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Gump and Co. Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

First thing Colonel North says to me when we out of earshot of Dan is “Your clothes are awful; we gotta get you cleaned up.” An so he took me over to some army fort an tole them to fit me with a brand-new private’s uniform, an then he took me to where I could get a bath an to a barbershop for a haircut an a shave. When we was through, I was spic-an-span an feelin like I was back in the army or somethin – which was weird.

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“Well, Gump, that is an improvement if I do say so,” the colonel says. “Now, look here, I want your ass spit-an-polish from now on in. If it’s necessary, I want you to even spit-shine your asshole – you got that?”

“Right, Colonel,” I say.

“And now,” he says, “I am gonna confer on you the title of ‘special assistant for covert operations.’ But you ain’t to tell anybody anything about any of this – no matter what. Right?”

“Right, Colonel,” I says.

“Listen, Gump,” says Colonel North when we get inside the White House, “we are going to see the President of the United States, so I want you to be on your best behavior – you got that straight?”

“I already seen him,” I says.

“When? On TV or something?”

“Right here – about eight or ten years ago.”

“Yeah, well, they got a new president now. You ain’t met this one yet – An he don’t hear too good, either, so you got to speak up if he says something to you. An for that matter,” Colonel North adds, “he don’t listen too well, either.”

We gone on into the little round room where the President was, an sure enough, it was not neither of the ole presidents I had met, but a new one this time. He was a older, kindly gentleman with little rosy cheeks an look like he might of been a cowboy at some point, or maybe a movie actor.

“Well, Mr. Gump, I am proud to make your acquaintance,” the President says. “Colonel North, here, tells me you won the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

“Yessir,” I says.

“And what did you do to get it?”

“I runned.”

“Beg your pardon?” says the President.

“He said he ran, sir,” Colonel North interrupted, “but he didn’t tell you he ran carryin five or six of his wounded buddies out of the line of fire.”

“Well, Colonel, there you go again,” say the President, “putting words in people’s mouths.”

“Sorry, sir,” says the colonel. “I was just trying to clarify matters. Put them in a proper perspective.”

“You leave that to me,” the President say. “That is my job, not yours – By the way, Colonel North, have we met before?”

Anyway, we finally got on down to bidness. In a corner of the room is a TV set, an the President, he has been watchin Concentration.

“Why don’t you turn that shit off, Colonel,” the President says. “It confuses me.”

“Right, sir,” says the colonel. “Personally, I prefer The Price Is Right, myself.”

“Last time I was here,” I says, tryin to get in the conversation, “the President, he sometimes watched To Tell the Truth. But that was a long time ago.”

“I ain’t too fond of that one,” Colonel North says.

“Listen,” says the President, “we ain’t got time to screw around talkin about TV shows. Just what you got on your mind, Ollie?”

“That sombitch the Ayatolja of Iran,” he says. “We is fixin to make a fool of him an get back our hostages, too, and while we are at it, we gonna do in them communist jackoffs in Central America, as well. It is the scheme of a lifetime, Mr. President!”

“Yeah? How you gonna do all that, Ollie?”

“Well,” say the colonel, “all it takes is a little tact and diplomacy – Now, here is my plan…”

For the next few hours the colonel he explainin his scheme to the President. Once or twice the President dozed off, an the colonel had to stop an wake him up by ticklin his nose with a feather he kept in his uniform pocket for that purpose. I did not foller much of Colonel North’s stuff, account of everthin seemed to depend on everthin else an they was a bunch of names thowed out that was just about unpronounceable. When he was finished, I didn’t understand any more about what we is sposed to do than when he started, but I figgered the President did.

“Yeah, Ollie, that all sounds pretty good to me, whatever it was, but let me ask you this: What is the Ayatolja of Iran got to do with it?” the President says.

“Huh?” say the colonel. “Why, the Ayatolja is the plan! Don’t you see – arms for hostages! An then we use the money they pay us to finance the gorillas fighting in Nicaragua! It couldn’t be neater, Mr. President!”

Me, I was wonderin why the gorillas in Nicaragua was fightin, an it reminded me of ole Sue.

Poor ole Sue.

“Well,” says the President, “it all sounds kinda fishy to me – but if you say so, Ollie – But just remember – no arms for hostages, per se – you know what I mean?”

“It will make you a great national hero, sir,” the colonel says.

“One other thing I don’t understand,” says the President, “is what is Mr. Gump’s role in all this?”

“Well, Mr. President,” the colonel answers, “I believe that the two greatest enemies of all Americans are ignorance and apathy, and Private Gump is living proof that these can be overcome. He will be a great asset to us.”

