The story is dedicated to all Veterans, and to our Brothers and Sisters who never came home!
Rick woke to find himself naked and alone in the middle of what appeared to him to be an A-Team encampment. He recognized the encompassing mountainous terrain as being very similar to that of the central highlands, a geographical region around Pleiku in the former Republic of Viet-Nam.
The encampment was surrounded by wire and as Rick anxiously looked closer, he could see armed sappers crawling through the wire from all directions. Rick thought, "Oh fuck, I'm really in for it now." He looked desperately around him for his weapons but he could find nothing but his bare hands to protect himself with. A weird buzzing noise began to ring in his ears. "That's not incoming mortars or rockets. What the hell is it?" Rick wondered.
He was awakened from his nightmare by his bedside telephone. He had to gently shift Michelle's beautiful blond head off his chest to reach over and stop the damned ringing. While he was picking up the phone he reflected that this nightmare had been of a rare type for him. It had been one he hadn't actually experienced in real life!
He glanced at the clock on the bedside table and thought, one o'clock, this call had better be good. "Hello." Rick grumbled into the phone. He heard a click on the line and he realized immediately that Snowman had picked up the extension in his and Cat's room.
"You want Theo Jackson?" Rick recognized the excited voice as Willy Ferguson; he was one of their most reliable and productive informants.
"Hell, yes, we want him, Willy. Where is he?" Rick came wide-awake and he sat up on the side of the bed. Theo was their current biggest target. He had skipped on a murder bond of a cool fifty grand from the biggest bonding company in Houston.
The bond had been secured by the title to his grandparent's uninsured home. While celebrating his release by smoking crack Theo had burned the house down and killed both of his invalid grandparents! Their client stood to loose a bundle, conversely, Rick and Snowman stood to claim a large percentage of that bundle if they could just catch Theo.
"I just saw Jackson go into Jazz Wilson's bar out here on Martin Luther King. I heard he's trying to raise enough dough to get out of town, so I was watching Jazz's place. He's the biggest fence in this part of town."
"Alright, Willy. We'll be over there in just a few minutes. You know if we catch him this time we'll take good care of you." Rick thumbed the button that hung up the phone and pushed another one that speed dialed Larry's number.
"Hello, County Coroners. You stab 'em; we slab 'em." Dirty Dana answered the phone in her usual irreverent manner.
"Is Buckshot still up?" Rick asked urgently. He knew they had to get to Jazz's place before Theo finished his business and hit the road.
"No, he went to bed when the rest of you party poopers left. He's just no damned fun either. I couldn't even get him into my fucking coffin with me tonight." Dana returned.
"Have him ready to roll in ten minutes. Tell him we'll be bringing the truck." Rick hung up the phone and grabbed for his clothes. He took the specially made Bianchi Miami holster rig with the twin .45 Colt autos off of the hook beside the bed and deftly slipped it on as he'd done hundreds of times before.
Someone rapped quietly on the door and Rick headed that way only to be stopped by a soft, plaintive call from the bed. Michelle reached a hand toward his side of the bed; she opened her awesome blue eyes to look for him when she couldn't touch him. "Business, Baby." Rick told her. He moved to the side of the bed; he leaned over, and kissed her full, soft lips.
"Come back to me, Lover." Michelle pouted.
"You know it, Doll." Rick vowed. Rick opened the door and a tiny, sexy, nude Cat Woman slipped sinuously past him and ran for the bed. This wasn't at all unexpected by Rick; Cat and Michelle often slept together for company if Rick and Snowman were going to be out late.
Snowman was waiting in the living room; he had three small two-way radios in his hands. "I thought we might need these and I checked the batteries while you called to wake up Buckshot. They're all working."
"Great, let's go." Rick said, as he accepted the radio Snowman handed him. The two never had to talk much when they were working. They had worked together so long each could almost read the other's mind.
Rick drove the truck they shared between them. It was a new dually four-wheel drive diesel, a truck that was powerful enough for any use they had for it. Buckshot was waiting in the shadows out in front of Larry's house. He had a short bed roll over one shoulder that was tied on each end with strong leather thongs. Snowman opened the truck door and let him in.
