30 August 2019 version
The little bell on the front door of the small country café jingled. The young woman café owner and the girl on the counter moved closer to the door to the back room, ready to flee. The three mid-teen schoolgirls sitting at a table in the back of the customer area looked up, and the face of the youngest went white while her fear showed. She turned and checked for a way out, even though she knew there wasn’t one. An old man was sitting at the next table toward the front door, he saw the girls’ reaction and he turned to see what caused it.
He saw six young men who’d just walked into the little country café. They looked like trouble that just found what they wanted. They all looked to be eighteen to twenty years old with dirty shoulder length hair and mean expressions. Their clothes were dirty and cheap, except for the headbands they wore. They all had the same headband and it was clean. Their boots were cheap and looked like they’d never been washed or polished since they were purchased. They swaggered while they moved down the café. Their leader said, “There you are, bitch. I told you to be at the club house an hour ago for your initiation fucking by the members. Now you get to be fucked by the dogs as well, and all on film for selling.”
The youngest girl, gulped, and said, “I told you I never wanted to be in your club. I never asked or had anything to do with your people.”
“What you want has nothing to do with it, bitch. We want you, and we’ll have you. I think we’ll take your two friends as extra fun too.”
The old man stood and turned to face the young men. He had a bent back and only stood as tall as the chin of the shortest of the young men, their leader. The old man limped when he moved into the middle of the path beside the tables. He smiled and said, “Go home, kid.”
Everyone looked at the old man in his worn out cheap clothes. He was well known around town and all called him Gramps. One young kid called him that when he first arrived in town, ten years ago. He looked old then and he now looked ancient. They all knew he was retired, had been for years, and he lived on a meager pension. But no one knew where the pension came from or what he used to do for work.
The lead youth laughed when he pulled a flick knife out of his pocket and opened it. “You’re dead, old man.” He moved forward while the rest of his pack pulled out knives and followed him. The café owner was shocked when the old man smiled as his only response.
The leader of the young men reached the old man and swung his knife to stab him. The old man belied his age while he moved fast to avoid the blade. He swung his left arm down to knock the knife aside and his right arm moved toward the youth’s head. All heard the snap as the young man’s head was thrown backward. The old man grabbed the youth’s arm and pulled to the left when he stepped past the falling body. All were shocked by the action since it wasn’t like what they expected.
The old man was now among the youths and a blur of action. He was so fast none of the witnesses could see what happened, except the youths kept falling down. One went crashing back into the front doors. The sound made the other ten youths waiting outside turn and charge into the café, drawing knives and pistols while they ran.
The old man had hold of the last of the first group of youths when the rest entered the café. He held the youth in front of him while he took the pistol out of the youth’s belt and pointed it at the rest of the gang. The old man yelled out, “Girls, hit the floor.” They all slid off their chairs and hit the floor. They weren’t quite all the way down when the sound of gunfire filled the café.
The shooting ended and the girls looked up, no one was standing. The café owner had already phoned for the police and ambulance. The youngest girl stood up and looked at the mess in the café. She went to where gramps was lying and was surprised to see he was still alive.
He looked up and he saw her. He smiled at her and reached for her hand, squeezing it when she moved close enough for him to take it. He said, “Tell them I did it. I held the line against the enemy. As I swore, I fought all enemies, foreign and domestic.” With that he coughed and sighed. His head rolled to the side and his hand went slack when he died. She sat there and cried while she continued to hold his hand.
Sirens sounded. Car tires screeched. Car doors slammed. Running feet were heard to enter the café. The girl didn’t look up until she heard a voice say, “Shit, Sheriff, it’s a massacre in here. Better get the coroner over here.” She looked up and she saw a Sheriff’s Deputy standing in the doorway while he looked at the bodies that littered the café.
Deputy Jackson looked at the mess and spotted the girl beside the old man. He wasn’t happy with the lack of expression on her face. He was sure she was in extreme shock so he went to her and he was very gentle when he took the dead man’s hand out of hers. He didn’t want her to have to walk out through the blood on the floor so he picked her up and carried her out to the ambulances parked in the road.
