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 – 2018

Archive for the category “Mistakes”

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I help you?” he asked me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxx

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

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

A little kid answered the phone.

“Can I talk with your Grandpa?”

“Who?

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

“Oh, ‘Pops’ – Why didn’t you say so?

“Hey, ‘Pops’! Telephone!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Talk to me. What’s happened?”

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

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

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

“Tim, you’re lucky to be alive.”

That didn’t make me feel any more secure.

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

“You mean the FBI?”

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

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

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

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

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

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Four

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.

Read more…

Sieg Heil, Kemosabe!

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.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Three

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.

xxx

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.”

xxx

I’d never flown before. Busses, trains, then troop ships, and on foot have been the only way that I’ve gotten around. That and a variety of old jalopies.

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

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Two

“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

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part One

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?”

“Charlie.”

“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

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. Some are pretty obvious from the outset. With others it can take some time before we realize that we have stuck our foot in it. I have been collecting a few examples of some wildly errant boo-boos that deserve retelling.

One of my favorites dates from 1959. The fine folks in Ottawa, Ontario were gathered to celebrate the grand opening of a new modern terminal at the Canadian Capital’s Airport. Everyone was having a great time…until it all fell apart.

Read more…

A Spider’s Got To Know His Limitations

ABOUT TEN SECONDS AGO a perfect example of Ambition and Confidence played out right in front of me. I was sitting here quietly sipping on my coffee when before my droopy eyes a teeny tiny spider no bigger than…than…than what you see in the picture of it next to my pen appeared. It was dangling from a silken thread.

This spider had seen me sitting here and thought, “I can take him,” and he lowered himself down from the ceiling.

Read more…

I Don’t Want To Know The Score

“O, HAIL THE MIGHTY SYCAMORES!” At home along the banks of the Wabash. There, that sounds majestic enough. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense though when you’re talking about a football team.

The Indiana State University football team goes by the fearsome name of “The Fighting Sycamores.” Doesn’t that just put a tremor loose in your heart? No. Me neither.

Their football stadium is about a minute away from our front door. We can hear the bands at halftime and the oohing and ahhhing of the crowds. When the Fighting Sycamores score a touchdown they fire off a cannon in sheer delight. We haven’t heard the cannon much lately.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Part One

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles

 

The fog was rolling in like a slinky coming down an escalator. I didn’t think it would ever stop. I was just a knife’s throw from the Embarcadero on my way to Wilma’s All-Nite Café for a cup of coffee and maybe a piece of cake.

My name is Henway, I’m a dick, head of the best P.I. outfit in town,

“Henway and ____.”

I’ve been thinking about getting a partner.

I’ve been in this racket for more years than I can count. I’m not much at math. I’m more of a people person and tonight I was hoping to meet up with some people.

When I came through the door at the café I could see the owner, Wilma Van der Sluice, behind W2the counter. Wilma ran her café like a maximum security diner. She made the rules and if you didn’t like it the service could really stink.

When she saw me come in she trotted my way, her two too massive braids bouncing up and down by her ears. She smiled and then suddenly disappeared from view. She bounced back into sight almost immediately, still smiling, but with an “It’s Better With Butter” wax paper square stuck to her forehead. Wilma was tough and she was used to these late night slip-ups.

“Hi, Lover Boy. What can I get you?”

“Hi, back at ya, Sugar Lump. I think I’ll check in with my friend there at the counter first.”

Sitting on one of the red vinyl stools was my mentor, the mug that got me into this business, Henry “Hank” O’ Hair. I dropped down onto the stool next to him.

“Hi, Hank, what’s shakin’?”

“Just my gun hand. Oh, it’s you. Hi, Kid.” He always called me “Kid.” He called everybody “Kid.” His memory isn’t what it used to be. It used to be bad, now it was worse.W4

Hank was wearing his trench coat and his aging Fedora, the one with the bullet hole in the brim, but that’s another, much longer, story. He was sitting there, staring at an empty cup. I gave a short whistle and Wilma came running our way, being more careful this time.

“What’ll it be you two hunks of handsome?”

“I’ll have a cuppa, Gorgeous,” I told her.W6

“Me too,” echoed Hank.

“Yeah, a coffee for me and another for my old friend.” Wilma jotted it all  down on her pad, smiled that smile that lit up many a late night like a welcoming sign reading, “Vacancy,” and headed back to her station by the cake dish.

Hank looked a bit down like something or someone had him by the short hairs – and he didn’t have many left.

