Just after wrapping up Evil Doesn’t Die I spotted a prompt in the Week 27 Spare prompts. “The fireworks at the VA hospital brought on severe PTSD attacks in too many patients” A bit of research later and I got a start. But things didn’t progress as quickly as I had hoped, work at into my writing time and a few days stretched into a week, then longer.
I was nearing the end over the weekend and was almost ready but got held up on the end – and more research. *sigh*
When I saw the new prompts for week 29 today I saw one that I thought I could fit in the current work: Billy was a race-car driver. Okay, I had to stand it on it’s head to make it work, but I think it came out okay.
(one of the nice things about working in near real world, you get to find neat things like the Puller Veterans Care Center in Fauquier County Va. )
Fireworks and Memories
Star pulled in to the parking lot of the new Puller VCC in Vint Hill with a soft sigh. The neighbors of the new facility didn’t know, or didn’t care, that this was the home of retired war veterans. So they hadn’t thought to curb the annual backyard fireworks that had been going off near the retaining pond for the past few days. Many of the vets were showing signs of having flash-backs to their combat days. Too many couldn’t, or wouldn’t, go out for the evening, so an old buddy had placed a few phone calls asking for people to help out. One of those calls had been to Star.
“Thanks for coming out with me.” Star glanced at the other occupants in the truck.
“You only had to ask,” Gabe smiled.
“They just want someone to keep the vets distracted?”
“That’s what Blue was saying. See if we can get them to go to the theater room, they’re gonna put on a non-war movie. I was hoping y’all could maybe do something else.” She glanced at the couple in the back seat.
John raised an eyebrow, looked over at Robin, and nodded with a slight smile. “I think we can come up with something.”
“At least.” Robin’s expression was somewhere between thoughtful and mischievous.
The group separated at the end of the parking lot; Gabe and Star headed for the main building while John and Robin followed the ring road around towards the rear of the facility.
John paused about a third of the way around and looked about. “I’m thinking a shell to absorb and redirect. You?”
Robin took a few steps back and eyed the corner near the parking lot. “I think we can anchor it to the light posts, give it enough height to clear the building, maybe curve over the roof to deflect the air bursts.”
“I like it.” John nodded. “You take South, I’ll double back North?”
Robin gave a half nod and continued around the rear of the complex. John doubled back and headed in the direction of the parking lot. He walked over to the light post on the corner and laid a hand on the warm metal. Working with metal was more difficult than something living, like a tree, but he managed to show the pole what he needed it to do. Once he was sure of the anchor point he moved to the next pole about twenty feet away and wrapped the shield around the outside. He took a few steps towards the next pole and slowly wove the shield in that direction, adding the natural force of the small trees to enhance the shield. A few moments later he felt the warm energy from Robin’s part of the shield blending with his. Barely visible to Sight was a concave shield that covered almost all of the north wing and most of the main building. The south wing was mostly unshielded, unless Robin decided to do a second anchor point, but the wing was protected from the nearest of the neighborhood homes. Figuring that Robin would come around the far side of the building, John headed for the covered walkway that would take him to the main building.
Robin waited until the combined energies settled and the shield was fully settled before turning her attention to some activity just on the edge of the property. She’d been hearing a rapid popping sound coming from near a stand of trees, sounds that were hauntingly similar to rapid small arm fire.
Just behind one of the trees she found a group of teenage boys. They had been setting off some Lady Fingers and were about to fire off a couple of bottle rockets.
Robin glanced over her shoulder. The shield ended just past the southern most corner of the facility and should muffle most of the sound, but the tree stand was in the line of sight of the rear entrance.
“Gentlemen,” she stepped out from the other side of the tree, “I’m going to have to ask you to move. You’re on the edge of private property.”
“We’re on public property. The plot boundary is 6 feet west, on the other side of the trees.” The oldest boy, a tall lanky kid with dirty blonde hair, stood up. “You can’t tell us to leave.”
“Perhaps,” Robin raised an eyebrow and adjusted her glasses. “But I happen to know that those fireworks you have are not permitted in Fauquier Country.”
“So? Popo got better things to do than hassle us over fire crackers. Even if they do come, all they gonna do is take what we got here. They ain’t gonna cite us or nothing.”
Robin mentally sighed. She hadn’t been overly fond of teenagers when she was a teen; her opinion hadn’t improved in twenty years. She decided to try appealing to their, still developing, humanity. “Look gentlemen,” her glance took in the others that had remained silent, “many of the people that live in the building behind me have been in combat. Your fireworks sound like small arms fire and is causing some of them a problem.”
“Man, those fossils can hardly hear something said three feet away, never mind two hundred yards.”
Robin looked at him for a long moment, thinking that what humanity he had would take a microscope to find. She turned and walked into the trees. Once she was sure she was out of sight she cocked her head and called softly. “Fido, can you come here?”
A moment later Gate energy washed over the region followed shortly by Robin’s daemon stepping into the small grove. “Mama call?” He sat back on his haunches.
“Yes, I did. I’m sorry to take you away from the girls, but I need a small favor?”
“Just on the other side of these trees is a group of teenagers that need to leave the area. They don’t want to listen to me, would you mind asking them?” Fido sat back on his heels and blinked at her. “Yes, I’m asking you to let Mundanes see you.”
Fido trilled in amusement as he caught her meaning. He normally avoided people in his true form because most people became frightened, and Robin didn’t like that. But scaring people actually was fun.
He dropped to all four feet and lopped around the trees. When he got within a few feet he reared up to his full height and trilled at them. “Cubs go now. Not return.”
Robin smothered a laugh as a couple of them screamed, sounding more like little girls than teen aged males, and ran off.
Fido glared at the two remaining teens. “Leave, now.” The trill became a ticking sound as he glowered at them.
They finally decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of trying to challenge him and ran off, leaving their firecrackers behind.
Robin laughed and came out from behind the trees to collect the booty. “Thank you, Fido. That was worth it.”
“Fido enjoy.” Fido trilled in amusement. “Fido go now?”
“Yes, you can go back to watching over the girls.” Robin tried to keep her tone level. She missed having him around the house all the time, but took some comfort in knowing that he was watching over her nieces. He turned and lopped back towards the trees, vanishing into a Gate that opened before him while Robin turned to head towards the retirement home.
While John and Robin went to study the rear of the facility, Gabe and Star headed for the entrance.
“I’m going to go find Blue, see what he needs us to do. You want to look around?”
Gabe nodded and turned for the covered walkway that lead to the north wing.
Several minutes later Star was headed in the same direction.
She was passing through the sun room that looked out on the patio when she heard a voice calling out.
“Ain’t you Blue’s friend, the detective lady?”
She glanced over and saw a man around Gabe’s age sitting in a wheel chair by the chess set.
“Yes, I am.” She almost added the “sir” but stopped herself. The residents here could be either enlisted or commissioned, and calling a sergeant ‘sir’ always earned you a rebuke. Better to err on the side of caution and stay as neutral as possible.
“Brad LaForce,” He rolled over and held out a hand. “Maybe you can spare a little time some day and help me figure out what is going on in my room.”
“Star Price,” Star took his hand and smiled. “I actually have time right now.” Blue had asked her to mingle with the residents, just talk to them, give them something else to focus on than the noise outside. “Let me take a look.”
He beamed and headed down the hall towards nearby room. “I’m here in N113.” He pushed the door open and waved her in. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but at least once a week someone sneaks in and rearranges my board.”
Star moved into the main living area and looked around. A shadow box of Army medals sat on a low table. She spotted the Silver Star first then noted the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart. She also noticed that there was no apparent pattern to the order of the awards.
Brad came up behind her. “That’s what I’m talking about. I put them in order of precedence and I keep finding them rearranged.” He turned and looked out the window. “Who would do that?”
“I see you saw some heat. Rangers lead the way.” Star softly spoke the Ranger motto.
“A little,” he shrugged, “We do try. “I wanted to get a proper shadow box, one with a glass front, but my grandson used to like to play with them.”
Star glanced towards the couch and smiled. “I’m guessing that he liked the purple heart.”
“He did.” Brad nodded and looked away. “He lost his leg to cancer when he was 5. I told him he was a brave soldier and let him wear it when he came to visit.” He rolled over to the book shelf and picked up a small trophy with a tiny race car on top. “He dreamed of being a NASCAR driver when he got older. He’d even won some quarter-midget races before they had to take his leg. Even then, he wanted to know if he could get a special prosthetic that would let him keep driving. Some Nobles with the local Shrine Temple in Manassas were working on getting him into their orthopedics center in Philly to see if they could help him.”
Star moved to sit on the couch. “How long ago did he pass?”
“Three years ago. The cancer came back, he had complications.”
“I see.” She glanced at the other side of couch then looked back at the former Ranger. “Sergeant LaForce, do you believe in ghosts?”
“Ghosts?” He turned around and stared at her. “You mean, like haunted houses? I’ve never given it any real thought. I guess, like most believe, I kinda believe in them; or did when I was a kid.”
Star mentally sighed. This was always the hardest part. “Your grandson is here.”
She glanced at the other side of the couch for a moment and smiled slightly. “Billy says he always comes on the Forth. It used to be with his family, now it’s to keep you company.”
“Wa … I don’t remember telling you his name.”
“He did,” Star nodded towards the other side of the couch. “He says he didn’t mean to upset you, he just wanted to see the medals.”
“Ahm, wh, why’s he here?” Brad looked at the empty space on the couch. “I mean, …”
“He says he was sad that his dad wasn’t coming this year, so he came.”
“No, ahm, I mean why is he,” Brad paused and stared at the couch and took a breath. “Why are you still here buddy? You’ve been baptized, you’re below the age of accountability …” His eyes grew red as his voice became ragged with suppressed emotion.
“I didn’t want to leave.” Star started repeating what the child said. “Everyone was so sad, I wanted to stay around and help. I wish Mommy had stayed.”
Brad glanced at Star. “His parents separated last year.” He turned back to the place where Billy was sitting. “I get it, buddy. But you don’t have to stay anymore. We’re all fine. You fought a good fight; you should take the rest you’ve earned”
“But you’ll be alone.” Star watched as Billy got up and walked over to stand in front of his grandfather.
“This is a good place, the people are nice. I’m good.” Brad noticed Star’s shift and followed her gaze.
“By the way,” Star whispered, “he’s standing on two good legs and he’s smiling.”
“You could go be with Mamaw.”
“Mamaw? I think I’d like that.”
“Then go be with her, buddy. Maybe you’ll get your own purple heart. I’ll be there before you know it.”
“Okay, Papaw. I love you.”
Star turned and watched the young spirit walk towards the door. She looked back a few seconds later. “He’s gone now. You did good Sergeant.”
“Thanks.” He turned to look out the window for a moment.
Star slowly rose and stood for a moment watching him, torn between quietly leaving and offering the man some comfort. She was starting for the door when he turned back around.
“Thank you, Miss Price. I wasn’t there when Billy passed; I didn’t get to say good-bye.”
“You’re welcome, Sergeant. I’d ask one small favor; can you keep this on the QT. I’m still in the Reserves of our army. I don’t need them thinking I’m Section 8.”
He laughed softly. “Not a problem, Ma’am. I doubt anyone would believe me anyway.”
“Don’t Ma’am me, I work for a living.” Star shook her head.
“Sorry, habit. Staff or First Class?” Brad didn’t look the slightest bit sorry.
Star grinned. “First Class.”
“Well, thank you for your service.” He held out a hand.
She shook his hand and smiled. “I should be thanking you; you guys did a hellva job in Somalia.” She nodded towards the shadow box when he raised his eyebrows. “I saw the medal.”