He handed her over to one of the ambulance crew and said, “I think she’s in shock. There’s another two like her inside. I’ll bring them out to you.” The paramedic nodded and took the girl from him. He took her to his ambulance while the deputy went back into the café. Deputy Jackson took only a few minutes to carry out other girls, the owner, and the girl who worked the counter. The paramedics treated them all for shock.
The sheriff’s forensic person turned up just as the county coroner arrived. Both groups entered the café together. The coroner checked and declared each one dead and the forensic person started processing the crime scene. It took a long time to do it all and clear the bodies out.
Who Is He?
Sheriff James sat at his desk, swearing when he listened to the radio call for assistance at the County Café as he was surprised at a call from there since it had always been so calm and quiet. It was located at the wrong end of the town’s business district and got only enough business to stay open with most of it from the local farmers stopping for a chat on the way in or out of town. The town never had much business, and even less in the slowed economic climate. If not for the high turnover at the truck stop and tavern at the highway exit five miles out of town the county would be bankrupt. Those two operations were all that kept the town alive. But they came at the cost of being almost the only need for a County Sheriff’s Office as over ninety-five percent of all calls came from the highway stop. So many calls the duty vehicle parked behind the truck stop to make it easier and faster to answer calls. But eighteen months ago that changed, and now half of the calls came from in town.
Eighteen months ago a group of several rough looking young men moved into town and they wasted no time in recruiting all of the bad boys and layabouts in the county. They’d been busy trying to take over full control of the town since. No one knew why they picked the town and no one liked it, but there was little that could be done until they were caught in the act of committing a major crime. The members of the gang were easy to spot because they all wore a headband with a symbol that looked like the Nazi cross but distorted and tipped over at an angle.
It worried the Sheriff that a call came in from the café at the end of town furthest from the highway as that could only be trouble with the gang of young hoods. What worried him most was he couldn’t leave the office due to his left leg being in a cast. It had been broken when his car was run off the road by someone in a stolen car. The matter was still being investigated, but he was sure it was one of the gang as he’d been on their back investigating the beating of a farmer on the edge of town.
It only took a few minutes for the first car to arrive at the scene, but it was a worrying time. Deputy Jackson was first at the scene. That was good news as being an ex-soldier he could handle anything the gang could dish out. Also, he was one of the few who always wore his armor.
James was now very worried because Jackson was just on the scene and he radioed in, “Shit, Sheriff, it’s a massacre in here. Better get the coroner over here.” James wasted no time asking questions. He could tell from the tone of Jackson’s voice it was all over except the clean up. James turned from the radio to his desk, picked up the phone, and called for the coroner. He called his only Crime Scene Investigator and sent her over. He also called the state police to have them send their people as well. Then he had to sit and wait until someone told him something.
Several minutes later Jackson called in and briefed him on the case. The only good news being sixteen of the nineteen young hoods were dead, and that included the original group who started the gang. The bad news was the death of the old man. The Crime Scene Investigator gave Jackson the old man’s pocket contents when they took the body to the morgue. Not much in there: just a few notes, some coins, and some bills for his house over on Cedar Road. No driver’s license or other common forms of identification, not even a credit card or any bank details. The bills were in the name of Johnny Reb so the sheriff entered it into his computer and he got the expected results. No record in the state database of such a legal name, just a few as nicknames. But none were of the right age. After a few more key strokes the search request was extended to the federal computers. He radioed Jackson to get fingerprints, a DNA sample, and to check the man’s house for anything to help identify him.
