Teufel-Hunden: Devil Dogs
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by I.M. Tillerman
Description: In 1962, three young men from South Dakota fly to San Diego and enter Marine Corps Boot Camp together. Butch and Danny, his best friend, survive the rigorous training and the physical and psychological torment by submissively following orders and by staying out of harm's way. However, the third member of trio, Jim O'Donnell, an arrogant and insubordinate college dropout, incurs the immediate wrath of Sergeant "Teddy Bear" Taddy, a violent and seemingly mentally unstable drill instructor, who dislikes Jim intensely and derisively calls him "College Boy." At the Rifle Range, Sergeant Taddy ultimately pushes the abuse and humiliation of Private O'Donnell too far. As a result, Butch, fearing for Jim's very life, must decide whether or not to get involved.
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, 2007 SynergEbooks
eBookwise Release Date: January 2008
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [373 KB]
Reading time: 224-314 min.
Chapter One: Prologue--Age Spots
On my sixtieth birthday, in early September of 2004, I poured myself a second dose of caffeine in my fancy Purdue mug, slid open the patio screen door to let out my chubby, chocolate, toy poodle, and followed him to the "veranda," as my wife, Marie and I jokingly called our nondescript 15 x 15 foot concrete patio out back. The mourning doves were crowding around the ground feeder at the foot of Cousin Bradford, our 25 foot fruitless pear tree, in their ostensibly lethargic, plodding way; they nevertheless seemed desperate to gobble up the few remaining tidbits of generic, grocery store millet, milo, and sunflower seed that I had given them at twilight the day prior. Not particularly fond of these ubiquitous gray duds, I often filled their feeder more frequently than those of the cardinals and finches, not as an act of generosity, but as a rouse intended to keep the clunky nuisances away from the hanging feeders of the more beautiful and exotic cardinal couple and the ever-present, delicate, always uplifting goldfinches, and their blue-collar cousins, the house finches: the latter's red heads and chests, when viewed in the direct sunlight through my cheap binoculars, reminded me of the peels of the ripe Macintosh apples stacked in precarious pyramids in the produce department of the local grocery store.
I parked my bony ass in one of the six patio chairs, the brown plaid cushion of which was still wet from the dew. Brown Bear, my poodle pup, ever vigilant in his patrol of the perimeter of our fenced in, 85 x 85 foot back yard, sniffed every blade of damp grass that he encountered and then ritualistically pissed on it, marking same for future reference.
I had taken early retirement three years earlier, at the age of fifty-seven, after thirty, long--but productive--years of teaching English full-time at a nearby community college. I had grown to cherish this early time of day, just after 7:00 AM, after the wife and the kids had "flown the coop," as my ex-farmer father used to say, and my trusty canine companion and I were left to "hold down the fort," as my mother used to say; my parents were never at a loss for a cliché, and I myself--mea culpa--still used and abused them from time to time, even though clichés had been anathema on the essays on which I had mercilessly hemorrhaged with my red pen for three decades.
At 6:45, fifteen minutes earlier, my wife--on her inevitable way to struggle, like Sisyphus, with her inscrutably dense third graders--and Joyce, my daughter and high school freshman, had backed out of the driveway. They then, however, had stopped for a minute, as Butzy (as Joyce is nicknamed), rummaged through her bulging backpack in frantic search for the permission slip and the check for twenty-five bucks required for a nifty November field trip to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Shakespeare theatre at Chicago's Navy Pier. She did indeed have all requisite documents, as her cheesy smile and thumbs-up had signaled, so off the two of them whisked in Mama's dirty red Blazer. Then, at 6:55 AM, Jude, our junior high student, had hopped on the snub-nosed bus with squeaky brakes, heading for points south, and Brown Bear--AKC name, "Chocolate Mousse"--and I were free, free to do whatever we pleased for a little over seven hours.
