So much for the docile-appearing, friendly corner grocery store.
“We want to make sure we’re following up on what you want done.” Wayne said. “And I’ll do everything to make sure Max cooperates. He’s a bit ornery you know. He always turns in acceptable sales and profit-margin numbers but, as you know, Max tends to push back against authority. Even to some extent me.”
Wayne stirred his coffee and straightened up in his chair.
“How much do you know about Max?” Wayne asked.
“Enough to know he’s done nothing to get this store how it ought to be.” I said. “Enough to know that he seems to think this is his own, personal operation that he can do whatever he wants. Last time I looked, Wayne, it doesn’t say ‘Max’s Market’ on the outside of this store, it says ‘Sun Markets’ and he needs to get that in a hurry.”
“Max is a vet you know. Vietnam.” Wayne broke in, speaking in an even tone.
“Yeah? I’ve got a few like him in my territory.” I said. “I missed Vietnam by just a few years myself. I have lots of relatives, uncles and cousins that went through ’Nam.” I said, not losing my determination or get hoodwinked by this store director, who I thought was a forming a front, an excuse for Max’s dodging ways.
“You don’t understand.” Wayne continued. “Max was a private in Vietnam. Near a place called Quang-Tri. Messy place. Disorganized as all hell. It was just before the Tet Offensive in January of ’68. By some grave error, Max’s platoon was exposed in a small clearing. They awoke to a murderous hailstorm of mortars and machine guns from the surrounding jungle. Nobody could see anything or even react before they were overrun. Every guy in the platoon was killed. Every one that is, except for Max.”
I blinked in disbelief, and suddenly felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.
“It was Christmas morning, 1967. Mercifully a call for help was sent before the radioman was hit. Max squeezed in between two of his dead buddies. Until an air strike came soon afterwards to turn back the Viet Cong, Max endured the heavy fire. Not many people are aware of Max’s little experience over there in Southeast Asia. Certainly nobody on Max’s crew knows, here at the store. They all just think Max is a bit eccentric and very contrary. I only know about it because Max’s dad and I used to fish together sometimes. He discovered everything later reading his son’s medical records, after they shipped him home early. Max was in a near-trance that took years to recover. My guess is that Max hasn’t trusted any authority since.