Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2019

Archive for the tag “Fiction Saturday”

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fifteen

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fifteen

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. The one man I felt that I could trust – “Pops” and his two big thugs walked me back to my little office. One of the big guys stayed outside the door. I guess “Pops” didn’t want any interruptions. They didn’t tie me up or anything. What was I going to do? Where could I go? I was trapped and I was alone. The only person within 700 miles or so that I felt I could even come close to trusting was a kid who had once tried to stab me. I was as alone as anyone could be.

“Timmy, I’m sorry you decided to show up here a day early. By tomorrow we would have been long gone and this place would have been a smoking pile of ashes – a black stain on the white salt flats. But, you did come early and I’m afraid you’re going to be a tragic victim of the fire. That’s too bad, I kind of liked you.”

I didn’t like being referred to in the past tense while I was still around. I had to speak up. I knew my goose was cooked, but I had to know…why?

“Can I ask you something, or is this a one-way street?

“Pops” chuckled like a grandfather talking to his little grandson.

“Sure, Timmy, we’re not going anywhere for a few hours. Shoot.”

I could have asked him a thousand questions, but the big one was – Why? Why are you betraying your country? What about Van Swearingin? You’ve known him for almost thirty years. You’ve been friends. Why?”

He pulled over one of the side chairs and sat across from me. He moved the big Russian over into the corner like he was a piece of ugly furniture.

“Let me give you a bit of a history lesson, young man, and then maybe you’ll understand who I am and what I’m doing.

“That is true that I’ve known Van Swearingin for a long time. We were both in the army during the first war. When the Armistice was signed he came home – the young hero. I stayed behind. The Army and the politicians weren’t done with me.

“The ink wasn’t dry on the Armistice papers in Versailles before the U.S. Army shipped me and more than ten thousand other men into Russia. We were there taking sides in their civil war. We were there to back the so-called ‘White Russians’ against the ‘Reds’ who had overthrown the Czar and taken power. We had no right to be there. It wasn’t our fight. It was strictly a Russian affair. I spent more than two years there fighting and killing people I didn’t have anything against.

“Like any war there is a lot of idle time. I got to know some of the Russians I picked up the lingo and I learned how the Russians felt having us and troops from other western nations, there tearing up their country. I came home in 1920 and I was a changed man.”

“But, what about your family and friends, “Pops?”

“They were still my family and friends. It was me who’d changed, not them. I was still the same man on the outside, but inside I was changed. I had been betrayed. Inside I became a Russian, an angry Russian.”

“But for thirty years? For thirty years you were what – a spy? A Saboteur?”

“No, Timmy, for almost thirty years I wanted there to be a payback for what we – what I – had done to the Russian people.”

He stopped talking and looked at me with a sad expression on his face.

“’Pops,’ if you were a part of all of this why did you tell me to call the FBI? I don’t get it.”

“Because my naïve young friend, you tell them what you see – or what I wanted you to see – then they tell you what they are going to do, and then you call and tell me everything. You were my spy inside the FBI.”

I stopped trying to ask him anything else. There was no point. He had been stewing over this for decades and I wasn’t going to change his mind sitting here in the middle of nowhere. I looked at “Pops’ and he looked at me. We both knew that any further explanations were useless. Neither of us was going to change at this point.

For about a half hour we just sat there, me, “Pops”, and the side of beef by the door. We could hear plant noises as people passed by my office or equipment was being moved.

A little before noon the big Russian said something. “Pops” answered him in Russian and the big man opened the door and left us alone.

“He has to go ‘Make a Russian River.” He’ll be back in a minute. One thing I can say about them – they are very loyal.”

I bit my tongue. I wanted to answer him with, “Not like you,” but what would be the point?

After another twenty minutes “Pops” began to look concerned. His large pet and bodyguard hadn’t come back. He opened my office door – the other man was gone too. It was just the two of us now – and my small personal revolver that I had taken to carrying again. “Pops” had been overconfident and never had his gorillas pat me down. I hadn’t seen any weapons on “Pops” so I kept mine where it was. I’d bring it out when it would do the most good.

“Pops” closed the office door. He was not happy. For the first time he looked a little scared.

“Stand up, Tim. Something is wrong. We’re going for a little walk-around. Come on.”

He still showed no weapons, just the threat of one. I came from behind my desk and together the two of us walked out into the plant floor.

We turned right. We were both nervous as we headed toward Van Swearingin’s office. We hadn’t gone five yards before we both saw a pair of shoes sticking out from behind a line of lathes. Two shoes – big shoes and they were attached to the Russian bodyguard who had been standing outside of my office. The big man’s brown suit coat was wet with blood. His throat had been slit and there was another damp area in the middle of his broad chest. I hadn’t seen anything like that since we crossed into Germany near the end of the war.

“Pops” stepped back and quickly looked around. There was no one else in sight. The plant had fallen silent. All of the machinery was stopped. It seemed like we were the only two people in the building – no longer counting the dead Russian.

“What’s going on here, Tim? Who? What is this?”

“The ‘Who’ is me.” It was Charlie. He stepped out from behind a large tool cabinet. He was holding his knife – the one I had told him to stop carrying on duty. There was blood dripping from the blade.

“And ‘What this is” – is the end. Your other playmate is back here. He won’t be joining us.” “Pops” was in a stunned silence. I wasn’t.

Next Week, The Conclusion –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fourteen

 

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Fourteen

 

Daily life at the Salt Lake Plant was much like the Salt Flats – the same no matter in which direction you looked. Any changes were hard to detect and if you weren’t careful you could find yourself hopelessly lost and looking Death in the eye. Out on The Flats you could die of thirst. Inside the Plant the biggest danger came from the steely-eyed Russians who were running the show even though Van Swearingin had his name on the pay envelopes.

Men came and went. The men who had been there all during the war were disappearing one by one. That old crew was being replaced with thick-necked men who never smiled and who never left the Plant. They had set up a barebones dormitory in a far corner of the building. Little by little a small part of Utah was being turned into a corner of the Ukraine.

Why I was still there and breathing mystified me. It also scared the daylights out of me. I was afraid to go there and mix it up with any of those Russians, and I was afraid to leave because of those FBI guys. Aside from their haircuts and dental work I didn’t see much difference between them.

It had gotten to the point that the only person I felt I could trust was Charlie, Mr. Van Swearingin’s younger son, who had once tried to knife me. I couldn’t really count on his Old Man even though he was the man who hired me for this job. I may have had a nice job title and a hefty salary, but I was really there to be his stooge. I didn’t appreciate that. I didn’t fight my way across North Africa and Europe to be under anybody’s thumb – American or Russian.

I was reaching my limit. I needed to confront Van Swearingin regardless of the danger. I had questions and I was going to demand some straight answers. When I would do that remained to be seen.

Damn it all.

XXX

 

I guess my idea of what constitutes “Soon” and how the FBI defined it went in two different directions.

It was two weeks later when I got back to Salt Lake. I went in a day early because of some possibly iffy weather and flying in that DC-3 was scary enough in good when flying over the mountains was just like the worst roller coaster on earth.

