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”

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Nine

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Nine

 

A memory can be buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa and as obscure as a 1960s One-Hit Wonder – and one tiny thing can make it come roaring back to the front of your conscious mind as fresh as if it all happened this morning. And this morning was not very good. Only one egg in the fridge, bread with a blue tint along the edges, and just enough coffee to get my pulse steady.

I saved O’Shea’s printout on Timothy Collins for last because when Martindale gave me the five cent recap on him the whole story came back to me like midnight after a bad Mexican meal. The details that I thought had faded away re-etched themselves on my brain. It made me feel screwed all over again.

The first time I heard about the Collins family was when somebody broke into a nursing home. Who breaks into a nursing home? Well, this guy did. He figured it was a good place to score a sizeable haul of drugs of all kinds; pain killers, sedatives, and the like. He was right figuring that, but the staff must have been sampling some of their own stash because they decided to fight back. Brave but stupid. Wheelchairs don’t fare well up against a strung out B&E guy with two .45s. Seven of the staffers bought it that night. The one man with the habit and the guns got a boatload of junk the residents hated as much as they hated the Staff. None of them could or would give a decent description of the man.

Collins got picked up in a sweep of the neighborhood. He was two blocks away, stoned out of his mind, and strapped with a .45. He was handed over to me to interrogate. Trying to question a junkie who was starting to come down? I’d have had better luck trying to get a dog to confess to the Kennedy Assassination. Six hours of me doing all of the talking, then screaming while Collins drooled and sang old Irish songs – after vomiting on the table.

I’d always prided myself on keeping my cool with suspects no matter how disgusting they were, but Collins got to me. He was clueless and I was useless. He belched in my face, smelling like puke, and I lost it. I beat the ever loving daylights out of him. By the time the crew watching from the other side of the glass pulled me off of him the damage was done.

There was an investigation and the only thing that kept me from ending up on the wrong side of a courtroom was that Collins didn’t press charges. He was so ripped that he couldn’t remember me kicking the crap out of him. As far as he could testify he thought that maybe he fell down a flight of stairs or maybe he got hit by a bus.

Internally it was a different story. I was “disciplined” for “Improper Action.” That cost me a pay grade and a two month suspension which was waived because they were already short staffed.

The guy who actually shot up the nursing home was caught the day after I’d creamed Collins. He had been thrown out of a hockey bar for being too obnoxious. He shot out their front window before the barkeep pulled his dog-leg from behind a keg and blew away the guy’s knees. There was enough forensic evidence that he’d killed those seven people that even the Pope would have voted to put him on Death Row. I’d kicked Collins and my career for nothing. Everybody lost.

The newspapers reported that I had beaten Collins in front of his kid, cute little Timothy, traumatizing him for life. Not unless the kid was on the Force already at the age of eleven and watching it all through the one-way mirror.

What a joke.

When it came to the kid, Timothy Collins, he went around telling that bullcrap story as if it was Gospel Truth. It made him think he was somebody. He told it so often that I think he began to believe it himself.

Why he hooked up with the other pair of shooters is something nobody will ever know unless he left a diary or something behind. He’s not telling that story anymore. My two hits took care of that. Do I regret that? Hell, No. I may be the thread that connects all three of them to me, but I don’t think the younger Collins recognized me that day in the Mall. He would have cut me to pieces just like he’d done with those other poor whoevers were there in his line of sight.

So there it is. Three people ready and willing to murder. One of them dead by my hand and two on the loose and somehow I am tied to all of them and they call the TV stations to let them know that I am their real target.

Crazy.

Nine pages of data gathered with the help of an old friend who became an enemy, who now is…somewhere in between. I’m not sure if he will move that data upstairs to his superiors. He might. He should, but he might also look upon those nine pages as something just between the two of us and hit the delete button.

I’ll pass on those nine pages to Detective Martindale, but no right away. They have at least fifteen people looking for those two surviving media-loving killers. If I give the guys upstairs this pile of information they’ll be bumping into each other and queering any real sources who might help end this without hailstorm of lead. I’m going to keep this printout to myself for awhile. Close to the vest and very quiet. I’ll plumb my own sources – the ones who are still alive and talking to me. There aren’t that many left, but they can be invaluable. They can dig up information that even O’Shea’s computers can’t. His electric solid-state snitches can tell him how much money they might have, but my people can tell me which pocket it’s in.

