SEPTEMBER 12, 2016
MISSISSIPPI GOLDEN GLOVES
Erskine McLemore stepped off the bus, and waited while the driver unloaded the baggage to the pavement. He straightened his uniform, shouldered his duffle bag, and started the ten block hike to his mother’s house in Boonetown, Mississippi. The bus ride from Paris Island had taken almost two days, with changes in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Tupelo. He was tired, but for the past twelve weeks, his drill instructors made sure that the recruits could function with minimum sleep, so the bus ride was the most sleep he’d had in three months.
He walked the streets with a sense of amazement; everything looked familiar, but somehow different—somehow smaller and less grand than he remembered. He’d graduated from the Marine Recruiting Depot, receiving his Globe and Fouled Anchor on Saturday morning, so he’d been a Marine for less than 72 hours. There had been a lot of changes in his life during boot camp, and he felt older and wiser for the experience.
One thing was for sure, he’d never been in better shape, even after two-a-day football practices in the Mississippi summer heat. Erskine was wiry and naturally well-muscled, but the Corp had fine-tuned him. He could run ten miles with all of his gear, without affecting his breathing or heart rate. In addition to the regular boot camp training, he had found time to work out with the boxing team as a 165 pound middle weight. He was a natural fighter, and had been able to pick up the basics quickly. By the end of boot camp, he was holding his own with much more experienced fighters.
He turned down his street, and saw his mother’s house. The driveway was empty, which didn’t surprise him. He knew his mother would still be at her job at the poultry processing plant. Since his dad had up and left, they’d had it pretty hard. The main reason he joined the Marine Corp was to help his mother with a little extra money; that, and the fact that college was an economic impossibility. She pulled ten hour shifts on the gutting line—hot, smelly, and nasty work—but jobs for unskilled females were hard to come by.
He lifted the planter on the porch, retrieved the key and let himself inside, where he dumped his duffle bag in his old room. He picked up the phone in the hall, and dialed Forest Clement’s cell phone. Forest answered after one ring, and said,
“Mac! Are you home yet?”
“Just got here. What’re you doing?”
“Just about to drive out to Claude’s. Wanna go?”
“Yeah. Mom won’t be home till nearly six, so I got a couple of hours.”
“Good. I’ll pick you up in a minute.
“I’ll be standing out front.”
Erskine decided to keep his uniform on, partly because he didn’t have time to change, but mostly because he was proud to have earned the right to wear it. He looked in the mirror and straightened his scarf, checked his gig line, and put his garrison hat on, at just the right angle. Satisfied that he could pass inspection, he closed the door and put the key back under the planter.
Forest pulled to the curb in his olive drab jeep that had the top down. Erskine and Forest had been best friends from the first grade on. They had hunted, fished, and played sports together. Last year they had starred on Booneville’s championship football team, Erskine at safety and Forest at fullback. When Erskine had joined the Marines, Forest had gone to work at the local Tractor Supply Store.
Erskine piled into the jeep, and gave Forest a jab on the shoulder.
“Man, it’s good to see your sorry ass.”
Forest grinned and replied,
“Well, was Paris Island as bad as it sounds?’
“It ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure, but I kindda enjoyed it. There’s a schedule to keep, the food is good, and they taught us more in twelve weeks than I’ve ever learned in the whole rest of my life.”
“They teach to you to fight?”
“Well, yeah. The Corp is all about fighting, but their main message was that you don’t want to die for your country; just give the other guy a chance to die for his. We spent a lot of time learning teamwork.”
“What’d you do in your time off?”
“You know, on the weekends and after training.”
“I tried to get at least three hours sleep.”
“No shit? Y’all didn’t get to go town, or at least the beer hall?”
“If Paris Island has a beer hall, I never saw it, and I really didn’t miss touring downtown Beaufort, South Carolina. I did get a tattoo last Saturday after graduation, and it’s almost healed.”
He rolled up the sleeve of his shirt and showed Forest the Globe and Anchor and the USMC on his bicep. He grinned and said,
“Pretty cool, huh?”
“They not only brainwashed you, they branded you. Looks like your ass belongs to the Marines.”
“That was the first thing our DI said when we got off the bus. Give your soul to God; your ass belongs to me.”
Forest turned into the gravel parking lot of Claude’s Tap Room, which sat all by itself in the middle of nowhere.
Barksdale County Deputy Sheriff, Stella Stone was sitting at the bar in Claude’s, talking to the owner, Claude Wilson. Stella was dressed in jeans and an MSU football jersey—her usual off duty outfit—and was nursing her second beer of the afternoon. She turned to Wilson and said,
“Well, Gunny, looks like a quiet afternoon, so far.”