Snowman wasted no time on preliminaries. "Here's a radio." He passed one of the small two-way radios to Buckshot. "It's just one frequency; I've already turned it on so all you'll have to do is to push the red button to talk. We're going to a bar downtown; you'll go around the back way. We'll give you a minute to find your way to the back door and get set up and then we'll go in the front. The guy we're looking for is twenty-five years old, he's six foot two, one eighty, he's black and he walks with a limp. He jumped bond for killing his girl friend's husband with a knife. If our man's still there, we'll probably flush him out the back. He's probably heard we're hunting for him and if he sees both of us in the front, he won't be expecting you."
"That's just the way I like it." For the second time that night, Snowman saw Buckshot's dangerous look. Snowman took several of the heavy-duty plastic wire ties they used to secure prisoners out of one of his jacket pockets and handed them to Buckshot. By the time Snowman had finished briefing Buckshot, Rick had driven to the bar. He pulled to the curb slightly up the street from it.
Buckshot got out and hustled up the street, Rick waited a minute and then he pulled up to the front of the bar and parked. They went in the front door quickly and Rick moved to the right as Snowman moved to the left. Several tables in the bar were full of men and a few women and there were four men at the bar behind which a large black man with white hair presided.
A big burly, young black man got up from a nearby table and swaggered toward them. "What do you two white boys want in here?" The obviously drunken man asked them in a slurred voice.
A young black woman in an abbreviated dress that exposed most of her big breasts and practically all of her long legs got up from her table to egg the man on. "You tell 'em, Leon. Those white boys ain't got no business being in here."
Snowman and Rick both caught a glimpse of their quarry exiting the rest room in the rear of the bar. He cast one glance in their direction, then he headed for the back door as fast as his limp would allow. "We're leaving, Leon!" Rick told the big man in front of them. "We don't want any trouble."
"What do you mean by that, boy?'" Leon shouted angrily. Rick thought it was too bad Leon just was not the type you could reason with and he hoped Buckshot could handle Theo until they could go to his aid.
"Get them, Leon." The woman at the table yelled. Leon headed their way and Rick leaped up and met him head on with a fist full of brass load that he had palmed from his pocket. The shock of the blow ran all the way up Rick's arm to his shoulder. He planted two more jackhammer blows to Leon's smashed face before the big man's knees received the command from his brain to fold! Leon crashed backwards and brought the table behind him to the floor with a tinkle of breaking glasses.
"I got him." Rick heard Buckshot say excitedly over the radio in his pocket.
The woman that had goaded Leon on got even more vocal now. "Why did you hit Leon? He wasn't bothering you!" The agitating woman turned to the other men in the bar. "You gonna let these bastards come in here and beat up Leon?"
The other men were obviously pretty damned impressed that Rick had knocked Leon out but the woman kept goading them on. Only an instant had passed, but a couple of them had started to look at each other and fidget. Rick was still trying to decide whether to head for the door or draw a gun when an ominous sound from the back of the bar got the whole crowd's instantaneous attention.
Buckshot was standing just inside the open back door. He had ratcheted the slide action of his riot gun. He caught the ejected shell with a practiced flourish and stuffed it back up the bottom tube. "Our man's out back sleeping, are you ready to leave now, Boss, or did you want to have a drink first?"
Buckshot asked the question in an assertive tone that was heard throughout the silent bar. He stood in a relaxed posture with the polished walnut stock of his chrome plated meat grinder resting on one hip. Even the loud-mouthed woman was smart enough she had shut up and sat down fast when she'd heard the unmistakable sound of the shotgun action clacking.
Snowman shouted cheerfully, "Hell, yes; I'm ready for a drink; matter of fact, I'm buying the house a round." He pulled out his wallet as he walked around Leon; he laid a hundred-dollar bill on the bar. Rick followed him over, he was feeling very relieved at the timely interruption.
