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The folded yellow sheet of paper atop Terri Roberson’s crowded inbox grabbed her attention. Plenty of assignment notes and memos from station managers had piled up during her week of bereavement leave, but this one seemed special. Her name – only the first name – was written across the top in sloppy cursive with only one ‘r’ – the tell-tale sign that Big Roy, the managing producer, had personally dropped it off. The note simply said ‘see me ASAP’. It was her first day back, she had no make-up on, her dishwater blond hair fell about her ears like old broom straws, and her wardrobe said ‘tired, grieving daughter’ more than ‘ambitious reporter’. She looked as professional as a loose bag of potatoes, but she always answered to the top brass. The trip from the cramped, musty reporter’s bull pen in the basement to the fourth and highest floor of the network building outside Bismarck, South Dakota was rarely eventful. Today, however, at least ten people, most of whom Terri had never met, pulled her aside to offer condolences on her father’s passing. She politely accepted their sentiments, knowing even strangers’ words were genuine. Quite likely, none of them had met local celebrity Harold “Range Rider” Roberson, but anyone growing up anywhere close to Bismarck knew the name and knew his show. Countless thousands knew him that way, but to her, he was a father first. In the fourth-floor reception area, Terri accepted more sympathetic words
Pressler – 2 from the middle-aged assistant at the desk who then buzzed her in to Big Roy’s office. She smiled graciously and walked in. Her face felt sore from all the smiling this week, and even though she was only 26 she felt wrinkles creasing into her cheeks. Big Roy Lattimer, managing producer of the fourth-largest independent television network in South Dakota, sat behind an oversized desk, his round form dwarfing the furniture. Hidden behind an opened newspaper, only a thick pall of cigar smoke rising toward the cracked-open window offered evidence of life. Once Terri walked in, the paper quickly came down and the man’s jowls rose in a big grin. “Well there, Terri Roberson I’d guess,” he said in a deep voice at a polite volume, “Welcome back, and let me tell you I am so terribly sorry about your father. All my kids grew up watching your father’s show in the morning and just loved him to bits I tell you. Even I must admit he was kind of like my father too. He was family on the television for us, I must say. Sit down, sit down, Terri – may I call you Terri?” “Yes, of course,” she answered politely, settling in to a chair. Her reporter’s instincts suggested something more than a formal condolence from management. “And thank you, I appreciate your kindness.” Big Roy rose from his desk and stepped around to offer Terri a handshake, his thick hands dusty with newspaper ink. As she hesitated to grasp his meaty, stained palms, he noticed the dinghy appearance and quickly
Pressler – 3 drew out a handkerchief, wiping away the soot before extending his hand again. “Sorry there, Terri. I started here on the newspaper side, and that ink’s like baby powder for me. I forget how others don’t always like getting it all over, especially here on the television side of things.” Shaking her hand, he smiled with a toothy, sincere grin. “I understand,” she answered modestly. “It’s not a problem, really.” She checked her hand afterward then discreetly wiped the dark grit on the back of her black slacks. Big Roy sat down in a neighboring chair that could barely hold his weight and turned to face Terri, leaning forward to where his leather belt creaked and his shirt buttons strained. “Now, I wanted to tell you in person that the station here wants to recognize your father’s many years of dedicated service. He put 35 years of his life into making Roberson’s Ranch the single-most beloved kid’s show around these parts, and it’s only right that we show our gratitude in kind. We want to do a one-hour special dedicated to your father – a tribute to him and his fine work.” Terri felt a queasy excitement from the words, and her lower lip tightened up. Her father had passed away just over a week ago, and her emotions had been on constant display. Such a commemoration made her heart leap and her cheeks grow warm, yet her instincts still said this was more than just a ‘here’s what we’re doing, enjoy the moment’ get-together.
