Finding Roland Sand: The Story Behind the Story

“They were the lucky ones,” he said. “They died. They don’t have to wake up each morning and live with the memories.”

I wasn’t looking for Roland Sand when I found him.

He wasn’t looking to be found.

Pawley’s Island Tavern was packed.

Sand sat alone.

In the corner.

In the darkness.

The bar might as well be empty for all he was concerned.

He wasn’t looking for a friend.

He said he didn’t make many friends.

He had buried quite a few.

“Miss them?” I asked.

“They’re gone,” he said.

“I’m sure you have a lot of good memories,” I said.

“They’re not coming back,” he said.

Caleb Pirtle

I waited for him to continue.

He didn’t.

Roland Sand was drinking three fingers of bourbon.

No water.

No ice.

A few regrets.

“You live here?” I wanted to know.

“I travel,” he said.


“My job.”

Sand didn’t look like an executive.

He wore pressed khaki pants and a pullover sweater.

It was red.

The color of blood.

Sand had the kind of face you never forgot.

It was creased with scars.

The flesh was red.

It looked as if someone had stabbed it several times with the hot end of a cigarette.

He had a goatee to hide the scars.

But they were still as fresh as if they had been carved into his skin that morning.

I didn’t mean to stare.

He saw me staring.

“Iraq,” he said.

I nodded.

“I was a soldier,” he said.

I nodded again.

“Roadside bomb,” he said.

I grimaced.

“The others were lucky,” he said.

“They make it home unharmed?” I ventured.

“They died,” he said. Sand shrugged. “They don’t have to wake up each morning and live with the memories.”

He drained his glass of bourbon and ordered another.

He asked if I wanted one.

I didn’t.

“What kind of job do you have?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Until a year ago, I worked for the government,” he said.

“Who did you work for?”

He grinned.

“It’s known by its initials,” Sand said.


He shrugged again.

“What happened?” I wanted to know.

“I left.”

“Get tired of the traveling?”

“Got tired of the dying.”

The lights grew dimmer in the tavern.

Maybe it was just my imagination.

“So you left.” I let the sentence hang there.

“Had to.”


“My boss and I had what you’d call a conflict.”

“So you walked out.”

“I shot him.”

The tavern went silent.

I heard nothing but his words.

“And they let you walk away?”

Sand glanced toward the door.

“They haven’t found me yet,” he said.

“Are you worried?”


“I found you,” I said.

He laughed.

“Yeah,” he said, “but you don’t count.”

I opened a notebook and turned to a blank page.

I had nothing to do.

Neither did Sand.

He ordered the whole bottle.

He lay a fifty-dollar bill on the table and smiled at the waitress.

She winked.

She didn’t see the scars.

And Roland Sand told me a story.

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