Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2019

Archive for the category “California”

Throwback Thursday from April 2016 – “A Soft Irish Morning – It Comes With Chips”

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Throwback Thursday from April 2016 – “A Soft Irish Morning – It Comes With Chips”

THIS MORNING IS ONE OF THOSE MORNINGS that the Irish call “A Soft Irish Morning.” That means that it is chilly, a bit rainy, along with some fog.

I’m not complaining mind you, but looking out through the window and seeing all that, the word “Soft” is not one that pops immediately into my thought. But you know the old saying, “When in Belturbet do like the Belturbeters do.” It’s only polite. Read more…

To Boldly Go Where No Member Of My Family…

THE OTHER DAY I BUMPED INTO A LITTLE FACTOID. It was about you, me, and everyone else on Earth. Unless you know something I don’t know all of us are natives of this planet. According to that factoid you and I live here on Earth which is one planet in our Solar System, which is part of our Galaxy – The Milky Way – and that our Galaxy is off by itself in the emptiest and most remote part of the visible Universe.

To the rest of the Universe we are off in the desert.

How did that happen? Do we have B.O.?

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – The Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – The Conclusion

“Where is everybody?”

That was a good question. Ten minutes ago it looked like “Pops” Mulroy held all the cards, but now…? Now it looked like he was “all-in” and holding a dead hand. His two gigantic thugs certainly were. His eyes darted around looking for help. There wasn’t any. It was time for me to show him what I had in my pocket. Now Charlie and I were holding all the Aces.

When “Pops” saw the pistol in my hand it was if all the air went out of him.

“Timmy, is that necessary?”

“I hope not, but I don’t know what’s going on here either and you might be our ticket out of here.” The man I had trusted slowly shook his head.

“That gun won’t get you – or me – out of here if things have fallen apart. We are all expendable.”

“Then let’s keep walking and find out,” I told him.

I looked over at Charlie who had put away his knife and was holding two Russian semi-automatic pistols, one in each hand. He had a deadly serious look on his face.

“Those big boys don’t need these pieces anymore and they might come in handy if things get nasty.”

I was coming to really like and trust that boy.

It was me, “Pops,” and Charlie standing there all alone. No one else was visible and the plant was dead silent, but that sure didn’t mean that everyone was gone. You can’t hide that many Russians quickly – and what about my men, my Security Team? I knew from the FBI that at least two of them were moles.

And where was Van Swearingin?

If I was going to get any answers we had to get moving to Van Swearingin’s office.

“Ok, let’s keep moving…and one more thing. “Pops,” if you try to call out to your Comrades or get stupid on me – I. Will. Shoot. You.

We moved on through the plant. I was hoping that the Boss would be there in his office – in handcuffs, but I was also hoping that he and everybody else was gone. I didn’t care where. I was one man with a snub-nosed five shot .38 caliber handgun. That’s not much. Not much at all.

There were only two places in the plant where you get everybody together at one time: the Loading Docks or outside. The Loading Dock area would be crowded unless they opened the large bay doors – and then you were outdoors. I wanted to avoid either place until I knew more.

When we got close to Van Swearingin’s office I could see that the door was wide open. I’d never seen it like that before. I had Charlie and “Pops” stay out of the office while I slipped through the door. The Receptionist’s area was empty. The door to Van Swearingin’s private office was ajar. I looked into his office. Van Swearingin was sitting at his desk, his back to me, looking out of his window, the only window in the entire building, onto the desolate landscape of the Salt Flats. I walked in.

“Hello, Tim.” He didn’t turn around.

“Boss? What’s going on? Where is everybody?”

“You weren’t supposed to be here today.” He turned his chair around. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. He was pale and his eyes were lifeless. His hands were empty, but there was a shiny chromed .45 caliber pistol in his lap. I didn’t like that. “Why don’t you give me that weapon, Boss?”

“No.”

I couldn’t reach it and I didn’t want him to start shooting that cannon. We just looked at each other for a few moments. If he was going to say anything I’d have to start the conversation.

“What’s going on, Mr. Van Swearingin? One minute this place is crawling with…” He cut me off.

“What’s going on, Tim? A lifetime of mistakes coming back at me is what’s going on. I trusted people I shouldn’t have. I let them stay even when I knew I should have gotten rid of them. They took my son as a hostage. I didn’t have the courage to fight them. I let my own personal weakness and greed allow me to betray my country. What’s going on you ask me?”

“Where are the Russians?” I insisted. His self-pity didn’t interest me at this moment.

“The Russians? I think some of them are dead by now. I hope so. The FBI stormed in here twenty minutes ago. They must have taken out the guard post before they could warn them here at the plant. A couple of your Security Detail opened fire when the Russians started to fire at the FBI raiders. You trained them well, Tim.”

“Those men were FBI from the get-go,” I corrected him. “I didn’t even know which of my men they were. I have one more question for you.”

“What’s that, Tim?”

I hollered back out of the office.

“Charlie, bring him in here.”

Charlie came into the office walking behind “Pops” Mulroy. He had one of the Russian’s pistols up against the back of “Pops” head. I had no doubt that he would have pulled the trigger if the old traitor had attempted to run or resist.

“Hi, Dad, What’s new?” His voice was as cold as the desert at night.

Van Swearingin looked up at his youngest son like he had never seen him before. “Charlie? Put down that gun!”

“Sorry, Dad, no can do. I had to kill two of your Russian flunkies to get it and this other big one too. Besides, if I put it down your friend here might do something stupid.” He rapped his prisoner’s head with the gun barrel. “Ain’t that right, Grandpa?”

“Easy, Charlie, the FBI has taken control of the plant and I think they’ll want Mr. Mulroy with his head intact. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of questions for him.” I turned back to Van Swearingin. He couldn’t take his eyes off of his son. “I imagine they will have a few questions for you too. But I have just one.” He looked at me and closed his eyes. He was on the verge of collapse.

“Mr. Van Swearingin, You trusted me with your son, why didn’t you trust me enough to call in the FBI, or the Army or whoever, to end all of this before people had to die?

“I had no Trust left. Everyone I trusted ended up betraying me.” He picked up the pistol from his lap. I reached out hoping he would hand it to me.

“Mr. Van Swearingin – don’t! Give me the gun. Please.”

“No. Hear me out. I’ve made some terrible mistakes, horrible mistakes. I’ve caused a lot of pain to people who didn’t deserve it. It’s too late for me to make amends to some of them. I hope that someday they will be able to forgive me.” He closed his eyes as a tear ran down his cheek.

I thought we were out of the woods, but he opened his eyes before I could reach for his gun. He raised his hand and fired one shot across the room and into the chest of his lifelong friend, employee, and ultimate destroyer “Pops” Mulroy.

XXX

I deposited my last pay envelope and then closed my bank account. I bought a train ticket to Maine. I’d never been there, but it was as far from the west coast as I could go and full of green trees. I’d had enough of the desert Salt Flats.

I read in a newspaper that they put Van Swearingin on trial, but he had caved in on himself and ended up in the crazy house for the criminally insane. I don’t know how long he survived. I never read another word about him.

The End

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fifteen

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fifteen

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. The one man I felt that I could trust – “Pops” and his two big thugs walked me back to my little office. One of the big guys stayed outside the door. I guess “Pops” didn’t want any interruptions. They didn’t tie me up or anything. What was I going to do? Where could I go? I was trapped and I was alone. The only person within 700 miles or so that I felt I could even come close to trusting was a kid who had once tried to stab me. I was as alone as anyone could be.

“Timmy, I’m sorry you decided to show up here a day early. By tomorrow we would have been long gone and this place would have been a smoking pile of ashes – a black stain on the white salt flats. But, you did come early and I’m afraid you’re going to be a tragic victim of the fire. That’s too bad, I kind of liked you.”

I didn’t like being referred to in the past tense while I was still around. I had to speak up. I knew my goose was cooked, but I had to know…why?

“Can I ask you something, or is this a one-way street?

“Pops” chuckled like a grandfather talking to his little grandson.

“Sure, Timmy, we’re not going anywhere for a few hours. Shoot.”

I could have asked him a thousand questions, but the big one was – Why? Why are you betraying your country? What about Van Swearingin? You’ve known him for almost thirty years. You’ve been friends. Why?”

He pulled over one of the side chairs and sat across from me. He moved the big Russian over into the corner like he was a piece of ugly furniture.

“Let me give you a bit of a history lesson, young man, and then maybe you’ll understand who I am and what I’m doing.

“That is true that I’ve known Van Swearingin for a long time. We were both in the army during the first war. When the Armistice was signed he came home – the young hero. I stayed behind. The Army and the politicians weren’t done with me.

“The ink wasn’t dry on the Armistice papers in Versailles before the U.S. Army shipped me and more than ten thousand other men into Russia. We were there taking sides in their civil war. We were there to back the so-called ‘White Russians’ against the ‘Reds’ who had overthrown the Czar and taken power. We had no right to be there. It wasn’t our fight. It was strictly a Russian affair. I spent more than two years there fighting and killing people I didn’t have anything against.

“Like any war there is a lot of idle time. I got to know some of the Russians I picked up the lingo and I learned how the Russians felt having us and troops from other western nations, there tearing up their country. I came home in 1920 and I was a changed man.”

“But, what about your family and friends, “Pops?”

“They were still my family and friends. It was me who’d changed, not them. I was still the same man on the outside, but inside I was changed. I had been betrayed. Inside I became a Russian, an angry Russian.”

