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War breaks out when she comes home.
She took the first seat in the last car on the train.
She was going home though home was the last place she wanted to go. She was going home because she had a job to do that could wait no longer. She had sworn over and over: she would never go home again—and yet here she was on the Dodge City Chief with nowhere else to go.
She hated home.
No—that’s not true. She used to love her home, her house, her room, her mother and brother, though not her father.
Everyone but him.
She hated home now because of what he had done to her. There was no way she could love going home after she became the girl who learned to hate herself.
So she left. The day after her valedictory at the Dodge City High School graduation, she walked down to the new U.S. Navy recruiting office inside the indoor mall.
It made complete sense to her because it made no sense at all. KU had offered her a free ride in volleyball, and she had always wanted to be a Jayhawk. But that blew up in her face the moment she walked into the recruiting office. The next day the salutarian Athena Martinez, her best friend, did almost exactly the same thing, enlisting in the Army and giving up her volleyball scholarship to K State. The Dodge City Beacon made a big deal of it with pictures of them together on the front page and the word “Heroes” in the headline. The truth is they both needed to leave, to get out of town. Even a free ride in Lawrence was too close to home.
“Station stop is Dodge City,” the conductor said. “Next stop Dodge City.”
Dodge City meant nothing to her anymore. For all she cared, they could have blown the town to bits the day after she graduated from high school, the day before she enlisted. She was trying to forget everything—the state volleyball championship senior year, the free ride at KU, and especially her father.
She would never forget what her father had done to her, because there are some things you never forget. And trying to forget everything did nothing for her. She bought a paperback for the ride—something about a girl on a train—but she stuffed it in the garbage. She loved to read as a girl, but books had been furniture to her since Iraq.
Gloria Scott—volleyball champion, valedictorian of her Dodge City High School senior class, the girl who left Dodge to serve her country—was the only woman on the team that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
She remembered all of it now on the train going home. The whirling whop-whop-whop of the Black Hawk Stealth helicopter was much quieter than she expected that night. Night itself was much darker because of the blackout when they turned off all the electricity in that part of Pakistan. They flew over a golf course, then some kind of military academy. They were flying so low Glo could have touched every roof in the neighborhood. She could still smell Cairo, the Belgian dog with the translator in the chopper who looked like a Saint Bernard.
“What are you doing here, girlfriend?”
No way Dickwad was going to get under her skin tonight, not as the chopper circled Bin Laden’s compound.
“I like to blow things up,” Glo said without a blink. “So you can blow me.”
She was calm as could be, the way she felt before the state finals or final exams. Calm in the worst situations was her superpower. She knew things could go south even before the chopper crashed nose-first into the compound. Glo was the bomb specialist, so she was the one who blew open the front door to Osama’s happy home. They all returned gunfire on the ground, but only the bad guys got hurt, including one she recognized as Ahmed the Kuwaiti shot dead on the floor. Another guy with a long beard and a long robe managed to slip into a bedroom without being hit.
They knew Bin Laden slept upstairs so she blew off a second door, the one that led to a staircase. Dickwad was the first up the stairs, ready to shoot bin Laden’s wife, his youngest of five, and their child. “Don’t,” Glo said, “unless you want friendly fire up your ass.” By the time she made it to his bedroom Osama bin Laden was dead with a rifle shot to the head followed by two slugs to the heart for insurance. Glo helped carry him out with his head banging on the front steps hard enough to leave a trail of blood behind. She put his body and the survivors in the second Blackhawk and off they all flew into Pakistan airspace and military history.
Glo Scott. The only woman on the team that killed the most wanted terrorist in the world.
The whole way back from Pakistan she was thinking about Athena Martinez. She was her BFF but that was the beginning, not the end of the story. She had kissed her for the first time the night before the Bin Laden mission in Pakistan. But that kiss had been a long time coming after graduation, after she and Athena both enlisted. Todd Dexter had fallen hard for Glo after her valedictory speech, even though Glo hardly knew who he was. He may not have been in love but he was definitely in lust. Glo had to fight him off the month before she left for basic training. Hand-to-hand combat with the backseat of her beater, an old red Valiant, as the battleground. Todd became so frustrated he proposed and she said no just to get him to stop sticking his hands under her shirt and into her pants. After boot camp in the Navy, Glo thanked Todd for his service on the phone but told him they were dead on arrival.
Glo had never much liked boys in high school, but she did not know enough to know she loved girls. She had dated just enough to get her mother to stop volunteering boys from the Holy Mother of Mercy Catholic Church. Maybe what her father had done had ruined her for love because her ambivalence became a chasm instead of a hole.
Glo did not know she loved women until she fell in love with
Athena in the month after graduation but before boot camp. Glo and Athena knew they were in love with no time left to do anything about it before they left Dodge City for the military.
Sometimes they even got lost in each other’s eyes—but there was no time left to be in love.
They had enlisted before they fell in love, so Glo had gone into the Navy to become a SEAL and Athena chose boots on the ground in the Army. In their second hitch they both ended up at Camp Victory in
Baghdad, just as the United States was giving up the ghost in Iraq. The U.S. had no way to win, and all Athena Martinez wanted was to get the hell out of there with her best friend in one piece.
After the raid on Bin Laden’s house, they were both in such a hurry to kiss they banged foreheads the first time. When they stopped laughing and giggling like little girls they kissed for a very long time behind the barracks—sweet and pure and innocent.
Lust was a force multiplier, of course, and so was the secrecy they had chosen in a strange faraway place—a secret love full of hope and the promise of a life lived together. They made plans before Glo went off to kill Bin Laden just to make sure she would come back. They would live in San Francisco—
No, in Eugene, a college town.
What about Sedona in Arizona?
Too hot. Too much like Iraq.
I don’t care where we live.
Neither do I.
But I’m not going back to Dodge City, Glo said.
They could go anywhere else and they would go everywhere—and soon. Not unscathed but not dead either. They had no fear about the future if they could come back from the war in one piece. But Athena was scared to death whenever Glo went off on a SEAL mission because anything could happen in the Iraqi shitbox where peace was never at hand. And Glo hated to see Athena go off on her patrols every time because she never expected her to come back.
When Glo came back from the raid that killed Bin Laden, Athena met the chopper when it landed and hugged her without letting go. The only way to celebrate in Camp Victory was to gorge on fast food, so that’s what they did on Athena’s dime: KFC and DQ and Mickey Ds until they were so bloated they had to walk it off.
The grunts applauded when they walked into the mess tent— and then again when they walked out.
Athena had a surprise for Glo after they stuffed their faces. They walked the meal off all the way through the compound to the married housing, a set of tiny trailers. Corporal Ed McFeely and his wife, Sergeant Sandra McFeely, both happened to be under Athena’s command—and on leave in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Married housing at Camp Victory was never meant to encourage marriage, so the inside of the McFeeley trailer barely had enough room to push two single beds together. But there was a door and a lock and a key—privacy—and that was all they needed.
Glo and Athena tore each other’s clothes off and did things to each other they could never have imagined.
They bunked together, ate together, did everything together. No one seemed to mind because Glo was a bona fide hero, stone-cold, the woman who killed Bin Laden. Everyone on SEAL Team Six walked on water at Camp Victory, and everyone at Camp Victory knew about Glo and Athena.
Bin Laden killer finds love in a time of war. With a chick from her hometown.
Only in America though this was Iraq. Classic though with a twist.