“So what are you doing here on the Fourth of July?” Brad changed the subject.
“Blue called in the reserves to talk to the residents, keep folks company, maybe distract some from the fireworks going off all over the place.”
“Probably not a bad idea, especially if the others look like you. Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all.”
Gabe wandered through East 1 wing, casually glancing around. The residents that were in the social area were all engaged in some activity and looked at least content. He was loath to go to any of the doors so he crossed out to the patio towards East 2.
He was about half way across when he heard a voice call out.
“Angel? Is that you?”
Gabe turned towards the voice. It held that puzzled tone usually associated with seeing someone you think you know.
An older gentleman wearing a faded polo shirt, what looked like pajama bottoms, and slippers, was sitting at a table. He was just sitting there, watching the world around him, alone. The man peered at him intently though thick glasses.
“Angel?” The puzzlement turned to incredulousness as he waved Gabe over.
Figuring that part of what they were supposed to do was to keep the residents company, Gabe went over.
“Sir? Since when you get so formal with me? You use to call me Iceman, after the X-Men, remember? What are you doing here?”
It was obvious that “Iceman” had mistaken him for someone else; it was also obvious that he was lonely. Gabe settled at the table and gave him a warm smile. “I stopped by for a visit. Thought today was a good day.”
“Today?” Iceman gave him a puzzled look.
“Fourth of July.”
“Oh. That’s today? How have you been? I haven’t seen you since Khe Sanh, right before we had to pull out that last time.”
John quietly slipped up beside him and spoke quietly. “Spring 1971, I think.”
“Who’s he?” Iceman almost sounded angry that someone else had sat down.
“This is my friend, John.”
“Oh, if he’s a friend of yours, he’s a friend of mine. The last I ‘member seeing you, sappers had hit the base again and you went in after Charlie. I ‘member hearing a god-awful racket and tried to follow you, but the Captain wouldn’t let anyone else go. How’d you get out?”
“I … don’t know.” Gabe tried to keep his answer as vague as possible, torn between letting the man think he was his old buddy or correcting him, and letting him think his friend was long dead.
“You in country?” Iceman looked at John.
“No sir. I was around 10 when you came home. But I teach history in High School and would be very interested in getting a first person view of that time.”
“Don’t sir me, young man,” Iceman snapped. “You can call me Sergeant or Mr. Worthington, but not “sir”.”
“My apologies, Sergeant. You were talking about the Spring of ’71.”
“It started before that, long before that. The Op started in the fall of ’70, we joined just after Christmas…” He settled back and started talking, part of his mind drifting back and reliving the last days of the war.
“That was it; we got out, leaving the base to those Charlie bastards. I never saw you again.” He looked at Gabe. “How are you doing? You okay?”
“Yes, I am.” He smiled at Star, who had quietly joined the group. “I do contract IT work for the government as one of the jobs of my company.”
Iceman laughed. “Who would think it, the kid who could barely operate a radio do fancy computer work.” He fell silent and stared off towards the sky for a minute. “I missed you. I wanted to go back, get you out. At least be able to tell your folks what happened. But they pulled me back.”
“I know,” Gabe answered softly. “How have you been? Family? How they treat you here?”
“I’m doing okay for a 70 year old war horse. Rest of the family is gone. They let me help raise the flag some days.”
“That’s great, Warren.” Gabe smiled. “Hey, I hear they are going to put on a movie, why don’t we go in and see what it is.” Star had just warned him that the locals were about to start some early festivities. He wanted to get Sergeant Worthington out of the line of sight, and sound, of the fireworks.
“Oh, I hope it is something by that Brooks guy. I love him.”
They all stood up and slowly made their way towards the main building and the theater. They found Robin towards the rear of the theater just as Burton Gilliam and his gang start singing Camptown Races to a group of black railroad workers. The giggles were starting by the time Slim Pickens interrupted the singers before they could get into the second verse. Everyone settled back to enjoy a movie marathon by a comedic master.