It was when I came into the Plant a day earlier than expected that I saw something new – and I wasn’t sure what it was that I was seeing.

Even though I had flown in alone Van Swearingin was already there. His office door was closed, but I could hear him and someone else talking – arguing really, with the other voice doing most of the talking. I couldn’t make out much of what was being said, but it was obvious that neither of them were very happy. I didn’t need any of the Russians seeing me outside the office door eavesdropping. I had enough trouble and I was there to stir the pot with the Boss.

I’d promised myself that I was going to confront Van Swearingin. I wanted some answers from him about why he didn’t stand up and be a man – instead of a traitor which is how he was looking to me – more so every day. I understood that his oldest son was missing and that maybe the Russians were holding him, but…

Sometimes you have to risk everything or you’ll be sure to end up with nothing.

It’s called courage.

I’ve seen it a number of times and there were those times when it cost a man everything, except the respect and honor of the men who lived to go home to their families.

Charlie was in my office when I got there. He still didn’t like being stuck in Salt Lake, but he was learning to do his job and to become a man. 

Against everything that the FBI had warned me about keeping my trap shut I felt that it was time to take Charlie into my confidence. He had as big a stake in all of this as I did – bigger even.

Aware that the office was being monitored I dug out the notepad again for our real conversation. Out loud we went over the daily log reports. On paper my words were right to the point.

“Charlie, do you have any idea what’s going on around here?”

“You mean with all those Russian gorillas around here? Yeah, I ain’t blind.”

“And why your father is allowing them to…to, let’s face it, Charlie, to steal whatever it is they are really making here?”

“It all looks like some Buck Rogers top secret gizmos of some sort,” wrote Charlie. I had to agree with him on that. The stuff they were making was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

“Has your father said anything to you, Charlie, about why he is letting them run the show?” I didn’t add my other question: “Why, for crying out loud, am I still here?”

Charlie grabbed the tablet and wrote quickly. “Boss, I don’t know anything about all of that. I know that I’m stuck here just like you I figure, and whatever they’re making must be something special or the Russians wouldn’t have their fat noses into everybody’s business. But there ain’t nothing I can do about any of it.”

I was getting angrier by the minute. I signed on to be here, but Charlie was little more than a prisoner. I kicked my wastebasket across the room. I picked up my pen again. “Charlie, I’m going to let you in on something, but you have to keep it to yourself or people will end up dead.”

Charlie’s eyes grew wide.

I ripped off the paper we’d written on. “Take care of this like last time. Got it?” He nodded. “You do that and I going to go talk to your Dad.

Charlie went one way to burn the evidence of our back and forth. I went in the opposite direction. I pretended that I was doing a plant floor walk-through, for all that was worth. I came around a corner near the machine shop and bumped into a familiar face – “Pops” Mulroy. I couldn’t tell you who was more surprised, him or me.

“Pops, what are you doing here?” I stammered, “You’re the last person I’d ever expect to see here again.”

He didn’t say a word. His surprised look melted away into one that told me we weren’t going to have a picnic in the park. It dawned on me that “Pops” was the other voice I’d heard coming through Van Swearingin’s office door.

“Tim, what are you doing here?”

“I might ask you the same question.”

Standing behind “Pops” were two large Russians. They were always easy to pick out of a crowd. They wore cheap suits and faces that looked like they smelled something bad. These two looked more like bodyguards – “Pops’” bodyguards. When he and I came around that corner and bumped into each other both of those sides of beef behind him reached into their suits. They were there to protect “Pops.’

“Расслабься, парни.”

That came out of “Pops’” mouth. His two shadows stepped back and pulled empty hands from their coats. “Pops” looked at me with a smile on his face.

“I just told these two boys to relax. I suggest you do the same, Timmy-Boy.”

 To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Thirteen

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Thirteen

 

For all of the care that the Government took to keep that Atom Bomb thing a secret I couldn’t believe that they didn’t know about all of those Russians in Salt Lake before I did. Did they trust Van Swearingin so much that they didn’t keep a closer eye on it all?

When I called into my contact at the FBI a couple of weeks ago I told them that the Russians were getting pretty cocky. They weren’t even trying to stay off the factory floor anymore. They were interfering in everything. More and more of the American workers were disappearing. The Reds had brought in some Muscle and whoever was left of the men I trusted were being intimidated and threatened. It was never a big plant to begin with, but now the number of Americans on the inside was shrinking. I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to hang on.

I contacted a couple of the Americans who had been fired or quit and they weren’t too eager to talk to me. They were scared. I don’t know if it was of the Russians or of me. They probably thought I was a plant – one of “them” – a traitor. None of them, not one, felt safe around me. One of the older men hinted to me that he knew a couple of the men who “quit” had actually disappeared. “Disappeared” – he meant killed and dumped out in the desert or up in the mountains. He wasn’t there when I went to his home a week later.

When I got back to San Francisco I walked over to Larkin Street, to the Federal Building. I didn’t think I was followed, but I couldn’t be sure. I had reached the point where I didn’t care anymore. I wanted out.

“You can’t leave now, Tim. Things are getting to a critical stage. We need your eyes in there.”

Getting critical?” I just shook my head. These FBI mugs were killing me. “Men are dying out there. The Russians have completely taken over and I don’t know why I’m still alive.”

“Van Swearingin is protecting you, Tim.”

“Van Swearingin? He can’t protect himself or his own kids. You told me that they’d snatched one of his kids and I’ve got the other one working with me. No – I’m done. I don’t care. If you don’t do something now, today, I’ll walk out of here and then you’ll have to look for me too.” I got up to leave.

The G-Man got up from behind his desk and got nose to nose with me. He was as old as my father, but he was still solid muscle. He stuck his finger in my face like I was a ten year old.

“Listen to me, kid. Don’t you even try to quit now,” He growled at me. “Too many good and brave men have already died out there, more than you know. We are just about ready to come down on that whole operation. Do you think we are stupid? Do you think that we don’t already have that place and everyone there under a microscope?” His face was turning red. I was getting pale.

“I promise you this, Tim, if you foul this up because you’re scared I’ll make sure – me, personally – I’ll make sure that you disappear out there on the Salt Flats too.”

Without another word he grabbed me by my throat, kicked my ankle and dropped me to the floor. The business end of his pistol was on my forehead before I even saw him reach for it. His eyes burned into me.

“Do I make myself clear, soldier?”

I know that I was followed when I left Larkin Street. I don’t know by whom, but he sure didn’t look friendly.

XXX

The sun was coming up over the mountains as the plane dropped down to Salt Lake. The DC-3 flew in with just two passengers – me and Van Swearingin. Neither of us said much. I felt like I was the first prize in a turkey shoot. Win, lose, or draw I was going to end up dead. He looked like what was left of last year’s turkey shoot. That plane felt like it was a hearse.

The usual Lincoln limo met us at the airport and drove us out to the plant. The driver was new. He gave us a fake smile and said, “Good morning, Gentlemen.” He had an accent that sure wasn’t from Georgia – at least not our Georgia.

When we got to the Black box out in the middle of nowhere the shifts were changing. The few Americans left were checking in and the men who were leaving were all climbing on to a bus. That was new. The Russians didn’t even trust their own workers.