“You look down, Hank, like something or someone has you by –“

“Yeah, yeah, I know the rest of it, Kid. What’s bothering me? I’ll tell you. I’ve got a case and it’s got me. I’ve been looking for a guy and it’s like he’s dropped off the face of the earth and I’ve come up dry. He’s on the lam and I feel  like I’m the goat here. I’ve looked high and low, near and far, and even sooner or later – nothing, nada, ne, yaga, yimba, a ole, nyet, nahin, and squat.”

“No luck, huh?” He shot me look that said things – I’m not sure what though.

W6

W6Wilma came back over to us and set down four cups of coffee. She smiled and winked at me. It was either a wink or a return of an old problem she had with a tic.

“Talk to me, Henway,” she said, leaning over the counter, her nose just inches from the brim of my imported Fedora. “Tell me something that will give me chills.” I knew where this was heading. I played along.

“Sure, Lambs Lettuce, Do you have any German Chocolate Cake left?”

“One slice and it’s all for you, Puppy Eyes, if you say the magic word.”

“Houdini!,” shouted out Hank. “The guy must be a Houdini to have me not find him.”

Wilma sighed. “Close enough. I’ll get the cake,” and off she went, her braids bouncing like her  head was on a tiny trampoline.

I didn’t like seeing Hank down in the dumps. I had to do something.

“What’s this Houdini’s name,? I asked Hank. He took a long and loud slurp of coffee, then spoke. “This ghost goes by the name of Lech Ontario. I’ve looked everywhere and Nem, nei, nahin, ne, ….”

I finished my first cup while he finished his sentence and then I told him that…”I gotta go see a man about a horse. I’ll be right back.”

W7The Euphemisms, both Guys and Dolls, were at the far end of the café. As I headed that way I passed by the aging Wurlitzer juke box. There were no songs on there newer than the theme from “The Love Boat.” 

It was a slow night at Wilma’s. There was just Hank and me and one booth near the back that had two people – A blonde whose face could start any clock, and a guy who looked like his face could stop your clock – permanently.

Just past the juke box was one of the few payphones left in the city. On a hunch, I started leafing through the pages of the phone book that was bolted to the phone. It was then that I recalled that Hank had taught me everything I know – well, not everything. I learned how to finger paint years before I ever met him, but you get the idea.

There it was – on page 437, halfway down the page –

“Ontario, Lech – 1313 Blueview Terrace 552-3918”

After I finished washing my hands like the sign on the Guys Room door insisted I went back to my spot next to Hank.

“Hank, have you checked the phone book for this Ontario guy?”

“Huh?”

“The phone book – did you look there?”

Without an intelligible word, Hank got up and slowly walked back toward the payphone. When he headed back my way he muttered, “Thanks, Kid,” and kept on walking. He vanished into the fog like a black cat in a coal mine.

to be continued 1

W5

What Are You Gonna Do? 

DURING OUR STAY IN DEMOREST, GEORGIA, on the campus of Piedmont College I must laud high praise on the facilities and the very helpful staff – but I do have one minor, teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy complaint. I say this knowing that I may be the only person here who cares about it. Excuse my reiteration.

In all of the literature from the college, bent on luring us all to come here, they gleefully state that there is a “Starbucks right on the campus,” in the “Commons” building by the bookstore.

Technically they have told the truth.

Read more…

Throwback Thursday -from 2015 “When Furniture Attacks!”

Throwback Thursday – from 2015 

When Furniture Attacks!

Chair 2SOME PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED ANYWHERE NEAR A MANUFACTURING PLANT. They have an idea and they find some stooge to put up some cash, backing their endeavor. The end result is a product that, in a civilized society, would be outlawed immediately.

Case in Point –

Recently, my wife, the lovely and temporarily monoplaned, Dawn, and I stayed in someone’s Chair3home for a few days and they insisted on showing us their latest purchase – a “Massage Chair” that was guaranteed to relieve all your aches and pains leaving you refreshed, invigorated, and halfway on the road to being the next Dalai Lama.

Our hosts raved about the chair to the point that I thought they were going to consider adoption.

They finally talked me into giving a try.

Big mistake, bordering on criminal. I should have followed my instincts and not gotten within ten feet of The Chair, let alone into it.

First of all it looked like a Modern, Hipster, Steampunk version of something left over from the Spanish Inquisition. One should never trust a chair that has control buttons, dials and flashing lights. The only thing missing was a telephone on a nearby wall in case the Governor called with a last minute reprieve.

chairASitting on a chair should be a relatively easy thing to do, since our knees control which direction our legs fold, chairs should be an object where form follows function. You stand up. You sit down. Easy. Not with this “Massage Chair.” It took me three minutes to be “properly seated” according to the instruction book.

