Gunner

Gunner

As told by:Rick Buda



This document is a transcription of a computer file recently found on a disc in the wreckage of a hotel. The Hotel is in [CENSORED] (The identity of this country now kept secret). The current war against terrorism could even be in jeopardy if it should leak out. In reality, the beginnings of this tale go back nearly four decades. That in mind, here is the transcribed file, exactly as written by [CENSORED]
There is not a lot of dialogue – this is not some fanciful piece of fiction reproduced here for your entertainment. If that’s what you seek, then perhaps some other offering is for you tonight. If, however, you wish to hear more about what happens every day in countries and places beyond most people’s horizons then this may be of some interest. As expected, there exists nothing to back up this story beyond this telling.
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In the legends of mercenaries, there is one tail that stands above the rest. While there have been differing versions passed down through the ages, passed from person to person, from generation to generation; oral at first later written since medieval times. In all versions, one re-occurring theme arises: A warrior betrayed, murdered; finally wreaking his revenge upon his betrayers. I firmly believe I have discovered a modern manifestation of this mythology.
Sent to [CENSORED] by [CENSORED] magazine, I had traveled all over North Western Africa and parts of the Mid-East. I was investigating, searching just looking for an interesting story for [CENSORED]. Being a men’s magazine, I was looking for the Macho, manly story to pass on to the Publisher. As I explored, I began to catch snatches and bits of a tale about a mercenary that seemed to have been in every nasty battle for well over 40 years. Finally, in Afrika is where the story unfolds.
In the middle ’60s, there was a conflict that was just referred to by the location — the Congo. We all recall names, like Biafra and Bantu and the Congolese. It was into this bloody fray the interesting character, Roland makes an appearance. It seems this war, like so many in this part of the world, was financed not only by the governments but also rich interests that had their reasons to see the war through in a manner most beneficial to themselves. The Congolese were well enough off using this assistance, to hire many of the world’s best mercenaries. In one group the tale is laid.
Nick Van Owen, Paladin Roland, Gerard Byrne, Guy Longchamp, and an Italian fighter, Constantino Fortunata made up this platoon. In a way these five where the UN, representatives from around the world. While all five were familiar with each other, supposedly Van Owen and Roland were best of friends. They often fought side by side not only on the battlefield but also in negotiations and bar brawls. It was their choice of weapon that set these two, as well as the entire coterie, apart. They attacked, almost exclusively, using Thompson Machine Guns.
These .45 caliber dinosaurs were this band of five’s signature. Often, in the geat of the bloodiest of battles, Roland and Van Owen would be seen, back to back – slaughtering hundreds as the guns spat lead clots that ripped through armor, flesh, bones, and brains. With the Norwegian and Swede so busy, Byrne, Longchamp, and Fortunata often were reduced to ammunition runners keeping the murderous duo slaying for hours. To pay them all respect, any one of the quintet could be that killing machine. Sometimes all five would participate and be the killing machine, moving forward. A straight, tight line of five, their gangster weapons spitting fire and lead, no one advanced against them.
In 1966 they landed in Africa and reported to the Congolese commander. The ammunition for their weapons was cheap and plentiful. Once the army saw the carnage the five men could lay they knew their money well spent.
Now, please remember, this part has been pieced together from stories told to me. Often from people plied with alcohol. I have attempted to reconstruct it all here as best I can. Hoping to get it published in [CENSORED], upon my return. I have put it all on this disc and will send it to you in [CENSORED] hoping you can keep it and other one safe till I see you again.
In 1967, the Congolese were overrunning the Bantu. While the United States had ample reason to support either side or neither, they had chosen the Bantu and their dream of a free state, and that was the Official stand of the USA.
The spearhead of the armies of the Congo was Paladin Roland. Don’t get me wrong Nick Van Owen was no second fiddle, but the fierce blond fighter stood out so against the dark armies of either side. It was Roland that attracted most of the attention.
The CIA approached Van Owen in October of 1967. They offered him safe passage out of the Congo to where ever he needed to be to feel safe. Nick knew if he betrayed Roland, the other three might just come after him. The Agency assured him; the others would be “taken care of.” The money was transferred, and since every mercenary has their price that buys death, the deal struck.
Less than a week later in the thick of a battle, all five men were firing and dealing doom. Van Owen swung his chattering angel of death around. He hit Roland in the head at least two times with bullets nearly ½ inch in diameter. By all accounts, Paladin Roland’s head was blown off. Soon the battle turned, and there seemed to be a surge in Bantu firepower. The Congolese army, with Roland's headless corpse lying in the field, fled. During the frantic retreat, single but rapid shots from an unseen sniper killed Fortuna, Bryne, and Longchamp. Ironically, the Bantu from whom the sniper soldier would have emerged, had few, if any that possessed the fine marksmanship needed for that feat. Rifle fire placed so well was nearly unheard of from tribesmen previously more known for their prowess with a blowgun rather than any firearm. Regardless, with the others gone, Van Owen vanished.

