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friday, july 25, 2014 1:58 am zst

Keep Calm and Carry On

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Part XXI: Yardbirds

Fear took down the winged life
The winged life we've led
So kiss the joy as it goes by
The poet William said
Blake the poet said

'Cause the old future's gone
The old future's gone
We can't get to there from here
The old future's gone

The old future's dead and gone
Never to return
There is a new way through the hills ahead
This one will have to earn


-John Gorka


Arkansas State Trooper Nikki Swagger had just come from her supervisor's office and was on her way down to the motor pool. She was somewhat pleased with the citation that was going to go into her record for recognizing the book thief. She did have an excellent memory for faces, but the main reason that she spotted him was the picture from a security camera that was provided with the bulletin. The face was as devoid of any of the characteristics that marked the mug shots of even the most innocuous of criminals. Like her grandfather, Earl Swagger, she approached criminology less like a science than the way an actor viewed his craft, or a doctor the near prophetic gift of diagnosis. Her approach to the fight against crime was equal parts analysis and intuition. She would rely first on gut instinct. Both her daddy Bob Lee and his stories of his daddy Earl testified to the efficacity of instinct in surviving gunfire and mayhem. Intellect, when there was time for it, was good for validating instinct and in her profession that meant justifying what one did in desperate adrenaline charged moments. So her instincts were alerted at the incongruity of a face at the first bulletin that was issued by Interpol and nagged at her more with the four succeding ones that appeared in her mail slot at the barracks.

But it was no longer her problem. The man would give no other name than the one on the exquisitely faked ID, which was different from the one presented at the scene of the crime. But a computer analysis of the structure of the outer ear of the man in the security photo had matched, clearing the way for the approval of his extradition to the Netherlands. There he would face a Dutch judge, and if found guilty would would face the penal consequences. She could not imagine what that might actually entail in a country where one could smoke hash, trip on mushrooms and pick up a hooker all with complete legal impunity, but she imagined that there must still be some form of punishment for criminal wrongdoing. Maybe they put orange vests on them and set them to plant tulips for a few years. In any case, once on the plane, he was out of her jurisdiction and beyond the perimeter of her concern.

***

"Glazier huh?", the guard drawled past a plug of Red Man,"Well, they said your ID was fake, but for all I care, that's as good a name as any to call you. Since we do things alphabetically, you might be in luck. We'll put you in with the other Glazier. He might think you are kin and take a shine to you."

The guard led him to a cell whose occupant looked up briefly from the stripped Louis Lamour paperback when the door opened, but gave no sign of greeting. Once the the guard left he put the book down and swung his legs over the edge of the upper bunk and regarded Melchizedek. He had an air about him of an oldtime actor who was typecast as an Indian without actually being one. He had shoulder length white hair and turquoise and silver ring as well as a battered stained suede jacket. Not unclean, he rather appeared preserved and sterilized by smoke and creosote. However his studied coolness was almost pure Hollywood with a dash of barracks joker, nothing indigenous about it at all. He extended a hand and said, "Arlie Sampson Glazier". Melchizedek was now too ashamed of his alias to say it aloud. Arlie'nears grip was still strong and heavily calloused, and felt as if he could still dig a posthole or chop a cord of wood.

"Never seen you around here"

"I'm not from here"

"Still your face is kinda familiar"

"My family came from near here...at one point"

"Mine too. Guard said you're a Glazier?"

"I'm related, but that's not my real name."

"My people were in California. They were Dustbowl Okies. They settled with the distant cousins who arrived in Forty-nine. Eighteen forty-nine that is. The California Glaziers were good Christians, they had been part of the Azusa Street revival and then in Aimee Semple's church. They were glad to take the Okies in and help them get set up. I was born after Daddy left for the Pacific. He died on the beach at Tarawa and I never got to meet him. Momma worked in the Grumman factory and Grannie Eunice watched me. Then momma married Phil and we moved away from the family to San Bernadino. I didn't much like Phil or the valley. I stay away from home as much as I could. Back then there were a lot of kids running around half wild and we caused a bit of trouble. Finally I joined the Corps to get out of there and I wanted to be like Daddy. Spent my first tour in Korea on the DMZ mostly. At the end of that hitch I re-signed, not knowing what else to do. They said I was going to a country called Viet Nam. They said it was warmer than Korean and it sounded like we'd finally get to shoot at as many Commies as we wanted.

