"Rat" is a rejected flash fiction story
Forty-year-old US Army Vietnam veteran Carl ‘Rat’ Moreau left a federal prison gate with Salvation Army release-clothing and $100 in gate-money on the twentieth anniversary of the TET Offensive. A guard stopped him as he started to board the shuttle bus to the nearby city, saying, “Boss wants you to have this.”
A note and 100-dollar bill were attached to a bus ticket to Seattle. “Rat – I hope this helps. It’s all I can do. What you did for me in Nam needs some reward. - Carter”
Moreau had been wounded twice, decorated for saving his squad by his tunnel-rat action, and honorably discharged. College on the GI Bill, MBA, and a $150,000 a year job came next. He served five years for felony real-estate fraud after being scapegoated by lawyered-up executives in the corporation. Warden Parker Carter remembered Moreau’s saving him and several others from a Vietcong tunnel boobytrap
The convicted felon had excellent academic qualifications and in the late 80s the movement to hire Vietnam vets had started. But he had to declare his felony conviction to be truthful on any job application. Discovering he could work for cash, without a written application in nearly any agribusiness along the I-5 corridor from Canada to Mexico, he took that route to just support a new habit.
Seventy-year-old Moreau was anticipating his tenth anniversary of being clean and sober on the 50th anniversary of the TET Offensive. He’d worked those ten years cleaning toilets, showers, and the processing floor at a slaughterhouse in Oregon. His pay was less than minimum wage in cash, but he was allowed to eat ‘clean-up’ from the plant cafeteria. Free eats and sleeping under the modified canopy of his 1985 pickup parked on the back lot of the plant enabled him to grow his cash equal a year of his former gross annual salary.
Rat was cleaning the office restroom when he heard a man ask the manager, “Is Carl Moreau employed here?”
He looked around the door, saw two suited men in the office, and heard the manager ask, “Are you police or ICE?”
Before Moreau heard an answer from the men in the office, he went out a side door. By sunset, Rat was underground in California and would never know the answer given to the manager.
“Neither,” one man said. “We have good news for him from the Innocence Project.”