“But for thirty years? For thirty years you were what – a spy? A Saboteur?”

“No, Timmy, for almost thirty years I wanted there to be a payback for what we – what I – had done to the Russian people.”

He stopped talking and looked at me with a sad expression on his face.

“’Pops,’ if you were a part of all of this why did you tell me to call the FBI? I don’t get it.”

“Because my naïve young friend, you tell them what you see – or what I wanted you to see – then they tell you what they are going to do, and then you call and tell me everything. You were my spy inside the FBI.”

I stopped trying to ask him anything else. There was no point. He had been stewing over this for decades and I wasn’t going to change his mind sitting here in the middle of nowhere. I looked at “Pops’ and he looked at me. We both knew that any further explanations were useless. Neither of us was going to change at this point.

For about a half hour we just sat there, me, “Pops”, and the side of beef by the door. We could hear plant noises as people passed by my office or equipment was being moved.

A little before noon the big Russian said something. “Pops” answered him in Russian and the big man opened the door and left us alone.

“He has to go ‘Make a Russian River.” He’ll be back in a minute. One thing I can say about them – they are very loyal.”

I bit my tongue. I wanted to answer him with, “Not like you,” but what would be the point?

After another twenty minutes “Pops” began to look concerned. His large pet and bodyguard hadn’t come back. He opened my office door – the other man was gone too. It was just the two of us now – and my small personal revolver that I had taken to carrying again. “Pops” had been overconfident and never had his gorillas pat me down. I hadn’t seen any weapons on “Pops” so I kept mine where it was. I’d bring it out when it would do the most good.

“Pops” closed the office door. He was not happy. For the first time he looked a little scared.

“Stand up, Tim. Something is wrong. We’re going for a little walk-around. Come on.”

He still showed no weapons, just the threat of one. I came from behind my desk and together the two of us walked out into the plant floor.

We turned right. We were both nervous as we headed toward Van Swearingin’s office. We hadn’t gone five yards before we both saw a pair of shoes sticking out from behind a line of lathes. Two shoes – big shoes and they were attached to the Russian bodyguard who had been standing outside of my office. The big man’s brown suit coat was wet with blood. His throat had been slit and there was another damp area in the middle of his broad chest. I hadn’t seen anything like that since we crossed into Germany near the end of the war.

“Pops” stepped back and quickly looked around. There was no one else in sight. The plant had fallen silent. All of the machinery was stopped. It seemed like we were the only two people in the building – no longer counting the dead Russian.

“What’s going on here, Tim? Who? What is this?”

“The ‘Who’ is me.” It was Charlie. He stepped out from behind a large tool cabinet. He was holding his knife – the one I had told him to stop carrying on duty. There was blood dripping from the blade.

“And ‘What this is” – is the end. Your other playmate is back here. He won’t be joining us.” “Pops” was in a stunned silence. I wasn’t.

Next Week, The Conclusion –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fourteen

 

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fourteen

 

Daily life at the Salt Lake Plant was much like the Salt Flats – the same no matter in which direction you looked. Any changes were hard to detect and if you weren’t careful you could find yourself hopelessly lost and looking Death in the eye. Out on The Flats you could die of thirst. Inside the Plant the biggest danger came from the steely-eyed Russians who were running the show even though Van Swearingin had his name on the pay envelopes.

Men came and went. The men who had been there all during the war were disappearing one by one. That old crew was being replaced with thick-necked men who never smiled and who never left the Plant. They had set up a barebones dormitory in a far corner of the building. Little by little a small part of Utah was being turned into a corner of the Ukraine.

Why I was still there and breathing mystified me. It also scared the daylights out of me. I was afraid to go there and mix it up with any of those Russians, and I was afraid to leave because of those FBI guys. Aside from their haircuts and dental work I didn’t see much difference between them.

It had gotten to the point that the only person I felt I could trust was Charlie, Mr. Van Swearingin’s younger son, who had once tried to knife me. I couldn’t really count on his Old Man even though he was the man who hired me for this job. I may have had a nice job title and a hefty salary, but I was really there to be his stooge. I didn’t appreciate that. I didn’t fight my way across North Africa and Europe to be under anybody’s thumb – American or Russian.

I was reaching my limit. I needed to confront Van Swearingin regardless of the danger. I had questions and I was going to demand some straight answers. When I would do that remained to be seen.

Damn it all.

XXX

 

I guess my idea of what constitutes “Soon” and how the FBI defined it went in two different directions.

It was two weeks later when I got back to Salt Lake. I went in a day early because of some possibly iffy weather and flying in that DC-3 was scary enough in good when flying over the mountains was just like the worst roller coaster on earth.

It was when I came into the Plant a day earlier than expected that I saw something new – and I wasn’t sure what it was that I was seeing.

Even though I had flown in alone Van Swearingin was already there. His office door was closed, but I could hear him and someone else talking – arguing really, with the other voice doing most of the talking. I couldn’t make out much of what was being said, but it was obvious that neither of them were very happy. I didn’t need any of the Russians seeing me outside the office door eavesdropping. I had enough trouble and I was there to stir the pot with the Boss.

I’d promised myself that I was going to confront Van Swearingin. I wanted some answers from him about why he didn’t stand up and be a man – instead of a traitor which is how he was looking to me – more so every day. I understood that his oldest son was missing and that maybe the Russians were holding him, but…

Sometimes you have to risk everything or you’ll be sure to end up with nothing.

It’s called courage.

I’ve seen it a number of times and there were those times when it cost a man everything, except the respect and honor of the men who lived to go home to their families.

Charlie was in my office when I got there. He still didn’t like being stuck in Salt Lake, but he was learning to do his job and to become a man. 

Against everything that the FBI had warned me about keeping my trap shut I felt that it was time to take Charlie into my confidence. He had as big a stake in all of this as I did – bigger even.

Aware that the office was being monitored I dug out the notepad again for our real conversation. Out loud we went over the daily log reports. On paper my words were right to the point.

“Charlie, do you have any idea what’s going on around here?”

“You mean with all those Russian gorillas around here? Yeah, I ain’t blind.”

“And why your father is allowing them to…to, let’s face it, Charlie, to steal whatever it is they are really making here?”

“It all looks like some Buck Rogers top secret gizmos of some sort,” wrote Charlie. I had to agree with him on that. The stuff they were making was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

“Has your father said anything to you, Charlie, about why he is letting them run the show?” I didn’t add my other question: “Why, for crying out loud, am I still here?”

Charlie grabbed the tablet and wrote quickly. “Boss, I don’t know anything about all of that. I know that I’m stuck here just like you I figure, and whatever they’re making must be something special or the Russians wouldn’t have their fat noses into everybody’s business. But there ain’t nothing I can do about any of it.”

I was getting angrier by the minute. I signed on to be here, but Charlie was little more than a prisoner. I kicked my wastebasket across the room. I picked up my pen again. “Charlie, I’m going to let you in on something, but you have to keep it to yourself or people will end up dead.”

Charlie’s eyes grew wide.

I ripped off the paper we’d written on. “Take care of this like last time. Got it?” He nodded. “You do that and I going to go talk to your Dad.

Charlie went one way to burn the evidence of our back and forth. I went in the opposite direction. I pretended that I was doing a plant floor walk-through, for all that was worth. I came around a corner near the machine shop and bumped into a familiar face – “Pops” Mulroy. I couldn’t tell you who was more surprised, him or me.

“Pops, what are you doing here?” I stammered, “You’re the last person I’d ever expect to see here again.”

He didn’t say a word. His surprised look melted away into one that told me we weren’t going to have a picnic in the park. It dawned on me that “Pops” was the other voice I’d heard coming through Van Swearingin’s office door.

“Tim, what are you doing here?”

“I might ask you the same question.”

Standing behind “Pops” were two large Russians. They were always easy to pick out of a crowd. They wore cheap suits and faces that looked like they smelled something bad. These two looked more like bodyguards – “Pops’” bodyguards. When he and I came around that corner and bumped into each other both of those sides of beef behind him reached into their suits. They were there to protect “Pops.’

“Расслабься, парни.”

That came out of “Pops’” mouth. His two shadows stepped back and pulled empty hands from their coats. “Pops” looked at me with a smile on his face.

“I just told these two boys to relax. I suggest you do the same, Timmy-Boy.”

 To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Thirteen

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Thirteen

 

For all of the care that the Government took to keep that Atom Bomb thing a secret I couldn’t believe that they didn’t know about all of those Russians in Salt Lake before I did. Did they trust Van Swearingin so much that they didn’t keep a closer eye on it all?

When I called into my contact at the FBI a couple of weeks ago I told them that the Russians were getting pretty cocky. They weren’t even trying to stay off the factory floor anymore. They were interfering in everything. More and more of the American workers were disappearing. The Reds had brought in some Muscle and whoever was left of the men I trusted were being intimidated and threatened. It was never a big plant to begin with, but now the number of Americans on the inside was shrinking. I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to hang on.

I contacted a couple of the Americans who had been fired or quit and they weren’t too eager to talk to me. They were scared. I don’t know if it was of the Russians or of me. They probably thought I was a plant – one of “them” – a traitor. None of them, not one, felt safe around me. One of the older men hinted to me that he knew a couple of the men who “quit” had actually disappeared. “Disappeared” – he meant killed and dumped out in the desert or up in the mountains. He wasn’t there when I went to his home a week later.