Boy it was nothin' like we expected. Same for the officers. The best of the generals and colonels were still fighting Korea, but some seemed to be fighting WWI, Getttysburg or the Barbary pirates. But I suppose all of us that survived finally got it, now we can't stop fighting Viet Nam. We got chewed up real good in one of the first major firefights with the NVA. Half my platoon was gone in the first night, and I got promoted to lance corporal. Then I kept getting confused about what the job was about. I would have thought it was about keeping the newbies they gave me alive, but nope, jest take that ridge, flank that VC position and roll 'em up, stay here and call in fire on those mortars and if you get em we'll be right behind you. Fact is I ended up getting most of the guys they gave me killed at first. But for some reason, the fact that I stayed alive entitled me to some medals and a promotion to sargeant. I didn't see what difference it made if I couldn't keep all my own guys alive, but I never considered myself what they called leadership material. So once I managed to pretty much keep a squad from being shot up they gave me a platoon. Now the company commander had gotten a bit smarter too. The men had a lot of faith in him, our patrols almost never got ambushed we had some good luck interdicting supply lines for the VC and captured some of their bases. But they always melted away and that was ok with me. But then a patrol disappeared and I was afraid they had run into something big. They sent out 3 more patrols and the rest were ready to go at a moments notice. I realized later that those generals and colonels are haunted by ghosts that haven't left them alone since West Point. The field grade officers and their hungry ghosts were looking for a big win, a sumptuous body count, a paragraph in the history books.

One of the patrols got into a firefight and we mounted up. At the beginning it was as bad as it could get. Charlie'd jump up behind us and shoot a bunch of my guys in the back, we'd turn to fight but he'd be at our backs again. It wasn't until I shot one that appeared right next to me and he disappeared into the ground that I realized that we found an underground base and there were tunnels all around us. We were all pinned down, the captain was bleeding to death and I had a dumbass lieutenant colonel who was telling me to probe and identify the tunnel entrances instead of lighting the freak out of there. After telling the LC with all due respect to perform an anatomical impossiblity on himself, I set a squad on the tunnel entrance to pot Charlie everytime he popped up like a gopher and then I had em dump all the deadwood and dried elephant grass we could find down the hole. We lined up big rocks around the edge and threw all the ordinance we could find in after, flares, C-4, smoke grenades, claymores, you name it. Then we pulled the pins on 3 willypete grenades dropped em in and them rolled in the rocks.

The Jag lawyer they gave me for my court-martial was pretty good and the panel accepted his argument that my role in destroying the VC base and the lives I saved should justify their dropping the insubordination charge. I was given a General Discharge with a clean service record. After I processed out at the Naval Air Station near San Francisco I thought I had earned a bender. I had only gone on I & I leave in the Philipines a few times, and it had seemed like a good way to sort things out after a few bad operations. I didn't expect that it would last a few years. But during that time I did get something accomplished. I realized that senior officers weren't the only ones that were haunted. I met a few NCOs like me that didn't look for medals or parade to convince us there was some sense to it all. We were casualties of what I started to call Ghost Shrapnel. It was like when one of your guys got shot or blowed up, splintered bits of their soul would spray the rest of the unit. It would get in deep and start to fester. No damn VA hospital was any good at finding it and getting it out. We had to set up our own field hospitals, use booze or whatever else we could find for anaesthetic, and even then one small piece hurt something fierce coming out. Only way we knew was that a man had to re-live the whole thing that caused that wound, and maybe the ghost would take some of the pieces back. It wasn't much of a cure, but it was the best we could do. Soon you learned to live with the pieces that were too deep to get out. But damn they ached sometimes when a storm was coming.

It was around that time that I met a certain fella in a cell just like this. Leroy and I had gotten picked up somewhere near the Nevada border for public drunkeness and vagrancy. He said that his name was Charlie, and I told him I had enough of Charlie and when I talked to him I called him Chuck. He didn't like that and he didn't like Leroy. But after Leroy got shanked by a biker and lost a gall bladder, I was stuck with Chuck. He kind of glommed on to me, there were times he couldn't seem to shut up. He had this guitar and he said Creepy Kravis, who used to run with Ma Barker and her boys, taught him to play when he was in the pen in Washington State. He wasn't half bad and when he was singing at least he wasn't talking. His dream was to be some kind of radio star. He bragged that he was going to be bigger than the Beatles. He was due to be released a few days before me, and he told me there was a ranch nearby, he had some friends, rich dudes and foriegners who would give us a place to crash, and he knew these crazy chicks, it would be a good time, he handed me an address. I told him I was still considering different options. I was a little surprised when I walked out of the jailhouse ahd he was waiting there. He had an old Bel Air convertible They were a little high, but not so much that the cops would pick them up. Chuck in fact had trimmed his hair and had a dapper suit, and might have even passed for a car salesman if it weren't for his crazy eyes. I couldn't seem to say anything that would get rid of them, I got tired of him yelling to me as I walked to the bus station so I agreed to let them give me a ride. That was a mistake. The girls in back made a space between them and they nuzzled me and squirmed against me the whole way. One even dragged at my elblow as I boarded the bus, and they sat there until the bus pulled away. I was never really tempted to go with them. I wanted no truck with Chuck and hoped never to see him again, but of course after a while I did.