Nate Williams Jr.

Leslie Ann Wolas

Timothy Collins

***

Which one first – Williams or Wolas?

Those were the two who were still alive and dangerous. Collins could wait. He wasn’t going anywhere. I’d made sure of that.

My first freelancing source of information was courtesy of the phone company. One of the first things people do when they grow up and move out into the world is to get their own place and the first thing they do after they sign the lease papers is to get a phone…a landline even if they already have a cell phone. It’s the grown-up thing to do. They may never use it, but it’s there, sitting on the table in the corner, reassuring them that they are no longer Mommy’s little baby.

Page 477, halfway down the page: “Nathan Williams, 432 Wilson Ave. #6, 675-1298.” He’d dropped the “Junior.”

For all his genius O’Shea had ignored that bit of information. People move so often that it was almost a 100% sure thing bet that Williams wasn’t living there anymore. A useless bit of history it would seem? True, but what O’Shea couldn’t know was that maybe, just maybe, he had sublet his apartment to a friend who knows where to send his check every month.

It couldn’t hurt to ask, but to make sure that it couldn’t I packed three inconspicuous and easily concealed pistols – one on my hip under my jacket, another tucked in the small of my back, and a third in an ankle holster. Being sure that something is safe and harmless is the quickest way into a casket. If everything at 432 Wilson Ave #6 is harmless as a puppy dog then fine and dandy, but if they are friends of Nate Williams Jr. they might be as nasty as a rattlesnake with a fangache.

OK…I had my information. I had my three steel friends, and I had my first question ready for whoever answered the door.

“Where the hell is Nate Junior?”

Now it was my turn to go hunting.

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Eight

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Eight

No matter how tragic and screwed up a road Nate Williams, father and son, traveled down theirs was a rose covered pathway compared to the gauntlet that Leslie Ann Wolas had to run.
Greg Wolas was a man totally unfit to be a parent yet there he was a damned fool given total custody of his daughter by the courts. He hadn’t asked for it, but the judge, who wanted to go have an early lunch with some friends, gave it to him so the court could adjourn before his favorite restaurant got filled with the lunch crowd.

There was no doubt that Greg Wolas was the biological father of Leslie Ann Wolas. The DNA test Greg had paid for trying to prove that he wasn’t the father had backfired on him and now, with Mommy on her way to prison for at least a decade or two for stabbing her john, Greg was ordered by the Court to become a loving and responsible parent – a Father, to a five year old girl with strawberry blonde hair and no idea who he was.

“JUSTITIA CONDEMNABITUR”

That was just in the first two paragraphs of Timmy O’Shea’s printout pages on Greg Wolas, the man who, a few years down the road crossed paths with me. He ended up dead and I was given the standard psychiatric evaluation whenever an officer shoots and kills. The verdict was that I was hasty drawing my weapon. The fact that I took two slugs from him wasn’t an obvious enough reason for me to shoot back. I still have those scars on my back.

Spending those hours sitting next to Tim O’Shea as he exhumed both the facts and the memories of how it came to be that now, years after I “retired” from the Thin Blue Line, there are three people I have no recollection of ever having had any direct contact with, stepping into my life over dead and bloodied bodies.

Leslie Ann Wolas grew. You can’t say she was raised. Whatever she learned about the “Three Rs” she picked up pretty much on her own. The printout showed that she had been registered in seven different elementary schools in three states. Stability was just a word on a spelling test.

For some reason, when Leslie Ann was 12 years old Daddy Greg took off for Atlanta leaving her behind to fend for herself. That was like throwing a rack of ribs into a pit full of starving dogs. As smart as she was she was still a kid. Kids alone on the street simply don’t matter. After a week she was tossed from a moving car outside the hospital emergency room. She was alive, but her body, mind and soul had been violated and abused, passed around like a tray of nuts. Greg came back after a few weeks carrying his own collection of scars and injuries. He discharged Leslie from the hospital and they caught a bus to New Orleans. He needed her body to prove to Welfare that he was her father and therefore qualified for a bigger monthly check.

