The Sixth Man – Episode 73

Billy Smith

What was the last thing I said to you before running from the hut?” Gentry said.

You screamed something,” Dung said. “For the longest time I thought it was the name of your dead friend, but his name was Everett Carpenter. I never found that out until years later.”

Whose name did I scream?” Gentry said.

I think it was Billy Smith,” Dung said.

Are you sure,” Gentry said.

You were there,” Dung said, “are you sure?”

Wilson paused and thought deeply. He turned to Dung. “Why did I entrust you with that name?”

You thought you were going to die,” Dung said. “You wanted to be remembered.”

Tell me what else you remember,” Wilson said.

You hesitated,” Dung said, “before even thinking about escaping. The earth was shaking. I had been in battles before, but never that bad. I was shaking like a child, but you stood as if nothing were going on. It was as if you were someplace else. It was like you were the hero in a movie. You looked out the opening of the hut and back at me. You smiled. I thought at that point you were going to kill me. Then you screamed. ’Billy Smith lives!’ What did you mean, I wondered all these years. I thought that was your name also. And now I wonder, Gentry, is it your name.”

This is like a maze with no way out,” Wilson said. “I don’t know where to go from here. Billy Smith, Bill Smith, William Smith, that is so common.”

If you need some time to think things over,” Dung said. “I have and apartment above my shop. You may stay there as long as you wish.”

Dung, that is most generous of you,” Wilson said, “but I’ve got a restlessness in my soul. I have to keep moving. I don’t know where, but I just have to keep moving.”

Where will you go from here?” Dung said.

I haven’t a clue,” Wilson said. “But for some reason I always told my family I was from the Los Angles.”

Los Angles is a big place,” Dung said. “Can you narrow it down?”

Wilson stopped walking. Dung took a couple of steps ahead, tuned, and asked, “What is wrong?”

Something happened in LA,” Wilson said. “Something terrible.”

What was it, Gentry?” Dung said.

I’m not sure, but we moved.” Wilson said.

Who is we, Gentry?” Dung said.

A woman,” Wilson said. “I think she is my mother.”

You must find her,” Dung said.

Where do I start,” Wilson said, “the Los Angeles phone book under Smith?”

That maybe a start,” Dung said. “You can go to Los Angles and start calling. As if they know a Billy Smith who is about your age. Tell them you are an old Army buddy. You will find somebody who knows somebody who knows or at least remembers a Billy Smith.”

Wilson stretched out his arm and shook hands with Dung. “Thanks.”

Are you going now?” Dung said.

I must,” Wilson said.

May I have my gun back?” Dung said.

No,” Wilson said. “Just staying alive until I arrived to unburden your guilt is not the only reason you live. Don’t put that on me. Do you have children and grandchildren?”

Yes,” Dung said. “Do they know this story?”

No,” Dung said.

Call them now and I will tell them of a good and decent man,” Wilson said. “I will not leave or give you back your gun until you do.”

Dung nodded politely.

Two hours later Wilson, Dung, two daughters and two sons of Dung’s sat in his living room apartment above the barbershop. Wilson told Dung’s daughters and sons about their father amidst tears and embraces.

Dung walked Wilson to his car and again asked, “The gun please.”

I lied,” Wilson said and slipped into his car. “Never trust your enemy.”

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The Sixth Man – Episode 72

thR35Q2BXELunch At Giordano’s

They walked to Giordano’s without speaking a word. They sat in a booth at a widow looking out on the street. Their order was taken.

Wilson looked away from the traffic and at Dung. “Than why don’t I remember what happened? Everything points to me doing something so horrible that I refuse to remember it.”

There is another possibility,” Dung said.

What?” Wilson said.

You saw something so horrible you don’t want to recall it,” Dung said. “That is the most likely.”

What makes you say that?” Wilson said.

You went blank,” Dung said. “First there was this horror on your face, as if seeing the worst thing imaginable. Like watching the world crumble away, then nothing. I had to shove you out of the hut and point you the way.”

Wilson stared away. “Grass, tall grass.”

That’s where I heard you were picked up by a helicopter a couple of days later,” Dung said. “They said you wondered around in the grass like you were lost.”

Nothing else was said. A pizza was brought to the booth.

Dung placed a slice on Wilson’s plate. Wilson continued to stare at nothing in particular. His mind was trying the secure a thought as images never realized in his present condition ran through his mind like an out of control reel of film in a movie projector.

Eat,” Dung said.

Strange,” Wilson said. “At one time you starved me.”

Dung smiled as if hiding a secret.

Wait a minute,” Wilson said. “You handed me a handful of rice. It was your portion.”

You are starting to remember,” Dung said. “Indeed, there’s plenty not to remember.”

But there was some good,” Wilson said.

Dung lifted a tuft of hair on the right side of his head. There was a scare. “Do you remember this.”

You handed me a rifle and told me to strike you,” Wilson said. “You said that would be your reason for why you were able to escape.”

Yes,” Dung said.

And you tossed me a full bandoleer of ammunition and I struck you,” Wilson said.

Your pizza is getting cold, Gentry,” Dung said.

They ate quietly. Each man with thoughts too complicated to vocalize.

After the meal they walked toward the barbershop.

And what now?” Dung said.

The war seems to be over,” Wilson said.

I don’t think so, my friend,” Dung said, “there is more. What is it, Gentry?”

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The Sixth Man – Episode 71

thY57QJ00SDung’s Story

Wilson buried his face in his hands and began to weep.

Two wooden folding chairs rested against the wall. Dung opened them. “Sit, my friend. I will tell you why I thought you came her on this day to kill me.”

Wilson dropped his hands and stared at Dung. “I still don’t understand.”

Please sit,” Dung said.

Dung arranged the chairs to face one another and Wilson sat. Dung sat directly in front Wilson. The light bulb dangled overhead.

I was 20 years old when I left school to fight for the Viet Cong,” Dung began. “I had no political ideology. I just wanted the Americans out of my country. My father fought to free us from the French. My father and grandfather fought to free us from the Japanese.”

Dung looked out a basement window that faced the street. “The only real freedom we have is our thoughts and the daylight,” Dung said. “One government or another takes everything else. My father told me one day to choose the one that demands the least and rewards the most. He went on to tell me how he had a friend from America during World War II. He was a young intelligence officer for the Army. My father was remarkable; he spoke Vietnamese, of course, French, English, Cantonese, and Japanese. He was very helpful to this American officer.”

Let me guess,” Wilson said, “This officer came calling on your father and you got recruited as an agent.”

Yes,” Dung said. “The American promised that win or lose our family would have a home in the United States if we wanted it. That was too good to turn down. My father wanted to raise chickens in Wyoming.”

That’s cattle country,” Wilson chuckled.

My father knew chickens and loved Wyoming,” Dung said. “He saw a picture of Wyoming and said he wanted to feel that free.”

Four years of fighting my loyalty was never questioned,” Dung said. “I was moving up the ranks of the Cong. I came under suspicion that I was an agent. Suddenly I was not a part of planning. Meetings were held that I was not invited to. I had to prove my loyalty.”

Dung breathed deep. “I spoke with my American contact about my problem. He suggested that I capture two soldiers. They would be held only for a brief time then there would be a prisoner exchange. He suggested two low-grade soldiers, what do you say, grunts?”

That is what we were called,” Wilson said.

I was given information about a small patrol sweeping through a village,” Dung said. “Two men would be sent beyond the village to a ridge. Me and my men would capture them there.”

Were the two men Everett Carpenter and Wilson Gentry?” Wilson said.

Yes,” Dung said. “Everything went as planned.”

Dung looked closely at Wilson. “You don’t remember any of this do you?”

No,” Wilson said.

We captured the two men and marched for three days,” Dung said. “We met our commanders at an old plantation home. You and Carpenter were held it a hut for two days and on the third day from nowhere came a flurry of rockets from helicopters and we were being attacked from the jungle. I was given the order to kill both of you.”

It is a difficult thing to process thoughts while everything is exploding around you and you hear bullets whiz through the trees and grass,” Dung said. “All you think about is survival, but I thought about my whole family. If I didn’t carry out the order my whole family would likely be killed. That’s how the Cong operated.”

I stepped inside the hut you and Carpenter were held,” Dung said. “I told Carpenter to turn away. I shot him in the back of the head.”

You started to shake violently,” Wilson said. “I remember.”

Dung fell forward and began to shake and sob. “I could not kill you. I told you to run.”

I don’t remember that,” Wilson said.

It was reported you were killed,” Dung said. “At first I made up the story that I held rifle on you and ordered you to kill Carpenter to protect myself and my family. I told my American contact the same story.”

So that’s why the Army was going to try and prosecute me,” Wilson said. “Dung, are you sure that’s the way it was?”

I was willing to let you kill me,” Dung said.

No one else should die,” Wilson said.

I should die,” Dung said. “I can’t tell you how many times I walked down those steps with every intention of killing myself, but only you have the right.”

I’m glad you waited for me,” Wilson said. “If you were not alive to tell me the truth I would have never known.”

I tried to make contact with the Army over the years to set things right,” Dung said, “but they turned me away. The said the case was closed. Several years ago they gave me the name of you lawyer and I sent him my name and number. I told him I had the truth about what happened. He never responded.”

If he know what information you had he would have contacted you,” Wilson said. “He probably thought you had nothing more than the same old story.”

You don’t look well, Gentry. I bet you haven‘t eaten in a couple of days.” Dung said. “There is a pizza place down the street, Giordano’s, I think we should go there.”

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The Sixth Man – Episode 70

th70AT4PPUThe Final Solution?

Dung pulled an object wrapped in a white barber’s towel from the file cabinet. He presented it to Wilson. Wilson eased it from Dung’s hands.

It’s a pistol,” Wilson said and unwrapped it.

Now do what you came here to do,” Dung said. “It’s loaded.”

Wilson gripped the pistol and closed his eyes slowly. He pressed the image of Everett Carpenter in his mind as tightly as he pressed the pistol to his head. His finger slowly searched for the trigger. Something suddenly grabbed his hand and shoved him.

What are you doing!” Dung shouted.

Wilson, surprised beyond expectation looked at Dung. “I want it over with.”

What?” Dung said.

I can no longer live with this,” Wilson said desperately.

And neither can I,” Dung said. “So take your vengeance and kill me.”

I can’t,” Wilson said. “And why should I kill you.”

I have kept myself alive for this moment,” Dung said. “You and only you has the right. It’s not a murder, it’s justice, it’s an execution.”

What are you talking about?” Wilson said.

That day,” Dung said. “That day thirty years ago. I’ve lived that day everyday and now it can be over. Both of us will be set free.”

I don’t know what you are talking about,” Wilson said.

You don’t remember?” Dung said.

I don’t remember anything,” Wilson said.

Then why are you here?” Dung said.

To find the truth,” Wilson said.

Than why put a gun to your head?” Dung said.

Because I thought I would end it,” Wilson said.

Let’s put the gun back in the file cabinet,” Dung said. “There is something troubling about this. I think you need my help.”

I don’t understand,” Wilson said.

Tell me what you remember about the day Everett Carpenter died,” Dung said.

I don’t remember,” Wilson said. “Until a few months ago I didn’t even know my name was Wilson Gentry.”

Don’t carry that burden any longer,” Dung said. “As painful as it is for me to bear, I will tell you the truth.”

Wilson tucked the gun in his pocket. “Let’s talk, but I’m going to get rid of this. I don’t think either one of us can be trusted with it.”

Dung reached up and placed both hands on Wilson’s shoulders. “We must talk. I don’t know what you have come to believe, but you and I are the only ones that remember what happened that day and you don’t want to remember and I want to forget. Let me tell you. Maybe it will help.”

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The Sixth Man – Episode 69

th934NZ81TChicago

There was a wretchedness in Wilson’s mind. Something he could not dissolve by any sort of mental process or by simply saying the picture of Everett Carpenter, a name he could not recall laying in mangled display that he did not remember. The image gruesome and haunting rotted in his mind. “Please go away,” he said and drove on.

His only stops were for gas, the restroom, and coffee. There was a weariness on his face. He tried to dig deep into his brain to pull from its depths a single memory of that action that laid Everett Carpenter to rest.

