Veteran Mirage

Dennis L. Siluk

"Now that he's alone again—"said Muse Harding.

I stopped short of responding, I really didn't want anything to do with old man Beck. My uncle Jeffery told me the old man was dangerous, that he may not look or act it, but he had kind of one of those—so he called, 'evil eyes.' Oddly I thought it was, for my uncle to regard someone in this fashion, but he knew Muse, and the gang I hung around with was troublesome, and they liked to bully folks around. Mr. Beck, was the new guy on the block, sort of speaking; my uncle got along with him quite well for some peculiar reason though. He came from Chicago I heard (and at one time worked in the Stockyards of South Saint Paul, some twenty years before he moved here), and bought the store down the block, a small store, grocery store. I guess his wife died—she was from Chicago, and he had met her when he was in the Army, and when he got out, moved there with her. My uncle saw a plaque on the wall someplace in the store. WWII, I guess, and told me to take heed of that. But that was a long time ago, it was l965 now, I mean, that was twenty years ago when that picture was taken—someplace over in the jungles in Indonesia. I heard he fought over in Europe someplace also. So my uncle says.

"Frankie, let's go and hassle old man Beck?" I hesitated, but the other two, Sammy and Amble, Muse's girlfriend, all insisted. I liked Amble, she was genuine romance from the word go. When Muse was out of town with his dad fishing, she'd put out for both me and Sammy. She liked sex more than drinking or food, so it seemed. I started to walk toward the store, and all three started to applause me, as if it was a bribe they had to give to enhance my loyalty.

Once in the store Muse looked about, took some potato chips and started to eat them without paying; the old man looked a Muse about ready to say how much he owed, I think, and Muse kicked the potato chip stand so hard they all fell onto the floor. Muse was two hundred and eighty pounds, perhaps 6 foot seven inches; the old man, five foot eight, probably 175 pounds. Then Muse opened up a bottle of Coke and started drinking it. Again the old man was about to say something, but Muse yelled, "Don't open your mouth old man, or I'll close it for you." And the old man looked, stared at Muse as if he was a religious man of some kind, you know a convinced assurance this was not the end of this tribulation, almost a remorseless gleam in his eyes. Then I knew what my uncle was trying to tell me. Threats of hell fire came from his eyes. But Muse and Amble and Sammy didn't' see it that way.

With their knees and hands they tore the place apart, everything was on the floor: bread, tin goods, everything all over the place, short of actually taking money out of the register, the place was robbed of its potential to make a source of revenue for the old man, it was a disaster. I stood aghast. The old man looked at me, a smirk came to his face, and again I was the only one that saw it. His voice alternately hummed in a groan like fashion, utterances more than words. Yet in spite of this, he was calm, too calm for my liking.

"Mr. Beck, I'm sorry," I said quickly, remembering what my uncle said, looking at his war picture he had on the wall, he had some colorful medals by them, not sure what they meant; a star and a heart shaped medal.

Said Muse without ceasing, "Fuck the old man Frankie, I'm going to pound the shit out of him, get out of my way…!" and he grabbed the old man and slapped him several times across the face, but he'd not fight back, nor did he blink an eye, or shed a tear. It kind of struck Muse a bit, as if he was inquisitive why he was so tolerant, but he didn't put two and two together—not yet anyhow. Like my uncle warned me, the evil eye picks it time and place, it has patience, tolerance, temperaments are viewed as distrustful in battle, you got to keep an open clear candle in your mind, and that is what old man Beck was doing.

The portrait of the old man, who owned this store was not good, and wh3n we left I expected to hear from the police, we all did, and Muse had a story for us, that we'd tell them if they questioned us; we all were together playing cards at his house: simple as that. But somehow I had a chilly or overheated heart it would end up being be that way or so simply.

For two weeks I walked past the store, you could see through the windows, the old man just sat in the store looking at the destruction, not fixing anything, mostly staring, and musing. He kept the door locked so no business could come in. Then a few more weeks went by, it was over a month now since the vicious attack on him and his store occurred, and the old man took no pains in fixing anything, but it was on a Monday morning we all saw him come out of his store and put up a 'For Sale', sign. Muse, unimaginative, started to walk over to the old man, across the street, but the old man just kept to himself, nailed the sign up on the store door. Various moments in my life I remember, and I do remember this one quite clear: Muse went to hit the old man, and the police were across the street, Muse had not seen them, and therefore, threw a direct heavy punch at the old man's face, and the old man didn't move. He took the punch, his face now bleeding; he wiped his lips, with the side of his hand, looked at the blood, and tasted it. Harmless you might think, but it shook up Muse. He went to hit him again, and the police came running over, and the potential attack was over.

