I watched a white Humvee pull up to the curb, and an elderly, well-dressed gentleman was helped out of the rear seat by a very large Latino. The smaller of the two was Gibbs.
I wouldn’t say that I would have recognized him anywhere. Living inevitably changes us in ways in which we are reluctant to even recognize ourselves. One day we look in the mirror and find a stranger looking back at us.
The big Latino-looking man walked alongside of Gibbs; it took me a few moments to realize that my old friend also used a cane.
I stood to greet him, but he signaled me to sit. We shook hands across the table. “Meet Mr. José Augustino,” Gibbs said.
I shook hands with him. His hand was twice the size of mine. But both our grips were equally firm. A few moments later, he left us alone. We occupied a table for four, but Gibbs put his cane across the chair next to him, just as I had my cane on the chair next to me.
“Augie will be back with coffee and Danish,” Gibbs said.
We exchanged the usual comments that people do after not having seen each other for a long time. He asked after my children, and my wife.
“All were well,” I told him; and I asked after his children and his wife.
He waved the question away. “No children; shoot blanks that way. As for the wife, she’s my third. Blonde all the way, young, and dumb as shit. But she gives good head when sweet Peter rises to the occasion.”
We also spoke about some of the other guys in our platoon. Two more had died a few years back. Gibbs knew all about it because he attended all of our former unit’s reunions. I stopped. After the last one I attended, I realized we were just a bunch of old guys, who once had something in common: survival. But now, each of us had gone his separate way and had nothing in common. The passing of the years and the changes to our individual personalities made a mockery of what we once were.
By this time, Augustino returned with a tray holding three coffees and an equal number of cheese Danish.
Without me having to ask him, Gibbs told me he was doing very well. Of course, I could see that. But he gave me a rundown of what he owned and what he had a piece of: two body shops; three pizza “joints,” as he referred to them; and a piece of several other enterprises that he didn’t define.
“All right,” he said with satisfaction, before cutting a piece of cheese Danish and eating it. “Now down to business. It’s goin’ to cost a couple of thou.”
“No problem,” I said. “I have more than that on me.” I didn’t leave my share of the winnings in the apartment for fear that Rita might find them, and of the questions that would inevitably follow.
I let my Danish sit, but I drank the coffee.
Oddly, Gibbs spoke about his personal life. He told me he was divorced three times, and had a child with each wife; the oldest, Thomas was over fifty, and had a family of his own; as did John, the middle son; and the youngest, Lewis was thirty-five years old. “I see them on most weekends,” Gibbs said.
Though this contradicted what he said about shooting blanks, I let it ride. He knew I had two sons, and asked me how they were doing. “Well,” I said.
“Following their father’s footsteps, as I remember.”
“Something like that,” I answered.
“And the wife? How’s she? She was a real looker when she was younger.”
“Still beautiful to me,” I said.
“Beautiful. A marriage that lasts as long as yours is beautiful. Today, it’s slam bang in and out,” he said, slapping the palms of his hands together, to emphasize what he’d just said. “Too bad, each of my marriages went sour; but I loved each one of my former wives when I married them.
I didn’t pick up on that; but I was very much aware that Gibbs and I spoke as if Augie wasn’t there; that he hadn’t heard every word we said. I glanced at him; his face was blank, his eyes were fastened on a dark complexioned woman, whose cleavage was very low.
Gibbs’s cell phone rang. “This is the call I’ve been waiting for,” he told me, before answering the call.
Suddenly, I realize he was speaking Chinese; it was something I hadn’t expected. But Gibbs was always full of surprises, such as the way he was dressed. He was older than me by at least five years. But he was dressed in the mode¾ white shirt cuffs rolled back over the sleeves of his jacket, his shirt open at the neck, showing three gold chains; one with a Star of David, another with a cross, and a third with an Italian horn. I didn’t remember whether or not he was superstitious; but if he was, he was certainly covering all of the bases.
His conversation, and my observations took no more than a minute or so; when he clicked his phone off--a Blackberry, I noticed--he said, “Mr. Fong is ready to see us.”
Gibbs and I sat in the rear of the Humvee. The driver was warmly introduced, as Mr. Falco Augustino. When he turned around, I almost did a double take, but controlled my urge to do it.
