The clothed and the dead

Two men, one live, one dead, stood by the Ashby onramp in Berkeley, a dufflebag between them. Jimmy pulled the Ford onto the gravel, motioned them in; he knew them by sight.

They thought so too.

“Whihlee!” rasped Dwight, tried to hug him from the rear seat.

“Dwight, goddamm!” Jimmy humped the charcoal fists off his shoulders.

“It’s true, man, what he said,” said Lake. “You’re Willy.”

“I’m not Willy. I am not Willy.” He had enough trouble threading the car into freeway traffic north, found an opening in front of a grinding semi, jerked the car in. Hot wind piled up inside. Jimmy’s bandana kept the hair from his eyes; Lake’s natural held firm, Dwight’s head forever conked in frozen lava.

“You look just like him, it’s unreal, damn,” said Lake.

“I towed you,” Dwight said, “Hoooo!”

“What is it about this Willy?”

“Willy. Wilson Pickett, the white boy with the black name. The half-soul brother.”

The Wilson Pickett? Mustang Sally? In the Army?”

“No man, the white one, the kid with his name. The one who brought it all down at Firebase Mona.”

“He was with you in Vietnam.”

“Yess!” howled Dwight.

“The kid I saw at the Oakland Induction Center.”

“Yess. I was wit hi.”

“I saw him,” said Jimmy.

“YOU saw him?” said Lake.

“Looks like me only ten years younger.”

“Fazackaly. Looked.”

“And Dwight. Only I thought I was hallucinating.”

“That is too weird.”

Not as weird as driving north on 80 with a crispie critter talking to you from the back seat.

“Could you guys run this thing down to me?” asked Jimmy.

The story of Mona (“She’s waiting hor yu. She luz yu.”) took them past Vallejo. Firebase Mona’s mad minutes, hours, and days filled in through Fairfield. Dwight vouched for Lake’s accounts: the duel of the reversing Claymores; the José Obregon Show as mythified by Dwight, reported to Lake, and translated to Jimmy; a character known as the Crossover Man, whom neither was clear about (“I think it was some character like Mighty Mouse that Willy identified with”), and Uncle Ho’s Chicken Shak which neither had actually seen.

Jimmy insisted they use his real name, to stop them calling him Willy, and anyway, a nom de guerre seemed pointless: what grand jury would believe a corpse, and as for Lake, how could one not trust a man vouched safe by the living dead?

“What happened to the base?”

“They packed it in. Fucked up too many careers. When the Colonel got wasted it became upper echelon non-productive.” Lake did not say who shot up the observation tower the night of the attack; Jimmy did not ask.

“And the little grove of trees?” That had stuck in his mind for no reason.

“Burned it down, Rome-plowed it. Wanta know my theory? I think we built Mona on top a Charlie base.”

“Yeah, eee too, undernees.”


“I bet they had a battalion parked underneath us and popped up like gophers when they wanted to.”

“I saw it,” said Dwight.

“You never told me,” Lake said.

“I oked oles inna dirrt. Saw light.”

“Son of a bitch.”

The firebombing of Dwight by himself and the jacobean tragedy of Army recruiter Sergeant Thigpin at the hands of the Blood Throwing Lady carried them into the broad flow of Interstate 5.

“She was thin, glamorous, and had platinum hair, this Blood Lady?” asked Jimmy.

“Hat’s hut Willee said.”

Jimmy wanted to ask about secret ops into North Vietnam, conditions on the bases, GI morale, rebellions, but did not. Wait and listen.

“What’s in this for you?” Lake asked as the first mountain appeared north of Red Bluff.

“You mean why am I doing this, driving you?”


“End the war. One less brother killed.”

“Somebody pay you?”

“What would you do,” said Jimmy, “knowing what you know?”

“Kill somebody. But you’re white.”


“It’s not genocide for you. This whole thing, as I see it, is about eliminating the black man.”

“And the Vietnamese.”

“Yeah, get us to off each other. I gotta assume you’re straight up. Cause if you’re not, you’re dealing with a lot of guys know how to kill.”

“Then I wouldn’t be driving my own car, would I, or using my real name.”

“Willee,” parched the voice in the back seat.

“Dwight here put in a good word for you but he’s a little confused.”

“We’re both depending on Dwight here,” said Jimmy. “The safe house we’re headed for is not mine.”

“What you talkin?”

“Dwight here gave me the address.”

“You’re telling me you don’t know where we’re going? How do I know you won’t pull up to some cop station?”

“I coulda done that in Berkeley.”

“And not got all this talk about Firebase Mona and who did what to who.”

“I still don’t know who did what to who, Lake. You’re too smart for that. All you told me about was Willy and he’s dead.”

“Guyss,” said Dwight. “I jus wanna go hown. I wanna ta see Ona. She luz you. She wanss to see you. I want errything to ee ok.”

“Dwight,” said Jimmy, “that address you gave me, that wouldn’t be—?”

Then they crossed the Sacramento River and a fresh green sign said

Redding 10 mi