Between Heaven and Hell

Tommy bid his step-mother Jere’ good-bye and turned his truck north out of Muskogee for the long journey home to Reno. He drove all day and deep into the night, finally stopping just after midnight about an hour beyond Cheyenne, Wyoming.

He pulled his truck off the highway and down the long dirt road into the Wedavoo Wilderness area. It was an area he was familiar with because he had been stationed to Warren Air Force Base several years before in Cheyenne and had spent as much of his free time hiking and riding his horse Hardtack out in the region as possible.

Tommy parked near a set of rocks that he recalled very well and pulled his sleeping bag from behind his seat. He fished out the fire starting kit he had tuck inside the center of the rolled up bag.

Then he got out of his truck and walked up the hillside to where he used to camp. To him it looked very much the same, just a bit more over grown. Within minutes he discovered an old burn pit.

“Perhaps,” he thought, “this is my old pit.”

However the ashes looked to be to new so he dismissed the idea. Within minutes he had established himself a small flame, nothing too extreme to be seen from great distances. It was just enough to light the immediate area and warm his hands.

He looked down the hill and could see his truck Tommy sat down, cross legged and let his mind wonder. He had been on the move for the last seven days and had just now thought of relaxing.

“Dear God,” he said as he looked up towards the sky full of stars,” please hear my prayers…”

He continued to pray for a great length of time unknown to him. Soon his little fire was nearly died out so Tommy decided to add more wood to it. It instantly jumped to life, thankful for the second chance.

Somewhere in the distance a wild cat screamed and it made Tommy stop cold. He concluded that he should add more wood to the fire.

Standing next to the flames, Tommy felt an urge to return to his long forgotten past. He had grown up around Indians people who were now called Native Americans and he had been to a number of pow-wows. Tommy’s grandmother had native blood herself as did Tommy’s uncle though Tommy never claimed it.

He raised his arms level with his shoulders and started chanting in a singsong voice, lifting one foot then the other in a shuffle. Soon he was lost in the moment spinning and twirling, hopping and diving, swooping and climbing as he sang while dancing around the burning campfire.

Before he realized it the sun was breaking to the east and Tommy was covered in sweat from his exertion. His fire had died out and he found he was exhausted, so he stumbled down the hill and pulled the sleeping bag from his truck and climbed into the back of his trucks bed and fell asleep.

As Tommy lay there sleeping he dreamed.

In his dream he saw a grizzly bear surrounded by seven flaming pyres. It had its leg trapped in a steel trap and as it struggled, the worse the flames got.

When Tommy woke up from the dream he found that the clear sky had clouded over and it was lightly drizzling. He and his sleeping bag were soaked clear through. He quickly climbed into the cab of his truck and continued to drive westward.

As he drove he thought very little about his dream.

“Just another weird one,” he told himself.

By midnight he had arrived in Reno and was able to sleep in a bed for the first time in over eight days.

Within a week Tommy found himself in the same emotional vessel he had been in before only this time it seemed worse to him as he did not have any one to talk too. He found he could not stay with Mary or with Kathi because of his mixed up feeling so he stayed at Janice’s where he was at least able to get some peace and quiet.

He rented a room from her for fifty bucks a week. One night as Tommy walked his rounds in the hotel of the Reno Hilton, Kathi somehow managed to find him.

She confronted him on the 14th floor. He was not prepared for her and what she was wearing or what she had to say. She had cut him to the bone then left.

Devastated and depressed the remainder of the night, Tommy realized that she was right. He decided to drink her off his mind and the end of his shift he headed straight for the gift shop and purchased a fifth of whiskey.

“I’ll go home and pass out after guzzling it,” he thought to himself.

He sat there on the edge of his bed letting the sadness he felt overwhelm him. He looked around the room. There was not much to his miserable life.

“I might as well end it,” he whispered.

Tommy got up and pulled out a plastic garment bag from the close. He knew Janice had several of these hanging up. He also knew he had some duct tape in the cardboard box under the bed. He dug that out as well.

He sat there and cried as he sipped a little whiskey.

“Are you okay?” It was Janice asking.

“I’m fine,” he answered,” just a little sad.” Then he thought to add, “Don’t worry.”

Suddenly Tommy wiped his face and turned the bottle upside down, chugging its content. He picked the piece of plastic up and wrapped it over his head and then wound the tape about his neck.

He felt the room spinning wildly as he forced himself to lay back. His stomach and throat burned he breathed as deep as he could. The air in the plastic cover was growing warmer and mistier and heavy with each breathe. Then there was blackness.

