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Stay Down, Old Abram [Book Two: Chapters 5 & 6: Pool Sticks, or Weapons]
5. The Pool Sticks
…control of people by people is what was going on at the base, the 545th and the 9th MP’s, in short, watching evil prevail over evil, bigots over bigots, I would say they all were guilty, it is just a matter of degrees; that there is enough sour-soup for everyone to go around: –the point being, there is enough criticism for white and black, black and white to eat crow all day long, should there be a need for it. That is if one is pointing fingers, and from Alabama to West Germany there had been a lot of finger pointing. Yes, yes, everyone hides when the finger pointing starts, but they keep pointing those fingers; it is what people do best, no need to stop now. It reeks to the point of no return, but we must live with the dirt between our fingernails most of our lives, or so Chris noticed. NO-body, I mean NOOOOO body was innocent not at the 545th. Matter of fact, there were as many so called helpers who spoiled the soup than those called non helpers. Christopher Wright found out in a very short period of time about this human err, where we want to be gods among men, and not feel guilty how we acquire the emotion. What Chris was learning was that resistance breeds resistance, and peace does not necessary breed peace.
Never-ending music was playing in the Enlisted Men’s Club as Chris walked through its doors; the lights dim, smoke seeping through the air just resting like a cloud on some kind of gravity, trying to make its way upward, but dissipating before it got too far; most of it settling for moments here and there, some sinking to the wooden floor boards, seeping out the windows, resting in the ceiling spaces above. The bar was in the next room, tables were the first thing one saw in the small-dinning area, as you’d walk through it to reach the bar in the adjoining room. Chris leaned his elbows on the extended bar ‘rests,’ kind of a padded dash one might say, it was black in color and attached somehow to the wooden bar. He lit a cigarette, Luck Strike, put the matches to the right of him, pored a beer, Past Blue Ribbon, in a glass, it was chilled–, as was his glass, and he drank it down, all the way to its bottom, good, so good he pushed the glass aside and drank it out of its nipple of the bottle, loving it as if it was a woman. Thereafter, he used the chilled glass again. The bartender was a tall heavy black male; with an iron face to go with his iron forearms. He seemed pushed into a tight bar area, a square area that actually made him look huger than he was.
The beer went down quick and easy like a waterfall again; — Chris ordered another one, pouring it down this time a little slower, as not to allow the foam to roll over the top of the glass, and on to his lip, chin, and cloths. He then looked across the bar to the other side, there were two black soldiers playing pool. Three other blacks standing in the background watching, possible watching the two white men, one a Buck Sergeant, he was in uniform looking as if he just got off work, watching impatiently the game of pool going on between the two blacks, for he wanted to get to the game himself, Chris, guessed at that, for he’d played enough pool to know when you hauntingly stand about waiting for the others to stop, you’re waiting for your turn to come; supposedly with his white friend he would play once the two blacks quite, or possible he’d have to play one of the blacks and beat him so his friend could play him, or possible with the black dude he’d loose, and consequently that would eliminate his friend playing with him [however the combination, at the moment, the black men didn’t seem as if they were in any hurry]–all was conjecture for Chris, but something was in the makings for the blacks didn’t stop playing, thus, giving the whites a chance to play. Then he noticed the Sergeant, tall, somewhat muscular, he put a quarter down for the pool table–getting tired of waiting, so he could play the next game, but the two blacks just gave it no notice, and continued to play: unabated.
The taste of the beer was great, Chris told himself, as he watched the game, off and on, looking at the bartender and the fourteen or so people around the bar standing. Matter of fact, he took a second look, a more intense look; he was the only white person, besides the Sergeant and his friend in the bar–coincidence or for a reason, he pondered. The other ten or eleven or so were black. There was a black man sitting across from him on the other side, one to his right, about three seats up. An assistant to the bartender was also a black male, and would go under the bar to get beers for people standing and watching the game. The music seemed to go louder, and the lights dimmer as the night went on, Chris now had ordered his forth beer, and had been in this bar for about an hour and fifteen minutes. The white sergeant remained standing and watching the two pool players still playing and the bartender watched carefully the players as if a cloud of rain was about to bust open: granted for the moment, it looked this way even to Chris.
Outside was dark, real darkness very few lights from the EM Club to the barracks, the window was to the back of the building,– light rain seemed to be hitting the window, kind of tapping it made, disrupting the stillness that was breeding within the bar; you could see it right over the heads of the pool players: the small window overhead–the small window with many reflections that seemed to drift past the window, as the two players looked at one another–as if there was some kind of secret agreement, code if you will, going on between them: then the white sergeant seemed to glare at the pool sticks–so as they’d like to put it: what’s next [?]–but said nothing; yet the sergeant’s eyes, was measuring something; along with him getting more impatient. [Chris would find out the next day, the two blacks were part of the sergeant’s squad, and that there was no love between them. Also there were descriptions of drugs being trafficked in his squad, and the white sergeant was not too fond of it, possibly annoyed with it, as potentially the blacks were annoyed with him.]