A chair with an instruction book.

Once in the chair “properly” and with all of the buttons and dials set, we plugged it in and hit the Launch button. It took me about three seconds to realize that I had just made a major life error.

The first thing it did was deliver a punch to the back of my head. That hurts. I don’t know why the chairchair4attacked, but after a nasty kidney punch it started pummeling my spine from top to bottom. If I didn’t know better I would have thought that I was being mugged.

“Isn’t that great? Can’t you just feel the tension slipping away?” asked the owner/keeper of The Chair.

The only thing I could feel slipping away were a couple of my lumbar vertebrae. I was beginning to know what it must be like to take part in a British soccer riot.chair1

 Eventually my screaming and cursing convinced somebody to; literally, pull the plug on this adventure. They had to help me out of The Chair. I sank to the floor and kissed the ground. If they hadn’t rescued me when they did I would have followed through with my thought to file Assault and Battery charges against that piece of the Devil’s Furniture.

Our host swears by that thing – that it makes him feel like a million bucks. At that moment I felt like about $3.25 in coins. I checked my wallet just to make sure everything was still there. I was pretty sure that, at one point, I felt The Chair trying to pick my pocket.

After a mouthful of Excedrin and some time in an overstuffed chair I was able to calmly express myself about The Chair.

“I don’t like it. I don’t want one. I think it is a tool of Satan.”

I offered to get rid of it for them – if they didn’t mind their house being destroyed in the process. They declined my offer.

I don’t think I’ll be buying a Massage Chair any time soon.

I think that I would prefer a cushy recliner that comes with a cup holder, remote control rack, and a built-in refrigerator (with freezer). That kind of a chair makes me feel better just thinking about it. 
chair6

She Was Here Somewhere

I JUST LOVE IT WHEN TRULY SILLY THINGS HAPPEN. I recently saw a story, datelined Iceland, which had me laughing out loud sitting there at St. Arbucks. I’m sure that most of the people who saw me laughing just thought that I had skipped my meds.

Nope, not this time.

What made me hit my Giggle Switch was a news item about a group of Japanese tourists in Iceland.

According to the news item the group was touring some of Iceland’s volcanoes and hot springs. Sounds like fun.

But wait! There’s more!

The fun really began when the group was ready to get back on the bus and leave. That was when someone noticed that one of their group, a woman, seemed to be missing.

Uh, oh – it’s bad form to lose the tourists.

A search party was formed and everyone started desperately looking for the missing lady. Everyone was given a description of the lady and what she was wearing. Hours went by with no success. There was fear that she may have fallen and was injured.

Finally, at 3 AM a member of the search party noticed that one of the other searchers bore a strong resemblance to the missing woman.

The kernel of this story is that the missing lady had, during the tour, gone back to their tour bus to “Freshen up,” and change clothes. When the tour group was ready to leave somebody spoke up, saying, “Where is the lady in the red jacket?” she was there, but now wearing a blue jacket.

And so the fun began.

For hours and hours the apparently “missing” woman took part in the search party’s efforts that were methodically looking for her. The description that was handed out didn’t ring a bell with her, she said. She had no idea that she was the “missing lady.”

I love stories like that. Nobody was hurt – inconvenienced to be sure, and maybe P.O’d to the max, but unhurt. If some scriptwriter had come up with that as an idea for a TV Sit-Com it would have been rejected. Fortunately, I don’t have standards that high.

While I would rather not spend a long time in a search party looking for myself I do think that it could be a chance to learn what people really think of me.

How many people are willing to look for me? How hard are they trying? Are they muttering about possibly missing lunch or are they singing my praises? When I am “found” are they saying “Thank Heaven we have found him,” or are they making threats?

It would almost be like being able to attend your own funeral, without the flowers and that slow drive through town.

Thank God Texas Has A Lot Of Room

TAKE ME TO THE BUTTER CHURN is a cry I hear on a regular basis when we go south to visit family. “The Butter Churn” is a restaurant/feeding station aka buffet just a waddle or two away from the family home in Sinton, Texas. And every time we visit, along with an assortment of several generations of nieces and nephews, we go to The Butter Churn.

Read more…

What, And Give Up Show Business?

WE ARE DOWN IN TEXAS FOR A SHORT VISIT. Not only is that a good thing in and of itself, but the weather is certainly better than up north – no snow and I’m actually going around clad in the season’s first outings for my Hawaiian shirts. I look like a tourist.

