This arti­cle is part 1 of 8 in the series The Hague Massage

My name is Michael Tate.

Following a recent trip to Cincinnati where I car­ried out an assas­si­na­tion, (well-deserved, I thought) life here on the farm has been quiet.

It is now the height of sum­mer, dry and hot and there are few things that require doing as the tobac­co is grow­ing its way to har­vest in the fall and the grass is grow­ing too slow­ly to require cut­ting for hay right now.

Marian, the mail lady, has retired and her place has been tak­en by a younger lady who has not yet become suf­fi­cient­ly acquaint­ed with the peo­ple on her route to engage much in con­ver­sa­tion if she hap­pens to be drop­ping the mail at the same time that the recip­i­ent is near the mail­box.  She’ll warm up soon enough as the peo­ple here­abouts are awful­ly dif­fi­cult not to get to know… and like.

John Nash still waves when­ev­er I’m out­side and he hap­pens to be pass­ing in his truck, which is now a brand new gold-col­ored Ford F‑250 and has just pulled into the driveway.

John occa­sion­al­ly stops by and shares a cup of cof­fee.  I think he is some­times try­ing to be over­ly friend­ly as his way of con­tin­u­ing to say thanks for the lit­tle job I did for him in Cincy. He also appar­ent­ly knows that there is always a pot of cof­fee handy, even if I have to heat it in the microwave to get it to a decent, drink­able tem­per­a­ture.  John likes his cof­fee hot as do I, which is why I almost always drink mine from an insu­lat­ed cup, to keep the heat as long as pos­si­ble.  Guess that’s why I usu­al­ly order iced tea when din­ing out because restau­rant cof­fee served in ceram­ic cups always seems to get luke­warm way too quick­ly.  And John and I both drink our cof­fee black with­out the accou­ter­ments of sug­ar or cream.  It seems almost sac­ri­le­gious to add such items to a cup of cof­fee when there are so many types of cof­fee avail­able to sam­ple.  I once asked John if he would like some amaret­to cof­fee and I thought he might phys­i­cal­ly attack me for even sug­gest­ing such a thing.

John is a good man and a good neigh­bor.  I dare­say that I could ask almost any­thing of him and he would do it with­out thinking.

During this vis­it, he felt com­fort­able enough to reveal to me the event in Vietnam which caused so many sub­se­quent prob­lems for him, prob­lems which most­ly end­ed after my trip to Cincinnati.

“Michael, I’ll nev­er be able to repay you for the Cincinnati deal, but I want­ed you to know what Wegner was black­mail­ing me over.  I think you’ve earned the right even though I’ve nev­er told even my wife the whole story.

“In Vietnam, I was a mem­ber of a pla­toon which had just under­gone and sur­vived a VC  encounter dur­ing which eight mem­bers of the pla­toon had been killed and anoth­er 13 wound­ed.  I got through the fight most­ly unscathed, but all of us were boil­ing mad over our loss­es.  What was left of the pla­toon, haul­ing our wound­ed and dead with us, entered a near­by vil­lage where we round­ed up five men of the vil­lage who we sus­pect­ed of being inform­ers for the VC.  The five were being inter­ro­gat­ed by the senior mem­ber of the pla­toon, a staff sergeant.  The pla­toon leader, a lieu­tenant, had been one of those killed in the skirmish.

“The five vil­lagers, each of whom was bound with cable ties and kneel­ing on the ground dur­ing the inter­ro­ga­tion, were appar­ent­ly reluc­tant to answer any of the ques­tions being put to them.  “Finally, the sergeant told five of us to stand in front of the kneel­ing men, one-to-one and he ordered us to shoot the man in front of us in the head.  I was one of those five sol­diers.  I was sub­se­quent­ly court-mar­tialed, found guilty of the charges against me, and giv­en a gen­er­al dis­charge — which ham­pered my abil­i­ty to find a mean­ing­ful job after I was shipped home.  I have nev­er been able to live down the shame of gun­ning down civil­ians, inno­cent or not, and the court mar­tial.  Wegner threat­ened to let all this out, not only to my wife but to my employ­er as well.

“I’m afraid that if Rachel knew, it would destroy our marriage.”

I nat­u­ral­ly told him that they would nev­er hear it from me.

After the cof­fee, John claimed he need­ed to get on home and I walked him out to his truck.  As he pulled out of the dri­ve­way, I noticed that LeAnn, the new mail car­ri­er was pulling up.  She saw me approach­ing and called out, “Afternoon, Mr. Tate.  Got anoth­er hot one today.”

LeAnn had not yet become com­fort­able at sim­ply address­ing me by ‘Michael’.  I waved as I came closer.

“LeAnn, I sure wish you’d call me Michael,” I said, smil­ing.  “Calling me  ‘Mr. Tate’ sure makes me feel old.”

“Reckon I’ll get used to that even­tu­al­ly, Mr., uh, Michael,” she respond­ed.  “Bear with me.”

“I’ll have to agree with you about the weath­er,” I con­tin­ued.  “Guess you have to expect that in July in Kentucky.”

“Guess so,” she replied.  “But I sure wish we’d get some rain.  Looks like your tobac­co could use a good soak­ing too.”

“Yeah, but I let Nelson wor­ry about that.  After all, he gets all the prof­it from it.  I guess he’s seen enough sum­mers to know whether the crop is going to be a good one or to sur­vive a dry spell.”

Nelson is my next-door neigh­bor and takes care of all the crops on the place since I’ve nev­er adapt­ed to being a real farmer.

LeAnn hand­ed me a small bun­dle of mail and said “Guess so.  Well, you have a good day,” as she slow­ly pulled away.

“You, too,” I half-shout­ed as the sound of the mail truck began to drown out my words.

The mail pack­age con­tained sev­er­al bills and adver­tise­ments from region­al depart­ment stores, the week­ly super­mar­ket fly­er, and an enve­lope with a return address of 1301 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63103.

It was only lat­er that I dis­cov­ered that this address was the main library in St. Louis, but let­ters with no name attached to the return address usu­al­ly meant a com­mis­sion for a job.

This one proved to be no different.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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