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Small Dude, a fictional short story, Part 3
The sniper, who had probably momentarily fired upon other targets, brought his attention back to the command vehicle under which Virgil was somewhat sheltered from his fire. But Carmen was not ! The first bullet hit her in the middle of the back, propelling her petite body towards the vehicle with such force that her head hit the metal with a loud bang. Her helmet fell to the side of her, revealing her short black hair. As she was slowly leaning forward towards Virgil, he could see her eyes roll up and the look of disbelief on her face as she was dying in front of his eyes. He started to extract himself from under the truck in order to try to help her, a useless thought, but his moving probably drew the attention of the sniper back to him and that's when he got himself shot through the chest, as he had pulled out of cover from under the truck. Carmen was still on her knees, her head leaning against the body of the Humvee, like she was praying so the sniper couldn't know if she was still alive or not. In doubt, he continued firing until her body was nothing more than a bloody magma. She finally would, under the repeated impacts, fall to the side, in the process protecting Virgil from further hits. Minutes later, which felt like hours, the Cavalry eventually came to the rescue and the machine guns from the choppers surgically cleaned the area of any unfriendly presence...And Virgil started to feel responsible for Carmen's death, for which he would blame himself for a very long time. He cried silently, thinking how freaking unfair this shitty life was...
The doggies, probably exhausted from the excitement of the moment, had fallen asleep on the bench seat of the Jeep, so Virgil took advantage of the silence to hook up his MP3 player to the truck's stereo, and hit the "random play" button. The warm and suave voice of Chet baker came through the speakers. He briefly ran his right hand through the coat of both dogs and thought : "Life is good".
Carmen Conrero, "Small Dude" ," Angel", had just turned twenty when she died ! Virgil was evacuated and shipped to a military hospital in Germany to recuperate. When he was later sent back to Irak, his decision not to reenlist at the end of his contract had been made, especially after the notification that his father had passed away while he was in the hospital, making him unable to attend the funeral. Nor could he attend Carmen's funeral service for the very same reason. What he could do, though, was, upon his discharge from the Marines and his return to the mainland, to go visit Carmen's family, and that he did. So one day, he headed South to the Florida small suburban town where carmen Conrero grew up and lived, and got acquainted with the Conrero bunch, a close knit family as people of Hispanic descent often are. It seemed that Carmen's death had brought them even closer, and that was probably more than an impression. They were over friendly to Virgil, making him a de facto member of the family. He spent three days with them, as they wouldn't let him leave, as if his presence was a way to bring their departed sibling back. They all talked a lot about Carmen and wanted to know every detail about the circumstances of her death. Virgil emphasized that she was actually saving his life, with little regards for hers, and tried as well as possible to leave the painful gory bits out of the story. Talking about her with her family, he learned that one of Carmen's dreams was to restore to its former glory an old pick-up truck which was the first vehicle owned by her father when he first came to Florida on a raft, all the way from his native Cuba. A truck she drove almost everyday while attending high school, once she got her driver's license. The thought of this now shattered dream gave Virgil an idea, and he made Carmen's family an offer to purchase the truck from them, along with the promise that he would restore it properly, and therefore realize Carmen's dream. The truck was slowly rotting away in their backyard. To his surprise, they were all enthusiastic about the idea, and wanted to give the truck to him for free, another one of their ways to cling to any memory, object or thought that involved their daughter and sister. But there are economic realities that can't be ignored, and obviously, the Conrero family were not rich people. Plus, Carmen having been the oldest child, there were other children still going to school, and why not, possibly to college. On the other hand, Virgil had been left quite comfortable financially, not only from his father's passing, but also from his military pension, not to mention the savings from his two tours of duty, money he never really had a chance to spend. So, he insisted on paying them two thousand dollars for the truck, which value at the time could not possibly exceed two hundred, on a very good day...
It took him nearly a full year to realize his promise, as well as Carmen's dream. Virgil wanted to do most of the work himself, he thought he owed that much to Carmen. So, he took a welding class at the local community college, followed by a paint and bodywork class, and finished with an automobile upholstery course. Then he purchased a welder, all the necessary tools and supplies to prepare and repaint the truck, not to forget an old Pfaff industrial sewing machine to deal with the interior. He also rebuilt the engine himself, to the highest possible standard. The original color, a very dark green, was retained, as well as the interior bench seat and door panels in a dark tan color.The only serious departure from originality was the addition of the rear sliding window, between the cab and the bed.
The very same Jeep J 10 truck, Carmen's family former truck, Virgil was driving it today, in the company of Titus and Samson, the two female scruffy dogs with male's names, but unaware of it ! Virgil had paid a small fortune to a talented female artist to paint, free hand, on the passenger's side door the words "Small Dude" and "Angel", between which an incredibly accurate and realistic portrait of a smiling Carmen had been airbrushed. The artist understood how important all of this was to Virgil and she did a fantastic job. He had finished restoring the truck some three weeks earlier, and after numerous short road tests down the street where he lived, today was the truck's first long distance trip, and everything seemed to be working just fine. Carmen would be happy and proud ! A tought that made Virgil feel very good...
To be continued
Copyrighty 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns