index finger on his desk blotter.
“All right. You haven’t told anybody else about this?”
“N-no, sir. According to your instructions, sir. Anything unusual, unusual --”
“Yeah, right. Well, keep buttoned up about this till I check it out. Good job.”
“Th-thank you, sir.”
“Th-thank you, sir. G-good day, sir.”
As soon as that geek Perkins was out the door Masterson picked up the phone, ready to call that bastard General Halliday. Goddam army bastards and their goddam secret truck missions, he’d give them a piece of his mind about secret activities in his sector.
Then he put the receiver down.
Why should he show his hand?
Did he really think Halliday would admit anything?
Not fucking likely.
No, better to sit tight.
There were ways to deal with these army bastards.
And besides, he’d better check first to see that none of his own little base’s trucks were missing.
Lt. Perkins walked across the shimmering asphalt toward the officers’ quarters, thinking about a shower and a cold beer.
This was a creepy place but it had to be a damn sight better than Vietnam, which country amazingly he had been able to avoid so far in his military career. He had volunteered for flight school, and completed it, in a state of lunacy having to do with proving himself a man and not a stuttering awkward geek, but he was long over that madness now and had no wish to be a hero. Two more years of this nonsense and with any luck still no Vietnam, and then he could get back to real life. Graduate school, get his MBA, start earning some bread. Just as long as he didn’t get sent to Nam, that was the main thing.
After a year in Korea he had been posted to this small unheard-of base a month ago. The duty was easy and the areas he patrolled were just beautiful, and it was true there wasn’t much to do around here except drive into Disdain and drink beer, but still, at least it wasn’t Vietnam. No one was trying to kill you here.
But, why was everyone so strange around here? So grim and so worried-looking. And why did guys who’d been here for a while apparently keep volunteering for Nam? Were they nuts or did they know something he didn’t know? And was there anything to this rumor he’d heard that this base had the highest accident rate of any base in the air force?
Shower and a beer, that was the thing.
Oh. Yes. And that new issue of Playboy, still virginally unopened on his night table. That was something to look forward to. His quiet moments alone with a Playmate of the Month were really the best moments of his life. His relationship with Miss August (“flower child-woman debbie hooper”) had been serenely profound, and she had been gloriously enthusiastic in the threesomes they had enjoyed with Miss September, whatever her name was. But now the October issue had arrived, and a new lovely young woman awaited him within it. He would not stutter and stammer and be an awkward geek with her. Oh no. No fucking way.
(To be continued.)