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 “Criminals”

Yes! No! Maybe! No! Yes! I Don’t Know!

 

BY AND LARGE TERRE HAUTE (THAT’S FRENCH FOR, “I CAN’T MAKE UP MY MIND.”) is a quiet town that lives life one day at a time – except when it comes to making decisions. The civic power structure of this town can never make up its mind about anything. I’d hate to go to lunch with Terre Haute; it would never be able to pick what to eat.

Whenever the City and its elected officials, are called upon to make a decision it must first go through a lifetime of hemming and hawing. They will make up their minds and then immediately reverse themselves and go back to square one. It is as if the City is being run by a collection of squirrels who are trying to cross the street.

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No, No, No and No.

Artist’s Rendition

OK…I’M AS FREE THINKING AS THE NEXT GUY and even more so than the guy next to him, but even I have to draw the line somewhere.

Not everyone in the world has good luck in dating and looking for true love.

The perfect, or rather highly imperfect, example of this comes in the person of Mr. Christian Nichols, 21, of Oldsmar, Florida. Mr. Nichols is currently incarcerated for “Looking for Love in all the wrong places.”

Extremely Wrong.

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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

Don’t Insult The Dog

 

IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYDAY THE HEADLINES ARE FILLED with the nefarious exploits of criminal sorts who – how shall I say this – think big? Not content with knocking over a bank they pull off a multibank swindle for hundreds of millions of dollars. Then there are the Bernie Madoff sorts who just feed on the greed of those people who think there are “Something for Nothing” ways to Riches and Rodeo Drive. These are Big City News stories, but I think that there is nothing that can compare with Small Town News. In the Small Town newspapers you are going to find stories that would never make the pages of the New York Times.

Where else are you going to learn about the woman who was arrested for barking at a Police Dog?

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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 –

I Think I Remember…

PASSWORDS – LOVE ‘EM, HATE ‘EM, CAN’T REMEMBER THEM. All I can do is forget them.

The discussion this morning at my Play Group (St. Arbucks morning coffee) was all about computer passwords and all of our problems with them. One of the Usual Suspects who shows up every morning for coffee and pointless conversation was wrapped up in mind numbing problems remembering his computer passwords. The ones he could recall were no longer in use and it was bringing his life to a screeching halt.

I tried to help. He’ll get over it and resume speaking to me eventually.

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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 –

Thanks For Playing Our Game!

 

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THAT SO-CALLED “NO CALL LIST?” We have been getting about a half dozen telephone solicitation calls a day lately.

If I am not deranged I am sure that a few years ago there was a legislative stink that resulted in a “No Call List” law that was set up to stop all of these annoying and unsolicited telephone calls.

It didn’t work, did it?

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Seventeen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Seventeen

It was becoming a morning ritual for Marlee. She started off with a hot shower and dawdling through her ablutions, followed by the San Francisco Chronicle and coffee at The People’s Cafe. She was now a “regular.”

“Good morning, Marlee. Coffee?”

“Please, Luco and I think a scone this morning.”

Since that first day when Luco Reyes had flirted with her, they had developed a comfort zone. He still flirted a bit, but with more gentility and she let him. They both knew the unmarked boundaries.

If things weren’t busy in the cafe he would come and sit with her. She enjoyed his company and he found her both beautiful and interesting. Most of the women in his world were one or the other, but rarely both.

Marlee felt the same about him. Here was a man of obvious education and facility with people, yet he was spending fourteen hours a day pulling espressos in a neighborhood cafe. A cafe that he could run with his eyes shut, but where he was just another employee. There was more behind those gray eyes, a story worth telling. She was intrigued by this mysteriously secretive man. It had been a long time since she had felt anything for any man and now she found herself daydreaming about the man who made her coffee.

Marlee liked to leaf through the morning paper. She wanted to be informed and the crossword puzzle helped her get her brain in gear for the day.

On page two she saw an article that grabbed her eye.

“Serial Killer Stalks The Haight”

The story was that, over the last three months, six brutal murders had occurred in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The victims were all young male addicts living, and now dying on the streets.

She read the list of the dead young men, boys really. They were mostly 18 or 19 years old. The youngest was a 14-year-old runaway from Michigan.

“It’s a sad ending to lives unlived.”

“Yes it is.” He had her coffee and scone. “Do you have a minute, Luco?”

He sat down at the table. Let someone else make the coffee for a few minutes.

She looked very serious. This was not a time for flirtation. She waved her hand at the newspaper spread out in front of her.

“Who would do such a thing? It’s horrible. Doesn’t he know what something like this does to the families, the parents?” There were tears in the corners of her eyes.

“I don’t think the killer cares about the families of these kids. As to who would do this…?” His voice faded with a shrug of his shoulders.

Marlee took a sip of her coffee. Its steamy heat flushed her cheeks. “No matter what they do, the drugs, they don’t deserve to die like this – like animals on the street.”

“I have some friends who are cops, at the Park Station, just up the way. They’ve told me that this killer, this beast, did more than just kill these kids. He mutilated them, their faces.”

“Oh good Lord, they didn’t say anything about that in this article.”

“There is a lot that never makes it into the paper and I’m sure that some of the details from the other night won’t be made public either.”

“The other night?” She set down her cup.

“There was another one, number seven, right across the street from my place up on Stanyan, just inside the Park.”

“Can’t they catch this monster?”

“Good question. I hear that they really don’t have much to go on. He’s careful, quick and nobody can give them a description.”

“This is very scary. I guess there really is no such thing as a safe place.” She picked at the scone, but her appetite had been shoved aside.

“By and large, The Haight is pretty safe. The real residents don’t have too much serious trouble. Most of the bad stuff falls on the people wrapped up in the drug scene.

“Like any city, we have our share of hardcore drug users. They and the dealers seem to like this area. They tend to prey on each other and leave the bodies in the gutter. Then there are the ‘Narco-tourists’.”

“Narco-tourists?”

“That’s just my word for them – the people who come to The Haight looking for the drugs.

“The media keeps running quasi-fictional stories about the 1960’s and the ‘Summer of Love’. Some unhappy kid in Iowa watches his TV and sees a pretty girl dancing with flowers in her hair. He picks up and comes here looking for her and some adventure. It’s the kids from Iowa you see on the sidewalks looking like zombies. They’re also the people who end up surrounded by crime scene tape outside my window.”

Marlee nodded. The morning sun bounced off of her hair.

“My upstairs neighbor was saying pretty much the same thing to me. It’s so sad.”

One of the counter help, a tall girl with henna colored dreadlocks, called for Luco to pull two lattes and a Mocha Jolt. Someone needed extra caffeine this morning. She also wanted her morning whiff of Luco. She had her own needs.

He patted Marlee’s hand with an understanding affection and got up to leave her to think about what he had said and about the face behind the mask on Haight Street.

The carnage among the street kids was bringing back all of the stomach-wrenching memories of Phillip’s murder and how for two years she went through the motions of a normal life before making the move West.

The newspaper and Luco’s words made her feel that the horror had followed her from the elm tree lined streets of Cleveland all the way to the aromatic eucalyptus groves of San Francisco. She didn’t know if she could survive that again. She clutched her coffee cup with both hands and drank. The hot liquid warmed her chilled heart.

“You OK, Marlee?”

She looked up into Luco’s lovely eyes.

“No, Luco, I’m not. This whole thing has me very upset. I’m wondering if I made a mistake coming here to San Francisco.”

He sat down again and leaned forward across the table to hear her soft, sad voice.

“I’m wondering if my coming here was just running away from things you can’t outrun.” She closed her eyes and turned her face away from Luco’s eyes.

“I don’t think so. You don’t strike me as the type to run away from things.

“Marlee, You and I don’t know each other very well. You’re new here and I’m looked upon as a superficial sort of man. I know that you’ve heard the gossip.”

She looked at him, her eyes widening.

“Luco, are you hitting on me? You tell me a grisly story and then move in to comfort me?” There was a hint of anger growing in her voice. She was on the verge of slapping his face, right there in front of everyone in the cafe.

“No. No, Marlee. I’m not ‘hitting on you’, I swear.” He was alarmed at her reaction. “I’m just trying to talk with you, one person to another, but I’d like to do it for more than two minutes at a time.

“Maybe my timing does stink here, but…I’d just like to talk with you, over dinner perhaps, on neutral ground and get to know you better. That’s all.” He wiped his hand over his face. He was sweating he noticed. She noticed it too.

She listened and looked at him. He was serious. He wasn’t playing the “Coffee House Romeo.”

