Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 17: The Blues Have Never Seemed So Deep
part 3: War Zone
Earl sat silent and morose for several minutes.
In the artificial yellowish hue of the bar, Gibby could see that Earl’s skin tone had grown ashen, with a clear bead of sweat on his brow. His hands were shaking, his breathing shallow and rushed. Gibby reached out and caught the beer glass as it slipped from Earl’s hand. “Earl, are you all right?” Gibby asked. “God in heaven, son, you having some kind of seizure?”
Earl’s face remained skewed in painful concentration. His dark glasses gave Gibby no clue as to what was going on in Earl’s head.
Henry, where the hell are you? Gibby thought. What the hell am I supposed to do?
* * *
The ship rolled, racks of explosives collapsed. It was dark, pitch black. Earl could not see his hand in front of his face. He panicked as a heavy canister brushed his foot. His left ankle seized with pain when he rose and tried to put weight on it. The shrillness in his ears lessened. A runaway oil drum slammed into him, knocking him back off his feet again. There were more. How many? Frantically he searched the dark, wide-eyed, each crash and thud his mortal enemy.
A large metal drum thundered towards him. He tried to roll out of the way, only to roll in front of the Jeep. He screamed in anguish as it rolled over his foot, his ankle breaking. Fear outweighed his pain. He found a hold on the Jeep and pulled himself up and into the driver’s seat.
His leg was still outside when a half dozen oil drums slammed into the runaway vehicle. White, searing pain sucked his breath and every ounce of courage from him as he felt his leg fracture. He struggled not to pass out and painfully pulled his leg inside. Unable to move another inch, he sat alone in the dark. The pain, fear, and anguish of impending death were insurmountable.
A brilliant flash of light turned intense black into a storm of blinding white, yellow, orange, red, then gray, light as an explosion tore through the ship. The sea rushed in. Despite the glare of flame and explosions around him, Earl could see through the ruptured bulkhead the sea and a deep blue sky laden with stars in the Arctic day.
He felt a strange relief as his eyes locked on one brilliant but distant star. He knew that he was going to die and wondered if perhaps that star was his little bit of heaven. Music flooded his mind as tears blurred the heavens, and he began to sing. “Going to take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my...”
* * *
The brilliance of that starry night sped away in a whirlwind leaving nothing more than the dark of empty space. He heard a radio, distant, then a voice, followed by the warmth of a human hand as it touched him.
Seven... That’s the time we’ll leave. At seven
I’ll be waiting up for heaven.
“What? No! I can’t swim!” Startled, he clawed at the bar and spilled his drink before slamming his hand down on a plate containing something slick and sticky.
A hand grabbed him before he could topple from the bar stool. “Easy there, pal, you were having some kind of bad dream. It’s me: Gibby. You’re waiting for your pal Henry. Henry Akita, remember?”
Earl calmed. It had been the same nightmare that crept up on him when he let his guard down. He knew that he was back in the real world, for in the dream, as terrifying as it was, there was the remembrance of light and color. The stars, how he anguished to see those stars again. In the real world, it was now always dark. “I’m OK,” he said as he lifted his hand from the sticky substance.
Tat... tat... tat-tat. Earl heard the steady drip of the spilt beer as it dripped from the bar to the floor. His shirt sleeve grew wet, cold, as it sopped up some of the chilled brew. “I’m sorry.” He brought his hands together spreading the stickiness. “What is this?” He brought a finger to his nose, then tasted it.
“Honeycomb,” Gibby said, and he padded a large bar towel onto the spilled beer. “Clover honeycomb. I’m partial to it with some sourdough toast. Here.” He jammed the wet bar towel between Earl’s hands before he spread the honey any further. “No harm done, but let’s get you cleaned up before it gets any worse.”
With some trepidation he helped Earl behind the bar. A neurotic blind man among all the liquor bottles was an invitation to disaster. Gibby turned on the water, not too hot, eyed the honeycomb slathered throughout both of Earl’s hands, and chuckled.
“EUREKA! Today I’m going to kill me a Jap!”
Gibby’s caught short his laugh as the front door burst open with a loud crash. He turned just in time to see Henry Akita fly through the doorway as if he’d been hit by a runaway cable car. Four tough-looking street thugs followed, whooping and howling as they kicked and punched Henry with savage delight. They were the same four who had come after Henry the first time he had come into the bar.
“What the hell!” Gibby screamed. “Henry, get to your feet!” One look told Gibby that Henry had already taken a beating and couldn’t take much more. “Earl, you stay put,” he said, and he pushed Earl down by the shoulders. “I’ve got enough problems without worrying about you.”
He left Earl kneeling down by the sink, water running, grabbed the baseball bat, and stormed out from behind the bar. “Get the hell out of here, you scum bastards.” The bat swung through the air as he ran at the largest of the thugs. “Henry, roll away!”
Earl was not one to run from a fight, especially if a friend was in trouble. “Henry? Gibby?” What the hell is going on? He heard a thump and a crash as a table clattered to the floor. Gibby let out an awkward wheeze as something struck him.
The noise, chaos, screams, and cries of pain told him that both Henry and Gibby were in serious trouble. His hands were still wet with a little sticky honey, and he felt anxiously around the bar for a weapon. Finding nothing, he reached lower, found a drawer and pulled it open.
Henry struggled to get to his feet, but the assault was too overwhelming. All he could do was roll in to a ball and cover his head and face and hope for the best. Through the corner of his eye he saw one of the thugs whip a bike chain low, cracking Gibby in the knee. “GEEYIKES!” The bat slipped from Gibby’s grasp as the old man cried out in pain. He was yanked off his feet and thrown against a table. Gibby, the table, and two chairs, tumbled across the room as the baseball bat clattered to the floor, the bat scooped up by one of the thugs.
“This will do just fine,” the thug grinned, showing rotten teeth, and he weighed the bat for measure, then slapped it against the palm of his other hand. “First we bash this Jap’s head in, then we’ll teach the old man a lesson for being a Jap lover.” He raised the bat above Henry ready to strike.
“God... No...” Gibby cried from nearby. “Don’t... for Christ’s sake it’s murder!”
The gun thundered as a bullet struck the ceiling just over the thug’s head just as he prepared to strike. He froze. The thug crouched, the bat still raised, and he turned to see a man with dark glasses standing behind the bar with a nasty-looking handgun, still smoking, pointed in his direction.
Henry managed to roll a little farther out of reach.
“What the hell is this?” The thug stepped back, not sure what to do. He could see the man’s hands tremble as he moved the gun first to the left, then to the right, aiming at no one.
“Get the hell out before I blow your balls off!” The man with the dark glasses roared, and he cocked the gun. “Now!”
A chair clattered as the old bartender, breathing heavily, tried to get to his feet. The barrel of the gun moved quickly towards the sound, then back again, as the thug took a step forward, a nut shell crunching beneath his foot.
“The bastard’s blind,” the thug with the bike chain said in a loud, useless whisper as he slowly worked his way quietly to the right.
“Earl, don’t point that damn thing at me,” Gibby urged.
The gun moved back towards the one with the bat.
The thug lowered the bat and took a cautious step forward. “Well, well, ain’t this something.” The barrel of the gun was pointed straight at him. He gave a nod to his cohort with the chain, who moved quietly towards the bar, readying the chain to strike the gun from the blind man’s grasp.
Henry looked up from the floor in horror. “Earl...” he started to shout a warning but shut up when he realized Earl did not need any distractions.
The gun grew heavier, the longer Earl held it straight out in front of him with his finger on the trigger. There were four men that he knew of. One was straight ahead. He was pretty certain that one had Henry and another, Gibby. Where was the third, or fourth? Had he miscounted? How many bullets were in the gun? Gibby, Henry, stay down, he thought. Stay quiet.
A chair tipped over to his left and he quickly moved the gun in that direction. That would be Gibby. He could hear him wheeze as he fought to get his breath back. He moved the gun back towards where the thug with the bat had been a moment before.
“A blind bastard with a gun, ain’t that a crock?” he heard someone whisper. At least now he knew where the third one was: near Henry, a few steps behind the bat man. Where was the fourth?
“Well... well... what do we have here?” he heard the bat man say. Earl kept the gun pointed at the most threatening and promising target. The man took a step forward. Earl tightened his finger on the trigger. The thug stopped. He could hear the wood of the bat slap against the sweat of the man’s hand. This was the leader, the most dangerous, the one he needed to take out.
The room grew quiet. He could hear their breathing. There were two to his right: one was with Gibby, one was by Henry — not a threat, at least not yet. One man was missing. The hair stood up on the back of Earl’s neck. One of them was about to make his move. He could feel it. The wall clock behind him ticked hard.
“Earl...” That was Henry. What is he trying to tell me?
He heard the crunch of a peanut shell just a few feet from his left. He turned and fired. The gun thundered, kicking back in his hand. There was a scream followed by the sharp clang of metal on wood as something slammed into the bar dangerously close to where he stood. Whoever he had shot stumbled back, then fell hard.
The bat man had been watching eagerly as his crony crept up to the bar undetected, the chain held ready to strike the gun from the blind bastard’s hand. He bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, ready to move in with the bat. He did not care about useless peanut shells by his feet.
The blind man turned — no warning — and fired. BLAM.
The bike chain slammed into the bar inches from where the blind man stood. Helpless, my ass, the bastard just blew away... As soon as the bat man saw the bright splotch of red spread across his partner’s chest, he charged forward with every intention of bashing the blind man into a bloody pulp. His scream of rage caught in his throat as he saw the gun swivel back in his direction, the blind man’s finger closing tight and fast on the trigger. He died as the bat flew harmlessly over the blind man’s head.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith