His name was Buck and he was built like a gorilla. It wasn’t an affectionate description, nor a term of endearment. It wasn’t that he looked particularly simian, it was his long arms. Had they been thin they would have been called gangly, they were not.
Those arms were connected to a body that resembled a fireplug and to a brutish looking face. Dark eyes hid behind thick black eyebrows and a nose that resembled a pear.
He would never be called pretty, handsome or complimented for his looks. But neither would he ever be teased as it was apparent to even the animals that he was not to be trifled with. It was one of the things that set him apart.
Dogs avoided him. Big dogs, little dogs, Rottweiler, Pit Bull, Schnauzer, it didn’t matter, they stayed away from him, as if they could sense the violence that lay just beneath the surface.
Tom had seen it surface a couple of times. They had finished their shifts and walked over to a local bar for a beer. A couple of locals had the misfortune of poor judgment. He had sneezed and knocked over their pitcher of beer. They immediately began berating him and when he didn’t respond they grew more aggressive.
They mistook his inactivity for fear or who knows what. Had they looked more closely they would have noticed that his large hands were scarred and callused. A person doesn’t get those marks, they earn them. And those that earn them have a certain something that they bring to the party.
Tom was surprised, really shocked was more like it with the speed at which things happened. The man closest to Buck grabbed his collar and demanded that he spring for a new pitcher of beer. One moment he was standing in front of Buck, hands wrapped in the collar of a dirty blue jumpsuit and the next he was writhing in pain on the ground, one arm dangling uselessly from his body.
The second man didn’t have time to do anything before Buck and picked him up and slammed him face first on the floor like a cheap rag doll. The only saving grace for him was that the impact knocked him senseless, would that his sense would have flitted over to the first man.
If it had he might have lay still. He didn’t, opting to grab Buck’s leg. Perhaps he did so unconsciously, perhaps not. It doesn’t matter what the reason was, because Buck fixed his arm so that there was a question of whether he would ever be able to feed himself again.
Tom looked at his watch. It was 5:37, their shift had ended at 5:30. It had taken at least five minutes to leave the plant and walk to the bar. How did this happen so quickly and what was he supposed to do now.
Buck was a bit of an enigma to Tom. The fury with which he had dispatched the two men has dissipated into the ether. It was as if it had never happened. The only sign of his anger were the broken bodies of the two men and a couple of rivulets of sweat upon his brow.
Beyond that it was hard to determine if anything unusual had happened. He wasn’t breathing hard and his behavior had reverted back to the passive state in which most people usually saw Buck. Tom knew that this wasn’t what most people considered normal behavior, but he also knew that Buck had not gone looking for trouble, it had found him. And he also knew if they stayed there until the police came Buck’s trouble would include Tom and he wasn’t willing to let that happen.
So he grabbed Buck by the arm, taking care to make sure that Buck saw that it was him and not some stranger and suggested that they leave. And so they did, their progress was unimpeded by the other patrons of the bar. They were not people who had a great love for the police, but they were people who appreciated having two functional arms and after what they had just witnessed no one dared to challenge their departure.
Back on the street Tom considered what he knew about Buck. When Tom began working at the plant Buck was a Chief Machinist. Not that the “chief” part of the title meant anything, but in the 10 years since Tom had begun working at the plant he had yet to meet another Chief Machinist. Nor had he met any other machinists besides himself.
It was kind of queer. There was room for at least another three full time men, plenty of work to go around. Best of his knowledge the company was making money, so it seemed strange to him. But he had learned not to ask questions, what another man did was his business and it was best to stick with people of the same pay grade as your own.
What he did know was that Buck never missed a day of work. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t take vacations either. He came to work and he did what he had to do. But that still didn’t tell the story. He was fast at his work, but not in a flashy way. His speed was deceptive, he always appeared to be moving at half speed, yet his production was faster than Tom and error free. And as Tom had heard, Buck had worn out at least three other machinists.
Each one had tried to match his production and precision, but none could.
Tom didn’t know this because of Buck, you could say that he knew it in spite of Buck.
Buck didn’t speak much and when he did it never was about his work and rarely ever about himself. Most of the other employees at the plant avoided interacting with Buck, he had a look about him that made people second guess themselves, double check their self-confidence. The thing was that Buck didn’t try to make anyone feel anything, the feelings were just a response to Buck. It was part of who he was.
During the first few years Buck didn’t say a word to Tom. The only way he knew that Buck was even aware of him would be when Buck came to his position to exchange a part or check the inventory terminal.
Clad in blue coveralls and safety glasses he would shuffle over and sniff around for whatever it was he needed. Tom knew that it was a little unfair to describe Buck in terms best used for a bear or gorilla, but it was hard not to. Buck had repeatedly demonstrated that he was abnormally strong and while he may have shuffled while he walked it was deceptive. He was fast and agile, his movements were actually measured and precise.
