His family didn't find him. They wouldn't have as not one of them had visited in more than a year. It was strangers, sort of. The police officers, the deputy coroners. They knew Hutch, but didn't know really know him. No one did.
He had been dead maybe five days. The window of his bedroom was coated with a black film. The room was an assault on the senses. The younger officer, Neeley, wore a mask to keep the scent out, but it made its way in through his ears and when he tasted Hutch's death at the back of his throat he tossed up in the corner. Neeley was still dry heaving in the yard when they found the first medal.
In a trunk at the foot of the bed where the changed body of Hutch Gavin was found knotted and swollen, Officer Henson saw the Purple Heart first. He pointed it out and after the coroner's office had Hutch out of the house he and the others pulled the trunk into the living room.
The usual items, aside from the Purple Heart, but then two or three certificates and then another medal, a Bronze Star. Henson and two others continued until a shade of pale blue stopped them, froze them solid.
Henson pulled the last medal from the trunk. In the powder blue ribbon were captured bits of dust, the wing and leg of a fly. Henson stood stick straight, his chest pushed out, and wiped at the medal. Read the word over and over: Valor. He'd seen pictures of this medal, heard stories. Names came to mind. Alvin York. Audie Murphy. But never Hutch Gavin. Hutch Gavin should have been given a medal with the word Drunk written on it. Or Pothead. Not Valor.
Henson walked to the window overlooking the camp town of Sentry, an old coal camp, the houses placed along the hillside and roadside at perfect six or seven feet intervals. How many heroes lived in those houses? Not many. Drunks. Thieves. Pillheads. Most of them wouldn't work enough to strike a lick at a snake.
He shoved the medal in his pocket and went outside for some air. When a deputy coroner met him at the corner of the house he asked about the medals, said the boys had told him about it. Henson told him there were a couple. He said he'd seen them all before.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
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