When I opened the door to my little office I saw that Charlie Van Swearingin was sitting at my desk. I’d made him my foreman for whenever I was away. He was young, but at least I knew him. He had once pulled a knife on me, but he was the only one I felt that I could trust.

“What’s up, Charlie? Anything new?”

He nodded slowly and held a finger up to his lips, saying nothing until the door was closed. When I sat down next to the desk he started to scribble on a note pad as he finally started to talk.

“No, Boss, same old, same old,” he said as if everything was hunky-dory. On the note pad it was a different story. His pencil scratched out, “This office is bugged. There is a microphone in the ceiling light, I think.” I looked up at the light fixture. I don’t know what I expected to see. Charlie started talking again.

“It’s been pretty quiet. We had one man quit though – Martin, that machinist, the old guy.” He wrote at the same time. “Martin is dead. He got into it with a Russian and backed into a couple of knives out behind the building. They don’t think I saw him get it. It was murder.”

“That’s too bad, Charlie. I liked him,” I said for whoever was listening. “He was a decent guy.” I took the pencil from Charlie and wrote while I asked him about the weather.

“Keep your eyes open. It’s all about to hit the fan. Don’t take any chances.” I underlined the word “any.” Charlie nodded. I kept writing while he ran down the personnel schedule. “Burn this paper and three sheets underneath it. Don’t give them any excuses to take us out back. I’m going to talk to your father.”

 To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Twelve

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Twelve

If it wasn’t for Salt Lake I can truly say that I kind of liked my job, but going out there was torture. I made up my mind to tell those FBI characters that I’d had it and, like it or not, I was leaving. Let them lock me up. Even Alcatraz would be a better class of people than in that windowless box out on the Salt Flats.

When I got back from the Texas plant I had a two day break in San Francisco. After finally picking up my back pay from Uncle Sam, I had to go to the Federal Building for that, I went from the second floor up to the FBI on Five. They had a better view from up there and maybe they felt a little closer to heaven than the rest of us.

“I don’t care what you want, Tim. You have a patriotic duty to stay in there for us.”

I’ve heard that line before.

“I’ve already done my ‘Patriotic Duty’ – for three years at forty bucks a month. Now that I’ve finally got my money I want to go spend some of it and that ain’t gonna happen in Salt Lake City.”

I had reached my limit with them, with the Russians, with the whole dang thing. I was ready to just walk and I told them in my best GI curse words. It felt good to let it all out.

The G-Men sat there and took it – and then it became their turn.

“Listen to me, you trench foot hero. I don’t care how long you were in uniform. I was in mine longer and I outranked you. I still do. Your cussing doesn’t impress me or intimidate me. I have a seven year old niece who can cuss better than you. So- shut up and listen and you might just come out on the other end of this mess smelling like a rose rather than like the frightened pussy cat you do right now.” He stopped for a breath and I tried to jump in.

“I want you guys to know…” He cut me off.

“Shut up, Soldier. I don’t care what you want. You think the war is over? It’s not – we’ve just switched partners. So, shut and pay attention to what to what I have to tell you.”

I staged a dramatic “Advance to the rear” as the Japanese called a Retreat. I was heavily outnumbered and even though he was about twenty years older than me he looked like he could hog-tie me in a heartbeat. I sat back in my chair and tried to look like this was all my idea. When it became obvious that I was not going anywhere he started to talk, not yell. He spoke in that calm and secure voice that I had only heard come from Generals.

“Your weekly reports are valuable. Keep it up. What is going to happen next is Top Secret. I don’t want you to even talk about it to your pillow.” He paused and took a breath. I thought he was being a bit dramatic, overboard even, like one of those Barrymores.

He wasn’t.

“The Van Swearingin plant in Utah is making some new kind of Radar systems. It has been infiltrated by the Reds. We are not completely sure how deeply Van Swearingin himself is part of it. We suspect that he might be forced into going along with the Russians. He has one son, Phillip, whose whereabouts are unknown. There is some talk that he is being held as a hostage. His other son, Charlie is out at the plant with you. Van Swearingin wanted him there, close by, where he could see him and protect him.

“We have managed to get a couple of our agents in there as well, as part of your Security Detail.”

I held up my hand like I was in the third grade. I had a question.

“What? You have to go pee or something?” He didn’t like interruptions.

“No,” I said, “But who are your men there?”

He shook his head. “There’s no need for you to know at this point. I tell you, you blab it to somebody else, and the next thing you know there are two dead highly skilled agents in shallow graves. You’ll know when you need to know.”

“You don’t trust me?” I asked him.

“No, I don’t.”

XXX

 

“Mistakes were made. What more can I say?”

My weekly check-ins with Van Swearingin usually lasted fifteen minutes with me doing most of the talking. Not today. The minute I sat down he started talking, rambling. It was like he was going to confession or something.

“It all started back in about 1940, before the war, or at least our active part in it. The President made a deal with our allies at the time. We were to help them beat back the Nazis. I and other manufacturers all over the country had to retool to make weapons and ships and all sorts of things. My Salt Lake City plant was ordered to make Russian rifles. That’s how they got inside that facility to begin with. I guess I was naïve.”

I just sat there and listened. He paced back and forth talking and wringing his hands. I was glad that his windows didn’t open or he might have jumped. I’ve seen that look before when a guy couldn’t take the pressure anymore. He would just stand up and let the Germans shoot him. That was his way out.

“It was in ’43 or early ’44 when the Russian “Observer” in the plant began to make threats. They knew everything about me. They knew things that I’d forgotten years ago and they twisted things to make me look like I was a spy or something. They threatened my family, my children. I had no choice.”

He went on like that for forty-five minutes. Russians, The War, Threats on his family. It was scary and kinda sad in a way. Van Swearingin was one tough and powerful man, but for those forty-five minutes it was like he was “Shell-Shocked.” I felt sorry for him.

I knew that I had to let the FBI know about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but I knew that some things were going to change.

 To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eleven

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eleven

For a few weeks everything went along smoothly. I had no more run-ins with the Russians, both them and Van Swearingin left me pretty much alone. I called in to the FBI every Saturday from a payphone and Charlie kept his nose clean. Then one day while I was at the California plant I got a phone call from Salt Lake.

Every so often I’d been getting complaints that someone was breaking into the employee lockers and stealing stuff. Nothing big was being lifted and I figured it was either one of the production workers or some Russian who felt he could get away with it. Then I got that phone call. It was from Van Swearingin’s office. Charlie was in the hospital in Salt Lake City. One of the loading dock workers had caught Charlie jimmying open a locker and beat the ever-loving snot out of him. He would survive but it was a sure thing that he wasn’t going to mess with those lockers again. And from the look of his face when I saw him he wasn’t going to be eating corn on the cob for a while either. Of course Charlie denied it all. He said that he’d noticed the jimmied lock and was just looking it over. Nobody bought that.

