The rise and fall of a paper bag.
The long day was over and Elysia was temporarily released from the confines of her suffocatingly small cubicle at the New York Public Library were she embedded codes in books, day in and day out, her doctorate degree in literary criticism taken from his place on her moveable green felt wall and hidden in her desk.
Paroled to the claustrophobic cabin of her economy car, a tin box that sat motionless in a massive traffic jam at 179th Street just inside Queens, it was, she thought, as if the entire city converged there and suddenly stopped without reason.
She could see the outline of her building on the other side of the bridge counting down the floors she spotted the small window to her efficiency apartment. It was less than a mile away, but she guessed it would take her two and a half hours to cross over to the other side.
The setting sun baked one side of her narrow sallow face, yet its imminent departure from the day’s stage did nothing to lower the ceaseless, suffocating humidity that gripped the city.
She thought again, as she did every night, that maybe she should have taught English. What happened to that plan, she wondered? It was too late to go back to that. Her life, much like her car, were stuck in neutral, gridlocked, going nowhere.
Releasing her sweaty palms from the hot plastic steering wheel, she resigned herself to her motionless fate and slowly sat back and turned her face from the blinding sun and focused her soft blue eyes on the cement and concrete labyrinth of worn roads and colossal apartment buildings that surrounded her
She watched a tall man appear at the doorway of a convenience store whose window signs pronounced proudly, in bold red letters, that it sold Ouzo by the case. The tall man reached inside a small dull ivory colored plastic bag and pulled out a long brown bottle of beer. He opened it and took a long quenching swallow and then tossed the bottle cap and bag to the hot city streets. She watched the cap make a valiant effort to roll for Jersey but sadden when it was only able to make a few inches to the curb before it expired. But her hopes were renewed when a soft wind lifted the plastic bag up from where it had gracefully fallen, an inch from the gutter and then swept it gently in to the air.
She could sense that this was no ordinary bag.
Lifting itself up a few hundred feet it swayed softly along a jet stream and then smoothly lowering its altitude it bounced playfully on an unseen soft breeze.
This bag with wings of wax was perfect in the wind, perfect. It was Sinatra in the forties, it was Fitzgerald sober and writing, it was the Yankees of 63 seasons, it was the son of Zeus and Hera gliding elegantly towards his rightful home on Mount Olympus or over to the Jersey shore, which ever was closer. She needed this bag, she needed it to succeed. A broad smile came across her plain face as she watched its rise and then she heard these words float down from the skies above her.
“Nous sommes libres le moment ou nous etre libres!”
“We are free the moment we wish to be free.” She whispered and a tear came to her eye.
Well, it was probably from pollution but still, you know, it was a tear so it kind of worked out right. The near-tear arose from the fact that not only had the bag quoted Voltaire, completely out of context, but still, you know, it quoted Voltaire! In French! It spoke French! …okay with a slight Bronx accent, but still....I mean, you know, it’s a bag. And, although, like most Americans, she preferred Locke over Voltaire...well, she did have a liking towards Rousseau but sometimes he struck her as morally irresponsible but then again she wondered if her parochial school education just made him seem that way...but, anyway, moved by the moment, she leaped from her car...she didn’t actually leap, but she rushed from the car only to have the seat belt part that goes over your shoulder get caught in her hair and nearly choke her to death. But after that she more or less leaped from the car and still on fire with the passion of freedom burning white hot in her surpassed soul she raised a fist to the sky and yelled at the very top of her voice to the bag,
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things,”
Stopping to catch her breath she watched as the bag flew higher and she climbed on to her car’s hood and continued,
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
Hearing the deep passion of her words and seeing the bag fly its course so gloriously into the blue, a homeless man on the corner adjusted his aluminum foil hat, snapped the heels of his sneakers and standing at full attention, he raised his hand to his forehead in salute as the bag circled in the wind above him. The homeless man stood erect...in a bunch of different ways for he was easily excited when the medication wore off... he watched this magnificent bag rise up once more, up to the heavens escaping the surly bonds of Earth and the lonely grey caverns of Manhattan.
It chose to fly towards Jersey, although Elysia thought that personally she would have chosen Connecticut, but, she reasoned, perhaps the bag was thinking shorter commute, who knows? But southward it flew over the Hudson. But then she thought that if she could fly what would a shorter commute matter anyway?
