The M-1911 was in the shoebox on top of the leather case that held the medal – the five-pointed star on the baby blue ribbon. Harris cleaned and oiled the .45 once a year, but now he was doing something he hadn’t done since Chosin – stacking rounds in the magazine. Seven in the box, pull the slide to get one in the chamber, thumb the release, one more in the magazine, good to go. He never went with just seven in Korea – too damn many Chinese – and eight seemed like a good idea now, too.
The kid had really screwed the pooch this time. The kid was soft, the kid was spoiled, the kid had no spine. Put the kid in the system and it was going to grind him into sausage. And the way the kid was? Harris knew some of that was on him. The kid was his grandson, but Harris was all the father the kid had.
The parish took two extra collections that morning, so they had some cash. Your basic Sunday donation nowadays, half the parish did it electronically, and the rest dropped checks. But they’d had a Maryknoll father in, and they’d passed the plate for whatever shit hole he was trying to pull souls out of, and then they’d had the annual deal for the local Catholic schools, so the baskets had made two extra rounds and people had to break out the wallets. Decent crowd in the pews, figure maybe a grand in cash.
Harris had dumped the take into three different bags so each collection would get to the right place and headed out the side door for the rectory. Just made it down the stairs when somebody came around the wall hit, him on the back of the head with something, Harris face down on the walk, stunned, but not out, couple sets of feet, hands snatching up the bags, legs beating it down the walk. Two guys running, both with their jeans halfway down their asses, their drawers hanging out. Had ski masks pulled down over their heads, but the scrawny punk on the right, the one running toward the Impala like a six-year-old girl with palsy. That was his grandson.
After Korea, Harris just hadn’t been right. Some Chink with one of those burp guns had stitched him pretty good, but he’d come back from that. He was 81 now, but could still knock out 25 pushups without breaking a sweat. But somewhere, day two at Chosin, maybe day three, he’d stopped being scared. It stopped meaning anything when he’d ram another clip into the BAR and sweep it through another line of Chinese and watch the chunks fly off into the snow. It stopped meaning anything when the guy next to him got the back of his head wallpapered against the dirty ice. And when his platoon got stuck with blocking duty during the breakout, when they were down to maybe a squad, when he’d run out of clips for the BAR, and then he’d run out of clips for the Garand he picked up off a dead guy, when he was down to his last couple rounds for the .45, and when the little slant fuck in the quilted jacket had popped over the edge of the ditch and nailed him, all he felt was relief. And when they read the citation at the ceremony six months later, how Corporal Harris, in covering the withdrawal from Chosin, had single handedly killed more than 150 Chinese at complete disregard to his own life and safety, he wondered if they understood what that meant, what you’d turned a man into when he cared more about killing others than he did about saving himself, and if it was really something you ought to give medals for.
Harris had reconned the kid when he’d started hanging with the droopy-drawered punks, knew they had the beat to fuck trailer down by the river. The Impala was parked around the side. Harris had the .45 in his right hand when he came in the door.
A couple Hispanics on the coach to the right, the kid and another guy, greasy hair, tattoos all down his arms, sitting at the table. The trailer was fogged with marijuana smoke. They were watching one of those stupid fight shows, guys locked in a cage mauling each other. The bags from the church were on the floor by the TV.
“I’m taking my grandson and the money you stole from the church and leaving,” Harris said. “Nothing else has to happen.”
One of the Hispanics on the coach laughed. “Fucking grampa Rambo. Shittin’ myself here homes.”
The tattooed guy at the table jumped up, an automatic in his hand, snapped off a hurried shot that smacked into the siding to Harris’s right. Harris turned calmly, raised the .45, taking his time. You got shot, you didn’t get shot, nothing you could do about that. But you could hit what you aimed at if you took your time. Tattoo fired again, closer, and Harris shot him in the middle of his chest. Tattoo flopped down, the automatic clattering on the table.
The Hispanic furthest back had a gun up now, but he’d forgotten the safety. Harris turned and shot him in the face. The other Hispanic tried to snatch up the gun and Harris shot him through the side of the chest.
The kid had picked up the automatic that tattoo had dropped on the table and was pointing it at Harris, the gun wobbling like a diving rod looking for water.
Harris lowered the .45. “Put it down. We’ll take the money back. I’ll keep you out of this.”
“They were my friends,” the kid blubbered. He was crying.
Harris could see that the kid was going to fire, so he raised the .45, rock steady, pointing at the kid’s face.
“You get one shot,” Harris said. “Don’t miss.”
The automatic shook harder, the kid blinking through his tears, both hands clamped on it now, shock on his face when it went off and ticked Harris on the outside of his left arm.
“Not good enough,” Harris said, and shot the kid through the forehead.
Better that way. He found a beer in the fridge, opened it and sat down to wait for the police.