Tommy blinked three maybe four times before he could really begin to focus. The room was still spinning.

“It’s a different room,” he said to himself as he attempted to look around. Then he added, “Is this what hell looks like?”

Suddenly the door to his right opened up and a woman came in. “Oh good,” she said in a happy tone, “You’re awake.”

She felt Tommy’s head and held to his wrist for half a minute.

Tommy asked, “Where in Hell am I?”

“Still not quite with it, huh,” she answered which Tommy found to be no answer at all so he asked again.

This time the woman replied, “Well, you continue to rest until you’re fully yourself.”

She turned and left. Tommy laid his head down feeling frustrated and defeated. That’s when he realized he was restrained.

He looked down and saw that both his wrists were strapped down as was his right leg and there was a large leather belt buckled across his mid section. He suddenly felt panicked.

Tommy knew that he had committed suicide and that for the crime of killing oneself the punishment was hell. However he had no idea that his punishment is form of Hell would be eternity spent restrained to a gurney.

Tommy immediately started crying in great wails for God to forgive him. “I don’t want to go through eternity like this,” he pled aloud.

Tommy sobbed and sobbed until he was exhausted and slipped into sleep. As he lay there strapped to the table with wheels Tommy again dreamed of the grizzly bear. This time it was no longer struggling against the steel trap that held its leg. It sat looking upward at the stars, surrounded by only five burning pyres and one was slowly burning out.

He was awakened from the dream by the sound of the door to his room opening. In stepped a man wearing a long white jacket.

“I understand you are having a little difficulty understanding what’s happening,” he said.

Tommy frowned, “I killed myself and I’ve gone to Hell, right?”

The man chuckled, “Well, some might say that, especially employees.” Then he paused, “You’re not dead,” the man said, “You’re at the VA Hospital. You’re room mate found you and called 911.”

Tommy sighed with great relief. He realized his prayers had been answered.

“So do you think you’re ready to sit up?” the man answered.

Tommy looked at him and answered, “Yes, I am ready.”

The Big Question

Tommy never stopped asking questions. Tommy liked to ask them. In fact, he had made a game of asking questions in some instances.

For example, his seventh grade teacher could never resist a good question. He led the class in asking Mr. Brown questions about his life for an entire week before he figured out that Tommy was trying to avoid world history lessons.

The opportunity to attend Catholic school came later in that same year. The one great difference between religion sponsored education and public sponsored education is the separation of church and state. Otherwise it is nearly the same. Tommy excelled in asking questions at St. Joseph’s, especially during Catholic studies.

On one occasion, the class had a very special guess, the Arch Bishop of the Diocese. He came all the way from Santa Rosa. He engaged the students in an enlightening sermon about sin and eternal damnation.

The class sat there and quietly listened as the Bishop walk about the room and spoke. He even walked past Tommy and laid his hand on his shoulder. A bond had developed between them. Tommy knew he could ask the Bishop anything.

When the Bishop finished speaking, he asked for questions. He wanted to hear how well the class had been paying attention to him and their Catholic studies. Tommy already knew that he could ask him anything, so he raised his hand.

After standing up and clearing his throat, Tommy asked, “If Jesus spent three days in Hell for all the sins of the world and for all men not yet born, how long the average person could expect to be in Hell for living a life of sin for only eight years? The Archbishop of the Diocese, who came all the way from Santa Rosa, just stood there with his mouth wide open.

That must have been the “big” question.

Mother Superior had Tommy by the ear and down the hallway in less than thirty seconds and Father McKay was close on their heels. And for the next half hour Tommy sat in the nurse’s office. Soon afterwards Dad came to get him and by the next week he was back in public school.

Breaking Point

For nearly nine months Tommy tried his best to carry on with his life. He had retired from broadcasting and found a new job and even though he was still married he had even gotten a girlfriend. Her name was Kathi.

Unfortunately that relationship seemed to be doomed from the start. He was unable to build trust between her and himself no matter how hard or how little he tried. Eventually the two would end up arguing and one or the other would storm out on the other. It did not help that alcohol was usually involved. Twice their arguing led to physical confrontations.

The first time was after Kathi attempted to jump from the truck while it was speeded along the streets at sixty miles per hour. Tommy had used the vehicle’s seat belt to keep her inside. The action had choked her and left bruises on her neck.

The second time was as he was packing up to leave her. He had the majority of his things loaded into his truck when she grabbed his personal journal. He body checked her, picking it up after knocking her to the ground.

Thinking back on it Tommy realized, “It was not how one is supposed o treat a woman.”

He sighed in shame as he recalled the two events.

