Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Twelve
If it wasn’t for Salt Lake I can truly say that I kind of liked my job, but going out there was torture. I made up my mind to tell those FBI characters that I’d had it and, like it or not, I was leaving. Let them lock me up. Even Alcatraz would be a better class of people than in that windowless box out on the Salt Flats.
When I got back from the Texas plant I had a two day break in San Francisco. After finally picking up my back pay from Uncle Sam, I had to go to the Federal Building for that, I went from the second floor up to the FBI on Five. They had a better view from up there and maybe they felt a little closer to heaven than the rest of us.
“I don’t care what you want, Tim. You have a patriotic duty to stay in there for us.”
I’ve heard that line before.
“I’ve already done my ‘Patriotic Duty’ – for three years at forty bucks a month. Now that I’ve finally got my money I want to go spend some of it and that ain’t gonna happen in Salt Lake City.”
I had reached my limit with them, with the Russians, with the whole dang thing. I was ready to just walk and I told them in my best GI curse words. It felt good to let it all out.
The G-Men sat there and took it – and then it became their turn.
“Listen to me, you trench foot hero. I don’t care how long you were in uniform. I was in mine longer and I outranked you. I still do. Your cussing doesn’t impress me or intimidate me. I have a seven year old niece who can cuss better than you. So- shut up and listen and you might just come out on the other end of this mess smelling like a rose rather than like the frightened pussy cat you do right now.” He stopped for a breath and I tried to jump in.
“I want you guys to know…” He cut me off.
“Shut up, Soldier. I don’t care what you want. You think the war is over? It’s not – we’ve just switched partners. So, shut and pay attention to what to what I have to tell you.”
I staged a dramatic “Advance to the rear” as the Japanese called a Retreat. I was heavily outnumbered and even though he was about twenty years older than me he looked like he could hog-tie me in a heartbeat. I sat back in my chair and tried to look like this was all my idea. When it became obvious that I was not going anywhere he started to talk, not yell. He spoke in that calm and secure voice that I had only heard come from Generals.
“Your weekly reports are valuable. Keep it up. What is going to happen next is Top Secret. I don’t want you to even talk about it to your pillow.” He paused and took a breath. I thought he was being a bit dramatic, overboard even, like one of those Barrymores.
“The Van Swearingin plant in Utah is making some new kind of Radar systems. It has been infiltrated by the Reds. We are not completely sure how deeply Van Swearingin himself is part of it. We suspect that he might be forced into going along with the Russians. He has one son, Phillip, whose whereabouts are unknown. There is some talk that he is being held as a hostage. His other son, Charlie is out at the plant with you. Van Swearingin wanted him there, close by, where he could see him and protect him.
“We have managed to get a couple of our agents in there as well, as part of your Security Detail.”
I held up my hand like I was in the third grade. I had a question.
“What? You have to go pee or something?” He didn’t like interruptions.
“No,” I said, “But who are your men there?”
He shook his head. “There’s no need for you to know at this point. I tell you, you blab it to somebody else, and the next thing you know there are two dead highly skilled agents in shallow graves. You’ll know when you need to know.”
“You don’t trust me?” I asked him.
“No, I don’t.”
“Mistakes were made. What more can I say?”
My weekly check-ins with Van Swearingin usually lasted fifteen minutes with me doing most of the talking. Not today. The minute I sat down he started talking, rambling. It was like he was going to confession or something.
“It all started back in about 1940, before the war, or at least our active part in it. The President made a deal with our allies at the time. We were to help them beat back the Nazis. I and other manufacturers all over the country had to retool to make weapons and ships and all sorts of things. My Salt Lake City plant was ordered to make Russian rifles. That’s how they got inside that facility to begin with. I guess I was naïve.”
I just sat there and listened. He paced back and forth talking and wringing his hands. I was glad that his windows didn’t open or he might have jumped. I’ve seen that look before when a guy couldn’t take the pressure anymore. He would just stand up and let the Germans shoot him. That was his way out.
“It was in ’43 or early ’44 when the Russian “Observer” in the plant began to make threats. They knew everything about me. They knew things that I’d forgotten years ago and they twisted things to make me look like I was a spy or something. They threatened my family, my children. I had no choice.”
He went on like that for forty-five minutes. Russians, The War, Threats on his family. It was scary and kinda sad in a way. Van Swearingin was one tough and powerful man, but for those forty-five minutes it was like he was “Shell-Shocked.” I felt sorry for him.
I knew that I had to let the FBI know about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but I knew that some things were going to change.
– To Be Continued –