I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 8
“Jesus, Cap, how do you, of all people, talk about bombing?” Spencer disagreed. “Don’t talk about that, you hear me. Not even shooting the shit. And what’s the major supposed to do, sign up the guys for an invalid army? We’re going to hit the streets with M16s and wheelchairs?
“Tell me about your daughters,” Spencer suggested. “Do they do well in school? What sports do they play?”
Captain Sam scowled.
“Captain, you’re not going to change the world, but you can do things for those girls. But first you have to believe you can be a dad. You try to fix the big stuff because you think you can’t fix what is right in front of you.”
“Right in front of my eyes?” Captain Sam thrust the scarred, hollow voids toward Spencer’s voice.
“You know what I mean.”
“You sound like Major Davies.”
“Agoraphobia is a natural response to acute stress and anxiety, Captain. Top-down processing is consistent with belief-biased effect and chunking dissimilar data into schemas as a result of cognitive dissonance.”
“Fuck you,” Captain Sam laughed begrudgingly. “You’re smart, Jonathan. You try to hide it, but you know that, right?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Jonathan, if you didn’t go back to Afghanistan, what would you do instead?” the captain asked.
“But I am going back. That’s what I’m built for. One of these days I’ll be at Benning, getting set to deploy. I’m not disappearing, Captain. I’ll phone you. Really. You’re not getting rid of me so easily.”
“But what if you didn’t go back?” Captain Sam pressed him. “What’s your fallback, your Plan B?”
Spencer shrugged. It was a stupid question.
“Humor me. The war won’t last forever. If you weren’t going back, what would you do?”
Spencer didn’t give it a lot of thought. “It isn’t up to me, Cap. I’ll get reassigned. Harmony Church, maybe. Maybe they’ll have me instructing.”
“Think bigger. Beyond the military. What would you do if you weren’t in the army at all? You could apply your training lots of places,” the captain told him. “You could do police work or get a job working for private security services. Or you could get a job working for a gun manufacturer.”
“Naw. I wouldn’t want to do that. I’d surprise you. I’d bet I’d go and do something completely different.”
“Jonathan, you listen to me, OK? Don’t go into the PEB on your own. They have to let you have legal representation if you ask. You hear what I’m saying? Tell them that you want help. These guys are a bunch of insurance actuaries in military uniforms; they’re there to negotiate. It won’t be cooperative; no matter what they tell you, your evaluation is adversarial.”
“I’m not trying to get a better deal, Captain. I just want to pass and be reinstated to full duty,” Spencer said.
“You’re nineteen-and-a-half years in. Six more months and they pay you for the rest of your life.”
“They spent a million dollars training me,” Spencer chided. “I’m a proven asset, Cap. It’s all good.”
During the middle of a random morning he was called into Major Davies’ office, where she handed him the directions to his Pre-PEB counseling interview. Just like that. Weeks and months of waiting were over.
He floated through his Pre-PEB counseling interview like it was a joke. CMP exams are easy when you aren’t trying to prove disability, right? He waived legal representation. He wasn’t seeking medical retirement. They were going to love him… just put him right back where he came from and let him get back to doing the job he was trained for.
Nobody told him the expected dress code so he debated between a combat-ready look and full dress, then settled on the latter: full brass-button greens, ribbons and badges included, spit-polished and parade-sharp. For two hours he sat patiently in a non-descript room with two long wooden benches on either side, waiting like the others for his name to be called.
The actual PEB went even faster than he imagined. He was shown through a set of double doors into a medium-sized, plain army green hearing room where three officers in shirtsleeves sat behind an eight-foot long collapsible plastic banquet table. The American flag hung in a floor stand behind them on one side and the Army flag on the other. He could just make out 1775 showing in the hanging folds. A private in short sleeves was off to Spencer’s right side, operating a video camera set onto a tall tripod.
“State your name,” the middle officer, a lieutenant colonel, ordered. He did so. The Lt. Colonel was handed a clipboard and ran his finger down the page.
“You have been offered legal representation and you have chosen to waive having legal counsel. Is that correct?”
“You have declined Compensation and Pension examinations?”
“Your sole claim to injury is the full loss of one kidney, is that correct?”
“Sergeant, you are to be separated forthwith with severance pay and injury compensation totaling $32,000. On behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank you for your service.”
Spencer stared at the three officers while remaining at full attention. They didn’t understand. This was a snafu. He wasn’t trying to get out. “Sir? Begging the colonel’s pardon, but I’m not trying to get out. Sir, I’m Army, thick and thin, tried and true. I’m not looking to leave. I’m ready to deploy in an hour.”
The Lieutenant Colonel looked up from his paperwork. “You’ve given a kidney. That’s enough, Soldier. You did your duty and you served well.”
“Hold on a minute.” Spencer looked at the three officers from face to face. They didn’t get it. He wasn’t leaving; he was ready to go back to Afghanistan. Ready to deploy!
“Sir,” Spencer explained, “I’m fit and able.”
“Sergeant, the Army appreciates your service. But it is time to move on, son.”