Wilson drove until his eyes became heavy and could not stay open. He stopped at a motel off the interstate in Mitchell, South Dakota. He didn’t bother to remove his clothing. He fell on the bed and slept until day break.

The drive to Chicago was morose. He forced other thoughts into his head. There was a conflict that gnawed away at him in the pit of his stomach, his wife Gayle and Marti the woman he fathered a child with years ago in Indianapolis. He wondered if Chicago might reveal another surprise.

However, the only thing to relieve his mind of that nettlesome situation, that would likely be worked out, was the intrusion of Everett Carpenter’s image. The simple solution was to ram his car at full speed into a bridge piling. The thought was more than a passing one. Yet, Wilson was driven to know the full extent of his being. He had to know and then decide what to do with what he knew.

The address led him to a small barbershop on West Diversey Avenue. Wilson parked the car and walked into the barbershop. There were no customers. Two barbers sat in the barber’s chairs waiting. One was Vietnamese the other was black.

The black man stood. “What can we get for ya taday?”

No haircut,” Wilson said politely holding out his hand

Wilson looked at the Vietnamese man still sitting in the chair He was small with thinning hair and wore thick glasses. “Are you Chung Quang Dung?”

Yes,” Dung said and raised from the chair. “Have we met?”

Yes,” Wilson said. “Many years ago.”

Dung slowly moved forward curiously examining the face of Wilson. Dung nodded slowly. “It has been many years.”

My name is Wilson Gentry,” Wilson said.

Yes,” Dung said. “I know and I have been expecting you.”

Expecting me?” Wilson said.

Yes,” Dung said. “For over thirty years. How did you find me?”

Burton Parnell,” Wilson said.

What is it you want?” Dung said.

Honestly, I‘m not sure,” Wilson said. “You said you were expecting me, why?”

You do not need to be coy with me,” Dung said. “You have something to do, something I’ve been expecting.”

What are you talking about?” Wilson said.

Dung turned to the black barber, “Jerry, watch the place by yourself for awhile.” He motioned to Wilson toward a hallway to the back of the shop. “Come with me.”

Wilson followed Dung down the short hallway that led to a set of stairs, upstairs and down. Dung flipped a light switch on and stepped downstairs. He turned and walked to the front of the basement.

A steady slow drip of water came from a storm drain pipe in the dimly lit brick surroundings. It was dank and mysterious. Neither man feared the other. It was as if this meeting had been planned and rehearsed well in advance and the outcome already known.

Dung stopped below a hanging light bulb. As soon as Wilson positioned himself facing Dung, Dung turned to a file cabinet against the wall and opened it.

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Sixth Man – Episode 68

thGQDVVQL8The Chung Quang Dung Letter

The next day Wilson awoke from an upstairs bedroom and walked down the open stairway to the living room. He was greeted by the aroma of coffee, bacon, and the warmth of crackling fireplace.

Temperature dropped last night,” Burton said from over the stove in the kitchen. “Were you warm enough?”

I had plenty of covers,” Wilson said.

Coffee’s on the counter,” Burton said. “Pour yourself a cup. How do you like your eggs?”

Scramble ‘em,” Wilson said.

Scrambled coming up,” Burton said.

When I woke up this morning I was thinking about something,” Wilson said moving toward the coffeemaker on the counter.

That’s good,” Burton said.

What was the name of the informant?” Wilson said pouring the coffee.

That’s strange that you should mention that,” Burton said.

How so?” Wilson said sipping the coffee.

I went to sleep last night thinking the same thing,” Burton said. “But let’s eat some breakfast first.”

After breakfast was eaten they placed the dishes in the dishwasher.

Have a seat at the table,” Burton said. “I have something for us, but mainly you.”

Burton opened a desk drawer in study just off the kitchen. He pulled out a letter and handed it to Wilson.

Wilson looked at it. “It’s old; post marked 1973 from Chicago, Chung Quang Dung.” Wilson appeared puzzled.

That was the informant,” Burton said. “I’ve kept that letter separate from the file. It’s up to you to open it.”

You never wanted to know the truth, did you?” Wilson said.

I know the truth,” Burton said. “That’s a letter from a small man hoping to extort money. Dubious at best.”

