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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Jim, Frank, and the Snake

by Byron Edgington

King Cobra - Vietnam.  Considered a delicacy.
We were young, foolish men with a case of testosterone poisoning, often bored to distraction. So we used fire in other ways, as well. We used it to amuse ourselves.

I returned from my missions one afternoon to hear two colleagues arguing. Frank and Jim didn’t get along anyway, so it wasn’t unusual to hear them yelling at each other. But this argument seemed different somehow, almost important.

Then the shooting started.

Jim hated snakes. It was common knowledge in the company that he was terrified a snake would somehow slither its way into his hootch. There were indeed cobras in the compound. We left them alone because they kept down the rat population.

Frank was a great judge of character. Whatever his sour relationship with Jim, the reason, the origin of their antipathy, no one knew. But we knew they hated each other. And we knew that someday, somehow, Frank would find a way to have the last word with Jim.

So when I heard shots coming from Jim’s room, my arms chilled. Surely, I thought, those two haven’t actually taken to gunfire? We all had a .38 revolver to carry with us on missions. Those tiny guns would have been almost useless against the enemy.

One of the guys, whether being serious or not, proposed using his pistol on himself if he was captured. He kept two rounds chambered. One for him, he said, and one for anyone else who wanted it. 

I used my pistol as protection for the family jewels. It fit very well in my crotch, holster and all, a dandy piece of armor -- if I ever wanted sex and kids and all that peripheral stuff.

The bottom line is that Frank had a .38; Jim had a .38. Surely, I thought, (as four shots clapped out in the dusky afternoon), surely Frank hasn’t shot...?

I raced into Jim’s hootch, where Frank stood over a dead snake. Adjacent to the carcass, four bullet holes had ruptured the floor around the unscathed serpent. Then Frank’s ploy played out perfectly, as Jim burst into his room, saw the dead snake and lurched back in terror.

Frank waved his empty pistol. “I shot it for you, Jimbo! Killed a snake, right here in your goddam room!”

Jim stared at Frank. At the snake. Back at Frank. “You son of a...”

“Jeez, you ought’a thank me, Jimbo. You could’a been bit. A snake, man. There might be more of ‘em!” Frank grinned like Satan slithering up the apple tree, and left.

It took Jim perhaps eight seconds to sort it out. He saw the .38-size holes in his floor. Saw the snake’s limp, undamaged body and a black rage bloomed on his face. He snorted, left his room, and went to Frank’s. 

Frank was still enjoying his serpentine coup over his hated rival when Jim entered. Jimbo slipped his .38 from its holster, cocked the pistol and fired four rounds through Frank’s floor. "Bam-Bam-Bam-Bam!"

Frank curled up in a corner. When the echo of gunfire died away, Jim did that ‘whiff the smoke from the barrel’ thing you see in western movies after the bad guy drops. 

Then Jim holstered his pistol, swiveled, and left. He and Frank were even again ... for a while.

Byron Edgington/101st Airborne Ret.

[Excerpt from Chapter 11 of "The Sky Behind Me, A Memoir of Flying and Life" ©2012 Byron Edgington] 

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“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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