Excerpt from RED BERET

Meet Happy. He is a most unusual one. Just when he thinks he has a grasp on things his whole world slips into another. He’s accustomed to it but that doesn’t make it any less strange.

Here’s an excerpt from the novel, Red Beret. (c) 2013 by Tim Young

 

I gotta tell you about my name.  I don’t even like to mention it but I’m feeling unless you know it you won’t be able to really know who I am.  And I want to tell you about myself so you will see that I’m not a totally crazy person.  In my opinion I am not a totally crazy person it’s just that I need to go off a lot.   I mean my head is a jumping off point but I’m sure that this will become a lot more clear as I go on with this tale.

My mother and father were folk musicians which always meant to me that they played acoustic guitars and weren’t that hot on the louder music that was the rock n roll.  They were big Bob Dylan fans before he went electric and were of that lot that thought he had betrayed the folk movement.  I wasn’t even born yet  and now I see it was just something he had to do.  Anyway there was this guy that sang and played with Bob Dylan in those early sixties and did the Newport Folk festivals and my folks just adored this guy.  His name is Happy Traum.  He never went electric as far as I know and so when I was born in nineteen sixty five my mother named me Happy after Happy.  Wow.  School was brutal.  There was no end to the’Happy’ jokes and I spent my time at school basically trying to hide under the nearest rock.  I begged and pleaded with the kids I knew to call me Happ or just ‘hey you’ anything but my name but of course that just made it worse.  In high school the kidding settled down a degree or two but never to the level I always wished for.  And it’s only for the fact that some jokes get tired that I was able to obtain any sort of peace at all.  I did manage to convince most of my teachers to use Happ but even they didn’t always remember or wanted to make some example of me by using my full name.  It sure didn’t make me want to attend college and go through all of those nightmares again but I was in the college prep section of my school.  My last name is Williams.  Simple,  direct, no problem.  My Mom and Dad have nice ‘normal’ names, Roger and Elizabeth and they were college educated but in the class of ‘what to name your kid’ I’m afraid they must have skipped every one.

So now I’m forty-two years old and have not attended college.  I’m still thinking about it though.  I think  about it often.  I look at college applications on line and I even fill them out but I never actually hit submit.  I live by myself about a ten minute drive from where I grew up here in Danport,Pennsylvania.
Roger and Elizabeth still live here too.  They don’t live in the house I grew up in because that was demolished to make way for the new Mall in town.  My father was never thrilled with that event but had no choice but to sell to the developer at a price that was ‘no damn good.’  So they moved to an apartment complex mostly because they were just sick that they had lost their home and because the thought of paying anymore in property tax to a town that would let this happen to ‘lifers of Danport’ as my father would say was just nuts.  I  live in an apartment too.  i guess I could say that it’s kind of a tribute to my folks but it’s also because there was no way I was ever going to spend money on a lawn mower or any of those things that one had to have to run a house.  No.  I just needed a room.  I never liked the idea of owning too many things; except maybe books and records.  Ideas really seemed to have more value to me than the latest trendiest whatever it was.

It was a damn good thing too.  My job, which I’ve had  for the past ten years now is not the cash cow that I would like to have.  I’m a night watchman.  I know today these jobs are generally referred to as ‘security guards’ but not by me.  Security guards?  That sounds way to much like something connected with the military or police force and those are two organizations that I choose to have absolutely nothing to do with. The idea of all fitting into the same uniform does not appeal to me.  That reminds me of one of the songs my folks loved and which I came to love to about people all fitting into the same box filled with ‘ticky tacky and all dressed just the same.’  Some of those folk songs did really hit the nail on the head.
but I was a night watchman because I could basically work by myself .  I didn’t need to interact with other people to earn my paycheck.  I simply had to make my rounds a few times during a night and stay awake.  Those were my two challenges every shift.  I had a desk with a phone and a fax machine.  I had one video monitor which revealed whoever was standing at the front door.  There was no one else in the building at night except for me.  The building was a storage facility and even though people had twenty four seven access to there stuff, after midnight they had to go through me, and so when someone did show up to drop off or pick up something it was a special occasion.  I didn’t really mind letting them in because it was my job after all but I never could appreciate that they might show up when I was well let’s say preoccupied.   

Man, time goes by like a whoosh.  I know it was  August when I saw that gawdy washing woman at the laundromat and right around then was the beginning of my sightings of the red beret girl.  Now November has just begun.  I’ve already done some Christmas shopping on line.  I bought my boss, Mr.
Miller, a new calendar for next year.  I wanted to get him a nudie one but sometimes I hear him mention something about Jesus; I don’t really pay attention after I hear that name mentioned but I do hear that name sometimes so I just got him one with exotic birds.  I don’t think he’d ever think that his version of exotic birds is not the exact image that comes to my mind.  So I was at work last night, as usual, and just about to crack open the snap top on an ice cold can of coca cola when I slipped.

The alley was dark except for one dim streetlight which stood erect at the dead end of the alley.  there were huge black and dark green bulging garbage bags stacked about tren feet high on either side  of the ancient red brick alley.  The street itself may have been paved a long time ago but now the surface was just bricks; all uneven and covered with a thin layer of something not so nice,  Kind of slimy.   i stood there smoking a cigarette i had just rolled from a package of Bull Durham.  The smoke hit my lungs and I felt so invigorated, strong and brave.  I flicked the ash carelessly and after a couple more deep drags i kicked the butt with my middle finger to a dark corner of the alley.  Then I moved closer to the stack of bags on my left and leaned against them, first cautiously to make sure they weren’t going to fall over, and then when I knew it was alright I leaned into it with my full weight.  My cell phone vibrated in my pocket.  I pulled it out and checked the caller ID, yeah it was Carlos, the man I was waiting for.  I guess my relationship with Carlos is like any of a junkie and his connection.  I needed the guy but I never thought of him as my friend.  Oh yeah, I’d call him friend to his face but we both knew it was a lie.  It was a lie because we had a decent connection together and so far there was no fuck ups.  No violence, no not even any misdemeanors, between us that is.  I really didn’t think of myself as a junkie.  Man I enjoyed every minute I was high.  I read that in England you could register with the feds if you were a junkie and they made sure your stuff was clean.  I could dig that.  My friend Amy who I had an affair with once for a few weeks, was a nurse and she kept me in clean works.  I never used the same needle twice.  Bad luck, I thought.  It was just a damn shame that Amy couldn’t hook me up with the smack too because then I wouldn’t be leaning against a garbage bag in a dark, slimy alley waiting for you know who.

Carlos had said five minutes.  I checked my phone and the five were history.  I began to roll another cigarette when i saw a shadow begin to fill some space at the opening of the alley.  I pulled open the tobacco pouch and took a whiff of the sweet aroma then i closed it back up.  I could see from the shape of the guys head that it was indeed Mr. Carlos.  I let him take about ten steps into the alley before I made a move to let him know i was waiting.  He knew it was me because this was a kind of routine that we had established over the past few weeks.  He wore a pork pie hat and stood about five feet seven inches.  His hair crawled down his back like a snake.  he wore it in braids and the bottom of it almost touched his ass.  His arms were short and powerful and covered with pin up girls tatoos.  He wore a red shirt with the sleeves rolled way high and everything else on the man was black.  I offered him the tobacco like i usually do and he kind of showed his teeth for a split second then ignored my gesture and reached into his hip pocket and pulled out what looked to be a portable CD player.  Once I saw that i reached into my jeans and put my fingers around the three twenty dollar bills that I had rolled in to one.  Then Carlos flipped open the lid to the CD player and withdrew my bag.  “What’s up?” I said as we made the exchange.  He looked at me, then turned around to leave.  He touched his hat as he walked back out of the alley.  I turned away just in time to see two large rats scurry behind the stack of garbage bags at the far end of the alley.  “Piece of shit,” I said to the rats as I turned and moved out of the alley.

My hand was wet and sticky.  I jerked it away from the puddle of goo that it had been resting in and hit myself in the head.  I had knocked over the can of  coke and the liquid had flowed down the desk and on to my pants leg and it was now dripping from my pants leg down into my sock and into my shoe.  I jumped up from my desk a bit too quickly and hit my knee under the desk as I stood up.  “Ouch, damnit ouch,” I wailed.  then I remembered a roll of paper towels that I had stashed in the bottom desk drawer because of a similar incident a few weeks ago.  I grabbed for the drawer and stubbed my thumb on the outside of the thing in my haste to open it.  Another ouch.  It seemed to take forever to clean up.   The paper towels just pushed the liquid around and around and after a while I could feel some wetness in my right sock.  I wondered if I had an extra pair of socks in my locker.  Maybe.  Locker always made me think of high school. why did I still have a locker now as a grown man?  Oh yeah, it must have something to do with the fact that I work for a storage facility.  Shit.  No sooner had I finished up with my mess did the red light on my desk go off indicating that I had a customer at the door.  I checked the monitor and saw that it was Emily,  Emily Conrad.  that was a relief.  Emily was one of the few customers that appeared on the over night and one of the even fewer customers that didn’t drive me absolutely nuts.  I knew that she was a night owl and keen to clean up her house at the oddest times of day.  As I buzzed her in I saw that she had a hand truck with her and several boxes stacked on there. She wheeled right on over to my desk.  “Hi Happ!”  She knew the drill.  Emily was my age, we had graduated high school together.  she had gone on to a Pennsylvania teacher’s college and has been teaching the third grade for as long as I could remember.  Her hair was a dusty brown, short and parted on the left side.  I especially enjoyed her eyes because they were somewhere between a blue and green and the sparkle inside them seemed to almost jump around.  She wasn’t real pretty but she looked cool somehow.  I think it was mostly because of that pinched smallish nose and the way her cheekbones protruded just the right amount.

“I was drifting off on my couch when I heard this ruckus in the hall closet.  Here Pepper, you remember my dog Pepper?  Well She was making a racket in the hall closet.  I guess I left the door open or something, anyway I got up and said, ‘Pepper, what the hell are you doing?!’  Then she barked and I saw that in the mess of things on the closet floor she had found an old box of chocolates I must have stashed there years ago.  she had opened it and  had eaten a few of them and was just then tearing at the rest of the box with her teeth.  Well, right then I decided that was my cue to get the junk out of that candy bin and get it out of the house.  So here I am.”  “Nice to see you Em.  Sounds like Pepper has a sweet tooth or two going there.  What’s in the boxes? ”  There were three tall boxes stacked neatly on the hand truck and they looked to be weighted down with a ton of stuff.  “Well,” she said, once I got in that closet I found that on the rack I had acquired  quite a collection of rain coats!  That’s pretty much all that was hanging on that rack, rain coats.  Slickers, some with hoods, some solids and  some prints.  You know real girly type rain gear but that’s not what’s in these boxes.  Behind the rain coats were stacked not even in boxes, old text books and stuff the kids had given me over the years.  I can’t imagine why I hadn’t put that stuff in boxes when I put it in there.  I haven’t even thought about those things forever.  And the chocolates, Happ, that’s the real mystery.  I keep my sweets in the fridge where I know I can find them at a moments notice but that box, well I guess I didn’t like the way it looked or something.  Ordinarily if I didn’t like a box of candy I suppose I would have just thrown it out but this one…well,” she laughed, ” at least Pepper got a little use of it before I took it from her and properly dumped it.”  I said, “you’re making me hungry with all this talk of chocolate.  You didn’t happen to bring any along with you did you Em?”  
“No, no I didn’t, but let me see,” she foraged around in her pockets for a second, “hey, I’ve got this pack of peanut butter crackers.”  she pulled out a package  of those peanut butter crackers those ones with the bright orange cracker, six to a package.  “Thanks, ” I said, “those are just perfect.”  “I’m glad,” she shot back, “because you still have a hunk of the night before you.”  “I know.”  With that Emily showed me that she had her key and moved down the long hall behind me making a right turn down the second aisle to her storage cage.

I heard Emily open her cage.  Just then a fearsome looking  jet black Hummer came crashing through the front window and three even more fearsome men, also dressed in black, hopped out of the vehicle, armed with what looked to me like portable cannons.  One of the guys ammo belts just immediately fell off the guy as he hit the floor.  The huge bullets scattered on the floor like rats running for cover.  I simply reached behind me in to my high powered rifle closet and grabbed a twelve guage pump shotgun.  The three men being distracted for a second because of the runaway bullets didn’t see me hit the floor on my belly and crawl into the drain pipe that had only been delivered an hour ago.  “Fuck this,” I heard one of them say, as they now made a sweep of the candle lit room.  The guy nearer to me, huge, like a football player, whipped out a flare.  The flame was so bright then there were crazy shadows all over the walls from the tall shelves loaded with machine parts for military vehicles.  Gigantic gears, rotors and chains now all appeared to take on a personality of their own and the room took on a malevolence  that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  I held my breathing steady.  They knew I was in the room, I knew they could sense that but they didn’t know the room and I did.  They reached my rifle closet and saw that the door had been left open.  Damn, the devil is in the details.  So now they widened their arc to spread across the entire room which was about a hundred feet wide and many hundred feet deep.  What was this?  These guys, terrorists, for lack of a better word, looking for machine parts?  I couldn’t believe that.  Then it dawned on me.  If they had done their homework they would know about the safe in the floor just behind my rifle closet.  And was the reason I had the rifle closet to begin with.  The owner of this building had multi-million dollar contracts with the military.  When ever he landed another amazingly lucrative contract he would purchase a lot of precious stones and stash them in his personal safe.  I couldn’t imagine why upon the vehicle smashing the front glass that the alarm didn’t go off and the police be here by now but there was not even a hint of a siren in the now still night air which was now pouring in the gaping hole in the front where the window used to be.  I could feel the barrel of my weapon growing cold now from the breeze.  The three of them were all  spread out now and moving down the room.  The flare had faded and another one did not appear.  All three had ignored checking inside the drain pipe which was obviously large enough to hide a man.  Suddenly I saw that they were now all at once turning back and sweeping my way.  I had to scratch my nose.  I must have moved too fast.  The big guy motions to the others that he’s going to  head over to the drain pipe.  The other two take the flank.  I realize way too late that I had never pumped a shell into the chamber.  He’s now close enough that i can see his finger on the trigger of his weapon.  I begin to lose my breath, like someone has their hands around my throat and I can’t breath but I figure i can’t let this moron get me without even having pumped a shell into my gun.  I crawl out of the pipe on the far end away from him and just before I stand to fire I ram the shell into the twelve gauge.  Without thinking I point the thing right at his head and I hear the blast.

Emily had closed her cage door with an unexpected bang.  I had peanut butter cracker stuck in my teeth and discovered there was still one sip of tepid coke in the can to wash it down.  Emily walked over to me.  “See, that didn’t take too long, did it?  Sorry about the cage door, it just slipped out of my hand and closed with a boom.”  she laughed.  “I didn’t even realize, I mean about the time.”  I felt like I owed her some explanation but for what?  “So, did you get everything put away nice and neat?”  “Sure, she said, and I didn’t leave any old chocolates in there either.  Have a good night Happ, don’t let the little green men get you.”  She laughed to herself as she let herself out.  The bit of fresh air that sneaked through the door  smelled faintly of fresh gunpowder.  I looked at my shaky hands and laughed.

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