The bar owner served them their drinks first and Rick raised his glass to Buckshot. Rick toasted, "Here's to working with a righteous Bro." The first drink went down so well they asked politely for another shot and sent it speeding after the first. Rick asked Jazz for a bucket of ice and when it was placed on the bar he stuck his bruised right hand deeply into it and breathed a loud sigh of relief.
Buckshot reached into a pocket and pulled out a large folding pocketknife; he offered it to his Bros. He told them, "Theo wasn't feeling overly sociable tonight; he tried to use this on me." Snowman motioned for him to keep it. As Buckshot slipped the knife back in his pocket he said, "I suppose he can't keep it where he's going. I laid him out good, but I guess I'd better go check on him."
Snowman went to bring the truck around. This left Rick to finish smoothing things over with the bartender and crowd. The mood in the bar had begun to change when Snowman had bought a round and several of the men had gotten Leon to a table and one of them had taken him a drink. Of course, this didn't mean that at least one of the three bikers hadn't kept a weather eye out on the crowd at all times!
Rick withdrew his damaged hand from the ice bucket and placed another hundred on top of the change of the other hundred Snowman had purposely left. He slid the stack of money across the bar in Jazz's general direction and it quickly vanished. "We're real sorry for the interruption, Mr. Wilson. Are we square?"
He was rewarded with profuse assurances of good will. "We're square. Believe me, Sir. Old Jazz don't need no law in here and I sure don't want no more trouble with you three gentlemen. You won't be hearing anything out of us." Jazz smiled broadly as he patted the pocket where he'd stashed the cash!
Rick hustled out of the rear exit of the bar to find Snowman and Buckshot loading an unconscious Theo into the back of the truck. Buckshot had busted him in the head with the butt of his gun then he'd efficiently bound him with the strong electrical ties. Rick grabbed a long thin leg and helped them load their still unconscious prize catch.
"Buckshot, you did great!" Rick praised him after they had Theo loaded. "If we'd had to fight that whole crowd, we would have had to pay for every chair and table in there."
"Yeah, not to mention having the cops out." Snowman added.
They took Theo to the County Jail and the copy of the bond agreement they had in the truck facilitated their getting the County to take him out of their custody. They were greatly relieved to have a receipt signed by the desk sergeant in exchange for the elusive Theo.
Rick gave Buckshot a roll of five one hundred-dollar bills for services rendered, and they still had him back at Larry's house before five o'clock. "It's been a real pleasure doing business with you two!" Buckshot winked wickedly as he stashed the money in his biker wallet and exited the truck. At this rate he would rebuild his traveling fund in no time!
Rick and Snowman drove back to their house; they quickly undressed and climbed into Rick and Michelle's bed with their two beautiful women who were snuggled together there keeping the bed warm for them.
The inviting smell of blueberry waffles and frying bacon woke Rick that morning. He looked over to find that all three of his bed mates had abandoned ship already. "I must really be getting tame." Rick shook his head and thought in disgust. "Two years ago, a skinny house cat couldn't have stepped foot into this bedroom without me going for a gun."
This disturbing thought was enough incentive to cause Rick to hit the floor and do fifty pushups before he headed for the shower. Rick was just coming out of the bathroom when Michelle came back into the bedroom.
She was an absolute doll! Her voluptuous figure was accented, but not concealed in the least, by a frilly pink apron, which happened to be all she was wearing at the time. "Breakfast is ready, Sweetheart." Michelle spoke in the sexy voice that never failed to thrill Rick. She walked into his arms as he opened them wide and she applied herself to thoroughly kissing him.
The soul kiss led to Rick temporarily losing all desire, for breakfast, that is. By the time they came out of his second shower of the morning, thirty minutes later, he was definitely ready for something to eat. Michelle put her flimsy apron back on and spoke. "I'll warm your breakfast in the microwave while you dress, Darling."
It never took long for Rick to dress. Unless he and his Bro were staking out a place or trying to impress a client, they seldom wore anything but Levi's or fatigue pants, a Harley shirt, their motorcycle jackets, and their "rags", a sleeveless denim jacket with their club colors on the back. Rick and Snowman both still usually wore the Green Beret they had worked, fought, and bled to bring honor to.