Charlie’s antics turned Salt Lake into a beehive for me. I was his Boss and everybody was mad at me when he came back to work. I couldn’t fire him. I hadn’t hired him so how could I fire him? Everybody was ticked off. Now everyone was watching everyone else and blaming me. I tried explaining that he was Van Swearingin’s kid and as far as I was concerned they could all take him out onto the Salt Flats and bury him up to his neck.

I complained to my FBI phone contact and all he told me was to shut up and keep listening. He said that Charlie was innocent of the locker business – that they had hired one of the truck drivers to break in to the lockers to stir things up. It sure did that I complained.

“Look, Pal,” the FBI guy told me, “Things are coming to a head there before long” and that I should be ready to “Take action.” He didn’t explain what that meant, but I started carrying my pistol again.

XXX

After he recovered from his beating and realized that he wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to San Francisco Charlie settled into the groove of his new life. He did his job and go around giving everybody a piece of his lip. I don’t think he enjoyed being there, but everyone there looked tougher and meaner than him – especially the Russians. If Charlie tried any of his tough guy nonsense on them, even the three women in their crew, they would have pounded him into the ground like a tent peg.

I met with each of my Security Unit people once a week just to check in and see if there were any problems, Charlie included. Most of the gripes had to do with wanting a raise and petty junk. “Co worker ‘So and So’ is mean to me.” or “Telling people I’m queer.” All of it the same stuff I used to hear in the Army. There were always a couple of complaints about the Russians that they laughed at them and that they smoked on the plant floor when that was “verboten” to everybody else. I passed those problems on to Van Swearingin each week like clockwork – and each week he shrugged and ignored them – and me. It was beginning to feel like my only real function was to keep an eye on Charlie and that was only for the eight hours that he was at the plant. For the other sixteen hours in the day he was on his own.

He drove himself to and from the plant in an old Buick that his father gave him. He lived in an apartment owned by the company in Salt Lake City. I doubt that he could get into too much trouble. Those Mormons run a tight ship and if Charlie tried any of his tricks on them he’d be wishing they were the Russians. At least that was what I was hoping.

XXX

Each week I made my call to the FBI office in San Francisco – always from a different pay phone. I didn’t have much new to report to them. It was usually just Russians, Russians, and Russians. Beyond that I kept telling them that, in my opinion, Van Swearingin was on his way to a breakdown. I think that the Russians were getting to him. His name might be on the letterhead, but, more and more every month, the Russians seemed to be calling the shots. Some of my men who had the most gripes with the Russians disappeared and were replaced without clearing it through me. They were replaced with some thugs who spoke only broken English.

“Everything OK, Mr. Boss You betcha, Da.”

That was the extent of their weekly check-in report with me.

I wanted out of there. I checked with the Army and they had my back pay – a nice tidy sum of almost $600. With that plus what I’d been able to bank from Van Swearingin I could go to some cheaper city than San Fran and have it made. Maybe get some education or open a small business of my own.

Whenever I said anything about that to the FBI they told me to sit tight for just a little longer. They’d been telling me that for almost a year.

Even though Salt Lake was a real thorn in my side I had two other Van Swearingin plants that I had to deal with. Going to them was a relief. The California plant was retooling back to making washing machines just like before the war. There were no Russians there, just a bunch of farm boys and returning G.I.s who were anxious to get back into the civilian life. The Van Swearingin plant in Texas was not much different, except that the flight in that DC-3 was a lot longer. That facility was also going back to pre-war manufacturing too. They were starting to make electric clothes dryers there. I guess that backyard clothes lines were going to be going the way of buggy whips.

To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Ten

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Ten

 

When you can’t trust anyone what are you supposed to do? I couldn’t trust Van Swearingin or any of the other people who worked for him. I didn’t feel that I could trust the FBI either. One of the first things they said to me was that they could lock me up for years – and why – because I was giving them the heads up on what looked like a bunch of Spies. It wasn’t like I was one of the bad guys. I had on a white hat here.

I wanted to get out of town and disappear, but they sent me back into the middle of it all. Those Russians had already taken my skull for a ride. I don’t doubt that they’d bury me out there in the Salt Flats just for laughs. I was walking on tip toes around that plant. I was there, but trying to be invisible. And then van Swearingin asks me to be the babysitter for his kid who pulled a knife on me. I was starting to feel nostalgic for the peace and quiet of the Battle of the Bulge.

Even though I felt trapped I knew that I still had to show up if I wanted to get paid – and the money was good, very good. For the first time in my life I had a bank account that wasn’t an embarrassment. I put most of my pay envelope in the bank, but I still pushed some of it under my mattress – just in case.

My next trip to Salt Lake was one I was not looking forward to. Monday morning was supposed to be young Charlie’s first day with me. Doing what I wasn’t quite sure. The only sure thing was that I was going to be his Boss.

That Monday morning I was doing my usual routine in Salt Lake: check to see who showed up for work; stay away from any Russians that might be around; and meet up with any new people who were being pushed on me. And then there was Charlie.

It was a little after half past nine. I’d been onsite for two hours already when Van Swearingin walked into my little office next to the employee locker room. He had Charlie with him and neither of them looked too happy. When the kid saw me he tried to leave the room.

“Oh, no! No! I’m not gonna work for this cheap cop of yours. No way!”

His father grabbed him by the arm and pushed him into the chair by my desk.

“Sit down and shut up. You’re here and you’re going to stay here until those characters in San Francisco forget about you. So, shut up. You’re going to work here, earn a pay envelope every Friday and stay out of trouble for as long as I tell you.”

Charlie looked up at his father with a mixture of hate and resignation. It was not respect, but more like he knew that his father was calling the shots and that was that. I just sat there with my mouth shut. The Boss was the Boss.

In that morning’s mail I’d gotten a memo from Van Swearingin telling me what to do with Charlie. I was to train him to become part of my Security force – the lowest part. He was still only 17, had no legitimate job experience, and was there against his will. I didn’t have much hope that this was going to anything but a disaster.

Van Swearingin wanted me to work him nights and keep him exhausted so he wouldn’t have the energy to get into any trouble – not that there was a lot of opportunity for that in Salt Lake City. That was the start of my Monday morning, as if I didn’t have other things on my mind.

“Tim, I’m going to leave my son with you now. I have other business to see to.”

He looked down at Charlie slumped in the chair like a ten year old.

“Get him started, paperwork, uniform…”

“I ain’t wearing no uniform,” muttered Charlie. His father slapped the back of the kid’s head.

“Shut up” That was directed at Charlie and then his words were for me again. “…paperwork, uniform, and start his training. As long as I have to hide him here he is going to help pay his way.” He turned and left the room without another word or even a glance at his son.

It was just the two of us sitting there staring at each other. Neither of us was happy with the situation, but there was nothing we could do about it.

“Well, Charlie, here we are. Your Old Man brought you here. It wasn’t my idea. You’re no baby and I’m not going to be your babysitter no matter what he thinks. We’ve had a run-in, you and me, but that’s history as far as I’m concerned. We’re out here in the middle of nowhere so you had better forget our past and try to make the best of it.”

Charlie sat up straighter in his chair and glared at me.

“You’re right about not wanting to be here and I’m not too keen about being stuck with you.”

You’ll survive it – which doesn’t sound like your prospects back in San Francisco.”

