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Authors: Ed Gorman

Riders on the Storm

BOOK: Riders on the Storm
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To my grandchildren:

Shannon, Patrick (PJ), Reagan, Kate, Maggie, and Charlotte

With my profound love and respect

To some of the good ones along the way:

Nancy Angenend, M.D.

Jennifer Berns, PA-C

Erin E. Brown, ARNP

Lynne (Russell) Conlin

Chad Davis, PA-C

David Dingli, M.D., Ph.D.

Larry Donner

Jill Flory, M.D.

Mark and Barb Johnson

Uva Mae (McAtee) Klein

Jean (Murrin) McNally, M.D.

Tammy O'Brien A MD

Tina Perry

Kevin and Deb Randle

Tracy Ridgeway, RN, BSN, OCN

Bill Schafer

Judy (Stevenson) Schneiderman

I'd like to thank

Penny Freeman, LISW

Tracy Knight, Ph.D., LP

Lt. Colonel Kevin Randle

for their invaluable help with this novel.

Once again I need to thank my friend and first editor Linda Siebels for her skill, her patience, and her humor. You're the best, kiddo.

Thanks to all the organizations dedicated to keeping those of us with the incurable cancer Multiple Myeloma alive as long as possible.

“Just as I was getting ready to fly home from Nam my sergeant told me not to wear my uniform, that a lot of us were getting hassled for wearing them. But I figured to hell with it. I fought in the war, didn't I? I was proud of my uniform. But when I got to O'Hare this kid, this girl who couldn't have been more than thirteen or fourteen comes running up to me and spits on me and screams that I'm a ‘baby killer.' Her dad came over and dragged her away but man I could not fucking believe it. Thirteen or fourteen.”

—Corporal Tom Squires

. T
ago when I didn't believe that. When both a neurosurgeon and a psychologist visited me every day and tried to convince me of it. With no luck for five weeks.

What happened to me was that I went to Fort Hood with four others from my National Guard unit to work on a special project our Guard captain thought would be good experience for us. You know how the Guard is in this piece-of-shit war we're having with Vietnam. King's X. Home Free. Got it made. You get in the Guard and the percentage of you going to Nam is very low. Very.

So one night we're all getting drunk (this was told to me) as we did every night we could and I don't know who brought it up but one of us said Shit, we should enlist. Look how many guys from our hometown of Black River Falls, Iowa, are over there already. And there have already been six deaths from our town since 1964. What kind of pussies are we, hiding out in the Guard?

We made this pact and somehow we remembered it in the morning and did exactly that. Went to this sergeant we'd met and said sign us up. A week later we got to go into town and do some drinking. I made the mistake of hitching an early ride back with a sergeant who was a lot drunker than I'd first realized. He piled up our Jeep by running into a tree going flat-out. He was killed instantly.

The neurosurgeon operated on me for almost fourteen hours. When I finally got out of surgery (again these are all things I was told)
I had no strength, I had no memory except for these strange Poe-like images (Poe as in the Roger Corman drive-in movies which I loved). And except for the fact that some of these stray images scared me and some made me sad and some made me happy and some made me horny I had no real idea of what they meant. Had I just imagined them, or did they relate to this Sam McCain guy they kept telling me I was?

And after my memory returned I almost wished it hadn't. I was informed that my mom had had a stroke and was now living in Chicago with my little sister. And then I read the letter that my fiancée had written me while I was still not Sam McCain. I have to say that for a “Dear John” kind of thing she'd come up with a pretty good reason for ending our engagement. She'd told me that after her first husband died (in Nam in fact) she'd taken to drink and running around and sleeping around. She hadn't told me that she'd had a child and that rather than abort it (which she was inclined to do) her lover took it and raised it. She hadn't seen the man or her daughter since a few weeks after the birth. But they came back through town and—There you go.

The not having a memory thing isn't as bad as people sometimes think. For quite a while that was one memory I didn't want to have at all.

Finally I was released. I went immediately to Oak Park to see my mother who was living in this huge house. My sister's second husband not only didn't beat her up, he was nice enough to have money and even have one of the large empty rooms on the second floor turned into a small apartment for Mom. Her own bathroom even.

Then it was back to Black River Falls.

It turned out that the odd anxiety I felt as I drove the Interstate was warranted.

The war was not only destroying people overseas, it was destroying them back in my hometown.


Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Part Two

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Part Three

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Part One

“We should declare war on North Vietnam. We could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and still be home by Christmas.”