Pretty soon none of us were into booze anymore, LSD had arrived. There was a program out of the VA to use it to help treat vets.They had their own fancy term for Ghost Shrapnel, they were already calling it "Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome". I didn't trust the VA to dispense aspirin, but soon it didn't matter, acid was everywhere. Captain Trips was around then, seemed like he was at every party. He was the one who had the original Sandoz pills. Later Owlsley learned to cook up his own.

I mention the whole deal with Lester mostly because a lot of people think that was the cause of the Rolling Curse. Lester LeBlanc had come to Frisco from the coffeehouses and small clubs of Boston to play with one of the big folk rock acts when they had to fire their guitar player. Lester hit the bigtime music scene like a wrecking ball. Seems like the more he partied and made a spectacle of himself, the more parties he got invited to. Soon he was hanging out with the Stones and their whole crew. Finally he went too far and OD'd. None of his famous friends even seemed interested in attending the funeral. Porkrind all messed up about it, he kept saying that Lester made him promise, back when he still made the local scene, that if he ever died he wanted to be cremated at his favorite spot at Joshua Tree. He and Morris and Pedro started making a plan. I told him not to be foolish but he didn't listen. They somehow rented a hearse and showed up at the airport and convinced the baggage people to release the body. They got away clean, maybe because no one else in Lester's miserable rich family cared to meet the plane. Porkrind said that they carried him all the way to the top of the overlook. Then they all got drunk and when the bottles were empty they made rambling speeches and dowsed old Lester with a gallon of gasoline. The park rangers found them passed out or crying and talking ragtime with Lester smoldering and pretty much unreduced. Within a week of getting out of jail Pedro had crashed head on into an embankment and Morris had been found shot in his car. Porkrind was scared, John Small Thunder told him that Joshua Tree was sacred to the Shastas and they must have brought down the Rolling Curse by angering the spirits or ancestors or whatever. Maybe that's where it did start, or it was just because of the crazy life we were living. Porkrind had a theory that it all had to do with the British. He was convinced it wasn't a coincidence, Lester hangin' with English rockstars, that limey doctor that worked with Captain Trips who was running all the LSD experiments, and Porkrind said that he was working with the other English dude who came over and brought the acid to Harvard where Leary and Alpert got into it. Supposedly that guy was sent by that writer who had all those stories about Martians invading and scientists turning people into animals and such. Later folks said Porkrind was right, it was all in that song American Pie how the British Invasion corrupted the innocence of the whole country. There sure was something fishy about how the acid was suddenly so easy to get, but there had to be more to it than that. Then there were other weird folks from England, but that comes later.

Porkrind was too scared to be alone, so he came with me to a show at the Fillmore and there was gonna be a big party after and everyone was gonna be there. We knew every member of the Dead, the Airplane, crazy Kesey, Janice and a whole slew of other folks. We were both tripping by the time we got there. Porkrind was usually a pretty laidback steady tripper like me but he was still so agitated. He had gotten up to get a beer or some reds and I was just grooving on the low roar of the crowd when a girl sits next to me and starts whispering in my ear. There was a guy scaring her, could she hang with me a while. She couldn't point him out, she left him in the other room, he was following her all night. She had black shiny hair a rounded Aztec nose and dark almond eyes that reminded me of a panther. Her name was Michaela. I had to know where she came from, how the world had made something so exquisite. It turned out that her family roots were as exposed and twisted as a mangrove. All the Spanish ancestors were on the lam from the Inquisition, they had been sailors and flamenco troubadors and painters of madonnas ascending to heaven, they lit kandelikas on Friday nights and told the children not to tell anyone. There were Apache warriors and Yaqui brujos. Also a Turkish dervish, a Hawaiian princess and a Chinaman. How they got in there was anyones guess. I was already in love before I even turned my head or understood the first word she was whispering, I fell when I felt her breath on my ear, felt the heat from her cheek and smelled the perfume in her hair. I was just starting to realized how happy I was when Chuck walked up to us."

***

"...he absolutely cannot be allowed to return to the Netherlands to stand trial, who knows what might come out in the trial...I wish we could keep him for questioning, but it's impossible at this point. I don't even want him getting on the plane...yes, hopefully she'll find out what we want know...We'll try for the first option, it's less likely to raise suspicions...I haven't gotten a report yet but our man should be getting close to him, enough so that he can arrange everything to look like a typical jailhouse altercation...it's to be carried out as soon as possible..."

Posted by guest author: papijoe on Jun 16, 2006 7:00 am

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