Mistakes Were Made
The Security light didn’t come on. Why? Why did it stay dark? I reached up and felt the light bulb. It had been unscrewed. I left it alone and moved up against the garage into the shadows. No sense making myself an easy and obvious target if that was how this was going. I learned that during the war. If they can’t see you they can’t shoot you…hopefully.
Things have been relatively easy since I was cut loose from the Service. After three years in Europe I was moved to the West Coast in anticipation of an invasion of Japan. Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended that. I was mustered out in San Francisco and until my paychecks catch up to me I’m stuck here and in need of a job of some sort. That’s how I’ve ended up being part of a security detail on the Van Swearingen estate. They had money. I didn’t. They had a job opening that needed filling and I had a stomach in the same fix.
They called me “Nighttime Security,” but I was really just a night watchman walking around the grounds looking to keep things quiet. I had a set schedule of rounds and a time clock to punch from midnight until sunup. It sounds easy, but nothing good happens at 3 AM.
When I had done my walkaronnd at 2 AM the security light by the garage had come on as soon as I came around the corner of the building. At 3 AM it didn’t come on. All of the other lights worked fine.
Something was up.
The Van Swearingens didn’t like guns and didn’t want me to carry one. A Billy Club and a flashlight don’t provide any security, just victims. I kept my small six shot semi in my pocket. As I moved around the garage I wrapped my hand around it. It used to be in the hand of a German officer.
I stayed in the shadows and inched my way around the perimeter of the garage. Everything looked OK until I took a peek through a corner window. I saw a beam of light bounce off of one of the eight cars inside. Each of those cars was worth more than I made in my three years in uniform. I don’t begrudge the Van Swearingens their money. During the war their factories made some mighty fine tanks. I figured that now I was returning the favor for a lot of guys who were still alive.
That beam of light moved up and down the line of cars. I moved over by the door that was already open a crack. From that spot I could hear whispering from inside. Kids. From the tone and the vocabulary I could tell that there were two kids in there – teenagers it sounded like.
I slipped through the door, felt along the wall, found the switch and turned on all of the overhead lights. They may have been kids, but I still had my pistol ready if need be. I took it out of my pocket. Fighting my way through Germany in early 1945 taught me that even kids can pull triggers.
As soon as the lights came on the kids froze in their tracks. One kid dropped his flashlight. It broke. When they saw the weapon their hands went up. They’d seen enough Bogart movies to know the drill.
“Ok, boys, what’s up? And don’t tell me you’re just here to admire the cars.”
There were two of them. The one who’d dropped his flashlight looked to be about 16 with more acne than he could keep up with. He looked scared. The other kid wasn’t scared. He looked at me like he wished I didn’t have the gun in my hand. He spoke first.
“You can’t touch us. We’re under age. You call the cops and they’ll just give us a ride home. So, we’ll just leave and you can pretend you’re a tough guy.”
I turned to the kid with the face that looked like yesterday’s leftovers.
“You, Junior, what’s up? Who are you and give me a good reason I shouldn’t put a slug in both of you and say the lights were out. What’s your name?”
I thought he was going to wet his pants. “Talk!”
He was shaking as he started to tell me.
“Marty….my name is Marty.” The other one jumped in.
“Shut up, Marty. Don’t tell this flunky nothin’.”
This wasn’t going to be easy. At least they weren’t armed that I could see.
I took the cuffs off of my belt. If I was going to get anywhere I was going to have to separate them. I turned to face the little tough one.
“Come here, Cagney, over here by the Auburn.”
I wanted to handcuff him to the car and then take Marty outside and ask him a few questions.
I was being a little too casual with the snotty kid because the next thing I know he’s got a knife in his hand. I’d been in this situation before – in Italy. I shot that guy in the face. With this kid I gave him the barrel of the gun across his nose. He went down, and just because I could, I hit him again. That one was going to leave a scar.
“Hey, Marty, what’s this jackass’s name?”
“Well, he’s an idiot. When he wakes up you tell him that for me. Only an idiot pulls a knife on a guy with a gun in his hand – especially one who’s just done three years in the Army. OK, Marty?”
“OK.” He was still shaking.
“Marty, let’s take a walk. You and I are going to go wake up a man who will not be happy to meet you.”
“Who is that?”
“The man who pays me to keep fools like you from stealing his cars.”
“But we weren’t…” I cut him off with a wave of my hand. I put the pistol back in my pocket.
I was right. Mr. Van Swearingen wasn’t at all happy when he saw me and the kid.
“What’s this all about? For God’s sake it’s the middle of the night. Marty? What are you doing here?”
That’s when I spoke up and told him about the break-in at the garage.”The other kid is handcuffed to one of the cars. He got a little frisky and pulled a knife on me.” I showed him the knife I’d taken away from the little tough.
Van Swearingen listened to me, but he wasn’t getting any happier. He glared at Marty who looked like he was going to cry. He knew it was only going to get worse for him.
“Marty, who is the other boy?”
“It’s Charlie, sir. It’s just Charlie and me, but we were just looking at the cars.”
“In the middle of the night?” That was me.
Van Swearingen walked up to Marty and slapped the kid’s face.
“Marty, you fool. This man was hired by me to guard my estate and everything in it. You’re lucky he didn’t shoot you.” He looked at me. “I assume that you are armed even though I forbade it, right?”
“Yes, sir, I am, but I know what I’m doing with firearms.”
He was looking at Marty again, but still talking to me. “I’m sure you do. Just out of the Army?” I nodded. “Now, let’s go see Charlie.”
Charlie was awake when the three of us came into the garage. He looked at me with hatred in his eyes. I was not impressed.
Van Swearingen looked down at the kid, still cuffed to the car door.
“Hello, Charlie. What kind of lie do you have for me tonight?
I spoke up, feeling more confused as this whole thing was progressing.
Mr. Van Swearingen, you know this kid?”
“Yes, I know him. He’s my son.”
To be Continued