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The Shift - First Three Chapters: Multiperspectivity

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

Multiperspectivity is when more than one voice tells the story. In The Shift, the following characters tell the story:

  • Settimo Bontavell

  • Ghiaccio Chiacchiericcioto

  • George Scavello

  • Pete

Other characters: John Focht, George Rausher, Joan Ashenfelter, John Ciarlello, George Christie, Diane Gallagher Ciarlello, Dr. Kapeghian, and Lynne Kapeghian.


Except for the short introduction, you will hear only from the four characters. It is a challenge to write this book. Why write it then? For me, the favorite part of writing a book is writing dialogue. Four voices allows me to get into the heads of each of the four story tellers to tell the story.


Introduction

On December 12, 1964, two beat-up blue vans pulled up to the edge of Route 412 out of Elm Grove, Oklahoma. A third van sat back at the migrant camp, unable to start. The Okie migrants from that van split up and piled into two crowded vans. There were 24 migrants in the vans huddled together both for space and warmth. The migrant camp of Okies had finished off the cotton-picking season, and were on their way to the winter vegetable fields in north Texas.

After eight miles, the vans turned south on Route 48, making their downhill run into Texas. The weather wasn't good. It never is in northern Oklahoma in December. It began to rain but by 5 a.m. that changed to sleet. Even worse, fog had started to roll across 48. The driver of the first van could feel the back of his van sliding. He reduced his speed. Still driving in darkness, the first van slowed down and attempted to pull over but slid on the icy roadway and fishtailed in front of the other van. The vans collided enough to spin the first van around, blocking the highway.

A few miles behind the two vans on 48, a 25-ton log truck with two attached trailers came out of the Osage Reservation and sped along the icy highway to the Grady Sawmill west of Tulsa.

"How's the traction, Frank," the logger in the passenger seat hollered, concerned about the roadway. "You still got control?"

"So far. This stuff ain't going to slow this baby down. I hope they got hot coffee at Grady. It'd taste real good about now."

"Maybe you ought to drop the speed down some."

"You worry about the coffee and let me do the driving."

Rolling around a sharp bend, Frank didn't expect to see two vans a quarter mile ahead of him. The van drivers were outside on the highway, trying to rock the first van forward and push it to the side of the road.

"Holy shit hell," Frank yelled as he pumped the brakes and pulled on the truck's air horn. Frank cut the steering wheel to the right, hoping to get around the two vans, but the log trailers jackknifed out from behind. The bolster chains snapped like thread as tons of logs barreled down 48 and smashed into and over the two vans.

What happened next resulted in the worst highway accident in Oklahoma's history. The logs pulverized the vans. All 26 migrants were killed, including the two log truck drivers. A Greyhound bus loaded with students heading back for finals at Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow sped north on 48 and never saw the logs until it was too late. The bus never had a chance. Still rolling and tumbling at nearly fifty miles an hour, the logs met the bus head-on.

Eighty-six bodies lay amongst the wreckage on highway 48. When the bodies were separated from the mangled steel and massive logs, the students traveling to Northeastern State were put in refrigeration trucks and removed from the scene. The bodies of the migrants were placed in pine box coffins and taken to Burton Cemetery, not far from the accident site. Most of the gravesites at Burton were without headstones, and most only had a wooden cross. It was a burial field for the poor, criminals, and unidentified bodies.

It didn't take long for word to reach Ghiaccio Chiacchiericcio. Twenty-six migrant bodies were piled up along an unkept cemetery on Old Dog Road, awaiting burial. For Chiacchiericcio, this was a gift from heaven. Around 1 a.m., four pickups turned off Long Range Road onto Old Dog Road and pulled up alongside the migrant's coffins. The coffins were loaded onto the pickups.

"Eye," Hector's foreman, Rip Miller, said, "Let's not go back out the way we come in."

"Why?" Chiacchiericcio asked. "We can turn around on this road. Ground's not wet. It'll take us all night going out the other way."

"I know," Miller said. "But I just got a funny feeling. Maybe we should split up. There are four or five ways outta here. I just don't have a good feeling about this."

"Ah, Rip, you're puttin' things in your head," Chiacchiericcio replied. "Nobody cares about these Okie bodies. The county will be glad somebody took them off their hands, especially the diggers. Come on, let's get the fuck out of here."