The final breaking point occurred for Tommy after he returned from Ramona, California. That’s where he had been for seven days to help his wife as she struggled to get through the death, funeral and burial of her mother, Mira.

She had been suffering from Parkinson for the last two or so years and then after dinner on a Tuesday evening Helen sat down in her favorite chair to relax and enjoy some television. As she sat there her heart simply surrendered its ability to beat and she quietly went home to God.

Tommy was on duty that evening at the Reno Hilton. He was working as a security officer and was posted at the employee’s entrance where there was a direct telephone line.

When it rang, he answered, “Post two can I help you?”

All he heard at first was “Mama died,” a female voice was crying.

He recognized the voice instantly. Then she repeated herself.

“Mary?” he asked.

“Mama died,” she said plainly. Then she added, “I need you to come home, I need your help.”

He quickly responded, “Okay, I’ll be there with in the hour.”

She hung up the phone. Immediately Tommy called his supervisor and told him of the situation, asking for an early-out. The supervisor gave him permission to go home.

It was now a week later and Kathi had not stopped calling him. She was angry that he had gone down to Southern California and gotten involved in Mary’s mothers funeral.

Tommy had tried to explain, “I’ve known Helen for nearly twenty years.”

But it was no good. Eventually it came down to Kathi telling Tommy not to bother returning. She was sick and tired of putting up with him.

“Besides,” she said, “the cops have been here looking for you and they want to arrest you because you have a warrant out for domestic battery.”

She hung up the telephone.

“Great,” Tommy said to himself, as he sat down on the edge of the bed that he was renting from his friend Janice. Then he added; “Now I have to put up with this too!”

Shortly there after he made contact with the marshal services and arranged to turn himself in. He ended up spending twelve hours locked up in the Washoe County Jail for charges that were later dismissed because Kathi refused to testify.

That’s when Tommy finally picked up the telephone and called his wife. He explained to her what had happened and that he was sick and tired of bouncing around.

“You need to either file those divorce papers or let me come home,” he said.

Mary replied, “Come home.”

Two Days

Two days,” he thought to himself. Then he repeated the words again, “Two days.”

He said it as if he couldn’t believe it. And really he couldn’t.

It had all happened so fast. It had only been two days ago that he found himself in Dave’s office being blamed for a situation that was not his doing. He was not responsible for every little event that occurred at a live broadcast for KOZZ even though he was the promotions director for the station.

As far as Tommy was concerned the entire sandwich fiasco was a production of the sales department headed by Raina. She was the one who was the boss of that department. However she allowed her sales staff to have weekends off and she ended having to work Saturdays and Sundays herself.

It was just an unfortunate turn of events that she handed off the duties of getting a bunch of sandwiches to a live broadcast to the one person who had more emotional wreckage in his life at the time than anyone else at the station. She should have known better but having the weekend off appeared more important than getting her responsibility taken care of.

Tommy leaned back in the seat of the 737 and thought about the sum of the last four months and how the separation from his wife had nearly ruined him. It caused him to close his eyes and desire to fall asleep, his natural reaction anymore to the very idea of depression. It was feeling he found difficult to fight off. Sleep would spring itself on him without warning at the wrong times.

“That was how depression works,” the mental health doctor told him at the VA clinic.

Yet night after night he turned out the light, Tommy’s world found him wide awake, staring of into the darkness, unable to put away the frightening thoughts of loneliness and anger. Then as the grey stillness of dawn would appear sleep would approach and over take him. Sometimes it would be deep other times light, but rarely restful. It had become a habit that had led to near exhaustion.

That’s how it came to be on the Saturday that Tommy was supposed to pick up the sandwiches and take them to the live broadcast. He was late by twenty minutes and arrived just as the announcer was starting her first live set.

Tommy stayed until the sandwiches were gone. He left only because he had to be on the air back at the station himself at 2 p.m.

He sensed something was wrong once he came through the back door. Nobody wanted to look him directly in the eye. Tommy was already in a sour mood and this just added to the mix.

It didn’t take long for Raina to come and demand his presents in Dave’s office. It was just at 10 a.m. and Jim, who was the program director of KOZZ was off the air, so Tommy realized what was about to happen.

Deep down he felt a sense of relief that he was going to be let off the hook for this job. He had grown tired of being yelled at for one thing or the other.

As he walked casually down the length of the hallway he recalled how Jim had got up set at him for not get tickets to a show for on air give away when one of the sales staff did.

He thought to himself, “No more of that at least!”

“Have a seat,” Dave told him.

Tommy refused.

“Now if you’re canning me make it quick so I can go,” Tommy said.