No women were in the bar this evening, no German ladies. Matter of fact, Chris had only been assigned to the company going on 2-½ weeks.
[Calmly, with interest, the bartender asked] “You look new to the area–I mean company, Corporal?”
[With an intoxicating smile] “Just arrived here a few weeks ago,” The bartender then walked away as if a note on a piano went sour.
Simultaneously, the two blacks picked up their pool sticks as if to give them to the white sergeant and started beating him mercilessly. Four other blacks blocked the other guy from helping.
As they hit, and beat the Sergeant, the sound of the sticks hitting his head, knees face against the sounds of the outside rain, and the loud music was becoming overwhelming–the blows of the sticks superseded all other sounds. Transfixed eyes, eyes, everyone’s eyes were on the massacre that was taking place. They hit and hit and hit and hit, the sergeant. His face was turning colors, purple, pink, blue, pale, the side of his eye seemed to be ripped open, now he covered it as not to get it hit again, and fell to the floor on one knee trying to get up, but couldn’t. If ever a man was beaten worse, Chris had never seen it, not even on TV where they dramatize such things into glory had he seen such a beating like this: all the same, it continued as all eyes continued to be mesmerized at the happening. Then the one black stopped, and the thin, shorter one continued with the beating, he looked as if he was on drunks, swaying his stick like a whip, every which way, sometimes missing–mostly striking his man-dog now on the floor, but the sergeant was too hurt to defend himself now and remained coiled up like a fetus on his knees.
As the beating continued for a few minutes more [a life time to Chris], Chris started to get up from his stool, grabbing his beer bottle, and the bartender shook his head: ‘no’, with more than a serious look as if, as if Chris didn’t understand, and if he did assist, he would be next. Several more strikes with the stick came, and then Chris said to the bartender,
“Stop it, you’re going to kill the man, and if I see it…you’ve seen it,”
the bartender didn’t like what Chris had said, meaning, if he didn’t stop it, and he killed the man, the bartender would be held responsible for doing nothing, and he and the two blacks would go to jail. The bartender stared a long stare in Chris’ face, and knew this was not the time to play poker, and yelled:
“Stop, stop, before we all go to jail for killing him…let it be, he had enough, enough I said, enough…!” The fight then stopped, and the bartender approached Chris, “Ok, it’s over, and I mean, over…!”
— [Exhausted] Said Chris with, with a great sigh: “So you say,” and got up and walked out of the bar. But it was the end of it, regrettably. The next day for some odd reason, the sergeant was taken out of the company area, and no one ever heard of him again, as was the black men who beat the sergeant. Oh, Chris asked people about it, and he was told point blank, leave it alone. And so he did, and no one came to him and asked questions.
At this time, he had noticed on the tree outside the MP’s barracks, were military boots tided like Christmas bulbs to the branches, he asked around what that was all about, and one MP said, “Defiance, no more, no less…everyone leaves us alone, and whoever takes those boots down, wants a war with us;” Chris shook his head, what had he come to, a military base, or some wild, untamed back street gang war; this wasn’t Chicago, or New York City, or his neighborhood. It was an Army base for god sake. But he left well enough alone, again. This whole place was a sizzling hot spot he told himself, and he’d have to learn how to deal with it. The weather was extremely hot this summer, and for better or worse, he’d stick it out he told himself. Hoping things might get better; on the other hand he didn’t really have much of a choice.
[At this time, there was a Major in charge called Foley; he was a football player, who drove around with a little sports car, a Jaguar. He and Chris would get to know one another, and the Major would be the first to recognize Chris’ potential in running the Surety Office. But then he’d leave shortly after their acquaintance and be replaced by Major Wastrel.]
The 2nd Lieutenant Goodwin
Two weeks after the crisis in the bar [EM Club] had settled, another one emerged, which would be one more of many to be. It was coming to the point it was less safe here than in his neighborhood, back home on Cayuga Street, where his gang members were, well kind of gang comrade might be a better name, it was no official gang, and had no name back then, just the neighborhood-hoods to speak of; they were more reasonable than this black-haven for injustice. From Alabama the white haven to the 545th, the black haven; so Chris shook his head and thought, and mumbled as he walked the dark sidewalk coming from the EM club, 2:00 AM in the morning, it had closed at 1:00 AM, but the bartender allowed him to stick around and have a few more beers–why not he told himself, there were no rules here, or if there were, one had to learn which ones they were. In any case, as he walked the dark street back, he quoted the Bible, “…Whatever a man sows, and this he will also reap.” Galatians 6:7. He wasn’t sure why he was quoting the Bible; he was not a Bible person, per se. But it seemed to fit the “Little Alabama,” what he called the 545th now, although it was the reverse in essence. Here the blacks treated the whites as the whites treated the blacks in Alabama, or tried to.