Chiacchiericcio watched the other three pickups back out of Old Dog Road toward the road they came in on. As Chiacchiericcio's truck stopped just before Long Range, the spotlights went on. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol, led by several investigators from the FBI, had staked out Burton Cemetery, waiting for Ghiaccio Chiacchiericcioto to arrive.

1

Settimo Bontavelli


We gathered at a small table to discuss new business in the back of Trattoria Mattonella Ristorante on Via del Mulini in Naples, Italy. It was July 14, 1968.

"Frankie, get the friarelli with the garlic and olive oil. It's a the best. You will like it, guaranteed."

Six of us drank red wine and shared bread while pursuing the menu. In Italy, talking about the menu is almost as good as eating the food, and eating the food is nearly as good as talking about women.

The conversations about women were enjoyable to us — we ranged in age from the oldest, Tomaso Gubiannie, boss of the Camorra, to the youngest, Nunzio Fabbroni. The Naples mafia, the Camorra, was close to two more powerful mobs in Italy: Ndrangheta, the most dangerous Cosa Nostra in the world, based in Calabria, Italy, and the Sicilian mob in Sicily.

Therefore, Camorra invested in other enterprises. We supplied dead bodies to medical schools in Europe and Asia. It became highly profitable for the Camorra. Dead bodies were in high demand because medical research doesn't get done — in America, Europe, or anywhere — without cadavers.

The other crime organizations in Italy wanted no part of the "dead business," as they called it. Therefore, we were not a threat to them.

With the flu pandemic of the late 1950s, mostly the Asian flu, influenza became a significant threat to the world's population. New threats were skyrocketing. As Europeans became less active and television watching became the number one pastime, Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular (heart attacks and strokes) were rising, and the medical schools were unprepared to find treatments. Medical schools needed bodies with veins, brains, and hearts, and they needed them fast.

The American Federation in Oklahoma City asked the Naples Camorra to help set up a better way to get cadavers and to help the Federation grow its business in the United States. The top medical schools were under pressure and couldn't get corpses for their students.

The Ivy League Schools alone — Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania — placed a high demand on cadaver providers. The Camorra had previously stayed away from the United States. Besides, the Camorra would have had to ship the bodies by air or sea, which was cumbersome and expensive. Gubiannie wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin and said, "They want our help. Since we control the market here, we need to move there. We can do it, but slowly. Nearly unnoticed."

"Don Gubiannie, if I may say so," I said.

"Go ahead, Settimo," Gubiannie replied. "Speak a you mind."

I knew dead bodies and how to transport them better than anyone in Italy. The Naples Camorra would only be making small profits with me.

"Don Gubiannie," I said, "the Americans need our help to survive. So, we give them help. We send a couple of people there to get them going. When the operation is healthy, making money, we take over.

"In America, people are dying from new diseases. Heart attacks, diabetes, and stroke are rising fast. Americans are stupid. They eat shit food and sit on their asses watching television."

"So, what does this have to do with the Naples Camorra, Settimo?" Don Gubiannie asked.

"What they call the ivy schools," I replied. "These are the best in America, and all but one has a medical school. The demand for bodies from these schools alone will be so great we would be foolish to miss an opportunity to get involved."

Gubiannie took the toothpick from his mouth and dug his tongue to remove part of a clam from a partially embedded wisdom tooth. He looked out over the restaurant, stalling until he loosened the stuck clam. Then he said, "Who? Who, Settimo? Who knows America enough to get our foot in the door?"

I nodded and rubbed my chin. "The number one man in America for bodies is Ghiaccio Chiacchiericcioto. He just got out of prison, and insiders in America tell me that this American Federation depends on him to build an organization to supply bodies."

"The Eye?" Gubiannie said. "He's asked us for help before. Have you met Eye?"

"Yes, Don Gubiannie. He will listen to me."

Don Gubiannie nodded. He stuck the toothpick back into his mouth and sucked on it. "You," he said. "You, Settimo. You go to America and run the business for them. Then, and only then, will we be in a position to take over. But keep an eye on the Eye. He could be dangerous."

I bowed my head slightly. "Thank you, Don, for your confidence in my work. I have two requests, Don Gubiannie."

“Of course, Settimo.”

"I would like to take Jimmy the Weasel for my Producer.

"Il Tasso's brother?" Fabbroni asked, with laughter in his voice. "You a gotta be shittin' me. That's Giovanni Randazzo’s brother in Luzzi. He's a funkin' lunatic.

Fabbroni is always a pain in the ass to me. I know that Don Gubiannie does not respect him. He is a fool. I ignored his comments, looked straight at the Don, and said, "Don Gubiannie, I need to take the Weasel."

Gubiannie took the toothpick from his mouth, wiped off a piece of clam on his napkin, then put the toothpick back in. "Why you want him, Settimo?" he asked me. "Fabbroni is right. He's a lunatic. The whole family is crazy. They had to put his brother, il Tasso, the Badger, away in an asylum."

"The Weasel worked for the Sicilians, Don Gubiannie," I said. "He can be a top Producer. Maybe 15 a week. Besides, if the Eye caused trouble, the Weasel can handle him."

"Fifteen?" Don Gubiannie said. "That's 60 a month, Settimo. Never have we had a Producer do that much. It could be dangerous."

"The Weasel is smart," I replied. "He'll get away with it. I know him. We will work well together because I can control him."

Don Gubiannie nodded. "Okay, Settimo. You got him. What's your other request?"

"In Philadelphia, can you place me near the Eye? I want to keep my own eye on him."

"How close?" The Don asked.

"The same a street, Don."

Gubiannie didn't reply. He finally nodded again and smiled.

"God-a damn, clams," he said. "So good but a pain in my ass."

“No problem, Settimo” the Don said. "We'll find out where the Eye will live and put you on the same street. If there's no room, we'll make room. Comprendere?"

I nodded. "Comprendere," I said.

"One more thing, Settimo," Don Gubiannie said. "When you get to Philadelphia, you gotta touch-a base with Angelo Bruno, head of the Philadelphia mob. You know, courtesy call. Be a-nice to him. We may need his help later."

“Subito, Don Gubiannie,” I replied. “Subito.”

2

Ghiaccio Chiacchiericcioto

Eye


On June 11, 1963, I stepped out of the Big Mack, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, and into the afternoon sunshine. The big iron doors slammed shut behind me. I was free for the first time in four years. It could have been sooner if I had sung. Or if I hadn’t punched a guy in the face, broke his nose and jaw, for makin’ fun of my eye.

When I was about five or six my father threw a glass ashtray at me and hit me between my eyes. After that my left eye looks a little further to the left when I’m starin’ straight ahead. It’s good to have when somebody is startin’ to shoot at you.

When I got to the third grade, my teacher had a hard time pronouncing my name. So, she asked the class what she should call me. A punk shot his hand up and said The Eye. The class howled with laughter but from then on, I was Eye. Not The Eye, just Eye.

I waited for recess and then invited the punk kid behind the other side of the school and beat the shit out of him. His parents came to the school, but nobody saw nothin.’ I think the teacher was suspicious but she didn’t say nothin.’

“Hey, Eye, over here. Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”

A late-model Ford sat idling in the small prisoner pickup lot. The car swung around and pulled up alongside me. "Hey, Eye, come on, get in. Throw your bag on the back seat."

I bent over and looked through the open passenger window. “Who the hell are you,” I said.

“The Federation sent me,” he said. “They want to re-hire you.”

“Well maybe I don’t want to get hired by no Federation. They got me in this place. They can go fuck themselves. That’s okay I can walk.”

“Wait, Eye,” he said. “It’s not only the Federation. The Gambino’s want you involved. Come on, get in.”

I looked around. “You carryin?’”

“No, I have nothing. You want me to get out so you can search me?”

I opened the back door, tossed in my bag, and got in the front. “Eye," the driver said, holding out his hand, "I’m Tommy. Welcome to freedom."

"Thanks," I replied. "I'm glad somebody remembered me."

After shaking my hand, Tommy said. "Eye, you've got to be kidding. Listen, if you had sung, half the Federation, including me, would be in the unemployment line right now, not to mention the slammer. Everyone is grateful to you."

"Four years is a long time to keep your mouth shut," I said. "Where are you taking me?"

"Oklahoma City International Airport," Tommy replied.

"Yeah, where am I going from there?"

"Philadelphia. The Federation has a place for you on a nice quiet street."