Snowman was lying on a couch in the living room with a steaming coffee cup on the table in front of him. He had his pants on and his shirt and boots were close at hand. Snowman's small but superbly muscled torso he'd trained for years to attain and maintain reminded Rick of the body of a leopard. A leopard was a good comparison for Snowman. Rick had seen him prove many times that, pound for pound, he was the deadliest man Rick had ever known.
"I called Buckshot, Bro. He's headed over here already." Snowman told Rick.
"Good." Rick collected the full plate of breakfast Michelle had just placed on the counter for him. "Thanks, Honey." Rick fell to with a will in an attempt at making the tasty food vanish as quickly as possible.
"That sure beats the hell out of cold ham and mothers for breakfast, doesn't it." Snowman said as he watched Rick devouring his food. He was refering to the infamous ham and lima beans that had been one of the staples of their diet during the war.
"What does the "mothers" mean?" Cat asked curiously.
"Mothers was half of what we called those fuckin' lima beans." Rick enlightened her. "Snowman, I kept telling you someday there would be a time that we could look back at the war as just a bad memory."
"Yeah, you sure did, Slick. There are some people I still miss from back then, though. I think you told me once you went through training and were on the same team for a while with Tiger Murphy, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I did. He was one of the really good ones." Rick confided. "I remember the first time you told me you were from Houston and I remarked that Murph was from here, too. I heard from someone years ago that he had made it out; we need to look him up sometime."
"Remind me to check with Willy when we find him. What made me think about Tiger was Willy once said they'd played ball together and were best friends when they were kids. He said they were so close it was him that gave Tiger his nickname, so I'm sure Willy'd know where he was living if anyone would."
Their idle conversation was interrupted by the sound of a Harley approaching outside. This was shortly followed by a loud knock on the door. Michelle had changed her apron for a frilly sundress that looked like it was already on the verge of losing the battle of containing all of her body. She went to look out the peephole they'd installed in the door and she opened it when she was certain it was Buckshot.
Buckshot came through the entrance and then he stood stock-still and stared at Michelle. "Dammit, Lady; you are a looker!" Buckshot practically drooled. "If you ever smarten up and decide you want to get rid of Slick and get yourself a good old man, just give me a call."
They laughed at Buckshot's impudence. The movement Michelle made when she laughed enhanced the already incomparable view of her in the revealing dress.
"No, Buckshot." Michelle insisted, "On the contrary, Slick deserves a good old lady, but if he ever finds him one it won't do him any good, because I'll just kill the bitch!" Michelle's viciously jealous statement amused them all.
She was straining her sundress again. Buckshot put his hands over his eyes, and pleaded with her. "Please, Michelle, my poor bachelor eyes can't take much of that!" His fingers widened, he was peeking at her!
"Maybe some fresh coffee would help you, Buckshot." She offered.
"Yes, please, Ma'am. Black." Buckshot accepted. She stood in the kitchen with his cup; she had an inspiration and waved a bottle of their best bourbon questioningly at him. At his enthusiastic nod and a gracious, "Yes, please, Ma'am", she poured a generous shot in his coffee and brought it to him.
Buckshot rubbed his hands together in pleased anticipation, and then he reached and took the coffee as Michelle served him. "Genuine southern hospitality. You're not only beautiful; you surely do know how to treat a man!" Buckshot spoke gratefully, then he sipped the drink.
Michelle poured a liberal amount into the two other cups that were quickly extended her way, she accepted the men's grateful thanks, and then she left the bottle near to hand. The men went over some of the details of the previous night's work and then they made tentative plans for the day.
The first detail the men wanted to take care of was picking up the reward for Theo Jackson. They headed over to the bonding company as soon as they'd all stowed away a comfortable cargo of the laced coffee.
The representative of the bonding agency was more than happy to give them a very large company check in exchange for the official police receipt for Theo. They went by their bank and deposited most of the check in their account. The next thing on their agenda was to find Willy Ferguson and give him the reward for his help.