“Sir, I can do the job! Test me! Please, Sir. Sir, put me on any obstacle course. I’ll post a 10K time against any unit time in the service! Sir, I can do this!” Spencer pleaded.
“We’re going to have to move this along. Sergeant, see your exit administrator for the application if you chose to pursue an appeal.” Spencer looked on in shock as the officer applied a stamp to his paperwork and signed off. Retired for Medical Reasons.
He didn’t shift. He turned his shoulder to the Lt. Colonel and jabbed his left index finger at each of the patches on his shoulder to explain. “Sir, this wastes an army asset,” Spencer appealed. “You spent maybe a million dollars on training me. Airborne School, Ranger School, Special Forces School.” He pointed to the service badge hanging on his chest. “Advanced Sniper School.” He was a Tower of Power. What didn’t they understand? But it was Spencer who didn’t understand. Force-reduction. Cost-containment. $32,000 versus a lifetime pension vesting in six months. Spencer also didn’t understand that an appeal might keep him in uniform long enough to make his twenty years.
Right after the PEB, a hidden gear seemed to shift. Things accelerated; two E-6s appeared from behind the flag stands and proceeded around the long table toward Spencer in a synchronized gait. Spencer quickly evaluated their size and motion, flashing on the choreography. He could snap the left knee of the Staff Sergeant approaching from his right, 230 pounds, lethargic, going through a routine. He could come back on the pelvis of the other staff sergeant, younger, leaner; the E-5 would run straight onto the blow.
MSJS hardly realized that his fists were tight-knuckled until both sergeants moved their hands back onto Tasers hanging on their belts. Then a sergeant on each side placed a firm grip on his bicep and assertively directed him toward the double doors by which he had entered only minutes earlier. Nineteen years, thirty
Consultants, experts in corporate downsizing, wrote the manual. He didn’t have the chance to talk with Captain Sam. Under escort—“companion services”—they took him straight to processing and brought his personal belongings to him all packed into his duffle. They handed him $400 cash, a cashier’s check for the balance, a map of local motels, and a Veterans Services Directory.
Spencer shouldered his kit and marched to the Motel 6 on Georgia Avenue, never putting the duffle down, even when he was standing beside the swimming pool looking down, transfixed. Nothing made any sense, not even the sun and the sky above him or the clear water smelling of chlorine. He had ruptured out his own anus, born again inside-out.
The front desk accepted his army ID and a $200 deposit in lieu of a credit card. His room had white walls, a television set, an air conditioner, and an orange bedspread. A window looked onto the parking lot. The bathroom had a paper strap over the toilet seat. There was a mirror over the dresser. He didn’t want to see himself.
He never touched the bed or sat down. A broad plan formed on the fly. Spend a couple days visiting his dad; make sure Jack was doing OK, and then he was going to ride west… North Dakota, Eastern Montana. The oil fields were hiring unattached men who were willing to work. They liked vets. Captain Sam would like that. He’d be OK.
At 19:30, he drove off with a black Harley Davison Road King straight off the showroom floor.
The following morning he rode his shining Harley right past the front of the building. The lieutenant colonel and his two majors and the two staff sergeants with their Tasers had fucked him; they might never see him now, but he could take it. He was OK.
It was muggy, a sopping armpits D.C. day. He was imagining how the captain would get on back and feel the wind in his face. Even if it were just for a lap around the parking lot, it would do Captain Sam good. The bike had a great rear seat with lumbar support. He didn’t need hands. He’d hold on fine.
It felt instantly strange when he turned into the front drive. Spencer had been away for just a couple days, but after he parked and walked toward the rehabilitation center he sensed that he was an outsider now. The guards and duty officer stopped him right at the entrance. He couldn’t get to the elevators. Phone calls went between the reception desk and Major Davies. The short, packed sausage showed up from between two MPs who towered over her. All three walked like a wall, moving Spencer outside and down the front steps.
“Major, I’m not here to make waves,” Spencer explained. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Captain Hall. I’d like to spend a little time with him. Tell him my plans. That’s all. If you don’t want me on the ward, no problem, Major. Somebody else can bring him down.”
“Master Sergeant Spencer, where did you go with Captain Hall?” she demanded.
“It’s a simple question, Sergeant,” she snapped at him. “You took Captain Hall off the ward every day. Where did you go?”
Spencer was caught off-guard. For two days he had been hurtling along, tossed out of orbit and clinging to the handlebars of his new Harley Davidson CVO Road King for something tangible that made sense.
Coming from the ranking officer, he searched for the answer without taking the time to consider why the question was being asked. They went to the east sports field, they jogged the perimeter several times, and they frequently talked and hung out on the grass under the big oak next to Palmer Road South.
“Did you ever take Captain Samuel Hall, up onto that roof? The one with the sign on the door stating that it is ‘Off Limits’?” Major Davies stretched her short arm toward the top of the building, pointing her stubby finger.
Roof, Spencer wondered? He didn’t like the tone of her voice. They’d already junked him out on a Medical so what did it matter if the roof was off-limits? What more could they do to him now? Sure, he and the captain went up on the roof a couple times. There was usually a nice breeze up there. They didn’t do anything except spend a few minutes cooling down.
