Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eleven
For a few weeks everything went along smoothly. I had no more run-ins with the Russians, both them and Van Swearingin left me pretty much alone. I called in to the FBI every Saturday from a payphone and Charlie kept his nose clean. Then one day while I was at the California plant I got a phone call from Salt Lake.
Every so often I’d been getting complaints that someone was breaking into the employee lockers and stealing stuff. Nothing big was being lifted and I figured it was either one of the production workers or some Russian who felt he could get away with it. Then I got that phone call. It was from Van Swearingin’s office. Charlie was in the hospital in Salt Lake City. One of the loading dock workers had caught Charlie jimmying open a locker and beat the ever-loving snot out of him. He would survive but it was a sure thing that he wasn’t going to mess with those lockers again. And from the look of his face when I saw him he wasn’t going to be eating corn on the cob for a while either. Of course Charlie denied it all. He said that he’d noticed the jimmied lock and was just looking it over. Nobody bought that.
Charlie’s antics turned Salt Lake into a beehive for me. I was his Boss and everybody was mad at me when he came back to work. I couldn’t fire him. I hadn’t hired him so how could I fire him? Everybody was ticked off. Now everyone was watching everyone else and blaming me. I tried explaining that he was Van Swearingin’s kid and as far as I was concerned they could all take him out onto the Salt Flats and bury him up to his neck.
I complained to my FBI phone contact and all he told me was to shut up and keep listening. He said that Charlie was innocent of the locker business – that they had hired one of the truck drivers to break in to the lockers to stir things up. It sure did that I complained.
“Look, Pal,” the FBI guy told me, “Things are coming to a head there before long” and that I should be ready to “Take action.” He didn’t explain what that meant, but I started carrying my pistol again.
After he recovered from his beating and realized that he wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to San Francisco Charlie settled into the groove of his new life. He did his job and go around giving everybody a piece of his lip. I don’t think he enjoyed being there, but everyone there looked tougher and meaner than him – especially the Russians. If Charlie tried any of his tough guy nonsense on them, even the three women in their crew, they would have pounded him into the ground like a tent peg.
I met with each of my Security Unit people once a week just to check in and see if there were any problems, Charlie included. Most of the gripes had to do with wanting a raise and petty junk. “Co worker ‘So and So’ is mean to me.” or “Telling people I’m queer.” All of it the same stuff I used to hear in the Army. There were always a couple of complaints about the Russians that they laughed at them and that they smoked on the plant floor when that was “verboten” to everybody else. I passed those problems on to Van Swearingin each week like clockwork – and each week he shrugged and ignored them – and me. It was beginning to feel like my only real function was to keep an eye on Charlie and that was only for the eight hours that he was at the plant. For the other sixteen hours in the day he was on his own.
He drove himself to and from the plant in an old Buick that his father gave him. He lived in an apartment owned by the company in Salt Lake City. I doubt that he could get into too much trouble. Those Mormons run a tight ship and if Charlie tried any of his tricks on them he’d be wishing they were the Russians. At least that was what I was hoping.
Each week I made my call to the FBI office in San Francisco – always from a different pay phone. I didn’t have much new to report to them. It was usually just Russians, Russians, and Russians. Beyond that I kept telling them that, in my opinion, Van Swearingin was on his way to a breakdown. I think that the Russians were getting to him. His name might be on the letterhead, but, more and more every month, the Russians seemed to be calling the shots. Some of my men who had the most gripes with the Russians disappeared and were replaced without clearing it through me. They were replaced with some thugs who spoke only broken English.
“Everything OK, Mr. Boss You betcha, Da.”
That was the extent of their weekly check-in report with me.
I wanted out of there. I checked with the Army and they had my back pay – a nice tidy sum of almost $600. With that plus what I’d been able to bank from Van Swearingin I could go to some cheaper city than San Fran and have it made. Maybe get some education or open a small business of my own.
Whenever I said anything about that to the FBI they told me to sit tight for just a little longer. They’d been telling me that for almost a year.
Even though Salt Lake was a real thorn in my side I had two other Van Swearingin plants that I had to deal with. Going to them was a relief. The California plant was retooling back to making washing machines just like before the war. There were no Russians there, just a bunch of farm boys and returning G.I.s who were anxious to get back into the civilian life. The Van Swearingin plant in Texas was not much different, except that the flight in that DC-3 was a lot longer. That facility was also going back to pre-war manufacturing too. They were starting to make electric clothes dryers there. I guess that backyard clothes lines were going to be going the way of buggy whips.
– To Be Continued –