The President looked kinda puzzled an turned to me. “What’d he say? Somethin about ignorance and apathy, wadn’t it?”

“I don’t know, an I don’t give a shit,” I says.

At this, the President scratch his head an get up an turns on the TV set again.

“Whatever you want to do, Ollie,” he says, “but now I got to watch Let’s Make a Deal.”

“Yes, that’s a fine show, Mr. President.”

“The one I really liked was Queen For a Day, but it don’t come on no more,” the President says, lookin kinda sad.

“You just leave it to me and Private Gump, here, Mr. President. I assure you, we will reflect great credit on you and this office.”

But the President, he seem like he ain’t really listenin. He is watchin Let’s Make a Deal.

Anyhow, after all that I gone on back to Lafayette Park with Colonel North an am wonderin what to do about Lieutenant Dan an Wanda, account of I can’t leave em there alone. The colonel, he has figgered out a plan for Dan, say he is gonna have him committed to Walter Reed Hospital for “observation,” an ain’t no time goes by but what a big ambulance pulls up an hauls Lieutenant Dan off.

Wanda, Colonel North says, is gonna have a temporary home at the “National Zoo.”

“She will be ‘exhibit B,’ ” he says, “in case we get arrested.”

“Arrested for what?” I ast.

“Well, Gump, you never know,” the colonel says.

Meantime, I tole the colonel I gotta go see little Forrest afore we go flyin off all over the world, an he says I can use “Air Force One” to do it, account of the President, he says, “that sombitch ain’t goin nowhere today anyhow.”

Comin into Mobile on Air Force One is not like arrivin on a regular plane. They have got a brass band to welcome me an a limousine to drive me around, an when I get to Mrs. Curran’s house, they is a lot of people hangin around in the yard. Mrs. Curran come out to greet me, but I can see little Forrest standin behind the screen door, kinda like he don’t want to see me. When I gone inside, I found out this was true.

“I told you, you had to check the pressure valve at least twice a day, din’t I?” was the first thing he said.

“Yup,” I says. “An you shore was right.”

“Yeah, I know, cause you ruined everything. We could of been millionaires. And now we’re broke, I suppose.”

“That’s about the size of it, son.”

“Don’t call me son. Never. I ain’t your son.”

“I just meant it like…”

“I don’t care what you meant. It was the easiest thing in the world to just check that valve. And now look what’s happened.”

“Little Forrest, I am sorry about it, but I can’t do nothin to fix it now. What’s over is over, an I gotta get on with other stuff.”

“Like what – goin into the army or something? How come you wearing that uniform?”

“Well, I reckon I sort of am. I mean, I was in the army once afore, you know.”

“So you told me.”

“An I gotta do one more thing for Colonel North. Cause he ast me to, an, well, I just gotta do it.”

“Yeah, I spose you do – cause you screwed up everything else.”

He turned around an I seen him ball up his fist an put it up like he was wipin his eye. It was a very painful thing to see, feelin to mysef like he was ashamed of me. I reckon he had a right to be, though, on account of I have messed up good this time.

“What about Wanda?” he ast. “I spose you have sold her to the butchers.”

“That ain’t so. She is at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.”

“So she’s just gonna be there for everybody to make fun of, huh?”

“Nah, it ain’t like that. The colonel is gonna get her special treatment.”

“Huh,” he says. “I bet.”

Anyhow, that was the way it went. To say the least, little Forrest was not pleased to see me, an I was feelin pretty low when I left. The one thing that give me a little encouragement was just before I walked out the door.

“By the way, what was it like when the shit pit blew out?” he ast.

“Well,” I says, “it was a sight.”

“Yeah,” he says. “I bet.” An I thought I might have seen a little smile on his face just then, but I ain’t sure.

An so we gone on over to Iran.

It was a big city with a lot of bulblike things on top of the buildins, look like upside-down turnips, an them fellers was all dressed in black robes an wearin hats look like a overturn basket on they heads an tryin to look fierce an everthin.

Fiercest lookin of them all was the Ayatolja.

He be glarin an scowlin, an is not exactly the most pleasant-lookin feller I would want to meet.

Colonel North whispers to me, “Just remember, Gump, ‘tact and diplomacy.’ It’s all that matters!” Then he done stick out his hand an try to shake it with the Ayatolja, but the Ayatolja, he just set with his arms crossed an scowl at the colonel an don’t say nothin.

Colonel North look at me an say, “This sombitch is weird, man. I mean, everbody I ever met was willin to shake hands – you know what I’m sayin?”