With a wet ass from the dew, I shuffled my peaked butt about in the chair and sipped potent coffee, noticing, as I lifted the white, gold and black Boilermakers mug, the brown age spots that speckled the back of my right hand; but then, I was sixty years old today, after all. I suddenly remembered when I was a kid back in South Dakota in the '50's and my paternal grandfather turned sixty; as I helped him blow out the myriad candles, heat warming my cheeks, I wondered whether or not I'd ever live to be that "old," especially given the grim fact that my maternal grandfather, just the year prior to that, had succumbed to colon cancer at the age of fifty-nine ... no miraculous cancer drugs in those days. His tragic and premature demise had prompted me, long after the fact, to surrender to three colonoscopies while I was in my fifties: three, small polyps, all benign.
But my father and mother were now in their mid-80's, and my maternal grandmother had lived to be ninety-two, so longevity genes were working on my behalf; plus, I walked a total of 600 miles per year, a sum equal to the distance from my front door in Illinois to my parents' front door in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Furthermore, like the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar, I religiously took my two prescription drugs for high blood pressure three times a day.
I had a lot to live for: a thirty-nine year old daughter and two grandchildren by my first marriage, and presently, a forty-year-old, stately wife--"the comely Hester Prynne"--with eyes so strikingly brown that they looked black, two masters degrees, and a set of tits so glorious that they stopped traffic. They sagged a little, after two kids and forty years, but they were still an object d'art.
"Oh, shit!" I blurted out, louder than I had intended, but unconcerned about being overheard out back at 7:00 in the morning. "The mail! I forgot to get the damn mail yesterday."
I glanced, sheepishly, over my right shoulder and spoke with surrender to my ailing, 87 year-old father 600 miles due west: "You were right back on the farm, Pop, when you said, 'Boy ... if you had brains, you'd be dangerous!'" I was never quite certain why having brains would have rendered me "dangerous," but like Baum's Scarecrow, it was a moot point: I had no brains, that being the crux of what my autocratic father was trying to drive home.
After school the prior afternoon, in all the chaos of my blindly signing school forms--like Colonel Henry Blake faithfully scribbling his "John Hancock" on the mountain of M*A*S*H forms shoved one by one in his face by Radar--I had forgotten to get the mail. I had remembered once, when I had heard what sounded like small, squeaky tires out front, but then, as the girls and I huddled at one end of the dining room table, doing our honor's math, which Butzy labeled "impossible," and our social studies, which Jude labeled "lame," a walk to the mailbox had gotten shoved further and further back into the recesses of my mind; finally, neglected in a third rate Vets hospital somewhere, it had died in obscurity.
And poor Marie, glorious tits suspended only by a sweaty bra, had dragged her own ass in at 5:30 PM, after seven hours of swinging at windmills with her clueless, loose-cannon third-graders and forty-five torturous minutes of battling adversaries in the Coliseum of rush hour traffic on I-80. Having given each of us an obligatory peck on the cheek, she had collapsed onto the well-padded, tan, living room carpeting near the dining room table, where Brown Bear, her kindred spirit, had tried to revive her with infinite caresses.
But now, as three bright yellow, male goldfinches jockeyed for position on the tube feeder thirty feet in front of me, serenity had settled in on the "estate," as Marie and I facetiously dubbed our comfortable, yet modest, three bedroom tri-level home in suburbia. Only the sporadic squeal of distant school bus brakes, those which had not been repaired over the summer break, interrupted the stillness of the morning.
Absentmindedly, I set my empty Boilermakers mug down on the edge of the patio table, and it toppled over, falling, it seemed, in slow motion to the concrete below. I longed to save this sentimental relic, a tangible link to an exhilarating Purdue vs. Notre Dame game in West Lafayette some twenty years earlier, when future Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown, still blessed the Fighting Irish with his WR prowess, and when--before the kids were born--Marie and I could afford season tickets. But like the pothole that your front tire hits before you can slam on the brakes, the mug eluded my grasp, bounced on the patio, and broke into several pieces, one chunk now reading "oilermakers."
"Fuck!" I snapped, angrier at my own negligence than at the whimsy and caprice of the Gods.
Brown Bear, by now having traversed the 250 foot perimeter of the fence, was waiting at the screen door to be let in so that the first of a half dozen daily naps could commence without further delay.
"Boy," I reprimanded myself, gingerly picking up the jagged pieces of the ideal past and setting them on the patio table, "if you had brains, you'd be dangerous!"