They found Willy at a church run rescue mission on the north side of town they'd known that he frequented. Willy had heard their bikes coming and he was already waiting for them out by the street. "I've been waiting for you guys." He told them. "I already know you got Theo. Matter of fact, I was watching you from a hidey hole across the street when you loaded him up."
"Yeah, Willy. We really appreciate your help. You're our best detective." The detective business was something that Snowman had dreamed up to try to give their stoolies some pride in themselves. "You should have told us you were there, we would have paid you then."
"No, Sir! If those people in Jazz's bar knew I'm a under cover detective, they'd kill me before you could snap your fingers."
Snowman took out his wallet and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. He looked thoughtfully at Willy, then he asked him sincerely, "Willy, you aren't going to drink yourself to death on this, are you? The last time we gave you this much money we heard the party nearly killed you."
"This money isn't for me, guys." Willy assured them as he grabbed the bill and stashed it away. "My friend Tiger's real bad sick. He can't get down here to the shelter anymore and they won't believe me enough to let me take stuff to him. I can't say as how I blame them. Lord knows, I've lied to them plenty of times before, it just gets to be a habit somehow."
"You're not talking about Tiger Murphy, are you?" Rick asked anxiously.
"One and the same!" Willy told them. Tears of concern had appeared in Willy's rheumy eyes. "I told him Snowman had said he knew him and he told me he'd soldiered with both of you. I tried to tell Tiger you two were righteous and would help him, but he said he still had some pride left and he didn't want you to see him like he is. Boys, he's the best friend I ever had and I'm afraid he ain't gonna make it!"
"Show us where Murph is, Willy. We'll get him to some medical help!" Rick assured Willy. Both Rick and Snowman were getting worried now. They certainly didn't want to find a long lost old friend just to lose him!
Willy refused to ride on one of the bikes. They offered to call a cab for him but he said he'd relied on his feet to transport him for the last thirty years and he'd be afraid to ride in a taxi. Their only delay was to stop at a neighborhood cafe to buy a large container of hot soup to take to Murphy. They followed Willy slowly on their bikes as he scurried down the streets and alleys as fast as he could move.
Willy led them to a rundown, abandoned warehouse. They parked the bikes outside and then they followed him in. Cheap wine bottles littered the floor everywhere. The odors of rot and decay were overcome by the awful stench of stale urine and human feces. Willy led them to a dimly lit corner of the building where a vaguely human form could be seen beneath a pile of rags.
"Tiger! Wake up. I got you some soup, old Buddy. You gonna like this, it's chicken." Willy threw back the covers and exposed a wasted body that couldn't have weighed much more than a hundred pounds. "Wake up, Jimmy."
Rick reluctantly forced himself to look up from the half-clothed skeletal form to Murph's eyes. He saw immediately, even in the gloomy light that his eyes were glazed over in death. They had come several hours too late to help Tiger Murphy in this life.
"You can't help him any more, Willy; he's gone." Rick pulled the grieving man away from his friend. "Buckshot, would you go call the police and have them send an ambulance so we can get Tiger out of here."
Willy was beside himself with grief. First, he cursed his own stupidity for not telling them about Tiger's illness sooner and for leaving him to die alone. Then he cursed Tiger's wife for leaving him for another man while he was in Vietnam; then he cursed the government for sending Tiger overseas to begin with!
"They put him on them damned hard drugs when he was bad wounded and he never had another job when he got home! It's like the war ate out all his insides." Willy tearfully told them. "I guess, truth be told, Tiger really died over there."
The police officers that made the run with the ambulance knew Willy well and they remembered Murph from the street. They said they hadn't seen him since shortly after the last time he'd gotten out of detox at the V. A. Hospital a few months back. The officers assured Rick they would see to it Willy was escorted safely back to the shelter where his friends could care for him.
Before the officers led Willy away, he asked them to wait for a minute more. He went to a dusty shelf in the corner of the building and took down a ragged, olive green U.S. Army issue laundry bag and handed it to Rick. "This was Tiger's only treasure. I know he'd have wanted you two to have it."
