Chapter 11: Sarge
His searing steel-grey eyes, the deep crevice that burrowed between his pinched brow, the anarchy of his growing crew-cut defined his ethos as he punched the horn of his 1964 Chevy pickup when he pulled up to his double-wide trailer in the middle of his two-acre dust bowl of a ranchette. It was 8:52 p.m. and he made the short 4-mile journey returning home from the police station in downtown Douglas in less than twelve minutes. Robert hated going to the store with Viola, but after duty hours on Tuesday were the best for him. Robert leaned out the window and shouted to the door. “You fuckin’ be ready!”
Robert doesn’t know what brings on his fits of anger. He knows only that in a sudden burst, he responds to the smallest of provocations rightfully with a heavy hand. Each action necessitates a strong reaction. It could be the scratching noise of his cat in the litter box or the loud rumble of a low rider driving by with a Chulo blaring vile Mexican music from large, and possibly stolen, speakers that fill the trunk of his tricked up vehicle that requires and immediate response.
From his bed at night, he stares at the ceiling and he swears that he can hear every little noise in the dark and he can feel every bad intention. Dogs fighting outside send him into a fit of rage. He once shot a barking dog at 2 a.m. last year with his .22 rifle poking from his bedroom window. The dog yelped once when it was hit in the hind quarter and scampered away into the desert night. It never returned. When the neighbor called the authorities and the Cochise County Sheriff Deputy arrived, nothing was done. It is always a matter of who you know, and Robert knew every Deputy in the county.
He glared at the trailer. Sand was piled up against some of the cinderblocks that support the foundation. Some of the awning was peeled back from the latest dust storm that rolled through the area. It will need to be fixed on his next day off.
Colors around town irritate him. The bright pigments of the Fiesta on September 16th, Mexico’s independence day, the technicolor painted Mexican restaurants, women’s dresses that are teal, red, and yellow, which are much too flashy. Even the spring flowers in the hills around Douglas seem to demonstrate their temporary lack of respect for the harsh reality of this land. To him, nothing seems to be as reassuring as brown hard-packed desert floor, the gray of the thorny ocotillo, the umber veins of the ironwood and light olive hue of the desert scrub. These are the colors of a proper desert uniform.
He blames the United States government for the onslaught of disrespect to his country. The line, la lina, that separates Mexico from the U.S. is a false governmental promise to keep the land pure. When he dares to look out his south-facing window, he’s certain that he can see deep in the shadowed washes that hide Mexican nationals that inch their way north. He faults the night sky for its co-conspiratorial role. Under the midnight veil, illegals, many who are mules carrying contraband, slither into his country. They bring in drugs, prostitution and crime.
He can spot the wets in the streets in Douglas. They seem to be outlined in an aura of black. Their shinning white eyes peer at him through their dirty brown faces. He can hear them talking and does not know what they are saying.
He clenched his jaw in anger. Viola was disrespectfully not ready. He forcefully cranks up the window, punches the truck door open, and throws his feet on the ground in an inelegant lunge. He walks by the gangly cactus, past a load of gravel that he piled last year for re-doing the walkway, and up jets up the metal stairs. He opens the door and Viola is pulling herself up to the kitchen counter from her wheelchair.
“Fucking bitch,” Robert mutters as he closed the door behind him.
“What?” Viola cautiously inquired. She carefully avoids hearing the full blunt of Robert’s grumbling when he arrives.
He picked up a fork from the table and jabs it towards Viola as if stabbing her. He slams a fork on the kitchen counter and walks outside with disgust. Harry, his dog, rushes towards Robert as Robert walks down the steps. But he was greeted by the bottom of Robert’s boot sending Harry backwards.
Justifiably angry, Robert reaches and punches the side panel of the dusty white trailer. He resented her. But, as a good Christian man, he was obligated to feed the fucking bitch along with her god-damned animals. Besides, he knew his reward was later with God, when she’d pass on, leaving him with the guns, cash, and gold coins that he’d purchased using her large settlement obtained from the accident from the Arizona Department of Transportation. The doctors had indicated that her injuries would shorten her life, but that was now well over two years ago, and certainly more than Robert had carefully measured.
He yells indignantly towards the trailer, “I’m headed to the store by myself” and hops in his truck.
Rumor had it that Robert not only had a large stash of cash and coins from her settlement hidden away, but he was frequently buying hunting supplies and boxes of dried food from the local Yellow Front surplus store. He’d often be seen headed to the rental storage facility on C Street, weekly.
There, he’d inventory his stash of food and weapons to ensure that no one snuck into the shed and took anything. He also had a large diesel generator that he had mounted on a welded skid to provide him power to his trailer in the desert. Along one side of the 30 x 20 storage room, he had a row of 16 surplus military gas cans that he purchased, 2 at a time. He always filled each up with diesel before he took them into his storage room for safe keeping.
As he opened up the garage door entry to his large storage room, he thought “I haven’t been as careful with the inventory. I better double-check it. Fucking Mexicans would steal me blind if I’m not careful.”
He clicked on the dimmer light and surveyed his stash. He contemplated his ever-growing inventory , “I better stock up a bit more on ammo. The price is going up.” He caressed the cardboard ammunition boxes that he had neatly stacked up on the shelf.
As an E-5 Army Sergeant in Vietnam, he was in charge of overseeing other soldiers and always set a standard for his men. There was always a strict order within the chaos of the war. And in the chaos he found a certain comfort. He also missed the camaraderie that formed as a result of the conflict. Even the jarring thumps of the rotor blades from Huey helicopters gave him a tempo of safety and surety that he missed. The longing for order and structure is now worse when he closes his eyes.
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