Dave looked surprised as his eyes darted at Jim and then over to Raina.

“What makes you say that?” he asked.

Tommy just stood there silently. However, Raina was the one who could not stand the quiet. She launched into Tommy.

“You were late getting those sandwiches to the remote!” she shouted.

Still Tommy said nothing.

Finally Dave replied, “I told you that if you screwed up one more time I’d have to fire you.” He leaned back in his chair.

Tommy could tell he was uncomfortable with the silence.

“Do you have anything to say?” he asked.

“Can I go now?” Tommy asked.

Yet in his mind he was calling both the short little man behind the desk and his flunky Raina all sorts of names.

Then Jim spoke up, “I still want him on the air; he’s one of my best jocks.”

“Sure,” was all that Dave came back with.

“So,” Tommy asked, “are we done here?”

“Yes,” Dave answered.

“Good,” shot Tommy in response as he turned and walked out the door.

It did not take very much time for him to clear out his desk. He had already been moved to the smallest one in the three person office.

Tommy grabbed a postal box and started loading his personal possessions into it. As he did this, he thought, chuckling to himself, “No one is around to make sure I don’t steal anything.”

This thought tumbled into other thoughts.

He remembered how he had gotten into an argument with one of the sales persons for the companies sports station. The man had come up and demanded that Tommy make him a box for an on-air give away. This was on the same day that Raina had thirty of the same kind of boxes going out and Tommy was trying to put the finishing touches on a station concert.

He had absolutely no help and he felt frustrated. It did not help that this particular salesman refused to follow every direction ever handed down by the sales manager, station manager or corporate attorney.

So when Tommy said no to his demand, an argument followed.

Finally having had enough, Tommy looked him squarely in the face and said, “I’m not your nigger and I refuse to be treated as such.”

He had measured his words out in such a way that they would make this man understand how he was treating Tommy, for he knew the salesman was from some place in the southern part of the nation.

Shortly after having used the ethnic slur Tommy was called into Dave’s office and dressed down for being so inappropriate.

“It was not inappropriate,” he told Dave. “Using the “N” word is inappropriate. It only is had I used it on a black men. I’m white. I used it on myself to get that SOB to back off. Next time I’ll just smack him up long side the head.”

“You keep talking like that and I’ll fire you right, now!” Dave shouted.

“Yeah, but you won’t fire a guy who’ll put your stations legally at risk, right?” Tommy countered. Dave stared at Tommy.

“Get outta here,” he finally told Tommy.

Tommy pulled the three keys off of his key ring and slipped them into an envelope. As he did this he let his mind wonder back to the number of times he had gotten himself into scrapes with the sales managers and sales persons.

He reflected on how his supervisor Megan spent her days on the internet, emailing her boyfriend in California and how he had taken on the responsibility of acquiring on air give away for the country station.

He sighed as he placed the envelope in the top drawer of his now empty desk. He pulled the office door closed behind him since there was nobody in at the moment at he exited the building to his truck.

“Two days ago,” he thought one more time as he looked out the aircrafts window.

He was headed for someplace in Alaska, a place he could not pronounce or even find on a map yet.

It was just two days ago that he had grown fed up with the radio broadcasting business and retired. He called Jim at home right after his shift and told him he had accepted a position from his cousins and was leaving right away.

That’s how quickly it had come about for Tommy. He didn’t tell any one that it was a temporary position, just long enough for his cousins to visit everyone in the 48 continuous states.

He looked at the dark grey waters, “I hope I haven’t made a mistake.”

The gray waters suited his mood just fine.


Where to start?” Tom asked himself as he sat in the library staring at the blank page as it had been a very confusing year.

It began on a day that the rest of the world would remember as the day the World Trade Center was attacked. He reflected back to his wife standing in the living room.

She was dressed for work already. He was just finishing getting dress as was normal for them.

He could tell that something was wrong. She had a strange look on her face and she had been crying.

Instantly he knew something was happening and it had nothing to do with the events that were unfolding on the television set.

She faced him as he walked into the living room and simply said, “I want you to move out.”

There was nothing more to it then that. He knew why and she need not say anything more them that.

Their marriage had been in trouble for the last six months or so. She knew that Tom had screwed around but could never prove it.

He had hidden it so well and lied at every turn. Yet still she knew.

He felt his heart slip down into his stomach as she said those words. Then the sinking feeling was rapidly replaced by a lump that swelled in his throat when Tom saw the duffel bag and shaving kit neatly arranged by the front door.

He realized that this was it. Their marriage was over.