My portly pup impatiently yipped once, no doubt miffed at my failure to recognize his status as canine royalty and to cater to his immediate demands. I told him to hold his fucking horses.
Yesterday's mail contained an unexpected letter from my mother. Because she was preoccupied with being my father's caregiver and caretaker in their tiny, but cozy, 700 square foot apartment, she wrote to us only on rare occasions: to thank us for FTD flowers or for fresh photos of the girls, or to report some new and significant development in Pop's chronically deteriorating health. Something was up, for the envelope was addressed solely to me, rather than to the family, and Mom's name alone appeared in the return address. I petted Mousse's topknot on the couch on the way by, apologizing to the darling pooch for hollering at him, and then plopped back down on the patio chair and opened the envelope:
An unusual news story appeared in the Argus yesterday, and at first I didn't think much of it. In fact, my first instinct was simply to forget about it. However, after I thought about it for a day, I decided that since it touched a part of your distant past, I would pass the information on to you and then let you decide if it was important.
Remember Jim O'Donnell, the young fellow that you and Danny (R.I.P.) went to boot camp with? The one who got into all that trouble? Well, he got out of military prison the other day, after over 40 years, and (at age 63, the newspaper said) he's home here in Sioux Falls and living with his sister and her husband.
I don't mean to stir up old heartaches, Son, but I just thought you should know.
P.S. Oh, sorry! Where are my manners? Hi, Marie! Hi, Joyce and Judy! Hi, Mousse! Hope the new school year is going well for all of you (except Brown Bear, of course ... ha). Miss you.
"Well, I'll be god-damned," I murmured, folding Mom's letter and sliding it back into its envelope. "That's pretty fuckin' freaky." As Fate, or perhaps dramatic irony, would have it, as recently as the day before I had been rummaging through my jewelry box, looking for old pennies for Jude, my twelve year-old, when my eyes fell upon a few tidbits of Marine Corps memorabilia from the '60's: two tiny, black, metal sergeant stripes; a good conduct ribbon; and a rifle qualification medal with an added bar that declared "1962-63-65," for the three years that I had qualified as an expert with the M-14 and had been rewarded for same by the Commandant. No ex-Marine reminisces about the Corps without at least a cursory flashback to that three month, living nightmare known as Boot Camp, and I had done that very thing as I had fingered the smooth, silver crossed rifles on the expert medal, attempting not to dwell too long on Jim O'Donnell's sad fate in the process. But to those who are cursed--or blessed--with a conscience, guilt can be a powerful emotion, sometimes--like syphilis--lying dormant for decades.
Depressed, I looked up from Mom's envelope and, mercifully, spotted a gorgeous male cardinal pecking safflower seed from the feeder dangling three feet from the lowest branch of Cousin Bradford. His bright red head, with deep black mask, lifted slowly from the white seeds, then cautiously jerked in one direction, then in another, like Dickinson's wary bird who "drank a Dew / From a convenient Grass:
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around--
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought--
He stirred his Velvet Head....
Apparently the coast was clear, for his Missus glided effortlessly down from the upper regions of the thirty-five foot skyline locust tree to my immediate front and landed first on a low branch of Cousin Bradford, then dropping almost weightlessly to the side of the feeder opposite her husband; her protector, her defender. I hadn't spied her biding her time amidst the slender leaves of the long, wiry branches of the locust tree.
I slowly floated my left hand out, snatched my binoculars--always at the ready--and brought her into focus. She was lovely, of course, her feathers a muted blend of red, green, brown, and yellow, but a male cardinal ... now he stood out, stunning as a riotous sunrise, a regular "muddy elephant in a snowstorm," as Barney Fife would say. A male's remarkable absence of camouflage served well as a Siren to predators and competitors, luring them toward him and away from his well-camouflaged partner, typically concealed safely in the nearby foliage. These gentle, affectionate creatures--dedicated to each other for life--lifted my spirits again as they peacefully pecked safflower seed; I felt more optimistic about the future, and less remorseful about my abandoning of Jim back in the Twentieth Century.
