The jungle was silent, and then in an instant, it wasn’t. The sharp crack of a rifle, the cry of the wounded, and the sounds of the platoon hitting the jungle floor disrupted it…but only for a second. And then once more, there was silence. The entire platoon lay silently in the dirt, even the sounds of their breathing muted as they waited for a sound or a movement that would point them in the direction of the enemy. Every man in the platoon, that is, but one. That one man was slithering on his belly like a snake in the grass, dressed in green camo like the rest of them with a zippered green pack strapped to his back. The bag was a foot and a half long, a foot wide, and six inches deep. It was fully loaded that day and if put on a scale would weigh in at about thirty pounds. Strapped to the outside of the pack were five extra canteens of water for him to use to treat heat exhaustion in the summer and fever and chills in the winter. Inside was everything he might need to tend to the wounded.
The gunfire started back up just seconds before he reached the wounded man, but that didn’t stop him. When he reached the soldier, flat on his back on the jungle floor, he immediately shrugged off his pack and went to work. The first thing he did was pull out his field scissors and cut away the soldier’s pants to expose the gaping wound in his leg. Next came a pressure bandage and then a field IV. It was standard treatment for a gunshot wound that wasn’t immediately life-threatening. The solution in the IV would last about thirty minutes…just enough time for the Medevac to fly in, scoop up the injured, and fly them out to the nearest field hospital.
He spent another three hours that day, patching holes to stop the bleeding, starting IVs to replace the lost blood volume and in two sad cases, doing what he could to make the dying man comfortable until he was lucky enough to pass on. It was a lot of pressure for a nineteen-year-old man…some would say too much. When he wasn’t in the jungle he was working sick call, up at five a.m. handing out ibuprofen and malaria pills, checking on old wounds that had been surgically repaired or stitched up by Doc himself, handing out penicillin for the STDs a lot of the GIs brought back from Saigon when they went on leave, and sometimes just being the sounding board for a traumatized soldier who only needed someone to listen. Some days Doc heard about things that he’d never seen, and others he saw things that he’d never heard of. It was overwhelming at times…but quitting was not an option.
The teenaged boy who ran away from home at the age of sixteen looking to leave his mark on the world hadn’t found what he craved in Boston. He didn’t find it at boot camp either. Strangely enough it had been hiding deep in the jungles of a foreign country. There, Adonis “Doc” Marshall had found the one thing he had been born feeling like he deserved…respect…and he made himself a promise while he was in Vietnam and that no matter what happened, if and when he got back to Boston, he was never going to settle for anything less.
“Son of a bitch!” Dr. Landon Marshall sat on the front porch of his comfortable, upper-class home in West Roxbury, drinking his iced tea and reading his paper. The mild spring morning was all so quiet and the neighborhood was peaceful, at least until the sound of a Harley Davidson motor split it wide open and Landon Marshall got to his feet to see what was going on. The neighborhood where they lived was made up of doctors and lawyers and corporate executives…the 1% they liked to call themselves…the upper 1%. Landon Marshall didn’t think of himself as a snob, but if he had to choose a group, of course he’d choose the group on top…wouldn’t everyone? It wasn’t as if he hadn’t worked for it his entire life. Dr. Marshall was a newly retired surgeon. He had spent three decades of his own life saving others, and now he was finally going to be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all that labor. But he’d like to do it in peace, and when he saw that the Harley Davidson was pulling into his driveway, he was already prepared for what he was going to say to the bearded man sitting on the bike. He headed toward the steps just as the loud engine shut off, but something stopped him dead in his tracks and his next curse was:
“Well, I’ll be a sonofabitch.”
“What in the world was that noise and what are you cussing about?” His wife, Rose, stepped out onto the porch too. She only had to glance at the man on the back of the bike to know. It must be a mother’s instinct. Landon thought, because the man sitting in their driveway looked almost nothing like the boy who had left home five years earlier, tearing his mother’s heart out as he went. Rose dropped straight down to her knees on the porch and clutched at her chest. Her husband thought she was having a heart attack and his first thought was that it figured. He’d always known that boy was going to be the death of one of them; he had just always figured it would be him.
“Rose. Honey, are you okay? Can you breathe?” She looked up at Landon and he saw that she was breathing just fine, but tears stained her cheeks and her bright blue eyes quickly focused back on the man who was now coming toward them.
