Category Archives: James Westergreen

Slammin’ It

Listen instead!
Listen instead!

The rat peeked out from his hole and surveyed the farrowing pen that comprised part of his territory. His ears strained for any sound out of the norm as his whiskers bristled. When he felt it was safe he half danced half scampered along the concrete pen floor to a secure hiding spot directly along side of the feeding trough. The sow lay on her side behind a restraining contraption that looked similar to an iron maiden from medieval times. This prevented the sow from rolling over and suffocating her nursing piglets.
+++++The rat enjoyed a quiet morning meal not realizing that he was being watched.
+++++“You see that Jimbo? Fuckers are becoming brazen. They have nothing to fear but we’re about to change all that.” Said prisoner Robert Jarzynski, AKA Cowboy Bob as he used the back of his hand to wipe his nose.
+++++“Right Cowboy, what exactly have you got in mind?” I asked.
+++++“That rodent came out of exit hole seven and after dinner he used the number three entrance hole to return to his bunker.”
+++++‘Jesus Jimbo you’re one dumb motherfucker. Don’t see what is going on here? It’s all around us.”
+++++“Last I checked we’re doing time in a military prison. We worked our way out to the parolee honors farm. Am I right?”
+++++“You’re only half right dip stick. We’re standing on top of a tunnel system that stretches for miles and somewhere close by is the control and command center for the entire rat army.” Said a knowledgeable Cowboy Bob. He hadn’t shaved for a couple of days and the stubble was evident on his chin and he wore the hint of a mustache on his upper lip.
+++++“You been smoking some of that ditch weed we found out near the end of the cow pasture?”
+++++“Fucking hippy peaceniks are all the godamned same. If they had let us go I mean just given the green light Vietnam would be a fucking parking lot today. We had to fight with one hand tied behind our backs, wasn’t fair.”
+++++“Oh I don’t know last I heard they’ve killed over a million Vietnamese give or take a few hundred thousand and still counting.
+++++“Jimbo I know you’re some kind of peacenik commie who refused to go the Nam but what I’m talking about here is redemption. That’s right a chance to be a real man, a chance to help take down the rodent tunnel system that’s plaguing the livestock here.”
+++++“Is that what those little blue and red flags tied to the sticks by the rat holes are all about?”
+++++“Guess you’re not so stupid after all Jimbo. I’ve been working on this offensive for almost a month now. Here take a look at the map I’ve put together.”
+++++Cowboy Bob unfolded a large map and spread it across the rough sawn wooden workbench. He stepped back and ran his index finger back and forth under his nose as he gazed at his cartographic handiwork.
+++++“Guess you’ve been really busy, I had no idea.” I said in amazement.
+++++The diagram that he had unfolded showed a detailed drawing of the entire farm with special attention given to the pig farrowing barns and it denoted over eighteen rat entrance and exit holes. He had the tunnel system analyzed in great detail. Red flags were entrance holes and blue flags were exit holes. He had even figured out which ones were the dummy holes the blind entrances going nowhere. I was really impressed.
+++++“So Bob you picked up this special ability to sniff out enemy tunnels over there in the Nam?” I asked.
+++++“1st BN 5th Infantry of the 25th Division, Tropic Fucking Lighting.  Tunnel rats. We were outside of Saigon some 25 miles or so at Cu Chi. I’m a little under 5’4” so I was a natural to squeeze in those nasty assed hell holes and ferret out the VC rats.”
+++++“Doesn’t sound like any fun to me.”
+++++“Not our problem here today peacenik. What we’re dealing with here is a massive enemy presence right under our very noses and you and I are going to smoke the fuckers out. Now are you with me on this or are you going to pussy out?”
+++++No sir I mean yes sir let’s ice some fucking rats!” I said not wanting to upset the Cowboy.
+++++“You know what Phil Sheridan said, ‘Only good rat is a dead rat.’
+++++“Uhh I think Phil said Indian not rat.”
+++++“Indian, rat, dink, VC, gook, what’s the fucking difference they’re all the same and come tomorrow they’re all going to be KIA. Now listen you up while I lay out the assault plan and I’ll tell you where you fit in.”
+++++I remembered when the Cowboy first came out to the farm. He had that look, not the thousand yard stare although I’ve seen plenty of inmates walking around with that spaced out vacant look, no Bob had an in your face presence that possessed a power all it’s own. Like he could melt shit with a concentrated glance if he really wanted to. Messianic would have been an accurate description. What he lacked in size he more than made for in intensity.
+++++I knew that something with him wasn’t quite right but had no idea that he was on the brink.
+++++Being a trustee and working on the farm was good duty. Nobody fucked with you as long as you worked hard. Everything considered this being Leavenworth and all it was a good a place to be. Only inmates with a three-year sentence or longer were candidates to be farmer trustees.
+++++The dinner table at the farm was long and narrow it had a checkered tablecloth and could sit all 25 inmates who worked out at the farm. It was casual dinning and the chow line was open from 5:00 to 6:45 AM you could sit down any time and eat. Food at the farm was outstanding it was a real functioning farm and we got up at 4:30 and worked hard so the rations were plentiful and tasted like real food.