The kid grinned. That was the first time I’d seen him do that.

“Yeah, well, there was this girl…”

“I don’t really care, Charlie. I’ve got my own problems. All I want to do today is get you set up so your father won’t be barking at either of us. Is that fair enough? I’m willing to deal with you like anybody else if you’ll let me.”

He shrugged. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as he looked sitting there.

“So what am I gonna have to do?”

“It’s not a complicated job, Charlie – just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.”

Charlie surprised me. I was prepared for a battle every step of the way and I hadn’t forgotten that he liked to carry a knife. After the first few days of sulking and his tough guy attitude toward me he resigned himself to the reality. He was stranded out there in Utah a long way from anybody he could push around. He was also a long way from anybody who wanted to take him apart. And I was his Boss.

He hated the uniform that he was forced to wear. I really couldn’t blame him on that point. He was skinny and liked to swagger and in that uniform he looked like a cartoon scarecrow.

As far as the other employees at the plant were concerned – they ignored him, just like they did any of the Security Unit including me. They took their orders from Van Swearingin directly or from a couple of the Russians who spoke passable English. The Russians were like a bunch of mosquitoes hovering everywhere, watching everyone, and becoming bolder every day. They usually talked only to each other or Van Swearingin, but I saw them yelling in Russian at some of the line workers as if they could be understood.

I started out putting Charlie on the overnight shift. It was quieter with fewer opportunities for him to get into trouble. He just had to walk his rounds, punch the clocks, and report any problems in his log book. The plant operated twenty-four hours a day, but at night it was mainly shipping and receiving. Trucks came and went.

When he first arrived I’d told him that he really only had one job – to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut. Being a sneaky little punk made that easy for him and it wasn’t long before he became all but invisible to everyone in the plant. He became my eyes and ears after dark.

 

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Nine

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Nine

 

It was just a few hours since I’d walked out of that FBI office and into their bear trap and now the man they were hoping to snare wanted to see me in his office – alone. He needed a “favor” from me, he said.

I stopped at the Men’s Room and washed my face. I was sweating. Van Swearingin’s idea of a favor might have me floating in San Francisco Bay if he suspects that I’ve ratted on him. I’ve faced the enemy before and walked away. This time though – I’m unarmed.

The walk down the hallway to Van Swearingin’s office felt like it was a mile long. I really wanted to get on the elevator instead, but I knew that if I did that I’d have both Van Swearingin and his Russians and the FBI on my tail, taking turns digging my grave.

The Secretary at the desk outside of the large corner office smiled as I came through the door. She always smiled, but this time it was different. She was smiling alright, but her eyes looked like she’d been crying. Did she know what I was going to run into on the other side of that big Redwood door? Was she a part of all this trouble?

“Mr. Van Swearingin said to send you right in.”

She looked up at me and I could see that more tears were on the way.

“I hope you can help him, Tim. I’ve never seen him like this.”

I had no choice. I opened the office door and stepped into whatever was next. I fully expected Van Swearingin to be at his desk with a gun in his hand – pointed at me. But instead he was standing looking out of the big window behind his desk that gave him a view of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance.

He heard me come in, but he didn’t turn around. He kept on looking out at the city built on Gold and the rubble of earlier earthquakes.

“Thank you for coming in, Tim.”

He turned around. His face was flushed like he had been trying hard to keep it together.

“Have a seat.”

Van Swearingin moved to his desk and sat in his big tall back leather chair. I finished crossing the room and sat down in one of the leather chairs across the desk from him. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t know what to say anyway. He looked at me and took a deep breath. He let it out ending with a sigh.

“Tim, when I hired you I knew that I was taking a chance. You really didn’t have the level of experience that I’d expect from a man for that job. But, Tim, I was impressed by how you did the job you already had and how you handled that…” He struggled to find the right words. “…That idiotic stunt that my son, Charlie, and the neighbor boy pulled that night. A lot of my security guards would have shot first and asked questions later. You didn’t. You took the time to analyze the situation and then used what tactics were called for. They were two boys, not hardened criminals – at least not yet. You impressed me.”

I nodded. I didn’t know what else to do or say. He kept talking.

“Tim, I need your help.”

Here it comes I thought. Was he going to open up and confess to me about what was going on with those Russian characters? Or was he going to tell me that I was up to my chin in all of the shady business with him? Or was he going to shoot me right there and then?

“I need your help and I want you to know that you can refuse, say ‘No’ and there will be no hard feelings. OK?”

Now I was completely confused.

“What is it you want of me, Sir? You want me to kill somebody or what?”

Van Swearingin shook his head.

“Actually, Tim, it’s the opposite. I need you to help me save someone. I need your help to save my son, Charlie.”

“Charlie? What’s going on? He and I haven’t …exactly been friendly.”

“He doesn’t need a friend. He needs a direction and someone to keep him in line – to keep him alive and I think you can do that.”

I didn’t really understand what he was asking me. He wanted me to babysit his kid or be his parole officer or what?

“Sir, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. Your son probably hates me. That night in your garage I roughed him up a bit. I don’t see how I can …” I didn’t know how to explain my feelings about this idea of his.

“Please, hear me out. He doesn’t hate you. He respects you. You may have ‘roughed him up’ but you were honest about it. He pushed you and you weren’t intimidated. You pushed back.

“What I want to do is to give him some sort of a job and have you keep him there. He has gotten himself in a real jam with some very bad and dangerous people here in San Francisco and I’m afraid that if I don’t do something…I’ll lose him.”

“But, Sir, I don’t know what I could do. I’m only a few years older than him. All I could do would be to ride him and keep him busy.”

“Tim, that’s what I want you to do. Keep him busy and maybe you can keep him alive. Please, I’m begging you.”

This was going to happen whether I liked it or not and I couldn’t just walk away.

Charlie Van Swearingin may have respected me like his father said, but all I saw from him was contempt and resistance. His father had assigned him to my Security Detail and shipped him off to the Salt Lake City facility. He figured that sticking him out there on the Salt Flats would keep him out of trouble. My job was a combination of Boss and Baby Sitter and I felt lost on both counts. Here I was an Ex-GI hired to do a job I didn’t know how to do; sitting in the middle of what looked like an island of Spies and Traitors; and now I was being asked to keep a smart mouth teenager from getting himself killed.

I had enough trouble keeping myself alive.

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eight

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.”

“Burn it.”

“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.”

“I know.”

“Either way you are going to have some pretty nasty enemies.”

XXX

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

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Seven

“You’re an idiot.”

”What?”

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.”

“Yes, Sir.”

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.”

“Yes…Mister.”

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.”

What’s that?”

“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

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 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…

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

Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss – Conclusion

Fotune’s Kiss – Conclusion

Even the Little Sisters of Saint Clair, forgiving but not forgetting their incarceration, picked up and moved into their new convent which sat on a small, sun swept hill overlooking the settlement.

“A good home”, said the Mother Superior.

Soon the new town realized what they had become and voted to give their creation the name of “Fortune’s Kiss”, recalling both the past and acknowledging the present.