"Philadelphia, huh? What’s this about the Gambino’s? Why are they sticking their nose in this?”

“The Cammoro in Naples asked them to get you involved. So, the Gambino’s want you involved. They’ll support everything you do.”

“Christ, couldn't they have sent me to a city with good sports? Bunch of losers in Philadelphia.”

"Well, you won't be in Philadelphia, Eye. Not exactly."

I turned again and looked at Tommy. "No? Where will I be."

"Ever heard of a little shithole place called Belmont Hills?"

I looked out the window and replied, "No, never. What's there?"

"A nice place on a nice quiet street," Tommy answered, smiling, looking over at me. I turned toward Tommy.

"Yeah, you told me that. The Gambino’s aren’t stupid. What else?"

"Two big cemeteries side by side that have agreed to work with us, about a mile away from where you'll live."

I smiled and looked away from Tommy. "How about undertakers?"

"Oh, yeah. A shitload of them. Mob undertakers in South Philly, an Italian section of the city controlled by the Philly mob. They got the police and judges in their pockets."

“Angelo Bruno’s outfit?”

"That’s right. But they’re not involved with the bodies.”

"Mob undertakers, huh,” I replied. “They're the best kind.” Oh, wait a minute. I'm on parole now. I can't just get up and leave Oklahoma."

"That's been taken care of. The Gambino’s bribed a Federal Judge in Tulsa. He removed your parole assignments."

I looked out the window again. "They did, huh? Son of a bitch."

"Eye, everybody's hoping you had a lot of time to think creatively. You know, in school like you were. You been thinking a lot?"

I looked back at Tommy, smiled, and nodded. "Yeah, I been thinkin’. Got a lot of plans, Tommy. A lot of plans."

"What did you miss most being away?" Tommy asked.

"My cars," I said. "I had some real beauties. Antiques. Loved those cars. Loved working on them. But the banks took them when I couldn't make the payments. That was torture. Plus, you know, the pussy."

Tommy glanced at me and said, "I'm sorry about that, Eye, really sorry. Look," he continued, "things are bad, Eye. The Federation is hurting. We counted the days, hours, and minutes until you got out."

I looked out the window again and took a deep breath. I exhaled slowly.

"Tommy, it all comes down to the death certificate." I looked back at Tommy and said, "Whoever controls the death certificate controls the body. Understand?"

Tommy smiled and put his turning signal on. "You're the best there is, Eye. Everybody's super excited you're home."

3

Pete


By the summer of 1967, we had graduated from Harriton High School. We still didn't believe Ronny made it. To this day, we swear that a clerical error happened, and he was placed on the graduation list by accident. We even swore on our mother's graves that it was a big mistake. Ronny's girlfriend's mother was Harriton's head secretary, and we think she was involved.

Dipshit Mickey had joined the Air Force, but the three of us, Gary, Ronny, and me, remained on the Hill and got jobs at the S.S. Pennock Company in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. I joined the Narberth Penn Dell baseball team and played third base. Ronny did, too but was too pussy-whipped to stick it out. That season Narberth had numerous ball players who signed major league contracts.

The three of us had Harriton girlfriends that summer and spent our evenings parked near the Flat Rock Dam. That was a big step up for Hill kids, going from Manayunk and Roxborough girlfriends to Harrition girlfriends — that’s going from Manayunk to Hollywood. And amazingly, we all got jobs at the same company. Our summer American Legion coach, Al Turtle, worked as a flower salesman at Pennock's and got us the jobs.

Pennock's was a wholesale florist that supplied fresh-cut flowers daily to florists throughout Philadelphia and the suburbs. Trucks pulled up to the entrance of Pennock's loading dock around five a.m., filled with long cardboard boxes of fresh flowers: Carnations, chrysanthemums, gladiolas, lilies, roses, and daisies. On occasion, Pennock's had cornflowers, calla lilies, marigolds, and orchids. Plus, filler grasses to mix into the bouquets.

Some of the flowers came from the Philadelphia International Airport, where growers from around the country — mostly California and Oregon — shipped the freshly cut flowers overnight.

Not yet light outside, flower salesmen inside Pennock's worked the phones, standing at desks with order pads calling and taking calls from florists and funeral homes in Philadelphia, the suburbs, and as far away as Allentown. We had to be at Pennock's early, way before dawn, to unload the flower boxes from the trucks and put them in water – big metal containers that looked like giant vases.

Every morning we'd unload the trucks and put the flowers in the metal vases so the salesman working the phones could see what flowers were available. It was grueling work.

Nut job Ronny got a job in the supply section at Pennock's, and that was a piece of cake. I will say one thing. He worked his way up from the warehouse to be an outside salesman with a company car. He probably blew the owner. He also met his future wife Denise at Pennock's — it was the worst day of his future mothers-in-law's life — she introduced them.

Occasionally after we unloaded the trucks, I would make deliveries when they were short drivers. The unionized truck drivers didn't like a nonunion guy like me making deliveries. But I told them to fuck off, and after that, they never caused trouble. Ronny or Pecker — both world-class bullshit artists — told them my family was in the mafia, so they shut their mouths.

More and more, I was getting delivery assignments. I loved going to the dago florists and undertakers in South Philadelphia, and they liked having a delivery boy who was born in Italy. I especially liked one undertaker on Broad Street in Philadelphia, but his entrance doorway was down a flight of concrete steps, and he kept the bodies in the same room where I had to put the flowers. That was a ball buster.

" Hey Petey, we have a second delivery to Alonzo's Funeral Home on Broad Street, and the driver has already left. As soon as you get a chance, I'd like you to run two boxes of glads down to South Philly."

"Jesus Christ, Tony," I replied, "you're a goddamn slave driver. All right, but I'm not taking them into the room where the dead bodies are. Fuck that. I'll leave them out on the sidewalk."

"Petey, you can't do that," Tony replied. "You have to put them in the room."

"Hey, Pete," George, one of the flower salesmen, called out. I think he was a reformed alchy, like most of the flower salesmen at Pennock's, "those dead bodies can't hurt you. They're d-e-a-d," he spelled out. What do you think they'll do, rise up and grab you?" And then George laughed.

"Grab this," I yelled back at George, grabbing my crotch. That's how it was at Pennock's, everybody busted each other's balls, and nobody got mad.

About an hour later, I brought the big panel truck to a stop at Broad and Shunk in front of Alonzo's funeral home. I made sure I turned the wheel in toward the curb, so the truck didn't roll away — shut the motor off, and got out. I opened the back of the truck, dragged a long box filled with gladiolas down the steps, and put it in front of the door. I went back up and pulled the second box down, put it atop the first box, and started up the steps toward the truck. I heard the door open behind me.

"Hey, sonamabitch, what you do? You can't leave-a da fuckin' boxes here. Now move them before I-a come up those steps and kick-a your fat dago ass."

It was Alonzo, the funeral owner. He was a short little guy but muscular, about 80 years old. He probably could kick Frank Rizzo's ass, let alone mine. He was a guy you instinctively knew not to fuck with.

"I don't want to go in there. They're dead bodies in there," I pleaded.

He went nuts. "Let me get my baseball bat. How a fuckin' stupid is you, kid?" I can shoot you, stab-a you, or beat your head with my Joe Dimaggio baseball-a bat till your fuckin' brains is all over my steps."

Then he yelled louder. "But a dead-a fuckin' body never hurt nobody. Now get down here, kid."

"All right, all right," I replied. "Take it easy."

While he held the door open, I dragged the glads into the room with the dead bodies. I had to look; he had two stiffs naked as jaybirds on a table. It stunk in there too like the bodies shit their pants or something. I headed for the door.

"Wait, kid, I ain't done talking to you," Alonso said. Standing in the doorway, I turned to face him but didn't say anything."How you like a job?" he asked.

"What," I replied, "here, with these dead bodies? Forget about it." I started to leave.

"I seen that truck you drive, kid," Alonso said. "You use that truck for a few hours, and I make you a rich kid. You-a hear me?"

"That ain't my truck," I said. "It's a Pennock's truck."

"So what? You do what Alonso says, and nobody bothers you about the truck. I take care of Pennock's."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Take these bodies some-a where."

"Fuck that," I said.

"What you mean. We take these boxes you bring flowers in, fold the stiff's legs back and tie them, and he fits right in-a nice-nice. Then, take-a some gladiolus and lay them over him, and he don't stink no more. Tie the box closed and put it on the truck. One-a hundred dollars for you."

