Mike started following the buxom brunette back to her old Jeep Liberty when warning bells went off in his head. Something wasn’t right. His instincts saved him many times in his life. He looked around to see if he was walking into some sort of ambush. That was another instinct that saved him many times in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something just didn’t feel right to Mike Barnett. “You know, honey, on second thought, I don’t want to do this. I’m willing to pay you for your time. Just tell me how much you charge,” Mike said. “Ooooh, are you scared of little old me, honey? The only thing that might hurt you are these 42DDs. I promise not to knock you over the head with them. I can make this quick and very enjoyable. Come on, honey. I can tell you need this”, said the ultra sexy brunette. Mike hesitated. Those warning bells were still going off in his head. But, it wasn’t the head on his neck he was thinking with at that moment. She opened the rear passenger door for Mike as he looked nervously inside the car. Convinced she didn’t have somebody in there waiting to take him out, Mike got into the SUV. “What’s your name? Not that it matters. I’m just curious,” Mike said. As the brunette closed the door behind them, she reached for her purse, as she appeared to be looking for a condom. “My friends call me Linda. You can just call me Smith and Wesson,” said the brunette as she aimed a .357 at Mike. Shit….I should have just kept my ass in bed, Mike wearily thought.
“So, what happened to the blowjob?” Mike asked her. “Did I say anything about a blowjob? I’m not a damn prostitute! I said I would take care of that tent in your pants in less than 60 seconds. By the looks of things, I did just that with Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson. Now, how much money do you have on you?” Linda asked. “You don’t have to do this, Linda. I’ve had a rough day already. Don’t make it worse by robbing me. I don’t have a lot of money with an ex-wife driving me crazy about her medical bills and child support payments. We can go to the bank and I’ll get you….would $200 be enough?” Mike asked. “Are you fucking joking? $200??? Really? I”m an out of work exotic dancer because I refuse to fuck every strip club owner around. So, I have no income. All the snow birds are gone now. Taking pictures of them in my Jeep was good blackmail money as their wives lay on the beach. They couldn’t fork the money over quick enough. All that is left now are local yokels like you that I have to rob. Now, I don’t have jack shit. So, you have to come up with $1500 for me. I have an eight-year old daughter to feed and I’m two months behind on my apartment rent. If I don’t come up with that money in three days, we are out in the street!!! CPS will take my baby girl from me this time. I can’t let that happen! I just can’t!!!” Linda screamed at him. Sobbing now and still holding that S&W .357 aimed directly at him had Mike unnerved. Mike could tell that Linda wasn’t used to holding it. She was inexperienced with it and she kept letting it shift in her hand. “Look….I simply can’t give you that much money. I just can’t. I wish I could. Maybe if you put the gun down, we can talk this through. Have you tried getting a job, any job outside of being an exotic dancer?” Mike asked.
Linda started laughing at him through her tears…but still held the gun aimed directly at Mike’s chest. “Have you noticed I’ve got damn boobs the size of Georgia rattlesnake watermelons?!?!? OF COURSE YOU HAVE! First, if there are any women in a workplace, they become automatically jealous of me and try to get me fired. Secondly, if by some miracle I am hired, the boss comes after me demanding I fuck him or get fired. That goes for some female bosses as well! I’ve been down this road too many times! I know the end result. Now, I need that damn money from you. I’m sorry to do this to you. I think you are probably a nice guy and you deserve better. But, I am desperate. You have to give me that money….you just have to,” Linda sobbed. Strange as it seemed, Mike started to feel sorry for the brunette. Mike had not ever thought for a moment how much of a blessing and a curse breasts that huge could be for a woman. “Linda…I can’t do that for you. There is no way you or I can come up with that much money in three days. But, I am willing to let you and your daughter stay with me in my apartment until things pick up for you. My place isn’t much, I’m out of work also. But, I am kind of popular in this city because of the medals I received while in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, I’ll get a new job fairly quickly. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can get you a job at the Honda dealership I have my eye on just outside of town. I don’t know your education level. But, with your looks….sorry, you just have to face facts. People, both male and female, are always going to stare at you, Linda. I’m certain you could get a job as a receptionist. Anyway, our relationship can be platonic. I really mean that. You and your daughter can sleep on my bed. I’ll sleep on the sofa. It pulls out into a bed,” Mike said. “You…you would really do that for me? After all I’ve done, trying to rob you?” Linda asked through her tears. “Yes, I will, Linda. But, first things first….hand me the gun. It’s obvious you have little experience with guns. Very slowly, you need to take your finger off.….BAM! Completely stunned, Mike looked down at the gaping hole in his chest, as he looked back at Linda. His last thought was that he could tell she was screaming….but he couldn’t hear her screams, as everything around him turned black…
Winter had finally arrived in Ft. Pierce as Nate (the sales rep at the dealership who had prevented Mike from attacking the sales manager) walked to the grave site of Michael S. Barnett. It had been three weeks since Mike had been buried. Three weeks since the out of work stripper was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder of Mike. No one believed her when she said she was handing the gun to Mike. No one believed her when she said Mike was going to let her live in his apartment until she got a job. No one believed Linda’s story that she and Mike did not have sex in her Jeep. They chose to believe that Mike had a string of bad luck that day, culminating in a murder when Mike chose not to pay for “oral sex.” At least, that is what Gerald reported on his morning Action 5 news show the next day. One final stab at Mike. Maybe I should pay him a visit, Nate thought. Nate wiped away the tears as he looked at the newly laid grave marker for Mike Barnett. Sometimes, in life, there are no easy answers. There are only questions, Nate thought. Questions of why isn’t there more done for Veterans having problems adjusting to civilian life as Mike was experiencing. Questions of why America traditionally turns its back on the men and women who serve and defend this country. Mike knew he was taking a chance with the stripper when he got in that Jeep. No excusing his behavior that particular day when all his luck was bad. Hell, he was just being a man in that circumstance with the stripper.
Nate looked up at the sky for a moment, looked back down at Mike’s marker. Mike just couldn’t get out of his own way, it seemed, at times. At least, he is no longer in pain, physical or mental, as Nate quietly sobbed with that thought in mind. “Semper Fi, Brother, Semper Fi.” Nate then laid a single white rose on the writing above Mike’s name. It was five words that Mike had expressed about himself. It was exactly as he had defined himself before…”He Was Just A Soldier.”