When I got back to San Francisco I walked over to Larkin Street, to the Federal Building. I didn’t think I was followed, but I couldn’t be sure. I had reached the point where I didn’t care anymore. I wanted out.

“You can’t leave now, Tim. Things are getting to a critical stage. We need your eyes in there.”

Getting critical?” I just shook my head. These FBI mugs were killing me. “Men are dying out there. The Russians have completely taken over and I don’t know why I’m still alive.”

“Van Swearingin is protecting you, Tim.”

“Van Swearingin? He can’t protect himself or his own kids. You told me that they’d snatched one of his kids and I’ve got the other one working with me. No – I’m done. I don’t care. If you don’t do something now, today, I’ll walk out of here and then you’ll have to look for me too.” I got up to leave.

The G-Man got up from behind his desk and got nose to nose with me. He was as old as my father, but he was still solid muscle. He stuck his finger in my face like I was a ten year old.

“Listen to me, kid. Don’t you even try to quit now,” He growled at me. “Too many good and brave men have already died out there, more than you know. We are just about ready to come down on that whole operation. Do you think we are stupid? Do you think that we don’t already have that place and everyone there under a microscope?” His face was turning red. I was getting pale.

“I promise you this, Tim, if you foul this up because you’re scared I’ll make sure – me, personally – I’ll make sure that you disappear out there on the Salt Flats too.”

Without another word he grabbed me by my throat, kicked my ankle and dropped me to the floor. The business end of his pistol was on my forehead before I even saw him reach for it. His eyes burned into me.

“Do I make myself clear, soldier?”

I know that I was followed when I left Larkin Street. I don’t know by whom, but he sure didn’t look friendly.

XXX

The sun was coming up over the mountains as the plane dropped down to Salt Lake. The DC-3 flew in with just two passengers – me and Van Swearingin. Neither of us said much. I felt like I was the first prize in a turkey shoot. Win, lose, or draw I was going to end up dead. He looked like what was left of last year’s turkey shoot. That plane felt like it was a hearse.

The usual Lincoln limo met us at the airport and drove us out to the plant. The driver was new. He gave us a fake smile and said, “Good morning, Gentlemen.” He had an accent that sure wasn’t from Georgia – at least not our Georgia.

When we got to the Black box out in the middle of nowhere the shifts were changing. The few Americans left were checking in and the men who were leaving were all climbing on to a bus. That was new. The Russians didn’t even trust their own workers.

When I opened the door to my little office I saw that Charlie Van Swearingin was sitting at my desk. I’d made him my foreman for whenever I was away. He was young, but at least I knew him. He had once pulled a knife on me, but he was the only one I felt that I could trust.

“What’s up, Charlie? Anything new?”

He nodded slowly and held a finger up to his lips, saying nothing until the door was closed. When I sat down next to the desk he started to scribble on a note pad as he finally started to talk.

“No, Boss, same old, same old,” he said as if everything was hunky-dory. On the note pad it was a different story. His pencil scratched out, “This office is bugged. There is a microphone in the ceiling light, I think.” I looked up at the light fixture. I don’t know what I expected to see. Charlie started talking again.

“It’s been pretty quiet. We had one man quit though – Martin, that machinist, the old guy.” He wrote at the same time. “Martin is dead. He got into it with a Russian and backed into a couple of knives out behind the building. They don’t think I saw him get it. It was murder.”

“That’s too bad, Charlie. I liked him,” I said for whoever was listening. “He was a decent guy.” I took the pencil from Charlie and wrote while I asked him about the weather.

“Keep your eyes open. It’s all about to hit the fan. Don’t take any chances.” I underlined the word “any.” Charlie nodded. I kept writing while he ran down the personnel schedule. “Burn this paper and three sheets underneath it. Don’t give them any excuses to take us out back. I’m going to talk to your father.”

 To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Twelve

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.

He wasn’t.

“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.”

XXX

 

“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 –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eleven

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.

XXX

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.

XXX

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 –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Ten

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Ten

 

When you can’t trust anyone what are you supposed to do? I couldn’t trust Van Swearingin or any of the other people who worked for him. I didn’t feel that I could trust the FBI either. One of the first things they said to me was that they could lock me up for years – and why – because I was giving them the heads up on what looked like a bunch of Spies. It wasn’t like I was one of the bad guys. I had on a white hat here.

I wanted to get out of town and disappear, but they sent me back into the middle of it all. Those Russians had already taken my skull for a ride. I don’t doubt that they’d bury me out there in the Salt Flats just for laughs. I was walking on tip toes around that plant. I was there, but trying to be invisible. And then van Swearingin asks me to be the babysitter for his kid who pulled a knife on me. I was starting to feel nostalgic for the peace and quiet of the Battle of the Bulge.

Even though I felt trapped I knew that I still had to show up if I wanted to get paid – and the money was good, very good. For the first time in my life I had a bank account that wasn’t an embarrassment. I put most of my pay envelope in the bank, but I still pushed some of it under my mattress – just in case.

My next trip to Salt Lake was one I was not looking forward to. Monday morning was supposed to be young Charlie’s first day with me. Doing what I wasn’t quite sure. The only sure thing was that I was going to be his Boss.

That Monday morning I was doing my usual routine in Salt Lake: check to see who showed up for work; stay away from any Russians that might be around; and meet up with any new people who were being pushed on me. And then there was Charlie.

It was a little after half past nine. I’d been onsite for two hours already when Van Swearingin walked into my little office next to the employee locker room. He had Charlie with him and neither of them looked too happy. When the kid saw me he tried to leave the room.

“Oh, no! No! I’m not gonna work for this cheap cop of yours. No way!”

His father grabbed him by the arm and pushed him into the chair by my desk.

“Sit down and shut up. You’re here and you’re going to stay here until those characters in San Francisco forget about you. So, shut up. You’re going to work here, earn a pay envelope every Friday and stay out of trouble for as long as I tell you.”

Charlie looked up at his father with a mixture of hate and resignation. It was not respect, but more like he knew that his father was calling the shots and that was that. I just sat there with my mouth shut. The Boss was the Boss.

In that morning’s mail I’d gotten a memo from Van Swearingin telling me what to do with Charlie. I was to train him to become part of my Security force – the lowest part. He was still only 17, had no legitimate job experience, and was there against his will. I didn’t have much hope that this was going to anything but a disaster.

Van Swearingin wanted me to work him nights and keep him exhausted so he wouldn’t have the energy to get into any trouble – not that there was a lot of opportunity for that in Salt Lake City. That was the start of my Monday morning, as if I didn’t have other things on my mind.

“Tim, I’m going to leave my son with you now. I have other business to see to.”

He looked down at Charlie slumped in the chair like a ten year old.

“Get him started, paperwork, uniform…”

“I ain’t wearing no uniform,” muttered Charlie. His father slapped the back of the kid’s head.

“Shut up” That was directed at Charlie and then his words were for me again. “…paperwork, uniform, and start his training. As long as I have to hide him here he is going to help pay his way.” He turned and left the room without another word or even a glance at his son.

It was just the two of us sitting there staring at each other. Neither of us was happy with the situation, but there was nothing we could do about it.

“Well, Charlie, here we are. Your Old Man brought you here. It wasn’t my idea. You’re no baby and I’m not going to be your babysitter no matter what he thinks. We’ve had a run-in, you and me, but that’s history as far as I’m concerned. We’re out here in the middle of nowhere so you had better forget our past and try to make the best of it.”

Charlie sat up straighter in his chair and glared at me.

“You’re right about not wanting to be here and I’m not too keen about being stuck with you.”

You’ll survive it – which doesn’t sound like your prospects back in San Francisco.”

The kid grinned. That was the first time I’d seen him do that.

“Yeah, well, there was this girl…”

“I don’t really care, Charlie. I’ve got my own problems. All I want to do today is get you set up so your father won’t be barking at either of us. Is that fair enough? I’m willing to deal with you like anybody else if you’ll let me.”

He shrugged. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as he looked sitting there.

“So what am I gonna have to do?”

“It’s not a complicated job, Charlie – just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.”

Charlie surprised me. I was prepared for a battle every step of the way and I hadn’t forgotten that he liked to carry a knife. After the first few days of sulking and his tough guy attitude toward me he resigned himself to the reality. He was stranded out there in Utah a long way from anybody he could push around. He was also a long way from anybody who wanted to take him apart. And I was his Boss.

He hated the uniform that he was forced to wear. I really couldn’t blame him on that point. He was skinny and liked to swagger and in that uniform he looked like a cartoon scarecrow.

As far as the other employees at the plant were concerned – they ignored him, just like they did any of the Security Unit including me. They took their orders from Van Swearingin directly or from a couple of the Russians who spoke passable English. The Russians were like a bunch of mosquitoes hovering everywhere, watching everyone, and becoming bolder every day. They usually talked only to each other or Van Swearingin, but I saw them yelling in Russian at some of the line workers as if they could be understood.

I started out putting Charlie on the overnight shift. It was quieter with fewer opportunities for him to get into trouble. He just had to walk his rounds, punch the clocks, and report any problems in his log book. The plant operated twenty-four hours a day, but at night it was mainly shipping and receiving. Trucks came and went.

When he first arrived I’d told him that he really only had one job – to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut. Being a sneaky little punk made that easy for him and it wasn’t long before he became all but invisible to everyone in the plant. He became my eyes and ears after dark.

