Thursday, January 20, 2011

Change in the River (a short story out of German story, 1975)

((1975, Munster by Dieburg, Military Nuclear Site) (more truth than Fiction))

He could not weigh up the fragile conformation of what just took place, in what he considered this ambiguous part of the world. An object which seemed to appear and then vanish with a thump, and of so small a consequence, he looked with, and for but a moment, upon the state of affairs and the affliction he had just caused to another human being. He took off so fast he didn’t allow his partner an instant of despair, disregarding all the laws of man. Perhaps there could have been relief at hand; but, he was not disappointed; and now with a dry temperament to wonder and contemplate soon at the bar; and so, let us see as a result, what stimulation we may well draw from the dead and the kindness from our own species, I doubt this coldness even holds true among animals. An interesting aspect in human nature, an observation I had acquired that evening, it has entertained me for years, no more doubts as to if whether our species succumb to the manner of those long lost ancestors Carl Sagan has so well defined, befitting to be called the Neanderthals. Had this been a war, this might have looked less incongruous to me, even pushed into the quarry for safe keeping, but it wasn’t.
I was the most unaccustomed to having heard, then overheard, and then having to befriend, and live among the presence of such a disturbing person—even after being myself in a war. I remember the evening quite well, and to my understanding, they had never went back to detect the wrong they had done, to check the reality: one was detached, the other carried by his friend’s weight, went along with his program, the length of it all. Of course by doing what he did or they did, they robed the mind of the disaster of a horror, perhaps much greater.
I do know for a fact, the driver, wouldn’t have been surprised by the amount of paper work he would have caused about the dead. Making his ultimate plan in a matter of one quick moment, buried the dead before he even saw what he completely looked like. He consequently lay there on the street face down, his bones smashed out of his body—all that paperwork, he saved himself from doing— indicative of an accountant, trying to cut corners.