Within minutes of her final words and without so much as a hug goodbye Tom found himself pulling away from their driveway. It was as if he were floating, his existence a not-existence of sorts.

He floated down the long and lonely drive of the Pyramid Highway to McCarran Boulevard and as he had been his routine of several years. Tom turned right and head towards the radio station and his job.

Today would prove to be a busy day and a long a day as well. Two passenger aircraft had slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City and there were reports of an aircraft striking the Pentagon and another lost in a Pennsylvanian field.

He had to refocus his attention on the world events. Be a professional on the worst day of his life. Putting aside the usual duties of a promotions director and put on the cap of a news and information reporter.

He gleamed information from the three televisions sets inside his office and listened to the radio news stations for the latest updates that poured in. He then played this information to the five broadcasting outlets he worked for at Lotus Radio.

The horror of the possible number of lives lost was staggering. He watched as the networks played and replayed the video of the jets slamming into the buildings, as they burned and finally imploded upon themselves.

Nearly a quarter century in the broadcast business had not jaded him after all. The images brought to his memory the days in Beirut when the Marines came under attack.

He was jus’ a shot nosed kid back then, but the sight of the dust choked the air, the nostrils and the eyes of the survivors in the city street caused him to gag and gasp for air just as he had done nineteen or so years earlier. It was purely visual and he knew it, yet he could not help it.

Tom drifted further into his memory.

After nearly eleven hours of complete emotional saturation of this single most shocking event it was time to turn off the television sets and radio stations and go home. Only then did he come to realize that he had no home to go to.

There was no one with which to share this tragic day. So he walked out to his vehicle, briefcase in hand and sat alone the drivers’ seat.

“Whatcha doin’?” Tom heard her say.

She repeated herself before he realized she was talking to him. It was Valerie his co-worker.

He had spent his day talking to her about the latest news flashes. Together they had made a valuable team.

“Its time to go home,” she said.

That’s when he lost it. He broke down in tears and told her that his wife had kicked him out and he had nowhere to go.

“Yes, you do!” she firmly stated. “Your coming home with me!” Then she added, “Justin won’t mind.”

He found his way to her truck as tears streamed down his face, leaving him stumbling and nearly helpless as she turned the motor on and headed east toward Fallon.

She tried to help him with strong words, “You gotta move on.”

She repeated timed and again. “She let you go, now you gotta let go.”

Finally she offered, “Let’s go get drunk.”

Her favorite place in Fallon was the little bar and casino called the Depot. She ordered him round after around and he dutifully drank them down.

It was nearly midnight when she pulled him from the bar stool. The world swayed as he staggered out the door and to her truck.

The pain in his heart was still there yet he didn’t really care anymore. Not like he had at least.

She drove him to her and Justin’s little ranch house. He opened the truck down and fell out to the hard pack earth below.

He was drunk beyond all imaginings.

She led him by the hand into the house. The radio was already on and playing country western; within moments they were cutting the rug with a western two-step.

He felt light and on the verge of happiness. She stopped long enough to pour them each a shot of tequila, which they slammed down.

At that moment Justin came in the front door. He smiled widely at his wife and the drunken man standing, weaving back and forth in the couple’s kitchen.

Next thing Tom knew he was alone. A sad country song sounded in the distance along with the giggling giddiness of the couple to whom the home belonged.

Tom carefully stepped his way over to the desk. It sat against the wall in front of a window. He looked out the window and saw nothing but his reflection.

“You piece of crap,” he said out loud as he stared at himself.

It was at that moment that he realized there was a pistol in the drawer. He quietly slid the drawer open and lifted the gun out of its holster. It was a six-shooter.

The caliber did not matter; he knew enough to get the job done. He slid the cold metal object into his belt and pulled his shirt tail over it.

“Hey, I’m stepping outside for some fresh air,” he called out.

No one answered. He knew they were busy making out or having sex or both.

“Not to bother,” he said to himself.

He had made that final decision. The September air was brisk but not chilly. He stumbled over the unfamiliar land.

There was no moon light to show him the way and the stars did not seem to be shining. He found his way to the horse corral and climber over the railing.

He turned and looked back towards where he had come from. He could no longer see the lights from the house.

Even the sound of the road had faded away. He decided to stopped and sit down there.

“This is where I’ll die,” he said to himself.

He pulled the pistol out of his pants. He was calm; exceptionally calm. There was no real emotion from his being.

The acceptance of death was nearly complete as he offered up one last prayer, “Dear God, please take care of my son. He’s a good boy, and deserves so much more than me as his father,” adding, “Amen.”

