The first man in this story, Carl Savage, stood at the end of the ward in a veterans’ hospital in Central Massachusetts: the second man, bed-ridden, stared at him, fighting for a splash of recognition. There was the way that man shrugged his shoulders, looked back over one as if he had missed a targeting mark. The second man moved in his bed; a slight movement barely noticeable. He had not moved much in almost twenty years. He wanted to call out, but he knew no name; but knew something; it spun up out of him as if it were the last chance in the whole world. The man at the end of the hall halted his departure and turned around slowly in his departure. The second man in the bed began to move one finger. One finger! One finger as if tapping on a key, tapping, tapping, tapping.
The man at the end of the ward, the one-time signal corps man, the old radio operator, the man who was going to leave, the man who was hit by a compulsion he had never known, saw the one finger moving. He turned and walked back, staring at the man in the bed, who kept tapping, tapping, tapping, but not another muscle moving, doing, making demands, frozen in silence in his own Hell.
Their eyes locked, went deep, sought some kind of identity or intelligence. Nothing facially in either man kicked in for the other man. One stared down and one stared up, and now both of them were seeking other depths of personal clarification, personal identification.
And the finger kept moving, kept tapping, and the mouth of the man in bed moved without sound, and his lips moved without sound and his finger kept tapping, but with a difference interpreted by the old operator. He began reading Morse Code. Easystreet Six, it said, Easystreet Six, an old battalion call sign. Easystreet Six.
The world had come awake.
The visitor looked down at the name tag. It all came back. The man in the bed had recognized him somehow, an old comrade caught in a new Hell, Harvey Danco comes back from memory, Harvey Danco, locked in Hell, free again to say so. Harvey Danco able to speak but in one way, with his finger and the tapping, the code, the voice from the dead and gone come back again. Harvey Danco, lost and found.
Carl Savage found an old friend and comrade that day, that instance, that endless tapping. A new adventure dawned for him, a patient at hand, a cause to work on, a life to save, finding a man back from the long dead but here in the long life, all the years rushing past both of them.
Time, which had degraded itself, found reason to carry on in a new adventure, a new quest, to draw a dead man back to his world, to Carl Savage’s world, the free and talkable world, the hurry and the scurry, the fabulous connection once more in place, and by an artist at finger movement, finger tapping, finger talk, a coding known.
The story ran through the hospital, hit outside interests, landed in the newspapers of every sort and everywhere. Brother comrades still alive after all the time from battle and loss, from death itself, able to speak one way, but speak, to tell secrets, old stories long gone down the tube, renew acquaintances, remember a series of names, a list of comrades spelled out with one finger, asking who made it home, who was lost on he way to this time, who was bound to come this way, the whole damned lot of them from all over everywhere, to see the talking dead man, the long dead man come back to life, the hero in newspapers and on radio and television once again able to speak his mind.
The world sat up and watched, listened, heard the exchange, the connections taking place, the run on visitors, old veterans, old comrades, people with a need for warm hearts, for a new story from the signaler asking for Peter Shah, Dutch Siciliano, Donnie Bridgeman, Ash Burgess, Tim Wilson, a whole company of men remembered in a part of Hell living in a bed in a hospital for more than 20 years, talking with his fingers, asking for statuses, who was here, who was there, who was doing what that Time had allowed, who was bound to walk through that door at the far end of the hallway one of these bright days or dark nights after a ride clear across the country, coming from nowhere, from everywhere.
Peter B. Stubbins, one-time sergeant-first-class, a three striper, tough as old walls, walked into the hospital one day and declared he was taking over the whole hospital, was going to pay all the bills, all from his amassed millions in oil money, a cranky old veteran who now had a new role in life, his memory of the man in that stricken bed, the deaf man, the non-speaker able to tell his own story for the first time this side of a legendary battle, from this side of Hell, from this side of wherever.
A soldier was in the ranks once again, recalled, re-known, blessed with a new sanctity: the newspaper headlines went wild, a movie was commissioned, TV was alive once again, and getting the finger had a brand-new definition, a brand-new translation.
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