“Twins,” Gibbs said, and then took off on a monologue about all the gadgets in the vehicle; well, I made the appropriate sounds of appreciation.
A couple of times, I caught the driver looking at me in the rearview mirror, from what I could see of him his face, from the bottom of his nose to the top of his head, looked exactly like the face of the first Augustino I’d met earlier, and who sat next to him.
Chinatown was a short distance away from where we started. I knew it well; all of my doctors were Chinese, and their offices were in Chinatown.
We stopped on Canal between Pell and Doyer Streets. Augie opened the door for us, while Falco remained in the driver’s seat.
The three of us walked into the Manhattan Office Supplies and Stationary Store. Mr. Fong was there to greet us, and he spoke perfect English.
“We’ll go into my office,” he said, walking in front of us.There were boxes everywhere, and the merchandise on the shelves looked as if it hadn’t been touched in a long, long, time. The distance between the front of the store, and Mr. Fong’s office was physically short. But the human brain creates its own sense of distance and time. To me, it felt as if the distance and the time it took to walk it was longer than it should have been; because, suddenly, three very different thoughts floated through into my consciousness. The store was obviously a front, and not for just creating false IDs; I was walking into something far more dangerous than just buying a false ID; ...and a memory.
I was probably ten years old. The war in Europe had already begun. My father, a short stocky man, with a cherubic face, sold diamonds, and not too many people were buying them. One Sunday, my father brought me with him to Chinatown. I thought it was for lunch; my father was extremely fond of Chinese roast pork and egg foo yong. But we were on one of the narrow streets that ran off the Bowery when he suddenly stopped in front of the store, and cautioned me to be quiet.
We entered the dingy looking store; the shelves behind the counter were filled with everything from hardware to flower vases, and all of it was covered with dust. The Chinese man who greeted us, Mr. Han, wore a long red and gold robe, a matching, small, round black hat with a queue dangling behind it. He greeted my father warmly, and called him Slammy. His given name was Samuel.
Following Mr. Han, my father and I walked through a curtain that he parted for us, and entered a magnificent parlor. Even as a child, I was awed.
My father and Mr. Han sat at a small table, while I sat some distance from them. A servant brought them tea. The same man gave me a candy; my father told me to eat it. I didn’t like its taste; but my father told me to eat it, and that was what I did.
I watched my father conduct his business. Diamonds were set out on the table. Mr. Han examined each one of them several times with his own loupe, before he said, “Good quality; I take all of them, Slammy.”
My father held up four fingers.
“Deal!” Mr. Han said, and shook my father’s hand...
Mr. Fong’s office was decorated with a combination of Swedish modern and French provincial, an odd mating at best; especially so since the only piece of French provincial furniture in the room was his desk, which was very much like the one in my den.
“All of your documents are ready,” he said, as Gibbs and I sat in front of his desk, and he behind it. “All that is needed is an address. The photos are very clear.”
“Photos?” I questioned, looking at Gibbs.
“Augie took them, and e-mailed them via the cell phone,” he explained.
“Unless you have another address in mind, I suggest you use the store’s as your own,” Mr. Fong said.
I hadn’t thought about needing an address; but after a couple of moments of reflection, I shrugged and said, “All right.”
A short time later, my new address was added; and I was presented with my new IDs, and a fake passport, at no extra charge, because I was, as Mr. Fong said, "a very special friend of Mr. Gibbs."
When I handed him his fee in thousand dollar bills, Mr. Fong said, "If you intend to deposit money in a bank, may I suggest that you use a small bank. There are several here in Chinatown that would welcome you as a customer. You may use my name as a reference."
I thanked him, and the three of us left the store. As soon as we were back in the Humvee, Gibbs said, "Lunch time." And turning to me, he asked, "What’s your pleasure?"
I knew I couldn't get out of it; besides, I felt I owed it to him: and this would probably be the last time I’d see him.
"Lunch for me is never a big deal, unless it is a special occasion," I said.
"Well then, let’s consider this a special occasion," Gibbs said with a smile.
