I come awake suddenly from an execrable nightmare. The light is seeping from the curtains and i realize i’m in a private room in the infirmary. I start to get up but find i am in four point restraints. I yell and cuss until this black boy about 20 looks in the door. I am enraged and say, Come here, you fucking coon. Get me out of these fuckin straps.
His face is calm and placid. I cant do that, sir. Marshall Dillon’s orders.
Because he was afraid you might kill Dr. Hoggins, sir. I cant let you out until a doctor sees you, at least.
Why didnt Hoggins just take a week off?
I suppose that there’s not much of anywhere to go, sir.
You got that right and there’s less of it every day. He’s probly hiding under his desk pissing his pants right now. I…i’m sorry about what i called you. I never do that. And if i was loose and i saw Hoggins i probably would kill him.
I squint in the semi darkness. I see this kid has a Sargent’s stripes and a black beret and even a name tag like a good little Walmart checkout boy. He is apparently Sargent Lincoln.
Since when do we wear uniforms, Lincoln?
Enlisted men wear them now. It was the Marshal’s idea. I believe he thinks it would be better for morale. For officers it is optional.
Dillon can be the goddamndest optimist sometimes, i say.
Would the Colonel like for me to get the doctor?
Yes, please. And i am so, so sorry. He nods and smiles with the barest upturn of the mouth that says, Fuck you sir.
The pain in my shoulder is indescribable, the cut on my palm stings like a jellyfish got me. It’s obviously infected and i see they’re giving me Vancomycin along with a saline drip. They had Staph in the eighteenth century but no resistant Staph because there were no antibiotics for bugs to develop plasmid mediated resistance. A woman who looks twelve years old finally comes in and i start to tell her my shoulder hurts but she brushes by me and puts something the intravenous drip that makes the pain go away and the world look like a beautiful place. Whatever’s in there makes Vicodin look like nothing. It makes sense, since we are all hooked anyway. I just avoid telling her that i love her.
That feel better, Colonel?
Yes, Doctor, thank you. Now could you let me out of these restraints.
She says, Well, that depends on you, sir.
She asks me a bunch of questions that sound like pop psychology and i try to give her the answers she needs to hear. Finally she says, Sir it’s okay with me but the Marshall insists on seeing you first before we let you up.
I would expect no less from his excellency. Please tell him i’m ready to see him.
The Marshall comes in five minutes and says to Lincoln, Get him out of those. Colonel, go to your quarters and shower and shave and eat something. Then come to my office.
How is Hoggins? I say when i sit down in front of Dillon’s desk.
He’s okay. His throat’s a little sore..
Good, i say grimly.
Why did you attack him?
Because i believe he intentionally sent me to Paris during the worst part of the reign of terror. I was chased by a bunch of -Jacobins, i think, and nearly didnt make it back. I had to sing that fuckin song before the canopy would close. The flesh and the sword with it should be of some interest to Hoggins and his people.
They have already carbon dated it. I believe it was 1790 plus or minus ten years. You are the first human to ever go back in time and return alive. Congratulations. Now tell me everything that happened.
I give a very cold blooded, deliberate account of what happened to best of my memory. When i have told him everything he turns to his side and stares out a window looking out on the swamp and some palm trees. We are both silent for a long time. Finally he says, you thought the terrain looked very much the area around the Lombardi house.
It looked enough like it to convince me. It was the smell that gave it away. I should have come right back.
No. You did exactly what you should have done.
Because i’m a good soldier? I say with irony.
His eyes are piercing as he says, soldier my fat ass. You’re worthless as a soldier. You have trouble with authority and do not work well with others. You’re not a soldier. You’re an assassin. The best i’ve ever known.
Have you ever seen me intentionally kill somebody?
I dont have to, Chones. It’s in your eyes. They look dead. Like a stone killer.
You mean the way Charles Bronson’s eyes looked?
Who the fuck is Charles Bronson? He says irritably. I had to make you at least a full bird Colonel so youd have the rank and authority of a flag officer to do your job, which is to kill somebody with cold detachment.
Tell me, Chones. Do you really believe Hoggins intentionally sent you out to be killed?
I considered the possibility.
I sigh and say, No. It wouldnt serve any purpose no matter how much he hated me. I guess i should apologize to him.
He waves off that remark and says, apologize or not. It will be as Allah wills.
My mouth falls open and he laughs until he coughs. Ahhh…the look on your face. I dont pray to any god either. It’s just that centuries after 9/11 people here still think it’s an obscenity. It is not. It’s merely one of the many names of god, one that i find particularly soothing to speak and hear. Are you ready to go back?
Back to my quarters?
No, you idiot. Back to Green Bay in 1965.
Sure. Why not, i say.
Dillon gets out a half empty bottle of bourbon that look as old as the arm i brought back. He pours himself a shot glass and offers me some. I make a face and say, No thank you.
Oh, that’s right. You dont drink. Why is that?
Because it makes me sick. Gives me a headache.
He lights a cigarette and gestures to me that this interview is done.
They’ll kill you, Marshall.
Those cigarettes, sir. They’ll kill you.