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 –