Certainly one of the Butterfly Collector’s dearest friends was old Tink Putnam. Neither of them was a true native of Valley Falls but had amazingly arrived in town almost at the same time, or at least within a few hours of each other and by total coincidence, in 1975. Both were doctors, skilled surgeons in fact who had both served in World War II as Allied forces advanced into occupied Europe. Then, in late winter 1945 they were both attached to a Third Army battalion which was mopping up the last remnants of Nazi resistance and pushing steadily eastward as the generals pressed their forward mobilization unit pins into the maps under the names of towns they would all spend the rest of their lives trying to forget. Town names like Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz would imprint themselves on their young minds like a chemical bath tattoo or a terrible, dark branding that no amount of brandy or bravado could ever unetch.
When the haunted radio calls came back to Field HQ from advance companies calling for medics both Corporals, Tink and the Butterfly Collector geared up and went forward. They had both spent the last 18 months treating a dizzying list of acute battlefield medical conditions but nothing they’d taken on thus far could possibly have prepared them for the things they saw over the next few days deploying into the death camps.
The Butterfly Collector was the consummate collector even then, snapping picture after picture on his Hasselblad camera and developing the grainy black and white pictures after duty hours in a tent he’d somehow requisitioned for himself as a dark room. Tink was the more sober of the two men by far. By the time he arrived in Valley Falls as a resident surgeon he was not interested in talking about those days in the war. Sure, he would tell a good joke, scrubbed, gloved and masked over the operating table, and his timing was deadly in its own right, but friends learned quickly not to ask him about the war. The Butterfly Collector had a different way of dealing with the memories. His pictures he kept in a trunk. It wasn’t something he dwelled on, especially after some 30 years. But when anyone asked he was open to showing them and talking about what was shown in each neatly white bordered snapshot of a horror within a horror.
The doctors arrived in the town of Valley Falls, NY on the 30th anniversary of their liberation of the Children’s Block 66 of Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany. The date was not lost on either of them and they celebrated and remembered at the only bar in Valley Falls until closing time. That they then toasted the bartender, hugged each other warmly, climbed into their borrowed blue Buick Skylark and drove away was a forgotten part of the story. It was where they plowed into a critical power supply pole on the edge of town, singing at the top of their lungs but plunging the rest of the town into total darkness that was how they would be always remembered. They walked away from the scene of course, loose-limbed and laughing hysterically and were surprised to see the local deputy’s assistant pull up moments later, at about 2 AM.
“Do you need a doctor?”, the deputy asked. And the laughter that boomed out from the two, Tink and the Butterfly Collector, sitting in the dark and leaning on each other by the side of the road made him wonder if his dispatcher had sent him to the right place.