Hundred, I thought, shit. I could use the money. Gas just rose to thirty cents a gallon.

"Plus, I could use two more kids like you on the truck, and it be one hundred each for the three of you. You got any friends? Or are you a dumb shit loser that you look-a like?"

"No, I got friends. Where do I have to take the bodies?" I asked.

"What difference does that make?" Alonso said. "I tell you when the time comes. No need to know now."

"And you'll take care of Pennock's?" I asked.

"Simple as one, two, three," he replied. "And your two friends, can they keep their mouths shut?"

"Yeah, no problem. When do we start."

"You boss, Tony. I work through him. Tony knows me and my work with a-the organization. He does anything I say. Once, Alonso did a big a favor for him. Some punks were picking on his kid on the corner. I straightened them out."

"No shit."

"Tony tell-a you your first job."


George Scavello


As the door swung open, a balding Lt. Colonel with a pot gut from the Post Exchange burgers and beer held the door open and said, "Lance corporal Scavello, General Clark will see you now."

I stood at attention and saluted. He returned the salute. "Follow me, please."

I was at the command headquarters on the US Navy Carrier, the Bon Homme Richard, in the Gulf of Tonkin. It was February 1968, less than a year after I graduated from Harriton High School.

In the Marines, I found something I was good at — shooting. I was the best shot in Basic at Paris Island. From there, I was sent to Camp Lejeune and assigned as a rifleman to 11bravo, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, and from there to a base camp twenty-five miles west of Da Nang.

Huey’s ran us out to the bush, and we'd roam around until we found Charlie — what we called the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army. All we did was pull triggers and kill gooks. On and on it went. Sometimes we'd lose a lot of men. Sometimes, just a few. There was a lot of shit we had to put up with, like leeches, mosquitoes, rain, and booby traps.

I followed the Lt. Colonel down a narrow hallway to a door marked: Headquarters, General Clifford L.Clark, Bon Homme Richard, Carrier Air Wing 21. The Lt. Colonel turned toward me with his hand on the doorknob. "There'll be top brass here, son, so be on your best behavior. No foul mouth talk, and be polite. As soon as you get inside the door, I'll turn to look at you, and you salute. You hold it until the General returns it. Got it?"

I nodded. I licked my lips and cursed my dry mouth.

"When you drop your salute, I'll introduce you and the

General will ask you to sit in the middle of the room. Understand?"

"Yes, Sir," I replied.

He turned and opened the door.

Out in the jungle, the other soldiers wanted to be near me in the line because when trouble started, I was the first to fire and unload my clip. And I rarely missed. They felt safer. Our Sergeant rotated the men, so they all got time near me and a better chance at staying alive. Although I asked for point duty, I was too valuable to be put there, the Sergeant said, because of my dead-eye shooting. He couldn’t afford to lose me. I developed quite a reputation out in the bush.

Then suddenly, I was yanked from 11bravo and sent to six weeks of sniper school. I was the best shot there, too, heads and shoulders above the other sniper trainees. So, they promoted me to Corporal and told me I was on my way to gunnery sergeant. I was about to get reassigned as a sniper and sent back to the bush when I got yanked again. They put me on a Huey and flew me to the Carrier, Bon Homme Richard, in the Gulf of Tonkin. And here I am, a Lance Corporal about to meet General Clark and the other brass on a ship loaded with fighter planes.

I stepped into the room. When the Lt. Colonel turned to look at me, I snapped my hand up and said, "Sir, Corporal Scavello reporting to duty, Sir." I held it until the General stood and saluted me. I whipped my hand back down and stood frozen at attention, staring at a photo on the wall behind the General's head.

"At ease, soldier," General Clark said.

I shot my hands behind my back, pushed my left foot to the left about ten inches, and continued to stare at the photo.

"No, no, Corporal," he said, "I mean really at ease. Relax. Here let me introduce you." Three other Marine officers were in the room, and I shook hands with each one. I was so nervous I couldn't remember their names or ranks. But they had a lot of medals. Good thing all I had to say was, yes, Sir.

"Have a seat, Corporal. Would you like something to drink?"

My throat felt like the fighter jet runway outside, and my mouth was as dry as the Mojave Desert. "No, thank you, Sir."

