A Girl in the NightbyJakeRivers©
DG Hear, MistressLynn and myself are doing a mini writing invitational. We are each picking one song from Ray Price and using it as the basis for a story. I've picked "City Lights," DG Hear, "For the Good Times," and MistressLynn (aka MissLynn), "That's All That Matters." I decided to also do, "A Girl in the Night."
We hope you enjoy the stories – Jake Rivers
Country music to me is simply stories that are set to music. A great example is "A Girl in the Night" by Ray Price:
"She lives her life in honkytonks and the crowded back street bar.
A world of make-believe that knows no sun, no moon or star.
Where the music's loud, she's in the crowd, a lonely girl in the night."
The main character in this story was a paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne in Viet Nam. The Airborne Hymn, "Blood on the Risers" is well known to all paratroopers, and dates from the Second World War:
Blood on the Risers
(Author unknown. To the tune of Glory, Glory, Hallelujah.)
"He was just a rookie trooper and he surely shook with fright.
He checked off his equipment and made sure his pack was tight.
He had to sit and listen to those awful engines roar.
You ain't gonna jump no more.
Gory, gory, what a hell of way to die.
Gory, gory, what a hell of way to die.
Gory, gory, what a hell of way to die.
He ain't gonna jump no more."
This story reprises some of the characters and the locale from my earlier story, The Other Woman. Thanks to techsan for the editing job.
PROLOGUE – BIG BEND, TEXAS
We, my buddy Bobby Morse and a couple of our friends, had been riding our horses on the Blue Creek Trail in Big Bend National Park, dropping down to see the remains of the Homer Wilson Ranch. It was a rugged, dry country and I was glad to get off the damn horse for a while. My leg had tightened up, as I knew it would – it always did when I rode for more than a half hour – and I ruefully rubbed the ragged scar with the heel of my hand.
I sank down in the dust and leaned against a convenient rock. I knocked the dottle out of my pipe and absently packed it as I looked up at the rocky mesa behind the remains of the ranch house. Massaging my leg I remembered that midnight made bright with flashing mortar rounds exploding all too frequently nearby when I got my personal memento of that crazy Asian war in the Pacific.
Operation Junction City was an eighty-two day military operation conducted by U.S. and Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) forces begun on February 22, 1967 during the Vietnam Conflict. It was the largest U.S. airborne operation since Operation Market Garden during the Second World War, the only major airborne operation in the Vietnam War, and was one of the largest U.S. operations of the Southeast Asian conflict.
The operation was launched with four US divisions, and was essentially a massive search-and-destroy mission along the Cambodian Border, looking for the Viet Cong headquarters in South Viet Nam. American troops over-ran much of the area before encountering significant resistance.
There were three major battles, each initiated by the Viet Cong: the first, at Ap Bau Bang; the second, at Fire Support Base Gold and the third at Ap Gu. In each battle, the Vietcong attacked US forces and were repulsed, suffering very heavy losses.
In all, the Viet Cong lost almost three thousand troops in the battles, while the US lost less than three hundred. Nevertheless, the Viet Cong headquarters, the main target of the operation, was not captured and, once the US troops withdrew, the Communists reoccupied the area.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade had come over to Nam from Okinawa - I was with Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry. My job was to operate the radio for the battalion commander. It was a heavy PRC10 and I had to jump with an extra battery. I was okay until the second battle of Ap Bau Bang. I was standing next to the colonel and found myself lying on the ground in shock with the ugly sound of the AK47 bullet ricocheting off a nearby M-113 resounding in my ear. The deformed slug tore a chunk out of my thigh and gave me a ticket home.
Funny, though, I never dreamed of getting wounded. The nightmare that still woke me up with some regularity was to streamer in from a low level drop. The drop zone had been a large, dry rice paddy near the Cambodian border. As I left the C-130 I could see the DZ was already behind us. We'd jumped at 750 feet and right after my chute popped open with a jerk I saw a flash of white screaming past me. I'd seen a streamer once before on an equipment drop of some howitzers but I knew there was a living, screaming body at the end of this one ... for a few more seconds, anyway.
I'll never forget the scream that quickly reduced in volume with the Doppler effect. Sometimes as I lay awake in the stillness of the night I try to remember if that was Corporal Jennings – a kid I went to jump school with at Benning – screaming, or if it were my scream ... or both. Whichever, I lived that jump over and over except it was always my chute that failed. The dreams were always violent but mercifully short. I would see the jungle canopy flashing at me with breathtaking speed ... but I never hit the ground.
Every time after the dream the last stanza of the airborne Hymn would run through my mind,
"There was blood upon the risers, there were brains upon the 'chute.
Intestines were a-dangling from his paratrooper suit.
He was a mess, they picked him up and poured him from his boots.
And he ain't gonna jump no more."
Heavy stuff at three in the morning.
A frown came over my face as an unwanted memory came to me as I heaved myself up to get back on my horse. As a strange epilog to my war experience I was at Stapleton Airport in Denver on my way home – in uniform with my purple heart prominent among my medals and still using a cane – and leaning against a post waiting for my connection to San Antonio to start boarding.
I was half asleep when this really cute girl walked up. She must have been about sixteen or so and I smiled as she approached me. I had my left leg bent to take the weight off it. She pointed at the bent leg and asked, "Did you get that in Viet Nam?"
I smiled at her and said, "Yes, I was ..."
She interrupted me and said, "Good! I wish your whole fuckin' leg had been blown off." She spit in my face, turned, and ran into the Ladies restroom. I should have known from the "peace" symbol hanging around her neck that peace was the last thing she was thinking about.
The gate attendant handed me some tissues and murmured, "I'm sorry. That stuff happens all too often.
My folks were just happy to see their son, Spec 4 Thomas Patrick Ryan, home safe from the war.
I think the reason people like bars is that it gives them a chance to suspend reality, that is, to kind of put their life on hold for a couple of hours while they enjoy a beer, listen to the music, maybe dance a little ... and hide their loneliness. I mean, how can you be lonely when the place is crowded? That's really the key 'cause it isn't that you aren't lonely; it just gives you a few minutes to pretend you have a normal life and a love to share. Yeah, a love to share. What a joke!
I particularly liked Willy's Tavern because the bartenders were friendly – they took the time to learn your name – and if you were a little short they would run a tab for you. And speaking of which ...
Jeanie was behind the bar tonight and she walked over with the little notebook she used to keep track of who owed what, "Hey, Tom, another?"
"Sure, Jeanie, then I gotta run." I didn't really but it made me sound like I had a life. "Hey, who's that dolly over there that's been putting all the quarters in the jukebox and wearing that tight dress so well?"
"That's Kathy Morgan ... well, really Kathy Jenner. She took her maiden name back when she dumped that asshole husband of hers. He owns that restaurant, Moxie's, over to Sabinal. He was supposed to be doing inventory one night when she stopped by and caught him with one of the waitresses. She's been pretty much broken up about it."
She bought me the beer and I signed my name, Tom Ryan, in her notebook. I looked over at Kathy – I'd seen her in a few times the last month of so. She was really nice looking. I couldn't imagine a man having a wife like that and messing around on her. She was maybe medium height with a small waist that made her bust and hips look bigger than they really were.
In a way it was sad to see such a nice looking woman wasting her life in bars and crowded honkytonks. She should have a real life ... like me. Sure.
I'd noticed that she never danced more than once with the same guy and never let anyone sit at her table. I'd see guys go up and try to sweet talk her but she would just sit there and shake her head. If the bar was crowded, like on a Friday or Saturday night, it would happen a lot and then she'd eventually get pissed off and get up and leave. I never saw her go out to some cowboy's truck and come back all mussed up a few minutes later like a lot of the other girls that came to places like this ... many of them married.
Somehow I had become fascinated watching her and wondering who she was, what had happened to her. She looked so lonely sitting there. Her hooded eyes seemed to show such regret. She sipped a glass of wine to pass the evening away ... just a girl alone, in the night.
Was she thinking of dreams that didn't last? Was she haunted by past heartaches? Was there a story of a love that wasn't right? Now the shadows hid her empty pride ... the loneliest girl I'd ever seem – hiding in the crowd.