—Ronald Reagan


store for coffee. Whatever crisis he is facing this time, I won't be much help if I'm this groggy. It is twenty-three minutes to two a.m. That dread I'd felt coming home? It is finally realized on this bleak, mysterious night.

A town like Black River Falls generally goes to sleep between ten and eleven except for the taverns and the three clubs where you can dance. A Quad City businessman, which is often synonymous with Mob, has tried to open both a XXX bookstore and a strip club in the past year. The whisper is that in the next six months or so city council members will give up fighting—the guy loves lawsuits—and allow the bookstore. No doubt night owls of a special species will flock to it.

Will Cullen lives in the wealthy area of town. His home is a sprawling yellow-brick house that has been here long enough to have creeping vines
venerating the exterior walls. A piney windbreak to the east isolates the place from its neighbors. His wife Karen has a wealthy father who paid for the place. He thought that maybe this kind of splendor would help Will recover from his Nam tragedy.

I top a small hill and gaze down at the moonlit homes stretching out before me. Senators love to bluster about how the rest of the world envies us, and when you see this portrait in shadow and light you have to agree with them. Solid houses, good jobs, bright futures. Too bad we were losing thousands of our troops—not to mention even more thousands of innocents—just so two fine fellows named Johnson and Nixon could play John Wayne.

The streetlights are sparse and so my headlights and motor hum seem all the more intrusive as I sail down the street to Will's home.

I have my window rolled down. The slight chill feels good after the blistering August we've been having.

The enormous house is dark. Maybe Will hadn't wanted to wake Karen or their daughter up. Still, the dark house puzzles me and makes me uneasy.

I glide up the driveway and snap off the engine. The triple-stall garage is closed. His and her cars will be inside.

The scent of flowers—morning glories and scarlet rockets from what I can see in the deep shadows—lend the breeze a pleasant scent. The only other aroma is of the Lucky I am smoking.

I walk from my car up the curvy and lengthy flagstone path to the front door. I expect him to step out at any minute. I knock feebly, thinking of Karen and their three-year-old daughter Peggy Ann. No response.

There is a huge window to the right of the front door so I go over there and peer in. The faint light of the half-moon lends the living room the look of a showroom. There is a joke among all their friends that Karen is such a fastidious housekeeper she'd prefer that when you visit you stay outside. God help the person who sets a drink down without using a coaster. Death would be swift.

No sign of Will.

I have terrible thoughts. Every once in a while there are stories in the news about the lives of a seemingly happy family ending when the husband—usually the husband, though wives have done it, too—takes a gun and kills the wife, the kids and finally himself.

I think of the mental problems Will had developed while serving in Vietnam. Like many sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, he has turned to alcohol to deal with his griefs. Karen has told me that he's even started drinking at work sometimes. He has been put in mental hospitals for short stays twice.

I move along the side of the house. More flowers, more scents. Distantly the sounds of eighteen-wheelers on the highway; a lone lonely dog a few blocks over barking out his need for companionship.

I stop at the side door. People in our town of thirty-five thousand or so still leave their doors unlocked. This is slowly changing with the increase of serious crime across the country.

I try the door. Apparently Will is still of the belief that you can trust your neighbors. The door is unlocked.

I have terrible thoughts again.

If I call the police and there is nothing wrong—maybe Will has just had one of his frightening panic attacks—then I will have embarrassed Will. Karen is from some of the town's oldest money. She is the reason that Will's veterinary clinic is doing so well. She is on enough boards of this and boards of that to know people who do not mind expending heavy-duty dollars on their animals.

I start inside and then stop. A good way to scare the hell out of people; a good way for me to get shot. Both of them know how to shoot. Karen's father owned a large chain of sporting goods stores. The entire family was taught to shoot, even, and as Karen often joked, the dog.

I close the door and then stand in the starlight deciding what to do next. My impulse is to just get in my car and head back to my apartment.

Then I see the beam of a flashlight waving around inside in the kitchen window.

The light vanishes quickly. Through a window close to the front room I see the beam again still waving around. Searching for something.

Then the living room light comes on.

I move cautiously back to the front of the house and there she is in the window. Karen in a flattering pink nightgown, her mussed, bobbed blond hair giving her the look of a just woken child. But that impression is contradicted by the Colt Python in her hand. Pretty as she is, there is a hard side to her. I have no doubt she is tougher than Will.

BOOK: Riders on the Storm
8.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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