Wilson tore open the envelope. “Sort of like Pandora’s Box,” Wilson said. He unfolded the paper inside. He pressed his lips tightly and read. “Dear Mr. Parnell, I have information about terrible thing done by Wilson Gentry.”

Wilson let the letter drop. “His address is on the bottom. It’s in Chicago.”

He had nothing,” Burton said. “He was a worm. He was the enemy. Don’t put any stock in it.”

That’s all I have to go on,” Wilson said. “That’s my truth.”

Evidence has to be scrutinized and questioned,” Burton said. “It takes a critical eye and dispassionate approach.”

Thanks, Burton,” Wilson said, “but you believe what you want to believe. I don’t have belief. I don’t have passion. I have facts.”

I think you should talk with a professional,” Burton said.

Thanks, Burton,” Wilson said. “It looks like you poured your heart and soul into this case. I’m going to Chicago and find Chung Quang Dung.”

Against the advice of Burton Parnell, Wilson was on his way to Chicago within an hour.

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The Sixth Man – Episode 66

Intuition

He said you took a rifle and held it to another soldier’s head and shot him,” Burton said. “Like an execution.”

Wilson began to breath heavily. “I can’t even comprehend that.” He slowly reached for the bottle. Burton grabbed and placed it on the counter behind them.

When I talked with you while preparing your defense I felt the same way about you,” Burton said. “I was convinced you could not have done such a thing.”

What happened at the trial?” Wilson said.

There was no trial,” Burton said. “The charges were dropped.”

So in the eyes of the Army I’m still a killer and traitor,” Wilson said.

I suppose you could make that inference,” Burton said.

I would think the best way to proceed was to go to trial so my innocents would be a part of the public record,” Wilson said. “My name would have been cleared.”

A good lawyer never lets his client go to trial,” Burton said. “If they had a case they would have proceeded, but I worked hard to keep it from going before a court marshal. Strange things happen when you turn things over to a judge or jury. I was completely convinced of your innocents. When they knew the only reliable witness they had was an unreliable witness they dropped the charges.”

Who was I suppose to have killed?” Wilson said. “What was his name?”

He was a buddy of yours,” Burton said. “Everett Carpenter, does that name mean anything to you?”

No,” Wilson said.

Stay here,” Burton said. “I have the file in a box in the basement. I’ll get it. It has pictures and statements and some of my notes and things you wrote, maybe they will help you.”

Burton opened a door off the kitchen and stepped into the basement. He was back in a moment with a cardboard box. “W. Gentry” was written on the front of the box in black. Burton sat it on the floor next to the table and fingered through it.

He pulled a photo out and handed it to Wilson. “That’s me and you.”

He looks like my son,” Wilson said. “I have a son. I want to believe that is me, but I just don’t feel it. Do you have a picture of Everett Carpenter.”

Burton bent down and rummaged through the file. He pulled out a snapshot of Wilson and Everett sitting together at table in a mess hall.

That’s him?” Wilson said.

Yeah,” Burton said.

I suppose I should feel sad or something,” Wilson said, “but I don’t even know those two soldiers. We must have been good friends.”

You were,” Burton said. “That was another reason I thought you were innocent.”

Seems like you go a lot on intuition,” Wilson said.

When there are no facts that is what remains,” Burton said. “Intuition is assembled facts and experiences in a flash; it’s not magic or mystical, it’s real. You don’t have to assemble a car in your head to know it’s a car; that’s as much intuition as anything.”

What does your intuition tell you now,” Wilson said. “Here I am 30 years later and I don’t remember a thing; that might mean I’m repressing a horrible memory.”

I think you are repressing a horrible event,” Burton said, “but not what happened to Everett Carpenter. I had you hypnotized by a psychiatrist. He could not dig any sort of memory from you subconscious.”

Why was the Army so convinced?” Wilson said.

They had their quack,” Burton said, “and he was convinced you were faking.”

Did they give me a lie detector test?” Wilson said.

Yes,” Burton said, “but they were sure you fooled the apparatus. It was a time when everyone was willing to think the worst of Americans soldiers. There were all sorts of reports of atrocities against other soldiers, the enemy, civilians, and so on. It was a tough time to be a soldier. They were all viewed as psychopaths.”

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