Throughout her teen years she followed the cliché route of rebellion against everything and that included her father. She walked away from him and disappeared for three years. How and why she ended up in this city again is unclear. Maybe she and Greg had some sort of family reconciliation – genetics overcoming brutal reality. Even more obscure is how and why she went back to that same hospital ER that saved her life and shot the hell out it. They saved her life instead of letting her die.

Maybe that’s why.

Maybe that hospital ER was her personal target and she joined up with Nate Williams and Timothy Collins as just a way to exact her own revenge. Maybe it had nothing to do with me. A real coincidence even though I don’t believe in them.

Nah.

I killed her Father.

The stupid SOB.

On page six of the printout was a synopsis of how I ended up swabbing the deck of Greg Wolas. This was after Greg and his daughter had apparently kissed and made up, a loving family portrait once more.

Greg had moved up from running nickel and dime scams to try running a string of girls. He was as big a failure at that as he was at being a Father. His string was very short – one anorexic idiot who was as attractive as an open running sore and Leslie Ann. Why she went along with his idea is beyond me, unless it was a combo of trying to help her Father and another level of self-loathing.

Greg and Leslie had picked out a street corner in what was called a “transitional neighborhood.” That meant it was going from being just a slum sliding down the slime track into downright squalor. It was also a heavy drug market corner. I guess Greg believed in that old marketing slogan, “Location; Location, Location.

I was assigned to a task force that was going after the drug activity in that area, as if that was going to make a real difference. That neighborhood was circling the bowl a year or two away from when gentrification would come in and make it chic.

One Saturday night a raid on a number of corners was scheduled. We were going to go in scooping up a bunch of the small fry on the street. It wouldn’t do much except frustrate the drive by customers and take a tiny bit of profit from the men who never visited their corners.

That was also a night that Greg Wolas decided to loiter on the corner keeping an eye on his “string.” The street drug crew didn’t mind. Greg stayed out of their way and they liked chatting with the girls.

When me and the other members of our squad came swooping down on the corner things got chaotic. One nervous druggie pulled his cheap pistol and put a hole in the hood of a Black and White. I came out with my weapon drawn and ran after the punk who shot at us. That took me right into the path of Greg and Leslie Ann who were running in the same direction. I didn’t care about them. I wanted the other guy.

Witnesses said that as I passed Greg he pulled out his own piece and fired at me a little beyond point blank – twice into my back. The hits spun me around and I saw him with his pistol and I fired once. I went down and so did he. After three weeks and losing my spleen I got back up.

Greg never did.

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Seven

 

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” 

Part Seven

It had been years since Tim O’Shea had heard my voice, but it was still fresh enough in his memory to make him freeze in his chair.

“Go away, Ellis.”  His voice was flat, displaying no emotion. No anger. No interest. He could just as easily have been a bus driver calling out the next stop along his route.

“Go away.” He still kept his back to me.

“I’d like to talk with you, Tim. I need some help on a case and you’re …”

“You’re not a Police Officer anymore. You have no case.” He slowly started to turn around. “Get out of here. You don’t belong here.” He had that part right, but still, I needed him.

“Tim, Please. This has to do with those three shootings – at the hospital, the gas station and the Mall. I’ve already spoken with Martindale about this.” I figured a little misdirection might help. It was technically the truth. We had spoken only he’d grilled me like a store brand bratwurst.

“Please?”

He was facing me now. His eyes squinting through some dirty glasses. He took his time as he looked me up and down. “You look like hell. Where you been living – at the bottom of a gin bottle?”

He was not far off.

“You’re not looking so hot either, Tim. When’s the last time you got your hair cut by somebody other than Stevie Wonder?’

A smile cracked across his face. That face of his looked like it hadn’t seen the sun in years. Did he ever get out of his basement lair?

“How long has it been, Mack?”

“I don’t know, Tim. It seems like a lifetime.”

“At least. You say you talked with Martindale about this?”

“Yes.”

“I did too, you lying Son of a…”

“OK, I admit it,” I jumped in on him. “I did stretch things a bit about that, but…”

“Martindale told me that he thinks you’re tied into that mess somehow and that you might try to get me to save you some legwork.” He paused and took off his glasses, blowing on each lens. “Well, Martindale is a dick. I read the papers.”

He turned around again and leaned in close to a computer screen. That had to be bad for his him somehow. He stuck out his arm pointing at a folded chair leaning up against a bank of file cabinets.