Tom closed his eyes and pulled the hammer back with his right thumb. He touched the gun to his cheek feeling its coolness against his skin.

He sucked in a long breath, slowly exhaling. Again he breathed in and then out. He lifted the pistol to his face again, this time placing the barrel inside his mouth, touching it to the soft palette above his tongue.

“No you don’t you son of a…!” It was Valerie.

She grabbed the gun just as Tom squeezed the trigger. There was a soft thud as the hammer slapped against the skin between her finger and thumb.

Tom continued to pull violently at the trigger again and again. They wrestled for control of the gun.

Suddenly Justin joined in and together they over powered Tom taking the gun away from him. He laid there momentarily stunned in the dirt then started crying.

He had even failed at killing himself he had come to realize. Then the world faded into darkness.

When Tom awakened it was in the couple’s bath tub. All he could do was lay there and cry helplessly.

To Sleep Inside

For nearly thirty days Tommy lived in the little camp trailer that Valerie and Justin had loaned him. It sat on their ranch, the Double Cross-U with no running water or electricity.

Daily he mustered all his energy to get up in the chill of the autumn air and walk the two dozen or so yards to the ranch house for a shower and shave. It became his routine in order to get to work on time.

It was a struggle because depression had a strangle hold on his life. Mary refused to speak to him except in little spurts to say return his check book or credit card, and nightly he laid down and cried himself to sleep feeling the loneliness creeping up around him. This was mixed with intermitten drinking jags that lasted past midnight.

Tommy was certain that God was punishing him for every last sin he had committed.

One morning as he was heading in on the hour long drive to Reno he noticed that the thermometer was red lined on his car. He was in the process of passing an eighteen wheeler when the radiator exploded sending heated fluid up through the cracks of the hood and onto the windshield.

The little vehicle shuttered violently as Tommy struggled for control. Behind him was a white Ford pick up to the right the semi and on his left a concrete retaining wall. Some how he managed to guide the car in behind the large semi truck and find the only turn off available. The car ground to a halt.

The radiator cap and the valve it was attached to had sheered off and both were imbedded in the plastic liner in front of the driver’s seat. Had they fully penetrated the wall it would have been a death sentence.

Out of frustration Tommy sat down by the side of his car and started to cry. After gaining control of his emotions somewhat he decided to use his cell phone to call work. His frustration mounted again when he discovered that there was no signal to use for a cellular call.

Again Tommy found himself out of control, angry and crying. He sat quietly for a long time contemplating just hiding into the high dessert before him and never looking back. Then the thought of his son took a hold of his senses.

Instead of walking off into the dessert he started down the interstate towards Sparks.

His poor luck continued because when he reached the Mustang junction he was told that the telephone service had been interrupted since early that morning. And still his cell phone refused to pick up a signal. After a seven mile walk he was finally able to call work and get a tow truck to pick up his disabled car for repair.

That day his boss put him on verbal notice to either straighten up or he would be let go. God’s punishment continued.

The following weekend was the cross state rivalry of the University of Nevada Reno and the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Each year these two school battle it out for the ownership of the Fremont Cannon. This year the match would be fought in Reno.

To Tommy it was an amazing sight to see all five properties lived up on the sidewalk in front of the Lawlor Event Center. There was also the matter of prides that all look well and go well since he helped to coordinate the event. There were sandwiches, ribs, soda and other giveaways included in this multi station event.

“Hey Tommy!” yelled Valerie. She waived him over to her stations booth. “This is my friend Kathie and she needs a roommate. I think you’d be great together,” she said.

She introduced the pair and they shook hands. Before Tommy stood a well built blond in a sleeveless top and jeans. She peered at Tommy over the top of her sun glasses revealing beautiful blue eyes. Her hand shake was strong.

Kathi spoke first, “I need a roommate and an early morning baby sitter and I have a room for three hundred dollars.” Before Tommy could respond she handed him a slip of paper with both her name and phone number on it. In return Tommy pulled out a business card and wrote his cell phone number on the back and handed it back to her. Then he said “I’ll give you a call.”

“If I don’t call you first, “she replied. They shook hands again and she turned and disappeared into the crowd. Tommy stood there feeling smitten.

Weekends at a radio station are filled with one event after another especially during a ratings period. And this weekend was no exception.

It was Sunday morning and cold. Tommy was working the booth at the Susan G. Komer Foundations Race for the Cure. He had established his stations as a co-sponsor months prior.

The United States had been at war with terrorism for less than a month and this Sunday morning was the beginning of the bombing in Afghanistan. Shortly after the announcement and prayers were made for the troops involved. Tommy cell phone rang. It was Kathi.