We lunched at the Water Club. Gibbs called ahead, and arranged for a table next to a window overlooking the East River, and he also ordered a bottle of Château Margaux for the occasion. Lunch was a time for memories to pour out. In any social situation, two glasses of wine was my limit; usually one, if I have it at lunch, but such situations seldom come up.
I finally confirmed that the Augustino brothers were identical twins. Both had served in the Marines after Vietnam. This information came grudgingly, and mostly from Gibbs. The only real interesting thing about them was that they weren’t Latinos in the way that word is usually used; they were full-blooded Mescalero, Apache Indians with probably, I guessed, a trace of Spanish blood; the consequence of rape, I supposed, given the time and place where the Spanish adventurers collided with the indigenous population.
By the time we were into our main course¾a chef salad for me, grilled tuna for Gibbs, and sliced steak for the twins¾Gibbs was still walking down Memory Lane; but it was a lane I did not want to visit, although I visited it often on my own, more now that I am older.
Suddenly, Gibbs began to wave his right forefinger at me. "You are still the coolest son of a bitch, I’ve ever known. You were then, in Korea, and you’re still now. The years haven’t changed that. You’re into something, aren’t you?" His finger stopped waving.
"You had too much to drink," I said.
"In vino es veritas," he answered.
I just sat there and looked at him.
"Okay, cool, man, keep it to yourself; but sooner or later, you’re gonna call ol’ Gibbs because he’ll know what to do."
I should have excused myself and left; but after two glasses of wine, I did not feel steady enough to do. So, I poured a bit more wine into my glass and drank it, before I said, "Not on your life."
"It is not my life, I am worried about; it is yours."
There was not much conversation at the table after that, or in the Humvee later. I was dropped off in front of the building where I lived.
The next day I went back to Chinatown, and opened two different checking accounts: one at The First Bank of China, and the second at the bank of Cathay. In the course of conversations with the bank officers, I casually mentioned I was a friend of Mr. Fong; and immediately, what was an ordinary business transaction, morphed into something much more. Telephone calls were made, and in minutes. I was introduced to a senior VP, and the head teller. Each bank gave me a million-dollar line of credit at a ridiculously low interest rate.
I rode the M9 to Bowling Green, and opened two more accounts, where the procedure lacked the excitement of my Chinatown experiences. But I was totally aware of having tasted "forbidden fruit." And that exhilarated me.
It was near noon, when I finished my banking business. It was time to go to Starbucks, across from the eastside of the Museum of the American Indian, where I'm known not by name, but by sight. I ordered my usual: a Venti-cappuccino and a slice of banana nut loaf cake. It's another one of my routines, or habits, that I have acquired in recent years. Besides, the people who use Starbucks as their unofficial office, tapping away at their laptops or speaking on their cell phones, or a combination of both, always fascinate me. And of course, there were tourists pouring over their maps and looking pitifully bewildered.
After a while, I left Starbucks more or less satisfied, and sat in the park beginning to feel less satisfied, because I could feel the slow encroachment of depression. It began as a queasiness in my stomach; a grayness that rose into my brain. After the excitement of the morning, I experienced a letdown, a drop that put me in a "mood." And another stupendous headache was beginning, taking shape like a huge thunderhead somewhere in the middle of my skull.
I had never done anything illegal in my life; I have lived in hermetically sealed academia almost all of my adult life. But I crossed the line; and though it excited me, it also troubled me. I felt as if my criminality was clearly visible to anyone who happened to look at me. At the same time, I knew that neither Gibbs nor Mr. Fong would have harbored any such feelings. To assuage my guilt¾for that was what it was¾I told myself that I would soon tire of the "game;" and then I would part company with William, Gibbs, and Mr. Fong. Each of us would go our own way.
The weather turned rainy, the way it often does in late spring; and I came down with bronchitis. It really knocked me out. I had never had it before; and I was confined to the apartment, and that gave me an unusual amount of time to think about the money I won, and about William’s ability to predict the outcome of situations that can be expressed as statistical equations, though he wouldn’t know one if he was looking at it; for that matter neither would I. Math in any form was something I shied away from.
Late one evening, I stood at the window in my living room that faced south, and watched the boats in the harbor. All of them had their running lights on, and some of the sightseeing boats were festooned with multicolored lights. It was a relief to be occupied with something other than thinking about William.