+++++“Jimbo I hear tomorrow is D-Day at the rat complex.” Said Bro Fuss. He was tall and skinny with delicate facial features but had a frame of sinewy muscle built from hard work at the farm.
+++++“You been talking to Cowboy?” I asked.
+++++“He’s been giving impromptu lectures to anyone who’ll listen about the assault. Says the underground complex could stretch as far out as to the Castle itself.”
+++++“Needless to say I’m worried. It took me a long time to get out here to the farm. It wasn’t working for me back inside the walls at the Castle. Don’t want to lose any good time or get my ass shipped back there.”
+++++“You gotta admit though folks here are excited about it. More buzz these days at the farm about the Cowboy than when they walked on the moon.”
+++++“His original plan he was going to dump a gallon of gasoline down into the holes of the complex. Yesterday I saw him drain fuel out of a tractor. He had a 5-gallon Jerry can. I feel bad for the rats.”
+++++Next morning I woke up at 4 AM I wanted to be ready for the big day. I went through the chow line and ordered 3 eggs over easy, a couple sausages, 3 strips of bacon, OJ, a muffin, hash browns and a cup of steaming hot coffee. Cookie had on the country music station and someone was wailing softly about his lost love or lost dog or something along that line.
+++++I looked around for the Cowboy but he was nowhere to be seen. Bro Fuss came and sat down next to me.
+++++“All geared up for the assault?” Said Fuss with an eager edge to his voice. ‘Take it easy Fuss. Staff has to know something’s going down and I don’t want to have my shit in the ringer.”
+++++“I’m going to take a walk over to the pig barns around 11 just to see what the haps are. Don’t want to miss anything if I can help it.” Smiled the Fuss with a mouth full of hash browns.
+++++“Right. Well I’m going over as soon as wash my chow down with another cup of Joe.”
+++++It was April in Kansas and the sun burned off the early morning dew as it rose in the clear blue eastern sky. When I arrived at the pig farm Cowboy Bob was already there. He wore cut-off black leather gloves so his fingers were free of any restrictions. He had a camouflaged bandana tied Geronimo style around his head and was all business as he plotted off distances between entry and exit holes.
+++++“Bout time you got here peacenik. I mixed up a bucket of cement and I want you to drop a big gob into exit hole 4, 6, and 9 as they’re marked on the map. You can read a map can’t you.”
+++++“Yep I can read it all right.”
+++++“Well don’t just stand there soldier snap ass!”
+++++I picked up the 5-gallon bucket and scooper and went over to the first exit hole. I dropped a big blob of heavy wet cement that effectively sealed the burrow and then went on to do the same for the rest.
+++++“See this here?” Bob held up a short stout cudgel with a large knot at the end that he had carved out of a thick maple tree branch. “This here is the equalizer. If any of those VC vermin manage to escape the flames they’ll have to deal with me and my stick.” His eyes burned brighter than the early morning sun.
+++++“You sure about all this Cowboy?”
+++++“No time for cold feet now shit bird. Stand by your post and be ready.” He placed a small concrete slab over one of the few remaining unobstructed burrows. “Here we go.”
+++++Cowboy Bob poured half of the 5-gallon Jerry can into one of the exit holes then ran over and did the same to another. He took out some stick matches and lit a torch that he had fashioned from a sawed off broom handle topped with a hand wrapped cloth crown.
+++++“Fire in the hole!” Screamed Bob as he touched off the gas trail that lead into the complex. There was a second of silence before flames belched out of the three open holes. The flames lashed out like crepe paper streamers blown from a fan and were followed by dense oily smoke. The first dazed rat came out of the main exit hole only to be crushed by a blow from Bob’s cudgel. Then another flew out aflame and Bob hit it like a hockey puck. Now some inmates started to head over toward the barn as a cloud of smoke curled up into the powder blue sky.
+++++Cowboy had miscalculated. One of his exit holes it was directly next the base of the wood frame barn. It wasn’t long before that was on fire too. He didn’t seem to notice as the pile of smoldering rat carcasses piled up next to him.
+++++Trustee farm hands and the prison admin staff had a tractor hitched up to the water bladder used for irrigation and now were poring water onto the half burnt barn. Pigs were squealing as they ran for the safety of the open part of their pens and trustee inmates dropped whatever they were doing as they all converged on the junior holocaust at the farrowing barn.
+++++The Cowboy never stooped swinging his club until the MPs from the Castle wrestled him to the ground and finally got a pair of cuffs on him. There were over 27 confirmed kills to Bob’s credit before he was trussed up like a holiday bird and secured in the back seat of an MP squad car.
+++++Bro Fuss and I watched the Cowboy as he was driven back toward the Castle with the single red light atop of the MP sedan flashing through the smoky mist. We both wore ear-to-ear grins.
+++++We were stuck here doing time, forgotten as life went on all around us.  Anything that broke up the monotony of repetitive day-to-day prison life was welcome and improved the outlook of the general population.
+++++The rat massacre here at the farm today made for a very good day for everyone except Cowboy and the rats.