Another difference, whether we travel to Texas, Ireland, or wherever is local television. Local television outside of your major markets is where you can see careers beginning, careers flourishing, and careers ending – sometimes all within the span of a few days.

Read more…

Don’t Panic

 

“I REFUSE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION ON THE GROUNDS THAT I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER.”

— Douglas Adams

I wish that more people would adopt that practice. As each day slops over into the next I become more and more exhausted by people who think that they have THE answer to, not only every question that people ask, but also to the questions that nobody bothers asking.

Read more…

What’s Done Is Done

feb1TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF FEBRUARY – at least I think it is – let me check.

(Brief Pause)

Right! Today is definitely the last day of February which means very little unless you were born on February 29th. But it is still winter.

I know. I know, but you’re wrong. This is not going to be another of my diatribes against snow and cold. No. This is going to be a scholarly discourse on why the Calendar needs adjustment and realignment.

Read more…

Throwback Thursday from February 2016

Throwback Thursday from February 2016

Hush, Hush, Dead Charlotte

530b2939-a8a8-4693-85da-0b525f516003A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO IN NEW YORK CITY the Mayor decided that he needed some positive coverage in the media. His idea was to stage his very own Groundhog Day Festival. Whatever Punxsutawney, PA can do, the Big Apple can do better – or so he thought.

At the Staten Island Zoo, not exactly the best known zoo in America – or even in New York City for that matter, Mayor Bill de Blasio (The name he is currently using), with much fanfare and with cameras rolling, was handed “Charlotte the Groundhog.”

18b691f0-ba81-49dd-b733-1506fda57f00

Charlotte —  (An artist’s rendition.)

groundhog day gifThe Mayor was obviously not an experienced Groundhog Wrangler and Charlotte may have taken his fumbling and groping as an improper advance. Charlotte squirmed, the Mayor went sissy, and dropped Charlotte. It is unknown if Charlotte ever saw her shadow on the way down, but it is for sure that she hasn’t seen much of anything after she hit the pavement.

Last year (2015 for the chronologically challenged) the Mayor agreed to try the event again, but he refused to touch the replacement Groundhog – “Chuck.” It is quoted that the Mayor greeted the suspicious Groundhog by saying, “What’s up, Chuck?” Now that Charlotte has gone to that Great Groundhog Lair in the Sky I doubt that Chuck took much consolation from, “What’s up, Chuck?”

groundhog day 3

Chuck

What’s up?

Certainly not Charlotte.

The New York Times noted the occasion of the Mayor’s return to the zoo with the headline, “Mayor Bill de Blasio Did Not Kill the Groundhog This Year.”

There was so much sarcasm dripping off of that headline the paper should have come with a roll of paper towels.

There was another Mayor vs. Groundhog encounter last year in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The Groundhog picked for their show was in no mood to fool around with some strange humans. When the Mayor picked up “Jimmy the Groundhog”
the unhappy rodent took a chunk out of the Mayor’s ear.groundhog wisc gif

This year the Mayor has already announced that he is not going to have anything to do with actually touching the Groundhog. I bet that “Jimmy” is cool with that.

He probably heard about what happened in New York.

3c2f20eb-9fca-4657-bf98-13c5413a01d6

The Word spreads about Charlotte

I imagine that both of these Mayors are now Groundhogaphobic after their bad experiences. Imagine how the Groundhogs feel. Every February 2nd their sleep is disturbed, they are grabbed and shoved in front of crowds of humans. There are bright lights, yelling media types, and all without so much as a “Please” or “Thank you.” In the human society that kind of stuff is called either a “Home Invasion” or the arrival of the SWAT Team – and often gets people shot or arrested.

The people in Punxsutawney have been doing their thing for over a hundred years and they have it down pat. The rest of these clowns are the worst kind of amateurs – they think they are cooler, smarter and more capable than the experts. And what happens? Groundhogs die and Mayors qualify for Vincent Van Gogh Look-Alike contests.

0ad12880-a2dd-4d9b-ac92-3d2d732c2dd5

Charlotte  — taken by the Paparazzi

Something To Watch Out For

tv1FOR THE LAST SIX MONTHS (AT LEAST) WE’VE HAD A MAJOR CHANGE take place in our television viewing habits. I think that this change has come about because of two things; Online services such as Netflix and Hulu among a number of others have begun to air some new and very creative programming. Just about everyone else has been wallowing in a Political Stew that has been tasteless, without any real meat, and triggering my gag reflex.

So, we were faced with a choice: Enjoy some new and excellent programs or endure sphincter clenching broadcast venom.

Not a difficult decision – let someone else watch all the stuff with zombies.

Read more…

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: