Salvatore Buttaci gives entirely new meaning to The Domino Effect. But never-the-less it’s a sweet entry into our contest. If you have not yet entered the fray, the details are on the home page. 750 to 1,000 words using the prompt: I swear, it’s not too late.
But tempus is fugiting. Submissions must be received by Thanksgiving day.
by Salvatore Buttaci
We could’ve saved the world. Out there, soldiers wearing mud and blood and green helmets dented from near-death experiences sloshed their boots through rice paddies where farmers in Fu-Manchu mustaches and beards cowered on the fringes of explosive hells.
We three could have saved them. We three sporting illegal beards on campus, defying the authority of Fr. Lynch, Dean of Men, who ordered us to shave or get out. Fr. Lynch who we imagined loved war, the clomping of the march, the cry of whom he called “the vanquished,” those enemies outside our shores, beyond our fruited plains, those godless foreigners.
Jack said it was what we had to do. Ken nodded and so did I, despite the maelstrom in my head that was my father. I feared his wrath so much more than the dean’s because when justice was demanded, he never wasted his time on words. You saw his terrible swift belt and he wasn’t afraid to swing it at me despite my age, despite my plea for mercy, or the ignored, and perhaps ignorant, words in my own defense.
Knowing all this, I said yes and made myself an accomplice in a war crime that could have earned the three of us a one-way pass to a firing squad. Jack said if it came to that, he’d refuse the blindfold. Ken said he’d take that last cigarette even though he had quit smoking in freshman year. I wondered if they would offer us a last meal the way they do death rowers in penitentiaries. If they did, I’d ask for the typical Mama-mia-five-course Italian meal. I was in no hurry to pay for my crimes.
One dark evening in 1964, under a yellow-squash moon, we headed towards the U. S. Army tank prominently at parade rest on the campus green. We had donned black shoes, black trousers, black sweatshirts, black hoods with tiny eye holes. The gravity of what we were about to do dizzied me, especially since the hoods had no slits for nose and mouth. I could smell rancid fear inside my flannel mask.
Sharing culpability, Jack managed to unscrew the diesel cap; Ken poured about a pound of Domino sugar into the tank of the tank; and I screwed the cap back on. We swore we’d be like those three wise monkeys who saw, heard, and spoke no evil. The three of us committed ourselves to secrecy, shaking hands like mercenary soldiers of fortune before killing their way to their share of blood money.
“You talk, Matt, and you’re a dead man.”
“Listen, Ken,” I said, “we’re all in this together. One gets caught, we all go down.”
Did I say that? I would have at that moment whipped out my pocket pad and jotted the dialogue down for a future crime noir, but back then I was into writing love poems, plenty of them, which I’d recite to girls I’d meet, college students from a nearby women’s college, who sometimes preferred hearing a love poem than feeling the biceps of some pumped-up body builder high on Charles Atlas and dumbbells.
Ken made a fist and threw me a fake jab. “Yeah, well, I’m just sayin‘, keep your fat mouth shut.”
Jack shook his head at us. A man of few words, he gave each of us the evil eye and said, “Shut the hell up. Nobody’s gonna catch us.”
No one ever did. We had sweetened Uncle Sam’s tank out of commission. We three saboteurs proved that sometimes crime does pay, particularly when, in the grand scheme of things, the motive was as noble as ours. We took pride in the fact that we retired one instrument of war, stopped dead in its treadmill tracks one more mighty steel killing machine rendered powerless on the campus of our New Jersey alma mater. We felt good –– damn good! –– about all those Vietnamese mothers who would not mourn their little ones because the three of us declared our own little war on war by snuffing the life out of that campus monstrosity.
We prayed the generals wouldn’t suddenly run into a shortage of tanks in Nam and request the college administrators return the sugared one back into service. On our way to classes, trying hard not to look conspicuously guilty, we’d cast quick peripheral glances at the green monster to make certain, like Old Glory, it was still there.
One night I got a phone call from Jack. He sounded like a happy-go lucky boozer on a tightrope daring gravity to pull his ass down.
“I got me an idea,” he said.
How familiar that sounded! His last idea had left me at least five years older than my chronological age. When the light bulb flashed in Jack’s head, it signaled sayonara time.
Jokingly, I said, “Another tank?”
Seriously, Jack answered, “Yeah, man, one more.”
I waited an awful long time before I said, “Count me out. My tank days are over. Besides, graduation’s next week, for cryin’ out loud!”
“So what! We did it once. It worked out. We do it again and prove it can work again.”
“And then we do a third?” I asked. “Visit another college that’s got a tank? This time instead of sugar we load it up with molasses or catsup or shampoo or ––”
“I swear it’s not too late, Matt. We can do it. Just you and me. Forget Ken. He’s still shaking from the first tank.”
I sat there, phone in hand, doodling a hangman’s noose, a petal-torn daisy, Jack’s bloody body under a rolling green tank. Then, without mincing words, I said, “My father. I think he got wind of Tank #1.”
Sobered up now, Jack wanted to know, “How? How in the hell could he ––”
“You don’t know my father. I think he was a detective in a previous life. Maybe somebody talked and he picked up on it.”
“Forget it. Just forget the whole freakin’ thing.”
Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared widely. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. His poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Author‘s Info, A Word with You Press, and AustinBriggs.com.
Sal Buttaci is a former English instructor at a local community college and middle-school teacher in New Jersey, who retired in 2007 to commit himself to full-time writing.
His collection of flash fiction Flashing My Shorts is available in book, e-book, and audio book versions http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci/dp/0984259473
His latest collection of short-short fiction, 200 Shorts, is available in book and Kindle editions at
His horror flash “Ritual” is an e-book for only 99 cents at http://www.amazon.com/Ritual-Salvatore-Buttaci-ebook/dp/B00FI6JR46/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1384459022&sr=1-2&keywords=Ritual
He lives happily ever after with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.