She asked, “Why don’t you come and take a look at the room?’ Tommy found himself saying yes to her request.

Shortly after the race and shortly after noon, Tommy was knocking on Kathi’s front door. She greeted him with a smile and another hand shake. “Come in,” she beckoned. Then she motioned him to the kitchen table where they both had a seat. Before he knew it an hour had passed and he had yet to look at the room she offered for rent.

Kathi, Tommy discovered was easy going and even easier to talk to. She was willing to listen to his heart ache story. She shared hers as well. They had found common ground and soon Tommy found himself agreeing to move in immediately. One last time he made the sixty mile trek to Fallon and then back again. This night he would sleep in a house with running water and heat, and on a real bed.


A cowboy with his hoss in tow,
Was at the local fair and rodeo,
Eye-ballin’ the strangers
And avoidin’ the dangers.

He said ‘Howdy’ to a certain young filly.
She fired him up like a bowl full of chili,
With her blue eye’s and blonde hair.
And a visit and a beer they did share.

That when his ol’ hoss up and bit him
As hard as he could on the closest limb.
That cowboy could see the crimson place
Where that pony had jus’started to graze.

It was plain as the nose on his face
Why his old cayuse jus’ taken that taste
Turnin’ his shirt sleeve plum’ red,
Jealousy had reared its ugly head.

Where the Jungle Ends

The helicopters flew close to the tree line as the group of warriors sat, feet dangling from the doorways. It was early morning and the sun had not yet presented itself, but already the unit had been sent into the field to deploy a counter-strike against Communist forces operating in the area.

Tommy was in the third helicopter as it banked hard to the left and settled momentarily in the break within the jungle. For him, as the corpsman of this 24 man team, the jungle looked like one solid canopy.

“It seems too thick to move through,” he had complained once.

The military had proved him wrong. Tommy had been sent out three times to try and make hostile contact with the Communist. However each time the enemy was gone. Instead they left a wake of death and destruction in their retreat.

The helicopter lifted away and disappeared over the dense jungle. The green leaves dulled then blocked the sound of the aircraft as they moved farther and father from the landing zone.

Quickly each team member moved to the edge of the jungle, setting up a defensive perimeter for the next incoming flight. It was less than five minutes for each helicopter to drop off its armed cargo.

Once the last six man team was dropped and had moved to the edge of the jungle and out of the clearing, the unit’s mission changed. It was always like this, each step was a change in the mission. It ensured a smooth flow within the operation and each team member knew this.

Tommy was assigned to the second element which moved through the center of the team’s field of operation. This way he could go to either element if needed. He hoped that he would not be needed at all.

The jungle was quiet at first. This was natural as the life that it held had to become accustom to the presents of humans. It took another five minutes for the first of the birds that remained in the upper canopy to start calling out to each other.

That’s when the separate elements moved into the thick undergrowth towards their destination.

This was Tommy’s fourth time out since being temporarily transferred to this unit. He had been assigned to a Company that operated clandestinely in a desert area half a world away. There he was also fighting the Communist.

“We’ll move in this direction,” signaled a young lieutenant.

Quietly they advanced towards what was believed to be danger and possible death. Each man carried only an M-16, a knife and what provision he could stuff into his butt-pack. Only Tommy and the radio operator carried more equipment.

The radio was a PRC and much smaller than the older radios that where packed in previous conflicts. The radio operator stayed within steps of the commanding officer, a graduate of Annapolis and Major.

Tommy was close enough to hear the slight hiss of the PRC radio as it worked to maintain contact with the nearest firebase some twenty miles away. The jungle’s growth was no problem for the radio waves; however the multiple valleys and other shallows that the unit flew over and beyond made the radio nearly useless.

The company had been making steady progress for nearly an hour when the signal to “stop and hold,” was passed down from man to man. Soon the Major and radio operator were called forward.

“Something must be up,” someone whispered to Tommy.

It was less than two-minutes when Tommy was called forward. He quickly trotted up to where the commanding officer stood. The older man had a pale look on his face as he directed the young medic to a place were two Marines stood looking down.

Before Tommy could reach the two Marines, he was overwhelmed by the odor of death and decay. Then he saw the source. It appeared to be a man, who had been left to fester in the jungle.

The rotting body had been stripped and beaten. Eventually, the corpse had been reduced to a pile of meat and bones. It was obvious to Tommy that the human being had been tortured and then hacked up on purpose.

“What do you make of it?” the Major asked.

Tommy replied, “He’s been here about three days. There’s evidence that wild animals have been gnawing at the corpse. I’d say that this must be some sort of warning, sir.”