 

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Nine

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 –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eight

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eight

I walked around downtown for at least a couple of hours. Every time I saw the Bus Terminal I had to fight the urge to buy a ticket to as far away as I could get on the money in my billfold. I was feeling like I was walking into an ambush – The Russians and Van Swearingin on one side and the FBI on the other, with me in the middle.

Van Swearingin wanted me to be stupid. The FBI wanted me to be smart. The Russians, I’m sure, wanted me to be dead.

The Ferry Building was down Market Street two blocks away.

I heard the coins falling from the slot into the telephone coin box. The Long Distance Operator made the connection for me.

“Pops” answered the phone.

“This better be good. I was just heading out the door.”

“’Pops,’ its Tim. We need to talk.” I heard nothing coming back at me.

“Are you there? Hello?”

“I’m here,” His voice was low, and he sounded leery. “Are you OK, Tim?”

“Yes, I’m OK. No, I’m not. I don’t know. I don’t know how I am.”

“Talk to me, Son. What’s happened?”

I took a deep breath and started telling about my talk with the FBI and what they wanted me to do.

“I’m feeling like I’m being set up to be the guy who throws himself on the grenade. I’m no hero and I don’t want to be one.” I could feel my shirt sticking to me. I was sweating like a stuck pig and my stomach was queasy.

“I can see how you might think that. They have put you in a sticky spot, but if you’re careful…you’ll be fine. I know that you’ve been keeping that journal.”

“Yeah, I’ve been writing everything down like you suggested.”

“Burn it.”

“What? Why? Isn’t that evidence?”

“Not any more. Now it’s the quickest way for you to find yourself on top of that grenade. Keep your eyes and ears open, but keep everything in your memory until you talk to the Feds again. Let them write it down.”

“This is all putting me between a rock and a hard place, ‘Pops.’ I’m scared that somebody is going to start taking pot shots at me.”

“Only if you get too nosey, Tim. Use your head, but keep it low.”

That sounded like the best advice he could have given me.

“One thing I want you to know, ‘Pops,’ I never mentioned your name to the FBI. I figured that there was no need to pull you into this, being retired and all.”

There were a couple moments of silence and then “Pops” spoke again.

“I appreciate that, Tim. I spent a lot of good years working for the Van Swearingins and I’d hate to end up testifying against them.”

“I can understand that and I saw no reason to get you dragged into this mess. This is my problem, not yours.”

“What are you going to do, Tim? You need to decide. If you play along with the FBI you’ll be putting yourself into a risky situation. If you cut bait and run you’ll have to hide undercover for a long time.”

“I know.”

“Either way you are going to have some pretty nasty enemies.”

XXX

I spent the next few hours walking the streets. I stopped in a few bars and looked at the bottoms of some shot glasses. That only made my situation seem worse. After that I opened the heavy wooden doors at the old Mission Dolores Church. I prayed. I prayed for help, for guidance, for a way out.

I must have been making noise – moaning, crying, I don’t know, but one of the priests came over and sat down next to me.

“Are you OK? Can I help you, Son?”

“Oh, Padre, I am in such a fix I don’t know what to do. I’m scared.”

I could feel tears in my eyes. I never cried at all during my three years in the war. I could have been killed at any moment, but at least I had some control, I could shoot back. Now I felt like I had no control. I was helpless, unable to do anything to protect myself – to survive.

Even though I wanted to tell him the fix I was in I didn’t. Everything I knew had to stay a secret, even here. The FBI had made sure I understood that. I could speak to God, but not to this stranger, this priest. I spoke to him in the most general terms about the situation.

I’ve never been much into any religion. I mean, I believe in God, but I never went to church much beyond Christmas and Easter, but there I was sitting in a pew spilling my guts out to an old priest who didn’t know me or anything about me.

“I watched you sitting here, young man. I could see that you were praying. What did you pray for?”

“An answer – what should I do? What is the right thing for me to do? Should I go back into that mess, with those people who wouldn’t think twice about killing me, or should I run and hide?”

“Did you get an answer?” asked the priest.

“No. I don’t think so. I don’t want to do either thing. I’m scared to do what the FBI wants and I don’t want to run and hide. I’m not a coward, I know that, but I’ve done my share. All I want is to live my life – get a good job, meet a girl and maybe have a family of my own. But I’m caught, trapped, no matter what I do.”

“I wish I could tell you what to do,” the priest said in a sad whisper. “I have faith in God and I trust in Him, but I know that He does not always answer our prayers, at least not in ways that are obvious or easy for us to understand.”

“Then I guess I’ve been wasting my time here.” I started to get up, but he laid his hand on my arm, stopping me.

“Asking for help is never a waste of time. You are wanting an answer to your problem. Our Lord speaks in His own time and in His own way. Your answer will come I’m sure, but when and how I cannot tell you. All I can ask of you is to have faith. You may feel that you are facing your problem alone, but you are not. Of that I am sure.”

With that the priest got up and walked away as silently as he had when he came and sat next to me.

I knew that I couldn’t walk the streets all day. I left the Mission and headed back to the Van Swearingin Building and my office. I needed to sober up and to gather my wits and my emotions. One way or the other I had to have my head clear and ready to act.

When I stepped off the elevator I found myself face to face with the one person I didn’t want to see, Mr. Van Swearingin, my Boss and my enemy.

“Tim, where have you been? I’ve been looking for you. Are you alright? You look a bit frazzled.”

“I’ve been at home. I think I ate something that didn’t agree with me.”

That was the first thing that came into my mind and I had been forced to swallow a lot lately.

“Well, I hope you’re feeling better because I need to talk with you. Come down to my office. I need you to do me a favor. Maybe you can be the answer to my prayer.”

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Seven

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Seven

“You’re an idiot.”

”What?”

I had just finished unloading, telling that FBI guy everything I had seen, heard, and knew about what was going on at the Van Swearingin plants. I told him about my run-in with the Russians. The one thing I didn’t tell him about was “Pops.”‘ He was retired and out of the picture. I saw no need to get him mixed up in this thing – any more than he was already.

“I said that you’re an idiot – an idiot for not smelling that something was fishy from the get-go. Would you hire a man with no experience for a job like Van Swearingin offered to you? No, of course not. He hired you because you wouldn’t know anything about what was right in front of your eyes. You are most definitely an idiot.”

Any other time I would have put my fist down his throat, but the way he explained it I couldn’t argue with him. I am an idiot.

“OK, so he played me for a fool, but that doesn’t change what I saw with my own two eyes. I know who and what I saw.”

The FBI Agent across the desk from me stood up. I figured that he was about to give me the Bum’s Rush and throw me overboard.

“You are an idiot, but a very lucky one. Lucky to be alive. Come with me. We are going to talk with my Boss. I want you to tell him your story exactly like you told it to me. Do you understand?”

“Then you believe me?”

He headed for the door. I followed him.

“I believe that you believe it. That’s all right now.’

We went down the hall to a corner office. I felt like I was being taken to the Principal’s office. The man behind that desk was older with graying hair, but he looked as tough as nails. I’d seen his type before in the Army and they knew how to make me do things I never thought I could do. I guess that was why they were the officers and I was just a grunt. While the first G-Man introduced me I realized that I was standing at attention.

“At ease, young man. You’re not in the Army any more, neither am I.”

“Yes, Sir.”

It was going to take more than that for me to relax around that guy. He had Brass written all over him. I was still standing…at ease.

“For crying out loud, sit down!” he yelled. I sat down.

For the next ten minutes he read the notes taken by the first guy. I kept my mouth shut. He read and grunted a couple of times. Once he looked up at me and shook his head and went back to reading. When he finished he tossed the notes onto his desk and stared at me.

“You’re an idiot. You know that?”

“I’ve been told.”

“Son, if only 5% of what you say here is accurate,” he said, pointing at the papers. “Just 5% – it will put a lot of people either in prison or their graves.”

Great, just great. I knew that what I was mixed up in was wrong, but the way that G-man was talking I had stumbled into what could trigger World War Three.

All I had wanted was a job and now, all of a sudden, I’m up to my backside in Spies and Traitors. It was time for me to leave. Leave that office, that building, that job, and that city.

“Well, folks, I’ve told you everything I know, so I’ll leave you to it and be on my way.” I started to get up.

“What do you mean ‘be on your way’? Sit…down.”

“No, I’m sorry, but after I leave here I’m going to go down to Fort Mason, down by the bay, to see if they can give me my back pay, and then I’m going to catch the first train out of here.” I stood up. I was not going to get my neck in the wringer with these people.

“Not so fast, my young friend. At the very least you are a material witness here. If you try to leave town on us I will lock you up until we are done with you. That could take years.” He stood up and leaned across his desk. “Now…” he hissed, “Sit down before I break your neck.”

I sat down. So did he, after he stood there a minute looking daggers at me.

“I haven’t done anything wrong, Sir”

“No one says that you have, but, right now, your country needs you.”

“I’ve done my part already – three years worth.”

“I know that, but, Soldier, you are needed again. We are under attack from Spies and Traitors and you are our secret weapon.”

He had me. When I think about all of the good men I watched give their lives how could I say ‘No’ and walk away? My head wanted me to get up, run out of that office, and disappear. I wanted to, but, I was being told, in no uncertain terms, that that wasn’t going to happen. Like it or not I was back working for Uncle Sam again.

The top G-man didn’t say another word, he didn’t have to. The look in his eyes said it all. I had only one answer.

“What can I do, Sir?”