Even Dickwad almost smiled when he saw the two of them at the mess under the tent.
Glo was scheduled to go home first at the end of her hitch with Athena not far behind. Even so Glo insisted on going with Athena on a patrol before her hitch was up. The insurgents or whatever they were calling them now were catching their breath, or running out of recruits—or both—so it had been quiet to the point of boring on the Baghdad patrols. Sporadic bursts of small-arms fire were still a given, and just enough to keep them on their toes.
“I’m going to ride shotgun,” Glo said.
Athena was in full battle-dress, ready to lead the squad. So was
“No, Glo! You’re about to go home. You don’t need this!”
“And I won’t see you again for how long?” Glo whispered.
“You should just stay here and wait for me. You’ve earned that. A lot more than that.”
“I know something about explosives,” Glo said. “I know how to blow them up and how to shut them down. In case you haven’t heard.”
Athena had no answer for that.
“You sure about this?” she said.
“One hundred percent,” Glo said.
Glo climbed on board the Humvee. Athena turned to her people.
“Listen up, everyone. Yesterday we had indirect small arms fire. No mortars or IEDs. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there. Stay on your toes.”
The soldiers took their places: four soldiers on either side with rifles at the ready; a Turret Gunner manning a machine gun up top; and Glo.
“We’ve got a ringer on board,” Glo said. “A Sailor so far from the sea all she can see is sand. Claims she danced on Bin Laden’s grave.
Can you believe that shit?”
“HOO! HOO! HOO!” the soldiers hooted with all due respect.
Glo looked down at her weapon—and smiled.
“Let’s go wave the flag,” Athena said.
The Humvee rolled along undisturbed with the soldiers looking every which way. The sun was beating down without mercy the way it always did in Iraq.
“Whoa!” Athena said.
She looked through her binoculars. Then looked up. Squeezed her eyes together. Squinted. Then looked through the binoculars again.
Glo jumped off the Humvee and came to the passenger side.
“It’s a dog,” Athena said. “A dead dog.”
“They’re the worst kind,” Glo said. Where’s your bomb robot?”
“In the shop.”
“Again? Do you have a bomb officer?”
“Mrs. Sergeant McFeely is our bomb officer. Probably making babies right now with Mr. Corporal McFeely.”
“Right,” Glo said. “Shit.”
“I need a closer look,” Athena said.
“Don’t,” Glo said. “Dogs just don’t die in the middle of the road.
One of the bad guys put it there.”
“I’m sure they did. But I need to see up close.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“The hell you will, Lieutenant. This is my command. You stay put.”
Glo put her hands up and backed away.
“I don’t like it, Sergeant.”
“I don’t either,” Athena said.
All the soldiers on or in the Humvee were on high alert.
Athena walked toward the dog, slowing down with every step. Then she turned and motioned the Humvee forward.
“It’s okay!” Athena shouted. “She’s still breathing!
Athena, smiling again, gave a thumbs-up to Glo—and Glo would forever remember how beautiful she looked in that moment.
Before the Humvee could move forward the dog explodes in a massive, deafening BOOM. Glo sees Athena blown instantly to pieces. Her best friend and lover disappear from the face of the earth before Glo herself is knocked flat by the blast.
Glo bangs her head and her helmet falls off. She is so dazed she forgets to put it back on. Too disoriented. Maybe even in shock. So shaken she expects to see Athena when she looks up again.
Small arms fire is lacing the Humvee and kicking up the dirt all around her. The Turret Gunner is shot before he can get off a round. A mortar explodes against the front end of the Humvee and sends the driver flying. The small arms fire keeps coming faster and faster, rattat-tat, like that.
Glo does the math in her head. Two dead: Athena and the driver.
The Turret Gunner is down. Eight left including her.
A shitstorm. Someone calls it in on the radio.
“We are hit and under fire. Coordinates—”
The radio operator gets it in the throat. Shot dead. Seven left.
Another soldier takes it in the gut below her Kevlar vest and bleeds out. Six left, including Glo.
Glo fast-forwards. In command. Ascertains where the fire is coming from. Pushes the soldiers to shelter on the far side of the
Humvee. Commences covering fire against an enemy unseen.
She ducks, climbs on the back of the Humvee. Checks the Turret
Driver for signs of life. Drags him out of the turret and behind the Humvee under even more fire. Keeps firing on the way. Goes to another soldier bleeding out from the thigh.
“Keep pressure on the wound,” Glo says. “You’re going to be okay.”
Glo know it’s not true. So does the Soldier. He starts crying—but he presses down while he still can. Following orders. Still under fire,
Glo drags him to cover behind the Humvee.
Five left. The four under her command are wounded or too scared to help. So it’s Glo alone against all the insurgents now. Mowing down the enemy. Killing at least a dozen in a frenzy.
For Athena if Glo had time to think about it. For God and country to boot.
She steps away to fire again when a mortar hits the back of the Humvee and shreds it into a million pieces. Glo is hit simultaneously by shrapnel in the legs and spine. She falls like a rag doll to the ground and her gun goes flying. Her eyes are still open but completely vacant.
Flat on the ground, Glo hears a chopper overhead. She takes a last look up, as if she could see Athena rising bodily into the sky. By the time her eyes close her war is over.
The Dodge City Chief came into the train station with brakes shrieking like they had no idea how to stop.
The usual crowd got off: college kids in backpacks, businessmen, parents with small children, an elderly couple. The last person off was Glo Scott, alone and unsmiling, from the last car on the train.
An American hero come home. Back from the war. With a medal but without her best friend and lover.
The wind carried dirt and dust thick enough to leave her covered in a thin layer of whatever the train left behind. She tried sucking again on the rubber tube from a camouflage CamelBak backpack gone dry because she was always so thirsty. She spat out the tube and pawed through her backpack. Folded inside the big compartment of the CamelBak she had two tank tops and a T-shirt, an old U.S. Navy hoodie and a Beat Army hat, three changes of underwear, and a pair of blue jeans never worn. In a smaller compartment she had a worn-down electric toothbrush but no toothpaste and a hairbrush she barely used— and a gun, her old service revolver.
She held up the gun, spun the bullets, snapped the chamber back into place. Put it back into the CamelBak. Locked and loaded.
She finally found what she was looking for in the backpack. A small box, the kind you keep, with a dark star on it. She opened the box one more time, looked at the medal, and closed the box.
She had a simple mission: to get this medal to Athena’s family— to her father Jorge Martinez and her mother Peta, and to Athena’s younger sister Maria. Then she could get the hell out of Dodge and begin what was left of her life.
Anywhere but here.
Glo took a pill from her pocket and popped it. Why not? After Athena died she had been unconscious for three nights and two days, she woke up in a hospital in Germany. Weeks went by before the
Admiral explained they were giving her the Navy Cross for valor. “They want you to pick up your medal at the White House,” the
Admiral said in the hospital. “And you’ve been promoted.
Congratulations, Captain Scott.”
“I’ve already got a medal.”
“We know. From the President. For killing bin Laden.”
“So this one’s for getting blown up?”
“For serving your country when she needed you most.”
“I’ll take mine after you give one to Athena Martinez. She’s the hero. Not me.”
“Not my department,” The Admiral said.
“It is now,” Glo said.
Two weeks later the U.S. Army awarded Athena Martinez a
Bronze Star for her bravery during the war in Iraq. Or the insurgency. Or whatever they were calling it now. The Admiral came back to give Glo the Navy Cross—and the Bronze Star for Athena—but Glo said she was not going to the White House for getting her best friend killed and herself blown up.
Now she waited for everyone to get off the train in Dodge City. Glo should have been volleyball-tall, but she seemed much smaller in the wheelchair, diminished, disappointed even, with her denim shorts cut short above legs with no life to them, laced with scars from the shrapnel.
She always felt even smaller in the wheelchair. Her personal vehicle built for marathons. And not just because everyone in the world looked down on her. For her, the act of sitting down if you could not get up was an act of supplication, of subordination to everything in the world and everyone now above her.
Since the explosion in Iraq too many nights of not sleeping left Glo jagged and jumpy and always punching her right fist against the top of her right thigh, punching so many times the denim on her cut-off jeans was wearing down to white on one side.
Pretty was all but gone. Lost along the way.
She hated being on a train, or anything you could call a ve-hicle, including and especially her own wheelchair—the one ve-hicle she would never be without. Because not even Superman ever walked again after he fell off a horse and broke his back. Not even in the movies.
She was the last one off the train. She was always last.
The wind made sure the dirt and dust caught up to the train in the station and covered her body and the denim shorts and the black tank top above the jogging bra in soot. As the dirt and dust flew by her on the train she turned her wheelchair backwards down the stairs, Glo grabbed the handles and flipped her chair around face-front once she hit the ground.
Like a magic trick. Like she could make that wheelchair dance if she had to.
She was back in Dodge City. Back home.
Dodge City was the last place she wanted to be—the place where her own father had abused her, where she had blown it by not taking the full ride to KU for volleyball. She thought of the spike that won the state championship final—with Athena, the setter, making it easy for her the way she always did.
Glo would have lettered all four years at Kansas, probably walking away with All Big 12. She was that good: she almost certainly would have won the Big 12 title at least once and advanced to the NCAA tournament before she left Lawrence. The Big Dance. With only ten schools in the Big 12 the odds were in her favor.
But Glo had nowhere to go after she put Athena’s medal where it belonged. No way was she moving back to Dodge City now. Without her legs, she was more likely to go back to the Iraqi shitbox.
Glo had lost the use of almost everything below the waist— though at times, like now, she could still feel how much her legs hurt even though she could not feel a thing. That was something the shrinks told her to expect without telling her what to do about it.
She was new enough to this to know everyone acts as if you don’t exist in the real world of upright people because you live in the dark of the darkest night of the soul. Any way you cut it everyone looked down on you, because there was no other way to look at a person in a wheelchair. When they looked down at Glo they always looked at her legs. The way the conductor was looking down at her now.
She would have to figure out what to do with herself without the ultimate need to defend the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic. She no longer had a day job propping up some form of democracy or other at the point of a gun, or giving up her life for a cause, maybe even the cause of freedom in some unknowable way. She and Athena had defended democracy and they had given their lives and/or their legs. That was way more than enough.
That job was long-gone. That life was over.
And what did they have to show for it? Medals nobody cared about the moment they were pinned to your chest.
A Black conductor as old as the train pushed down on his knees to push up the stairs behind her.
“It was nothing.”
“Not to me it isn’t. Been there, done that. KO-rea.”
He tipped his hat with just a touch on the brim, the way a Sheriff might have in the Old West.
“Well, you home now,” he said.
“How can you tell?
The conductor took a long look at her.
“Where else is someone like you going to go?”
“Someone like you, you mean.”
“A veteran,” he said. “Takes some getting used to.”
“I’ve got a delivery. A medal. Then I’m out of here.”
“Someone from here I really cared about over there.”
“Sorry to hear it,” he said.
“I never did go home after the war. Never settled down anywhere. That’s why I’m on a train every day. I only feel at home when the train is moving. Because nothing feels like home. So I spend my life getting out of Dodge. And coming back. Like a yo-yo on a string.”
“That can’t be easy.”
“Life goes on, you know,” he said. “Because it has nowhere else to go. You’ll find out when you’re ready.
“Copy that,” Glo said.
The Conductor held his salute as the Dodge City Chief started to pull away. Gloria held hers until the dust and dirt flew past her and the train left the station. She still knew how to salute, but she doubted she would ever need to again.
She lifted herself up off the chair and onto the backseat before she told the cabbie how to fold the wheelchair before he put it in the trunk.
Glo used to go all over Dodge City on her bicycle and then the old Valiant beater she loved with all her heart. Now she was back home in the wheelchair with no avoiding ramps or platforms that raise you up then let you down, or the rails in the bathroom built for what had to be done. She would have been helpless without things she never needed before, and she had never been helpless in her life, unless you counted the times when her father did what he did to her.
“Motherfucking Iraq?” the cabbie said.
The name on the license said Bernard Yakamoto. He had on wirerim glasses and a faded red KU T-shirt with a hole in the chest. His curly black hair made a halo around his face.
“Well that sucks,” he said.
The cabbie looked back at her so many times he could have been drawing her picture. She hated what was coming, but here it came. “Glo, right?”
“Guilty,” Glo said.
“Help me with the last name.”
“Scott. Like the toilet paper.”
“Those little short shorts? You girls were hot!” “Past tense,” she said.
“Sorry—that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry.”
“Liar,” Glo said. “We were so hot.”
They rode in silence. Glo closed her eyes and remembered playing Salina in the Kansas State Championship.
The noise is deafening but she is cool. Rocking. Focused on her routine. Ready to serve on match point. Swaying with the ball in her left hand—feeling fresh, strong, unstoppable.
On her jersey are the words “Red Devils.”
Glo leaps into the air and serves a bullet over the net and into the far corner. The Salina girls barely get it back. The ball floats weakly to the Dodge City side.
Her friend Franny Smart, a powerful Black girl, blocks the ball to a smaller girl with dark hair——Athena Martinez, the setter who “sets” the ball perfectly by the net. For the kill shot.
Glo, the wing spiker, comes forward full-force. Leaps again. Spikes the ball onto the court like a rocket. Lands and looks. Starts jumping up and down like a pogo stick. The Dodge City players and coaches erupt. Leaping, bouncing, hugging——then falling over in a joyful heap of young girls.
In the stands Glo’s mother is jumping up and down like a crazy woman. Her younger brother Noah is holding his head with his mouth wide open. But her father won’t get up and can’t even crack a smile.
Glo’s mother told her later what he said.
“Now she’s going to think she’s some big hero,” he says.
“She is a hero,” her mother says.
“Not to me she’s not,” he says. “It’s just a game.
On court Glo, Athena, and Franny are on the bottom of the pile.
Holding each other. Laughing hysterically.
“It doesn’t get better than this!” Glo shouts to Athena.
Athena is too happy to say a word. Franny bearhugs them both.
Glo opened her eyes. The cabbie was staring at her in the rearview mirror.
“I don’t know what happened over there but you’re still a hero around here. You killed bin Laden, right?”
“I was there.”
“I still remember when you signed up. The day after graduation. You were such hot shit nobody could believe it. You don’t remember me, do you?”
“It’s Moto. Bernard Yakamoto. Hey—I know I look like shit.
Usually I don’t tell people it’s me if they don’t remember.”
“Junior biology, right?”
“I would have figured you for some kind of Professor by now,
Moto. Dissecting things.”
“Soon as I get through college. Going nights. Had to help my
Mom out first.”
“You did your duty.”
“I’m her only kid. Dad had cancer of the throat real bad. Probably because he wouldn’t shut up about being born Japanese. I’m all she’s got.”
“Good for you, Moto,” Glo said. “You don’t need a gun to be a hero.”
The cab came to a stop with nowhere to go and nothing but traffic downtown.
“What the hell?” Glo said.
“Hello? It’s the Fourth of July and everybody loves a parade. You should be in it, you know. The woman who killed Bin Laden? People would go nuts if they knew you were here.”
“Don’t even think about it, Moto. I’ll get out here.”
“But the house is all the way on the other side of—”
“I know where it is,” Glo said. “I practically grew up there.”
“Okay. But don’t try to pay me. This is on the house.” Moto hopped out, pulled out Glo’s wheelchair, and snapped it
“I got it from here,” Glo said.
She used her arms to slide her bottom from the seat to the chair in one motion that showed off the muscles in her arms.
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” Moto said.
“Not yet,” Glo said. “But give it time.”
Moto handed her his business card. Glo looked at it and made a
“You’re a P.I.?”
“Just a way to make money on the side. For college. I’m working on something you would not believe. I never gave a shit about water before. Or where it came from. But around here water is better than gold. Better than owning a casino. I’m onto something that’s going to blow this town sky-high. Who knew?”
“Glad to her hear it.
“If you need anything,” Moto said, “you call me 24/7. I’m always available. Bang—I’ll be there before you know it. And I’m good in a pinch.”
“Thanks, Moto Yakamoto. You’re a good man. And it’s good to be good in a pinch.”
“Thank you for whatever you did over there.”
Moto climbed back into cab.
“Hey! Glo Scott! You’re still hot!”
He shook his hand outside the car window like it was still burning while he drove away.
In and out, Glo was thinking. Then I’m out of here.
Downtown Dodge City was hot and dry and just as bad as when the sun was baking you in the desert like a biscuit. The sidewalk was so crowded the only way through the parade was to roll alongside it in the street. The cops ignored Glo because she was just another veteran in a wheelchair—just another cripple.
No one recognized her. Had it been clean her hair should have matched the butterscotch freckles on her face. But her hair was light and blonde—first from the desert then from bleach—and the desert sun cooked her freckles into dark red bursts blotting the lower half of her face.
When she looked in the mirror late at night she had no idea who was looking back.
If Glo wanted to slip into Dodge with no one noticing, she could have done worse than riding a wheelchair in the Fourth of July parade.
Grownups and parents and their kids were all waving the flag like they owned it. The people on the sidewalk clapped as she rolled past. Glo heard “Go USA”—and “thank you for your service” over and over—but no one said anything about a woman that young with legs that would never work again.
They always looked at Glo before they found other things to point to, or to look at. They always looked away from her without saying another word—or why. Because everyone knew why.
Glo made it almost all the way through the parade until she ran into the Veterans of Foreign Wars spread across the street like a roadblock. She knew some of these men because her father was a veteran, a Riverine from the Vietnam War, but none of them had seen her since she was a volleyball star with long legs wearing short shorts.
Unless they went to the Soldiers’ Home for Veterans.
They knew about Glo Scott from killing bin Laden, of course.
There was a whole photo spread in the Dodge City Beacon after Obama’s speech, but now Glo looked nothing like the volleyball pictures or the ones taken with the SEALS.
There were dozens of vets in the parade from Iraq and Afghanistan: they might have had PTSD but most of them still had their limbs and could walk ten city blocks in the dry summer heat without collapsing. The oldest vets, from World War II and Korea, were on the back of a truck, but some in wheelchairs were pushed around the last corner of the route.
Glo thought her father belonged here because he was just as banged up and damaged as the rest of the vets from Vietnam. He used to march in this parade every year wearing his medals. But now he was nowhere to be seen. Glo had no idea what happened to him on the
Mekong Delta—but she had been wishing him dead since she left
For all she knew he was dead. One could hope.
“You’re our hero,” someone shouted.
“Thank you for our freedom,” someone else screamed.
Glo had lost her freedom so everyone could have theirs. She sacrificed her best friend and lover so all of them could be free as a bird. It was easy to hate them all. Every last one. She could do it without blinking. But there was enough of her left inside not to. No one was going to blow out her pilot light as long as she were still alive. If that happened it would be lights out. Glo Scott would be no more, replaced by someone who had no chance at a life.
“Is that you, Glo?”
Franny Smart was breathing hard on the sidewalk, like she had just made it to the parade. No one else in Dodge City could have picked Glo Scott out of a lineup in that wheelchair.
Franny was the blocker, Athena the setter, and Glo the killer, the wing spiker on the volleyball team that won the state championship. In high school, she and Glo and Athena—the black, the white, and the Latina with a Native American mother—were the three legs of the stool. Now Athena was gone, and Franny had never been so happy to see anyone in her life.
“I should have answered your letters,” Glo said.
“You got that right.”
“I couldn’t even open them. I was too sad. About Athena. But I’ve still got them. I’ll read them some day. I promise I will.”
“I get it, Glo,” Franny said. “You were in the Hurt Locker. You hurting now, too. I can always tell no matter what you tell me. You a bad actor, you know that? You always were.”
Neither war nor loss of limb had changed anything between them. Franny was still a truth-teller. Glo was glad for that even when it hurt.
“That look in your eyes?” Franny said. “I don’t like it. Like glass but with no bottom to it. Like you’ve already gone someplace else without ever leaving the here and now. If you don’t feel the pain it don’t go away! Don’t you know that?”
“How would you know?” Glo said.
“Because I’m a black woman in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go.”
“I have to get to the Martinez house. That’s the only reason I came back to Dodge City.”
“That is just not a good idea,” Franny said. “It’s a terrible idea.”
“I’ve got something to give Athena’s parents. Then I’m gone.” “You didn’t come to see me?”
“You were never good at lying,” Franny said. “Used to piss me off. But no reason to start now. Follow me down the yellow brick road,
Glo. You need an invitation?”
Franny bulled and bullied her way through the crowd at the end of the parade route with Glo rolling close behind.
“Make way!” Franny said. “Hot goddamn soup!” Everyone looked away. Or just stared at the cripple in a wheelchair.
“Thank you for your service!” Franny pointed to the crowd. “Our nation thanks you!”
At the edge of the crowd Franny gave Glo’s wheelchair a push.
“Don’t ever do that again!” Glo said.
Franny raised her hands and backed away.
“Easy, girl,” she said. “This ain’t no war zone. And I ain’t no terrorist.”
They made it to the next block side-by-side before the sounds of the parade started to fade like a soundtrack one theater away.
“You know what you’re doing?” Franny said. “Or you just improvising?”
“I have something to give her parents. A medal.”
Franny stopped dead in the street. So did Glo.
“Parents gone,” Franny said. “Dead. Maria, the only one left.
And you are not her favorite person.”
“You’re going to find out soon enough. Might as well be now.”
They stayed in the street because there were no sidewalks and thus no wheelchair access on any of the corners. They made two lefts. A right. Then another left.
The Martinez house was the third one on the left. Someone had put a white picket fence all the way around the small lot and painted the house white with black shutters. A new roof topped it off.
“It’s a blue house. It should be blue.”
“Athena’s parents had an accident. Accidentally on purpose.”
“What happened?” Glo said.
“No one really knows,” Franny said.
Glo’s legs began to ache. Sometimes Glo could forget about how much she hurt, especially the part of her she could no longer feel. But not this time.
“I’ve got it from here,” Glo said.
“Don’t have to be this way,” Franny said. “You’re family to me,
Glo. And I love you.”
“I love you, too, Franny. But I’m good.”
“No you’re not, Glo. You’re not good at all. You are everything good is not. Don’t start lying to me now.”
“I’ll find you later.”
“Sure,” Franny said. “After the next war.”
Glo waited for Franny to go before she slipped a pill into her mouth, the one she had been wanting so badly. She waited for the medicine to slither from her belly to her bloodstream on the way to bathing her in pharmaceutical sweetness and light. When she closed her eyes she felt happy—the same way she was going to feel for the next fifteen minutes.
“May I help you?”
A real estate lady—the one with her made-up face on the sign— was standing by the front door where Mrs. Martinez should have been.
Mrs. Martinez never wore make-up.
“I’m looking for Maria Martinez.”
“I hear she’s bouncing around, maybe working at the Fair again.
The Martinez family hit a bad patch.”
“I don’t really know. Something about some land her mother owned. It’s sad but it happens.”
“So does shit,” Glo said.
The woman made a face that made her ruby red lips pucker, like she was about to kiss somebody goodbye just to make them go away. Glo turned and rolled back into the heart of Dodge City—the
belly of the beast.
Of course she remembered the smells of the Dodge City Fair— popcorn and kettle corn and hot dogs in the air.
Glo had to circle the fair twice before she found Maria Martinez running the Roundup ride, the one that strapped people in standing up and spun them around at odd angles until they said uncle. Glo remembered how she and Franny and Athena rode Roundup round and round, over and over, year after year, spinning and spinning, screaming louder with their legs turning into jelly every time.
“Maria?” Glo said before Maria had to load the next group. Maria had always been a pretty girl—and happy about the smallest of things. She was taller now but thin enough to be malnourished, anorexic even, with her pretty skin going gray, like a curtain drawn. A heaviness in her movements left all memory of that young girl behind.
Glo saw all of this before Maria saw her in the wheelchair. At first Maria showed nothing beyond annoyance at the interruption. But when she saw Glo in the chair all the anger and heartbreak exploded across her face.
“I was so sorry to hear about your parents, Maria.”
“You just heard?”
“You hear how they got killed?”
Maria unhooked a piece of chain link and people piled on the
Roundup ride. She waited for it to fill up before she hooked the chain back.
“For God’s sake, Glo! Why did you have to come back?”
“Because I have something to give you.”
“I don’t want it.”
“It was hers and now it’s yours.”
Glo took the box from a backpack and opened it. The Bronze Star was a beautiful dark bronze, with a big star in the middle. Glo held it up by the bright red-white-and-blue ribbon.
“Why would I want that?” Maria said. “Why would I want to remember Athena that way? I don’t want your medal, Mrs. War Hero.
Give it to Bin Laden’s widows. You killed like ten of them.”
“It’s not mine. It’s hers. It’s yours.”
“Why don’t you keep it? To remember how you got her killed?” “You’re right.” Gloria’s mouth was so dry she could barely talk. “I could have stopped her. I could have saved her. I think about it every day.”
“And you did nothing. And now she’s dead.”
“It wasn’t like that, Maria. It was her mission. I was about to leave Iraq. I was just along for the ride that day.”
Maria looked down at Glo in the wheelchair.
“I know. I got what I deserved.”
“But you’re alive, Glo. What don’t you get about that? You’re alive and Athena is dead. So keep your goddamn medal. And go to hell.” Maria pulled the lever to start the next ride. By the time Glo rolled away, everyone was screaming.
The song “Pomp and Circumstance” is pumped in. Parents, students, and faculty are jammed under a gigantic tent with their friends and families. The boys are wearing blue caps and gowns; the girls are in red. Two out of three are Hispanic. The same goes for the audience. But not the faculty: they are the same tired collection of white teachers male and female, old and new, with only a few Blacks and Hispanics sprinkled in.
Glo, radiant in cap and gown, walks out to massive applause because everyone knows what she means to the school.
“Good morning, Dodge City friends and family. I am Glo Scott, the proud valedictorian of the great Dodge City High School Class of 2005.”
The crowd claps and cheers and whistles.
One student shouts: “You rock, Glo!”
Another says: “You rule!”
Her mother and her brother Noah stand and cheer from the front row. But her father is impassive, like he could be at a ballgame already far out of reach.
“So we decided to do something a little different this year,” Glo said from the podium.
The faculty on the stage has no idea what to expect. They’re supposed to be bored for two hours as penance before they leave for summer vacation.
“You see, I may be valedictorian, but I’m a spiker at heart. And every spiker knows she’s nothing without a setter. And I’m nothing without mine.”
Glo points to the wings.
“So please welcome my setter and best friend, my honorary sister, the Salutatorian Athena Martinez!”
The crowd goes crazy. The faculty on the stage look and forth at each other with no idea what is coming.
“You see,” Glo says. “I may be valedictorian, but I’m a spiker at heart.”
Franny Smart, in cap and gown, leaps out of her seat so fast her cap falls off. She cups her hands around her mouth.
“We are the champions!” Franny screams.
Glo points and smiles at Franny. Then she points stage left.
“So please welcome my setter and soul sister, the Salutatorian
Athena Martinez! I am literally nothing without her!”
The crowd goes crazy. Loves them both: a double-dip for glory days.
“Athena is going to do what she does best. She’s going to set me up—”
“And Glo’s going to spike it!” Athena says. “Just like she did on match point in the championship game against Salina.”
The crowd laughs and cheers—especially Athena’s parents, Jorge and Peta Martinez——and her younger sister Maria, a freshman.
“Bring it on, girl!” Glo says
“Here we go,” Athena says. “Do you think the graduating class at
Dodge City High School has reason to be optimistic? Or pessimistic?”
“Absolutely,” Glo says.
The crowd laughs.
“You have to pick one. Or you can’t hold serve.”
“Why?” Glo says. “It’s a free country.”
“Because I’m your setter and I just set you up for the kill.”
“I’m pessimistic because I think everything is harder than ever,”
Glo says. “There are too many people and too few opportunities. But I’m optimistic because I’ve grown up with so many great people in Dodge
City that I think the best is yet to come. People like you, Athena.”
“Are you setting me up?” Athena says.
“Why not?” Glo says.
“Hello? You don’t set me up, Glo. I set you up. That’s the way this works.”
The crowd laughs again. Gets a kick out of the two girls. Athena re-sets.
“Question number two. What has it been like growing up in place called ‘The Wickedest Little City in the West’?”
“Wicked good,” Glo says.
The crowd keeps laughing.
“You’re not helping here.”
“How do you mean?”
“Wicked good is not a killshot,” Athena says. “I need a killshot.” “Give me something I can hit, will you?” Glo says. “Isn’t that your job?”
“You want a softball?” Athena says. “Okay—how is volleyball like life?”
“You can’t play volleyball by yourself. You need teammates. Chemistry. You have to work together for the greater good. And when you spike the ball, you have to make sure it goes in or you lose the point. And there are always the blockers on the other side who shove everything back in your face. Better?
“Much,” Athena says. “Final question. Make believe it’s match point in the state finals and you’re serving.”
“I can do that,” Glo says. “Come to think of it, I already did that.”