Rick reached into the bag and drew out a paper sack that contained a Green Beret; it was still in beautiful condition. He handed this to Snowman for him to hold and reached back into the bag. The next thing he pulled out was a framed picture he immediately recognized as E-5 James William Murphy in a crisp dress uniform; The Stars and Stripes and military banners were in the background; his youthful face was beaming with pride!
The only thing else left in the bag was a small velvet display box containing his medals. In it were two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a worn copy of his Department of Defense Form 214.
"Well, this D. D. 214 will help to get him buried, anyway." Rick whispered.
Snowman told them, "I know a guy that's President of the local Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. I'm going to see him right now; he'll know what to do. The least we can do now is to see that Murph's buried with military honors."
They carried Tiger's belongings out to their bikes. "My friend's name is Bill Vance; he's a newspaper editor. If we go and see him now, it'll give him some time to start arranging things. Buckshot, thanks a lot for your help, if you've got something else you'd like to do this morning we'll get back with you later. Getting this mess straightened out could take us anywhere from several hours to a couple of days."
Buckshot spoke gravely, "If it's alright with you, I'll hang with you two. I didn't know this man, but if he was a Bro of yours, that makes him a Bro of mine."
When they arrived at the newspaper office, Bill was pleased to see them. He'd been a combat Marine during the war, and he had since become very active in veteran's affairs. "Hello, Snowman. How're you today, my friend?" He asked. He had already noticed Rick's beret. "Welcome home, Brother. Thank you for serving our country." Bill shook their hands warmly after giving them the greeting a lot of veterans use today.
When Buckshot shook Bill's hand he surprised his two bosses by giving him the greeting of one of their Brother fraternities. "Airborne, all the way!"
After the introductions were over, Snowman showed Bill the relics Willy had given to them and briefed him on the story. "James Murphy!" Bill excaimed. "I remember that kid, we went to the same high school. He was one year behind me; we were inducted down at the old Federal Building downtown in the same group."
"It's been such a long time now, but I seem to remember reading a clipping about him in one of my mother's letters she'd cut out of the paper." Bill spoke to one of his clerks and asked her to look up anything they might have in their files of the late 1960's or early 1970's on a local man named James William Murphy. He was still discussing where Rick and Snowman had served with Tiger when the clerk returned and handed him a file.
Bill opened the file and peered closely at the top document. His voice became gruff and he took a deep breath in an obvious effort to control his emotions. "This man was a hero. We let an American hero die alone and destitute this morning!"
Bill read the document to them. It was an Army press release relating how Jim had won the Bronze Star. His team had been pinned down in an ambush with all of his men having been badly wounded. Jim had pushed himself up with his weapon and charged the enemy position, killing several of them and receiving another serious wound. The surviving enemy force was routed and the team was subsequently rescued.
"I'm going to call the men on our color guard; I'll ask them to be on standby alert until this man has had a proper military funeral." Bill assured them he would personally make every attempt to contact any heirs or relatives Jim might have had. "This man's picture and his story will be on our front page tomorrow even if I have to pay overtime and work all night to do it!"
Several days later, Rick, Snowman, Buckshot, and Bill stood at attention smartly saluting Tiger's flag-draped coffin. The four hardened combat veterans gazed sadly at the proud young face in the picture sitting on a table in front of the closed casket.
Two other men flanking them were survivors of Tiger's team; Rick had located them through a Special Forces group he was a member of, and they'd flown in immediately to attend the funeral.
They'd confirmed the newspaper account of his bravery first hand. These men had personally placed Tiger's medals on display in front of his picture, and had hung his treasured Green Beret across one corner of the picture at a rakish angle.
The sharp veteran's color guard smartly snapped to on command and fired a formal rifle salute. The onlookers listened respectfully; each of them was thinking their own private thoughts of Jim Murphy and of other friends lost in times gone by, but never forgotten. The sharp cracks of gunfire ended as the haunting notes of a bugle playing taps began to echo mournfully across the damp, cold ground of the graveyard.