Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Nine
It was just a few hours since I’d walked out of that FBI office and into their bear trap and now the man they were hoping to snare wanted to see me in his office – alone. He needed a “favor” from me, he said.
I stopped at the Men’s Room and washed my face. I was sweating. Van Swearingin’s idea of a favor might have me floating in San Francisco Bay if he suspects that I’ve ratted on him. I’ve faced the enemy before and walked away. This time though – I’m unarmed.
The walk down the hallway to Van Swearingin’s office felt like it was a mile long. I really wanted to get on the elevator instead, but I knew that if I did that I’d have both Van Swearingin and his Russians and the FBI on my tail, taking turns digging my grave.
The Secretary at the desk outside of the large corner office smiled as I came through the door. She always smiled, but this time it was different. She was smiling alright, but her eyes looked like she’d been crying. Did she know what I was going to run into on the other side of that big Redwood door? Was she a part of all this trouble?
“Mr. Van Swearingin said to send you right in.”
She looked up at me and I could see that more tears were on the way.
“I hope you can help him, Tim. I’ve never seen him like this.”
I had no choice. I opened the office door and stepped into whatever was next. I fully expected Van Swearingin to be at his desk with a gun in his hand – pointed at me. But instead he was standing looking out of the big window behind his desk that gave him a view of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance.
He heard me come in, but he didn’t turn around. He kept on looking out at the city built on Gold and the rubble of earlier earthquakes.
“Thank you for coming in, Tim.”
He turned around. His face was flushed like he had been trying hard to keep it together.
“Have a seat.”
Van Swearingin moved to his desk and sat in his big tall back leather chair. I finished crossing the room and sat down in one of the leather chairs across the desk from him. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t know what to say anyway. He looked at me and took a deep breath. He let it out ending with a sigh.
“Tim, when I hired you I knew that I was taking a chance. You really didn’t have the level of experience that I’d expect from a man for that job. But, Tim, I was impressed by how you did the job you already had and how you handled that…” He struggled to find the right words. “…That idiotic stunt that my son, Charlie, and the neighbor boy pulled that night. A lot of my security guards would have shot first and asked questions later. You didn’t. You took the time to analyze the situation and then used what tactics were called for. They were two boys, not hardened criminals – at least not yet. You impressed me.”
I nodded. I didn’t know what else to do or say. He kept talking.
“Tim, I need your help.”
Here it comes I thought. Was he going to open up and confess to me about what was going on with those Russian characters? Or was he going to tell me that I was up to my chin in all of the shady business with him? Or was he going to shoot me right there and then?
“I need your help and I want you to know that you can refuse, say ‘No’ and there will be no hard feelings. OK?”
Now I was completely confused.
“What is it you want of me, Sir? You want me to kill somebody or what?”
Van Swearingin shook his head.
“Actually, Tim, it’s the opposite. I need you to help me save someone. I need your help to save my son, Charlie.”
“Charlie? What’s going on? He and I haven’t …exactly been friendly.”
“He doesn’t need a friend. He needs a direction and someone to keep him in line – to keep him alive and I think you can do that.”
I didn’t really understand what he was asking me. He wanted me to babysit his kid or be his parole officer or what?
“Sir, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. Your son probably hates me. That night in your garage I roughed him up a bit. I don’t see how I can …” I didn’t know how to explain my feelings about this idea of his.
“Please, hear me out. He doesn’t hate you. He respects you. You may have ‘roughed him up’ but you were honest about it. He pushed you and you weren’t intimidated. You pushed back.
“What I want to do is to give him some sort of a job and have you keep him there. He has gotten himself in a real jam with some very bad and dangerous people here in San Francisco and I’m afraid that if I don’t do something…I’ll lose him.”
“But, Sir, I don’t know what I could do. I’m only a few years older than him. All I could do would be to ride him and keep him busy.”
“Tim, that’s what I want you to do. Keep him busy and maybe you can keep him alive. Please, I’m begging you.”
This was going to happen whether I liked it or not and I couldn’t just walk away.
Charlie Van Swearingin may have respected me like his father said, but all I saw from him was contempt and resistance. His father had assigned him to my Security Detail and shipped him off to the Salt Lake City facility. He figured that sticking him out there on the Salt Flats would keep him out of trouble. My job was a combination of Boss and Baby Sitter and I felt lost on both counts. Here I was an Ex-GI hired to do a job I didn’t know how to do; sitting in the middle of what looked like an island of Spies and Traitors; and now I was being asked to keep a smart mouth teenager from getting himself killed.
I had enough trouble keeping myself alive.
– To Be Continued –