Standin behin the Ayatolja was two guys in baggy-lookin diapers, have big swords in they belts, an one of em say, “Don’t you never call the Ayatolja a ‘sombitch.’ He might figger out what it means an then we gotta chop off your heads.”

In this, I figger he is correct.

Anyhow, I am tryin to break the ice, so to speak, so I ast the Ayatolja how come he is always so fierce an mad-lookin an scowlin all the time?

“It is because,” he say, “that for thirty years I have been tryin to become president of the World Council of Churches, an them heathen assholes won’t even let me in! Who is more religious than the Ayatolja, anyhow?”

“Why you let that worry you?” I ast, an he says back, “On account of I am a dignified feller, an don’t take no shit off nobody, an who is these turds that will not let me in the World Council of Churches? I am the Ayatolja of Iran, after all. I am a big cheese, you dummy.”

“Now, wait a minute,” say Colonel North. “My man Forrest, here, might not be the brightest feller around, but you oughtn’t be callin him names.”

“The Ayatolja does whatever he wants – You don’t like it, kiss my ass.”

“Yeah, well, I am a marine colonel and I don’t kiss asses.”

At this, the Ayatolja commenced slappin his thighs an bust out laughin.

“Very good, Colonel, very good. I think we can do some bidness here.”

Anyhow, Colonel North done start explainin his deal to the Ayatolja.

“Look here,” he says, “some of your fellers over in Lebanon done took a bunch of our people for hostages, and it is causin considerable embarrassment to the President of our United States.”

“Oh, yeah,” the Ayatolja says. “So why don’t you just go over there and get em out?”

“It ain’t that easy,” the colonel says.

The Ayatolja begun to chuckle. “Really. Tell me about it. I know somethin about hostage takin mysef, you know. Look what happened when that other numbnuts president of yours came over here an tried to screw with our hostage-takin enterprise. What was his name…?”

“It don’t matter, he ain’t there anymore,” say the colonel.

“Yeah, I know all about that, too!” The Ayatolja begun to laugh again, an slap his thighs.

“Well, that may be true,” the colonel says, “but look here, we gotta get down to bidness. Time is money, you know?”

“What is time to the Ayatolja?” he say, holdin his palms up in the air, an just about then, one of them fellers with the baggy underpants an the swords beat twice on a huge gong, sort of like the one Mrs. Hopewell, from the CokeCola scheme, had in her rubdown room.

“Ah, speakin of time,” announces the Ayatolja, “we are about ready for lunch. You boys had anythin to eat yet?”

“No, sir,” I piped up, an Colonel North, he gave me a dirty look.

“Well, then,” the Ayatolja shouts, “let the feast begin!”

At this, about a hundrit A-rabs come runnin into the room carryin trays an platters of all kinds of shit, an it is the most mysterious-lookin food I have ever seen. They is big heaps of what appear to be salami wrapped in cabbage an hams an olives an fruits an maybe cottage cheese or somethin – an I don’t know what-all else. They laid it all down in front of us on a big Persian rug an stood back with they arms folded across they chests.

“Well, Mr. Gump, and what would you like to eat?” says the Ayatolja.

“Maybe a ham sambwich,” I answered.

“Father of God!” screams the Ayatolja. “Don’t say them kinds of things in here! We people ain’t ate no nasty ham in three thousand years!” He begun wavin his hands an scowlin again.

Colonel North be givin me the real evil eye now, an from the corner of my own eye, I seen them fellers in the baggy diapers have begun drawin they swords. I figger I have said somethin wrong, so I says, “Well, how about a few of them olives or somethin.”

A feller begun collectin a plate of olives for me, an I am thinkin that this is okay, too, account of I reckon I ate enough ham back at the pig farm to last me a lifetime.

Anyhow, when the food was served to Colonel North, he begun eatin it with his fingers an oohin an ahin about how good it was, an I picked up a olive or two an put em in my mouth. The Ayatolja took out a fork an started eatin his lunch with it, an kinda raised his eyebrows at the colonel an me. When we was finished, the A-rabs took the plates away, an the colonel tried to get down to bidness again.

“Listen,” he says, “we got enough missiles we can lay our hands on to blow up half of Christendom. Now, you want some of these, you gotta promise to make them crackpots over in Lebanon let our fellers go free. Is that a deal?”

“The Ayatolja don’t make deals with the Great Satan,” he says.

“That so?” the colonel answers. “Well, why don’t you make your own missiles then?”

“We ain’t got time to,” say the Ayatolja. “We are too busy with our prayers.”

“Oh, yeah.” The colonel snickers. “Then why don’t you pray yourself up some missiles, then?”

The scowl on the Ayatolja’s face become darker an darker, an I could see that the colonel’s tact an diplomacy was fixin to get us into a lot of hot water. An so I tried to lighten the tension with a little joke.

“Scuse me, Mr. Ayatolja,” I says. “Have you heard the one about the drunk caught drivin down a one-way street?”

“Nope.”

“Well, the policeman says to him, ‘Say, din’t you see them arrows?’ An the drunk says, ‘Arrows? I din’t even see the Indians!’ “

“For Chrissakes, Gump…” the colonel hisses, but just then the Ayatolja busts out in a big laugh an begun slappin his thighs an stampin his feet.

“Why, Mr. Gump, you do have a sense of humor, don’t you? Why don’t you an me take a little walk in my garden?”

So that’s what we did. I looked back over my shoulder as we was goin out the door, an Colonel North was just standin there with his jaw hangin down past his chin.

“Look here, Mr. Gump,” the Ayatolja says when we get outside, “I don’t like this Colonel North of yours. His diplomacy is too slick, and my impression is that he is tryin to put a fast one over on me.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I says. “He seems to me like a truthful feller.”

“Well, be that as it may, I ain’t got all day to listen to his bullshit. It’s about time for me to go pray again. So tell me, what do you think of all this arms for hostages stuff?”

“I don’t know much about it. I mean, if it’s a fair trade, I guess it’s okay. The President seemed to think it was. But, like I say, it ain’t exactly in my sphere of influence.”

“Just what is your sphere of influence, Mr. Gump?”

“Well, I was a pig farmer, before all this.”

“Father of God,” the Ayatolja mutters, claspin his hands an rollin his eyes up toward heaven. “Allah has sent me a swine merchant.”

“But basically,” I added, “I guess I am a military man.”

“Ah, that is a little better I suppose. So, from that standpoint, how do you think these missiles will help the poor ole Ayatolja in his war against the infidels in Iraq?”

“Damn if I know.”

“Ah – that’s the kind of answer the Ayatolja likes to hear. Not this slick car salesman crap of your Colonel North. You go back and tell your people we got a deal. Arms for hostages.”

“You gonna get our hostages out, then?”

“I can’t promise it, of course. Those fellers in Lebanon are a bunch of maniacs. All the Ayatolja can do is try – You just make sure them missiles get here on the double.”

So that’s how it was. Colonel North, when he got through chewin me out for hornin in on his diplomacy, he was happy as a pig in sunshine, so to speak.

“Great God, Gump,” he says on the flight home, “this is the deal of a lifetime! We have finally tricked that old moron into givin us back our hostages for some old beat-up missiles that an army of Norwegians wouldn’t know what to do with. What a lovely coup!”

All the way till we landed, the colonel be pattin hissef on the back for his brilliance. Me, I figger I might have found some kind of career in this bidness, so’s I can send some money home for little Forrest. As it turned out, that was not the way it worked.

We ain’t back in Washington but a while when all hell breaks loose.

But meantime, I tried to get my affairs straight. First, I gone on up to Walter Reed Hospital, and, sure enough, just like Colonel North said, there is ole Lieutenant Dan, lyin up in a hospital bed. And he was lookin one hell of a lot better than when I seen him last.

“Where’ve you been, you big asshole?” Dan ast.

“I have been on a top secret mission,” I says.

“Yeah? Where to?”

“To Iran.”

“What for?”

“To see the Ayatolja.”

“What’d you go to see that sombitch for?”

“We was there to make a deal for arms for hostages.”

“That so?”

“Yup.”

“What kind of arms?”

“Bunch of ole rusty missiles.”

“What kind of hostages?”

“Them over in Lebanon.”

“Deal go through?”

“Sort of.”

“What you mean, sort of?”

“Well, we give the Ayatolja his missiles.”

“You get back the hostages?”

“Not yet.”

“Yeah, an you never will, you dumb cluck! Not only have you just revealed to me, a civilian, all this top secret bullshit – which is a firin-squad offense – but it sounds like you have been had again! Forrest, you are a shit-for-brains for sure.”

Well, after exchangin our pleasantries, I took ole Dan in his wheelchair down to the cafeteria to get some ice cream. Since they don’t serve oysters on the half shell at the hospital, ice cream has become Dan’s favorite food. He says that aside from raw oysters, ice cream is sort of easy on his teeth. Anyhow, it kind of made me remember when I was a little kid settin out on Mama’s back porch, churnin away on Saturday afternoons, makin our own ice cream, an Mama would always let me lick the paddles when the ice cream was good an soft an cold.