Claude Wilson stood a little over 6’4,” and weighed close to 300 pounds. He had a graying buzz cut with white side walls, and biceps the size of tree trunks. Claude had retired after thirty years as a Marine NCO, and owning The Tap was his long-term dream. Stella and Claude had become friends, when he discovered that in addition to being the deputy in his area, she had been a Marine Captain, commanding an MP Company in Iraq. He replied,
“Yeah, it’s quiet, but it’s early. We’ll have the usual crowd later. Are you working tonight?”
“Nope. You’ll either have to keep the peace yourself, or if you call it in, you’ll get Larry tonight.”
The door opened, lighting the dark bar with a flash of October sunlight. Erskine and Forest walked up to the other end of the bar, and pulled up stools. Stella grinned at Claude and said,
“Gunny, I know you’re gonna card those kids, right?”
“Hell, no. No way I’m gonna card a Marine. If he’s old enough to fight, he’s old enough to buy a beer. That ain’t gonna cause you a problem, is it Stella?”
“Not me. I’m off duty, but Larry might get a little heart burn if he showed up.”
“What Larry don’t know, can’t bother him,” Claude said, as he walked to the end of the bar.
“What can I get for y’all?”
“I’ll have a Miller draft,” replied Forest.
“I’d like a Bud Lite,” added Erskine.
Claude served the boys, then returned to Stella.
“They seem to get younger and younger.”
She grinned, and asked,
“How old were you when you joined?”
“I’d just turned 17; the Corp wasn’t too picky in 1968.”
“They never are in wartime.”
Stella caught a motion moving behind her, and turned to see a big guy in his twenties walking toward Erskine and Forest. He had a pool cue in his hand, and was smacking it against his open palm. He stopped a few feet away, and snarled,
“Hey, jarhead, where you been, Boy Scout camp?”
Erskine turned to face the guy and said,
“Hey, man, were just having a beer. We ain’t looking for trouble.”
“Well, that’s too damn bad. Trouble found you anyway. Your worst nightmare is here.”
Claude, moving fast for a man so big, rounded the bar and stood between the boys and the loudmouth. He put his hands on his hips, and said,
“Buddy, I don’t know what your problem is, but it ain’t gonna happen in here.”
The man took a look at Claude, and replied,
“That suits me fine; we’ll just step across the parking lot and settle this. That is, if the pussy in the stupid uniform has the guts.”
Before Claude could reply, Erskine slid off the bar stool.
“Lead the way; let’s get this done, so we can finish our beer.
Claude reached out and said,
“Gimme the pool cue. I’m sure you won’t be needing it. Then he turned to Erskine.
“Son, you don’t have to prove anything to this jerk. Just sit down, and I’ll get his ass out of here.”
“No, you and I both know he’ll be waiting in the parking lot. Better to do it now than later,” Erskine replied, and headed toward the door.
Stella got up and said,
“Think I’ll tag along, just to make sure things are even.”
The man looked at her, and growled,
“What’s this got to do with you, bitch?”
She pulled up the football jersey, and showed the guy a tattoo on her forearm, the globe, anchor and USMC.
“I’m a jarhead too, and call me bitch again, and you’re not gonna make it to the parking lot to get your ass kicked. Now, here’s how we’re gonna do this. Claude, you and this young man, pointing to Forest, can stand in the door and watch. I’m gonna make sure this is a fair fight. When I say it’s over, it’s over. Both of you got that clear?”
They both nodded that they did, and Stella led them out into the gravel lot. The guy was waiting, and as soon as Erskine’s foot hit the gravel, he lunged with a round house right already on the way. Erskine easily blocked it with his left forearm, and countered with a hard right jab to the guy’s kidney, then danced just out of reach.
The man was stunned, but shook it off and charged Erskine again. Erskine landed a one-two combination to his mid-section, then started to use his head as a speed bag. He wasn’t trying to put the guy away, but systematically cut him to ribbons. Stella let it go on for another minute or so, then stepped between them.
“Okay, that’s enough.”
Erskine took a couple of steps back and said,
“How ‘bout it buddy? You ready to call it quits?’
The man looked up, face bleeding, and nodded that he was. Stella walked up and took him by the arm.
“You need to go to the men’s room and clean yourself up, then I want you to get in your car and go to wherever you came from.”
The guy nodded again, and headed to the back of the bar. Erskine and Stella came in, and she stuck out her hand and said,
Erskine took it, and said,
Image from Adobe Stock
Categories: Flash Fiction