As he was about to open the huge doors to the barracks, he saw four black soldiers talking, swearing about hurting Lieutenant Goodwin, it was the one in the other barracks–the first barracks by the Mess Hall, not the one in charge of his platoon: granted for the moment, he thought it was, but put two-and-two together, and it wasn’t. Quietly he walked behind their shadows, the shadows of the four men: listening, attentively listening, trying to decipher every fact they were saying as the wind shifted their words back to him: but all he got was gobbledygook, swearing and unquestionable defiance, also statements like, ‘…what can they do,” plus, ‘…let’s teach him a lesson,’ etc. He knew he was on forbidden ground again, or going to be soon if he didn’t stop right there and do an about turn and go back to his sleeping room, but he had to follow none the less: his mother had always worried about things like this for him, that he’d walk into danger, but he somehow always walked out of it. He had seen these men at the club; one of them was one of the four who held the sergeant’s friend back when the two blacks were beating him. Actually, he seemed to be more of a follower than a renegade. It was funny though, the young corporal thought, his mother always telling him be careful, as if he was clumsy, or would walk into harms way, in which she was absolutely right, he always did, but for some odd reason, he always walked away from it also–in one piece, so far anyways; he was never sure how, but he did. Hopefully, this would be no different.
The four soldiers went in through the side door of the barracks, which lead straight down to the lower level–a partial underground level, by the arms room. There to the right was the 2nd Lieutenant’s room. Still Chris followed behind, slowly, quietly; as he followed the group down the steps, he knew he was getting closer to the exhibition of some kind of human cruelty about to take place. Why in heaven’s name was he here he asked himself, but no answer appeared; for he could only end up an accessory to this to be crime about to take place.
The Outrage/the Crime
One of the black soldiers said to another standing by the Lieutenant’s door,
“REALLY DO YA THINK WE SHOULD?” It was the familiar one Chris digested in his brain, the one he saw at the bar.
“I thought I told you …” [a pause came], the Corporal standing twenty feet behind them, tight against the wall.
“Get your mother-f*cken ass up, LT., were here to mess you up…LT, LT, officer in charge of shit…!”
There was no time to run and get help, and the Lieutenant had no gun, he had turned it in to the Arms-room [of which he was in charge of], Chris had overheard one of the four men mention that earlier [that he had no weapons in his room, for he didn’t take one from the Arms room], he had not quite deciphered it out until this very moment though: –for the most part, the lieutenant was on his own.
“Get out of here,” said the Lieutenant, adding, “I’ll have you court marshaled.” But the four just laughed; as if intimidation was like stale bread, should he live through what they had in mind for him.
“Open the damn door or we’ll break it in!” said a thin back dude. But the door didn’t open. Then three of the men started kicking, and pushing on the door, until the hinges broke, and there was the Lieutenant, standing in the corner with his small, tent shovel for a weapon, and as they came closer, one of the four pulled out a knife, telling the Lieutenant if he wanted to use a shovel, he’d use a weapon also, and so the Lieutenant dropped it, and feet started kicking him every which way until he was a fetus in the corner like the man in the bar. Then the familiar one looked at the shadow in the door way, it was Chris–a lightly familiar face for him.
By then, it was the end of the massacre; the Lieutenant’s shape was thrown off his creative balance. They broke his nose, disfigured his face, broke his knee caps, metaphorically, the outrage within these four men blurred this man’s future, he was broken emotionally, and physically, he would never be the same person again.
As they went to hit him a few more times, they did a double-take on the Corporal, and stopped–paused for a moment, said the familiar one, “Let’s go, we made our point.” But this time it would not be like the last time, where the two blacks got reassigned, and no charges. This time all four would go to jail, one would escape along the way, the one on drugs, the rest would serve time. And the lieutenant would be reassigned.
Oh, it would be a long four years at this military base for Corporal Wright, and he’d watch it become one of the best run Military Sites in West Germany. He would become a Buck Sergeant, and run the Surety Office. And in two years time, he would be asked to deliver the one who escaped this evening, to be held during pre-trial in Frankfurt; he would be assigned to take him to prison. During this period, the prisoner would have been found three previous times, and let loose by his captures for drug money and he’d ask Chris to do the same, bribed him for $5000, to let him go, which was a year wages. But, without hesitation, and remembering the un- mercifulness of this creature, Chris brought him to prison, he would see this brave drug person, a man beater himself, cry in fear as two prison guards threatened to strip him if he didn’t strip himself: white prison guards, who took him behind a pillar, and beat him, as he beat others. Chris again, doing the watching. How things seem to turn around he thought. At that point, while the two guards were questioning him: after a few kicks and blows to the stomach, Chris was signing papers to release him officially; — thereafter, he was asked to be taken out quickly of the prison, he felt it was going to start all over again–a third Alabama.
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