One Teensie Favor
SPC4 Denny Shimkus twisted his hand into a fist and swung it at
his best friend and upper bunkmate, SPC4 Ken Baxter, alias
The Kid. The lanky Kid ducked and stumbled back onto
Shimkus' lower bunk. Shimkus jumped on him and they both rolled
onto the floor, banging into wall lockers, kicking, cursing,
trying desperately to land painful, blood-producing or bruise-inducing blows on each other. Neither was having much success.
SPC5 Perry Marachek and I watched the two-man melee for a couple
of minutes, and then went back to our reading and writing.
"Doctor No," our teenaged Korean houseboy, sat on his haunches by
the window eating his kimchi and rice dinner. He watched, grinned
"I figured Denny would have known better than to get himself in a
deal like that with The Kid," Perry said to me as he opened his
"Those two guys are like a couple in a bad marriage, staying
together for the sake of the children," I said.
"Only there are no children, they're both guys, and they're not
I thought for a moment. "Maybe that wasn't a good analogy."
The Kid was about the same age as the rest of us, all
thrown together in the crowded two-story barracks of the
Headquarters Company, Eighth Army Headquarters, Yongsan Compound,
Seoul, Korea. In our room, PFCs, SPC4s, SPC5s, even a couple of
KATUSAs – twenty-two uniformed bodies in all –
inhabited a space meant for eleven. Even though our quarters were
close, they were more comfortable than the quonsets and tents
that were home to the majority of the other troops stationed in
When the Japanese were driven out of Korea at the end of World
War II, they left the brick buildings that became the living
quarters of the Americans. We had the luxury of a large indoor
latrine with plenty of sinks and stools and a spacious shower
room. At the bottom of the staircase to our room stood vending
machines with cold soft drinks and a variety of beers.
Other than the KATUSAs, who were sons of important people in
Korean society or the ROK government, we'd all been drafted right
out of college in the summer of 1969. By chance, we'd been
assigned to this relatively safe and comfortable location, far
from the jungles and death in Vietnam. As for The Kid,
he must have been out to lunch when Mother Nature delivered the
puberty package to his front door and he couldn't sign for it. He
might have easily passed for a tall, baby-faced, tinny-voiced
The deal between Kid Baxter and Shimkus resulted from a
request The Kid had made a week earlier, precipitated by
a nasty situation that arose whenever he walked into the EM Club.
The Eighth Army Yongsan Compound EM Club was a mere thirty-five
miles south of the DMZ, but much farther in terms of creature
comforts, with the harsh conditions endured by the troops
stationed near it – and the occasional casualty resulting
from a skirmish with the North Koreans. After all, Korea was
considered a hardship tour, and for most of the 39,000 troops
stationed there, it surely was. But the EM Club was situated in
an alternate universe more than a million miles away
from all that. The recent remodeling job, completed through the
benevolence of the American taxpayer, also put it a million
dollars away from the other EM clubs in the rest of the country
– or those on most of the Army bases stateside. There was
no evidence of hardship.
Just inside the double front doors of the club and off the right
side of the lobby was a large, modern dining room. Straight ahead
was the entrance to the expansive main lounge. The rear of that
room was outfitted with an undulating island bar surrounded by
leather easy chairs and cocktail tables. The front was graced by
a polished dance floor and stage where a live band performed six
nights a week. Tables and soft chairs ringed the area. The
Yongsan EM Club was nicer than most of the Army's NCO Clubs, and
could've passed as a typical Playboy Club back in The
Off to the left of the lobby was a smaller, wood-paneled lounge
with a padded bar, color television, and a dozen slot machines
along two of the walls. Those slots were the root of the nasty
situation that plagued The Kid.
It seemed that whenever he entered the EM Club, he couldn't make
it past the small lounge without dropping in for a beer, or to
use the head, or have a quick look at the color TV –
whatever. Once inside, the ravenous coin-swallowing slot sirens
would take hold of The Kid, dip their steely arms into
his pockets and extract and devour all the currency therein, with
The Kid utterly powerless to stop them. At least that
was his take on the situation.
The Kid's rotation date was approaching. Before leaving
the country, he wanted to buy some deeply discounted stereo
equipment to take home to the States, but by the day after each
payday he was broke. We were paid in cash in those days and every
month the scenario was the same: The Kid would pick up
his money, return to the barracks and separate the colorful MPC
into different piles on his bunk.
"Now this time, you guys," he'd say, "I'm going to save fifty to
get that Pioneer amp, and twenty for some good JBL speakers, and
forty for a BSR turntable, and another fifty for a Teac tape
deck." His strategy statement was the first step in this ritual
and most likely voiced for anyone in earshot who happened to be
in the barracks and still paying the least bit of attention to
him. "And this," he'd proclaim as he held up a wad of currency,
"this I'm going to put in the bank. And this," he'd say holding
up another handful of cash, "this sixty dollars is going to last
me 'til next payday."
We'd all heard the same speech month after month, with some
variation in the brands of The Kid's planned stereo
Step number two had The Kid change into civvies, put his
first fifteen dollars of spending money in his pocket, divide the
rest, and stuff it into the appropriately labeled envelope in his
footlocker. Then it was down to the EM Club. Rather than take
advantage of the fancy chairs, inexpensive cocktails, live music
and mini-skirted young Asian lovelies in the main lounge, The
Kid would turn into the small lounge, grab a beer, change
his fifteen dollars into coins, park himself in front of a
favorite slot machine, and yank the bandit's arm incessantly. By
the next day – two days max – he'd been back to his
locker half a dozen times, emptying the cash envelopes of their
contents. For the remainder of the month, he'd mope, curse at
himself, kick lockers, and hit guys up for loans.
One payday while studying the short-timers chart in the barracks,
The Kid realized that if he wanted to buy any stereo
components to take stateside, he'd have to change his modus
operandi. So he appealed to Shimkus that evening after
"Hey, Denny," The Kid called from his top bunk. He hung
over the side to where Shimkus lay reading the Stars and
Stripes in the lower bunk. "Think you could do me a
"Why would I want to do that?" Shimkus said as he turned a page.
"I don't even like you all that much."
"That's why I'm asking ... that's why what I'm asking just might
"You know, I've been having some bad luck with the slots."
"Oo-ee! There's a news flash for ya!" SPC5 Cass hollered from his
bunk across the aisle.
"You're the main reason the Army can afford to remodel the EM
club every year," Perry added.
The Kid tossed a disgusted look in his direction.
"And this year when it's done," I said, "they're gonna mount a
bronze plaque on the wall. It'll read: 'This beautiful club,
provided for your excessive gambling, whoring, drinking and
vomiting pleasure, was made possible through the generous largess
of Kid Baxter who, having absolutely no self control and
even less financial discipline, made large and numerous donations
to this edifice ... THANKS Kid!'"
"You guys mind?" He frowned. "Alright! I lose all my money.
"Not wildly exuberant, but moderately amused," I said.
The Kid turned back to Shimkus. "Anyway, you know how I
want to get some electronic gear to take back home?"
"So who's stopping you?" asked Shimkus. "Get it."
"I can't with no money."
"And whose fault is that?" Shimkus had a grin on his face.
"If I give you my money on payday, could you hold it for me and
not give it back no matter what I say or do? That's the only way
"What do I get out of it?" Denny asked. "Other than the
satisfaction of seeing you squirm through slot withdrawals?"
"You can keep a ten spot each payday for yourself."
"Gee, getting paid to see you sweat? What could be better? You
got a deal."
"And remember – no matter what, don't give me any back. Not
even if I cry, scream, threaten to kill Doctor No –"
Doctor No looked over from the pile of laundry he was sorting.
"Kill Doctor No? You crazy honky? Number ten!"
"– don't give me anything."
"Kid. I get the picture," said Denny. "Now leave me the hell
"This should be interesting," Perry said to me as he buttoned his
The next payday, The Kid was true to the terms of the
agreement. He gave every bill, counted and enveloped, to Shimkus
except for his first fifteen dollars, which he kept to tide him
over for the week. Shimkus put the envelopes in his wooden
footlocker. "Thanks, Denny," said The Kid. "You're doing
me a big favor."
"Ten dollars buys a lot of my humanity," replied Denny as he
clicked the padlock.
The Kid's determination, and the good feelings between
him and Shimkus, only lasted about twenty-six hours. After
returning from the mess hall in the twenty-fifth hour The
Kid, eyes downcast, sauntered over to Denny, who peered into
a small mirror inside his wall locker and combed his sandy brown
hair. The Kid cleared his throat and plastered a big
smile on his pale face.
"Hey, Denny. I need ten bucks of my money. Before you go out,
could you give it to me?"
"Nope." Shimkus stuffed his shirttails in his jeans.
"I know what I told you, but I've got nothing left except some
change and I ... uh ... need to buy ... uh ... a new prayer book
for church this weekend."
"Yeah, the Church of the Three Cherries."
"Just give me a ten."
The Kid became more forceful. "Hey, man, this is a
special case. I didn't expect this emergency – so give me a
Shimkus pushed past him, heading for the door. "'Bye,
The Kid took a big step and grabbed Denny's arm. "Look,
dammit, it's my goddamn money, so get it."
"Let go of my arm."
The Kid started pulling him back towards his bunk. "Give
me the goddamn money!"
"Let go of my arm, you squeaky bean pole!" Shimkus twisted out of
The Kid's grasp. "You're gettin' nothing!"
"Yeah? Well, how 'bout I smash the top of your head so hard
you'll have to look out your ass to see where you're goin'!"
Denny tightened his jaw and slowly shook his head.
The Kid reared back and swung a fist at him. Denny
blocked it and swung back at The Kid. They both ended up
kicking, punching, and swearing on the floor.
By now the half dozen or so other guys in the room were mildly
interested in the fight. Doctor No looked over at Perry and me as
he shoveled rice in his mouth. "Good fight, honky Johnson and
honky Marachek? Bang! Bang!"
"Number one," I said.
"Do you think someone should break that up?" asked Perry.
I shrugged. Shimkus got to his feet.
"Sonovabitch," he swore under his breath. "Sonovabitch!" he
yelled. Denny pulled his keys out of his pocket, opened his foot
locker, ripped the envelopes with The Kid's money
inside, and threw the bills down on The Kid, who had
just started to right himself. "There's your money, asshole.
Don't ever ask me for anything again!" He slammed his locker
closed and locked it.
The Kid's expression softened as he sat up and gathered
the bills. He looked like a whipped puppy. A thin trickle of
blood ran down Denny's upper lip from his nose. He stepped over
The Kid and stomped toward the door. "Choke on it!" he
hollered back as he stormed out.
The Kid stood, brushed himself off, glanced around the
room quickly and cleared his throat. He ran his fingers through
his hair, and hurried to the door. Doctor No smiled and nodded
when he passed. "Good fight, Kid Baxter. Maybe more
pow, pow next time, okay?" The Kid shot him an
evil eye and marched down the stairs.
The final nail was hammered in the coffin of the Baxter - Shimkus
deal late that night. Perry and I entered the darkened barracks
after a midnight showing of M*A*S*H at one of the post
theaters. Except for one guy who was reading a comic book in the
dim streetlight by the window, everyone in the room was asleep.
We quietly made our way over to our bunks.
Suddenly the door opened and banged into the wall. Someone
clomped in and flipped the light switch that illuminated half the
room. The stomps passed and we saw it was The Kid. He
went over to the bunk where Shimkus lay snoring, pulled off his
blanket, and grabbed him by the arm. "Denny, you asshole!" he
shouted, and dragged Shimkus onto the floor. Shimkus grunted when
he thudded on the linoleum and halfway pulled himself up.
"Shuddup!", "Put out those damn lights!", and other assorted
obscenities and groans came from the roomful of awakened GIs.
The Kid reached down and grabbed Denny by the T-shirt.
"Why the hell did you give me that money? I told you not to, no
matter what I said!"
Denny jumped to his feet.
"Now it's all gone! And you were –" The Kid never
finished because Shimkus hauled back and smashed him in the
mouth. The kid still had hold of Denny's T-shirt and
practically pulled it off him as he stumbled back. With his free
hand The Kid took a backward swing at Shimkus, and
knocked him into a wall locker.
"Quiet, assholes!", "Knock it off!", "Shut off the goddamn
lights!", and more calls and shouts filled the room as Shimkus
and The Kid battled in the cramped space, banging into
wall lockers and knocking loose a garment-loaded clothes pole
suspended between two of them. Civilian duds and army uniforms
flopped down on top of them.
Perry sat on his bunk and pulled off his shoes. "Doctor No will
be sorry he missed this."
"When he sees the mess he has to clean up in the morning, he'll
know it was truly something special," I said.
The two combatants struggled to twist themselves free from the
fallen articles that had significantly hampered their ability to
pummel each other.
"I'll kill you, Kid, if ... you ever say another word
... to me again," Denny puffed from under some khakis.
"You ... won't have to," wheezed The Kid, "because I'd
... kill myself first if I ever ... spoke to you again." The
Kid threw off the clothes, got to his knees, then his feet.
"Can it!", "Both of you kill yourselves!", and more cries of
Denny crawled over to his bunk and rolled in. The Kid
rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand.
"One-a-you damn yankees shut off them damn lights!" yelled Cass.
Perry walked over and flipped the switch.
"I hope you're happy, Kid," I said. "Kiss that prayer
book you wanted goodbye."
There were a couple of snickers. In the faint light The
Kid climbed up and flopped on his bunk. Perry and I got in
our bunks, and gradually the other guys drifted back to sleep.
Then through the quiet came the Kid's voice.
"Cass ... Cass! You still awake?"
"Think you could do me a little favor?"
by Wayne E. Johnson
... who is a Vietnam-era veteran, a part-time writer and
ghostwriter, a children's book illustrator and book designer. His
articles and short stories have appeared in The Chicago
Tribune, Tooling and Production,
The Herald, The Journals of Father Nick
Thomas, and Rivulets. He edited and
designed the nonfiction hardcover book Making It In
Hollywood for Gail O'Donnell and Michele Travolta; and has a
screenplay under consideration.