Another Fabulous Reblog From The Bluebird of Bitterness!
Each of those years has had things worth remembering – and things that have merited forgetting. I’m sure that holds true for everyone. It’s part of the ongoing flow of life.
This past year has been much like many of my recent years. It held joys and sorrows, hopes fulfilled and hopes filled with disappointment. Dreams and nightmares, laughs and tears.
OH BOY! GOODIE! GOODIE! It’s that time of year again: the itinerant fireworks peddlers are back in town! Let’s all go out and visit those temporary stores and tents, buy some fireworks, and then kiss our thumbs goodbye.
Every year just like clockwork and the sprouting of poisonous Deathcap Mushrooms these fly-by-night emporiums of explosives and amputations show up in our environment. Striped tents are popping up in Parking Lots across the land.
“Buy 1 – get 15 FREE!”
THAT SOUND YOU HEAR ECHOING ACROSS THE MAP IS MY BRAIN EXPLODING. It takes a lot to detonate my brain. The last time it happened was when someone told me that Pauley Shore was still making movies…or was it Ben Stiller… or was it Adam Sandler? I get them all mixed up. They are all…Oh, I don’t want to think about it.
What caused my brain to go Karakatoa on me this morning was the continued renovation of the center of my world aka St. Arbucks. The midnight raiders from the Seattle headquarters were in again last night and I consider their activity as Vandalism.
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 –
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.
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.’
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
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.
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
If it wasn’t for Salt Lake I can truly say that I kind of liked my job, but going out there was torture. I made up my mind to tell those FBI characters that I’d had it and, like it or not, I was leaving. Let them lock me up. Even Alcatraz would be a better class of people than in that windowless box out on the Salt Flats.
When I got back from the Texas plant I had a two day break in San Francisco. After finally picking up my back pay from Uncle Sam, I had to go to the Federal Building for that, I went from the second floor up to the FBI on Five. They had a better view from up there and maybe they felt a little closer to heaven than the rest of us.
“I don’t care what you want, Tim. You have a patriotic duty to stay in there for us.”
I’ve heard that line before.
“I’ve already done my ‘Patriotic Duty’ – for three years at forty bucks a month. Now that I’ve finally got my money I want to go spend some of it and that ain’t gonna happen in Salt Lake City.”
I had reached my limit with them, with the Russians, with the whole dang thing. I was ready to just walk and I told them in my best GI curse words. It felt good to let it all out.
The G-Men sat there and took it – and then it became their turn.
“Listen to me, you trench foot hero. I don’t care how long you were in uniform. I was in mine longer and I outranked you. I still do. Your cussing doesn’t impress me or intimidate me. I have a seven year old niece who can cuss better than you. So- shut up and listen and you might just come out on the other end of this mess smelling like a rose rather than like the frightened pussy cat you do right now.” He stopped for a breath and I tried to jump in.
“I want you guys to know…” He cut me off.
“Shut up, Soldier. I don’t care what you want. You think the war is over? It’s not – we’ve just switched partners. So, shut and pay attention to what to what I have to tell you.”
I staged a dramatic “Advance to the rear” as the Japanese called a Retreat. I was heavily outnumbered and even though he was about twenty years older than me he looked like he could hog-tie me in a heartbeat. I sat back in my chair and tried to look like this was all my idea. When it became obvious that I was not going anywhere he started to talk, not yell. He spoke in that calm and secure voice that I had only heard come from Generals.
“Your weekly reports are valuable. Keep it up. What is going to happen next is Top Secret. I don’t want you to even talk about it to your pillow.” He paused and took a breath. I thought he was being a bit dramatic, overboard even, like one of those Barrymores.
“The Van Swearingin plant in Utah is making some new kind of Radar systems. It has been infiltrated by the Reds. We are not completely sure how deeply Van Swearingin himself is part of it. We suspect that he might be forced into going along with the Russians. He has one son, Phillip, whose whereabouts are unknown. There is some talk that he is being held as a hostage. His other son, Charlie is out at the plant with you. Van Swearingin wanted him there, close by, where he could see him and protect him.
“We have managed to get a couple of our agents in there as well, as part of your Security Detail.”
I held up my hand like I was in the third grade. I had a question.
“What? You have to go pee or something?” He didn’t like interruptions.
“No,” I said, “But who are your men there?”
He shook his head. “There’s no need for you to know at this point. I tell you, you blab it to somebody else, and the next thing you know there are two dead highly skilled agents in shallow graves. You’ll know when you need to know.”