“Adonis? Oh my God! It is you.” That was when Landon Marshall looked up at his wayward son. Even after five years, the smug look the boy seemed to carry permanently on his face annoyed him. Landon didn’t know if that was proof that he was a bad father, or proof that Adonis was truly the narcissist that Landon had always feared he was.
Adonis Marshall grew up with everything any kid could want…and Landon was sure that’s where they had gone wrong. They’d given their son so much, everything, and eventually Adonis hadn’t appreciated any of it…instead, he grew to believe he deserved it. Landon wasn’t home a lot when the boy was growing up, and some of his indulgences had been to assuage his own guilt. It was only when Adonis was almost seventeen that Landon started to worry that maybe the boy had a personality disorder, something that no amount of Rose’s babying him or Landon’s handing him money was going to fix. When Landon told his son that it was time for him to get a job and stop relying so much on his parents for every little thing, Adonis had just simply packed up his things in Landon’s old rucksack and taken off on the 1971 Harley Davidson that the surgeon and his wife had given the boy for his sixteenth birthday. That was five years earlier and this was the first time they’d seen or heard from him since. Landon didn’t know whether to hug the boy…who was most definitely a man now…or kick his ass for what his disappearance had done to his mother.
Adonis dropped the bag he was holding…the same green rucksack that he’d taken from his father the night he disappeared. He took the porch steps two at a time and helped his mother to her feet. As soon as she was on them, she flung herself into his arms and began to sob as she clutched onto him.
Landon took the time that Rose was coddling her “baby” to study his son. His golden blond hair was long now, down past his shoulders, and pulled back into a ponytail and held in place with an elastic band. Those same deep blue eyes that had attracted Landon to his wife when she was just a girl looked out of his son’s hairy face. He had a long beard and a mustache and although his body was covered with an old army jacket, jeans, and boots, it was easy to see that he’d put on a lot of weight since they’d last seen their skinny teenaged boy. Adonis was even about four inches taller than he had been when he left, and he towered over his mother. He and his father would have been eye to eye, if not for Doctor Landon Marshall’s recently broken hip and the cane he stooped over to hold onto.
Rose pulled back and looked up at her son’s face. “I can’t believe you’re here. Sometimes I wondered if I’d ever see you again. Are you really here?”
The young man lost his smirk for just a few seconds as he smiled down at his mother. If there was anyone on earth that Landon believed his son really loved, it was Rose. He at least had to give him that, he supposed. “I’m really here, Ma.” She grabbed him again, pressing her face into his chest as she hugged him. While she mother-handled him, Adonis spoke to his father at last, “Hello, sir.”
Dr. Marshall never told his son to call him sir…but Adonis always had. Landon spent his first ten years as a doctor in the army and retired as a general. But when Adonis said “sir” it was not with the respect that term would normally carry. He said it snidely, even when he was a kid…in a way that betrayed his opinions of his father in just that one little word.
“Adonis,” Landon said, wondering where they went from there. After a pause he said, “That jacket army issue?”
“Yes, sir. Just off the boat. Shipped out of Vietnam the day after Saigon fell.” Rose burst into tears again. Landon knew his wife was thinking about their son being over there in the jungle, risking his life every day…and they hadn’t even known.
Finally pulling herself together Rose stood up straight, took him by the arm, and said, “Come on in, you have to be starving.” Landon had so many questions, but he knew his wife well enough to know she wouldn’t tolerate his asking them until her “baby” was fed. Rose’s soft spot for Adonis couldn’t be broken, not even by five years of estrangement.
Landon and Rose had been married for twenty years before Adonis was conceived. They’d been told they would never be able to have a child of their own. Then suddenly at the age of 45, Rose woke up pregnant…and Adonis had been her “miracle baby” every day since. Landon knew her indulgences were a big reason that Adonis had turned out so ungrateful…but he didn’t fault her for it. As far as he was concerned, the sun rose and set on his wife…but the boy he’d always had a problem with. Already annoyed, he followed Rose and Adonis inside and almost ran into his son when he stopped in the center of the foyer and looked around.
“Haven’t changed a thing,” he said.
“I didn’t touch your room either,” Rose said with a huge smile taking over her face. “I knew you’d come back. Oh, Adonis!” She grabbed him again Adonis let her hug him as tightly as she needed to and waited for her to be the one to let go. “I’m sorry. I’m just overwhelmed,” she said. “Come on. I’ve got a roast and potatoes in the cooker.” Landon grumbled something about asking for roast and potatoes for lunch only an hour earlier and being told he couldn’t touch it because it was for dinner. But as usual when Adonis was in the room, Landon was invisible.