“What you reckon is gonna happen to us, Dan?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?”

“I dunno. It just sort of come to me.”

“Hell it did – You been thinking again – which is not exactly your specialty.”

“Yeah, sort of, I guess. I mean, seems like everthin I touch turns to shit. I can’t keep no job more than a while, an even when it’s goin okay, I screw up. An I am always missin my mama an Jenny an Bubba an everbody. An now there is little Forrest to look after. Listen, I know I am not the smartest feller around, but people half the time be treatin me like some kinda freak. Seems like the only way I’m gettin anyplace is when I dream at night. I mean, when’s this shit gonna stop?”

“Probly it won’t,” Dan says. “That’s just the way it is sometimes. Folks like us, we is just screw-ups, an there’s no getting around it. Me, I ain’t worried what’s gonna happen, cause I know. I ain’t long for this earth, myself, an far as I’m concerned, good riddance.”

“Don’t say that kind of stuff, Dan. You’re about the only friend I got left.”

“I’ll say the truth if I want to. I probly done a lot of wrong shit in my life, but one thing you can’t say is that I don’t tell the truth.”

“Yeah, but that’s not how it is. Nobody can know how long they gonna live.”

“Forrest,” he say, “you got the mind of a mole.”

Anyway, this will sort of give you an idea of Dan’s frame of mind. Me, I was feelin pretty low mysef. I had begun to realize that Colonel North an me has been bamboozled by the Ayatolja, who has now got his missiles, an we ain’t seen no hostages returned. Colonel North done been busy arrangin for the money we got for the missiles to be sent down to Central America to the gorillas, an he is not feelin nearly as bad about things as me.

“Gump,” he says one mornin, “I gotta go up to Congress in a day or so to testify to some committee about my activities. Now, they may call you, too, or they may not, but in any case, you don’t know nothin about any deals for arms for hostages, do you?”

“I know somethin about the arms, but I ain’t seen no hostages yet.”

“That’s not what I meant, you big ox! Don’t you realize what we have done is illegal! We could all go to jail! So you better keep your big mouth shut and do what I tell you, you hear?”

“Yes, sir,” I says.

Anyhow, I had other shit to worry about, namely, that Colonel North had got me billeted at the marine barracks, an it was not goin too pleasant there. Marines is different from army folks. They is always goin aroun hollerin at everbody an chewin ass an makin you keep everthin clean as a whistle. The one thing it seemed they liked least was havin an army private in their barracks, an frankly, they made my life so miserable that I finally moved out. I didn’t have nowhere to go, so I gone on back to Lafayette Park to see if I could find my crate. Turned out, somebody was usin it, so I went an found me another one. An after I got things fixed up, I got the bus out to the National Zoo to see if I could find ole Wanda.

Sure enough, she was there, right next to the seals an the tiger.

They had her in a little cage with some straw an shavins on the floor, an she was lookin pretty unhappy. Sign on the cage says Swinus Americanus.

When she seen me, she recognized me immediately, an I reached out over the fence an give her a pat on the snout. She give out a big ole grunt, an I felt so sorry for her I didn’t know what to do. If I could of, I’d of busted in that cage an turned her loose. Anyhow, I went on up to the concession stand an bought some popcorn an a Twinkie, an took it back to Wanda’s cage. I almost bought her a hotdog, but thought better of it. I gave her the Twinkie an was feedin her the popcorn, when a voice behin me says:

“An just what do you think you’re doin?”

I turn aroun an it is a big ole zoo guard standin there.

“I am givin Wanda some food.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, don’t you see that sign right there, says Do Not Feed the Animals?”

“I bet it wadn’t the animals put that sign there,” I says.

“Oh, a smartass, huh?” he say, an grapped me by the collar. “Let’s see how funny you are in the lockup.”

Well, frankly, I have had enough of this shit. I mean, I am feelin so low I almost got to look up to look down, an everthin is goin wrong, an all I done was try to feed little Forrest’s pig, an this bozo is givin me a hard time, an well, that was it!

I grapped him back an lifted him up in the air. Then I spun him aroun a few times, like I remember from my rasslin days with The Professor and The Turd, an then I let him loose. He sailed in the air over a fence, kinda like a Frisbee, an landed right in the middle of the seal pool with a big splash. All the seals done jumped in the water an come rushin up to him an whoppin him with they flippers, an he is hollerin an shoutin an shakin his fist. I walked on out of the zoo an caught the bus back downtown. Sometimes a man has got to do what he has got to do.

Sombitch is lucky I didn’t thow his ass in the tiger pit.

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