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Two Blind Men and a Fool

by Sherman Smith

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Chapter 11: One Bourbon, One Scotch

part 2

Ivory stared into the malevolent eyes of the Japanese soldier whose long narrow bayonet wavered menacingly an inch from his throat. The angle of the blade changed as the soldier suddenly shifted his aim towards Ivory’s emaciated stomach.

“God no...!” He wailed in terror as he waited to be gutted like a fish. The hate in the eyes of his executioner blazed with stone-cold malice as he understood that the Jap soldier wanted to prolong his death as punishment for his attempted escape. Overwhelmed with terror he watched helplessly as the sharp tip of the blade started to fall.

The cold sneer of his assailant changed suddenly to shock, pain, and bewilderment as a large rock crashed into his head, once, twice, his skull splitting open, spilling gore as he fell aside. The bayonet fell, stabbing into Ivory’s calf, striking bone, the pain sharp, as the blade pulled free.

“Go,” Sergeant Ware hissed, and he indicated with his eyes the trail leading towards the cliff and the river below. He brought the stone down a third time. “Go!”

Ivory scrambled backwards on all fours, his eyes never leaving the crushed in skull of the Jap soldier. “Jesus, how... ?”

“Go, dammit.” The sergeant looked up the trail. More Japanese soldiers were coming.

Ivory stumbled to his feet, his hand coming away from his leg red with blood. He eyed his wound. There was a lot of blood, but at least it wasn’t gushing. He wasn’t going to get very far unless he stopped the bleeding, but for the moment there was nothing he could do but run for his life.

Fear, just short of blind panic, drove him through the moss-covered undergrowth towards the cliff’s edge. He lost the trail, turned back towards the sergeant whose eyes suddenly went wide as a bullet exploded through his chest in a blossom of dark red. There were three more shots. The sergeant was dead before he hit the ground.

Ivory stumbled backward. “The trail... where?” His words those of a stranger, as his heart thundered through the ringing in his ears, pain stabbing through his straining chest as he gasped for air.

The Japanese screamed close by as bullets shredded through jungle undergrowth that tore at his flesh and blocked his way. He heard a bullet slice through a leaf near his ear as his feet abruptly went out from beneath him and he tumbled head over heels down a steep cliff. The river, a spinning green whirlpool rose to meet him.

* * *

Stella put her arms around Ivory as he wept, for the first time remembering every horrifying detail, his nightmare finally complete. “The Sergeant, he...” Ivory whispered dryly...

“Saved your life.” She finished for him. “Is he here with you now?”

His tears slowed as he looked into her eyes and saw no fault or blame, only compassion. The room, the faces of his fellow patients, who a moment before had come alive with the joy of the music, had grown silent as he struggled to push his terror away. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath. His fingers plucked a note from the guitar strings, and then another, as one last tear fell from his cheek as Stella released him.

“Don’t stop now, boys, the party is just getting started.” She winked at Henry as she brought back her own smile.

Stella and Henry passed out small paper pill cups filled with whiskey to each man in the room. Real whiskey, not the rot-gut hooch Elroy hawked for his personal profit. With one eye on Ivory, the other on the door, Henry and Stella felt the energy. It was working. The dark cloud of hopelessness was breaking for Ivory and for others.

Brooks whistled as Earl began to play again, his voice raw magic:

And I sat there, getting high, stoned,
Knocked out, and by the time
I looked on the wall, at the old clock again
And by that time, it was a quarter to two
Last time for alcohol, I said,
Hey, mister bartender, what do you want?

Stella cried as she watched her patients, her poor pathetic men, raise their little white pill cups and sing in unison:

One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer.
One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer.
One bourbon...

Elroy abruptly appeared in the doorway, with Herbert Mann, the Hospital Administrator, in tow. Elroy gave everyone a hard look, then whispered something to Mann, who nodded his head, saying to Elroy, “Choose your battles carefully. Don’t let them choose you. Let them have their fun. They will find out soon how expensive it will turn out to be. When Stella and Mister Akita attempt to leave, kindly escort them to my office.”

The Administrator said as he turned to leave, “Make sure they understand that this is not an open-ended invitation.”

Elroy stayed a minute longer until he caught Stella’s eye, then drew and pointed his finger at her as if he held a gun.

They played another hour or so, leaving most of the patients to listen from their beds. Ivory played until he could play no more. Brooks whistled “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy,” “Willow Weep for Me,” and a well-received theme from Grieg’s Pier Gynt.

Stella and Henry left them to their music, as the next shift of orderlies and nurses came on duty, staring wide-eyed with disbelief as they passed the doors of the day room. Henry turned and took one last look at the trio he had brought together, and marveled at Ivory’s lifted spirit.

Earl seemed to give Ivory room, as he played down, and sang down to Brook’s range, where Ivory could jump on board. Unbelievable, he thought. Earl is like a caged bird begging to take flight, yet he’s holding back for Brooks, a guy he doesn’t even like.

Henry put his clarinet away, it was time for Earl, Brooks, and Ivory to stand on their own without any more outside help. If Ivory could willingly stand again on his one good leg, then perhaps tonight he had taken his first step.

Ivory missed a chord as he watched Henry and Stella leave. His fingers wavered, motionless, above the strings as he studied the smile on Henry’s face. What was it Henry had said the first time they had come eye to eye? Oh yes: Take it easy fella, it’s only a dream.

Proceed to Chapter 12...

Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith

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