Dramatis Personae

Means “The Guys Grom Bones In The Bearded Barley,” Okay?

By John Connor

Climb in your ’Way-Back Machine and navigate to “Memories” in the July/August Guncrank. Got it? I introduced you to ’Ank, mentioned “Bones in the Bearded Barley,” and said there was no space to tell the story. Now envision me pulling up on the road, rolling down my window and sayin’ “No time to explain. Get in the truck. Gonna go meet Collie.” You in? There is a connection. Trust me.

Collie was quite simply the hairiest human being I have ever seen — ever — of any race, anyplace. We’re talking “pelt” more so than hair, and it was all jet-black, coarse and curly, and grew at a furious rate. I’ve seen him in a loincloth — that’s another story — and I can tell you it was “full coverage” hair. Adding to this, he was among the most muscular men I’ve ever seen, including Arnold in his prime and other professional body-builders. He was only about five-ten, but so densely slabbed with muscle it was cartoonish, and made him look like a meat locomotive.

Collie’s father — we’ll call him Ivan — was a huge, dark, hairy Slav from the remote Russian steppes. His big, slanted, half-lidded eyes, which he passed on to Collie, suggested when Genghis Khan swept through in the 13th century, he may have tarried a night or two. (Note: Genghis is credited with fathering up to 2,000 known children.)

As the Iron Curtain went up across Europe, Ivan was a young un-blooded Soviet soldier assigned to a lonely machinegun tower, where a minefield and barbed wire fronted a dirt road. His partner, described as a Stalin-worshipping drunken jerk, stayed smashed on samogon or sleeping it off, when he wasn’t enthusiastically pretending to machinegun the West Germans on the road.

As time passed Ivan couldn’t help noticing privately owned (!) trucks loaded with consumer goods, vegetables — even fruit and melons! — going by, and the clean clothes, real shoes and smiles worn by the people. According to his political officer they were miserable slaves of the capitalist swine, longing for Marxist progress and glory. Pretty happy, well-fed slaves, he thought.

One day a truck heaped over its rails with potatoes stopped on the road across from his tower. Three farm boys got out, loaded their arms with spuds, and commenced chuckin’ ’em hard over the fence. “Why?” mused Ivan; “They can’t hit my tower at that dista … NO! They’re trying to explode the mines!” They didn’t succeed, which surprised Ivan. Sometimes the dang things detonated for no known reason. The boys finally drove away laughing. Gazing over the minefield, Ivan said it hit him like a thunderclap: POTATOES!

Thunderclapz X 2

Seconds later, while his partner snored, Ivan was creeping gingerly through the minefield, scared spitless but somehow simultaneously drooling, plucking potatoes off the ground and stuffing them into his belted blouse, expecting to be blown skyward at any second. Even the broken ones were the biggest, most beautiful potatoes he had ever seen, and as a former Russian farmboy, Ivan knew his spuds. Then, he said, as he crouched peering at a suspicious lump in the dirt beside and under a huge potato, the second thunderclap hit him.

“Here I am,” he pondered, “Risking death by landmine or firing squad to pick up food thrown away by people said to be oppressed by greedy Western capitalists. If this is oppression, I want some!”

Ivan was almost at the fence. On the road, a man wearing a suit approached riding a bicycle. Ivan thought, “He could be a Chekist! NKVD? GRU? (The KGB was not formed until 1954.) I could be shot today, right here, for leaving my post, or for talking to this man.” With his heart in his throat — and a load of potatoes bulging comically from his blouse — he hailed the man, who stopped, aghast. In broken German, with tears in his eyes, Ivan emptied out his story and a plea for help. Later, Ivan said only divine intervention could explain his meeting that particular man on that day.

The bicyclist was an escaped Russian-speaking Ukrainian, now a West German metalworks factory manager, and a huge fan of spy novels. He was exuberantly hooked — and a plot was joyously hatched. A few weeks later, Ivan added an extra bottle of samogon to his tower partner’s libations. When the jerk was totally blotto, Ivan kindly fed him several ounces of “anti-hangover medicine” — actually, enough of a powerful laxative to keep a squad, umm … “seated” for a week.

With his partner, minus boots and pants, securely “enthroned,” semi-conscious and busily convulsing, Ivan moved briskly to the tower, where he disabled the machinegun, pocketed the bolts of their rifles, and for good measure, yanked the guts out of their rarely-operating field phone. Following his carefully, subtly marked path through the minefield, he found bolt cutters and metal shears exactly where they were promised to be. Two minutes later he was in the ditch on the far side of the road, flinging off his tunic and donning a not-quite-big-enough long coat and a broad-brimmed hat. A new man strode due west, whistling, off to meet a friend.

The Instant Scot

The Brits granted him asylum, and a church sponsored his move to the highlands of Scotland. He immediately took a proper Scottish name and enrolled in English language classes. There he met the daughter of a Greek family who had fled the civil war in Greece. She was big, strong, dark, with eyes as black as her heavy, waist-length curly hair. Language barriers be damned; they knew true love when it gob-smacked ’em. Collie was their firstborn.

Our inside joke was “What do you get when you cross a big Greek girl with a big hairy Russian? Zorba the Bear!” (If you don’t get it, Google-search “Zorba the” — you’ll see.) He grew up speaking Russian, Greek, English and a smattering of local Gaelic, all with a heavy Scottish burr. “Collie,” by the way, was not a diminutive for “Colin” or “Collier” as you might assume. No, his childhood nickname came from the “Rough Collie;” the shaggy, long-haired Scottish sheepdog. After 20 years in the army, he became a GLUD — a “Guy Like Us: Deniable” — and a superior mission planner and small-group operations leader.

Collie had his quirks. An example: Up on a riverbank in Africa, he stretched rope and canvas over an iron frame which once held a hefty irrigation pump and generator. This let him sleep 18″ off the ground. He caught four big scorpions, held them down with a pencil, tied a loop of thread behind their cephalothoraxes, and hung one about 10″ below each corner of his “cot.” They dangled, seemingly enraged but helpless. A visitor, an annoying young US Army lieutenant saw one and screamed “There’s a scorpion climbing up to your bed!” Phillips corrected him. “No, there are four, actually. Suspended, not climbing.” He looked, he stuttered, and blurted “W-W-Why?”

Collie opened one baleful, goblin eye and growled, “To sarve as a warnin’ t’ others, ye daft booger.”

Here’s the scoop: Many stories — people and events — have lain untold for too long. I may have to tell them in episodes; in serial form. I will, if it flies with Roy, and with you. Connor OUT. (“It flies.” —-RH)

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