Rita, who was aware of my mood, said nothing about it. She was used to my climbing into myself, so to speak. She knew I would eventually find my way out, and discuss the adventure with her, no matter what it was about. But I remained completely reticent, knowing that if I had told her about my dealings with William, Gibbs, and Mr. Fong, she would immediately tell me to stop, that I was using another human being for my purpose, and that was seriously wrong. And she would have been right; that was why I never mentioned it to her. Instead, I resolved to further test William’s ability
When I finally saw William, he looked worse than when I first saw him. He followed me to an empty bench, and we sat. There were several bruises on his face, and black and blue marks on his arms. He had obviously been in a fight--maybe more than one--and had come out of them a loser.
He didn't tell me what had happened to him, and I didn't ask. I knew that it was the way our relationship would have to be if we continued to have one.
"Now what?" He asked.
“You go cold turkey.” From the expression on his face, I could see that he didn't like what I said. "That or nothing," I told him, amazed at the hardness in my voice; it was something that hadn't been there since I left the Corps. That wasn't true; I used it once or twice on my students, and "scared the shit” out of them. Whatever they had done or had not done to cause me to use that flat, tight tone of voice, they never again did. "I'm going to get you a male nurse," I said.
"When?" He asked.
"Now. This afternoon."
It took me a few hours to set him up in a hotel room on the edge of The South St., Seaport; and the male nurse I hired, Mr. John Scott, was a bruiser from Haiti. I told him what the situation was, and that I would spell him a few hours a day for the next ten days.
"Tie him down, if you must," I told Mr. Scott. "In ten days, I want him sober."
William heard what I said to Mr. Scott; and again, his facial expression showed what he thought about it.
"You're a damned hard man," he said.
I didn't answer; I knew I was when the situation demanded that I be.
William suffered; he screamed, and had several episodes of the DTs; I had seen men go through the same thing before. I thought then that I’d never have to witness it again. But there I was watching William writhe and scream that maggots were crawling all over him.
Mr. Scott was gentle but firm, with his charge, and very patient. After ten days, William was "clean." I paid Mr. Scott, gave him a generous tip, and told him that I might need his services again.
He handed me his cell phone number; and we shook hands.
William said he was, "hog hungry;" and for the next few days he ate like one. I spent time shepherding him around, and that included buying clothes. To my surprise, he had expensive tastes. But not necessarily, good taste. He went for flashy shirts and ties; and boots, instead of shoes, and a Stetson hat.
All this time, Rita knew nothing about William. I was leading a double life, and thoroughly enjoying it. Yes, there were times of self-doubt, of introspection. Most of them came at night, when I couldn't sleep because of the severe headaches that had recently manifested themselves. I sat in the high backed living room chair, looking out at the Upper New York Bay, where the water was only visible when the lights of passing boats illuminated it.
Most of my thoughts were about my relationship to my father. The image I had of him came from a photograph I took more than fifty years ago. It’s framed, and hangs on one of the walls in the room I call my den. It was a candid shot. He was at the piano, looking at a music score. I hadn’t known then, and I still don’t know, whether or not he was able to sight-read music.
He was old; his hair was gray. He was concentrating on what he was doing. The expression on his face was wistful and filled with an immense sadness. That moment I saw something in him, I had never seen before--a surrender, a sensitivity that I hadn’t known he possessed. He was playing the piano, albeit tentatively. The moment the camera flash went off, he stopped.
To me, my father was always old, remote, and dourer. He lived in a world of “dasants."
My father and I parted company about the time I was a teenager. What I didn't know, couldn't even sense, was that he had another family and another son, Samuel Valdez, three years younger than me. I had always fantasized about that--his having another son, having happiness he never had with my mother or me. And when I discovered that he had another family--well, I wasn’t at all delighted, the way I thought I would be.
We met in Korea, in a place called Koto-ri.
I knew if I sat there much longer, "the water works," as my father called it whenever I cried, would begin. Just before I left the chair, I realized it was raining; and wherever the light from the street lamp touched the street there was a circle of gold or silver.
William and I visited OTBs in all of the city’s boroughs and always won. In two months time, each of us had won a half million dollars; and my various bank accounts grew considerably. I never asked William, what he did with his winnings, or where he was when he wasn't with me. We always met in Starbucks, diagonally across from the park, where we had a Venti-cappuccino, and a slice of banana nut loaf cake, before we made our OTB visits.