Nocturnal Visit

Qua`ng Phu` Vietnam Central Highlands late 1969

Nobody liked the prospect of leeches, but the five-man squad had to take their chances crossing the shallow river to reach their target. They were a tempting snack for the freshwater variety plentiful in Southeast Asia. A leech could store up to five times its body mass of blood. Nasty vampire worms, always thirsty. There would be no time to burn ‘em off tonight. They would have to hang there, bloated, until the mission was over.
+++++The men waded through the water with their weapons high over their heads. Upon reaching the other side, they saw the dim lights of the hamlet in the distance. A floating mist concealed clumps of undergrowth and swirled over their path, making progress slow, deliberate. When they reached the village perimeter, they concealed themselves in the dense surrounding foliage. Each wore the dark night-op clothing favored by the Viet Cong. Their leader, a tall American with a grease-blackened face, focused his starlight scope on a small dwelling. With the moon waxing overhead, conditions were perfect. The five men sat on their haunches and practiced strict operational silence. The only sound was the constant buzz of insects in the forest around them. When he felt assured that they were in no danger of ambush, the American used hand signals to dispatch a team of two to the rear of the targeted hooch.
+++++The targets for the night had been identified and blacklisted by an informer as a VC tax collector and his family. Maybe that was true, or maybe some local had set them up. The informer could have been in financial competition with the target and saw an opportunity to eradicate a competitor. Maybe it was a vengeance call. Maybe he really was VC. No way of knowing for sure, but it didn’t matter. Tonight was the last night on the planet for Duc Danh.
+++++Inside the hooch, the air was pungent. A slowly-simmering cauldron hung over a small wood-burning stove. The family was about to sit at the dining table. Their excitement was almost palpable. Duc’s daughter would be 14 the next day. Madam Duc was taking her to Saigon to shop for fabric to make a dress, something special for her birthday. They had to savor precious moments of peace and happiness, surrounded by the uncertainty and peril of the war. Madam Duc looked at her daughter and her heart was filled with joy; she had grown into a beautiful young woman, slim and tall for her age. She had a smile that lit up a room when she entered. The young woman said a silent prayer, thankful of her family’s good fortune in the midst of the omnipresent conflict.
+++++The moon slowly disappeared behind a large cloudbank and the village was enveloped in darkness. The American worked the slide on his Swedish K submachine gun and chambered a round, confident with the precise and familiar action. A cloying smell of decay rose from the forest floor. The American looked over his shoulder, nodded once, then gave hand signals for his team to fan out and follow him as they approached the Duc’s humble abode.
+++++Hand-painted porcelain was laid out on the table as Madam Duc ladled huge spoonfuls of steaming beef pho. It was Duc Danh’s favorite, a family recipe that had been passed down from his mother’s side of the family. The kerosene lamp in the middle of the wooden table shimmered happily inside its tall glass chimney. Madam Duc laid the first bowl before her husband as the door to the hooch burst open with a loud crack. A devil from another world stood framed in the doorway. The dark paint on his face only accentuated his eyes, gleaming white in the flickering lamplight. Duc’s daughter jumped from her seat and screamed as the American pulled the trigger.
+++++He emptied the entire 36-round clip into the hooch . Porcelain bowls disintegrated on the table. Brass shell casings floated through the air, confetti from a ticker-tape parade. He sprayed the room from left to right. The kerosene lamp started a fire that began to spread behind the table. Duc’s youngest son, short for his age, snuck out the back of the hooch and made for the edge of the forest, fifteen yards away. He ran smack into the ambush team, who shot him dead at point blank range.
+++++The heavy smell of cordite mixed with the odor of excrement and violent death, blanketing the interior of the destroyed home. Someone flipped on a filtered flashlight. The floor was slick with beef pho and blood. Four broken bodies lay in contorted positions, and a fifth sprawled in the grass behind the hut. Duc’s daughter had died trying to shield her mother.
+++++The American was wearing a harness to hold extra clips for his machine gun; he reached into an ammo pack and pulled out a rectangular pack of cards. He delicately placed one on what was left of Duc Danh’s forehead. The death card, and ace of spades, featured a crudely drawn skeleton in a striped top hat jumping into the air, a guitar in one hand and an M-16 in the other. Along the bottom of the card was printed “J Flash.”
+++++Five men looked back at the burning hut. Dogs barked over the cries of the villagers as the assault team quietly slipped away from the blazing hut, back to the leeches..