Within another year the old town had given up its last residents as the Mayor and his wife were forced to make the walk to Fortune’s Kiss. As everyone else moved away their fear of starvation became stronger than their fear of being powerless in the new town.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss – A Fable” Part Four

Fortune’s Kiss – part four

Time had been kind to the old home but the various passersby had not. Most of the furniture was gone or broken to pieces and burned, as evidenced by the blackened area in the middle of the marble-floored ballroom.

Late in their third evening in their new home, while they were enjoying their daily cordial, there was a knock at the massive mahogany front door.

When the Woman opened the door and saw two men carrying rifles she pulled back before laughing out loud and saying,

“Well, hello gentlemen. I didn’t expect to see anyone from town out here so soon.”

Answering with a courtly bow that revealed his bald and shiny scalp, the taller of the two men grinned and replied,

“A hunting trip, my good woman, and just because the Official Asses of our fair town behaved poorly to you, does not mean that you and your beautiful daughters are not desired and appreciated by the unofficial asses. We saw your lights shining through the trees and thought some other hunters were already camping here.”

She welcomed them in and they spent their evening in comfort.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Conclusion

Conclusion

“Some Monks pray while farming, some while cooking, or writing. I walk. I walk without a physical destination. Today I am here. I think I am here to talk with you.”

“And with the fish?”

“Yes – And with the fish. Walking is my way of praying. Each step is a prayer – a prayer for understanding and for thanks.”

I was getting confused with all of this.

“’Thanks? For what?” The Monk smiled at me and I relaxed.

“I give thanks for each step because I know that a time will come when I can no longer walk and the steps will have to be taken by someone else. Aren’t you thankful for something – your life? For your mother and father, for your home, your friends, and for this lovely spot by the river?”

“I guess so. I never thought about it before. Now that you put it all that way though I guess I do have a bunch of stuff to be thankful for.”

“Good. Now let’s be quiet so this fish and I can talk things out.”

The Monk and the fish might have been talking, but I didn’t hear anything. I stayed quiet because I know that you are supposed to be quiet while fishing and I didn’t want to scare the Monk’s fish.

It seemed to me like we were going to be there all day when the Monk broke the silence.

“That fish,” he said, “Makes a very good case for himself. Much better than me. Tonight I go hungry. My young friend I might as well be on my way.”

“You’re leaving? Where are you going to go?”

“Like I said earlier, I m going nowhere and everywhere as well, but I think I will start by going through your village. How far is it from here?

“The village is around that bend in the path and then an hour – less for you – you take bigger steps than me.” While I spoke he gathered together his things. He pulled his empty hook from the river, dried it and the twine on his red sash before carefully folding it and wrapping it around his body and over his shoulder. I wondered how many times he had done this before when a fish out talked him. When everything was in its place he stood up and bowed to me.

“It has been a pleasure to have spent this time with you and I wish you wisdom and happiness as you grow.”

He started across the grass toward the path. I hurried after him.

“Mr. Monk, can I walk with you awhile? My house is that way too, around the bend.”

“Of course, my friend. Let us both pray with each step we take.”

He was taller than me and I had to take more steps to keep up with him. He saw me trying to keep up and he slowed down to make it easier for me.

“What will you do when you get to the village?”

“I will beg. I am sure that some kind person will feed me and give me a place to sleep tonight. There is almost always someone in each village I visit. People are good.”

We walked on.

“This path goes on all the way to The Great Ocean they say. What will you do when you get to the end of the path?”

“I will turn around and walk back to the Monastery high up in the mountains. It is my home.”

“How long have you been walking?” He looked down at me.

“I began my prayer when I was no bigger than you. It is my entire life, my prayer.”

I was amazed. I could not imagine leaving everything behind and walking for such a long time. He was an old man compared to me – older than my father.

“I’m sorry that I ask you so many questions, but I’ve never really talked with a Monk before.”

“There is no need to apologize. How else can you learn? I ask questions all the time.”

We rounded the bend in the path and up ahead I could see where the path split. One part went on to the village. The other led to our farm.

“This looks like where we part ways. I go on to the village and you to your home. Again, I thank you for our time together.”

I had an idea. I had one more question.

“Do you have to go to the village tonight, a rule or something? I’m asking because my mother and father are kind people and I’m sure that they would be happy to give you something to eat and a warm and dry place to sleep. Would you come with me? I’m sure they won’t be upset.”

“Even your father who thinks we Monks are all wealthy?”

“Yes, I’m sure. He likes to go fishing too. You two could talk about that. But I don’t think he talks with the fish. He uses bits of bread as bait. Please come there with me.” The Monk paused. He looked at me and at the path into the village.

“Young man, every road that I walk splits, and I have often wondered where my life would be if I chose to take that other pathway. My prayer is in my step, not in the road beneath my feet. All roads go somewhere. This road,” he said, pointing off down the path, “It goes to your village and eventually to The Great Ocean. But this other path would take us to your farm and your family. The village and the ocean will be there tomorrow, but if I go that way today I will miss the gift of seeing your family. That chance is only mine for today, never to return.”

He sat down in the dust and looked at both paths.

“I need to think and pray. Give me a moment.”

I watched him close his eyes. He folded his legs like I had seen him do when he first came and sat by the riverbank. I said a prayer of my own that he would come with me.

After a couple of minutes the Monk opened his eyes. He smiled at me.

“My young friend, you prayed. I could feel it. It was a very good prayer. You prayed and I listened for the Wisdom to tell me what to do.”

“What did you hear?” I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

I heard that you are an honest and truthful boy and that I am blessed by having this time with you today. Today is not done and there is more time to share.”

“Does that mean you’ll come back to my home with me?”

The Monk held out his hand to me.

“It does. Now help me up and let me get this dust off my robe. I don’t want your father to think that I am there to beg.”

And so we walked together to my home and with each step I learned more of the power of prayer.

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part Two

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part Two

Staying up in the tree once he knew that I was up there seemed silly to me. I climbed down. The Monk had moved back to his spot – my spot – by the riverbank. He didn’t pay any attention to me. I stayed by the tree trunk not knowing what to do next. He told me.

“Come and sit down. It’s a beautiful riverbank you have here.”

I went and sat down next to him by the water’s edge. He ignored me.

“You’re a Monk aren’t you?” As soon as I said that I knew it was a silly question.

“Yes, I am. Are you a farm boy?”

“Yes, I am,” I said, but being here in the middle of all the farms around here and with me looking like I do, his was a silly question too.

“What does a Monk do, Sir?”

“There is no need to call me ‘Sir.’ And as to what a Monk does it is really very simple – we pray.”

“What do you pray for?” I thought that was a reasonable question.

“We pray to understand.”

“To understand what?”

“To understand why we are here and what we should do to be worthy of this life, this river, this conversation we are having.”

“You must pray a lot,” I said to him.

He began to fiddle with his red sash. He took out the twine and the fishing hook.

“Yes, I pray all the time.”

“You don’t look like you’re praying now. You look like you’re going to try to catch a fish.”

He tied the hook to the frayed end of the twine.

“Fishing calls for a lot of praying, my young friend.”

