the short story project


Golden Nails

“Do not use good metal to make nails, nor good men to make soldiers”
-Chinese proverb

Kenton Wentwater IV was born into 1850s England, and won a scholarship to Cambridge, then got posted to archaelogical sites in Mongolia. He translated the above admonitiona after finding it on a wall at the ruins of a house he dug up.

“Red” Masters was from the Hill Country Texas. Thpugh College football scouts came to look at him, what Texans valued was military service. With help from the local mayor, this ranchhand was appointed to West Point, where the tuition was a commitment to serve his country.
Lieutenant Masters went to Vietnam in command of a platoon, about 55% would return to the US in one piece. He spent the 1970s and 1980s teaching military history at staff colleges. He retired in 1992 as a Brigadier General, his ascent stymied by disagreements with the White House over how to blunt Saddam Hussein.
In demand with security firms, Masters enjoyed being in control of his schedule enough to take sailing trips with his daughters. But in his fifties he began to notice premature symptoms of fatigue.
In 1999 he was diagnosed with a lymphoma that many veterans were experiencing as a result of exposure to defoliants used by the Pentagon to flush out Vietcong.
General Masters watched the battles of Fallujah from hospital beds. He could have told them. He died in 2006.

Wentwater was puzzled by the lack of rust on the nails he had found around the perimeter of where the house had stood, at such intervals as to suggest they had held the roof together. It was almost as if they had been made of gold. But it couldn’t be[MM1] .


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