“Luco, I’m sorry I snapped at you. Yes, I’ve heard the gossip and it bothers me a bit.”

“The truth be told, Marlee, I start most of the gossip myself. It gives me a bit of a mystique. I’m local color for the tourists to talk about when they go home.” He paused and took a deep breath.

“Let me do this over again.” He was actually close to stammering like a schoolboy. “Marlee, what about dinner? Have you been to ‘Martin Macks’ up the street? It’s an Irish pub, but they serve good food there. It’s not fancy, but where else can you get ‘Toad In The Hole’ in San Francisco?”

“‘Toad In The Hole?’ I don’t even know what that is. It sounds disgusting.”

“Its just meat in a crusty sort of batter, English, I think. They also have other things. What do you think?”

She was smiling again. This man had that effect on her, she realized, and that couldn’t be a bad thing.

“Alright, I’ll have dinner with you Luco and if you want to have ‘Toad In The Hole’, I won’t object.”

“Wonderful, and thank you. Would Friday night be good for you? I get off at six o’clock. I could come by your place at 7:30.”

I’ll tell you what, Luco. Let’s meet at the restaurant. I’d feel more comfortable and it wouldn’t seem so much like a date. At least until I can sort out which bits of gossip about you might be just your attempts to please the tourists.” She was only half teasing him.

“Of course, whatever you need.”

Feeling proud of himself for following through, Luco went back to the counter and pulled the lever on the espresso machine with a little extra fervor. The redhead who was slicing bagels noticed the slight smile on his face and put two and two together.

Marlee sat and zipped through the crossword puzzle in ten minutes. She got a refill on her coffee from the redhead and wondered why her saucer was now filled with hot coffee as well. The redhead was usually neater.

Sitting and just musing on the day and its possibilities, Marlee looked across the street. A young, heavily tattooed man was pulling back the security gate in front of “Mom’s Body Shop”, a tattoo and piercing parlor.

He had barely gotten the front door unlocked and the “open” sign turned on when the first customer walked in.

The business day was starting on Haight Street.

Marlee finished her coffee and bussed her table. She turned to wave to Luco as she headed toward the door.

“Oh, Marlee, one more thing about Friday night.”

“What’s that, Luco?”

“Martin Macks…its casual dress.”

“I’ll leave the mink at home.”

Everybody Smile!

 

THE LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENT here in lovely Terre Haute (That’s French for, “There’s a BOGO Special at the Burger King.”) posts on Facebook the pictures and vitals of wanted crooks under the title “Crime Stoppers.” It is not a bad idea. It actually does help catch some truly nasty people. It also helps me keep track on the whereabouts of some old acquaintances.

One thing that I have noticed on the “Crime Stoppers” page is that more and more of the “Persons of Interest” are women. It used to be that it was only men who attained “Most Wanted” status, but now I’m seeing that particular glass ceiling has been shattered. The Terre Haute “Crime Stoppers” page is indeed an equal opportunity site. It gives me a warm and fuzzy egalitarian feeling.

Read more…

The Same Old News

THIS MORNING’S NEWS FROM OUR CORRESPONDANT IN ASIA carries two related items.

It seems that the air pollution in Bangkok has reached such dangerous levels that the citizens are being advised to breathe only when necessary. The report says nothing about tourists. I guess any visitors to Thailand are on their own breath-wise.

The second alert, also from Bangkok, is that Thailand’s roads are the most dangerous in the world. Given the opaque quality of the air I am not surprised that driving can be a thrill a minute.

Put these two tidbits of information together and if you are in Thailand you are in the middle of a real mess. The only place I can think of that is even more screwed up is Washington D.C. when Congress is in session. Talk about pollution.

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Here’s Looking At You, Kid

 

IT MAY HAVE SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME, but who would want to get a tattoo on their face? It seems to be a permanent response to a temporary thought. And its gotta hurt.

Getting tattooed, at least in Western cultures, used to be solely in the realm of sailors and cheap crooks. Not any more. These days millions of people get a little butterfly or whatever inked on their body usually in a location where only a lover or a doctor would ever see it. However, there are people who just don’t know when to say “Enough.”

The idea of getting facial tattoos still remains largely in the prison/criminal gang subculture. There are others who get facial “tats” who are not criminals. I would put them in the file drawer under “I didn’t know I could drink that much” or just plain “Nuts.”

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