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Story ID:11371
Written by:Ronnie Eugene Jones (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Murfreesboro Tennessee USA
Person:Sgt. Tim Baxter
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Connie Collins flinched at the first rifle volley, she always did. There had been others when there was no family or friends to see them off. And Private Cooper was her patient and she had promised him she would see him off; so was it closure for her? She thought, 'not yet'.

She took the flag they presented to her. She knew there would be others and she would keep searching for someone to send the flag to. She walked to her car. She had skipped breakfast and was hungry now; she drove straight to the hospital.

Dr. Daniel Chambers was staring out the third-floor window of his office: pass the flag poles, the budding Dogwood trees, and the parking lot filled with cars. His last patient of the morning had left; she was making good progress. A few more sessions and the young woman would be almost normal again; an easy case. He slowly turned the coffee mug sitting on a stained corner of his desk in deep thought. VA hospital, Murfreesboro Tennessee was wrapped around the side of the thick white mug in faded letters. He picked up the letter and stared at the return address as if it would give him answers to the unopened letter.

He was astonished to receive a reply to his letter. He’d only followed up on the old postcard because he’d been asked to, or more prissily told to. The message on the card was too old to be of any use and a waste of his time. The last name on the letter was the same, but there was Doctor in front of Caden Lang and the inquiry had been sent to Vietnam; not Stewart Florida. He laid the letter on top of the other mail and opened the desk drawer and pulled out Sgt. Baxter’s file. He didn’t keep everything on a patient in his computer files. He looked at the picture postcard, just another ancient city waiting for closure if there was such a thing. He wondered if the man who committed suicide on the front lawn of the hospital last week found closure. It didn’t matter he wasn’t his patient.

The old post card had surfaced from a forty-two-year-old mail bag from the Rhein-Main Air Force base that had (closed 10 Oct 2005). He’d verified that then it floated around another twelve years before someone decided to act on it. He loved military efficiency.

The postcard had been forwarded to him instead of to Sgt. Baxter with a letter of explanation. At least someone was thinking for a change, but he doubted this would change anything. He’d diagnosed Tim with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or (PTSD for short) only because that covered a lot of territory. Tim came to him years ago because of sleeping issues, but other things had surfaced. He looked at the clock on the wall, then stuck the envelope and card in his pocket and went down to the cafeteria.

Connie Collins sat her tray down across from Daniel, only because the place was crowded and there were three empty chairs at his table, “You look like something is bothering you, bad morning?”

“No, it’s been a good morning. Just something a little odd about an inquiry I made.”

“Are you looking for another place to hang your hat?” Hopefully, she thought.

“No, it’s tied to one of my patients,” he took a bite of his sandwich and pointed at hers, “Eat first, while I think about this.”

“You mean patient confidentially?”

“Something like that.”

Connie wiped her mouth, “Daniel, if you’ve forgotten I’m a doctor, not the same field, but the same rules.”

“Ok, read this and tell me what you think.” He handed the letter to her.

She looked up, “Seems pretty straight forward and truthful. This Dr. Lang’s sister was executed on October 25, 1964, by the North Vietnamese. It sounds like he is still carrying a lot of grief after all these years. Does this tie into one of your patients?”

“My patient doesn’t know about this; that’s why I sent an inquiry,” he handed her the card, “Read this, then compare the dates.”

She glanced at the picture of the old ruins then flipped the card over and began to read.

My Darling, Tim. I was away when the attack happened. I am alive and well. Your friend at the base said you were wounded and sent to Germany. Please write. I love you so much. Your friend gave me an address to write to and help me write this and he would try to speed up my paper work. With all my love, Kim Lang

She lay the card down with a questioning look said, “This post mark is Nov 16, 1964, that’s a month after her brother said she was executed, think he just made a mistake?”

“Connie, that would be a traumatic event, even if a war was going on. It’s been a lot of years, but have you ever forgotten the exact day that Dan died?”

“No, never. It would be easier to forget when I was born. Maybe the card is wrong.”

“Have you ever known the military postal service to make that kind of mistake, with the exception of losing this card?”

“I see what you’re saying, something is defiantly wrong. She might still be alive. What kind of paper work do you think she was talking about?”
“The two best possibilities are she was trying to get to America or they had just gotten married, and that would have been the easiest way to get back to the states.”

“Has your patient ever mentioned being married?” "Or have you ever asked?" She thought.

“No, there’s nothing in his file.”

