“…and finally only the names of places had dignity.”
— Ernest Hemingway
A story’s hero returns home from war to find nothing is as it was when they left — a common enough trope, but where the Vietnam War is concerned, this is more than a trope, but a truth for an entire generation of soldiers.
Soldiers returned to complete domestic upheaval and were too often met with outright hate. But was this the case for everyone?
In “The Hard Rise,” by Carl Robinette, originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Hank Garnier is already a small-town hero and the rural press in Los Pinos County is not ready to let go of the past. But when so many of his fellow soldiers were cast out as “baby killers” the last thing Hank Garnier wants is to be called is “war hero.”
Once an idyllic countryside below the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the place Hank has always called home has literally burned and now outlaws are secretly plundering a Los Pinos historical monument.
Hank feels more alone than ever and feels a desperate need to set right a wrong, any wrong. Hank can’t erase the taint of the Vietnam War from his nation’s history, but he can stop a threat against the once proud history of his community. When the stakes are life and death, he’ll rise to the occasion. It’s Hank Garnier against the world in this rural noir mystery.
Excerpt: “Hank Garnier turned his collar against the cold night air that came crisp out of the high Sierra in a way he had enjoyed as a boy. Now home after only so little time away, the cold breeze gnawed at him. He was squatted against his boot heels at the top of a small mesa where a white cross stood high overhead, glowing blue-sliver in the half full moon, isolated from the foothills in an empty cow pasture. There was an old campfire smell on the wind from the fires that had burned California in the hot dry months of early fall, leaving the entire broad side of the foothills dead and black. Hank blew into his hands, eyes fixed downhill on the far wall of a mostly dry arroyo where the glow of yellow lamp light danced against the creek’s vertical bank. Occasionally a shadow flicked across the warm glow.
He watched the light down in the arroyo and told himself, don’t let curiosity get you going off, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Remember how that ended last time.
Hank Garnier had shot and killed an armed and hardened outlaw at fourteen years old in defense of his own life. He’d been a local hero all through high school because of it and even now, before he’d been back in town more than two hours, a man from the little local paper phoned Hank, saying he wanted to do a story on the sharp kid of Los Pinos, home from war without a scratch.
Hank told the guy, the last thing he needed was his name in the papers again. The last thing he wanted people to call him was, War Hero.
He swung his legs off the mesa’s volcanic cap and moved down the slope, drawn forward by the light. When he was close enough, he heard two distinct voices that came only as hollow vowels in the open air of the countryside. One voice, a gruff shot-caller kind, spoke more than the other voice which was in a slightly higher register but still ragged and mean. Still its own kind of deep voice, and it was arguing with the shot caller the way a child argues with a parent.
The gunshot cracked the night.
The sound of its blast was huge, amplified by the ravine walls and there was the simultaneous wang of metal slamming into metal. Hank Garnier crouched. He stayed low and half ran, toward the gunfire.”
“The Hard Rise” is the follow up to Hank’s debut story, “The Hard Type.”