“We went up a few times,” Spencer admitted. “So do half the guys here.”
“As the SPO at this facility, I am responsible for writing this ASER, Sergeant. SRMSO is going to see you name on that report. I hold you responsible!”
“Major, I’m not here to argue and you’re throwing out more letters than I know. I just want to spend an hour with Captain Sam and then I’m out of here.”
“On your new motorcycle.”
Spencer agreed. “Yes. On my new motorcycle.”
“Well let me tell you. ‘SPO’ stands for Suicide Prevention Officer. ‘ASER’ is Army Suicide Event Report. The SRMSO is the Suicide Risk Management and Surveillance Office.”
Major Davies pointed at a freshly-scrubbed circle of cement bleached whiter than the surrounding slab. “See that?”
Spencer concentrated on the stark white patch without comprehending.
“Captain Hall managed to get himself up to the sixteenth floor yesterday afternoon, where he jumped to his death. Thanks to you.”
Captain Sam was dead?
Major Davies had carefully watched the security recordings and was preparing for the investigation that would follow. She neglected to explain to Spencer how MEBs and PEBs and appeals had been put onto an accelerated fast-track under new orders, going all the way up to the Joint Chiefs. Two hundred and fifty exit-processes targeted for completion at Walter Reed within ten days.
Captain Sam’s appeal process was formally denied in four and a half minutes. The same Lieutenant Colonel who ran through Spencer’s PEB was tasked to process back-logged evaluations throughout the Eastern administrative sector.
From the hearing chamber, Captain Sam was walked to the cafeteria. He was scheduled for immediate transport home, but unlike Spencer, the captain’s disabilities precluded his immediate departure. He was helped to a tray of Sloppy Joes and canned peaches in syrup that a Filipino contract caregiver spoon-fed to him in small bites that dribbled down both cheeks. He told the helper that he wanted to be left alone to do some reading.
From the cafeteria, the captain retraced the steps to the elevator on his own then rubbed his forearm down the wall until he used his forearm to depress the up button. The elevator camera recorded him pressing every floor and patiently riding to the top-floor landing where he stepped out then waited to hear the doors closing behind him.
He shuffled his way forward until he found the wall and then walked his shoulder down the hallway until he felt the doorframe. The bar-mechanism drove into his side.
Once outside, Captain Sam turned his face up to the sunshine. The recording showed his hair pushed back by the wind. He touch-toed his way ahead out to the stub-wall surrounding the roof-edge, stepped up onto the edge and listened to the sounds of cars out in the distance cars driving along Rockville Pike. Above him and to his right, flags snapped in the breeze. He stepped down from the wall then counted his strides going backward carefully making certain there was nothing in his path until the bumped into the access door. He spun a crisp about-face and faced west. His right elbow cocked upward, he paused, and then sprinted to clear the first hurdle.
“You want to put this on me?” Spencer screamed. “You couldn’t let him have a fucking bidet! You couldn’t let him have some dignity! Fuck you, Major! You’re fucking worthless! Fuck you!” The captain… that’s a great man.
Spencer sped north at eighty miles an hour. He left his visor up, ignoring the pressure on his eardrums in trade for the wind blowing into his eyes. This wasn’t on him; she couldn’t put it on him!
But that was nothing. Bullshit. The major was bullshit.
“Jesus. Fuck! God. Captain Sam! No!”
He didn’t know why he was riding north. What matter
Outside Baltimore he pulled the visor down. He was outside Philly before he really gave thought to having a direction. North Dakota was west, not that it mattered. Distance and movement.
He saw the billboards and banners on the outskirts of Allentown. Gun Show. Eagle Arms.
Inside the main pavilion, soldiers in fatigues mixed with hunters and collectors over hundreds of tables laden with weapons and ordnance, journals and loaders, targets and maintenance supplies. Spencer moved right past the outfitters booths selling hunting trips: Alaskan caribou, Nunavik polar bear culls, Cape Buffalo in Namibia; Spencer accelerated straight through until his hands felt the familiar heft of a Barrett 82A. He had it lifted to his shoulder before the vendor could say hello.
It all clicked. This was home; this was where he was right with the world. It wasn’t a place, it was a purpose. The feeling of that Barrett against his shoulder, knowing that he could break it down faster than anyone in that giant building and make it dance like nobody else, that was home.
“The continued existence of human life on this planet is no certainty,” the captain had said. “The world needs a thriving, dynamic, positive America to lead the way forward. We can’t be a do-nothing country that watches as we destroy ourselves. How many marriages fail, how much violence is prompted, simply because every year we get squeezed? Fewer opportunities and more pressure. More output, more rent hikes, more debt just to keep up!”
The captain told him: “America can’t be a world leader with guns alone. We once lead by example, by being the nation where a C student could work his butt off and thrive. Where bosses and workers both did fine. We had a country where we all pulled on the same rope to move forward. Now a bunch of rich greedy bastards bully everybody else. They push our noses in the dirt, Jonathan! We can’t let them ruin it for everyone else. If we go down, everyplace goes down!