Candlemoth

Candlemoth by R. J. Ellory Page A

Book: Candlemoth by R. J. Ellory Read Free Book Online
Authors: R. J. Ellory
Tags: Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
a chopping board.
        'Serpent
Mike… is the Vietcong like King Kong?'
        A
moment's perfect silence, and then laughter broke like a wave.
        The
tension was shattered.
        The
question Mr. Winterson asked was never answered.
        It
was a question Sergeant Mike had not wanted to be asked.
        'No,
son,' Sergeant Mike eventually said. 'The Vietcong are an awful lot more real
than a big monkey.'
        Nathan
glanced over his shoulder towards me. The expression in his eyes told me that I
was not alone in doubting the truthfulness of that statement.
        And
then the time came, the time to ask, the time to sell us our own freedom, a
freedom I believed we already had.
        The
evangelical minister was asking for money, that's how it felt, and folk were
embarrassed because they knew the minister was a drunk and a liar and a
philanderer.
        But
Sergeant Mike had asked before, many times before, and he pounded the crowd
with quotes from Lincoln and Robert E. Lee and General Patton.
        I
realized then that Sergeant Mike was talking to me, talking to me and to
Nathan, and to all those others that still hung out at Benny's and believed the
world could never reach that far.
        And I
realized something else. I realized that where we still thought of ourselves as
big kids, the world now saw us as men.
        Men
who should be willing to die in some dark damp jungle on the other side of the
world.
        Sergeant
Mike had violated our innocence and trust, and most of us never even knew.
        Marty
Hooper stood up first.
        He
just stood up.
        There
was nothing, and then he was there, and he stood out like a single flower in
the middle of that football field.
        Somebody
clapped. A single pair of hands that sounded like gunfire.
        And
because Marty Hooper was on his feet Larry James stood up too.
        And
then another.
        And
another.
        Someone
else started clapping, faster, louder, and before I knew it the tent was filled
with riotous applause, and fathers were standing and hugging their sons, and
mothers were crying, and the small children were watching this with wide-eyed
wonder, asking themselves what was happening, unable to appreciate its
significance.
        Nathan
and I didn't move.
        I
think if he'd stood up I would have died right where I sat.
        I
felt my mother's hand gripping mine, and when I looked down I saw her knuckles
were white with tension.
        I
knew she felt me looking at her but she did not turn.
        Sergeant
Mike was in his element. This was his moment, his own Kodak moment, and even as
he was congratulating everyone there were other soldiers, men and women, moving
among the crowd to corral the recruits, to guide them to a bank of tables where
seated men held forms and pens and documents of release.
        I was
terrified.
        I
thought for one awful moment that I might involuntarily stand, that I would be
whisked to the side, that I would be clapped on the shoulder, that I would feel
strange hands shaking mine, that a man with stern eyes and a sterner voice
would want to know my name, my age, my height, my weight.
        But I
didn't stand.
        I sat
like a statue.
        I
barely breathed.
        The
noise seemed to go on forever. An hour. A day. A week perhaps.
        No-one
looked at me. There were no accusatory glances. No-one leaned forward to ask me
what my problem was, did I not care for my family's freedom, did I not care for
the American way of life?
        For
that small mercy I was eternally grateful.
        And
when the noise was quelled and the crowds settled I looked up and saw Sergeant
Mike had gone.
         Serpent
Mike, the little boy had said, and of all those who attended that night -
the fathers and mothers, the brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbors, those
from Myrtle Beach and Orangeburg who thought perhaps there was a circus

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