 “Sit down.”

For the rest of the morning I fed Tim names and any information I had and he nodded, grunted and let his fingers march back and forth across his keyboard. I couldn’t follow it all. He had three monitors going with changing screens displaying a number of official looking documents and pictures of the three shooters at various ages. Tim O’Shea was cooking.

He tackled the trio of killers one at a time. He was able, starting with just their names and their father’s names, to burrow back in time. Their school records and any juvenile brushes with the Law even those records officially locked or expunged. Nothing seemed to be off-limits or out of reach. He was able to find medical records, employment applications, and even school records on them.

Nate Williams Sr. was a career criminal who had the proverbial long as your arm record. He passed on his tendency to lie, cheat, and steal on to his son at an early age.

Nate Williams Jr. made his debut in a courtroom at the age of 9 when he stabbed a playmate with a plastic fork for his lunch money. He stabbed him in the eye. That was the part that got him the attention of the Police. Little Nate spent a year in Juvenile custody for that.

When he got out and was placed back with his family young Nate seemed to keep it together and behave himself – or at least he never got caught. It wasn’t until Daddy lost control one Sunday afternoon in a gas station mini-mart that Junior seriously got pulled into the family business.

According to Grand Jury testimony while Daddy was inside the mini-mart gathering up some cash and pistol whipping the clerk, young Nate stayed in the car. After a couple of minutes he got restless and came inside to see what was taking so long. He came through the door just in time to see the owner of the mini-mart come out of his office with a gun. Being the faithful little son Junior called out a warning and watched his father turn and put two rounds into the owner’s gut. He lived, and testified at Daddy’s trial that Junior was a part of the whole thing.

I was put on the case and in a couple of days I was able to follow the slime trail and track Nate Williams the Elder to the crawl space in his mother’s house. Me and another officer dragged him out while his mother screamed “Police Brutality.” Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I paused long enough to give his Mommy a healthy punch in her ample gut. She stopped screaming and nobody saw a thing according to the perfunctory report…except Nate Junior who saw his Grandmother doubled over on the floor.

For all of that ugly nonsense Daddy got 15 to 30 years in the meanest prison in the state. Six years into it he was shanked in the exercise yard for some reason that someone thought was important.

Nate Williams Junior went back into Juvie even though this time all he had done was react like any kid would have.

And so, a long standing resentment was born that vomited again onto the world in the same gas station mini-mart where a number of years before a boy had seen his father shoot a man in the stomach.

No matter how tragic and screwed up a road Nate Williams, father and son, traveled down theirs was a rose covered pathway compared to gauntlet that Leslie Ann Wolas had to run.

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Six

 

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” 

Part Six

Technically and legally I have no direct access to police records. When I left The Force, or rather it left me, I lost my key to the door that opened on a world of information, but I hadn’t lost Tim O’Shea. At least I hoped not.

Tim O’Shea had been on the force longer than me and because of a couple of injuries in the line of duty he had been moved to desk duty. He had shown a knack for the technical side of the badge and after some retraining he was put in the IT Department as a clerk. He was a quick learner and within a year he became “Tim The Computer Guy” who everyone turned to when they needed to track a suspect’s path via the world of Bits, Bytes, and Mega-Whatevers. If a Person Of Interest had ever so much as played an online video game Tim O’Shea could track him down and tell you what he had for lunch. I was counting on that level of investigation.

Rather than go back downtown and through the front door again and face running into anyone who might not appreciate me doing their job for them – and doing it better, I parked a block away from the HQ building and came through the City Offices entrance. A visit to the Building Code Enforcement offices on the lower level provided a quiet backdoor access to the Police IT section of the basement.

O’Shea had his own office filled with more electronic gear than that Gates guy in Seattle. He was down in the building’s basement where it was always cooler than the rest of the joint thanks to the ancient A/C system. No matter what the setting the top floors were too hot and as you went down everything got cooler. Down in the basement it was like a picnic cooler in Winter. Lettuce could sit on a desk down there and stay fresh until Spring.

O’Shea’s domain was different. He had set up his own environmental sphere – temperature and humidity controlled 24 hours a day with multiple backups for every system. Nothing was being left to chance or political interference.

