The warm evening sunlight shone through the shades and cast patterns on the office furniture. Eight padded chairs with wooden arm-rests lined the white walls. A small round table with a green leafy plant on it set in the corner with some assorted magazines that were so neatly stacked you could tell no one ever read them.
Mason reckoned that most people sitting in this room were far too nervous to do even light reading. Anyone waiting in this room was probably in trouble for something.
Staring at the neatly stacked magazines led Mason’s mind to the neatly stacked books on the corner of Mrs. Jenzi’s desk in fifth-grade. Each book stacked according to size and thickness. Mrs. Jenzi’s stack of books consisted of the normal teacher’s aides for various fifth-grade subjects, a roll book, and a small pamphlet on the top for the U.S. Army.
One day while in class Mason asked Mrs. Jenzi about the pamphlet. She explained to the class that her youngest son David had joined the Army and she had everyone explain what they’d like to be when they grew up. When it came time for Mason to explain his future-dreams he simply said: “An artist” and sat down quickly.
When Mason was four years old his grandmother had given him a set of colored pencils and a pack of paper that….
“Private Mason Thurman?” – a voice said suddenly, interrupting Mason’s thoughts, and rather loudly considering that he was the only person in the room.
Mason stood up immediately, clicked his heels: “Yes, sir!”.
“Captain Jenzi will see you now.” said the Private who was probably even younger than Mason. He had a small stack of papers, probably only three or four individual sheets, in his hand. He constantly took the paper that was on the bottom and put it on top, visibly nervous about something.
“Private?” said the man holding the door. Mason was shook from his day-dreaming and walked into the cigar-smoke filled room. The room had a table with a map on it with a hot cup of coffee and an ash-tray with a smoldering cigar in it holding the map to the table. Captain Jenzi sat behind his desk quickly skimming a stack of papers with Mason’s photo clipped to them.
“Private Mason Thurman please have a seat.” The Captain’s voice was fairly welcoming. It reminded him of Mrs. Jenzi’s warm and welcoming voice on the first day of school.
“Do you know why you are here Private?” he asked without ever looking up at Mason. “Yes I believe I do sir.” Mason said while he was clearing his throat and sitting down.
The Captain slowly lifted up his head, which remained slightly tilted, looked Mason straight in the eye for what seemed like an hour. “Are you okay son?”. “Yes, sir I’m fine thank you.”. “Good.”
“It says here in my report that you had some trouble during a mission yesterday, is that true?”. his voice started to become more serious and less welcome as he spoke and quickly went back to skimming the report in front of him.
Mason remained silent, unsure of exactly how to begin to answer the question.
“Is that true Private?” the Captain asked in a loud voice now looking directly at Mason, waiting for an answer.
“Yes, sir. I just. Yes, sir.” Mason truly didn’t know what the Captain wanted to hear so he just kept his answer simple.
“It says here that you, under the direction of your CO, ummm, Jefferson, refused to shoot a few Indians that had recently had a run-in with a few of our men. Is this accurate?” the Captain spoke fairly quickly as if he wanted to move on.
“Why is that? Why did you refuse a direct order?”
“I, I guess I didn’t want to shoot anyone that was unarmed. I thought maybe they should be brought to a trial or someth…”
“Private listen to me closely.” said the Captain as he leaned over his desk getting as close to Mason as their current positions in the room would allow. “You have to get your head out of your little dream world when you are on a mission. These Indians that we’re dealing with are God-less, and would have no problem taking that silly haircut that you have there right off the top of your head. Do you understand that? Do you understand that many of these Indians will never, ever, have a gun in their hand but that they are much more dangerous with their arrows and knives than you probably ever will be with your rifle. Do you understand?”
“No you’re a good kid and a good soldier. I can understand that violence doesn’t come naturally to most people but for your own safety you are going to need to get tough.” — the Captain stopped speaking to catch his breath. He sat back in his chair visibly working out a plan in his head.
The phone rang.
“Captain Jenzi” answered the Captain on the second ring. “Then go get him and bring him back here. And if he won’t come. Make him come. And if you can’t make him. Get rid of him.” he was almost yelling into the phone as if he was speaking to someone that couldn’t hear. “Actually, I’ve got just the man to help you out. Where are you?” — there was a short pause while the Captain was writing something on a small empty sheet of paper. “Okay, give my guy 15-minutes to join up with you. Then be sure to do what needs to be done. Thank you.” he said, hanging up the phone.
“Ok, Mason. Now is your chance to prove me right. I am going to set you up inside of a new group of men. A clean slate. I want you to be a man, get tough, and do what needs to be done. Can you do that?”
“There is an old Indian chief, who fought against Custer’s army of all things, who needs to be taken into custody no matter what. Do you smoke or chew?”
“I’ve tried chew a few times but….”
“Here take this. I rarely chew tobacco and this might go along way with your new men. Shows you to be a real man. Here, take this note to your new CO and he will put you on a mission that is leaving in just a few minutes. Private O’Malley here will drive you down to the rally-point. That is all.” — the Captain stood up and left the room so fast that Private Mason barely had time to stand up and salute him on his way out.
“Let’s go, I have to get back here for our next meeting.” — said Private O’Malley.
“I really hate chew, so what am I supposed to do with this?” asked Mason.
“Pretend. Let’s go.”
They drove down the road which was in the center of several small Army buildings. Some were barracks for the men, others were wash-houses and mess-halls. It wasn’t long before they were approaching a group of about 40 men who were waiting for pickup. All of them standing around, barely talking, watching their breathe in front of their face. It was already fairly dark. The sun had gone down pretty quickly today as the day’s were progressively getting shorter and shorter.
“This is you. I’ll drop you off here. Actually, give me that note. I have to see your CO about something anyways. Good luck Private.”
Mason left the Jeep without saying anything. He slowly walked into the group of men and immediately spotted a kid that was really nervous. Mason thought this might be the kid’s first mission. He figured he’d position himself next to him because anyone would look tougher than this kid. Mason popped some chew into his mouth, which began to water immediately, and slowly walked over and sat down next to the nervous kid.
A few minutes past and Mason was already getting cold. Just then he heard the sound of the approaching trucks, their lights just beginning to break the night sky over the hill.
The story continues: Sitting Bull (A short story).
[tags]short story, sameer barkawi, writing[/tags]