This story is by Linda Stimson and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Charlie Redeagle walked into the Dew Drop Inn hoping to get a glass of ice water. It was a dusty little bar, with ten bar stools and six tables toward the back door. Dingy and dark, but cooler than the summer heat outside. Even in the mountains of Montana the weather was hot in August.
Charlie lived in an abandoned shack on a back street of the sleepy little town. His home and wife were lost in a fire ten years ago, and his job went to foreign outsourcing. He was a skilled welder, surviving by selling art he made from things he found at the dump. His quiet, kind personality made everyone a friend. The men at the bar looked up, said hello and returned to their conversations.
Charlie asked Joe, the bartender, for a to-go cup of water. While Joe got the water, a stranger got up from a table. He looked plain mean. His shaved head, holstered Beretta and head-to-toe camouflage spoke to his imagined superiority. His huge body covered in tattoos, he sported a swastika on his head. The man looked Charlie over. Staggering close to Charlie, right up in his face, he began shouting.
“What’s an old brown-assed bum like you doin’ walkin’ in here asking for charity? Not even askin’ for whiskey. Not buyin’ nothing. What’s the matter with you, ya lousy Injun. You don’t belong in a place with white folks. Get your water from the river, you filthy loser,” the big man snarled.
Harry West, a local cattleman spoke up in Charlie’s defense.
“Hey man, leave him alone. He just asked for water,” Harry said.
“I’m leaving, Harry. Thanks for the water, Joe,” Charlie said, after taking his first sip. The water felt heavenly trickling down his throat. He walked toward the door.
The bully followed him, bellowing slurs and obscenities. Charlie turned and looked at the younger man with a friendly smile.
“I’m not looking for trouble, friend,” Charlie said as he opened the door.
The stranger waited till Charlie was half way through the door and kicked him, sending the water flying and Charlie into the dusty street.
Harry watched the man with the gun. Charlie was a good friend of his, and he owed him. Charlie was the one who helped when Harry’s father died, taking over the ranch so Harry could go to Iowa to arrange the funeral. Charlie helped his kids deal with their mother leaving, and Charlie helped to steer his son away from drugs. Harry thought about Viet Nam, too. If Charlie hadn’t been the man he was, Harry and his cousin would be dead.
The three of them had enlisted in the Marine Corps back in ’65, just out of high school. They’d been sent to ‘Nam, and had been in the same unit. Harry remembered the day when the Viet Cong had the unit pinned down, isolated from the rest of the company, with the radio shot to hell. Charlie had not only gotten them out, crawling on his belly to toss a grenade at the knot of enemy soldiers, he also stole a radio from a dead man and tuned in the right frequency. He managed to communicate their position and get air cover before he passed out. His actions saved eleven men, and he did all that with a bad leg wound. Charlie was as cool in a crisis as the water that would quench his thirst. Yep, Charlie was worth dying for, if it came to that.
Harry stood up, saying “There was no call for that. Charlie hasn’t done anything to you.”
The stranger turned on Harry, taking a swing. Harry ducked and came up with a punch of his own to the man’s stomach. The man fell on the floor, and his friend got up, running toward the fight. He jumped on Harry, choking him from the back. Harry was turning blue when Charlie walked back into the bar. Charlie took the friend down with one punch, breaking his nose. He stayed down.
“I’d put the gun down, if I were you, friend. We can take this outside. If you really want to fight someone, I’m your man,” Charlie said.
“I ain’t your friend, you stinkin’ Injun. Get the hell out of here and mind your own business.”
“My friends are my business. Please put the gun down.”
“Come on Clint,” the second stranger said. “You don’t want to use that, man. We don’t need no trouble from the law here.”
“Hell, there ain’t no law in a place like this. It’s a ghost town. I ain’t takin’ no shit from these backwater fools, and especially no Mexican or Indian or whatever this dirty mess is.”
Clint looked from Harry to Charlie, deciding who he’d shoot first. He was slobbering on the floor from having the wind knocked out of him. His buddy kept pleading for him to put the gun away, but Clint’s eyes were full of wild fire and he wasn’t backing down.
“Let Harry go, man, it’s me you’re angry with,” Charlie said.
“You’re both a coupla assholes,” Clint snarled. “I’m getting’ off this floor, and if either of you move, you’re dead.”
Clint’s friend got up, backing away from the fight.
“I’m not goin’ down for your temper, Clint. I’m outta here.”
“Pansy ass. Run, go ahead,” Clint snarled.
“Your name is Clint?” Charlie asked, as he slipped one hand into his pocket.
“Don’t try to get all friendly-like. I got no time for low-life’s tryin’ to be equal to white folks.”
Harry shook his head. “Mister, you think you’re a bad ass. You don’t know who you’re messing with,” he said.
As Clint pointed the gun back toward Harry, Charlie moved between them. When Clint fired, it was Charlie who fell. He bled out on the floor of the bar. Harry pulled Charlie’s lifeless hand out of his right pocket. It was twisted in the ribbon of his medal of honor.
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