“Do you have any advice for the senior class before they head out into the real world?”
“Sure,” Glo says. “Find a mission. Find something you can believe in. And then fight like hell to make what you believe in come true. Don’t always do what people expect you to do.”
The crowd busts into applause.
“I think it’s pretty simple,” Glo says. We can spend the rest of our lives being selfish. Or we can figure out how we can serve our families, our communities, and our country.”
Glo’s parents and brother leap to their feet. So does the Martinez family. Everyone is standing and cheering——except for Mr. Scott, who looks like he missed the last bus.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Athena shouts.
“I owe it all to my setter,” Glo says. “No set, no spike.”
“Thank you, everyone!” Athena says. “We love you all!”
“Red Devils rule!” Franny shouts from her seat.
On the podium Glo and Athena hug and hold it for a long time.
“I love you, Glo Scott,” Athena says in a whisper.
“Are you setting me up?” Glo whispers back.
“Yes I am,” Athena says. “For the kill.”
Glo went for a run. That’s what she would have called it if she could have put one leg after another. As it was she rolled away from the Dodge City State Fair because moving always made things better—even though she needed a wheelchair to move at all.
How many times had she run out of her house to get away from
The beast had not come back into her bedroom for a long time— not since the abortion he never even knew about. Glo had sneaked off with Franny to the clinic where everyone treated her with respect, though Glo knew the wound would never really heal.
Glo’s mother always called the beast Mr. Scott: she said Mr. Scott was not a bad man, not at all—that Mr. Scott had been so damaged by Vietnam she barely knew him anymore. She could never divorce Mr. Scott, she said, because they were Catholics, so she told Glo they needed to pray for Mr. Scott together because God could make even the worst things you could imagine go away. They prayed together on their knees for Mr. Scott.
Glo wanted to believe it was God who made her father leave her alone—until the beast came to her bedroom graduation night. Glo knows exactly why the beast is there because the day she graduates from high school is the best day in her life, even better than the day they won the state championship. Everyone in Dodge loves Glo that day—everyone except her father.
Mr. Scott’s abuse was part of God’s plan, as her mother always said when Glo’s life was in the shitter, and that made Glo wonder how God could let Mr. Scott do what he did to her. He was forgetting things but his wife was covering that up too because she thought it was her job to honor him as he faded away.
The beast could not let the joy of graduation stand, not even for one night. He came to her bedroom door after everyone but Glo was asleep. He is not a well man to begin with: the beast has grown weaker as Glo grew older, losing weight over time. But Glo has grown stronger. Come graduation night Glo is no longer the young girl the beast could so easily overpower. She has been training the last two years like an Olympian—weights, lunges, sprints—but also training her mind after the abortion. Glo finds a new kind of calm, her superpower, by seeing and believing in her own future, by knowing she will leave Dodge City soonest to discover the best in herself.
She is already a high school hero, so she figures being a hero must have been her destiny.
Glo knows exactly what she has to do when the beast comes to her bedroom door graduation night. His T-shirt is tucked into his BVDs. He is emaciated but with a pot belly. His face shows too much drinking and too little sleep. The beast has nothing but traces of the strong man he must have been.
Glo is under the covers in her pajamas. She stands up.
“I’ll scream,” Glo says.
“You never do,” the beast says.
The beast is weaving in place. Woozy. Drunk. Again.
“You think you’re the big shot now? All-Star in volleyball?
Valedictorian? Full ride to KU? That’s all because of me, little girl.”
“You’re an accident,” Glo says. “A mistake that became a crime.”
“That’s not how I remember it,” the beast says.
“You can’t remember anything. Mom says you’re losing your mind and you don’t even know it. Especially when you’re drunk.” The beast rushes at her but Glo easily steps aside and effortlessly delivers an elbow to his nose.
The beast is staggering. In disbelief. Blood everywhere.
“You little bitch! You broke my fucking nose!”
He lunges at her again but Glo executes a backwards scissorkick to his balls she’s been planning this for years. The beast falls to the floor like he’s been shot. He howls like a baby.
Glo stomps on his back until he shuts up. She looks up only when she sees her mother and brother Noah at her bedroom door.
“Call an ambulance,” Glo says. “And a priest.”
Everyone was downtown for the parade and the fair so the streets were empty enough for Glo to move all over Dodge in her chair. She had to keep moving. To blow up all the bad. Sometimes she went dead center down the middle of the street, sometimes on the sidewalks or along the side. She smelled red meat burning. She smelled the barbecues on every block and the flames flying from grills as she rolled by backyards.
She pushed the wheelchair so hard for so long she was wet with sweat—and still buzzed from the pill that never failed her.
Her phone rang. A Washington, D.C., area code. Him again.
“Glo? Did I get you at a good time?”
“No,” Glo said.
“I hear you, I hear you,” he said. “Did you think about what I said?”
“Well, hear me out. You’ve got a story people need to hear. Did you talk to the ghostwriter?”
“He does nothing but bestsellers.”
“I’m not writing a book.”
“You don’t have to write a book, Glo. I can pick up the phone today and get your story in The Washington Post tomorrow. That’s all we need.”
“I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.”
“No-no-no,” he said. “They’re not going to feel sorry for you. They’re going to admire you. They’re going to love you. They’re going to name their kids after you.”
“I don’t want to be loved.”
“Once we publish that article in The Post I can get you $15,000 easy for fifty minutes and a Q and A by picking up the phone. With a little work we can work that up to $30K a pop. That’s $30,000 large for fifty minutes of your life. Once a week. Ten times $30K and you’re talking $300,000 per annum without breaking a sweat. You’ll be rolling in it.”
“I’m already rolling in it.”
Glo hung up and kept rolling. She had not given up. Life was something to make something of once she got out of Dodge. But she still had one more stop. At the Kansas Soldier’s Home.
Glo rolled up the ramp and down a hallway with rooms on either side, past veterans sleeping in wheelchairs and others, missing limbs, limping past. As she moved down the hall, she passed elderly veterans either bed-ridden or slumped in chairs. One man, his arms in faint tattoos, walked past her mumbling to himself.
“Inchon!” he muttered. “Don’t tell me about Inchon! I was there with MacArthur, I tell you!”
Glo went all the way down the hall to the last room on the left. The door was slightly open but not enough, so she used an arm to make room for her chair and rolled inside.
An old man, slumped in a chair, was snoring like he might never wake up. Glo rolled into place, clamped on the brakes. And waited.
The old man snorted every few breaths before he blinked awake.
“What do you want?” he said.
“I don’t know any Glo.”
“I’m your daughter.”
“I don’t have a daughter,” he said. “I don’t have any children.
Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Don’t you remember anything?” Glo says. “Your wife? Your son?”
“I don’t have a wife. Or a son.”
“Do you have any idea what you did to me?” Glo says.
“I never saw you before in my life. Swear to God.”
“You were my father and you raped me. Over and over. You didn’t stop until I made you stop by beating the shit out of you. I had an abortion! That’s why I hate you.”
“Are you crazy? This is crazy talk.”
“I used to wish you were dead,” Glo said. “Now I wish you could live like this—forever.”
The old man tried but only made it halfway up out of the chair. “Nurse!” Mr. Scott shouted. “NURSE! There’s a crazy person in here!”