Danny Black, my best friend from Boy Scouts, high school, and the rock band, had convinced me at the end of our senior year to join the Marines with him. "We'll kick ass, Boy!" he had promised me, feeding off a surge of testosterone. Jim O"Donnell, three years our senior, whom we knew only by reputation, had also enlisted, although we were unaware of this fact until we bumped into him at the swearing in ceremony in Omaha. The three of us had flown together from Omaha to San Diego, an exciting experience for me, the South Dakota hayseed who had moved to the big city at age eleven and who knew nothing of air travel, save the harrowing ten-minute ride with my uncle's war buddy in a tiny, vibrating, single engine plane that buzzed the Viborg, South Dakota, corn fields and made me clammy and nauseous.
In 1972, ten years after Jim's incarceration in the notorious Portsmouth Naval Prison, I had forced myself, finally, to face that indelibly etched ordeal by writing a short novel about it. I had been repressing that memory for a decade, safely tucking it into the dark recesses of my conscious mind. Inevitably, though, some event would trigger my recollection of it, sometimes something as trivial as seeing the President's Marine guard--decked out in Dress Blues--saluting his Commander-in-Chief as he stepped from his helicopter. The novella had taken me two years to finish because I had had to write it in piecemeal fashion, crowding its composition around the mountains of essays, exams, and quizzes that I corrected at the college.
I glanced over at the cardinal feeder, but the regal couple had moved on. Like those spontaneous pulses of joy that brighten what Thoreau called modern men's "lives of quiet desperation," the cardinals' visits to the sanctuary of our backyard never lasted long.
Well, I thought to myself in an uncharacteristically courageous moment, maybe today, on my sixtieth birthday, it's time to dust off the cobwebs of the thirty year old book and confront the demons lurking in its pages. The entire manuscript, not much over 200 pages, certainly could be read in the time remaining before the girls returned home from school. The weather was cooperating: high 60's (headed for 75 degrees), partly cloudy and breezy.
I had buried the novel in the basement, at the bottom of an old cardboard box, beneath my orange and black high school annual, and under a handful of old short stories that I had written in the '70's and 80's about life on the farm in the '50's. Perhaps subconsciously I had presumed that relegating that memoir to the shadowy underworld of dusty, web-covered, metal shelves would lessen the likelihood of a haunting. But poltergeists have their own agenda, and my mother's letter about Jim's release from prison at age sixty-three had summoned the specters, like it or not.
I found the book without much searching, disturbing a fat, black spider about the size of my thumbnail in the process. "Sorry, fella," I apologized, removing the box lid and not killing the nimble arachnid as it scurried to a remote corner of its intricate web on the box lid. After retrieving the manuscript, which was wrapped in a heavy, clear, plastic bag, I replaced the lid and gave the spider his standing orders: "Keep eating the insects down here. Good work. Carry on, Private."
After pouring myself an unbreakable plastic mug of expensive, pulp-laden orange juice and grabbing a banana from the fridge, I settled back in at the patio table.
"Do I really wanna do this?" I asked myself, skeptically.
"Yes, you do," I answered.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Very well," I relented, taking a deep, measured breath and sliding the manuscript out of the thick bag.
It was almost comical to look at, a book typed on a prehistoric manual typewriter, with typos corrected in white-out: a bona fide artifact from the Dark Ages, before PC's and before "cut and paste" became a metaphor. But there was something charming about it, something comforting in it, like seeing a fully restored '57 Chevy or hearing Del Shannon wailing "Runaway" under the surface of the swimming pool water at the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando. PC's unquestionably were infinitely more convenient than manual typewriters, but not necessarily better intrinsically. After all, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises on a manual machine, as soon after first light as possible, standing up; his--now antique--typewriter was portable, of course, and could be plopped down on a desk, on the top of a chest of drawers, or even on his lap. I wondered just then if "Papa" would have liked a laptop.
The title page of the thirty year-old manuscript contained all the requisite information:
-- TEUFEL-HUNDEN A Novel by Jason Bang All Rights Approx. 66, 500 Words
The tale opened in medias res--in the middle of things--as I had instructed my drowsy literature scholars for three decades. I, the narrator, energized about the jet ride to Boot Camp in California, yet apprehensive, as well, because of the harrowing experience ten years earlier over the Dakota cornfields, braced myself for takeoff at the airport in Omaha, Danny Black and Jim O'Donnell buckled in next to me.