Copyright © Grant Leishman
Gingerly, he moved his head to one side. That was his first mistake. He could swear he felt his brain sloshing from one side of his skull to the other and slamming into the hard bone there. He winced in pain and deciding discretion was the better part of valour, gently rolled back to the horizontal position. Risking opening one eye, he shuddered, as the sunlight, sneaking through a crack in the blinds, lanced through his retina. Quickly closing his errant eye, he tried to get his mind to think coherently. Where was he? What the fuck happened last night… and most importantly of all, am I going to die?
Despite the pain, he grinned to himself. Fuck it! I lasted two full tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan without a single scratch on me and here I am lying on the floor, whinging and moaning, about a bloody hangover. “Gunnery Sergeant William Buckley, get your shit together, you worthless piece of crud,” he parroted his old Sergeant Major from Quantico. The memory made him chuckle.
Forcing himself through the pain barrier, he used his arms to push himself upright and steady himself. Slowly looking around, he realised he was in a hotel room of some description. His eyes lit on a naked form, spread-eagled on the floor beside him; none other than his comrade in arms, his erstwhile drinking buddy, and best friend, ex-Private First-Class Rudi Ventor. He and Rudi had been through hell together. They entered the training base at Quantico as raw recruits and total strangers, all those years ago and by the time basic training was complete, they were inseparable. Christ, he thought, I’ve spent more time with Rudi than probably any other person in my life, including Chrissie.
It all started coming back to him now; Chrissie, his fiancé, the love of his life. Shit, they were getting married next week. Last night was one last fling with the boys from his old unit, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. They’d all been out of the Corps for close to five years now, but you know what they say; “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” When Bill and Chrissie had finally decided to take the plunge and tie the knot, after three years together, Rudi had rounded up the lads, who were still around, and promised to organise the Bachelor Party to end all Bachelor Parties.
Bill smiled. Shit, they’d come from all over the country to attend the bash. Scott Roberts from Florida, Chet Meachen from Los Angeles and bloody Fred Savage had even flown back from England to help Bill farewell his freedom. He rubbed his shaved head…it had lived up to Rudi’s billing as well…at least, as much as I can remember of it, he thought. He winced, a little, as he rubbed his forehead. Shit, I must have bumped that, or something, last night; it freaking hurts. He grimaced, well…actually, everything freaking well hurts at the moment.
He heard a rustle of movement as Rudi rolled over and farted loudly. Bill chortled. Dirty prick, he thought. He pulled himself to his feet and hobbled over to the couch on the far side of the suite, gratefully sinking into the deep, comfortable, cushions. Rubbing his chin, he tried to reconstruct the events of the previous evening.
They’d all met up at Denny’s Bar and Grill on Fourth. Chet had insisted they were only allowed to drink shots, all night. “No beers boys!” he had announced cheerfully. “If we’re going to send young William off to the guardhouse for the rest of his natural born days, we’re going out in style. So…shots only and the rule is we can’t double up the shot. It has to be something different each time.” It seemed such a fun idea at the time, but now…? Bill tried to swirl his tongue around his mouth and create some saliva, but all he got in reward was a dusty, feathery, taste. He spat on the carpet and cursed his stupidity for going along with Chet’s crazy idea.
By the time they’d staggered out of Denny’s, none of them could walk an even remotely straight line. They wobbled and wended their way down to Sixth, where they lined up for entry to the compulsory Bachelor Night activity; the strip club. He couldn’t remember much about the strip club at all, he couldn’t even picture the naked girls. Well…that was clearly a damn waste of money, he mused and I didn’t even get to enjoy it. His last cogent memory was being manhandled out of the strip club by a seven foot (at least), three hundred pound, bouncer. He had no idea what he’d done, to warrant such cavalier treatment, but the behemoth had just nonchalantly picked him up by his collar and the seat of his pants and tossed him unceremoniously into the gutter.
Where were my fearless, fucking, buddies, when that was happening? he wondered.
Still…he smiled. It must have been one hell of a party for me to have ended up like this. Idly, he wondered how Chrissie’s bachelorettes party had gone. He bet it wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as theirs had obviously been.
He blinked rapidly to clear his vision. Damn, I need some water and I need to try and wash some of this crustiness out of my eyes. Pushing himself to his feet, he tottered in the direction of what he assumed would be the suite’s bathroom. Turning the light on, he ran the faucet in the sink and splashed water continuously over his face, for about ten seconds. Using the hand towel provided, he wiped away the layers of gunk that had encrusted around his eyes.
Feeling marginally better, he opened his eyes and stared at the haggard face that looked back at him, from the mirror.
“FUCK!” he screamed…”OH MY FUCKING GOD! RUDI, I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU!”