I watched her light a cigarette, take a couple of puffs, and stub it out. The smoke seemed to bring tears to her eyes ... or maybe it was something else. Was she there to tempt a lover with that dress that hugged her so tightly?
On a whim I got up and walked over to her table. I figured if I didn't ask for anything maybe she would be more receptive.
"Hi, Kathy. Jeanie told me your name and suggested I offer to sit with you to keep the jerks away. I'm not doing anything so it's no bother for me." Jeanie hadn't really said that but I guessed she'd back me up.
She looked up at me like she was measuring me for a coffin and said, "If that's a pick up line, that's about the worst one I've ever heard. And believe me, Buddy, I've heard a lot of them!"
Taking a chance I sat down and looked seriously at her. Sometimes the truth is better than lying. "Well, the thing is I'm feeling sorta low down and lonely tonight. It would be nice to have someone to talk to and listen to the music with. If you don't want to talk, that's okay. I can just sit here and keep the wolves at bay for you. And by the way, my name is Tom, not Buddy."
She gave me a speculative look and then a faint smile, "Okay ... Tom. Sit for a while if it suits you."
She didn't say anything for a long time - just sat there nursing her beer and watching the crowd - then walked over to the jukebox. A bit later the sad, smooth sound of Faron Young came wafting through the smoke filled barroom:
"Oh, it's cryin' time again, you're gonna leave me.
I can see that far away look in your eyes."
I began to see what might be bothering her. Jeanie had told me a bit about her husband and she felt that Kathy wasn't upset so much about her loser husband as she was about being treated with such disrespect, that a man could be so low down to her. She sat there looking at the table as if she were intently listening to the lyrics. Sometimes I thought that listening to the jukebox was like getting psychiatric treatment for two bits. Of course, there is the part about you getting what you pay for.
Kathy had jet-black hair that was long and quite glossy ... and eyes the color of charcoal that seemed to draw me in. She was actually quite pretty, much more so than I had thought at first.
She suddenly stood up and with a faint nod turned and walked away, out the door and more than likely, out of my life. I sat there for a minute, thinking about her, and then went on home.
Home was a nicely finished but small house surrounded by a quarter section of pecan trees between Uvalde and Knippa. A neighbor took care of the trees and we split the proceeds. The house had two bedrooms and two baths with the kitchen and bedrooms built around one large great room. There were several huge oak trees in the front that provided shade.
I'd worked for a few years selling farm and ranch equipment but since the problems with Cindy Lou I lived on the income from several oil wells over by Midland that became mine when my dad died. They weren't pumping huge volumes so I was getting around ten grand a month. That was plenty of money for me but it hadn't been near enough for Cindy.
I met Cindy the summer after I finished college in Austin, with a degree in Oil and Gas Engineering. Summers starting from when I'd finished high school, and then all the way through college, I'd worked as a roustabout, and then a roughneck for a friend of my dad who was into wildcatting in a big way in the area around Odessa. The first summer I'd mostly done gofer stuff and by the end I was doing the more complex, dangerous stuff. A roustabout does the work that requires little training and a roughneck does the stuff around the rig or involving handling pipe.
A roughneck's job breaks down into the different aspects of the job, such as tool pusher, driller, derrickhand, motorhand or floorhand/chainhand. The lowest job for a roughneck is a leadhand or worm. The lowest job is a worms's helper, called a ginsel. One roughneck calling another a ginsel was the quickest way to start a fight as it was considered a derogatory term.
There had been a break after my sophomore year of college for what I thought would be three years of the army but it lasted a bit under a year when I got shot in the leg in Nam. I'd had to use a cane for a couple years, and although I still walked with a bit of a limp it didn't really bother me. Because it had been a ricochet I had one butt-ugly scar on my left thigh. I was sensitive about it for a while but didn't think much of it anymore.
When I met Cindy at a bar in Midland, I didn't want to go into all that so I just told her I was in the "oil business." That turned out to be a huge mistake and I must have missed the way her eyes lit up. She became real friendly, real fast. It wasn't more than an hour later we were banging the headboard of her bed against the wall making all kinds of racket that failed to drown out her squealing.