Their plan was simple, at least to them. I was to go back – back to work for Van Swearingin and go along with whatever he had in mind. In other words – play it dumb, but keep my eyes and ears open. The first FBI agent gave me a phone number to call, once a week – no more – and report in. I was to keep them up to date on everything.

I was on a mission behind enemy lines.

“Do you understand what I am asking of you?”

“Yes, Sir, learn what I can and report back. I’m guessing that Van Swearingin and his pals think I’m just some stupid fool.”

“If they thought you were a danger to them you would already be dead. I want you to be observant, but don’t take any unnecessary chances. We don’t need any dead heroes. And stop calling me ‘Sir’. My Army days ended in 1918.”

“Yes…Mister.”

I got up, ready to leave and head back to my office in the Van Swearingin Building, The Agent stuck out his hand. I shook it even though I still felt more like saluting. He walked me out to the elevator. That was when one question did come to mind. “Since I’m back working for Uncle Sam again I was wondering one thing.”

What’s that?”

“Am I going to be getting only Forty Dollars a month again or will I get a raise?”

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

Being an unwelcome visitor I was given the Five Cent Tour of everything I’d seen before. When I inquired about some areas I had never seen I was given a cock and bull story about it either being closed off for remodeling or just a storage area. I knew different.

I ended up in my office having seen nothing, learned nothing, and made to feel as welcome as an angry skunk at a wedding. I shuffled papers around for about thirty minutes just to cool down and to let the goon parked outside my door to fall asleep. I was determined to look behind some of those closed doors.

When I could see that my baby sitter had nodded off I crept past him and headed into the plant proper. I went straight for that “Storage Area” that made my guides nervous when I tried to go there before. I could see that there was light coming from under the door. I could hear voices from inside. “Storage Area” my Aunt Nellie.

I turned the knob as quietly as I could and stepped inside. There were about ten men huddled around a work bench. I’d never seen any of them before. They had some piece of equipment in broken down into parts on the bench. One man was taking pictures of the parts. Another man was talking, like he was explaining it all to them. I couldn’t understand him. He wasn’t talking in English.

It didn’t take more than thirty seconds before one of them noticed me standing there by the door. They all froze. The guy who seemed to be in charge looked at me and smiled. I don’t think it meant that he was glad to see me.

“Can I help you?” he asked me.

“That’s my question,” I said. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Two of the men started moving toward me, flanking me. I was by the door, but I felt like I was being cornered. I wished that I had my sidearm instead of just a fountain pen and a badge.

The head man stopped smiling. “This is a High Security Area, young man. You have no business here. Who are you?”

Now it was my turn to smile even though my situation was deteriorating.

“High Security Area, huh? Lucky me, because I’m the Head of Security for this entire company. Now – who are you – and all your playmates here too?”

I don’t think I got an answer because the two men moving on me rushed and… the next thing I remember was waking up, tied to a chair, with Van Swearingin looking me in the face.

“Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, What’s going on here?” He looked beck over his shoulder. “Will somebody untie him for God’s sake? Tim, I’m sorry for this. Blame me. I didn’t have you meet everyone, our consultants and scientists. I should have. You were right to question them.”

My head was clearing. It ached, but I was only seeing one of everything.

“Scientists? Those two thugs that ‘jacked me didn’t look like scientists to me. More like Steel Workers.” Another strange character untied me.

“Why don’t you go back to San Francisco and take a couple of days off, Tim, and relax?”

I wasn’t going to be given the Bum’s Rush on this. I’d been rolled, tied to a chair, and now being told to pretend it didn’t happen and go ride the cable cars. I was hot.

“I don’t need a couple of days off to relax. What I do need is to know who those guys were, what they were doing there, and why were they kept secret from me. I’ve gotten nothing but the runaround here and at the other facilities.”

Van Swearingin was looking tense. “I’ve already told you; they are scientists, consultants on some new projects. They weren’t being kept ‘secret’ from you. Again, that’s my fault. I apologize for how you were treated. You didn’t know them, they didn’t know you. Things got out of hand. And you are not being given the ‘runaround’ at all. You’re new on this job and it’s bound to take some time until you are fully in tune and see everything. Trust me. This won’t happen again.” He looked around the room. There were five other people there – the three man welcoming committee and the two guards from the front gate. “Do you all understand me? This won’t happen again.”

xxx

Was I in over my head and just needed time to get a handle on things? Or was I being set up to be the Patsy? I needed to talk with “Pops” Mulroy. I knew what his answer would be. He thought that Van Swearingin is selling us, the Big Us, the Country us, out to the Russians. I thought I believed him after our previous talk, but then that all seemed too unbelievable. But now, after my run in with those “scientists” – I just didn’t know.

I took a long walk to think. I ended up down at the Ferry Building, sitting in the same phone booth as before.

A little kid answered the phone.

“Can I talk with your Grandpa?”

“Who?

“Your Grandpa, Gramps, Paw-Paw, whatever you call him. ‘Pops’.”

“Oh, ‘Pops’ – Why didn’t you say so?

“Hey, ‘Pops’! Telephone!”

I could hear some mumbled speech in the background and the kid dropping the phone on the floor. The mumbling turned to shouting as the phone was picked up and “Pops” started to talk, loud and fast.

“If you’re selling something, I ain’t buying. I won’t take your poll, and I gave at the office. Now – your turn and make it short and sweet. Go!”

“’Pops’ – Is that you? This is Tim in San Francisco.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Jesus H. Christ. Tim? I haven’t heard from you. I was afraid that you’d either gone over to the other side or got yourself some concrete boots. How are you?”

“I’m OK I guess. No, that’s not completely true, but this is all getting crazier by the day.”

“Talk to me. What’s happened?”

For the next ten minutes I told him everything I could remember; the strange hiring behind my back, the remote locations with “consultants” speaking other languages, and… “A few days ago I got the stuffing beat out of me by a couple of them when I interrupted one of their little secret meetings at the plant down the coast. I can take care of myself hand to hand, but those boys took me out like I was a cripple. I woke up tied to a chair.”

“Sweet Jesus, are you OK I ask you again? Does Van Swearingin know about this?

“Know about it? He was right in front of me when I woke up. He sent me home for a few days to ‘relax.’

“Tim, you’re lucky to be alive.”

That didn’t make me feel any more secure.

“Young man, you’re in over your head and what’s going on there is bigger than a couple of Rumble Seat Cowboys like you and me can handle. It’s time to hand this over to the Professionals.”

“You mean the FBI?”

“Yes, before you end up dead. Van Swearingin brought you in because he didn’t think you would actually try to do anything but look into your pay envelope, but now that you’ve seen and heard what you just told me about… you have become dangerous and…Tim, there is a lot of empty desert out there.”

Collecting a pay envelope was all I really did want in a job when all of this started and now I’ve got Russian thugs working me over and “Pops’ is telling me that I have a good chance of nothing but bad ahead of me.

“‘Pops,’ I want out. I’m no G-Man. All I want is to grow old and fat. I’ll walk over to the FBI office, tell them everything, and then I’m getting the first train out of town. That’s it. All Aboard. Over and out.”

My head was spinning as I hung up the phone. I didn’t want to hear any more about my life expectancy from “Pops” or anyone else. I looked in the phone book and found where the FBI was. I didn’t bother to write it down.

The Federal Building on Larkin Street wasn’t too far. I wanted to run, but I forced myself to walk. The FBI was on the fifth floor.

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

“Everything you see and hear that seems funny. Write it all down,”

The first thing that I wrote down that seemed funny was: Why in the world did he hire me? I have no real experience. I’ve never been in charge of a unit as large as the one I have now. The Boss, Van Swearingin, has men with thirty years of experience and he is dumping them like yesterdays coffee grounds and bringing in a collection of new people who look like they either worked for Al Capone or Herr Shicklegruber. And I’m supposed to be their “Captain.”

I figured that I had better keep this journal to myself. Me and “Pops” Mulroy were the only two I felt I could trust. I had to hide it somewhere in my office. Something I remembered from a radio detective show was that the best place to hide something is in the open, the last place anyone would expect, so I slipped the journal onto a bookshelf between two other books the same color.

For the first three weeks on the job I went around to meet all of the men who were my new “troops.” I broke them down into eight hour shifts. Midnight to 8 AM – The Red Shift, 8AM to 4 PM – White Shift, and the 4 PM to Midnight the Blue Shift. I expected there to be some grousing about the assignments, but there was none. Not a word complaining about being put on the Red Shift. Whatever unit I’ve been in there has always been some complaining and whining about working Graveyard, but not from these guys.

At Van Swearingin’s request, which is as good as a direct order, each man working security was to carry a sidearm and a billy club. A shipment of brand new Smith and Wesson .45 caliber 1911 Model semi-automatic pistols was delivered to my office a week later.

I picked out a few men who had some MP or Shore Patrol experience and made them my Sergeants. I needed a level in between me and the men. I couldn’t be everyplace all of the time. These NCOs set up and ran training schedules for each Shift Unit. They kept them busy until everything was up and ready to go. As a Unit came online, able to function, the old Security men were “retired.” To be honest – most of them were going to have trouble finding any jobs other than Night Watchmen or School Crossing Guards. They were either too old, too fat, or 4-F rejects who were turned down even by a world at war. A bunch of girl scouts would have been an improvement.