He closed his eyes, shook his head, and willed the vision not to be there; but it was…it just was. Right in the middle of his forehead; there it was, staring back at him, mocking him. Staring back at him, in living Technicolor of gold, blues and reds, was a perfectly formed tattoo of the United States Marine Corps Insignia – Quantico. He stared at it, dumbfounded, willing it to disappear, but it just kept on reflecting back at him.
Spinning around, he hit the bathroom door like a roaring express train and barrelled into the bedroom. Rudi was just beginning to emerge from his cocoon, sitting up and looking around enquiringly. Bill grabbed his naked friend around the neck and hauled him to his feet. “What the fuck have you done to me, you stupid asshole!” he screamed into Rudi’s face, just inches from his nose.
Rudi, who didn’t seem to have quite gathered his bearings yet, grinned sheepishly at him and let out an enormous burp, the smell of pure alcohol knocking Bill back a few inches.
Bill, gestured to his forehead and very slowly, but very forcefully began to speak. “Rudi… what… the… fuck… is… this?”
Rudi grinned; “ahhhh… your tat Bill… you like it? We all got one, you know.” He turned his arm outward so Bill could see the Marine Corps insignia tattooed on the inside of his left bicep.
Bill tried to contain himself. “Sure Rudi… sure… I get it, ha! Cool idea buddy… BUT WHY IS MINE, IN THE MIDDLE OF MY FUCKING FOREHEAD!”
Rudi, stung by the anger in Bill’s voice, pushed him away. “Fuck Bill! You kept insisting you wanted it there. We tried to stop you, but you said that’s where you wanted it. You said, I’m a proud marine and I want to show the world.”
Deflated, Bill sank to the ground and put his head in his hands. “Rudi, I’m a damn investment banker, now. How the hell am I supposed to explain this to my clients… shit Rudi… to my bosses… oh hell… to Chrissie? I’m fucked mate!”
His buddy knelt down beside him and put his arm around his shoulder. “Hey Bill, it’s not all bad buddy. Perhaps you could sign back on as the Unit Mascot… hahaha!”
The red mist descended over Bill’s eyes. Everything he had worked for, everything he and Chrissie had worked toward was destroyed, gone, all because of one drunken night with this bunch of fucking morons. How could they have let me do this? I was so damn drunk; they must have known I wouldn’t want this. Why didn’t they knock me out or something?
He stood up and dragged Rudi to his feet. He looked at his life-long friend and felt like crying. The bastard was still laughing about it, still giggling. All sense of control went from him and before he even knew it, he’d thrown the punch that snapped Rudi’s head back like a rag-doll. Rudi, pole-axed, fell backwards, like a giant tree felled in the forest.
The noise his head made, as it smashed through the glass top of the coffee table, was something that would haunt Bill’s dreams for eternity. In one moment of madness, he had destroyed both their lives. The blood began to spurt immediately. Bill could see a shard of glass embedded deep in Rudi’s neck. His survival training kicked in and he grabbed a sheet lying nearby. Kneeling down, he cradled his body in his arms, pressing the sheet into the gaping wound in Rudi’s neck, trying to stem the flow of blood. Bill had held enough dying soldiers in his arms, over the years, to know an artery had been severed and Rudi would bleed to death very quickly. He knew, all he could do, was stay with his buddy until the end.
Rudi’s eyes fluttered open and he managed a weak grin. The tears were flowing down Bill’s cheeks as he heard Rudi trying to whisper something. “Don’t talk buddy, save your strength. You’ll be okay, help’s on its way.”
Rudi’s lips moved softly, as he mouthed the word “Not…” and then Bill felt the life force depart from his friend. Rudi’s head rolled sideways and Bill laid him gently on the floor, still cradling him, his tears mixing with the expanding pool of crimson blood, on the white carpet.
He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there crying before rationality began to kick in. What am I going to do now? He looked at his friend’s, lifeless, body. “I’m sorry Rudi, but I have to try to make the best out of this awful situation,” he told him. Rudi just lay there and didn’t respond.
Getting to his feet, he looked around and decided the only course of action was to get himself cleaned up and then telephone the paramedics and the police. He’d just say he was asleep when he heard this almighty crash and when he jumped up he found Rudi lying on the floor, dying.
“There was nothing I could do Officer. Rudi must have wanted to pee or something and still drunk he’d tripped and fallen over, smashing into the table.” It sounded plausible, he decided.
Taking one long, last, sorrowful look at his best buddy, he trudged to the bathroom.
Standing in the shower, Bill allowed the stinging, hot water, to take away some of the horrors that was in the next room. He stood and watched as swirls of Rudi’s blood washed off him and spiralled down the drain…reds, blues and golds. RED, BLUES and GOLDS!
He sank to his knees, water cascading over his shoulders, tears coursing down his cheeks.
“Oh my God…not real…it’s not fucking, real…oh God,” he muttered, over and over again.
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