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For 36 years Nick Van Owen wandered. Meanwhile, tales about Roland grew and strengthened. If you look through history, both the named Roland and Palidin leap out from the center of so many ghastly, nightmarish stories. That said, the account of this Paladin Roland takes on a should of modern horror. Even after I had heard it a dozen times, I could scarcely believe one word of it, the telling of it is unwavering in its frightening detail.
Let’s look at the myth-laden descriptions as passed down to us. Most have an iron core some details have changed from telling through re-telling. From ancient fables to modern urban legends, we see much over and over. All have Roland, the warrior as the core and cast in granite.
Within weeks of the grisly battlefield murder, the headless corpse of Roland was sighted in battle during the bloodiest episodes.  Often he’d be sighted at night within the smoldering remains of a huge battle. The truly horrifying aspect was that only the flash from the Thompson he wielded lit his visage. Most often, while the sight is seen, no sound accompanies it!
You may say to yourself, the world is full of battlefield hauntings, and while [CENSORED] may indeed want to buy this story, it is not remarkable. It was with the quest to find remarkability that I continued to dig.
Two weeks ago, obliterating all the odds, I found Nick Van Owen! All over Africa, I had traced this story. I interviewed survivors, talked to locals. Finally, I found him. Few people appreciate the gigantic size of this continent. I, for one, certainly do now.
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“What’ll ya have?” the language here in South Africa is Afrikaans. Seems to be a mash of English, Dutch and African regional accents.