As I traveled between San Francisco and the facilities in Utah, South Texas, and about California, taking that DC-3 too often, I felt like I was living in a different world. What was going on in the factories, what they were making, was a mystery to me. The Plant Managers tried to explain it, but it was all too Buck Rogers for me. It sure wasn’t washing machines.

Each plant was out in the “Sticks,” away from main roads and big cities. There was a perimeter around each facility that had to be patrolled. I nixed the suggestion that we buy dogs to help guard the site. That would have made every plant look like a POW Camp.

I made some notations in my journal every so often. There were some unusual things that didn’t look or smell right. In each plant I overheard some of my “new” men huddled in a corner and talking in some foreign language. As soon as they saw me they’d switch to English. And again, no complaints – about anything.

They are suspicious of me and I can’t blame them because as more time passed I became more suspicious of them. That’s the kind of situation that makes my sleep somewhat restless.

When I was away from my San Francisco office my hours were from about 9 AM until the middle of the Blue Shift at 8 PM. That gave me a look at only part of the picture. I needed to see what things were like overnight.

I checked the Main Gate activity reports and I could see that there was more traffic in and out after midnight than at any other time. I didn’t know if that was unusual or not. I asked my Boss, Mr. Van Swearingin, during one of our weekly meetings.

“Oh, that’s not at all unusual, Tim. We have raw materials and parts coming in almost every night and finished product going out the same way. There is less road traffic that time of night and fewer curious eyes. Don’t worry about it.”

But I did worry about it. It’s in my nature. Nothing good happens at three in the morning. I was going to have to see for myself.

Surprise visits by the Brass were not at all unusual in the Army, even in the middle of a combat action. I figured it might be good for me to do the same.

It was a little after 2 AM when I drove up to the Main Gate at the plant outside of Fresno in the Central Valley of California – an area almost exclusively agricultural. Surrounded by Walnut groves and fields of Asparagus the Van Swearingin Ball Bearing Production Plant sat there looking like an abandoned Elementary School with all of the windows blacked out.

A large unmarked truck was pulling out as I pulled up to the barrier by the Guard Shack. I had my I.D. badge ready.

“This is private property, Bub. Turn it around and scram.” Not exactly a professional way to deal with visitors.

“Here is my I.D. Maybe you don’t recognize me, but I’m your Boss. And where is your name tag? You’re supposed to be wearing that at all times while on duty. Now – lift the barrier.”

The anonymous guard squinted at my badge like he’d never seen one before. Then he backed away from my car and consulted with the other guard in the shack before lifting the barrier so I could drive up to the building. As I drove off I saw in the mirror the guard picking up a telephone. He was letting someone know that I was coming.

I pulled up by the building. My headlights showed me that there were three security guards waiting for me. A reception committee in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. I got out and walked up to the Ritz Brothers by the door.

“Good evening, Gentlemen. I figured I’d just pay you all a little visit.”

“Well, I wish you’d let us know you were coming.” None of them looked very pleased to see me.

“If I had this wouldn’t be much of a surprise visit, now, would it?”

– To Be Continued –

I Would Never Lead You Astray

DESPITE MY CURMUDGEONLY REPUTATION I really do try to be a helpful sort of person. Like yesterday afternoon when a stranger asked me for directions. He was passing through town and wanted to have lunch at his favorite restaurant – “Chili’s” and he needed help finding it.

I was proud that I could give him simple and accurate directions. Follow my directions and an imbecile could find that restaurant.

“Just go down this road. When you get to the big courthouse-looking building, turn left. Keep going for a few minutes, then go under the Interstate. Keep going until you see their sign. It’ll be on your right.”

Simple, not too complicated, and absolutely accurate.

Read more…

There Will Be A Tomorrow

I HAVE BEEN MOST FORTUNATE. I lived in California for 25 years and never had to directly deal with the tragedy of wildfires. The closest I ever came was the horrible Oakland hills Fire in the early 1990s. That fire was across the Bay from me, but I did have coworkers who lost everything – escaping with their lives and the clothes on their backs.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Conclusion

Pushing his aching body as fast as he could Luco arrived at the Arboretum Gardener’s Shed in fifteen minutes. He called out.

“I’m here, Thayer. Marlee, are you in there? Are you OK?”

Dennis was waiting.

“I’m sorry, Reyes. I’m afraid she’s a bit tied up right now.”

“Dennis, let her go. She’s not invol –“

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Dennis screamed. This is my turf and I make the rules here.”

Luco paced back and forth knowing that every second that Dennis still held Marlee anything could happen.

“Dennis, let’s talk. Come on out here, face to face.”

Dennis looked at Luco through the window shutter, standing there. “Did you come alone, Coffee Boy?”

“Yes, Dennis, I’m alone.”

Inside the shed Dennis, grinning, turned to Marlee. “He came alone. He really is such a Boy Scout.

“Reyes, you come in here if you want to see your little ‘Nursey-Wursey.’ Now!

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Part Thirty-One

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Part Thirty-One

The Game isn’t over until one side wins. The final score has to show the world who the winner is – and more importantly – who is the loser.

The Game is almost over.

1298 Haight Street had turned into something no one wanted and no one could do anything about: a crime scene.

The Hit and Run of Luco Reyes was tied to the smashed window at the café, the constant break-ins at Apartment 6, and the brutal killing of the cat. They were all connected to Apartment 8 and Dennis Thayer, but he was nowhere to be found.

The DMV showed that Thayer owned a van, or had. He had failed to keep it registered for the last two years. There was no record of it being sold or scrapped, so it had to be somewhere – just like Dennis Thayer. He had to be somewhere.

Shopkeepers on Haight Street kept reporting that they had seen him lurking about, standing in the shadows watching something or someone. One minute he was there – the next minute he was gone. At night he was heard but not seen.

The people at 1298 Haight Street swore that they heard him in the building. He was going from floor to floor meowing like a cat, but by the time anyone would open their door he’d be gone – into a vacant apartment, into the Park, into the darkness. He was seen sitting on the Buena Vista Park steps across the street. Sometimes he would shout something that someone said sounded like, “I don’t share.” Another time he yelled out a slurred, “Marlee, you’re mine. I own you.”

Marlee had all but quit living in her apartment and moved in with Luco Reyes’ flat on Stanyan Street. Little by little she was transferring her sparse possessions from where she had hoped that she would find the start of a new life, but what had turned into a twisted continuation of the old.

Stanyan Street was a refuge. Every day Luco was getting stronger and she felt safe being with and near him.

The savagery of the killings in the neighborhood had escalated. While there was no proof – no hard evidence, no pictures to make it real, the people on the street knew in their gut that it was Dennis Thayer who had been butchering the Street Kids. The Kids warned each other, but had no place to go, to hide from him. They knew the killer was a man who offered them drugs, shelter from the cold and food. He also led them away to a van, they said, and then to their graves. They were leery of the Police and of any authority that might try to send them back home. They feared that more than they feared “The Man in the Night.”

“Meow, Meow. Here. Kitty, Kitty. Are you in there, Marlee? Can I come in? You know I can – anytime I want.”

Had she heard something or was it just her imagination. Anytime she was in her apartment, even for a few minutes, she felt like she was being watched. She opened her door, a butcher knife in her hand, but he wasn’t there. Was he ever there or had her fear put him inside her head? Did it matter?

She had gone back to 1298 Haight to get her cello, the last important thing not yet moved up the street to the flat above the bicycle shop.

Not wanting to spend any more time in Apartment 6 than needed Marlee picked up the case holding her cello and left the building behind. She’d slipped a small knife into the belt under her jacket. The fog was coming in as the sun was dropping toward the Pacific horizon.

The crowd on Haight Street was beginning to build. Walking all the way to Stanyan Street would be awkward carrying her case. A quick cut down one short block to her usual route, Page Street – a quiet residential street with leafy trees and flowers running parallel to Haight Street.

As she crossed Masonic Street she had to jump out of the way as a gray van ignored the stop sign. It missed her by inches. The van had a bright red circus tent painted on the side and the name, “Big Top Day Care.” The driver was in a hurry to drop off the last of the kids to their parents already home from their jobs downtown.

“Oh, that was close, Missy Marlee. I would have been so disappointed. You know by now that I won’t share you with anyone. I want you all to myself. Don’t be in such a rush to get to your Coffee Boy. No need. I can wait. Just a minute or two more, that’s all.”

Marlee crossed Ashbury Street and passed by an old Victorian style home that was vacant and up for sale. The streetlight above the sidewalk was out casting a shadow over the house. She was struggling with the bulky cello case. It was beginning to feel heavy. She wasn’t used to carrying it this far. She passed the short driveway, not seeing the gray, freshly painted, van sitting inside the open garage.

Marlee paused to catch her breath and get a better grip on the case. She heard a sound behind her.

“Meow.”

She started to turn around, but she stopped when she saw a grinning familiar face. An arm reached around and held her tight against his body.

“Hello, Missy.”

She struggled to free herself, but he had her firmly immobilized.

“Now, now, don’t fight me, Missy. Relax. You’re going to feel something in your neck now, it’s a needle, and in about fifteen seconds your legs will go to sleep.” Marlee sensed what felt like an icicle pricking her neck. “So, let’s stroll over to my van while you still can. In thirty seconds you will start a nice long nap.”

Dennis Thayer half dragged Marlee Owen from the sidewalk and, as she collapsed, lifted her limp body into the back of the van.

As he drove away the van scuffed the cello and case into the street.

When Marlee opened her eyes and tried to move she discovered that she was tied – her hands in her lap with silver duct tape around her wrists. Her ankles were bound with the same tape. There was one more swath of tape across her mouth. She was sitting on a dirty wooden floor with her back up against a pile of sacks filled with mulch.

“Well, hello there, Princess. Good morning. I hope you slept well. I’m sorry I had to knock you out like that. I was a little pressed for time there on the street. In case you’re wondering, it is about 7:30 AM. I gave you a nice…let’s call it a mild sedative of my own design. I wanted you quiet until we got here. You’ll be a bit groggy for a while, but you’re not going anywhere, are you? And we are expecting company.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Dennis said with a smile, “I’ve got to go get ready for our guest.” He pulled two knives from sheaths on his belt. He took out the small knife that Marlee had carried when she left her apartment. He shook his head as he spoke.

“Didn’t your Momma ever tell you to not play with knives? Tsk, Tsk. Such an upbringing.” He laughed as he walked away leaving Marlee bound, gagged, and trying to sort out what was happening through a drug induced veil.

The light was dim coming through the hard plastic sheets that made up the ceiling of what appeared to her to be a gardener’s shed. She was surrounded by plants and tools. There were mowers and rakes, clippers of varying sizes, a number of ladders and a pair of chainsaws. On a long table were potted plants, orchids, day lilies, and cacti. She was no more mobile than any of the plants.

Dennis moved about the shed placing items in positions that seemed to have meaning to him; boxes, tool racks rolls of plastic. He noticed Marlee checking out her surroundings.

“Wondering where you are and what’s going to happen? I can’t blame you. No, that’s not true. I do blame you, Missy.” Holding his butterfly knife he loomed over her sitting on the floor. He could see the fear in her eyes. He smiled and lowered himself to the floor and sat next to her. Shoulder to shoulder.

“Let me answer your questions. Where are we? We are in the Arboretum in the Head Gardener’s Workshed. No one but the Gardener and his crew come in here and this is a weekend so we have it all to ourselves. The Gardener did come in earlier while you were sleeping. Why he did that I’ll never know. Oh, well, that’s him in the big bag over there.”

Marlee’s eyes widened in terror.

“Oh, Miss Marlee, save the mock horror. You’ve seen cut up men before and you will again. I guess you’re just bad luck. Men come around you and they end up dead. And guess what? It’s going to happen again. Oh, yes. Your precious barista is going to be your next victim. Marlee’s third dead man.

“I dropped a note to him on our way here telling him where he could find us. I told him to come alone or I’d do to you what I did to your smelly little kitten.

“Just listen to me, will you?” He struggled to his feet “Sometimes I just monopolize the conversation. Here, let me get this tape off of you.” He gently peeled the duct tape from Marlee’s face. She screamed.

“Oh, go ahead and scream, you little two-timer. There’s no one within a quarter mile from here.” She spat in his face.

“You animal,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Yeah, right. Would you like some tea? I have a pot steeping.”

“Let me go, Dennis. You can’t get away with this. There will be every police officer in San Francisco coming in here after you and they’ll –“

“No, they won’t. Your little Boy Toy will come here alone. I know his type. He wants to be the hero to rescue his Fair Maiden. So save your breath. And how did you phrase it, ‘You can’t get away with this’? But I already have. I have you here, Coffee Boy will come as ordered, and then I will show you what I can do with all of these delicious tools here in the shed. Get away with it? When I’m done I’ll just walk out of here and disappear into the fog. How ‘Movie of the Week’ is that, Girl? Let me get your tea.”

***

“I’m sorry, Luco, I haven’t seen her. Hold on, let me ask.” With her hand over the mouthpiece, Scar called out, “Has anybody seen Marlee this morning?” Luco could hear the buzz as everyone answered her.

“Sorry, Luco. No such luck. She’s not been in. Have you called her at her place? Oh, OK. Well, I’m sure she’s out and about. Later, Honeybuns.”

This was not like Marlee. In fact it was the opposite of her normal behavior. Every day when she left Stanyan Street to walk back to Haight Street she would call him when she arrived. She called last night, but nothing since then.

Luco began to pace, still painfully, feeling sure that something was wrong. Ever since she found the cat he had been urging her to not go back there at all. When she left him to go to 1298 she said that was going to get her cello and head back to Stanyan Street. That was 14 hours ago.

“Something is wrong.”

Luco’s body was considerably better than a week ago, but he was far from feeling strong and healthy. That would take months, but he could not sit at home alone and wait to hear from Marlee.

Slowly he struggled into his boots, not allowing himself to grunt in pain as he bent to tie the laces. His fear was turning into dread.

At the bottom of the stairs he saw that his mailbox was full. There was also one sheet of paper without an envelope sticking out of the box. His name was scrawled on it in a mixture of large cursive lettering and block printing..

At the top of the handwritten page he read, “Hey, Reyes – Guess who?

“If you’re looking for your skinny bitch, save your time. I’ve got her.”

Every sore and wounded muscle in Luco’s body tightened.

“I’ve got her and I’m going to keep her. I saw her first, and remember – I don’t share.

“Now that I have your attention, you undereducated, minimum wage, pretty boy waiter, I want you to read this slowly.

“I’m a nice guy, really I am, but I can play rough. I imagine you’re missing your blonde widow. Would you like to see her? Talk with her – before I cut her to pieces and feed her to the sea lions at Pier 39? Better hurry then, you gimpy fool. I’ll let you come to see her – us, but if you don’t come alone or try to tip off the stupid SFPD I will make her suffer beyond belief. And then I will disappear forever. Get it, Coffee Boy?

“We are enjoying a cup of tea at the Arboretum. Come to the far western end, to the Gardener’s Shed. We’ll be waiting.

“Ta, Ta.”

A combination of rage and painful memories washed over Luco. He had finally met someone who could fill the hollow space in his heart, but again, some sick and insane man was trying to take her away from him.

“Not again!”

Next Week – THE CONCLUSION

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Thirty

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Thirty

The new lock was child’s play.

Marlee had been home, caught a few winks, fed the cat and gone back to the Stanyan Street apartment above the bicycle shop to be with and care for Luco. She wouldn’t be back for hours, maybe all night. He wouldn’t need that much time. Not even close.

Dennis Thayer picked the lock in less than ten seconds, entered the apartment, and locked the door again behind him. He set his small box on the butcher block dining room table.

“Here, Kitty. Kitty, Kitty. Come to your Uncle Dennis.”

The cat had moved behind the sofa as soon as it realized that it was Dennis and not Marlee opening the door.

Dennis took a piece of netting out of the box on the table and started to silently stalk the little yellow tabby. He knew where the cat liked to hide. He pushed one end of the sofa against the wall cutting off one avenue of escape. He wrapped the netting over the other end, trapping in the cat – or so he thought. Taking out a small flashlight from his pocket he knelt on the couch and shined the light down on the terrified kitten.

“Hello, little Kitty. Time to come out and play.”

The light reflected golden off the kitten’s eyes.

Not waiting for his pursuer to grab him the kitten launched itself up the back of the couch with claws extended. When he reached the top of the couch he kept climbing, clawing his way across Dennis’ face leaving a trail of deep bloody scratches from his chin, across his eyes and into his hairline. Before Dennis could react the cat was under the bed and huddled against the far wall.

“Want to play rough do we, Kitty? Then I’ll show you rough, you mangy little fleabag.”

Moving slowly and warily Dennis walked into Marlee’s bedroom and closed both doors trapping them both in the room.

Shining his flashlight under the bed he could see the frightened cat up against the wall. It hissed when the light beam hit it.

“There you are. Come here, Kitty, Kitty.”

J.P. hissed again.

“No? You don’t want to come out and play? That’s not very friendly. I’ll tell you what – you stay there for a minute. I’ll be back in two shakes of a cat’s tail.” He got to his feet and went to the dining room, making sure to close the bedroom door behind him. He searched through the box on the table singing softly.

“What’s new, Pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Ah, there we are. Playtime is over you little furball.”

J.P. Cat was still in the corner, under the bed, shivering in fear.

“I’m back, Kitty. Still don’t want to come out? You’re shivering. Are you cold? Well, here, let me warm you up.’

Dennis Thayer: Psychotic killer, drug addict who hated drugs and other addicts, Sadist, and Unforgiving, killed a small terrified kitten with the barbs of a 50,000 volt taser. He laughed as the young cat convulsed even after it was already dead.

“Now we can both play and cook up a little surprise for Missy Marlee.”

When Marlee returned home seven hours later she unlocked her door and with two steps inside she knew that something was wrong.

“What is that smell? Did I leave something…?”

She went into the kitchen and felt the heat from the oven.

The people standing at the bus stop in front of 1298 Haight Street looked up at the windows of Apartment 6. They heard a woman screaming in horror. She couldn’t stop.

***

When the police entered Apartment # 8 it was obvious that the renter had abandoned it. His clothes were gone. Food in the kitchen, what there was of it, was old and stale. The one plant in the apartment, a Hibiscus, was shriveled and dead.

In his bedroom the wall that had been covered was bare except for remnants of tape and the corners of torn photographs that were now…where?

After his butchery of Marlee’s cat Dennis knew that he couldn’t stay in the building. He took what he could carry and he was now living out of his mobile sanctuary – his gray van. In the van he was hidden. The Motor Vehicle registration listed the van as being red, but a cheap paint job down in the Mission District fixed that. The police would waste time and energy looking for a red van that no longer existed.