He dipped the hook into the water and sat quietly. At least he got that part right. After a few minutes I had to say something.

“You really are going to need to pray. You don’t have any bait on that hook. You won’t catch any fish that way.” For a man who looked so smart he seemed pretty dumb when it came to fishing.

He looked at me and smiled.

“I’m not trying to catch a fish. I am waiting for the fish to put himself on my hook. It has to be his decision. It is his life and I cannot take it. He must offer it up.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“That’s asking a lot of a fish, Mr. Monk.”

“Very true. I have a life and so does the fish. Our lives are of equal value. They both came from the same place – from The Creator. I want to eat to stay alive and so does the fish. My hook has no bait because that would be cheating, tricking the fish.

“The fish and I must negotiate and debate about whose need is more important today. If we agree that the fish is more important today – who knows what lies just downstream for him, then I will go hungry today. If what lies down this path is more important for me, then the fish will take the hook and I will eat. Do you understand?”

He turned back to focus on his empty fish hook and I looked at him and then down into the water. There was a fish looking at the hook, but he didn’t look convinced.

“That must be why my father says you Monks are always begging for food. You can’t talk a fish into biting on an empty hook.”

“Your father is a wise man,”

We sat there, silently, for quite awhile. It was a nice day and I was enjoying my time with the Monk even though I really didn’t understand him a lot. Before he came down the path I was just sitting here daydreaming. Now I am, thinking. I’m not used to that. He had me thinking and climbing a tree.

“I saw you coming down the path for a long time. Where are you going?

“Nowhere. Here.”

“What does that mean?”

To Be Continued…

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part One

A Conversation By The River

The banks of the river are my favorite places in the whole world. In the afternoon after my chores have been done and I’ve finished my studies too I go to the river.

The river is not very big, but it has come a long way. From high in the mountains the river has wandered down through forests and the hill country, by the city where the Emperor lives, and then to us and our farms. I have been told that, eventually, the river ends as it flows into the Great Ocean. Someday, when I am grown, I would like to make a boat and sail it down the river all the way to the sea. But now I just go to the river and sit by the water and dream.

Yesterday I was sitting on the grass by the river. I was watching the fish swim around in the water. The sun was still hot and I had found a spot underneath one of the big trees. Its leafy branches kept me from the heat of the sun and made it the perfect place to be.

From my place under the tree I could see down the dusty path from our village and, in the other direction, I could almost see the hazy shape of the mountains to the west.

As I looked up the path I could see someone, a man, walking slowly in my direction. As he got closer I could see the little clouds of dust that his sandals kicked up with each step he took. In the bright sunlight it looked like he was dressed in a golden robe. When he got closer I could tell that he was dressed in yellow with a red sash around his waist and over one shoulder.

I have seen men dressed like him before. My parents said that men dressed like that were Monks, holy men, who travel throughout the country. My mother said that they bring good luck. My father said that they were pests, always begging and wanting food for free.

The Monk was coming toward me down the dusty path. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have anything to give him, so I decided that the best thing for me to do was to hide. I climbed the tree and hid myself in the branches.

I could see the Monk clearly as he got close and, instead of passing by and going toward the village, he stopped and sat down under my tree in the very same spot where I had been. I watched him. He didn’t make a sound. He sat there with his eyes closed.

The Monk was bald. There was not one hair on his head and he was clean shaven like my father. He sat with his legs folded up underneath him and his hands rested in his lap/ I didn’t move either. I didn’t want to make any noise that would tell him where I was hiding.

After a few minutes the Monk opened his eyes and stretched out his legs. He took off his sandals and dipped his dusty feet into the water of the river. He sighed and smiled. He had a kind face.

He undid his red sash and unfolded it on the grass next to him. He had several things, but not a lot, that he carried with him.

I saw a spool of twine and a fishing hook, a small knife – not big enough to scare anyone, a book not much bigger than my hand, a flint, and a cup. That was all he had. He was not a rich Monk like my father said that they all were.

He took his cup and bent over to get himself a drink of water. Even though it was a hot day the water in the river was always cool having come down from the mountains.

He drank his cupful of water and then he did something most strange. He bent over again very close to the water. It looked like he was talking to the water, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. When he finished talking he put his hand onto the surface of the water, like he was petting an obedient dog. That made no sense to me. It was like he was thanking the river for the water he had taken,

The Monk sat quietly by the water for a few minutes and then dried his feet, put his sandals back on, and stood up. I thought that he was going to leave and continue walking down the path. Instead he walked over to the trunk of the tree and, without looking up, he spoke.

“Why don’t you come down? I won’t bite.”

That startled me and I almost fell from my place in the branches.

“Come down and we can talk.”

To Be Continued…

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Conclusion

Trapped

For five days I followed him everywhere. I saw nothing that said he was stepping out on his wife. The closest he came was some gentle flirting with his waitress over lunch. I think he spotted me a couple of times. My bruised face made me stand out, but I couldn’t help but get close at times. My hearing is not as good as it used to be.

I called the number Mrs. Tetley had given me and I told her that, as far as I could tell, her hubby was too busy with his business to be playing around on her. She told me to stay on his tail. She was buying my time and my lunch so I kept dogging her husband. She must know something about him that I haven’t uncovered yet.

It’s not much of a job, but it’s all I have. Once I can’t tail a sneaky husband any more all I’ll be good for is to be an Organ Donor…except for maybe my liver.

###

Ten days I’ve been tailing this guy and I’ve not seen him do anything out of line, except that I know that he made me once or twice. The other day he was heading out to his country club and I had to back down and give him more room on the less crowded road that leads out there. I lost sight of him and as I sped up to regain contact I looked in my mirror and there he was behind me. All I could do was break off and turn down the first road I came to. I called his wife.

“Look,” I told her, “ He knows I’ve been following him, so, even if he is playing around – which I don’t think he is – I’d never catch him at it now. Let’s just settle up and call it quits.”

“Maybe you’re right, Mr. Walker,” she said cooly. “Perhaps I’m just being a silly wife.”

I gave her a quick accounting of what she owed me for all of my wasted rime. I padded it a bit just to soothe my ego. She could afford it. We set up an appointment time for her to come by my office to give me what I had coming.

###

“I think I spotted your ‘Mr.Walker’ following me a couple of times. He looks like a bad prize fighter.”

“Oh, Nigel, be careful. He said he’d kill you. Can’t we just give him the money so he’ll go away?”

“Constance, if we give into him once he’ll never go away. I’ve got to convince him that he’s going after the wrong people.”

His wife looked worried. The cell phone in her pocket began to “ring.” It played a few bars from Aerosmith’s song “Janie’s Got A Gun.”

“Hello,” she said softly into the phone and turned toward her husband. “It’s him. It’s Mr. Walker,” she whispered.

“I see,” she said into the phone. “Yes, I have the money.” She went silent, listening to the voice on the other end of the line. She nodded as Nigel paced back and forth. “Maybe you’re right. Perhaps I’m just being a silly wife.” She looked up at her husband. “Yes, I’ll be there with the money.” She ended the call, slipped the phone back into her pocket.