Yeah, Tim O’Shea was the right man to see…that is if he’ll let me through the door.

The O’Shea Problem

The hard feelings between us go back a number of years and like all too many long standing problems – there was a woman involved.

I left the police ten years ago, partly at the urging of the powers that be, partly by the sadness in my troubled heart, and partly because of a woman named Josinda – Josie for short.

Josie was a civilian clerk in the City offices that shared some floor space in our building and I didn’t know, I swear, that she and Tim were a number. Apparently it was a bigger number in his mind than in hers because she said “Yes” when I asked her out for a drink. Tim did not take that very well. In his eye I was, I think his phrase was “Claim jumping” to let me know how he felt. I didn’t know how he felt about her. She didn’t either. She broke it all off with Tim and me both. It was no big deal to me, but to O’Shea I had ruined his life. I tried to explain it to him, but he didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t believe me and a good working relationship crashed and burned. That hurt more than not getting closer to Josie. I was over her in about an hour and a half, but having Tim O’Shea shooting daggers at me everyday hurt.

All of this was a long time ago in the past as far as I’m concerned, but friends still in Blue tell me that Tim still gets somewhat icy when my name comes up.

I feel like I really don’t have a viable second choice. If I want to dig into these three killers it’s got to be Tim O’Shea or nobody and Nobody stopped talking to me a long time ago. 

***

What a lopsided triangle that was: Me, Tim, and Josie. I innocently asker her out – for a drink and nothing more, I swear. She said “Yes” and before I knew what was happening Tim got PO’d at me. Then Tim got PO’d with Josie. She got PO’d at both of us, saying, loudly, that she was not going to be the prize at a Police Turkey Shoot. She called us both “Cop Bastards” and walked away. When she told off Tim in the office in front of everyone it all really hit the fan.

He blamed me for everything. I tried to tell him that I wasn’t cutting in on his turf – claim jumping – and that I was the only innocent leg of the triangle. He didn’t buy that at all. Nobody bought it and all of a sudden I am being cast as an evil and sneaky SOB.

I may have been innocent in that mess, but I got laid more in the six months after I got tagged as “The Bad Guy” than I had in the previous years. Some women just like the Bad Guy who’d steal another man’s woman. I didn’t put up much of a protest. Nothing I could say would overturn the rumor machine and, anyway, I was having a real good time of it. I considered it a payback for my reputation being sullied.

After that six months of fun and games things calmed down. My Groupies figured out that I wasn’t such a scumbag after all, and once Josie was out of the picture and stopped feeding the rumor mill, everybody took a breath – except for Tim O’Shea. To him I was still the Devil incarnate – a combination of a Casanova in a blue uniform and the actor Richard Burton. Well, let me tell you, Josie was no Elizabeth Taylor.

The sign on the door should have been enough to stop me from going any farther.

“Knock, Phone, Email, or send a Postcard, but DO NOT just walk in.”

I figured that since I was already on his “Least favorite persons” list I had nowhere to go but up. I twisted the doorknob and pushed open the door. Without even turning around in his chair to see who was violating his space, O’Shea yelled, “Can’t you read?”

“Not very well, Tim.”

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Five

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Part Five
Digging back in time on those three people is not as easy as I thought it would be. I assumed that the newspapers would have everything computerized, available at the touch of a button. They did for maybe the last five years or so, but beyond that – not so simple. The newspapers in this town are still firmly locked in the 20th century.

To go find the coverage of the events that, theoretically, put their fathers and me in the same frame had me sitting in front of an ancient microfilm player cranking away on those dusty little handles.

Once I located something relevant I was faced with another problem. When I busted Daddy #1 – Nate Williams Senior, I was a lot younger, but trying to read about it now I was faced with the fact that I had today’s eyes. I had my Driving glasses with me, but I am going to have to face reality and Reality is telling me that bifocals are in my future – like yesterday. I couldn’t get much past the headlines so I had to drop a few bucks to get printouts.

I stopped at a discount store on the way home and bought a pair of those cheap “Reading Glasses” for a couple more dollars. Add in the cost of parking downtown and some lunch from a food truck and this “research” was getting costly.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” – Part Four

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Part Four

“This is Detective Martindale. I’m calling in reference to the shooting at the Mall yesterday.”

