This is a short story – I’ve provided the first 36% of the book for a taste of my story. This book is permanently FREE.


John Kowalski makes it home from the Vietnam War in one piece, and his battles are finally over. Or so he thought. Home for less than a week, John must defend his family from a pair of unwelcomed thugs hell-bent on revenge.

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Part I

I had only two weeks remaining of my year-long tour of duty as an infantryman in Vietnam when I received a distressing letter from home. In it, my sister proceeded to tell me about an unwelcomed incident that recently occurred.

It was almost midnight and the warm July weather made it difficult to sleep. Dad was in the much cooler basement working on another of his many special projects. He was frugal about the use of electricity and forever advocated to turn off the light when leaving a room. Practicing what he preached, only a single overhead bulb illuminated his workbench.

Our house was typical of those on Detroit’s east side: a small, three-bedroom bungalow with the upstairs attic converted into a small three-room apartment. I lived upstairs with my older sister before she left to get married, leaving me alone until the military called me up. Soon afterward, my parents moved their bedroom upstairs into my former room, the largest, then converted the small kitchenette into an office. As a part-time writer for the local Polish newspaper and a chair on several Polish veteran committees, Dad spent much of his spare time in his private space. My younger sister quickly claimed their vacated room, the largest of those downstairs, while my younger brother remained in his own room. They would use the smallest bedroom at the front of the house as a guest room until my return.

A partially enclosed front porch spanned the width of the house. Six wooden steps led downward from the right side of the porch; the front edge of the bottom step ran flush with the side of the house and emptied onto a walkway. The three-foot-wide concrete pathway ran from the front sidewalk straight back through the yard, ending at a locked cyclone gate which secured the portal between our yard and the deeply rutted, weed-infested dirt and gravel alley behind the garage. Just inside the back fence and crammed into the corner between the walkway and the neighbor’s garage, a two-foot by four-foot wood platform rose from the ground with two aluminum garbage cans standing atop like sentinels to the property. Scraped paint on the wall of the garage evidenced the city workers’ rough handling of both cans every week.

The back porch was comparable to the front, albeit fully enclosed. Five steps led down to a landing with two doors diagonal to one another. One exited the house to the outside walkway and the other led into the basement. Up on the main level, two doors stood side-by-side in the center of the interior wall with one leading into the kitchen and the other upstairs.

Outside, faux brown brick, asbestos siding comprising pressed cardboard and tar encapsulated the four sides of the house. The half-inch-thick material provided great insulation during the cold winter season, and many homes in the neighborhood were adorned with the siding.

As Dad concentrated on his project, the subtle tinkling of glass breaking at the rear of the house interrupted the silence. Not as loud as a windowpane breaking or a bottle smashing against the cement, but enough to pique his curiosity.

He cautiously approached the steps in the rear corner of the basement, knelt on the third one, and leaned forward to peek around the doorjamb to the outside door on the landing. The sight took his breath away. Half of the glass from the two-foot square window of the exterior door was broken and hanging from the frame; the pieces held in place with crisscrossed strips of masking tape. A man’s forearm stuck through the opening, his hand moving behind the dark curtain along the door edge trying to unhook the safety chain and both deadbolts.

Dad quickly returned to his workshop table and scanned the shelves for a weapon of some kind. Without guns in the house, his options were limited to a few tools stored in shoeboxes. He chose a three-pound ballpeen hammer and rushed back to the landing. Already having removed the safety chain and opening one of locks, the intruder’s hand now fidgeted with the final deadbolt. Once opened, he gained access into the house. Dad said he held onto the hammer with both hands like a baseball player and swung with all his might, aiming for the center of the leather-gloved hand. Connecting, a terrified scream from the other side of the door quickly followed a loud bone-crunching sound; the painful shrieks drowning out the sounds of crickets and the mating calls of other insects. Dad wielded the hammer and readied himself for another blow, but the arm quickly withdrew. In his haste, the burglar brushed against the jagged edges of the remaining windowpane. Blood spurted onto the glass and small bright red rivulets ran down the length of the door.

The forced entry surprised the rest of the household who were abruptly woken by the shrill screams. I was the first to arrive on the scene, shocked to see the broken window and Dad standing on the landing with a hammer in hand. I ran to the phone and called the Seventh Precinct; two police cars arrived within fifteen minutes.

The police found that the intruder cut through the screen on the outer door and used masking tape to form several X’s across the window before breaking it. They also found blood spatter on the screen door and fence, likely resulting from the intruder shaking his arm to make the hurt go away. A trail of blood spatter also led to the gate at the alley. Unfortunately, a police search of the neighborhood failed to locate the perpetrator.

The four officers wrapped up their investigation within an hour and issued us a case number. Before leaving, one of them told Dad that he should beef up the rear door, buy a gun, and be extra vigilant over the next few days. In the meantime, a patrol car will pass the house a few times each night for the next week or so.

Nobody slept that night.

The next day, Dad replaced the broken windowpane and screen, attached chicken wire across the screen door, and installed a checkerboard shaped metal grill over the window frame. Afterward, he strung some strands of barbed wire above the small fence and gate at the entrance to the alley. Unfortunately, Mom would not agree to the purchase of a gun and forbade Dad to get one, so he added a baseball bat, a long butcher knife, and an axe to his defensive arsenal.

Dad slept little the next few nights, choosing to guard and protect the household instead. He sat in a cushioned chair in the darkness of the back porch, alone in his own thoughts, surely contemplating his actions in the event the intruder returned.

I promise to tell you more when you get home.

Little did she know that shortly after reading her letter, I was cowering in a foxhole, and praying that I survived the night as mortar rounds impacted our small mountaintop perimeter. Her letter caused me some anxiety, but at the moment, it was the furthest thing from my mind.

Part II

I made it out of Nam in one piece and finally arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after traveling for thirty hours.

Seven of nineteen Army Veterans remained on board for the final leg of this flight which originated from Washington state, after twelve brothers-in-arms deplaned at the previous stop in Chicago. With the plane at one-third capacity, our group took advantage of the extra space sprawling out across the last three rows to resume our discussions.  Each wore a short-sleeve khaki uniform adorned with colorful award ribbons, unit patches, rank insignia, and blue infantry braids draped across the right shoulder. We boarded the plane as strangers, but the camaraderie exhibited on the flight made it appear we were life-long friends. Even the flight attendants were overly friendly and offered us a beer in this final hour of our long journey home: an unexpected treat since none of us were of legal drinking age yet.

Physically, we were in the best shape of our lives. I lost fifty pounds while in Vietnam and the remaining 135 pounds on my six-foot frame was now pure muscle. I was, however, certain that I would outgrow my 28-inch waist and need a new uniform within a few months.

Last to disembark on this early August afternoon, we seven briefly hesitated on the portable steps to take in our surroundings. Jet engines screamed everywhere, the overwhelming scent of exhaust fumes permeated the air, and an assembly of vehicles in various colors, shapes and sizes all performed a ballet of sorts as they scurried back and forth between the terminal and dozens of aircraft, carrying luggage, fuel, food, garbage, sanitary waste, and firefighting equipment. Many passengers covered their ears or noses en route to the terminal. The overcast sky and high 89-degree temperature with high humidity felt like I was back in Vietnam. Though unpleasant, nothing compared to the noise, mugginess, and stench that I endured there.

We joined the line of people as it snaked across the short distance of tarmac and entered a set of double doors leading into the terminal building. After ascending a stairway to the second floor, we found ourselves in a gate area filled with people. There, passengers scanned the crowd for a familiar face. 

I’m the only veteran with a cheering section. My family stood together just outside the seating area wearing wide toothy smiles and waving hysterically. Sis held a sign high reading, “Welcome Home, Johnny!” I ran to the four and roped them all in for a group hug.

Once my fellow soldiers reached us, I introduced them to my family. My dad and brother shook their hands, while my mom and sis offered hugs to welcome them home. We walked together as a large group through the concourse and then to the baggage claim area, where the air was abuzz with chatter. The carousel was already rotating with luggage from our flight.

Military duffle bags in hand, we hugged and wished one another well before departing. The odds of seeing each other again next month were high as we all had orders to report to Fort Hood, Texas, after a thirty-day leave. In my case, this would most likely be my last duty station as only six months remained in my two-year military obligation. I looked forward to leaving the Army permanently in February.

I barely slept during the last two days in transit from Vietnam, except for a few catnaps that hardly refreshed my body and mind. My eyes were bloodshot and I dozed on the ride home, only to be startled awake every few minutes after hitting potholes in the road.


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