“You don’t trust me?” I asked him.
“No, I don’t.”
“Mistakes were made. What more can I say?”
My weekly check-ins with Van Swearingin usually lasted fifteen minutes with me doing most of the talking. Not today. The minute I sat down he started talking, rambling. It was like he was going to confession or something.
“It all started back in about 1940, before the war, or at least our active part in it. The President made a deal with our allies at the time. We were to help them beat back the Nazis. I and other manufacturers all over the country had to retool to make weapons and ships and all sorts of things. My Salt Lake City plant was ordered to make Russian rifles. That’s how they got inside that facility to begin with. I guess I was naïve.”
I just sat there and listened. He paced back and forth talking and wringing his hands. I was glad that his windows didn’t open or he might have jumped. I’ve seen that look before when a guy couldn’t take the pressure anymore. He would just stand up and let the Germans shoot him. That was his way out.
“It was in ’43 or early ’44 when the Russian “Observer” in the plant began to make threats. They knew everything about me. They knew things that I’d forgotten years ago and they twisted things to make me look like I was a spy or something. They threatened my family, my children. I had no choice.”
He went on like that for forty-five minutes. Russians, The War, Threats on his family. It was scary and kinda sad in a way. Van Swearingin was one tough and powerful man, but for those forty-five minutes it was like he was “Shell-Shocked.” I felt sorry for him.
I knew that I had to let the FBI know about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but I knew that some things were going to change.
– To Be Continued –
For a few weeks everything went along smoothly. I had no more run-ins with the Russians, both them and Van Swearingin left me pretty much alone. I called in to the FBI every Saturday from a payphone and Charlie kept his nose clean. Then one day while I was at the California plant I got a phone call from Salt Lake.
Every so often I’d been getting complaints that someone was breaking into the employee lockers and stealing stuff. Nothing big was being lifted and I figured it was either one of the production workers or some Russian who felt he could get away with it. Then I got that phone call. It was from Van Swearingin’s office. Charlie was in the hospital in Salt Lake City. One of the loading dock workers had caught Charlie jimmying open a locker and beat the ever-loving snot out of him. He would survive but it was a sure thing that he wasn’t going to mess with those lockers again. And from the look of his face when I saw him he wasn’t going to be eating corn on the cob for a while either. Of course Charlie denied it all. He said that he’d noticed the jimmied lock and was just looking it over. Nobody bought that.
Charlie’s antics turned Salt Lake into a beehive for me. I was his Boss and everybody was mad at me when he came back to work. I couldn’t fire him. I hadn’t hired him so how could I fire him? Everybody was ticked off. Now everyone was watching everyone else and blaming me. I tried explaining that he was Van Swearingin’s kid and as far as I was concerned they could all take him out onto the Salt Flats and bury him up to his neck.
I complained to my FBI phone contact and all he told me was to shut up and keep listening. He said that Charlie was innocent of the locker business – that they had hired one of the truck drivers to break in to the lockers to stir things up. It sure did that I complained.
“Look, Pal,” the FBI guy told me, “Things are coming to a head there before long” and that I should be ready to “Take action.” He didn’t explain what that meant, but I started carrying my pistol again.
After he recovered from his beating and realized that he wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to San Francisco Charlie settled into the groove of his new life. He did his job and go around giving everybody a piece of his lip. I don’t think he enjoyed being there, but everyone there looked tougher and meaner than him – especially the Russians. If Charlie tried any of his tough guy nonsense on them, even the three women in their crew, they would have pounded him into the ground like a tent peg.
I met with each of my Security Unit people once a week just to check in and see if there were any problems, Charlie included. Most of the gripes had to do with wanting a raise and petty junk. “Co worker ‘So and So’ is mean to me.” or “Telling people I’m queer.” All of it the same stuff I used to hear in the Army. There were always a couple of complaints about the Russians that they laughed at them and that they smoked on the plant floor when that was “verboten” to everybody else. I passed those problems on to Van Swearingin each week like clockwork – and each week he shrugged and ignored them – and me. It was beginning to feel like my only real function was to keep an eye on Charlie and that was only for the eight hours that he was at the plant. For the other sixteen hours in the day he was on his own.
He drove himself to and from the plant in an old Buick that his father gave him. He lived in an apartment owned by the company in Salt Lake City. I doubt that he could get into too much trouble. Those Mormons run a tight ship and if Charlie tried any of his tricks on them he’d be wishing they were the Russians. At least that was what I was hoping.
Each week I made my call to the FBI office in San Francisco – always from a different pay phone. I didn’t have much new to report to them. It was usually just Russians, Russians, and Russians. Beyond that I kept telling them that, in my opinion, Van Swearingin was on his way to a breakdown. I think that the Russians were getting to him. His name might be on the letterhead, but, more and more every month, the Russians seemed to be calling the shots. Some of my men who had the most gripes with the Russians disappeared and were replaced without clearing it through me. They were replaced with some thugs who spoke only broken English.
“Everything OK, Mr. Boss You betcha, Da.”
That was the extent of their weekly check-in report with me.
I wanted out of there. I checked with the Army and they had my back pay – a nice tidy sum of almost $600. With that plus what I’d been able to bank from Van Swearingin I could go to some cheaper city than San Fran and have it made. Maybe get some education or open a small business of my own.
Whenever I said anything about that to the FBI they told me to sit tight for just a little longer. They’d been telling me that for almost a year.
Even though Salt Lake was a real thorn in my side I had two other Van Swearingin plants that I had to deal with. Going to them was a relief. The California plant was retooling back to making washing machines just like before the war. There were no Russians there, just a bunch of farm boys and returning G.I.s who were anxious to get back into the civilian life. The Van Swearingin plant in Texas was not much different, except that the flight in that DC-3 was a lot longer. That facility was also going back to pre-war manufacturing too. They were starting to make electric clothes dryers there. I guess that backyard clothes lines were going to be going the way of buggy whips.
– To Be Continued –
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
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
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.”
“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.”
“Either way you are going to have some pretty nasty enemies.”
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
“You’re an idiot.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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
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.”
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?”
“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
“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 –
Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Four
A couple of more flights in that flying coffin and I’d visited all of the Van Swearingin plants and offices. I hope that I don’t have to do that too often. Give me a car and I’ll drive to wherever I need to be.
I was bothered by what “Pops” Mulroy said to me during that plant visit in Salt Lake City. He said that his “retirement” wasn’t his idea, that he was being forced out, after almost thirty years on the job. He didn’t seem to be holding it against me. He told me to finish my “Grand Tour” of the other facilities, keep my eyes open, and then to call him. He slipped me a piece of paper with a phone number on it.
“Call me when you get back. Call me collect, but don’t call me from any phone owned by Van Swearingin. It ain’t only the walls that have ears.”
I went to every Van Swearingin property with the Boss, met a lot of people and never saw anything that looked like a washing machine. Most of the things being built didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before. Some of the workers were wearing special suits like something out of Buck Rogers and behind thick glass shields.
When I was introduced to the Security Units at each plant I was given the same story. The older, more experienced people were all being replaced with younger men. They were all roughly my age and carried themselves like professionals. I didn’t get to talk with all of them. Some of them avoided me, keeping to themselves. They may have been soldiers, but some of them didn’t look like Americans. They had a look in their eyes. I can’t explain it, but they looked like some of the Russian and German soldiers I’d seen near the end. Hardened by the war and, I don’t know how else to say it, soulless.
Even though the plants were all over the place the HQ, the Headquarters, was in San Francisco. My office was on the fourteenth floor. I had a secretary I didn’t know what to do with, and a desk the size of an aircraft carrier. When the job applications started coming in they passed over my desk even though they were already marked “hired” or “rejected” before they got to me. I went over the applications and some of the “rejects” looked good to me: Former MPs or Shore Patrol, military police, who already know the ropes.
A few of those hired by somebody above me had spent time in the stockade or were discharged at the same rank they had when they went in – Troublemakers. That made no sense to me. Most of those guys would have a hard time getting hired to carry bricks anywhere, but they were now part of my new Security Unit.
I needed to talk to “Pops” Mulroy. I called him, Collect, from a phone booth in the Ferry Building down by the San Francisco waterfront.
I LIKE TO START OFF MY DAY IN SLOW MOTION. I do not want or need to be jarred into actual thought before I have had my coffee. Before that first influx of caffeine into my system I am not capable of digesting information or spatial-temporal incongruities.
That is why I am in recovery today after a surprise challenge to my cranial lobes the other day.
One of my early, early, early morning rituals is to slowly crawl into consciousness with the TV lighting the way as I try to figure out how socks work. My heart is beating sporadically and my brain is clicking away at an invertebrate level. I don’t need surprises.
Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Three
“Think about it.”
That’s all I’ve been able to do. Here I am a newly reborn civilian whose only real job experience is those three years of trying to kill the other guy first. Oh, sure, I had some jobs before the war = delivering newspapers and mowing lawns. Now, pretty much out of the blue, some rich guy, a war industry all by himself, offers me a job for more money than me, my old man, and his old man ever made altogether. Think about it? Darn straight I thought about it.
Everybody knew the name Van Swearingin. He and his factories made more tanks than anybody. They saved a lot of lives, killed a lot of Nazis, and freed up a good sized portion of Europe. He was rich before the war making washing machines. Then the war came and now he is considered one of the richest men in America.
“War Profiteer” – that’s what some people called him. Making tanks and making millions of dollars doing it. I don’t begrudge it to him. His tanks saved my backside several times. Lots of people made lots of money off the war. That’s just the way it is. And now that the war is over they’ll be making washing machines again.
One thing I don’t understand though is if they’re going to be making washing machines again, why does Van Swearingin need a 180 man Security unit? Why does he need me? Does he think that the Russians are out to steal his washing machine secrets?
He gave me a week, with pay, to think over his job offer. He said that he wants me to update and reorganize his Security people, all 180 of them. If they are like most guards and night watchman types I’ve seen the mice could have robbed him blind. During the war I’m sure there were armed G.I.s watching over his factories, guarding against saboteurs and 4-F thieves, but now, transitioning back to washing machines – Grandpas and a new fence should be enough.
Why does he want me to turn his 180 men into what we had at Anzio and Iwo Jima? What was he expecting? That Sears-Roebucks was going to outflank him?
Could I do it? Sure. Any guy who spent three years in uniform could put a decent company together in his sleep. Uncle Sam paid me $40 a month. Van Swearingin would be giving me a heck of a lot more.
If he was willing to fill my pay envelope every week I’d be a fool not to take it.
I guess I’ve made up my mind.
It was only Wednesday when I called the number Van Swearingin gave me to use when I had decided. He answered the phone himself.
“That’s great, Tim! Welcome aboard. What I need you to do now is come here to the house tomorrow morning at 9 AM. Pack a bag because we are going on a tour of all our facilities – your new responsibilities, so you can get a feel for things. Is that all OK with you?”
“No problem, Sir. Everything I own is in my duffel. 9 AM? I’ll be there.
“Wonderful, Captain. That’ll be your new rank – Captain. In time most of the men under you will be other returning soldiers and they will be used to their boss having rank on them. So, I’ll see you tomorrow morning – captain.”
I was glad when we landed in Salt Lake City. Crossing the mountains and then the emptiness of Nevada made me uncomfortable, almost ready to vomit. Van Swearingin took it like he did it every day. Maybe he did with factories and offices in three different states. He’d almost have to fly to cover that much ground. He had his own private DC-3.
I hope I don’t have to do a lot of this.
West of the city, in a chauffeured Cadillac, we came to an area called the “Salt Flats.” Out there, in the most desolate place I have ever seen with nothing around for miles, was a huge, black as night building. It was one level with no windows. There was a rail spur at either end and one narrow dusty road snaking up to the building.
“Welcome to Van Swearingin Industries, Tim.”
We followed the dirt road toward the building. As we approached a large loading dock door opened and we drove in. There were at least 150 other cars parked in there.
“No sense giving some curious eyes any idea how many people work here,” said my new Boss. “During the war there was a Guard Post back up the road a piece. If anyone who didn’t belong tried to get too close they would have been…let’s just say that they wouldn’t have tried that again.”
That was the way things were.
“What do you make in here, if I may ask?”
“Before V-J Day it was Norden Bomb Sights. Now, we are developing the next generation of Radar units. You’re familiar with Radar, Tim?’
“I’ve seen them being used, but I never got a close up look.”
“Well, we can scan a flock of birds and tell you which ones are going to be laying eggs. I’ll give you a tour later, but first I want you to meet up with ‘Pops’ Mulroy, the current Head of Security. You’re replacing him. He is looking forward to retiring so he can get back to Colorado and his grandchildren.”
“Pops” Mulroy was about the same age as Van Swearingin, but in tip-top physical condition. He may have been in the first war, but he looked like he could have held his own in the Second. Most men called “Pops” look like they are a hundred years old and half dead.
Introductions and handshakes taken care of, Van Swearingin said he had to go.
“I’ll leave you in ‘Pops’ hands to get the Big Picture around here. I have some other things that need taken care of. I’ll rescue you in a couple of hours.”
It was just me and “Pops.” I tried to break the ice.
“You must be anxious to retire and get back to Colorado, is it, and your family?”
“Pops” looked at me. He wasn’t smiling
“Retiring? It ain’t my idea, kid, but there ain’t too much I can do about it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I must have misunderstood,” I said. What is going on here?
“I’m retiring all right. It was my job, now it’s yours. That’s called retirement around here.”
To Be Continued
“Mistakes Were Made” – Part Two
I have to admit – I didn’t expect to see a guy’s son do a B&E on his father’s home, but that’s what it was. I’d handcuffed the kid to the door of a car that cost more than I’ve made in my entire life. I hope he doesn’t scratch it.
The kid had a scowl on his face for me. He also had the start of a decent black eye and a lump on his skull where I whacked him. Hey! You pull a knife on me I’m not going to pour you a cup of tea.
The Old Man, Van Swearigin, wasn’t looking too happy either. I was beginning to think that Charlie was what they call a “Problem child,” and that he’d worn steel bracelets before. He may have been no more than 17 years old, but that knife of his made him as old as Cain.
“What’s up, Pop?” The kid had a permanent sneer going for his father.
“Charlie, what’s this all about?” His voice was strained, but controlled. “Looking to hotwire one of the cars for a little ride?”
Charlie looked up at his father from the garage floor, but said nothing more. He yanked at the cuffs like he could break loose that way.
The Old Man looked at me, but said nothing. I think he was embarrassed that I was there and seeing inside his less than perfect family.
“How have you been, Charlie?” he asked his son. “Do you have a job? Making ends meet?”
His kid is sitting on the floor of a garage, handcuffed, with a black eye and a knot on his skull and he asks him if he’s paying his gas bill. Some family. The kid kept yanking at the bracelet.
“Get this off of me and I’ll get out of here so you can go back to bed. I won’t bother you anymore.” He said “bother you” with a real sneer. Any kid of mine talked to me like that and I’d… Yeah, fat chance of that.
The two of them just stared at each other for a minute and then the Old Man turned to me.
“Cut him loose. Your name is Tim, right? There’s no point in keeping him down there.”
I told Charlie to scoot back. I didn’t want him trying to bite me or anything while I was getting back my cuffs. Those are mine. I had to pay for them. He did what he was told. I think he knew that if he got stupid on me that I’d rearrange his teeth. I don’t care if his old man was standing there or not. As I gave him back his hand he mumbled, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” I whispered back. “Let’s not do this again sometimes.”
Cut loose the kid stood up and dusted himself off. He ignored the little beating I’d given him like it happened every day. Without another word he headed for the door. His Old Man looked older than he did a few minutes before.
“Son… Charlie…Can I help you? Can I give you anything? Anything at all?”
Charlie stopped, one hand on the door, and looked back at his father.
“No.” was all he said. He looked over at me. Gave me a little nod, a gesture of professional courtesy. Opposite sides in the same game. He was already a crook and I represented the Law, the Society that fought back. “No,” and he was gone into the dark.
We all stared at the door for a second then Van Swearingen turned his attention to Marty who was looking as uncomfortable as a mink coat on a wire hanger.
“Marty, get out of here. I don’t want to see you here again. I will be talking to your father about this. He needs to do something before you end up dead or in prison.”
I cut in.
“For you, kid, prison would equal dead. You wouldn’t make it through the first night. They’d eat you alive.”
The Old Man nodded and Marty began to cry like a baby. That’s what he was.
“Get off my property, Marty. If I see you here again…” He let the rest of his sentence be written inside Marty’s head.
The kid ran through the door and disappeared.
The two of us just stood there in the night. Van Swearingin spoke first.
“And you. I expressly told your agency that I wanted no guns. It’s a good thing you had one though. He would have cut you to the bone.”
“Sir, I’ve been carrying a weapon for a few years now, mainly an M-1 or a .45. I’d feel naked without one.”
“I understand. I was in the last war. That’s why I hate them.”
He started for the door. Tonight was over. He had his hand on the doorknob when he stopped. Without turning to look at me he gave me an order.
“By the way, Tim – you’re fired and be back here at Noon. You’re my new head of security.”
To be Continued