“I figured as much when you started talking. Look, I’ve already given all of my details when I answered your boy’s questions yesterday so I don’t…”

“I want you to come down here. We have some more things we need to know from you. I understand you were on the job once so you know where to come.”

“I told your boys everything, in detail, about what went down…”

“Ellis, get your ass down here or do I have to stop being polite and have you brought downtown in a black and white? Get sober and put on your pants. Be here in thirty minutes or I send out a car to embarrass you in front of the neighbors.”

Click.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” – Part Three

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Part Three

Television news is little more than the worst of 19th century “Yellow Journalism” without the ink stains. The Head Honchos of the network News Departments aren’t the slightest bit ashamed to say, “If it bleeds – it leads” when it comes to their merchandising of the News. This day with the three coordinated shootings was Christmas Morning for them.

The local TV stations had cameras and perfectly coiffed “Reporters” dispatched to the three scenes within eight minutes. They were sticking microphones in the faces of the bleeding and traumatized victims, some in their final moments of life.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Two

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Family Matters

Part Two

My stomach was hurting. I decided to take a walk around the Mall hoping it would ease up and then I’d stop for a beer. That was my plan if you could call it that.

Five minutes into my leg stretch I was down by the Food Court, looking at the window display at Victoria’s Secret.

It was no secret to me. It was 5:40 PM when the world began to rock.

It sounded like a shotgun blast. Someone screamed. Someone else started to scream, but was cut off when a second report from the shotgun cut it short. A third and fourth shots echoed through the Mall. People started running away from the noise.

I hit the floor and scooted on my aching belly up to the corner of the storefront. I could see the shooter. He looked to be in his mid 20s. He was reloading his single barrel shotgun for another go at the shoppers who were down or still within his range. He was laughing, looking at the mess in front of him.

I slipped back out of his sightline and reached down to my right calf, lifted my pantleg, and got my short barrel .38. The sight of me with my weapon started a fresh round of screaming, but the shoppers were going in one direction and I was crawling in the other.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Family Matters

Part One

It was 5:25. People were getting off work and heading home. In another fifteen minutes, no more, it was all going to hit the fan. The Pasty-faced redheaded kid checked his watch again, smiled, and shook his head. He patted the small pistol in his pocket. He relaxed in his seat in the burger joint across the street from the busy gas station/mini mart.

Sitting in the bus shelter across the street from the County Hospital Emergency Room a second person, a young woman with short hair and tattoos on both arms cradled a .45 caliber pistol in her lap, underneath a folded copy of today’s newspaper. She was waiting for it to be 5:40. Then all hell would break loose.

On the other side of town, outside of the Mall, another young man sat in his car. His knee was bouncing in nervous anticipation. The shotgun that he used to take duck hunting was on the seat next to him. He looked at his watch. It was two minutes later than it was the last time he checked it.

***

I couldn’t sleep. These days whenever I go to a funeral my own mortality jumps up and slaps my face. It won’t let me sleep or eat anything more than the BRAT Diet. For three days I’m limited to Bananas, Rice, Apple Sauce, and Toast until my stomach settles down.

I’m eating like my Grandmother – if she was still alive. She raised me, but that was a pile of years ago. She passed away when I was 28 and in Afghanistan wasting a year of my life. I didn’t go to her funeral.

Today I was at another funeral. My sixth one this year. I sat there at the funeral home on another hard as a brick folding chair trying to not be there in my head. A guy I knew a little sat down next to me. I needed quiet. He needed to chat.

“Half the people I know are dead,” he said in a failed whisper. I nodded and felt obligated to say something.

“What about the other half?”

“We’re waiting for the test results on them.” He giggled. The jackass giggled in the middle of the eulogy for the guest of honor. I got up and walked out. I was done. When I got to the parking lot I vomited.

It was a few minutes past 2 PM, but I already knew that it was going to be rice and apple sauce for dinner. I thought that maybe a nap might help.

On the way back to my apartment my brain took me on a tour of my life – not all of it – just the parts with death. I’d seen too much of it. I’d caused too much of it and now I could see my own. My Grim Reaper wasn’t dressed in a black robe and carrying a scythe. No, he was dressed like me and had a short barrel .38 five round revolver just like mine.

