From TALES They Fired Your Nannybot For Telling You

by A. R. Gregory

 

Colonel Pusi and Miss Perfect

I was back in the war zone working on an article for The Post, this time about military suicides, since there’d been a rash of them in the news lately. So I decided to look up my old high school buddy Hack. I figured he might have a tale or two about guys killing themselves. Hack had enlisted right after our high school graduation, before I went off to college, then he reenlisted just before I got my degree in journalism. Last time I talked to him last year sometime, he told me he loved the Army, said he was going to re-up again.
     As luck would have it, I was able to reach Hack by phone. He was back at his home base after a month in the field. “Yeah, dude! Come see me!” he shouted. Same old Hack, I realized, everything having to be shouted. “But make it quick,” he added. “I’m headed back out next week.” I didn’t mention my article. Figured best to catch Hack unrehearsed.
     Two days later I was lounging with Hack in his hooch, drinking canned beers with him as he steered the conversation to our high school football exploits. Hack had been a beefy tackle, me, a lanky wide receiver. Seven years later Hack, the consummate trash talker, could still recount every one of my embarrassing fumbles.
     Even though he was “getting short” after a year and a half in-country, Hack displayed no visible signs of war weariness. He’d always been macho to the core, but now he’d added the airs of the seasoned military pro to his repertoire. When I mentioned suicides, Hack rolled his eyes, sniffed, “Boot camp’s sposed to weed all those types out.” Sure, Hack said, he’d heard of guys who “got wack” from combat, who did “all kindsa dumb-ass shit,” even “snuffed theirselves,” but he never knew any. “Not in my unit,” he claimed. He reminded me of back in school, why I’d always hid my interest in writing from the guys on the team, especially Hack.
     After a few beers we were jawing about how bizarre it was that the Buccaneers were looking good for a change. Just as weird, as Hack put it, how the Cowboys “sucked grown-up donkey dongs.” Then Hack lurched bolt upright. “Fuck beer!” He slung his empty can across the hooch. “Let’s hit Pom Poms, down some real swill.” Then he winked. “See what else we can get into.”
     I agreed to go with him to Pom Poms, the local, infamous, full-service brothel, but insisted on only the liquor and floor show for me.
     “Whatever,” Hack sniffed, shaking his head. “But who knows? You might even find something a fag writer can get into in Pom Poms.” Hack guffawed. When he slung open the rickety door to his hooch, he grinned and bowed, said, “After you, madam.”

 

Pom Poms, barely a stone’s throw from the base, looked like just more of the stacked sandbags, concrete blocks, and corrugated-tin of the base. But inside Pom Poms' armored doors loomed a large, smoky, strobe-lighted lounge packed with drinking, hooting GIs. I spotted some locals too, no doubt base employees who’d been security cleared. Most of the natives probably had better sense than to risk getting into bar fights with the much larger drunken GIs.
     Next to the bar on a small, spotlighted stage, a disturbingly young-looking local woman was teetering on sky-high heels, the neckline of her sequined minidress scooped to her navel. As she crooned the latest American pop tunes, clouds of cigarette smoke billowed around her from the nearby corridor leading to the rooms in the back.
     Hack and I got our drinks — a gin and tonic for me, straight whiskey for Hack — then spun on our bar stools to stare at the stage. Before long Hack glanced this way and that, then impatiently shook his head. “Screw this,” he shouted. “Let’s see what’s up in the rear — no pun intended, writer boy.” As Hack hugged my shoulders and laughed, I shook my head, even as I thought that was a pretty clever one for Hack. Then Hack headed for the corridor, high-fiving or backslapping everyone he ran into, as I followed. Hack told everyone I was his old high school buddy turned “big-time magazine writer.” But before I knew it we were just two more guys leaning against the plywood walls lined with the repurposed packing-crate doors to the rooms as we jawboned, smoked, and nursed our drinks like everyone else.
     Just as I took the final swig of my gin, the ice cubes clinking against my nose, the door to one of the rooms flew open. A small, naked beauty ran out. “Crazy! He crazy!” she screamed. With her entire naked body in motion before my eyes, I barely caught more than a glimpse of her face, but it seemed to have the typical dark eyed, high cheekboned, pouty lipped features of the local young native women.
     As soon as she disappeared down the corridor, every guy around crowded toward the wide-open door of the room she’d run from, craning to see inside it. Nobody entered. “Whoa!” someone shouted. “Stay cool, dude. Everything’s fine.” Someone else pleaded, “Take it easy, man. That ain’t worth it.”
     A guy near the door turned, elbowed his way out of the scrum.
     “Who is it?” Hack asked him.
     “One of the virgins,” the guy answered. “Not just a newbie, a real virgin,” he added, rolling his eyes as he hurried past us.
     Hack sniffed and shook his head. Back in his hooch he’d mentioned the load of new recruits that hit the base a couple of days ago. Most of them were due to move out their first time tomorrow, he’d said. Realizing I might be moments from witnessing an actual suicide in the ranks, I decided to jettison my half-drunk buddy persona and became a journalist again.
     Then someone down the corridor shouted, “The colonel!” I heard the rustle of guys snapping to attention. When I turned, I saw a large man stuffing his shirttails into his pants as he came out of a room near the end of the corridor. He stopped, stood tall, stared toward us. Raising his hands to his hips, he had the air of a guy who’d been there, done that, whatever the situation. “It’s Colonel Pusi,” Hack whispered reverently.
     “Colonel — Pussy?” I muttered just for the hell of it.
     Hack scowled at me. “Not funny, man. It’s poo — see! P — U — S — I. Don’t even think about saying it wrong. And it don’t sound nothing like pus neither.”
     I felt like quipping, Poo-see, you mean like a toilet bowl inspector? Hack’s kind of humor, right. But my old buddy was obviously in high reverence mode, and why risk a scuffle with a half-drunk guy the size of Hack?
     Of course I’d heard of Randolph Pusi, the larger-than-life commander of Hack’s regiment. Despite any possible touchiness about his name, Colonel Pusi was renowned as a soldier’s soldier, a stand-up guy who’d fought his way up the ranks by always leading from the front. They said he never asked anybody to do anything he hadn’t done a hundred times himself. According to his staunch defenders he was too good with the men to ever be promoted to general, ever find himself behind the troops. Staring at his craggy face, I couldn’t detect the slightest air of a fifty-something guy rudely roused from questionable pleasures. Everything about the man shouted in the moment, and in full charge of that moment.
     Reverential whispers — “the colonel, make room for the colonel, step aside” — reverberated down the hall as the drunken grunts fell back against the walls to make way for him. When he reached the room, he ducked through its short doorway as gracefully as a dancer. I pushed forward, managed to get right up to the door, even pulled my notepad and pencil out of my shirt pocket. When I looked into the small room, a young soldier was sitting on the bed. He looked barely eighteen, if that. I swallowed hard when I spotted a .45 automatic in his hand. His dejected look said he might use it any second....

 

Copyright 2020 A. R. Gregory