He needed his invisible hideaway so he could carry out the next part of his courtship. Luco was still alive, injured but alive. That had to be corrected.

Dennis didn’t want to go after Luco again. He had to lure the Coffee House Cry Baby out of his apartment – out to where he was helpless and vulnerable. Out to where he would die.

The van gave Dennis mobility. The entire city could become his trap. He would lure Luco into the trap with the most delicious bait.

He had injured Luco; Marlee was traumatized and unable to focus.

Easy pickings.

The “What’ and the “How” were already decided. All that remained were the “When” and the “Where.”

“Let the cops look for me. I am invisible and in control because I saw her first and I never share.”

Marlee was staying at Luco’s place almost around the clock; partly to continue helping him in his recovery, and partly because she couldn’t bear the thought of returning to her apartment on Haight Street – not after what Dennis Thayer had done there. Any trips to 1298 Haight were just to pack and move her possessions to Stanyan Street.

As Luco grew stronger he tended to help her closet the horror so she could resume her new life in San Francisco. That was something they both needed to do. While they had both been given a second chance there was no guarantee that they would ever be blessed with a third. They couldn’t let Dennis Thayer decide their Tomorrow. They couldn’t let him win.

As each day passed and the police couldn’t find Dennis Thayer Haight Street became more nervous and afraid. Another young Street Kid was killed and dumped in the middle of the night in the doorway of the Bicycle Shop on Stanyan Street.

At night the gray van hid in the fog. Dennis slept and dreamed of his next moves – to draw Luco Reyes to his death and to have Marlee Owen wrap her arms around him. After all, he saw her first

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Nine

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Nine

The TV didn’t offer any diversion. After more than three weeks of taking care of Luco at his apartment with only short trips to her own place to change clothes and see to the cat Marlee just collapsed onto her couch. Too exhausted to think she just stared at the screen, not even sure what she was watching. The cat cuddled up next to her. They both needed the closeness.

When Luco checked himself out of the hospital, over the Doctor’s objections, it was Marlee who took charge, making sure that he was cared for. Pete had hired a Home Healthcare Agency, but Marlee was there almost 24 hours a day feeding Luco, washing him, making sure that he got his meds correctly and on time. Now, after a week, the initial shock had worn off. He would survive and recover.

It was when Luco had recovered enough to become a bad patient, becoming impatient and wanting to do everything for himself, that Marlee knew that she could go home and rest. Home – that 420 Square foot apartment, a 12 minute walk from Stanyan Street, where she lived alone with J.P. Cat her lonely yellow tabby cat.

Marlee sat there knowing that J.P. needed fed. So did she she, but while there were plenty of cans of “Friskies” for the cat there was nothing, or next to it, for herself.

“It’s good to see you home, Missy.”

Startled by the voice from behind her Marlee jerked around. Dennis Thayer was standing by her kitchen door. Her front door was wide open. The cat jumped down and hid behind the couch.

“You still need to be more careful about your door, Miss Marlee.”

Marlee sat up. “It was closed. I locked it. How did you get in?”

He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He ignored her questions.

“Have you eaten? I’ve made some lasagna. Want some?”

She looked at him standing in her apartment. Too exhausted to maintain her anger, defeated, she turned back to the TV.

“I’m too tired to eat. Leave me alone.”

“Marlee, you need someone to take care of you – some able-bodied man who makes a mean lasagna.”

Her limit had been reached.

“Screw you, Dennis. Get out of my apartment. Get out! I’m going to have that lock changed tomorrow. Now, get out, and stay out!”

The cat peeked from around the corner of the sofa.

Dennis Thayer’s smile melted away. His expression turned to one of highly controlled rage. Without making a sound he let his eyes linger on her before turning and heading for the front door. When he got to the hallway he turned and spoke loud enough for Marlee to hear him.

“I have been very good to you up to now. I’ll go, but remember this, Missy – I don’t share. Not with anyone. Never.”

And he was gone.

Marlee went and closed the front door, locking it again, then returned to the couch. The cat came out from his hiding place and jumped back up next to her.

“How’s your tummy, JP? Feeling better? “

They were both asleep in seconds.

Inside Apartment #8 Dennis Thayer was tearing down more than a dozen photos from his wall, tearing them to pieces.

“Never.”

XXX

Most of the larger pieces of glass had already been swept up from the sidewalk on Haight Street. Inside the “Universe Café the cleanup was slower. Each table and chair had to be washed and dried to remove every sliver of glass.

The brick that had crashed through the window had to have been thrown sometime between 2 AM and about 5 AM when Spider showed up to start the day’s prep work and to open the doors at 6 AM. When she arrived she found the window destroyed and three Street Kids stretched out asleep on the church pew seating along the walls. The security alarm had not been triggered.

Spider called Pete. He was there in minutes.

“Sweet Jesus, who could have done this? Why? We have a good vibe with the neighborhood. Who would do this?”

Spider pointed to the still sleeping figures stretched out by the wall. Pete stormed over to the nearest one.

“Did you do this? Did you break my window?”

Pete had the kid by his filthy shirt front. He was screaming, spitting in his face. “You dirty little pig. Talk to me!”

The Street Addict pushed Pete back from his face.

“Get away from me Old Man. I didn’t bust your window. I just came in here to get out of the cold.”

“Then who did this – one of them,” he said pointing to the other Kids who were stirring.

“No, Old Man, I told you I came in to get warm, them too.”

Pete looked around at the mess holding his head. “Oh, Lord, why did I let the insurance go? I thought we were safe.”

“And the Alarm Company too, Pete?” added Spider. She was holding a broom, already sweeping the floor.

Pete wandered around the café mumbling to himself. He bent over and picked up the brick that someone had, for some reason, thrown through his window. A simple yellow brick just like millions of others that made up half the buildings along Haight Street. The only difference with this brick was the heavy-duty red rubber band around the middle of the brick. Pete turned over the brick and saw a small folded piece of paper under the rubber band. Pete unfolded the paper. Handwritten in block letters was the answer to Pete’s desperate question – almost.

“Reyes – Get well soon so I can give you another ride. Your time is coming. Remember – I DON’T SHARE!”

Spider stood next to Pete, reading over his shoulder.

“I don’t share? What the hell is that supposed to mean, Pete?”

“”I don’t know. I don’t know what any of this means, except that Luco has one sick SOB enemy.” He refolded the note and put it into his shirt pocket. “I’m going to call some friends to come in and help us get this mess cleaned up. Will you be OK until they get here, Spider?”

“Sure, I’ll get going here and we’ll be open again in no time, Pete.”

“OK, good. I’ll call the police, but you’ll have to talk with them. I need to go see Luco.”

Spider nodded. “Yeah, go make sure he’s OK. He is still pretty gimpy. I know that Marlee’s been spending a lot of time there, but still…”

He looked at the brick, turned his back, and headed toward the door, “Thanks, Spider. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“No problem, Pete. We’re Family. Strange and mildly freaky maybe, but Family. Go check on Luco.”

The sun was beginning to peek above the East Bay Hills illuminating the ships in the bay and the already congested lanes on the bridge coming into The City.

Pete pressed the button next to Luco’s name by the door on Stanyan Street. He waited, but got no answer, either on the intercom or the buzzer that unlocked the front door. There was only silence. It had only been ten seconds, but to Pete it felt like an hour.

He pushed on the button again, holding it down, determined to get an answer. Silence. He stepped back onto the sidewalk and looked up at Luco’s front window. The curtain in the window stirred and moved aside. A shadowy face looked down. The curtain fell back in place.

Pete stepped back to the door, ready to lay on that buzzer until he woke up everybody in the building. Just as his finger depressed the button the buzzer unlocked the front door.

Pete rushed into the vestibule and headed for the stairs ready for anything and whoever he’d seen in the window. He struggled to take the stairs as fast as his aging legs would take him. Looking up at the landing he caught his breath when he saw Luco, leaning on his cane, look around the corner.

“Pete, what the hell are you doing?” Luco stage-whispered down the stairs at Pete who had stopped to catch his breath on seeing Luco’s face.

“Luco, are you alright? You OK?”

“What’s the matter, Pete? Get up here before somebody calls the police.”

As he slowly climbed the rest of the stairs up to Luco’s apartment over the bicycle shop Pete gave Luco the basics of what had gone down at the café on Haight Street.

“Oh, Jesus, Pete, is anybody hurt?”

“No, it’s just property damage, but it was all just a way to deliver a message.”

“A message?” asked Luco. What kind of a message? For who?”

Pete reached in his pocket for the note that had been attached to the brick. He handed Luco the folded up note.

“Read this, Luco. It was help to the brick with a rubber band.”

Luco silently read the note. “I don’t share. What does that mean? Share what?”

“You tell me, Luco, but this isn’t any love letter. Somebody doesn’t like you. Any ideas who?”

“Over the years, Pete? I could name half a dozen, but this is insane. ‘Give me another ride.’ What does that mean?”

“I read that,” said Pete, “And I had to come and make sure you were OK.”

“I’m fine, Pete. I’m just half awake, but other than that…”

“I called the police on my way here so I’d better get back to the café,” said Pete. “I left Spider in charge, to talk with them and to start the cleanup.”

“She can handle the police, Pete. Let me shower and I’ll come in. Give me twenty minutes.”

“OK, Luco, but be careful.”

“I’ll be fine.

Standing under the hot water trying to wake up Luco had one phrase from the note going around in his mind.

“I DON’T SHARE.”

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