I made the mistake of telling that to the Department Shrink I was forced to see after a justified shooting. Six months later I’m being taken out to dinner and handed a book on golf. I’ve never played golf in my life.

The nap thing didn’t work. I got out of bed, dressed, and to hell with the thought of rice and apple sauce. I needed something real, some buffalo wings and a beer. The beer mainly. Something for my stomach to really complain about. I figured that “Wings Over The World” – a new joint at the Mall was as good as any other place to self medicate my gut.

It was a little after five o’clock.

***

Halfway through that basket of hot wings my stomach began to fight back. Maybe I did have an ulcer. I couldn’t handle the hot sauce. I got a “to-go” box from the cute young hairy kid who was acting as waiter, cashier, and bus boy. He showed talent for the bus boy part anyway. I’d paid for those wings – I wasn’t going to leave them for the rats to eat. I stuffed some extra napkins in my pocket and headed for the door.

It was 5:40 PM.

The man crossed the street against the light and walked up to the man filling his Toyota’s gas tank. One shot and he dropped the nozzle to the ground. He fell on top of it.

Another shot and the driver who had just pulled up to the pump looked at the end of the gun barrel in his last second on earth.

The man with the gun laughed as he walked into the mini mart and emptied his gun into the two people in line buying soft drinks. And the cashier. Before leaving the shooter looked up at the security camera, smiled, and blew it a kiss.

There were thirteen people looking for help in the Emergency Room waiting area. At 5:40 a young woman walked through the automatic door and walked down the row of chairs firing one shot after another. When her pull of the trigger got only clicks she turned and walked beck out of the opening doors. She tossed the pistol into the row of short hedges lining the ER driveway. Ignoring the screams from inside the building she crossed the street and boarded the bus that had just pulled up to the corner.

Fiction Saturday – 100 Word Story – “Coffee And A Blank Page”

Coffee And A Blank Page

 

A quiet Saturday morning with some coffee and a blank page in my notebook. Ideas are pushing and shoving each other to see which gets to use my pen and get down on paper. What a contest!

A Left! A Right! What a battle!

Down goes Sci-fi! Down goes Sci-fi!

Romance is running from the Arena!

The Hard-Boiled Detective looks like he’s been up all night. He’s packin’ heat. Be careful! Don’t get erased.

The Ideas are slugging it out. If they aren’t careful they’ll end up Blue-Penciled.

A quiet Saturday morning with some coffee and a blank page.

Ahhh.

The End

 

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – The Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – The Conclusion

“Where is everybody?”

That was a good question. Ten minutes ago it looked like “Pops” Mulroy held all the cards, but now…? Now it looked like he was “all-in” and holding a dead hand. His two gigantic thugs certainly were. His eyes darted around looking for help. There wasn’t any. It was time for me to show him what I had in my pocket. Now Charlie and I were holding all the Aces.

When “Pops” saw the pistol in my hand it was if all the air went out of him.

“Timmy, is that necessary?”

“I hope not, but I don’t know what’s going on here either and you might be our ticket out of here.” The man I had trusted slowly shook his head.

“That gun won’t get you – or me – out of here if things have fallen apart. We are all expendable.”

“Then let’s keep walking and find out,” I told him.

I looked over at Charlie who had put away his knife and was holding two Russian semi-automatic pistols, one in each hand. He had a deadly serious look on his face.

“Those big boys don’t need these pieces anymore and they might come in handy if things get nasty.”

I was coming to really like and trust that boy.

It was me, “Pops,” and Charlie standing there all alone. No one else was visible and the plant was dead silent, but that sure didn’t mean that everyone was gone. You can’t hide that many Russians quickly – and what about my men, my Security Team? I knew from the FBI that at least two of them were moles.

And where was Van Swearingin?

If I was going to get any answers we had to get moving to Van Swearingin’s office.

“Ok, let’s keep moving…and one more thing. “Pops,” if you try to call out to your Comrades or get stupid on me – I. Will. Shoot. You.

We moved on through the plant. I was hoping that the Boss would be there in his office – in handcuffs, but I was also hoping that he and everybody else was gone. I didn’t care where. I was one man with a snub-nosed five shot .38 caliber handgun. That’s not much. Not much at all.