He looked at his watch, “I need to be getting back. I’ve got the whole afternoon scheduled back to back. Thanks for your thoughts.”

“Your patient is Tim Baxter isn’t it?”

Daniel scratched his jaw, “What makes you think that?”

“The time line and I know him. He helps take care of our church in trade for a small apartment under the church. He’s been there for thirty years and he’d help anyone. He did a lot for me after Dan got killed and we’d talk sometimes. He’s really a very nice old man if you overlook his little quirks. You know he always checks his perimeter before he does anything. I don’t think he even knows he’s doing it.”

Connie watched him walk away without saying a word. She thought, 'damn you didn’t know'.

She took out a small pad and wrote the two Lang names down. Her husband’s TBI career had rubbed off on her. Daniel probably wouldn’t pursue this any further, but everyone deserved closure no matter how old they were.

Across the street at Taffies Tavern, Tim was sitting on a stool at the far end of the bar. He slowly turned an empty bottle with his left hand. His gaze shifted to the clock, and then back to watching the door. The aging bartender looked his way and Tim nodded. A practiced arm sent a bottle sliding down the length of the bar. The bottle stopped beside the ash tray in front of the Tim.

The beer was starting to warm when he put the bottle to his lips again. The booths and bar stools were now all occupied. Patience was something he had learned a long time ago curiosity of the U.S. Military while sitting in the jungles of Vietnam. He’d been a man before he went over there, but the Vietcong had ripped a part out of him with a mortar attack and he still carried a fragment right next to a kidney next to a nerve; too close to operate on. His dream of a family with children had been snatched away in an instant. But in his mind, he was still a man in nineteen sixty-four when he was laying next to Kim watching her sleep. He looked at the clock again. Maybe something had happened, but she would be here next Friday for sure. He finished his beer.

It was Saturday and a cold January wind was whipping snow across the plastic box Tim was putting outside Christmas lights in. Connie stood inside next to her fireplace watching him. He really didn’t need to be on a ladder, much less out in the cold, but he refused to be talked out of doing this favor for her. Her children and grandchildren had returned to Utah. Through the summer she had found a few things needing fixing and gotten to know Tim even better and one time she’d followed him to Taffies but waited until he had left before going in and ordering a beer. Tim was a regular fixture and it was hard to find someone that didn’t know him. He only came in on Friday, only drank two beers and was waiting for someone. No one knew who he was waiting for.

Her husband’s old contacts had dwindled over the years, but two had moved up into national security and helped her return some flags. So far the only returned calls had been for more information which was scarce other than the letter and card. They already had access to Tim’s DD214. She’d almost gotten caught sneaking into Dr. Chambers’ office. Dan had said she would never be a very good spy, but she hadn’t forgotten how to pick a lock on a desk.

She picked up her ringing phone, looked at the name and walked to her den. She sat a box of Christmas cards on the floor and sat in the chair next to her computer. Agent Robert Dash said it had been slow going. She moved over to the desk and started taking notes.

Later, she read through the notes. 'God, I can’t tell him all this'. They had been legally married. She’d given birth to twins before she was executed by the South Vietnamese for being a spy, not the North Vietnamese. DNA would be needed to verify Tim was the father. And he might be entitled to half her estate if he chooses to pursue this and again DNA would be needed because the family would fight this as the Lang family was now worth billions and they would take this as somebody trying to scam a few million. Connie put the notes in a drawer. Lord, what do I do, this could do more harm than good.

The next morning she retyped the original letter only changing the date to appear a year after the card. She gave the card and letter to Tim, Sunday after church. He read the postcard last. A tear trickled down his cheek. He sat for a long time saying nothing then, “I thought something was wrong, but I was still hoping. She did love me,” then he got up and walked to the back of the church.

Connie wrote three more letters, really not expecting a response. Sometimes some secrets were best left as secrets. Later the church agreed to let Tim put up a headstone with his wife’s name on it.

The hot summer days passed quickly. Now frost covered the fields every morning. Connie drove up to the church to invite Tim to Thanksgiving dinner. She stopped her car by the cemetery where she knew Tim would be working today. Through the windshield, she watched a long black limousine stop. A chauffeur walked around and opened a door. The man and woman, both oriental walked towards Tim. He put his rake down. A few minutes later he pointed to a headstone, then with arms wrapped around the old man the couple walked towards the headstone.

Connie wiped at a tear then started her car, now was not the time. 'Tim finally had closure and just maybe a family'.