I took my seat and watched the General pick up his cigar from an ashtray and relight it. He blew smoke over his desk and said, "Gentlemen, you're looking at the best got-damn shot in the Marine Corps. And fuck those other branches, son. If you're the best in the Corps, you're the best anywhere."

"Thank you, Sir. Semper fi until I die."

"Hell, we talked to people at Lejeune, back at the Island, and Marines who got shot up in the jungle. They all say you're the best soldier. But let me ask you something. How'd you get to be such a damn good shot?"

Not expecting a question, I straighten up. "Well, Sir, I think back at the dump."

"The dump?" the General replied. "What the hell is that, soldier?"

"Oh, it's where the township drops the trash. And we would take .22s back there and shoot rats. And lots of them rats was running, not just sittin' still, like the targets at the Island. And down by the river, Sir, the Schuylkill?. I could look in the river and tell where them big catfish were and fire a shot into the water at just the right angle, and in a minute or two, a big one would come floatin' to the top. We had to swim after them or they’d go over the dam. Then we’d take ‘em to Manayunk and sell them to the colored people."

The General, still holding the cigar in his hand, looked at me in amazement. His mouth hung open. The smoke circled his head. "The dump, huh? And the river. Jesus Christ, soldier, that’s some shootiin.’"

"Right, Sir. And the kids on the Hill started calling me Catfish Scavello."

"The Hill? Like Hamburger Hill?" As soon as the General laughed, the other brass did, too.

"Well," I started to say. But he interrupted.

"Son, we got us a got-damn problem here. We need your help. Some crazy gook pedophile is having kids perform fellatio."

I just stared at him.

Realizing I didn't understand a word he said, the General added, "Oh," he said, "it's a Colonel in the North Vietnamese Army having Babysans blow him."

Well, shit, I thought, why the hell didn't you just come out and say it?

"I'll shoot that som-bitch, no problem, Sir. What do I have to do?"

"Good, soldier, I know you'd love this. Okay, there's a little bitty of a hamlet rice-growing village just above the D MZ in the Quang Tri Providence. That's Indian Country, son. NVA (North Vietnamese Army) is crawling all over the place. Communist bastards. Nearly impossible to get to the rice village."

The General stood and pointed to a map stretched out on an easel. "We'll have a Huey sit you down at the Ben Hai River. Then we'll have one of those little village boats loaded with pig shit take you upriver toward the rice village. You'll get off the river near Hien Luong, which is right here, where another Gook will lead you through the jungle right near the rice village. From there, you'll be on your own to shoot that rat son of a bitch Colonel preying on the children. You getting' this, Scavello?"

"Oh yes, Sir. Loud and clear, Sir."

"Notice I said rat son of a bitch, soldier. Makes you think maybe you're back at the dump. Now, this Colonel has three regulars with him. They're dick-suckers too. And they're his bodyguards. When they're not abusing minors, they're all sucking each other's peckers. And they'll shoot anybody who looks at the Colonel cross-eyed. So, after you shoot the Colonel, you have to gun down the bodyguards, too, right away. No shiten' around, Scavello. Understand?"

I leaned forward in my chair and nodded. "Shouldn't be a problem, Sir." (I remembered that from a John Wayne movie).

"Then you got to get the hell out of there, fast. Back through the jungle to the river, where the boat will be waiting for you. Any questions, Scavello?"

"Yes, Sir," I replied. "If the area is infested with NVA, won't they hear my gunshots from the little rice village?"

"No. Over the next several days, you'll be working with Captain O'Hara on a new gun designed by a company in Ohio. It sounds like a fart when fired, it's bolt action but made with special metal, so the sliding bolt is silent. The captain is waiting for you on the main deck. Any more questions, Scavello?"

He didn't let me answer.

"Oh, one more thing. If you pull this off right, there's a three-day pass for you and a Huey ride to the Paris of the East. Know where that is, Scavello?"

"No, Sir."

"Saigon, soldier, on the Dong Nai river. We'll load you up with some Saigon Tea and a few Boom-Boom girls. Can you handle that?"

"Oh, yes, Sir."

"All right. Get the hell out of here."

"But, Sir. What happens if I don't pull it off?"

The General gave me a funny look. "Well, fuck, son. You'll be dead, so don't worry about it.” 85

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