I found him sleeping in his bed, and I sat and watched for some time.
His family was dead in the basement of their small home, his wife battered and beaten while trying to protect the three children. In the end, Vince Cronin had used a knife on all four of them.
I don’t know what happened earlier in the day. Rumor had reached me that Vince had been acting strangely down at the VFW. Murmuring and whispering into his beer, which was unlike the man. I had seen him at Chosin in Korea, and the man had been unflappable. Not an easy task when tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers are pressing you back, and it’s so damned cold your spit freezes before it hits the ground.
Something had broken in him, and I wondered if the break hadn’t started in December of 1950 when we were tying the bodies of our friends to the hoods of our Jeeps and bringing every damned Marine back.
Was it the pressure of those days? The constant struggle to get back? Seeing our wounded and our dead?
It didn’t matter. Not in the end.
His wife and children were still dead, and he was going to be.
I stood up, took the pillow out from beneath his head, and smothered him. He fought like hell, of course, but in the end, he died.
It’s a hell of a thing, killing a friend, and one hell of a way to end the year.
Here’s hoping I don’t have to kill one in the morning.
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