There were only two places in the plant where you get everybody together at one time: the Loading Docks or outside. The Loading Dock area would be crowded unless they opened the large bay doors – and then you were outdoors. I wanted to avoid either place until I knew more.

When we got close to Van Swearingin’s office I could see that the door was wide open. I’d never seen it like that before. I had Charlie and “Pops” stay out of the office while I slipped through the door. The Receptionist’s area was empty. The door to Van Swearingin’s private office was ajar. I looked into his office. Van Swearingin was sitting at his desk, his back to me, looking out of his window, the only window in the entire building, onto the desolate landscape of the Salt Flats. I walked in.

“Hello, Tim.” He didn’t turn around.

“Boss? What’s going on? Where is everybody?”

“You weren’t supposed to be here today.” He turned his chair around. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. He was pale and his eyes were lifeless. His hands were empty, but there was a shiny chromed .45 caliber pistol in his lap. I didn’t like that. “Why don’t you give me that weapon, Boss?”

“No.”

I couldn’t reach it and I didn’t want him to start shooting that cannon. We just looked at each other for a few moments. If he was going to say anything I’d have to start the conversation.

“What’s going on, Mr. Van Swearingin? One minute this place is crawling with…” He cut me off.

“What’s going on, Tim? A lifetime of mistakes coming back at me is what’s going on. I trusted people I shouldn’t have. I let them stay even when I knew I should have gotten rid of them. They took my son as a hostage. I didn’t have the courage to fight them. I let my own personal weakness and greed allow me to betray my country. What’s going on you ask me?”

“Where are the Russians?” I insisted. His self-pity didn’t interest me at this moment.

“The Russians? I think some of them are dead by now. I hope so. The FBI stormed in here twenty minutes ago. They must have taken out the guard post before they could warn them here at the plant. A couple of your Security Detail opened fire when the Russians started to fire at the FBI raiders. You trained them well, Tim.”

“Those men were FBI from the get-go,” I corrected him. “I didn’t even know which of my men they were. I have one more question for you.”

“What’s that, Tim?”

I hollered back out of the office.

“Charlie, bring him in here.”

Charlie came into the office walking behind “Pops” Mulroy. He had one of the Russian’s pistols up against the back of “Pops” head. I had no doubt that he would have pulled the trigger if the old traitor had attempted to run or resist.

“Hi, Dad, What’s new?” His voice was as cold as the desert at night.

Van Swearingin looked up at his youngest son like he had never seen him before. “Charlie? Put down that gun!”

“Sorry, Dad, no can do. I had to kill two of your Russian flunkies to get it and this other big one too. Besides, if I put it down your friend here might do something stupid.” He rapped his prisoner’s head with the gun barrel. “Ain’t that right, Grandpa?”

“Easy, Charlie, the FBI has taken control of the plant and I think they’ll want Mr. Mulroy with his head intact. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of questions for him.” I turned back to Van Swearingin. He couldn’t take his eyes off of his son. “I imagine they will have a few questions for you too. But I have just one.” He looked at me and closed his eyes. He was on the verge of collapse.

“Mr. Van Swearingin, You trusted me with your son, why didn’t you trust me enough to call in the FBI, or the Army or whoever, to end all of this before people had to die?

“I had no Trust left. Everyone I trusted ended up betraying me.” He picked up the pistol from his lap. I reached out hoping he would hand it to me.

“Mr. Van Swearingin – don’t! Give me the gun. Please.”

“No. Hear me out. I’ve made some terrible mistakes, horrible mistakes. I’ve caused a lot of pain to people who didn’t deserve it. It’s too late for me to make amends to some of them. I hope that someday they will be able to forgive me.” He closed his eyes as a tear ran down his cheek.

I thought we were out of the woods, but he opened his eyes before I could reach for his gun. He raised his hand and fired one shot across the room and into the chest of his lifelong friend, employee, and ultimate destroyer “Pops” Mulroy.

XXX

I deposited my last pay envelope and then closed my bank account. I bought a train ticket to Maine. I’d never been there, but it was as far from the west coast as I could go and full of green trees. I’d had enough of the desert Salt Flats.

I read in a newspaper that they put Van Swearingin on trial, but he had caved in on himself and ended up in the crazy house for the criminally insane. I don’t know how long he survived. I never read another word about him.

The End

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 –

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