Old Buck didn’t waste energy with unnecessary movement or gestures.
Tom knew that Buck wasn’t stupid, knew that those things that people said about him were not true. He couldn’t say how he knew this, it wasn’t instinct or an innate ability to read people. It could have been just a lucky guess or the application of the fortune from last night’s cookie from the Mandarin Dish.
Did it matter? Was there anything to be gained from this. Probably not. Tom was smart enough to recognize that brains didn’t mean that you had any common sense. More often than not the smart people got themselves into trouble because their egos made them think that they knew more than everyone else.
What it was, what it was that intrigued Tom was knowing that there was more to the company’s resident boogieman. He had always enjoyed mysteries and Buck was one hell of a mystery. If this was a movie he would find out that he had become friendly with the town’s axe murderer or the kind but misunderstood giant.
He took a deep breath because he could feel his mind racing. When he got excited like this it always moved like one of the spaceships in the science-fiction movies he liked to watch, it just jumped about at hyperspeed.
What confused him about Buck were the contradictions. Back in his high school football days his coach had encouraged his players to “bring the hammer down” on the opposing team. He realized that until tonight he hadn’t really understood what that meant. Buck hadn’t brought the hammer down, he had taken the whole toolset out and worked those two guys in the bar with it.
The thing that intrigued him, that scared him and frankly titillated his senses was that Buck hadn’t broken a sweat. He had acted like this was a commonplace occurrence, as if maiming two men was not a big deal. And then he hadn’t even made a move to leave the bar. If Tom hadn’t hustled him out of there he might still be there or be wearing cufflinks, the kind that the police stick on your wrists.
Someone who acted that way had to be a little crazy or maybe they no longer cared what happened to them. Tom knew that at some point Buck had been married, maybe even a father. Every now and then he had dropped hints of this past life into their conversations, but he never gave much in the way of details and Tom was afraid to ask.
A couple of months ago he had Buck over to his place for a summer barbecue. In truth one of the reasons for the invitation was in the hope that he might reciprocate. Tom was dying to see what Buck’s home looked like.
Some of the guys at the plant said that they figured it would be a meat locker in which there hung multiple slabs of raw flesh. It almost was believable, especially given the way in which Buck had acted. But again Tom reminded himself that this could not be the case. It didn’t fit his gut intuition. Tom smiled at the thought and rubbed his belly, the gut had rarely been wrong. It was a finely tuned instrument.
The thing to do was to just ask, to just come out and ask Buck a few questions about his past. He had earned the right to do so, hadn’t he. Hadn’t he helped get him out of the fix that he would most certainly have been in. Maybe yes, and maybe no. He made a mental note to be sure to be out of arm’s reach when he did ask him. Just in case. Buck wouldn’t hurt him for asking a question or two, would he.
In the interim he would walk back to the plant with him and pretend that he was going home to something more exciting, to someone special. Maybe that girl from the new television show could help put him to sleep tonight. Maybe she had a thing for a man who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, someone who could fix a broken sink or build a fence. Yes, that sounded like a fine idea.
Buck Was A Soldier
Once upon a time there was a man boy named Buck. He was like other boys in that he loved to build with blocks, to play cops and robbers, to ride his bike and to collect bugs and get into all manner of trouble.
In short Buck was like every other ten year-old boy in all ways. Well, almost all ways. When Buck was eight he watched his mother and father die in front of him. They were robbed on a street corner. For less than twenty dollars a man stole their lives and profoundly influenced an impressionable little boy.
At first Buck went to live with his grandparents. He was happy there and for a time it began to appear as if the chaos that his life had been thrown into would be erased. His grandfather still worked as an accountant and his grandmother continued to be a housewife. In many ways it was very similar to the life he had been living with his parent.
But life has a way of not allowing you to grow too comfortable. Become too happy and some supreme being decides that you are ready to be tested or messed with. It doesn’t really matter why, all that matters is that it happens and you have to act or react to it.
In Buck’s case the second great tragedy of his life came when his grandmother had a heart attack and died. It was a natural death, she was 74 years-old. Buck sobbed through her funeral and alongside his grandfather he enjoyed a very somber ride back to the house. While in the Hearse his grandfather explained that it was time for him to grow up and that this would be the last time he could cry in public. If he wanted to be a man he needed to show the world that he was tough. From now on he had to be a soldier, he had to be like G.I. Joe.
And that meant that he had to listen to the orders of the General and there was no misunderstanding who the general was or why he was in charge. Before his grandmother had died he would come home to a warm house in which someone was glad to see him and interested in his day. Not to mention the many occasions in which she surprised him by having baked cookies. The house always smelled great and years later the smell of fresh baked cookies would always make him think of his grandmother.
