O is for Outlaw Page 90

Hell, don't I know? I got that from Tim, guy owns the Tonk. I tried the bar first because that's where the fight between him and my brother took place. I figured someone might remember him and tell me where he was."

"What was your intention?"

"To kill his ass, what else? I heard he's the one who punched Benny's lights out. After we talked, I begun to see things his way."

"Which was what?"

"He figured he was framed, and I'd agree with him."

"How so?"

"He had him an alibi. He was bonin' this married lady and didn't want to pull her into it, so he kept his mouth shut. I talked to this cop said he saw the whole thing. Mostly, insults and pushing. The two never even struck a blow. I guess somebody come along later and beat the crap out of Benny. What kilt him was havin' that metal plate in his head. Blood seeped into his brain, and it swelled up like a sponge."

"Do you remember the cop's name?"

"Mr. Shackelford. I seen him at the Honky-Tonk earlier tonight."

"What about the snapshot in the box?"

"Two guys out in the boonies, gotta be Veetnam. Sojers in the background. Benny's wearin' fatigues and his big old army helmet he's decorated with this peace symbol. You know the one. Looks kind of like a wishbone with a thing stickin' out the end. Benny's got this shit-eatin' grin and he's flung his arm around the other fellow, who's bare to the waist. Other fellow has a cigarette hangin' off his lip. Looks like the dog tags he's wearin' are the same as the ones in the box."

"What's he look like?"

"You know, young, unshaved, with these big old dark brows and a black mustache: dirty-looking, like a grunt. Hardly any chest hair. Kind of pussyfied in that regard. "

"Any names or dates on the back of the photograph? "

"No, but it's Benny clear as day. Had to be 1965, between August tenth when he shipped out and November seventeenth, which is when he got hit. Benny was at la Drang with the two/seven when a sniper got him in the head. He shoulda been medevacked out, but the choppers couldn't land because of all the ground fire. By time he got out, he said the dead and wounded was piled on each other like sticks of firewood."

"What was Mickey's theory?"

"He didn't tell me nothin'. Said he'd look into it is all I heard."

"Where's the lockbox now? I'd like to see the contents. "

"Said he had a place. I learnt not to mess with him. He's the one in charge."

"Let's go back to Duncan Oaks. How does he fit in? "

"Beats me. I figure he's someone in Benny's unit."

"That's what Mickey was looking into. I know he placed a call to a high school in Louisville, "

"Manual, I bet. Benny went to Manual, played football and everything."

"Not Manual ' " I said. "It was Louisville Male High. He talked to the school librarian about Duncan Oaks. The next day, he hopped on a plane and flew east. Did you talk to him later, after he got back?"

"Never had a chance. I called a couple times. He never picked up his phone so I finally went down. I's madder than shit. I figured he's shining me on."

"You didn't know he'd been shot?"

"Uh-uh. Not then. Some guy down there told me. Fellow lived next door. I forget his name now, something queer."

"Wary Beason?"

"That's him. I busted out his winda, which is how we got acquainted." Duffy had the good grace to look sheepish about the window. He still didn't seem to realize I'd been on the premises that night.

I found myself staring at the dirt floor, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. How did the fragments connect? Tim Littenberg and Scott Shackelford were both in Vietnam, but the timing was off. Benny Quintero was there early in the war and then only briefly. Tim and Scottie went later, in the early seventies. Then there was Eric Hightower, whose second tour was cut short when he stepped on a mine and had his legs blown off. Again, that was long after Benny'd been shipped home. And why was any of it relevant to Mickey's being shot? I knew Mickey well enough to know he was on to something, but what?

"You with me or gone?"

I looked up to find Duffy staring at me with concern. I set aside my beer. "I think I'll butt out for now. I need time to absorb this. At the moment, I don't have a clue how any of it fits, or if it does," I said. "I may talk to you later when I've had a chance to think. You'll be around?"

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