“Well, you heard that, Nigel. He wants me to go to his ‘office’ he called it, in some building in the city. He insists that I come alone with the money. Oh, Nigel, I’m scared. What if he…tries something? He said that he has a gun.”

“Well, so do I, my Love. Don’t worry, you won’t be there alone. I’ll be there with you and I’ll take care of ‘Mr. Walker.”

###

The sun was going down when I left my apartment. I’d slept a good portion of the day away. There was nothing else on my calendar until the slightly paranoid Mrs. Constance Tetley was scheduled to meet me at the office to settle accounts. That was later, around eight. I had time to soak my still aching body. I headed for Koreatown and a hot tub and massage.

Ten days of Birddogging a man who was as boring as a paper napkin was not fun. He may be the richest man in this part of the state and undoubtedly into some shady business dealings, but his wife only wanted to know if he was bringing it all home at night. She wants her Hubby to give her what she wants and needs.

Me? All I want is paid for my work so that I don’t end up living under a bridge sharing a cardboard box with some guy named “Lucky.” I’ve given up on my dreams of becoming a rich and famous detective. I just want to have enough to keep body and soul together and, when I’m gone, to have a few friends left to share some good memories of me.

###

“What a dump. Are you sure this is the right place?”

“This is the address, Nigel, I’m sure – on the eighth floor,” she whispered as if anyone else was around to overhear them as they got into the elevator.

“He’s only expecting me, so I’d better go in alone. I’m terrified, but I know you’ll be right there.”

“I’ll be right outside the door, Constance. Here’s the money.” He handed her a white business size envelope with ten thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills. “He’ll feel the need to count it. That’s when I’ll come in, but if tries to get physical just yell and I’ll be there before he can do anything.”

“I know you will, Darling. It’s Eight O’clock.”

###

“It’s Eight O’clock,” I said to myself. I heard the elevator stop on the eighth floor. She’ll pay me and then I’m going home, after a drink or two. I’m glad that she’s on time.

“Good evening, Mr. Walker.”

“Good evening, Mrs. Tetley. Please come into my office so I can give you a receipt and so you can be on your way.”

“Is cash OK with you, Mr. Walker? I don’t want my husband to see anything on our bank statement. I’m sure you understand.”

“Cash is fine. It’s my favorite actually. It never bounces the next morning.”

When we were both seated she reached into her purse and pulled out a white envelope. It looked chubby. While she did that I took the holster with the .38 revolver off my belt and set it on the desk. “I guess I won’t be needing to carry this around anymore. Hopefully for a long time. Personally, I hate the things. They’re nothing but trouble.”

“Here’s your money, Mr. Walker. I’ve put in some extra as a bonus for all of your hard work.” She was smiling like she just scratched off a winning lottery ticket.

I opened the flap on the envelope and saw Ben Franklin and his whole family staring back at me.

“Mrs. Tetley, this is way too much. I appreciate your gratitude, but this is…

Her smile disappeared as she jumped to her feet knocking over her chair.

“What do you mean it’s not enough?” She was yelling. “I won’t do that! No! No! Don’t point your gun at me. Help! Help! Nigel!”

She had flipped her coin in two seconds.

“Mrs. Tetley, what’s wrong? What’s going on here?” I picked up my gun. I didn’t want her grabbing it. “I’m not pointing this at you.”

She is screaming. I’m confused and my office door flies open and Nigel Tetley comes in with a big .45 caliber pistol in each hand. His wife stepped back away from the desk and plastered herself up against the far wall.

“So, ‘Mr. Walker’, you pull a gun on my wife? First it’s blackmail and now what?”

I was barely hearing him. All I could do was look at those two cannons pointed at me. The .38 in my hand felt like a cap gun.

“Blackmail? What are you talking about? She hired me too…”

“That’s a lie, Nigel. He showed me those ancient pictures of me and demanding money – and now he points that awful gun of his at me and tells me to undress for him.”

“I never said that. What is this?” I was getting scared. This was falling apart all around me.

“The pictures weren’t enough, eh, Walker? You wanted the real thing. You…” He lifted thee .45s and two red laser dots lit up on my chest.

I may be getting old and slow, but I’ve been shot before and it’s not fun and with his two pistols I wouldn’t have a prayer. My brain shut down and instinct took over. I dove to my left trying to get my body behind my file cabinet. I pulled my trigger. Nigel Tetley did the same. I felt the impact on my thigh. The pain would come along soon enough. My ears were ringing from the roar of the gunfire in my small office. I was on the floor. I was waiting for him to come after me – to finish me off. I would try to return the favor if I could.

Nothing was happening. When my ears opened for business again everything was quiet. I decided to crawl out of the corner to see what was going to happen next.

The first thing I saw was feet. They were attached to Nigel Tetley and I was seeing the soles of his shoes. Both .45s were still in his hands, but they were on the floor too.

I was able to pull myself over to my desk and into my chair. The pain was starting up big time. When I looked at the rest of Nigel Tetley I saw that he was missing an eye. My one reflex shot had hit home. Tetley was as dead as a man could ever be.

“Nice shooting, Walker. Lucky, but nice.”

I turned my head toward the sound of that voice. It was Mrs. Tetley, still standing by the wall. She was smiling again.

“What just happened here?” I asked her or anybody else in the room who could still talk. “Why is he dead and I have a hole in my leg?” I was still holding my gun.

“What just happened, Mr. Walker, is that you just made me a very rich gal – and put away that popgun of yours. You won’t shoot me. You need me. I’m your only witness. You shoot me and your next stop will be Death Row for a double murder. With me still alive I can swear it was self-defense. My crazy, jealous husband followed me here. I came here to hire you to follow him, just like I really did. So don’t threaten me with that pea shooter. You’ll never get off two lucky shots tonight. And now I’m going to call the police.”

She took out her phone, dialed 911 and gave a performance worthy of a Hollywood Star.

I was trapped. She had me in a cold corner. There was no way out for me except through her and she knew it. I knew it, but I didn’t understand it.

“What if your husband had killed me?”

Oh, the same story only reversed. I was hiring you, he followed me, came in. You pulled your gun. He pulled his. Bang. Bang. You’re dead and I tell the cops my hubby shot you in cold blood. He goes to the Gas Chamber on my eyewitness testimony and I am the tragic, but very wealthy, widow. Either way – I win.”

“And I lose,” I said. “I lose again, just like every other day.”

She stepped over the body of her dead husband and sat down again across the desk from me. She reached out and picked up the envelope with all the cash and put it back in her purse.

“No sense on wasting this on you, Mr. Walker, is there?”

I could hear the sirens even from up on the eighth floor. They’d be coming through the door in a couple of minutes.

“Why didn’t you just divorce him?”

“Pre-nup. I wouldn’t get squat. I figured this was my best option.”

She was probably right.

I had no good options. I was sitting in my chair bleeding out, dead broke, and at the mercy of this tall, leggy…there is no word for her in my vocabulary.

I was at a loss. What could I do? I never felt so lost – so trapped. I saw no way out.

###

“This is the Police. We’re coming in and I want to see everybody’s hands in the air. Do you understand me?”

“Come on in.”

There was a single shot.

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