Adonis dropped the stolen rucksack on the floor and Landon knew that to still be angry over it five years later was petty…but he also knew it wasn’t the sack that ate away at him. It was Adonis and the way that for his entire life, he’d just taken whatever he wanted. He had always acted like the world owed him something, and that infuriated his father. For a long time after Adonis left, Rose blamed her husband for being too hard on the boy and pushing him out the door. She probably still did blame him, but thankfully she had at least come around to not reminding him every day.
Adonis stripped off the army jacket and underneath it was a green t-shirt. He was also wearing a pair of camouflage pants and black, steel-toed boots. But what caught Landon’s attention was the tattoo on his son’s neck. It said, “Doc.” Adonis sat and while his mother fussed over him, Landon looked over the tattoos on his son’s arms. On one side was an American eagle with an American flag behind it. On the other was a snake that started at his wrist and disappeared underneath the sleeve of his t-shirt to where it became the medical symbol for doctor.
Once his wife finally had the boy set up with his plate and a big glass of tea, she sat down to watch him eat. Her eyes filled with tears every time she looked at him, but Landon saw the change in them when she spotted the tattoo on his neck. Rose and Landon both had always hoped Adonis would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor. Adonis had expressed zero interest in that growing up, however. In fact, he never wanted any part of anything that even resembled his father. It was too bad, because Adonis Marshall was smarter than his father ever hoped to be. The boy never studied, but somehow made straight “A’s” through school. They talked him into IQ testing when he was fourteen and he tested at 142…genius level.
“Adonis, what does that tattoo mean?” Rose asked. Landon was surprised that she wasn’t freaked out by the idea of someone permanently scarring her “baby.” Maybe she’d move on to that, but for now he was curious too, but hadn’t wanted to ask.
“I was a medic in the army,” he said, leaving it at that. No one said much until he finished and once he drained his glass of tea and convinced his mother he didn’t want more food Landon said:
“So, are we going to talk about you taking off and breaking your mother’s heart when you were sixteen?”
“Landon!” Rose scolded.
“It’s okay, Ma,” Adonis said, not taking his blue eyes off his father’s face as he said, “I guess the only way to explain it was that I just got tired…of everything. Leaving was the wrong way to deal with it, I guess…but back then I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“You were tired?” Landon said, feeling the anger rise up inside of him. “Tired of what, exactly? Were you tired of being waited on hand and foot by your mama? Having everything you wanted and needed handed to you and not having to work for it? Is that what made you so tired that you had to run away?”
“Landon, stop!” The men kept their eyes on each other and ignored Rose’s pleas.
“I notice you weren’t too tired to take that new motorcycle I’d just bought you when you left. And you weren’t too tired to take the money out of your college fund, were you? And that rucksack! That’s the only thing I had left from my time in the service, and you just took it, like you had a right to. Then you waltz back in here five years later, again, like you have a right to. You think being a medic and tattooing ‘Doc’ on your neck is going to impress us to the point that we’ll forget everything else you did? You broke your mother’s heart.”
“Please stop!” Rose’s face was covered in tears, but Landon could only see her out of the corner of his eye. He still hadn’t taken his eyes off his son.
“You finished?” was what Adonis said when he finally spoke. When Landon was quiet for a few beats Adonis went on, “You don’t have to worry…sir.” His voice was low, deep, and thick. For the first time in his life, Landon was almost frightened of his own son. “I don’t plan on staying around here,” Adonis said. “I came home to see my mother and as soon as Grant’s got his shit together, we’ll be going into business together on the Southside.”
Landon raised an eyebrow. “You’re going into business on the Southside? What kind of business are you going into over there? Drug dealing? Pimping? Car theft? Burglary…?”
Adonis shoved his chair back from the table. Rose was crying, Landon stood up so as not to give his son the advantage of looking down on him, and with a steely look in his deep blue eyes, Adonis looked into Landon’s green ones and said, “All of the above. You know how much you like being in that 1%, old man? Well, guess what? I’m going to own my 1%. I’m going to own this whole fucking city one day. After you’re gone nobody’s going to remember your name, but when I’m dead my legacy is going to live for fucking ever.” With that, Adonis Marshall bent down and kissed his mother on the cheek and leaving the rucksack on the floor, he turned his back on his parents and walked out of his family home for the very last time.