Glo came to rest on the edge of town before rolling her way slowly back into Dodge. Her endorphins were glowing like a lit match in a body that would never forget what it meant to be an athlete. Life still sucked without her legs—without Athena—but she had to live with it or just give up. She might even apply to KU again, without the volleyball scholarship this time, and there was always community college. For tonight she could get a bed and a night’s sleep at the YMCA downtown. Then she could figure out what to do next. Maybe give the medal to Franny and kiss the rest goodbye, worst case, if it came to that.
On the way downtown Glo took another pill from her pocket— and almost popped it. Her arm actually moved toward her face before she put the pill back in the dark place where it came from. This was as good a time to quit as any, especially with a good drunk in her sights. It was time though not for the first time.
She needed a drink. A cold one. But first Glo had one more stop to make at a tiny house in need of a paint job on a tiny lot off Military Avenue. A house without a picket fence or porch or a backyard, with a front lawn in name only made of dirt. And no ramp.
Glo rolled to a stop in front of the house.
She saw a light on upstairs in a bedroom. She looked at a room now kept dark where she used to sleep.
Glo dialed the number she knows by heart. On the sidewalk, looking up at the house, she could hear her the phone ringing three times in the bedroom before her mother answered.
“Hello? Hello?” her mother said.
“Glo? It’s you! I can’t believe it’s you. Are you okay?”
“I can’t walk, Mom. I’m never going to walk again. So there’s nothing to worry about. There’s no point.”
“I pray for you every day to St. Jude. I pray every day you’ll walk again.”
“How’s that going?”
“You called, didn’t you? And I never thought I’d hear from you again! You were so mad at me. At the world.”
Glo had no idea what to say to that.
“Aren’t you going to ask? About your father?”
“Does he remember you, Mom?”
“He knows I’m somebody.”
“I remember everything, Mom. And you did nothing.”
“What could I do?”
“You could have told somebody. You could have called the police.
Or a priest. You could have stopped him!”
She heard her mother weeping on the phone.
“Do you pray for him, too, Mom?”
“Every day.” Her mother choked on her own words. “All day. When I wake up and when I go to sleep and all day in between. I pray he will be forgiven. I pray I will be forgiven for my sins. Do you forgive me, Glo?”
Glo banged her fist against her thigh over and over where the denim has gone white.
“Wait! Where are you? When will I see you?”
“Someday, Mom,” Glo says. “Over the rainbow.”
Glo killed the call but stayed in front of the house she grew up in without moving, as if the past might change if she could wait long enough.
Wyatt Earp’s Wild West Saloon was a dive bar where Glo and Athena and Franny were never allowed to go because they were too young. But the beer was cheaper than piss so all the kids in high school planned to drink there as soon as they were legal.
Glo rolled into Earp’s in time to catch the end of Happy Hour. When she came in there was no room between the bar on the right and the booths lining the left-hand wall. The place was dark and skanky with windows blocked off by liquor signs flickering on and off. This was Happy Hour on the Fourth of July so regulars had every reason to begin their drinking hours ago, indoors and out. The booths were filled mostly with men with faces like open-faced sandwiches, all pink and red and lobster-red thanks to sun and alcohol applied liberally over time.
A few women perched on bar stools claimed eons ago. Drink was their religion—a dark ritual—and a circle of Hell. Maybe they could make room for Glo within their own private inferno.
The space between stools and booths left no room for Glo to go anywhere. The only open space was next to the waiter’s station by the front door, the perfect place for a war hero to get shitfaced.
Everyone in Earp’s Wild West was staring at her. Stealing glances, as someone once said, but Glo saw every look from her wheelchair with her new way of looking at the world.
The waitress may have been beautiful once but Glo had no way to tell. As it was her breasts were outgrowing the Earp’s Wild West tank top; her cut-off shorts were too short by half, her thighs better left to the imagination.
“You’re in my way, hon,” she said, though not in a mean way.
“What can I get you?”
Glo swung her wheelchair around so she could back into the space, looking out.
“We got Coors on tap.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“And I’ll get you a water. Day like today? Dry as it is? It’s the nectar of the goddamn gods.”
Glo took in the whole room from the corner slot. It was ugly, or at least the people were ugly or soon to be, because this was a place that made its nut on the back of professional drinkers, starting at 10 every morning and not stopping until 2 at night.
“Goddammit!” Glo said too low for anyone to hear.
Three young uglies in muscle shirts without the muscle started to close in around her. She knew them, not by name, but from the high school football team. She thought they were definitely ugly for their age but made uglier by the way they were looking at her. They crowded around Glo in the corner. She was surrounded.
Tattoo and Biceps and Ponytail.
Why did the worst kind of guys always hang out together? Glo knew oblivion always beckoned people like them—the ones with no ambition who did no work in school—like the losers she knew inside out from the military. Even in the SEALs. Some people, like Dickwad, bring only bad news, especially when they’re drunk.
“Shit!” Tattoo said. “I know you. Hey guys, it’s Glo Scott. You remember Glo Scott, don’t you?”
The tats on Tattoo’s arms had a kind of Satanic red to them to match his blubbery face scorched by a holiday in the sun.
“Coming through,” the waitress said.
She put the glass of beer in one of Glo’s hands and the water in the other. Glo drank down the water and handed back the glass. Then she took a sip of the beer.
“It’s fucking Glo Scott,” Tattoo said to the waitress.
“I know who she is.” The waitress smiled at Glo. “You made my day, honey, just by coming in. God bless you.”
She turned to the three guys.
“You treat her with respect, boys. She fucking killed fucking Bin
Laden. She sure as shit can kick your sorry asses.”
“I got an idea,” Tattoo said. “It’s Fourth of July. Let’s drink a real hero into the ground. Close the place down.”
“She don’t even like guys,” Tattoo said. “Look at how she treated
“I like guys well enough,” Glo said. “There’s nothing wrong with guys.”
“But you wouldn’t fuck them, would you, Glo?” Ponytail said.
“That’s what Todd said.”
Glo drank from her beer. She made a face because it was warm as piss—not because of how she felt about guys.
“The truth? You guys would not be my first choice.”
Glo had been around boys and men her whole life—in high school, in the military, in rehab, at home. This threesome reminded her of Dickwad on the chopper. And her father. And the boys and men who always found a way to hurt her before she found Athena in the end. “I wouldn’t fuck her anyway,” Ponytail said. “She’s all legs and no pussy.”
Sure: they were drunk and stupid and they were assholes. Big ones. But she could wait for life to move on the way it always did. In a public place like Earp’s Wild West Saloon, Glo could ride it out.
The waitress came back too soon on purpose.
“You want another beer, hon?”
“I’m good,” Glo said.
“Glo Scott is too good for anyone,” Tattoo said. “Too cool for school.”
“You gave up your legs for our freedom,” Ponytail said. “You made a trade.”
“She doesn’t need anything we got here other than beer on tap,” the waitress said. “Now you boys shut your fucking traps or I’m cutting you off. Stop pissing on a bona fide hero.”
“And you can suck my dick,” Biceps said.
“That little thing?” The waitress laughed. “I’ve seen bigger in a baby carriage.”
“I won’t be staying long,” Glo said. “Just till I finish my beer.”
“I know you won’t,” Tattoo said. “Because you need to get out of
Dodge before someone gets hurt.”
Glo put the uglies from Earp’s behind her on the night of the day she came back to Dodge.
The day she never thought would happen.