“Okay,” said the Sergeant First Class, “What about it?”
“Ummm!” said the Staff Sergeant, “It was bad.”
“You mean the accident, or the guy I run over?”
“It was bad,” said the Staff Sergeant. “That’s all that I mean.”
“Okay,” said the SFC. “Deal with it anyway you like, he stepped out in front of me, I never saw him. I wish to God I hadn’t’ but I did.”
“You mean you wish you had seen him. You and I have been drinking all day and night,” said the SSG.
It was early evening, and there was no one in the Enlisted Men’s Night Club on base at the 545th Ordnance Company, in West Germany, Munster by Dieburg. No one but I. I was a Corporal back in 1975, and the bartender was a Buck Sergeant, and two black men were playing pool, two privates I believe. It was midsummer and it was hot, and the two Sergeants, one ahead of the Military Police Detachment, SFC Blackwell, and the other SSG CTH, ahead of the Nuclear Surety Program, had been drinking, and were pretty soused, sitting on those two stools, they looked out of place. The waitress wore a thin see-through blouse, and a short skirt, her skin was soft and pure white to her bones, her hair, blonde, was cut as a sparrow, and as she put her slender hand through her golden hair to move it away from her forehead, she avoided listening to the conversation of the two sergeants, that they were having. Both had looked at her a little strangely.
“You killed him,” said CTH.
“Please don’t get into it,” said Blackwell, he had very large hands, and he looked at them. They were black and near shaking.
“Someone got your license plate number, I swear to God they did,” said SSG CTH.
“It won’t make a difference; I’ll deny it, nothing I can do about it now!”
“We should not have gotten into the car in the first place; we’re too tired and drunk.”
“Can I get you another drink,” the girl asked. “What are you drinking?”
“I told you,” said Blackwell to CTH, “No one will know, I mean really, just be quiet about it.”
“I’m not sure,” he said. Now the girl had come back with two beers from behind the bar, looked at both of the sergeants, gave them the beers, the bartender had taken a break, and put out her hands to collect the money.
“Poor old German,” said Blackwell. He looked again at his hands, they were slightly shaking.
“No, thanks,” said the SFC to the girl, “You keep the change.”
“I suppose it doesn’t do much good to say you’re sorry?” said CTH.
“No, it don’t” said Blackwell, and then took a gulp from the bottle of dark German beer. “Nor does it do any good to tell the police!” he added.
“I’d rather not hear that,” said the bartender, he had come back from his break, and didn’t want to be involved with a future investigation, and walked to the other side of the bar where the two black male soldiers were playing pool.
“I like you a lot,” said Blackwell, “so don’t say a word to the police, I’m sorry, if you don’t understand, I do, that’s trouble for you also.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Sure,” he said, looking at CTH. “All day and all night we drank together. Especially when I hit the old German; don’t you think you have to worry about that?”
“I’m sorry,” CTH said.
“Don’t say that, it sounds like you’re going to say something you’ll regret—you know that; don’t you trust me?”
“It was a man that died there in the middle of the street!”
“That’s funny,” he commented, “Really funny, of course I know that.”
“I’m sorry,” said CTH.
“That’s all I hear from you: I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but we need to understand each other, there’s no use in being sorry, we did what we did.”
“No,” he said, “I think you did what you did, I wasn’t driving.”
Then they were quiet for a long while, saying nothing at all, and then the girl asked if they wanted another beer, the barman would not come over to serve them.
“Let’s not talk about it anymore,” said Blackwell.
“Don’t you believe we are friends?” asked SSG CTH.
“We’ll see—you’ll have to prove it.”
“You never were like this before; we were like two peas in a pod. You’re not very polite tonight.”
“You’re a fine Sergeant, but I’m not going to jail for you.”
“You may have to of course, but if you say nothing.”
“Maybe,” said CTH, “if I have to, then I’ll have to.”
“You’re an amusing girl,” said Blackwell as the waitress approached to ask if he wanted another drink, “and so is the barkeep.” He was annoyed he didn’t serve him personally.
“You’re not, Sergeant Blackwell.” She said seriously, she had known him from previous nights at the club, and he drank himself blind.
“You have to, I suppose.” He said to the girl looking at the bartender talking to one of the pool players.
“Yes,” she remarked. “Too bad I have to, but you know it.”
“I hope if you overheard things, we’re just kidding, it shouldn’t make any difference to you though.”
“I thought you said to be quiet about this,” CTH said. “That’s not very quiet.”
“Just improvising,” he said.
“You’re looking great,” said CTH to the girl.
“And so are you, Staff Sergeant,” she said with a smile. Then the bartender yelled, “Come over here and give them a drink on the house.” Perhaps trying to make up for his boorish behavior and pretending to be indifferent, but he’d not serve them personally.
“Yes, sir,” said the girl. “Be back in a minute.”
The two sergeants, turned their stools about, and leaned on the bar some, each lit up a Luck Strike cigarette, then looked back behind them, and over towards the café area, the barkeeper was handing the waitress two beers.
“We’ll be better off if you don’t try to explain to her, what she shouldn’t do, or know, it sounds like we’re guilty of something,” said the staff sergeant.
“I guess I thought it necessary to tell her, just incase.”
“In case she’s pressured by the police?”
“That’s what they call it! You know how they can get.”
“Yaw, I suppose we both do.”
“Okay,” he mumbled, “Okay.”
“I’m going to go get some air, I’ll be back,” said CTH.
“I doubt it, you won’t be coming back.”
“I said I would, I’ll be back.”
“If you say so, but I doubt it, I don’t think so.”
“Okay, you’ll see.”
“Yes, we’ll both see.”
“I said I’ll be back, I got to finish the beer.”
“Go on then, what are you standing around here for!”
“Actually, you’re getting rude.” CTH said, but his voice was pleasant.
“Well, are you going or not?” said Blackwell, while looking at the girl who was talking to the guys at the pool table. She had pretty blue eyes, and hard looking breasts, perhaps eighteen or nineteen. Her cheeks were rosy, a long thin neck.
“Actually, I doubt you care one way or the other if I go,” CTH said, “you’re too busy to care.”
“Yes, yes, we’ll talk when you get back,” said Blackwell a little more settled with everything, and a little drunker.
She looked across the bar at SFC Blackwell, kind of quickly, and then rushed the two beers over to him.
“You want to go out with me tonight,” he asked her gravely.
“No,” she said seriously. Her voice hadn’t changed one iota.
“Well,” he said, “I tried.”
She handed him his beer and put the other on the bar quickly, she didn’t look at him, but she knew he watched her as she turned around to go back to where the bartender was. CTH had walked out through the door. He picked up the other beer, both beers in his hands now, and left the bar to look for CTH.
“Yes, sir?” said the girl to the bartender.
“Trouble,” said the bartender to the girl, “he can be a very cold man, Blackwell.” He looked at the door, I suppose hoping they’d not come back, and they didn’t. She looked out the window and saw that they were both walking down the side street towards the barracks.
“You’re right,” she said, “he is very cold, I don’t feel comfortable around him.” The young girl then looked in the bar mirror, primping herself.
“You do look lovely,” said the black bartender, who also had big hands. “You must have a beautiful mother.”

The Staff Sergeant, He never did tell the police that they had been drinking that night when questioned, although he admitted they drove down that way. And the barman said he never over heard anything. And the German waitress’s face was too innocent to question; even though someone had given their license plate number to the local police as being a suspect in the hit-and-run. And the Corporal—that’s me, Corporal Evens, I wasn’t around to be asked, and neither was Blackwell.

I had left the 545, in the summer of 1977, gotten out of the Army in 1980; I was a Staff Sergeant then. CTH, whom I got to know quite well, became a Sergeant First Class just before I left—like Blackwell (and to my understanding, Blackwell never made any rank beyond what he had, and was lucky to keep that), and then CTH, had gotten reassigned, and gone to Freiberg, and in the spring of 1983, was hit by a civilian vehicle while he was off-duty walking across a street, and was killed. That’s all that was ever said about it.

No: 710 (1-21-2011)
(Originally named: The River Change) Dedicated to: CTH