But like anything else, when you know what the outcome will be, the thrill of winning was beginning to become a ho-hum affair. I considered ending my relationship with William. I didn't need the money I had won; and I would have to find ways of spending it.
I thought about the morality of what I was doing; and frankly, I didn't give a damn. Even the fact that I was using William didn't bother me either. He was certainly better off than when I first met him. So the way I looked at it, I had helped someone; and even though what I was doing, at least with the four IDs I had acquired, was illegal, from my perspective it balanced out.
When I wasn't with William, my life followed the routine. It had developed over the past few years; except that I used cabs more frequently than I had; when Rita and I went to a Broadway show or concert, I bought our tickets at the theater or at the concert hall, instead of waiting on the TDF line. And yes, I chose expensive restaurants in which to dine in.
One evening, when we were dining in the Mark Joseph Steakhouse, I made the mistake of ordering a sixty-dollar bottle of wine instead of the usual carafe of red wine.
Rita waited until our waiter was out of earshot before, she said, "That's a bit much, isn't it?"
The time had come for me to tell her something about what I was doing, without revealing anything about my false IDs. I saw no reason to give her something more to think about.
"I've come into a great deal of money," I said.
She looked at me quizzically. "How?"
"I won it," I answered lightly.
"You won it?" She asked with alarm.
Our waiter returned to the table with the bottle of wine, opened it, and poured a bit into a wine glass for me to sample; which I did and nodded approvingly. Then I ordered. Rita and I would share a steak for two, and I asked for a side of creamed spinach.
When all of that was finished and I told her about William’s extraordinary power, she said, "You're using the man."
I explained the transformation in him that had taken place under my guiding hand, ending with, "He's even going to Alcoholics Anonymous."
"Maybe both of you should seriously consider going to Gamblers Anonymous."
"How much money is involved?"
"Half million for each of us."
She gasped; and recovering quickly, she asked, "That explains your recent extravagances, right?"
"How are you going to account for so much money suddenly showing up in our bank account?"
I took a sip of wine before I said, "I intend to give each of our sons and our grandchildren gifts up to the legal limit."
"That's only eleven thousand dollars for each."
"Well, sixty-six thousand dollars is. . ."
"Nothing compared to what you have," she said.
Our food was brought to the table, and served.
"The steak looks wonderful," I commented, making an effort at normalcy.
"Yes it does," she agreed.
I thought that was a good sign. But it wasn't; our conversation was sparse, and the steak, I had anticipated enjoying, had lost its appeal. And she, never much interested in food, ate barely one slice of steak.
When I offered her more wine, she put her hand over the top of the glass and asked, "How much do you know about Sweet William?"
"His name," I answered.
"And he knows yours, including your surname?"
I didn't answer, and drank another glass of wine.
"And where you live?" She asked, scrutinizing me.
It had never occurred to me that he might follow me to the building where I live.
"You know what I think?"
"Only you know that," I answered.
"Each of you should go your separate ways."
"I've given it some thought."
"Give it more thought; then do it," she said sharply.
The next day, an entirely new problem surfaced. The day was dull gray; and I was in a mood that matched the color of the sky, and the river in front of me.
I occupied a bench behind the Jewish Museum, a few strides from the building where I live. Rita was asleep when I left the apartment, having said nothing to me the previous night, before we went to bed.
I thought that my looking at the river would, as it had done so many times before, eradicate my dull mood. But instead, something else happened: I made this decision to take William, now Sweet William, to Atlantic City. There the stakes would be higher, and would provide me with the excitement that drove me to test his powers in the first place.
I was satisfied with my decision, even though it would require that I lead a double life for a while longer. The question of how to get rid of my present winnings and future winnings was still unanswered, and would remain that way until sometime in the future.
By afternoon, the sun shone brightly. I put the idea of going to Atlantic City to William, and he said he was ready to suggest the same idea to me. And, as we walked around Battery Park, which was crowded with tourists going to or coming from the boats that carried them to the Statue of Liberty, or Ellis Island, I asked William, how his family was.
His face went blank; then he said, "Fine. Fine. I sent them some money."
I wasn't at all happy, and I asked, "They live in Houston, don't they?"
"El Paso," he answered.
I was even unhappier. He previously said his family lived in Raleigh North Carolina. His answers didn't connect the dots; they created many more.
I could have challenged him, by asking him to explain the difference between what he’d previously told me, and the answers he just gave me. But I knew he was sharp enough to give me a logical answer, even if it was two words: they moved. I also accepted the possibility, that because my hearing wasn't as sharp as it once had been, I may have misheard him. Besides, what business was it of mine to know where his family was living?
We agreed to go to Atlanta City on Saturday; and I told him to wear "ordinary clothing; we don't want to stand out."
He nodded, and we went our separate ways; William continued walking, while I hailed a taxi, and told the driver to take me to Lincoln Center; I was going to surprise Rita with orchestra tickets to Richard Strauss’s opera De Rosenkavalier.
Everyone knows that old saw that claims, "Good or bad things, come in groups of threes." I never believed it; I'm too pragmatic for that kind of nonsense. But a few moments after I left the cab at Lincoln Center, I saw William on the other side of the street.
My heart must have skipped a few beats. I began to sweat. I had to lean against a lamppost; my cane wasn't enough to support me.
When I sufficiently gathered myself together, I headed for the nearest luncheonette, claimed a booth, ordered coffee and a toasted oat bran muffin. Then, I tried to puzzle out what happened.
William couldn't have been where I saw him; even if he had taken the next taxi, he would have arrived after I had, not before. But it was definitely William who I saw.
I know everyone is supposed to have a double somewhere; but this double wore exactly the same clothing that William had been wearing.
What were the chances of my having seen him? It had to be one in a very, very, very large number, if at all.
The waitress placed the coffee and muffin in front of me. I didn’t want either of them. I felt one of those shattering headaches coming on. I was very tired. I closed my eyes; and I distinctly heard someone, a man, say, “brain waves.” The words disturbed me. I opened my eyes, and picked up the cup of coffee. It was ice cold.
To make it possible for me to be away all of a Saturday night, I had to come up with a plausible story; and the only one I could think of was a fish story. I told Rita that several of the men I had met in the park had agreed to go "for Blues." I didn't tell her much more, other than it would be Saturday night, and four of us would be driving down to the town of Atlantic Highlands, where the boat was. To add a touch of reality, I also said, "We're going to have dinner at Bahar’s,” a restaurant that overlooked the Shrewsbury River and part of Sandy Hook. We had eaten there several times, before moving from Staten Island to Manhattan.
"Is Sweet William going with you?"
"He's not a fisherman," I answered.
"Well, that's one good thing; isn't it?"
I shrugged; and let it go at that.
I felt guilty about the ruse I concocted. It accentuated the double life I was leading, and put me in a dour mood. After Rita fell asleep, I quietly dressed and left the apartment. The concierge was surprised to see me; and by way of explanation, since it was unusual for me to be out at that hour unless Rita and I were returning from a show or a concert, I said, "Couldn't sleep."
"Been there," he said sympathetically.
I walked to the Esplanade, and sat on a bench behind the Jewish Museum. It was a lovely summer night. A tug with a tow of barges moved slowly up the Hudson. Their movement caused the river’s water to push against the stone and concrete base of the walkway; and because there was less noise than during the day, I could hear the swishing sound of the water.
A bicyclist passed; then, I was alone. Not really alone, my father was alive in my thoughts. He was not only a duplicitous man about his various bank accounts, all of the different names; but as I said, he also had another family that the family I belonged to knew nothing about. I would have never known if coincidence hadn't put his other son, my half brother, Samuel--also my father’s given name, in the same place at the same time: Korea, during the battle at Koto-re. We shared the same foxhole.
The Chinese were determined to stop us from breaking out of their encirclement; and the Marines and some army units were as determined to do just that: break out.
The Chinese mortaring was severe and methodical; and because they held the high ground on either side of us, we were easy targets. The only thing that suppressed their fire, was napalm delivered by the Air Force and carrier-based planes.
