“Small minds think alike, Wishman. Great minds think for themselves.”
That was the first thing I remember Ryan Hall saying to me. I didn’t know him well then, so his words didn’t mean much to me; but in the months that followed, I’d realize that to someone like Hall, they meant a great deal.
In my experience, there isn’t much separating the great from the small. Last year, there was an open-shut case surrounding a republican business owner who was running for congress in Colorado. Louie Upton was motivated, had the means and know-how, and he knew all the right people. Everyone loved him and he was polling in way over his opponents’ heads. The man never even smelled bad until one day, an over-zealous democrat gave him lip about something personal, and he snapped.
He hit him in the jaw.
People didn’t think too much of him after that. He went from being the most adored person in the state to a public enemy overnight—these kinds of snap judgments seem typical in the Western world. What if that democrat had threatened to kill him or his family? Everyone has a breaking point.
Hall, on the other hand, believed in things that were bigger than he was. Bigger than anyone was. He also believed in turning the other cheek. I never liked that about him but then again, I had never really believed in anything. I’d call him naïve; he’d call me cynical, which explains why we never seemed to fully understand one another. All I knew was plenty of people would call him a friend, but he’d say the same of only a few. I like to think I was one of those few.
Six years earlier, Hall and I had been charged for disobeying a lawful command when we were on a security operation in Iraq. Even though we were in the same platoon, we’d never had anything to do with each other until shit hit the fan on a botched building seizure mission. The orders were to clear a warehouse on the outskirts of Baghdad and to shoot on sight, which made things easy for us. Only problem was we didn’t count in the intel being bad. Why would we? Being told there was a strong insurgent presence only put us on edge. So when we kicked in the door and found a large gathering, we didn’t consider they might be civilians.
That was always a danger with shoot to kill orders; it eliminated the need for critical thinking—at least in the minds of some. Most of the other soldiers killed based on orders, not on their own judgment. We were the only two who acknowledged the mistake, at least in time to stop firing.
It was over quickly, but our platoon commander threw around threats of court marshaling even quicker. Before we knew it, we were sent home and an investigation was underway but by the time we were charged, they figured out we’d made the right call, so instead of reprimand, we received praise. There was even mention of a Bronze Star citation, but that was just to soften us up so we wouldn’t feel compelled to tell the press about the slaughter of a few dozen innocent Iraqis.
“I appreciate the exemption, sir,” Hall told the lieutenant colonel sitting behind his solid oak desk, “but what happens to the people who gave the order? Will there be an investigation into how our intel was so off?”
“I assure you, gentlemen, that all those responsible for what happened in Baghdad will answer for their actions,” he lied. “After receiving any intelligence that’s even remotely misleading, an investigation is mandatory.”
Hall didn’t let the commanding officer’s assurances get him off topic. “That’s a good start, sir, but with all due respect, the American people deserve to know what happened . . . what’s happening,” he added.
The chubby, gray-haired officer sat in silence. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “What do you think, Wishman?” His cold stare now focused on me.
I paused for a moment, realizing my next sentence could determine a great deal in this case. “I agree with Hall, sir,” I finally said. “It’s America’s reputation that was tarnished, so the people deserve to know.”
“You’re two peas from the same righteous pod, aren’t you?” He leaned back in his leather chair, scowling at us over the rim of his glasses.
“Great minds think alike, sir,” I replied.
“Small minds think alike, Wishman,” Hall countered as he glanced my way. “Great minds think for themselves.”
Six years after that stint in Baghdad, I found myself, once again, with only one person I’d call a friend. And I’d bet my life that Hall was thinking the same thing. To make things worse, Shoremont was being hit by the worst storm it had seen in years. My car was parked in the overflowing gutter outside Larry Manning’s weatherboard house—the last place I wanted to be—but I was out of options.
I stepped out into the rain and walked past overgrown gardens up to a paint-chipped door. The mess Hall had gotten himself into was too big for me to deal with alone, so I thudded on Larry Manning’s door with a closed fist, doing my best not to imagine his response when he saw me.
The door swung open and an old, balding man with a beer gut stared at me through stressed eyes. It was a year since we’d spoken but he wasn’t surprised to see me. He opened the door all the way and stepped aside, never removing his sneering gaze. I walked inside.