Patrick greeted her at the door with a nod and a rumble. "Little Dog, 'cmon in."

He'd gotten a lot bigger in the years since Little Diogenes had last seen him.

Patrick and the cousin, Zay, were lounging in matching striped boxer shorts. Crystal was more completely dressed, in a t-shirt and real shorts. She snuggled next to her sweaty brother despite the heat. Little Diogenes thought that Crystal looked very happy to have her brother back, no matter how retarded he was acting.

Little Diogenes gave a small general wave to the three. Zay just nodded, and tossed her a green can of beer, lazily falling back on the couch. To everyone else he looked like Carlton from Fresh Prince, but Little Diogenes thought that he was more like Clark Gable, except his head was the right size.

Little Diogenes fumbled the beer, recovered it, and sat where it fell, on a couch cushion kicked to the floor. She slowly clicked it open, grabbing the can between her knees in between tiny sips. She didn't want to be too drunk when she kissed Zay; she needed to remember the experience.

The boys had been playing video games, but Little Diogenes' arrival offered Crystal a chance to break it up. The boys both moaned when she flicked the machine off, but Crystal had always been the authority in the house.

"Patrick, you've gotta show Little Diogenes your pictures."

Patrick swung his huge legs off the arm of the couch and crouched over a big yellow envelope, almost hidden under the debris of the coffee table.

"So, we were stationed in the port at Umkasir for the first six months of deployment. There were these English Marines there who were insane, you know, these guys in blue here, they were all from England or Scotland or something and they would do anything, go off if you just dared them, hard. I saw this guy jump off this crane, like a hundred feet, into the harbor."

Patrick flipped the pictures by, one after another. "This guy here was our translator, he wasn't with our unit, but only when we were, when we were out on patrol, in the harbor or wherever, and he would come with us and when we would board another ship. He was a Christian, and he was saying that everyone thought that he was, like, on the American's side, and he really was. He went to college in California. We would trade CDs with him because he could get us nasty vodka."

Patrick changed as he spoke. All the beer and boxer-shorts sleepiness left him. He sat straight upright, military style, and looked only at the pictures in Little Diogenes' hands. He sounds, thought Little Diogenes, so white.

"So this is the thing, where I was on leave, but you can't, ah, leave the boat, because it wasn't like, it was too dangerous, so we went off anyway."

Crystal chimed in. "You can't tell this story to Nana."

Patrick ignored her. "The British Occupation Forces were organized, but they don't communicate well with our forces, so we decided to, like, have a joint patrol."

"We go off on their boat, like a resupply, because we can do that. So we can go from this like, this British boat to the shore because, they, they have ground operations. And we get off the boat, and we're just there. Like, in Iraq, and we're walking around."

Patrick stopped, thinking, and Little Diogenes gave him a long, sticky yawn, to get him back to the story.

"Ah, we were walking around, just, like, looking at things. And it was fucked up. The people had stolen everything from the port, and had ripped up the pier, ripped down phone lines, everything. Like, the planks were gone from the pier and the lights and doorknobs and shit. So we were hanging around with the British guys. The Marines. And all of sudden, they just started shooting at this little shack, they just went off. I was like, get in the fucking boat!, and the marines stopped shooting, they were wild, but they stopped.

So the marines were like, we'll reconnoiter, and then I hear this dude shouting. I'm like, man, that sounds like Faezel, so I shout back, while the marines are just busting up the door to this shack. I was calling, 'Fiez! Fiez!' and he just kept shouting.

So, we were, get a medical team, this guy is our translator, and the British are like, no, mate, we won't, because he was shooting at us, which is, it's a violation, a war crime. And I was like, 'ask him', so I went up into the shack; there was blood all all over.

"So the officer was like, 'Is this true?', and Fiesel was like, 'Death to America! Death to England!', and we said, shit, I don't know this guy, he's Dr. Jekyll or something. And we said to him, Fiesel, we'll fix you up, we'll get you medevac'd, just stop saying this shit, and he wouldn't stop. He was saying fuck your mother and stuff, and we couldn't get him to shut up, and he like, he died right there while we were arguing with the Marines."

The Cranberry Highway roared in the background. Little Diogenes looked at the sweaty sailor and his sweaty sister, and then over at their sweaty, handsome cousin.

She looked at a photo of Patrick in his uniform, holding the shoulder of another man, their wet armpits pressed together. She ran her finger across her top lip, right where her mustache would be (if she were ugly), but it was dry.

"So he was mad because you shot him?"

"No, I don't know. What are you like when you get shot?"

Crystal threw a little square pillow at her, ninja-star style. It deflected off the floor and landed in Little Diogenes' lap. Little Diogenes looked at it in despair, but she went on.

"Did he have a gun?"

"I don't know."

"And you didn't say anything?"

"We would have gotten court-marshaled if we did."

Crystal poked her head foreword and popped her eyes out. The message was stop.

"Because if he didn't have a gun, then those Marines just murdered him, and you couldn't report it, right? Because you weren't supposed to be there?"

Zay rolled up onto his elbow. "How come you're always like that? You've got to cast aspersions. Patrick was in Iraq, he's practically a hero."

Even when he was mad, Zay had the most perfect face in the world, and from where Little Diogenes sat, his small brown nipples stared her in the face. And she could see a dangerous gap in his boxer fly. Little Diogenes felt herself wilt in the face of this beautiful, credulous man.

Patrick reached across the little coffee table and shuffled through them with one hand.

"See, here's Faezel, we were on a patrol boat together."

next>