We spent the next few weeks doing the horizontal tango – and variations thereof – whenever we had the time and a place. I started having second thoughts about her when she came up and told me that I was gonna be a daddy. I'll never forget that night. She showed up at my apartment one evening and said, "You're gonna be a daddy!" Damn! Could she be subtle, or what?
So I did the right thing, which for sure turned out to be totally the wrong thing. I had planned on staying with the same oil company I was working for but the way it worked is I made big money if a well came in and nothing but wages if it didn't. Cindy made it clear that we needed guaranteed money, and now. I found a job selling farm and ranch equipment in San Angelo and I turned out to be pretty good at it. Then my dad died and I got that extra income so I thought Cindy was reasonably happy.
Well, it turned out that reasonable wasn't in Cindy's vocabulary. It did turn out that she was really pregnant – at least she didn't lie about that. Six months after we were married, Jefferson Davis Ryan was born. Six months after he was born, Cindy took off with a guy that had a huge cattle ranch down in the Pampas of Argentina. She took Davy – that's what I called him anyway – with her. When he started school she started sending him to me for the summer school break – December through February in Bahia Blanca near where they lived.
Davy had turned out to be a pretty good kid. He was sixteen now and I'd lined up a job for him at a good friend's ranch starting when he came in several months for his stay. The ranch was four thousand acres and mostly a cattle ranch, although it was starting to be used for some private hunting, and was owned by Bobby and Annie Morse. Annie's first husband had worked on the same rig as I did for a couple of summers. A few years ago he had been killed in a blowout that had caught on fire. I'd met Annie a few times before they got married and then often afterwards.
Davy always came by himself. Once Cindy took off I never saw her again until the time of Davy's trouble. Davy said every year when he came that she seemed happy so I guess her rich gaucho was giving her something that I hadn't been able to give her. It probably had a lot to do with his sixty-one thousand acre ranch and only God knew how many cattle.
After I got home that first night I'd met Kathy I thought a lot about her. I mean, sure, she had a great figure and was pretty as all get out, but there was a presence about her that fascinated me. I had the strongest feeling that there was a lot more to her than I'd seen at first glance. I felt there were depths to her that few, if any, men ever got to see.
I also knew she was lonely ... really lonely. I'd seen many women do the bar/dance scene like in the song, "... lookin' for love in all the wrong places." I had the sense that Kathy had been there, not because she was looking for a man, or for love, but because she wasn't happy with whom she was and what her life had turned into. As I saw it she didn't want anyone else's company and she didn't want her own either, so she hid from herself in the noise and bustle of the crowds.
I went by Willy's a couple of times over the next few weeks but I didn't see Kathy again. Not that I was looking for her. Not by a long shot. Damn, I had sworn off women ... why would I keep my eyes open for one that just happened to be pretty and ... well, maybe I was looking for her. I emptied more that a few bottles of fine Texas beer trying to decide if I was really stupid or really wise. I did seem to get a lot smarter after a couple bottles of beer.
Then I met her again, unexpectedly, under what should have been more favorable circumstances. My buddy, Bobby, called and said they were having a big barbeque at his ranch and invited me to come over. It was going to be on Labor day and he wanted me to come out a few days before to see if we could get a couple of small javelinas.
I'd never tasted them before, but Bobby told me, "The way I cook them is after preparing them, wrap them in bacon and then heavy duty aluminum foil. By getting young ones we don't have the problem of the scent glands and they are a lot more tender. I cook them at low heat for four or five hours. By then the meat just about falls off the bones."
"What do they taste like?"
"Well, some say they taste like the dark meat of chicken only a bit greasier. I don't think that does them justice. Cooked right they are delicious. I've got everything else we need. I'm fixing some huge porterhouse steaks, a couple of grilled kids and all the fixings."
I gave him a funny look at the grilled kids comment and he came right back with, "You know, whole baby goats that are slow roasted on the grill. It's best to hunt the javelinas around daybreak or dusk, your choice."
We decided on daybreak and by mid-morning we had three that Bobby thought were just right. On Labor Day I went over there early to help him get things ready and help cook. I had a lot of fun and Annie was a real sweetheart, as always.