He doesn’t look so tough for a hero, if that’s what he is. He’s way short first of all. Like five foot nothing. Looks like he’s still in high school, though he’s a couple years older than me, and I’m about to be a sophomore. At State. Before now, last I’d heard of him was when he did Mallory Dawson in the back seat of his black Mustang convertible. We were in junior high, Mallory and me both. She was my sweetheart then, though she didn’t know it. She was starry-eyed for older guys, guys like David Doogan laying in wait to steal her virginity. Son of a bitch. He became my arch-nemesis then, though he didn’t know it.
I hadn’t seen Doogan in seven years when I saw him down at the bar last night. He looked same as always except for two things. First, he had these veins running all down his forearms. Looked like a map of the Mississippi Delta I once saw. He isn’t so big, as I was saying, but those sons of bitches gave me pause to say shit. And the other thing was his haircut: buzzed Marine Corps style. He could’ve looked like the Total Badass if it wasn’t for his posture, all slumped-like. I thought it was Marine duty to stand erect as all hell. More so even than I used to get thinking bout Mallory. Still do. But don’t you go telling nobody. That’s in confidence.
Anyways, when I got there Doogan was talking to this guy Bear. His Dad being a urologist, Bear’s loaded but tries to act like a redneck. Drives a street truck, wears camo, has a pit bull on a chain-leash named Attila. That truck of his—it has a goddamn aero spoiler on the back. If that’s not in bad taste, I don’t what is.
I got me a fat beer and scanned the bar for any out-of-town girls looking for action. Looking around like that I saw Bear just towering over Doogan, talking up close to his ear. Doogan just standing there with a Budweiser in a plastic cup and nodding his head. Right then, any old bitterness I was harboring bout his escapades with Mallory evaporated. I don’t why.
When I walked up to them, Bear wheeled on me and said, “Wyatt! Doogan’s been shot!”
I gave Doogan a thorough perusal. He didn’t look too shot to me.
“Shot? Where at?”
“Son of a bitch was a sniper, Wyatt.”
Bear nodded heartily. “Killing towelheads and camels,” he said.
At this, I looked at Doogan and gave him a substantial head nod. I got two such nods. One’s where my chin goes up. That’s the one I give when I reckon I could kick a guy’s ass. The second one is a downward nod of the head. That’s the one I gave Doogan, you can be sure. And I’ll give it to anybody who’s taken a bullet. I even gave it to Eddie Lovett one time, who shot his own self in the shoulder hopping a fence with a shotgun in tow. Dumbass. Even still I gave Eddie the downward nod. I don’t know what it is to be shot, but it’s something.
“You okay?” I asked him.
Doogan nodded. That was when I noticed he had himself an acne breakout, just a couple red petals to either side his nose. Besides that, his face was pretty white for a boy who’d been in the desert for so long. He started to say something, but Bear’s big head swung between us.
“Got shot right here,” said Bear, jabbing a fat finger just above my pelvic bone. Last damn place I wanted the son of a bitch sticking me.
“Hit his flak jacket first.”
I looked over at Doogan, his mouth just hovering somewhere between open and closed. Not much to read in it.
Bear went on. “Only went in yea far, or thereabout.” He made a two inch space between thumb and forefinger.
I leaned over toward Doogan’s ear and asked what round it was.
“AK-47,” he told me.
“7.62 by 39 millimeter,” Bear said. “Full-metal jacket.”
“Where’d it happen?” I asked.
Doogan looked at me and I saw his mouth shape a word but it got swept away in all the gabble and bottle-clink. Bear leaned over to translate for me.
“Fallujah,” he said. “Goddamn bloodbath.”
I’d seen some pictures of Fallujah in Newsweek. All the buildings were the same color and that was the color of sand.
“Shit,” I said.
Doogan leaned toward me and said some more, but I tell you, the din in there blew his sentences all to shit. Luckily I could pretty much string together the story on my own: rooftop, convoy, waiting, sunset, nothing, spotter, extraction, helicopter, stood, shot, dead.
As he talked I nodded my head real gravely, like I was stone sober. At the same time I pictured him all decked out in desert camo and black webbing, grenades and canteens and flares and pistols and all. Just this little guy and his spotter and a big .308 sniper rifle with the heavy barrel trained on a corner in the road. Waiting for some bad guys to come round the bend and them not coming and the sky getting dark and cold and no helo to pick them up.
Seemed to me he was telling this story like he was telling a whole other one. Can’t really explain it, but I tell you, he wasn’t talking like no Rambo. Looked more like Mr. Youngblood, my old Bible teacher. Full of holy dread and all that.
Me, I was just matching up his words with the pictures I’d seen. From what I could gather, they got stuck up there on that building way behind enemy lines. Chopper wouldn’t come. LZ too hot. So it got dark and them all alone. Finally a Blackhawk arrived all decked in green lights and turning the dust off the rooftop in big tendrils and when they stood up to clip into the ropes somebody with an AK-47 really opened up on them. Full-fucking-auto. His spotter didn’t make it and Doogan took that one in the gut.
This whole time Bear was hopping up and down on his toes, too tickled.
“Show us the scar!” he finally said.
Doogan strained a fake smile. I could tell it was fake because it showed too many teeth for a boy who wasn’t telling a teeth-showing type of story. Then he peered down at his shoes. Bear, he looked down there, mouth agape, then looked up again.
“Show us the scar!”
He was getting squirmy now, Doogan was. Fidgeting a lot for a boy trained as an expert in sitting still for maybe days at a time, pissing in his own pants if he has to. Now he was looking all sheepish, like he’d spilled something he shouldn’t have.
“Show us the scar!”
Believe you me, he didn’t want to show that thing at all. I nudged Bear in the side. Thought he’d get the message to lay off. But Bear just looked at me with these beads of sweat trembling across his lip and then he turned back to Doogan.
“Wyatt wants a peek too! Come on, son!”
He was looking everywhere but at us. Doogan, I mean.
Me, I was just looking at Bear and calling him a jackass in my head, feeling like an asshole just by association. But then, just as I was about to apologize to Doogan, I saw him raise up his shirt.
Not like any scar I’d ever seen. I expected a pale circle where the scarred skin was shinier than the rest, but this was a wound: black, blue, purple, yellow. And real big. Size of a donut at least. Just looking pissed and mean and new. I was grossed out, to be honest with you. Shit was horrible to look at. Made me feel my own kidneys swimming down there in my guts.
But next thing I know Bear’s got him in this big hug. Big bear hug you got to be big and hairy as Bear to give. Hell, almost made me want one myself—not to be gay or nothing. How it made Doogan feel I don’t know. Before I could gauge him, a group of local girls came by. Doogan greeted some of them but me and Bear kept to ourselves, talking like we had shit to attend to. Important matters. You know the routine. A couple of the girls were doable was why.
Bear put his hand on my shoulder.
“You know that big sniper rifle, the Barrett .50 cal?”
“Fine weapon,” I said, nodding. From what I’d seen on TV, that thing is just about as tall as me. Same bullets that shot down Messerschmitts and shit.
“Damn right,” said Bear. “You know they use that honker to kill cars and airplanes and generators and such. Shell is yea long.” He spread his thumb and forefinger as far apart as they went.
To all this I was nodding a lot.
“Just put one right in the motor,” said Bear. “Kill it. Anyways, I was asking Doogan if he’d shot the Barrett and he said one time indeed they had him hiding out in this culvert with it. There was this field in front of him and nothing was supposed to cross it. Those were his orders. Nothing crosses. No cars, trucks, wagons, camels, nothing. Nothing that moved. You got me?”
“I hear you.”
“Anyhow, he just sat there for near on two days and nothing. Said not a thing come to pass. Then finally there comes this big-ass truck. Said kubz or hubz or some Arabic shit on the side. Whatever, it was the Arab word for bread. Big old bread truck. White. Well, he puts one in the engine block. Stops the son of a bitch cold.”
“Oh yeah. Anyways, driver gets out thinking he’s just broke down. Goes around back and gets out a big plastic shelf of bread and starts lugging it across the field.”
“Well what you think? His orders was nothing crosses. That includes bakers, don’t it?”
“Is that what he said?”
“Nah, he didn’t really say. I had to infer.”
“What you think that does to a man?”
“Shit,” I said again, shaking my head. I wasn’t sure what more to say. My mind seemed stuck like the engine of that bread truck. Pistons not turning over.
“Can you imagine the nightmares?” Bear asked me.
I couldn’t. I just looked over there at where Doogan was standing amongst those girls. They were just jabbering on every side of him, talking amongst themselves. He standing there like the new kid at school. Awkward-like. Acne making it look like he was blushing, and maybe he was. Hands in pockets and shoulders all scrunched. Like he was having to keep all his blood and heat from spilling out.
He was a real good skateboarder once, I recalled. Back when he’d done Mallory. Didn’t look like much of one now. Wouldn’t look like much of anything if it weren’t for those veins swelled along his forearms. I reckoned those spoke more than anything else about him. I had the feeling he’d tried to tell me something but I missed it. I followed those veins down to where they twisted into his pockets like ropes. I tried to see the hand that had pulled the trigger on that baker and God knows what else. But I couldn’t. Both hands were hid down deep in his jeans.
He looked my way and I gave him the deep nod again, trying to tell him I understood it all. What it was to be a killer of men. But I don’t think he saw me. Either that or he knew me for what I was. I can’t say I wasn’t jealous of him.
© Taylor Brown, 2008.
Home Guard was read by Ben Farrow at the Liars’ League War & Peace event on Tuesday 11 November, 2008.
Taylor Brown is a native of the American South who now lives in San Francisco. He studied at Oxford for a bit, but can't remember much of it for the pints. For more of his stories and publishing credits, please check out his website at www.taylorbrownfiction.com