During one of those lulls, I looked at the man next to me; and he seemed vaguely familiar. We started to speak, and discovered that both of us were New Yorkers. He from the Bronx, and I from Brooklyn. It was then I learned that his name was Samuel Valdez.
Then, as if superimposed on my memories, I distinctly heard someone say, “Look at that pattern." The words were so clear that I looked around to see if anyone was nearby. No one was. This interruption disturbed me even more than I was disturbed by the memory of what had happened some sixty years ago. I tried to pick up my previous train of thought, and couldn't. It was gone for now.
I went back to the apartment, and poured a glass of ice-cold vodka for myself, Stolichnaya. I always keep a bottle of it in the freezer, when I need something stronger than a glass or two of wine to mellow me out.
Despite the effects of the vodka, my sleep was anything but restful; it was full of fleeting dreams--images of men and women bending over me. Lights were being shined in my eyes, and the voice again said, "Look at those brain wave patterns." I felt one of those skull-shattering headaches coming on. But some time toward dawn, I did fall into a deep and restful sleep that lasted until two o'clock in the afternoon.
When I awoke, Rita asked, "What was wrong with you last night?"
"You were tossing and turning; moaning and speaking gibberish, except for the name, Sam Valdez. Who is he?"
We were at the kitchen counter, and I was having a cup of coffee. I repeated the name Sam Valdez in a desultory way, as if I were trying to recall who he was. Of course I knew; he was my half brother. The man who shared the foxhole with me at Koto-ri. That was where and when I learned about my father's double life.
Sam showed me a snap shot of his family: three older sisters, his mother and his father--my father, who Sam described as, "a great guy, and a real fun guy." Neither of those descriptions would describe my father, as opposed to his; mine, seemed to have the life sucked out of him before I was born.
Sam and I hunkered down in that foxhole. I told him we had the same father--that we were half-brothers; and like Cain and Able in the biblical story of those two brothers, my offerings to my father like Cain’s to God were always dismissed. Sam, though innocent of what he had done, had stolen my father's love; and I hated him. I wished him dead; I could have killed him myself and have gotten away with it. But, though I killed, I wasn't a murderer.
We spelled each other in two-hour shifts. It began to snow again adding to our misery. We hadn't eaten since the previous day, and the Chow was cold, coming straight from the can as it did. We were short of everything, including ammo.
About three o'clock in the morning, the Chinese buglers began to blow; and the night’s blackness erupted into the white light of dying magnesium flares. In that whiteness, we could see them coming; thousands of them, it seemed to us. Our 50 caliber machine guns opened up, then the BARS.
We were yelling and the Chinese were yelling. We started throwing our grenades. Sam's throw was longer than mine. When they were very close, we started firing our rifles. Confusion was everywhere; the noise was incredible. Suddenly, I realized Sam wasn't alongside of me. The left side of his head was gone; he was dead.
I’m in pain, an enormous amount of pain that tears at my body. I hear someone say, "He’s moving." I want to yell, Why shouldn't I be moving? But the effort it would have taken to do that would have been too much for me to undertake.
Another voice, a woman’s, said, "Alpha waves normal."
Some days later, Rita explained to me that I was a victim of a car crash. Two cars collided; and one of them struck me, putting me in a coma for several weeks.
"What about Sweet William?" I asked.
"I was going to ask you who he is."
"Another time," I answered.
That time never came; we never again spoke about him. Perhaps one of my many doctors advised her against bringing his name up again. But months later, when the winter weather settled on the city; and I went into Bowling Green Park and despite the cold, I sat there putting various parts of my experience together.
I remembered that Gibbs had been killed, execution style, years ago. And as far as I know, the killer or killers have never been found.
The more I thought about my experience, the more I wondered whether "I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or butterfly dreaming I was a man?"
My anchor to reality had vanished.
Oh yes, I live in a real world. But I also know what I experienced. I had lived another life in a different world that was as real to me then as this one is now.
And of course, there’s sweet William to account for. Every time I see him, he smiles, an odd, crooked smile; as if we had known each other and had shared something special.
A secret about what?
I could ask; but I don’t want to become involved with William--if that really is his name--again; “it’s better to let the sleeping dog lie,” so to speak. Old wisdom; but applicable.
--Irving A. Greenfield, Unpublished short story, 2008