Pressler – 4 Gathering up her composure and mopping away moist eyes, she spoke in a mostly-controlled manner. “That’s a lovely idea. I know he would appreciate it, as do I. His fans meant so much to him. He loved their devotion.” “Hehe, well, if I had my way we’d show his old episodes nonstop. They always cheered me up. That puppet, Elkie the Nervous Elk – that one alone made me laugh every time he started stuttering and stammering, being worried about ‘hu-hu-hunting season’ just never failed. All these years and I still get all giggly when I hear… well, let’s say your dad was the best, entertaining kids of all ages. His puppets were great, I must say. When he would… aw, listen to me going on. I’m sorry, where was I?” “Some form of tribute?” “Of course, of course!” Big Roy straightened his back and adjusted his pants before again leaning forward. “We want most of the special to be about his show and the whole Ranch-hand Puppet Gang, but we know that a good number of his fans who grew up with the show, well, they’re older now, and they want to know about the man himself. That’s where you come in, Terri – may I call you Terri? Anyway, we want to do a five- or ten-minute segment of life before The Ranch – the life of Harold Roberson before he became “Range Rider” Roberson. We want to do some on-screen interviews with you, your brothers and sisters…” “I’m an only child,” she interrupted. “Oh, well, that saves time. Is your mother still around?”
Pressler – 5 Terri put a smile back on. “She just got back to Ohio. I can make arrangements…” “We’ll send a camera crew,” Roy continued. “A little time with her, some of Harold’s friends, telling some stories to get to know him. But there’s something more for you on this.” Aha! Her mind raced excitedly with the thought of some camera exposure. “I’d be glad to do any air-time you want.” “Hehe,” he chuckled, “I must say, it helps that you’re more than just Harold’s daughter. Since you’re a reporter, we’d like you to coordinate the research on this story. Our research team’s tied up with the fall harvest approaching, and this job would be an easy day in the park for you, given he’s your father and all. You know, yearbook pictures, a baby picture or a wedding shot, some bio information, that stuff. And if you do it as a story – like a feature for print – it would get you a nice byline.” “Do the research on my father?” Her elation yielded to a sense of suspicion. “That seems way too easy.” “It is!” Roy threw up both hands excitedly. “It’s a simple way to put a lot of meat on your résumé. I’m no fool – any reporter in Bismarck worth their weight has eyes on moving up to the big markets – Dubuque, Omaha, Topeka. With a little experience in research and production under the belt, those doors open kinda fast. So, what do you say?” Roy reached back across his desk with an audible strain and reclaimed his cigar.
Pressler – 6 Terri thought about her career ambitions and the opportunity seemed too good to pass. “I’ll do it. I can do the background work this week, and polish something up for next Monday.” “Hehe, there’s a team player!” Roy wiped off his hand and grabbed hers, shaking it vigorously to affirm the deal. “Now, I only know a bit about his real life, so I’ll leave the shaping of the piece up to you – all in your hands. But I do know he was a war hero, and I’d really like to see some of that in the piece – show the Midwest how Harold was a hero to our country as well as our children.” At the mention of that one subject, Terri knew why her instincts had been so edgy. Her father had kept Vietnam far from discussion. His black trunk of mementos in the basement was due for incineration after he died in accordance with his wishes. He had even rejected a military funeral. She planned to burn the trunk in a bonfire next weekend, but now it conflicted with her goal of career advancement. A good reporter used plenty of routes to get a story, but a truly inspired reporter could detach from the subject and do what the story required. Still, the subject was her father, and with his sudden death after church only eight days ago, trying to detach for a while felt like a problem. “Well,” she said hesitantly, “my father really tried to leave the military in the past.” Terri forced her fidgeting feet to stay in one place. “He was about bringing happiness and joy to those around him. I think that time was a very unhappy point in his life, and maybe it’s best left out. He said he still had
Pressler – 7 ‘things that no man should have’ if I got his words right. Maybe for that section we could honor him with a simple little mention like ‘he served admirably in Vietnam’.” “There’s your angle, Terri!” Roy rose to his feet faster than his legs had ever lifted his 300-pound body. “That’s it! Show the viewers how he shook off that horrible war and brought something good to the kiddies here!” He sat down again, leaning forward and resting his fingertips just on the edge of her knee. “Now, I don’t know one man who had a good time in a war, and I’m sure your father was no exception. And I must say I don’t want you thinking I’m not showing respect for your father – I loved the man though I never really knew him well. I want you to handle this story because you can give this the love and care it deserves – that your father deserves. Hell, anyone could do this story, but no one could give it the caring touch of family. It needs to be personal, and it needs to express the man in all his glory. Just give the viewers a chance to see all of him. Show them Harold Roberson. Show them your father.” Instincts still on edge, Terri considered the matter. The past few days had been all a blur of family visits, last-minute arrangements, and plenty of neighbors giving her more casseroles and muffin baskets than she could ever stuff down. All through this, she had barely taken two minutes for her own mourning. Perhaps this could allow her to finally express her grief. And if it gave her an edge into cracking into the competitive Dubuque news market then all the better.
Pressler – 8 “I’ll take it,” she said, placing her instincts on hold.
The house felt painfully empty without her father. The big farm house was her only home. She had been born in the back room that became her childhood bedroom. They renovated the third-floor attic into her writing nook during high school, and after college she lived on the second floor as her father’s renter. Now as the only soul in the huge house, she walked cautiously, trying to leave everything the way he left it. Pictures of his puppets covered the walls, usually next to him wearing his Range Rider costume. Tall and rail-thin with a gentle smile, the puppets on his lap seemed more animated than he had ever been. A few of his older puppets sat quietly in curio cabinets, still bright and lively, unaware that Harold had died. The whole house felt like a three-story Harold Roberson museum, with her as the only patron. Everything remained pristine except for the piles of casserole dishes and mini-muffin baskets in the kitchen. And then there was the basement, which had been a restricted area all her life. She walked in there with plenty of reservation. She had already put together a nice biography – childhood in Michigan, education, early friends, and his fascination with puppets, drawing and entertainment. The piece she wrote about him moving to South Dakota in the early Seventies, getting married and starting a family worked nicely. She even
Pressler – 9 incorporated her parents’ divorce smoothly without controversy. These two pieces of his life offered the honesty Big Roy wanted, the real Harold Roberson. But the absence of his military life was a huge gap in the story that demanded attention. Now she sat under an exposed light bulb in the basement, facing a black trunk, ready for the task. Terri remembered a few occasions as a child when she snuck through the house in the middle of the night. Drawn by the light under the stairway door she would peek into the basement. On rare moments, he would be there, sitting in the spot she sat in now, staring at the trunk just as she was. On several occasions he had a bottle of scotch by his side, and once he had a pistol on his lap. On those nights she felt a ghostly, evil presence in the tense air. That feeling always sent her back to her dolls and teddy bears, crying from a sudden sadness. During her junior year in college, she put together enough courage to ask her father why he even kept that trunk. After dinner one night, she asked him why he hadn’t thrown it in a lake years ago. His thin face went stoic and his grey eyes drifted away from her. He only said one sentence before retreating to his den. She remembered that sentence all through her life. “If a man tries to destroy the past, the past destroys the man.” Her father’s words echoed in her mind now as she gingerly tugged on the latch. Old tape and corrosion broke away as the hinge moved, possibly for the first time since it went into the basement. The latch sprung open, years of
Pressler – 10 tension released, and the lid rose ever-so-slightly. Nervously guiding her hand to the beaten leather handle, she breathed deep and thought about what a great investigative reporter would do. Mustering up some courage, she pulled up and unleashed whatever lay inside. A part of her mind expected nothing less than dark apparitions and howling spirits to swarm out a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, so the actual sight was anticlimactic. A folded captain’s uniform caught her eyes, hat placed in the center. Next to it lay two American flags folded into triangles, each with a set of dog tags on top and bound with a black ribbon. Terri was no war buff, but she knew what some of these things meant. Black recognized a casualty, so the flags were probably those of friends he lost. The dog tags had the names if she needed them. She suddenly saw her father as a man who lost close friends in a war. That moment made things real. She ignored why he had the flags and not the next of kin, and dug into the trunk’s contents. An array of holstered pistols and sheathed knives lay underneath – more than she thought one soldier would carry – with boxes of ammo. She paused to thank herself for not dragging this into a bonfire, or it would have created the most gunfire in South Dakota since Wild Bill Hickok. Examining a knife, she noticed notches in the hilt. Others had similar marks, as did the handguns. Then she realized than her father may have – probably had – killed people. She never associated her father as someone who had taken a life, and these extra
Pressler – 11 dimensions gave her a new respect for her father, the soldier. Maybe Big Roy had known this when he handed down this assignment. She dug further, feeling a renewed curiosity to discover these many new facets of her father. A set of velvet cases caught her eye and she popped them open, finding exactly what she expected. The medals still had a beautiful luster. She recognized the silver and bronze stars, but most of the others would require an internet search. The only other familiar one was easy to recognize – the Purple Heart. Yesterday she had thought of him as only a father and the happy host of a children’s show, yet today he became a soldier wounded in action. She did not even know he ever experienced pain. Underneath the weapons and medals lay a bundle of photographs and a sealed manila envelope. The reporter in her wanted to snatch up the envelope immediately, but as a daughter she picked up the photos to see the man before he was her father. Looking at the top picture, it took several seconds to recognize him. The black-and-white pictures had excellent detail, revealing the off-center cleft in his chin that gave him away. She always knew her dad as just north of six feet tall, but this man in the photo was also broad-shouldered and easily in muscular excess of 200 pounds. Her earliest memories of him never included muscles. He had been a wiry, straw-boned man who might have touched 180 pounds when he carried his bowling ball. The man in the picture had a hard jaw and strength in his face. He stood with arms over the shoulders of his
Pressler – 12 shorter fellow soldiers, his presence dominating. He resembled a Hollywood action hero more than someone whose clothes were always one size too big. Her father – action hero. The thought pleased her. The back of the picture had a caption penned in his distinct, structured cursive, “Jake, me, Bobby and Deuce – Base Camp.” Others had him at different locations, a Buddhist temple, an old bridge or some landmark of note. One had him standing with a can of beer amidst waist-high stalks of marijuana. “American beer and the best weed in Asia,” said the caption. She squealed aloud in surprised delight at the thought of her dad getting stoned. That part could be left out of the news, but it would go in her scrapbook. Finally dragging out the envelope, she noticed it had been opened and resealed. Addressed to this house, the postmark from Michigan was almost thirty years old, with plenty of old postage stamps. The return address simply read ‘Bobby’. Terri felt as if she was twelve, sneaking into the liquor cabinet and silently worrying about getting caught. She nervously looked about, as if expecting her father to step out from the shadows and tell her to put it all away. After a moment, she dismissed it as only wishful thinking and opened the envelope, setting aside her sense of taboo. Reaching inside, she drew out a thick manila file marked ‘Classified’ with a note jotted on a blank sheet of paper. It said simply, “Captain, here’s the originals. Nobody knows. It’s done. – Bobby.”
Pressler – 13 Turning about the paper as if more words lay hidden on the sheet, Terri rubbed her forehead from the ominous note. The context eluded her, so for now she assumed this was what her father referred to as the ‘things that no man should have’. Possession of classified documents made her father adventurous now, and she felt more than ever like a reporter as she broke the file’s seal and pulled out the inch-thick stack of papers. On top sat his enlistment photo – a portrait of a handsome, fresh-faced young man in dress uniform. It would be a perfect lead-in picture for his service time, with an eager grin and a full head of black hair. He looked like a model. Flipping further, the next pages were a bureaucratic blur of forms and facts, possibly orders or assignments, many of which contained plenty of names and locations in Vietnamese and had a ‘Confidential’ stamp in red ink – original papers. A few sheets were even commendations listing meritorious service, courage under fire, personification of leadership under adverse circumstances, and the submissions for his medals – all approved. Terri’s eyes watered in pride. Deep into the sheaf, the style and format shifted from cheap military carbon copy to bonded paper, the heading now citing a hospital in Hawaii. “The Purple Heart situation,” she thought immediately, putting simple facts together as any reporter would do. This was a part of his life she had never even known existed, and she read the pages eagerly, trying to decipher the wealth of military lingo and uncover more facts about her father.
Pressler – 14 Terms like ‘behind the lines infiltration’, ‘social disruption and demoralization’ and ‘engendering fear within enemy territory’ littered the paragraphs of his recent history, concluding with ‘extraction and relocation of surviving forces for rehabilitation.” The last words raised her eyebrows, and she turned to the next page. What she saw in the black-and-white picture that came next chilled her to the core. It was her father in a hospital bed, the picture taken portrait-style like a case study. Now he carried the thin features of the father she grew up with, but his gaunt face carried an unexplainable malevolence. His slight smile cut into his cheeks with wicked curves, turning an easy-going grin into a lopsided sneer. Once-short hair had grown wild, gray shocks cutting haphazardly through the black morass that fell over his ears. And his eyes, usually so soulful and caring, had sunk back behind heavy eyelids. Combined with thick eyebrows and a slight forward lean, the shadows turned his eyes black, without reflection or spark. He looked sinister, almost evil. “That can’t be him,” she said aloud. Flipping over the picture, she gasped upon seeing his name written on the back. Digging into the pages, medical terms swarmed through her head. Phrases like ‘psychosis’, ‘homicidal mania’ and ‘extreme detachment disorder’ leapt at her, capturing her attention and forcing her to turn the page only to be struck by more disturbing notes. She only found sanctuary upon coming across hand-written pages secured into the file and in her father’s
Pressler – 15 penmanship. His caricatures and playful doodles filled the margins, offering much-needed refuge from the medical psychobabble that confused her so. She read into his notes in hopes of feeling the warm hug that was his voice and wisdom. Each entry showed another facet of the man her father had become, and a part of her fond memories died with each passage. “Villagers didn’t scare much when we snuck in at night and ripped apart a few old men – it didn’t really shake things up like we wanted. When we really turned up the heat though, and one morning those gooks found a pile of their women hacked up in the center on the road, some real fear set in.” Her eyes could not leave the page. She read the entry again looking for words she had misread or interpreted wrong, but no other explanation leapt off the sheet. The words only grew more bitter as she continued. “I can’t stand anyone calling them gooks even human,” a further entry said. “They sure don’t scream like humans. Knife them in their gut and they squeal this high whine like a damn pig. Leave one skinned up and dying out in a field, and it just whimpers like a dog. Whatever the hell they are, human ain’t it.” The penmanship showed skill and control, not the frenzied scrawling of a madman, yet these inhuman thoughts lay on the page before her, written by someone she knew as the most humane person on Earth. “All the scaring and demoralization of these native fucks can’t win the damn war. We should start a fire in Saigon and push those flames clear to Hanoi. Burn every animal alive, every pathetic dog, cat, warthog, tree and bush! Put
Pressler – 16 every damn slant-eye into the fire!” Terri felt a level of disgust she had never known, and could not believe she directed it at her father. Her mind wanted sorely to think this was a bad dream or a twisted prank – some file of military misinformation in her hands. Yet here it was, as true and honest as anything she knew. The handwriting was her father’s. The caricatures in the margins and on the bottom of the pages were his style. But then she looked closer at the cartoons and her hands started shaking. Each little face or inked scene displayed some unspeakable perversion. Two soldiers roasted marshmallows over a burning person. Disemboweled people with exaggerated Asian features – hung by their necks off the loops in his ‘j’s and ‘g’s. When she saw the penned-in character of her father sitting in a chair, happily talking with two mutilated bodies on his lap held like puppets, Terri suddenly threw up. This task had become torture. The file in her hand was a book she did not want to read, a movie she wanted to walk out on. Her father, the mildmannered Range Rider Roberson from Roberson’s Ranch, had in one night changed into the heroic John Rambo from First Blood, and then into Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. And yet she knew that somehow her father had moved beyond some self-destructive destiny. Somewhere lay a happy ending to this story, and her inner journalist would see it through. Picking up the file and brushing off stray drops of vomit, she went to the
Pressler – 17 end. His general discharge papers offered little hint, but just before them lay a final copy of hospital notes, and one sheet on hospital letterhead with her father’s writing. There were no cartoons, just sentences written like prose, and she ventured carefully into the words.
Instead of her Monday morning routine of searching the news wire, Terri spun a quarter on top of her desk, the computer monitor already switched to the screen saver, her coffee untouched for the past twenty minutes. A banker’s box sat by her feet, her few personal effects and some stolen office supplies neatly stashed away. She had thoroughly prepared for the inevitable. Over the last few days she had digested what she could of her father’s records and wrote the only story that felt right. The news anchors had interviewed her on camera for their own pieces, and she put forth a noble smile while answering their questions. She offered an anecdote here, an old saying there, but felt like a stand-in actress playing Harold Roberson’s daughter. Her smile was a veneer, her happiness a façade covering what she truly felt – a numbing emptiness. Hopefully someone in editing could make her seem believable. Last night she stayed up until midnight putting together the last pieces of her submission and resisting the urge to break into the scotch or start smoking again. The piece ran for four-thousand words, give or take, from his
Pressler – 18 birth forward, and she saved it just after midnight. She fell to sleep at her little desk in the third-floor attic, knowing it was her best work ever. And she knew Big Roy would hate it. She spun her quarter again on the desk, glancing at the clock as the coin spun about. It was 8:20 in the morning, so the story – her copy, brief notes and her father’s enlistment photo – had been in Roy’s hands for twenty minutes at most. She had dropped off the story prior to Roy’s eight-o’clock arrival, made a photocopy, went to her desk, packed her things then spun the coin while waiting for his response and her inevitable dismissal. On her 43rd spin of the quarter, her phone rang. It was Roy’s assistant, calling her up to his office. With the quiet acceptance of the condemned, she went to the elevator and her fate. Roy’s assistant silently gestured Terri toward the office door and she walked in, not bothering to knock. Big Roy paced about in front of his desk with the most animated steps she had ever seen. One hand held her copy in front of his face, the other scrubbing over his scalp in either frustration or anger. As she answered, his response was immediate. “Now Terri – may I call you Terri?” he asked as a formality, “I thought we had ourselves a little sit-down here and you were gonna hand me a good story with a goddamn hero in it! Where’s my goddamn hero?” “So I’m fired?” Her voice matched her tired, sagging eyelids and hang-dog expression.
Pressler – 19 “Fired? Why the fu… just sit down for a moment here,” he ordered, waving her to the same chair she used just last week. She sat down, quietly awaiting his next outburst. “Now, this is good work – good work I must say, but I can’t let you gloss over big parts with just a little sentence like…” He riffled through the copy, searching for the particular section that infuriated him so. “Yeah! Right here! Like saying, ‘he served admirably in Vietnam’. I can’t let you get away with that! Where did he serve? What unit? Did he earn a medal? Give me something I can use!” Terri let out a deep, exasperated sigh, too tired to fight though aware of a brewing anger. “I think it works fine. It’s brief, to the point, and says everything the viewers need to know.” “This show isn’t some ‘need-to-know’ piece,” Roy fumed. “We’re trying to tell his fans all about the man – things they’d want to know about their own kinfolk!” “Maybe Dad didn’t want them to know about things,” she replied, keeping herself contained. “He’s still entitled to a few secrets.” “They’re his fans, they’ll love him no matter what you say!” “No, they won’t,” she exploded. “I was his biggest fan, and I’m not sure how I feel about him now! My own father! You wanna know what I found out? Do you want to know?” Roy stammered for a second, so Terri rolled over his attempt to talk. “I
Pressler – 20 found a man who was as honorable and outgoing as anyone you’d want to meet, and he got thrown into a place no man should be! I found a man who got consumed by everything our society abhors! I found out that my father – the man who I saw as an upstanding model for everyone around him – was the shattered fragments of someone else entirely! He was just wreckage!” Big Roy shrank back to his own chair, fearing the woman who didn’t quite stand up to his nose. “Listen there, Terri – may, may I call you…” She stood up, drawing a photocopy from her pocket and waving it in his face. “Let me tell you the last thing he wrote in the service! This is everything he thought about his time over there!” She unfolded the copy and read the oratory aloud, trying to keep her voice down and remembering to breathe. “I think of my last six months in country, and it feels like someone else has possessed my body. I had a dream the other night and many nights prior that I existed within the body of a madman. This horrible person did unspeakable things, and I could not control him but only watch his terrible actions. I could neither turn away from the carnage nor wake up from this terror. As much as it frightened me though, I recognized that the dream was not a nightmarish convulsion, but memories that I both desire to forget and insist on keeping forever in my mind. “The conclusion I have come to from these dreams that I can no longer call nightmares is that when I experience them, I am not the madman. I am also not the terrified witness. I am the dream itself – the embodiment of that world. I am
Pressler – 21 both the torturer and the persecuted, I am the rage and the fear, the hunter and the prey. For all the evil I am capable of and have committed, I hope I am equally able to offer in compassion and humility. I have lived in one extreme and returned, and while I hope to never know that world again, I have to accept that it always exists within me, and it is in my capacity to travel there if I do not keep myself in check. “There is nothing I can do to change the past – it is tragically, indelibly etched into the universe. I can only hope that in this, my final testimony as a soldier, lies some evidence that I can be a better man in the future. If I never reach that state, then let it be said that I tried, and I pray mercifully for the fires of hell to consume me quickly so my suffering can be over. – Captain Harold Roberson” Her breath totally spent, she collapsed into an exhausted heap in the chair, head in hands, too drained to cry. Silence filled the room, the only sound the low creak of the floor panels underneath Big Roy’s feet. She felt so worn out that even if Roy were to suddenly plunge through the floor and down to accounts receivable, she had no strength to jump back in panic. “Terri,” Roy finally said, not going through his redundant formalities, “maybe it wasn’t my best idea to dump all this on your shoulders. I’m not saying you couldn’t do the job – hell, you did some fine work with all kinds of good writing – but sometimes people aren’t meant to know too much about their heroes. I must say I do feel horrible that you found out things you didn’t
Pressler – 22 need to know about your father. I know I can’t change any of that, but maybe it’s best we run your write-up just the way it is.” Terri nodded silently, still devoid of energy. “And I must say,” he added, holding up Harold’s enlistment photo, “your father was a handsome young man.” “Yes, he was back then,” Terri answered, not yet looking directly at Roy. “But I think I’ll just remember him with about fifty less pounds, a little less hair and a lot more compassion. He never wanted me to know who he was before I was born, and I think I’m going to respect that. You can keep the photo if you want.” Roy looked at the picture, tapped it a couple of times against the copy in his hands, and smiled. Walking softly past Terri, he placed a gentle hand against her shoulder and patted it once. “Stay there as long as you need, Terri. You’ve earned it.” He went around to his desk, keeping quiet about the gritty smudge now on the shoulder of her blouse.
Before too long, the network ran its one-hour special tribute: “Harold Roberson: Life on the Range” featuring Range Rider Roberson and the Ranch-hand Puppet Gang. In the local market ratings it was a smash success, and other networks throughout the Dakota region called for rebroadcast rights immediately after it aired. Network executives decided to show it periodically, probably around Thanksgiving, to recognize how Harold “Range Rider” Roberson had shaped the youth of the area into fine citizens. The network
Pressler – 23 recognized him as a hero, and wanted to honor him accordingly. And as the credits rolled after every broadcast, one part toward the end said, “Research Coordinator: Terri Roberson”. The only thing that the fans ever found out about Harold Roberson’s military life was that ‘he served admirably in Vietnam’. That was everything they needed to know, and nobody ever complained.
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