Almost two hours later Jackson walked in and handed over the card with the fingerprints and the plastic bags with DNA samples. He sat down and said, “Everything I can find in the house says Johnny Reb. I did find some letters from Benson, the lawyer. I went there and found out some lawyer in Washington paid him to pay the bills and give the old man cash when he wanted some. Benson kept records and sent an account once a month. No phone numbers, just a mail box. But a fair sized retainer in trust, so he’s not worried. He’s written off to get new instructions and information for a funeral. It should be a few days before he gets a reply.” James put the DNA stuff in the special box they had for sending stuff off to the State Police and FBI labs. He scanned the fingerprints and put them in the system as a John Doe ID request. That was all they could do, so they closed the file - for the moment.
Three days after the big fight in the café Sheriff James was in his office checking the monthly report for the County Commissioners when his door opened and someone walked in. He looked up and saw two men in military fatigues. He said, “Afternoon, gentlemen, what can I do for you?” He looked them over while speaking. He’s surprised to notice the collar insignia of one was three stars and he wondered what a General wanted in this town. Then he saw they had USMC insignia and that cleared away all his previous thoughts about the Army wanting to conduct exercises in the area, something they did now and then.
The General said, “Afternoon, Sheriff, I believe you have a John Doe corpse you need identified! We’d like a look at it, please.” He sounded nice, but the tone had command orders all the way through it.
James rolled his wheelchair over to the radio and called for Jackson to come to the office. He turned back to the men and said, “I broke my leg a few weeks back so I’m not allowed out of the office. I’m just glad the doc let me out of the hospital at all. Deputy Jackson will be here in a few minutes to take you to the morgue. Want a drink while you wait?”
Both the General and the Master Gunnery Sergeant declined, and the two men sat down to wait for their guide. James shrugged and went back to checking the report. A few minutes later the door opened to let in Jackson. When he went to make the introductions James realized his visitors hadn’t introduced themselves. He smiled and said, “General, this is Deputy Sheriff Jackson. He’ll show you where the morgue is and will help you identify the man, if you can. He’ll also note the details for our records.” He was about to say something else when the General smiled and waved his thanks while he headed for the door. James smiled at them and waved Jackson out after them. For a few minutes he sat there and wondered just what was happening.
Jackson parked outside the basement entrance to the small morgue under the little county hospital. The sedan in military colors parked beside his car and they all got out of the cars. He noticed the General had a file in his hand when he got out, which was odd. He led them into the morgue and he rang the bell for an orderly to help them.
A little later Jackson said to the orderly, “Which drawer has Gramps in it?” The orderly went to the bank of drawers and pulled out number six. The three men gathered around the sheet covered body and the orderly turned the sheet back to show the face. Jackson kept a close watch on the two military men.
The General looked down at the face and he turned to the Sergeant. He gave a small nod yes and lifted the sheet to look at the left arm. They both gave it a brief look over then moved around to look at the right knee. The General opened the file and examined a photo while he examined the knee. After a few minutes they both nodded to each other.
The General turned and walked out the door, he took out his mobile phone while he walked. The Sergeant turned to Jackson and said, “Deputy, that’s Johnny Reb, a Marine who’ll be sadly missed. His full name is Master Gunnery Sergeant Rudolph Eugene Brooks, a beached Marine. No one knows when or where he got the nickname or why, but all who knew him called him by his nickname of Johnny Reb. We’ll arrange for his transfer and burial in Arlington.”
Jackson looked up at the last sentence. In a very cold voice he said, “You aren’t taking that man anywhere. If you want to steal him from us you better go and get the entire Marine Corps to help you. And you better be ready for a fight when you come back. He’s part of this town now, and we aren’t letting him go without a fight.”
The Sergeant backed up at the cold venom in the deputy’s voice. He was stunned by the response. He shook his head and said, “But you didn’t even know his name or his past, why are you so determined he stays here?”