Now he returned to an empty home. It was dark and uninviting, a cold home that had once held so much warmth. Buck couldn’t blame his grandfather, it wasn’t like he didn’t speak to him or act uninterested in his life. Grandfather was always careful to inquire about school, to offer his assistance and to try and be a father. But in the best of times he had as much warmth as a porcupine and so it was that a little boy in dire need of affection never really got what he was looking for and so desperately needed.
Time passed and the months turned into years. Buck was no longer just a boy, not in any sense of the word. By the time he was fourteen he had grown into a very solid young man, while not very tall he was quite broad and quite strong. Not to mention that he had a very heavy beard and dark hair peppered his chest. And so it came as no surprise to anyone who knew his story that he found himself getting into trouble.
His grandfather still worked an eight hour day, but it was becoming clear that he would not be able to keep that up for much longer. The death of his wife had aged him as had taking on the responsibility of raising a child. Still grandfather kept on moving. He didn’t know any way to live other than how he had for years. So he trudged into his office and in darkness he returned home.
It was an autumn day when life punched Buck in the mouth again. There was a chill in the air and grandfather had decided to split some wood. It was one of the simple pleasures in life he took. He would tell Buck that there was nothing more rewarding for a man than working with his hands.
Out in the crisp clean air he pulled on his gloves and began to prepare firewood to be used on the colder nights. He hadn’t been working very hard or for very long when his heart gave out. Grandfather died of a massive heart attack. Again it was a natural death, at the ripe old age of 83 he left the world and went to wherever the body and soul go after death.
Buck was 17. At the funeral he remembered his grandfather’s words and like a good soldier he shed no tears.
A Soldier Follows Orders
Buck found himself standing next to an open casket, his grandfather lay before him. He was clad in a black suit. A cigar was in his coat pocket and his arms were laid out alongside the body. Whoever had prepared him had taken the time to add a little color to his cheeks. It was done to make the body look less dead but there is a reason that corpses are described as being pallid and once the light is extinguished it is gone for good.
After a few moments the director of the home quietly interrupted Buck and asked him if he expected any more family members to arrive. A short nod was all it took to indicate that Buck was it. Outside in the chapel there were only a handful of people there to bare witness to the interment of Buck’s grandfather. None of them came back to the house and only one or two of them spoke with Buck. It wasn’t clear if they were trying to be courteous or considerate of privacy. But it was very clear to Buck that he was finally completely alone.
The house was paid for and as the sole heir the title was given to Buck as was a very modest inheritance. It wasn’t much, but it was enough money to cover his needs for a short while, especially given his Spartan lifestyle. Many teenagers in similar circumstances have found it to be overwhelming, not Buck. For all intents and purposes he had been living on his own since the death of his grandmother, if not his parents. So he had become accustomed to solitude and had long since developed a tremendous work ethic.
The combination made it easy for him to adjust to his circumstances. In fact, he preferred to be by himself. Crowds and large numbers of people made him uncomfortable. He didn’t enjoy small talk and if forced to socialize would find a corner of the room in which he would sit quietly, dark eyes impenetrable but observant.
A short time after his grandfather’s death Buck received a letter from the local draft board informing him that Uncle Sam was ready to receive him as the newest member of the armed forces. In some ways this was one of the best things that could have happened to Buck. He hadn’t been much of a student and did not have any ideas on what kind of profession he was interested in.
Military life suited Buck. He liked the discipline and the sense of purpose it gave him. He made it through basic training without any major issues and in time was shipped overseas where it became apparent that if he had been a man of faith he either would have lost it completely or become a devout zealot.
Thanks to shithouse luck Buck had become acquainted with death at a young age, but it wasn’t until his squad inadvertently stumbled upon an enemy encampment that Buck learned about death first hand. If you were to ask the survivors how it all happened none of them could tell you how, but they could answer the what, at least when it came to Buck.
People react differently during moments of trauma and great stress. Here is what we know about Buck. The expression on his face hardly changed. Bullets were flying and he looked like he was playing poker. While returning fire his rifle jammed, but he remained nonplussed by it. There are stories of men who during moments like this charge the enemy in a suicidal rage determined to take as many out as they can.
Buck got up and just began walking towards the men who were firing at him. His steps were measure and with purpose. It was clear to those who saw him that this was not battle fatigue or a manifestation of a mental breakdown. He knew what he was doing. Somehow he got to the other side without being hit. This is the point at which the stories of the other men conflict with each other.
Some say that he grabbed an enemy soldier and cut his throat. Others say that he beat him to death with his rifle. The one thing that they all agree upon is that Buck killed a man and then took a moment to remove the head from the body and he did it without a smile, a grunt or any indication that he felt anything at all.
When asked about it later he had refused to discuss it and so no one really knew why he had done it, just that he had.