Josh, George Constantine, and Randy McAveety had reconnoitered to a booth to contemplate what the future held for them the next few years. The table was littered with beer bottles and they weren’t done yet, as they acknowledged their futures were still less than certain. Josh was home on leave and hadn’t been told where he’d be stationed. George was set on moving to Chicago and learning all about computers, even though his parents thought he was crazy to leave the security of the family farm. Randy had gotten his realtor license and was going to make millions as soon as he saved enough to move to Madison, where the market was booming, or so he had read in the money magazines he subscribed to. Neither of them thought Josh was fit to be in the U.S. Army but never had the nerve to tell him that the few times they’d seen him since he enlisted. Sure, he was fit and strong, even more so after basic training, but everybody knew he couldn’t kill the smallest living thing, let alone a human being.
“What are you going to do when they ask you to start shooting people?” George asked, the beers having loosened his tongue. “Sooner or later, you’ll have to do it.”
“I’ve heard rumors we’ll be going to Somalia,” Josh said. “On a humanitarian mission.”
Randy frowned, took a good gulp of his beer, and shook his head. “That place is a powder keg. They murder U.N. peacekeepers, for God’s sake. It’s on the news all the time.”
“People are starving. They need food and protection from both sides.”
George agreed with Randy. “I don’t think you can kill anybody, even to protect people.”
Josh spoke softly and thoughtfully. “I’ll find out, won’t I?”
Randy wouldn’t let up. “Why the hell did you run off and enlist, anyway? You never said a word to anybody, even us.”
Josh’s face was an implacable mask as he set his beer down on the table. “I think that’s it for me if I’m going to be able to drive home.”
Randy knew he should have kept his mouth shut as he watched Josh stand up and take a few bills out of his pocket. He and George decided they’d had it, too, and reached for their wallets. Josh, feeling a little woozy, steadied himself on a post by the booth before getting his bearings and heading for the front door. He was almost there when Jimmy walked up behind him and slapped him on the shoulder. “Just the man I need.”
Josh rocked back and forth dizzily. “What? Need for what?”
“We just lost Kevin to his nagging wife. We need another hand at the table.”
“Sorry, gotta go home.” He stumbled toward the front door.
“Hey, you gonna be okay?”
“You shouldn’t drive like that.” Jimmy looked at Randy and George for help.
Josh waved them all off. “I can drive.”
Jimmy was reluctant to let him go. “Don’t forget, we’re supposed to take Connie and Marlena to the carnival Saturday. Scott can come, too.”
Josh was at the door. “I’ll pick him up from the school in the morning.” He started to go out the door when Jimmy said, “He’s not there. I saw him in your dad’s truck an hour ago. They were headed towards your house.”
Josh stared at Jimmy, suddenly stone cold sober. He banged through the door and ran towards the parking lot where the ancient pile of nuts and bolts he had bought for a song was waiting. He prayed that it would start. It did, and Josh screeched out of the lot and hit the highway full speed, which wasn’t too fast, considering the old heap he was driving struggled to get to forty miles per hour. He pushed the gas pedal to the floor and still it seemed the car was barely moving.
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