Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Four
Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Four
A couple of more flights in that flying coffin and I’d visited all of the Van Swearingin plants and offices. I hope that I don’t have to do that too often. Give me a car and I’ll drive to wherever I need to be.
I was bothered by what “Pops” Mulroy said to me during that plant visit in Salt Lake City. He said that his “retirement” wasn’t his idea, that he was being forced out, after almost thirty years on the job. He didn’t seem to be holding it against me. He told me to finish my “Grand Tour” of the other facilities, keep my eyes open, and then to call him. He slipped me a piece of paper with a phone number on it.
“Call me when you get back. Call me collect, but don’t call me from any phone owned by Van Swearingin. It ain’t only the walls that have ears.”
I went to every Van Swearingin property with the Boss, met a lot of people and never saw anything that looked like a washing machine. Most of the things being built didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before. Some of the workers were wearing special suits like something out of Buck Rogers and behind thick glass shields.
When I was introduced to the Security Units at each plant I was given the same story. The older, more experienced people were all being replaced with younger men. They were all roughly my age and carried themselves like professionals. I didn’t get to talk with all of them. Some of them avoided me, keeping to themselves. They may have been soldiers, but some of them didn’t look like Americans. They had a look in their eyes. I can’t explain it, but they looked like some of the Russian and German soldiers I’d seen near the end. Hardened by the war and, I don’t know how else to say it, soulless.
Even though the plants were all over the place the HQ, the Headquarters, was in San Francisco. My office was on the fourteenth floor. I had a secretary I didn’t know what to do with, and a desk the size of an aircraft carrier. When the job applications started coming in they passed over my desk even though they were already marked “hired” or “rejected” before they got to me. I went over the applications and some of the “rejects” looked good to me: Former MPs or Shore Patrol, military police, who already know the ropes.
A few of those hired by somebody above me had spent time in the stockade or were discharged at the same rank they had when they went in – Troublemakers. That made no sense to me. Most of those guys would have a hard time getting hired to carry bricks anywhere, but they were now part of my new Security Unit.
I needed to talk to “Pops” Mulroy. I called him, Collect, from a phone booth in the Ferry Building down by the San Francisco waterfront.
“I figured you’d be calling before long. What do you think, Kid? Talk to me.”
“I don’t know where to begin or where to end. I may not be an expert at running anything, but I’m seeing a lot that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Uh huh. Such as?”
“Such as, if I’m supposed to be in charge why don’t I have any say-so in the hiring? Because if I did some of those mugs wouldn’t get within a mile of anything.”
“Some real bad apples, eh? So they don’t all look like nice clean cut American boys?”
“I’m not sure, but there are some already on the job who look more like fugitives from the Wehrmacht or Joe Stalin’s bunch of apes. I don’t know where they’re finding them, but…all I can say is – something smells.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that, young man. What you were going to tell me would verify for me if I had read you right or not. Since Van Swearingin picked you for that job I couldn’t be sure, but I think you can be trusted, at least I hope so.”
“What are you talking about, ‘Pops’? What’s going on? What have I gotten myself into?”
“I’m not sure myself, Kid, but it’s something shady. I was around that company and Van Swearingin for a long time and I’ve seen changes in both. It started just before the war. Van Swearingin began to bring in some characters that smelled of borscht, if you get my drift. Nothing obvious, but more subtle. He’d have them in for seminars on how to be more efficient. Hell, our plants were as or more efficient than any of our competition.
“When the shooting war started we retooled and began with the tanks. The Boss’ ugly friends somehow got clearance and kept coming around. The more often they showed up the more I got pushed out of the picture. By V-E and V-J Days it was decided that I was going to ‘retire’.”
“Well, ‘Pops’, the Russkies were our allies and all that.”
“Allies, yes, but not bed partners. I know for a fact I saw them sneaking blueprints and schematics out the door. I can’t prove it, but I know it.”
“Are you accusing Van Swearingin of Espionage? Why didn’t you call the FBI or somebody?”
“With what, Kid? ‘I think I saw my Boss playing footsie with some Russians.’ ‘How do you know they were Russians?’ ‘Uh…They looked like my Sister –in-law?’ Click. That would be the end of that phone call. Nothing would happen except for me being fired.”
Wow. “Pops” had just dropped a bomb in my lap. The man with almost thirty years experience thinks his Boss, my Boss, is a spy and I’m his Head of Security, except all of my men are being picked by someone else. It feels like I’m being set up to be somebody’s Patsy.
“Oh, Jeez, ‘Pops,’ what should I do? I’m being set up here, ain’t I? I didn’t crawl my way across Europe and North Africa for three years just to come home and be sucker punched by some rich guy who made washing machines.”
“Forewarned is forearmed, Kid. If you know what game is being played you can see any sucker punch before it gets close. All I can tell you is to be careful. You were hired because you don’t know how to do that job. No offense, but it’s true.”
“I’m beginning to see that myself. I should have smelled a rat.” I was feeling really stupid.
“Don’t beat yourself up, Kid. He blinded you with flattery and cash, Those things are very seductive. You may have been sweet talked onto the payroll, but now you have an edge. You know the grift and they don’t know that you know.
“What you need to do now is to document everything you see and hear that seems funny. Write it all down. It will protect you and, when the time comes, it will make your phone call to the FBI not sound like some drunken old Irishman.”
I’ve gotten myself into a fine mess. All I wanted was a job until my $40 a month paychecks catch up to me. then I was going to do something, I don’t know what. It sure wasn’t getting myself involved with spies.
After my phone call with “Pops” Mulroy I went back to my office. I stopped on the way at an office supply store on Market Street and bought myself a lined journal. “Everything you see and hear that seems funny. Write it all down,” he said.
I sat in my soft leather chair behind my flight deck size desk and I began to write.
– To Be Continued –