“He arrived about ten years ago and started hanging out around the town. He helped people when they needed it and he asked for nothing in return. He became a part of this town, and he has been for the last ten years. The kids started calling him Gramps and he liked it, so it stuck. That’s all he ever wanted us to call him so that’s all we called him. We don’t push our noses into other people’s affairs so we didn’t. We now need his legal name so we can put it on the headstone. We’re taking up a collection to pay for his funeral. He lived with us and he died for us; he stays here.” The Sergeant stood and looked at Jackson for a few minutes, then turned, went out, and spoke to the General. He returned and thanked Jackson for his help before he left. Jackson waited until they left before going to his car and back to his patrol. He called the Sheriff with the details of what was said at the morgue.
After a short talk, and another phone call, the two Marines drove off in their car.
The Sheriff’s Office
The General walked into the Sheriff’s office and was about to speak when James held out a photocopy of the file on the fight at the café. He gave James an odd look, only to be told, “In a small country town a man with the family name of James and parents who thinks it’s funny to call him Jim, he soon learns to think ahead.” The General gave a smile in return and slowly nodded while he read the file.
After reading the file he handed it to the Sergeant and said, “OK, I can see why you want to keep him. And all before you knew who you had. So we’ll let him stay. But we’re giving him a Marine burial.”
James nodded, “Yeah, that’s OK. Why the big interest by you?”
“Johnny Reb was well known after a lifetime of active service. We’ve missed him since he went inactive back in the late eighties, medical grounds. His many wounds and injuries caught up with him and he failed his annual physical. After leaving base he vanished, since then we’ve been looking for him for about twenty years. But he knew how to hide, and did so. We also went looking for his wife in the hope he was nearby. But she vanished in the late sixties. The report said she was pregnant when she filed for divorce. But that’s all we had, and nothing since. He has some cousins still living near where he was born, but they’ve not seen him since he left to join the Marines at eighteen. We checked, anyway, and he wasn’t up there. Now we’ve found him we wanted him back. You still need him here, so we’ll leave him be.” James nodded yes and the General turned to leave. In the doorway he turned back, “I’ll have someone contact you about organizing the funeral. Is the Saturday after this coming one going to be OK with your coroner?”
James smiled, “If it wasn’t, it will be, now.” The General smiled and nodded to James. The General left, followed by his Sergeant.
Of Mice and Men
The Saturday after the visit by the General a young girl, Jan Hollings, visited her grandmother with her father; her mother had died in an accident several years earlier. Jan and her father lived and worked in town, but her grandmother lived on the family farm with Jan’s two uncles. The farm was about fifteen miles out of town.
Jan said, “Gran, I’m sorry, but we won’t be out to visit you next Saturday because we’ll be attending the funeral of Gramps, I knew him better than most and I have to say goodbye.” The old lady smiled and nodded. She accepted her granddaughter needed to say goodbye to this man she’d known in town, like many of the children did. The three girls at the café had been asked to stand for his family and were her friends.
Jan’s father, Peter Hollings, said, “Oh, have you heard, they know his real name. He’s a retired Marine, Master Gunnery Sergeant Rudolph Eugene Brooks, also known as Johnny Reb.” He stopped talking when his mother-in-law’s face went white. He was very concerned and he asked, “What’s wrong, Ma White?”
She gulped and replied, “I once knew a Marine Corporal Rudy Brooks and his nickname was Yonee Reb. I’ve got to go to see if it’s him. You better take me into town, now while it’s on our minds.”
They all got up, got in the car, and drove into town.
The Funeral Home
They arrived at the funeral home and found a Marine Honor Guard on duty around the casket. They joined the line of Marines waiting to view the body, then they made their slow way forward when the line moved. Several minutes later the small family group reached the casket. They looked odd because the rest of the line today were off-duty Marines. The majority of the townspeople had been by yesterday.
Ma White looked down at the body and shook her head real slow. She stood there for a few minutes and she gave the body a close look all over, even gave a small wry smile when she noticed the wedding ring on his left hand. She looked up at a Gunnery Sergeant standing behind the coffin and asked, “What are those medals, Sergeant?”
He gave a small smile while he said, “Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Bronze Star, Ma’am. Johnny Reb was a real hero, Ma’am, and always there to help those who needed him.”