“We need to push on towards the river and make contact if possible,” the Major told a Captain.

The Captain nodded in agreement.

The remains of the body were covered by an O.D. green poncho. It was hidden from the sight of the other Marines who would soon pass by.

However the smell could not be avoided. It was pungent and nauseating, filling the heavy jungle air within twenty-five feet of the corps. There was no effort made to hide the smell.

It was less than 2 miles to the river and soon there was no hiding the fact that something awful had occurred in the area. The odor of death and decay was every where and men started to gag on the smell.

There were bodies left in the low lying vegetation as the two elements pushed on through towards their objective. Tommy soon realized that the bodies were those of the indigenous tribe of Mosquito Indians.

He had not only read about the native tribes in the area, he had also been out to them, offering medical aid. It was part of a campaign to win the friendship and possible loyalty of the people who lived in the region.

In less than an hour, nearly sixty bodies, mostly men in varying stages of torture and dismemberment had been uncovered. The men within the two elements of the Company were unable to avoid the thought of what had happened to the once living, breathing beings.

“Breathe through your mouth,” Tommy told one man next to him. Then he added, “It’ll help you keep from gagging on the odor.”

Soon every Marine was breathing through their mouth. But soon this procedure would prove to be useless.

The Company was suddenly confronted by an opening in the jungle. The opening contained the half burnt remains of a village of ten or twelve small huts. There were no Native movements in or around the area.

The Major sent three Marines forward to investigate the village. Tommy watched as each man disappeared into the mist that also filled the air. In the distance he could hear the rush of a river.

“We’re close to our objective,” Tommy thought.

Minutes later, a Marine trotted up to the Major. He appeared to be agitated and out of breath. Quietly, he recounted what he had seen and how he left the other two Marines in the village as a precaution.

The two elements were directed to spread out and maintain a visual distance from each other. Tommy was directed forward with two more Marines and the Marine that had reported to the Major into the village.

There were bodies strewn all about. Some had been simply shot and left to die, while others had been bound by the hands and feet and tortured to death.

“It looks like they were peeled alive,” Tommy said aloud.

“Yeah, and notice how the one’s that were tortured haven’t been shot or anything,” replied the Marine who returned to the village a second time. “We’re going to have to set up a burial detail”

Tommy and the Marine moved towards the village, locating the remains of a mud-hut. Its wall had been caved in on three sides, only the back wall was left standing.

“This was a church of some sort,” Tommy pointed out.

Inside laid the dismembered remains of a priest. His head had been removed by several blows of a machete and picketed to the remains of a wooden cross still hanging on the back wall.

It was about that time that Tommy realized that all the elements of the Company were moving into the village. He stopped and waited for the Major to catch up to him.

“I can’t believe this,” he said. He stood still with both hands on his hips.

Tommy suddenly saw the youthfulness of the Major. He realized that the “Old Man,” as he was called wasn’t much older than he was and that he found the situation as appalling as the medic did.

The scouting party that had been sent to the river’s edge came back. They reported that they had found a number of women and children drowned along the banks of the river.

“They all appear to have been bound hand and foot before being tossed into the water,” said the reporting scout. His complexion was an ash-gray.

Tommy felt helpless. There wasn’t a person alive in a count of two-hundred men women and children that he could try and save. They had all been killed either out right or tortured.

“There doesn’t seem to be any young women,” a Marine said.

That’s when it occurred to Tommy that there were missing people among the wiped out village. He reported the findings to the Major.

“It seems that we’re dealing with people that will stop at nothing to ensure that their drug trafficking business continues,” the Major said.

Tommy knew that he was right. The drug cartels were financing the Communist party and now they knew that their enemy was also dealing in the slave trade as well.

Overhead was the familiar sound of the helicopters as they approached the clearing. There muffled sound differing from the noise of the details set-up to collect the dead.

The Chinook lowered a small bull-dozer into the area. Its blades caused the grass and loose earth to swirl into the faces of those below it’s down wash. It rotated to the right and moved away once the dozer was on the ground.

The remainder of the day was spent burying the dead in a massive grave created by the bull-dozer. Slowly the dozer pushed the dark red dirt over the mangled bodies until only a swathe of naked earth remained.

Then one by one the helicopters swept into the once inhabited village and picked up six Marines at a time. Tommy was in the fourth and final helicopter to leave the area.

He looked down on the lifeless village and strip of bare earth that was a mass grave of innocent civilians and wondered aloud, “And no one knows what were fighting for or against back home.”

It occurred to Tommy that soon even the jungle would hide the truth.