The old man nodded to the police. "I thank you both, but no need for your assistance, we can settle this quietly." The police were dumbfounded, and thought the old man a bit wacky, but walked away nonetheless. Muse thought for a moment he scared the old man, until the old mans explanation came forth: "Write and let me know how you're doing," the old man's said.

Muse confused said, "Let you know what?"

The man just walked away, waving his hand, nodded his head, brushed against the door as he walked inside his store.

The old man had moved out, and everything was quiet for a long time, perhaps three months. Then various things took place. In the bedrooms of Muse, Sammy and Amble, there were hand writings on their bedroom walls. Rambling descriptions of torments to be, pictures of decapitations; Muse tried to pretend he was not scared, but he was. He knew it was that old man, but didn't know how he had gotten into his house, and then his bedroom. Amble was scared to death and called the police, but the old man was far away, in another state, and the police could do nothing to lower her fear; and Sammy, who never said much about these mysterious happenings, quivered all the time now.

The old man then sent Muse a letter asking him how he was, how the gang was, hoping all was well with them. He even gave his new address so Muse could write back, and now Muse handed it over to the police, but the old man was back in Chicago, and Muse, well he and us in Minnesota, what could we do?

Sammy asked Muse, or better put, made a suggestion we all go to Chicago and do the old man in. But Muse was too scared, and I was not being tormented by him, it was they, so I refused. Sammy did go on his own, bought a gun, and never returned back to Minnesota. No one ever found a trace of him. The police questioned the old man, but all he said was: they had destroyed his property, and yes, Sammy came around, but he kept his doors locked, and would not allow him in, in fear of what might happen. And once his story was checked out—for all knew the story back in Minnesota—the police left well enough alone. But what bothered Muse was, the old man's letters kept coming, and were cheerful. No revenge talk, no alarming words; nothing at all to indicate uneasiness. The disappearance of Sammy did not set well with his parents, but again, what could be done about it? Not a thing.

It was in July of 1966 when it happened. And it happened so quickly, it took a while to put it together. Mr. Beck had climbed up Muse's tree somehow, along side of his house, and opened his second story window, that led into his bedroom: he had cut the whole window right out of its frame. He was not a big man, so he went through it easily. He injected something into Muse's arm and stepped back as Muse jumped out of bed, and fell right back onto it paralyzed. Then the masked man, who we assumed at the time, was Mr. Beck: he had a black bandana covering his face, silently paced the room, and then abruptly, climbed upon the bed, next to the huge Muse. Tears were now coming out of Muse's eye lids. Tangled inside his own body and not able to unfasten his muscles to save himself; but the old man had no intentions of killing him. The old man pulled out a butcher's knife, one for slicing bacon backs, and cutting the tendons in the back of a pigs foot, hanging from—and coming down, the conveyer belt at a slaughterhouse; in addition, he had used it to cut out the infected parts deep imbedded inside the ham pieces of the fleshly pigs, used at the stockyards in South Saint Paul (sometimes he was even told to leave the infection be, if they noticed him cutting too much out) and, where he once worked.

Now the old man grabbed the youth's hand, the one he had been hit with, slapped with, his right wrist was now being surveyed, and in the clap of an eye, he had cut it completely off with a sweep. Muse's eyes almost popped out of his sockets. Then he cut out his tongue out, and left as quickly as he had come in.

That very same night, he snuck over to Amble's house, into her room, and there he cut her foot off, the one she kicked his food with, the very one that kicked all the food onto the floor.

Everyone seemed to know who dune it, especially the victims and their parents, but the old man simply said it was a mirage on their behalf, he had left well enough alone, plus, there was no proof to that anyhow, only cleaver guesses, and guesses that were pretty right on

[4/2005] How do I know this to tell the story to you, well, my Uncle told me the parts I didn't already know, and old man Beck was my uncle's commanding officer in the war…something he forgot to let me know until after the incident? My sense of duty, to my uncle was to say nothing to anyone, and so I didn't, I mean, I didn't until now, some forty years after the fact. My uncle and old man Beck are dead now—the old man died in 1974 and my uncle in 2003; so I can now let the world know. Muse is still alive so if he reads this, he will know, and so is the once lovely Amble (her nickname we made up for her), whose real name is Marybell; sorry I couldn't have told you sooner

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