“Gin,” I replied. The only drink you know will kill you at the prescribed rate. “Get one for him,” I nodded toward a huge, yet worn looking man. He seemed to be pushing against the bar. The giant's hair was sandy in color and texture. Somewhere between the blond of Norway and the white of age. If I had gotten the correct information, I knew who he was.
“Aye,” The barman grunted. He pours me a tall, neat gin in a greasy glass and one equally generous for the slumped man.
The fellow stirred at the clink of the glass, reaching quickly, in case it would vanish. Once he saw it was safely in his hand, his eyes brightened. An empty, well-used shooter stands empty near the fresh gin. “Hey, thanks.” He said a dead flatness in his voice.
“Nick Van Owen?” I shot the whole wad. Cut to the chase, figuring, what the fuck lets see if this works. It did.
“Who’s askin’?” He countered but standing up aware, alert. His face has changed. “Who wants to know?”
I introduced myself, adding that I was researching his life and wanted to discover where his mercenary ways had taken him. Van Owen never lost his suspicion, but he seemed not to fear me.
We talked for hours. I bought food and more dring. I learned that Nick seemed unafraid of any earthly thing, did live in fear of the legend of Roland the Headless Thomson Gunner.
“He’s still seen; he’ll not leave this continent until his death is avenged.” Van Owen sounded defeated, lost.
“Why don’t you leave?” I inquired.
“Don’t you think I’ve tried? “ He snapped. “I have left. Where ever I go he follows.” He was quiet. Chewing a bit sucked from his teeth.
“He travels?.” I flipped, “Does he go coach?”
“Fuck you Mister Reporter,” he spat in my face as he spoke. “You being here, asking questions, will make him come about all the faster.”
“OK. How does he travel?” I re-worded the question; I figure I’ll let him tell the answers.
“I don’t know. He does. I leave; he is where I go. I have seen him, heard stories of him. Ireland, Iran, Berkeley, Israel. Any place there is killing – anywhere I am, he has been.
“You’ve been to those places as well?” I was incredulous. Here is a guy, running for his life, but still signing up where guns were needed.
“A mand has to earn a living.”
Mombassa is not a big town. Few people arrived as we spoke. Nick asked that we come back, the next day around noon. (I figure he was going to get lunch out of me for the story, but that was just fine with me). I agreed.
I typed up what I had and loaded it on to this disk overnight.
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The next morning was hot, dry. What the Hell did you expect in this town? Just a minute or so before Twelve I headed to the gin mill we’d met in, hoping to get the rest of the story. I pushed in the door.
As I walked in, Nick spun to look at me. He stood, ramrod straight, a slight smile on his face. He looked so different, almost resigned. Perhaps he felt confession would help free his soul.
The bartender looked up as well, washing a dirty glass in slightly cleaner water. Almost instantly I knew something was very wrong.
I was so close to Van Owen that he reached out, grabbing my left arm as I approached. He pulled me towards the heavy palmwood bar. I managed to turn myself around as well and gazed at the dar entryway I had just come into moments before. There was someone there! Before my brain could send words to my mouth Nick Van Owen pulled me so hard – I pitched forward.
Can’t say what exactly I saw. However, it was the sound that stunned me. No sound of gunfire, but the clatter of impacts!
Impact sounds, ten, fifty, maybe a couple of hundred. Ever been caught in a hailstorm under a thin roofed structure? You have an idea of the sound. The splatter was not hail though; for that was lead. The bar began to disintegrate. Drink glasses virtually vaporized. I was down. I have never tried to lay INTO a floor before that afternoon. That day it truly tried. Still, no gunshot noises only the splatter and crash of every bullet rushed into the room. In a few interminable seconds, it was over.
I lay still for a minute, unsure if I had been hit. No pain signals made their way to my still buzzing brain and aching ears. I finally could hear better, a steady dripping, fizzing. A stream of beer became visible, slowly flooding the floor, foamy and room temperature.
I inspected my hands: a cut knuckle, a bit of blood. I sat a few seconds more. No damage!
Slowly, I stood. There seemed to be no other sounds. The beer, a little ringing in my ears. No sounds from outside, no one approaching to enter. I glanced around in the dim light.
The barman had taken five slugs across his chest and out his back. The bar back wall repainted deep red, in contrast to the normal gray e=veything of the tavern.
Van Owen was unmistakably dead. He’d been hit 40, 50 times. To be frank, I could barely recognize him. It was him though, as no one else was in the building. Perhaps Nick had recognized his executioner behind me, and that was the smile of resolution he wore.
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I needed to leave town. Something told me to get out. I typed this document file separately from the notes for the {CENSORED] story. They should be on a companion disk. I entered this story as an explanation. I know who killed Nick. I know why there was no sound of the machine gun. That lightening from a huge gun lit up my retinas right through squeezed shut eyes. No sound was made – only the ghastly bullets hitting the earthly world. Yes, I knew who killed Van Owen, and he might want me too if he knew I had the story.
As I type and redo this file, I keep hitting “save” over and over in case something happens to me. Don’t ask what might happen. The act of saving over and over was oddly calming to me.
I called the desk to check out. There is a knock at the door. I’ll be back and continue. …
Back and typing as fast as I can. Ho one was there, but down the steps, I could see a dark hulking shadow climbing the stairs


It looks like summer lightning; in those flashes I can see – he has no head!!


Ed Note: The disk was blank beyond this file and some earlier saves.

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Rick Buda here: As a fan of Warren Zevon you may recognize the story. I confess that drinking and listening to the same song over and over cab affect you. If you have no idea of what I speak, find Zevon’s song: Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

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