The reality of returning home was much worse for Glo than the vague notion of what it would mean to finally get there. Arriving on the Fourth of July was a huge mistake, like rubbing her own nose in a pile of patriotic dogshit. Franny tried to help, but seeing the new roof and paint job on the Martinez house made Glo want to throw up—even before Athena’s sister, Maria, made Glo feel like she wanted to die. The uglies at Earp’s did not help her mood, but at least Tattoo, Biceps, and Ponytail were in the rearview mirror, never to be seen again.
Glo knew Dodge had defeated her but she no longer cared. She would give the medal to Moto—to give to Franny—to give to Maria Martinez when the time was right. By the time she left Earp’s she refused to feel guilty about a medal when she still had so much else to feel guilty about.
She had come back to Dodge—the last place in the world she wanted to be—and she had tried to make things right. She had done what she could do. Now it was time to get over it.
Glo rolled down the street to the Dodge City YMCA. She had stayed at Ys before in her chair, but a few bucks for a room did not always equal rooms made for wheelchairs, and bathrooms could be a real struggle. Even so she would get as much sleep as she could. Glo would call Moto tomorrow to give him the Bronze Star for delivery.
Then she would be gone for good.
Glo was done with deserts and dust bowls. She was ready to start a new life.
Where would she go? Did it matter once Dodge was behind her?
Maybe she would just buy a ticket on the next train heading west. People in America had always gone west when they wanted to start over—or when they had nowhere else to go. She liked the idea of space and sky and mountains and plenty of water.
Sure—she was a volleyball star with no legs and no college degree but she was also a hero. She might give those speeches after all, after she healed some more. Maybe it was a story people needed to hear, the one about yet another war ruining clueless young Americans for no good reason. Maybe she could hold the woman she loved close by telling everyone about her from a distance. Maybe Glo would call that ghost writer to make sure the true story of her life was actually told in a true way. Maybe her book and her speeches could help other veterans in the same spot by not giving up on life, by fighting for the rights and respect they all deserved.
Maybe she really could let it all go and start over. That might work. Miracles did happen.
Glo was still in her twenties with plenty of time left on the clock.
Everything was possible if you just checked walking off the list.
In the chair her life would be different from what could have been, so Glo laid out her new life like a map, one that might one day include the love of another, a woman just like Athena but different. Someone kind and calm and beautiful in her own way.
Maybe love was something to live for.
Athena would want that for Glo. She could think of worse things and the thought gave her the kind of hope that lasted.
The Y was on a side street with no traffic to be seen at night. Two bare light bulbs on either side of the front door barely light up the main entrance and the plywood ramp she would need.
“Hey, boys, what do you know?” Tattoo said. “It’s the great
American hero up shit creek with no paddle!”
Tattoo, Biceps, and Ponytail smelled of cheap beer: they were weaving as Glo was wheeling toward the ramp.
“You need a hand, Supergirl?” Ponytail said.
“Let us help you,” Biceps said. “We’re here to help.”
“Get out of my way,” Glo said.
Ponytail hopped up over the rail and in front of her. Tattoo and Biceps stood behind her and pushed her back up the ramp toward
“Get your hands off my chair,” Glo said.
“We’re trying to help,” Tattoo said.
Glo torqued her upper body to throw vicious right and left elbows behind her that hit both Tattoo and Biceps in the arms.
“Fucking bitch,” Biceps said.
Ponytail slapped her square in the cheek as hard as he could from the front. Glo let out a yelp.
“Some hero,” Tattoo said.
“Assholes!” Glo said.
Tattoo and Biceps grabbed her arms. Ponytail got hold of the
CamelBak and held it up like a prize.
“You’re dead meat,” Tattoo said.
Glo kept swinging and clawing but the uglies had her surrounded on the ramp. Ponytail started to pour through her backpack. He held up a bra and put the panties to his face and inhaled.
“Something’s wrong,” Ponytail said. “I can’t smell her snatch. I told you she had no pussy.”
Glo grabbed at her backpack but Ponytail kept hopping away from her. He threw the bra away and stuffed the panties into his pocket. He kept pawing through the backpack until he came out with a small box. He opened the box and threw it away and held up the Bronze Star by the red-white-and-blue ribbon. He pinned the ribbon on the right side of his muscle shirt.
“Look at me now,” Ponytail said. “I’m a goddamn war hero. All you need is a medal. It’s like the Wizard of Oz.”
Ponytail threw the backpack against the building.
“Give it back,” Glo said.
She was rocking back and forth with her body stretching and grabbing at all three of them. But Ponytail stayed just out of reach, jumping backwards up the ramp every time she got close.
“Don’t even try, girlfriend,” Tattoo said. “We’re not going down as easy as Osama Obama.”
Glo suddenly stopped fighting.
“If you give me the medal now.” Glo said, “I promise not to kill you.”
Tattoo, Biceps, and Ponytail laughed at her and lifted the chair above the ramp so they could toss Glo off the wheelchair over the side onto the sidewalk like a bag of dirt. She hit her head just like she had in Iraq when the bomb exploded.
As the three uglies came back down the ramp, her training kicked in and Glo crabbed herself against the wall to better protect against what was coming—and to stay alive long enough for someone to hear something—for help to arrive—the way it did in Iraq after Athena blew up in a million pieces.
They went after her legs first. When Tattoo came within reach Glo bloodied his nose with a short right. Tattoo came back at her and tore off her tank top while the other two uglies unzipped her zipper and tried to pull off her shorts.
“I told you,” Ponytail said. “All legs and no pussy.”
Ponytail and Biceps pulled apart her legs like they were pulling on a wishbone. Tattoo pulled off her jogging bra even though Glo nailed him in the face with a left hook that produced an immediate welt on his right cheek.
Glo was naked now from the waist up and flailing at all three, breaking free every few seconds for a punch or a scratch.
“Go ahead, assholes,” she said. “I won’t feel a thing.”
Glo knew she would never walk again, not in this world, but she could crawl like a baby. She pushed off the wall with both hands and rolled her body toward the CamelBak. She crabbed her body forward with her hands and arms and reached into the CamelBak to pull out her gun.
“Easy girl,” Tattoo said. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. This ain’t personal.
Somebody put us up to it. Told us to rough you up.”
“No idea,” Tattoo said. “Some go-between.” “How much?” Glo said.
“A thousand each. Half before, half after.”
Glo shot Tattoo in the head and he crumpled down into the ground.
“Who?” she said to the other two.
Ponytail peed his pants without saying a word. Glo shot him right through the heart on the side of his chest away from Athena’s medal.
Biceps, frozen to the spot, held his hands over his head like a hostage. Or a war criminal.
“Who?” Glo said. “If you don’t tell me I’m going to shoot you in the balls.”
Biceps looked at what was left of Tattoo’s head. He looked at the blood soaking Ponytail’s shirt on the side away from Athena’s medal.
“Teddy Sampson,” Biceps said. “A bouncer at the casino. He was the go-between.”
“Never heard of him,” Glo said.
When Glo shot him in the balls Biceps wailed like a baby.
She dropped the gun, pulled up her pants, and crabbed over to Ponytail. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone and dialed the three digits for 911. Glo heard it ringing.
“This is Dodge City 911,” a voice said. “What is your emergency?”
“I’m having a really bad day,” Glo said.
She dropped the phone without hanging up, took the medal off Ponytail’s chest, and put it on the flesh between her breasts. Then Glo
Scott, a great American hero, passed out with a smile on her face.