As she pondered that thought and realized it was a pointless waste of time and she really has to stop doing that she turned attention back to the bag and saw now that the bag was sinking from the sky. Perhaps the sun was melting it or maybe the wet air of the nearby Atlantic had dampened it or maybe, exhilarated by the thrill of flight and unrestrained freedom, maybe it had fainted. She knew bags didn’t faint but she needed a reason.
Downwards and downwards it spiraled descending from the clouds to its icy grave below...but then she thought, well, okay, the Hudson probably wasn’t icy in mid-August but like, still, it was a crappy way to die, considering what they pour into the Hudson and everything. Rolling her tiny hands into tiny fists that she rose to the sky, she rolled her head back to face the heavens, closed her eyes and cried a mournful shrill,
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aero planes circle moaning overhead.”
She lowered her eyes in defeat and then lifted her gaze to the river and watched the bag that was so much more than just a bag land in, on or maybe near, the river and disappear.
“Give me a sign that you made it,” she cried and then hugged herself.
“Lady, “You’re blocking traffic over here already, what the hells the madda with you?” a voice boomed and she was disappointed because she didn’t think the bag would sound that gruff but it wasn’t the bag it was the voice of a cop in a police helicopter circling behind her.
The road before her, now cleared of traffic across the bridge and all the way into New Jersey, was empty. Turning completely around she eyed a traffic jam behind her that further than her eyes could see. She looked to the man in the car directly behind her. His license plate claimed he was from Georgia, or at least his car was. He was staring at her. His lips were tightly closed and his eyes were wide as saucers and when she looked at him he very quickly diverted his eyes to the floor in a way that shouted, “Please don’t hurt me.”
It was now official. She was a crazy lady. She lowered her head and returned to her car. She gave a last look to the bag and recalling its valiant flight she vowed that her life would change.
FOR YOU I WOULD FIGHT DRAGONS
For you, I would fight dragons.
I would, no doubt
I would stand before the angry beast, shield and dagger in hand
And I would be scared, but for you I would fight dragons.
I would give it my all and you would watch me fight the dragon
and understand the depth of my passion.
The dragon would see it and the beast would retreat, overpowered and ashamed for his lack passion
But there are no dragons
And I fear
You will never know all of me nor see what the dragon saw.
Drug-haunted violin virtuoso dies at 60
The rain soaked him to the bone and the gloom overcast drained all of the humor from him. How many days had it rained? Three? No, four. And the cold, that raw winter cold.
He had not expected to see them at the burial, especially not on a miserable day like this. He had to stand with them at the burial since standing apart from them would have seemed, confrontational, so he stood with them. In that frame of things it surprised him when Wolfe leaned in front of Schuler and whispered “Mary, join us for drinks afterwards. We’ll lift a pint to our friends passing” he mentioned a place, the Harp and something.
He said yes but he resented it. He felt he should have said no.
“Pint indeed” he mused “where does he think he is? England? We don’t lift pints in America, we drink a beer and beer is cold and it’s not the right weather drinking beer or anything else”
He left well before they did and decided to take the coward’s way out and go home. He would never see them again anyway. Pink indeed.
On the solitary and silent drive back to Georgetown the roads were covered in a thick grey fog that seemed to take on a life of its own as it floated from the Potomac and melted across the roadway.
He parked on 35th street, bounded down the sidewalk, shielding his head from the rain when he spotted the warm, soft glow of coffee shop’s lights on O Street, beckoning his weary bones. Coffee. Warmth. He’d take it. His boney fingers are cold and white. The thick smell of freshly brewed beans relaxed him and removing his wet raincoat and tweed country walking hat he order a cup from a tall and lean young man behind the counter.
“Black, no sugar”
He took a seat with small round wooden table that looked out into the cold and dreary Georgetown streets and folded his cold hands around the cup and relaxed to the rhythmic sounds of the rain falling on the tin roof above him. The bright lights gave the café a sense of protective coziness and that was what he needed at that moment.
Guilt got the best of him. It always did. He called Wolfe and said “Ernest here. Look, I’m in Georgetown at a coffee place on 35th and O, there’s plenty of parking. It is far too early for drinks. Come by here. I’ll flip for the coffee.”
Wolfe agreed, reluctantly and grumbling, but he agreed. Mary would come with him of course because Mary had absolutely no backbone around Wolfe. It was why they made such a successful partnership later on.
He put down the phone and returned to the events of the day. So he was dead. He was so young. Only 60. And then looking around the café filled with the fresh young faces of Georgetown students he though “My God, sixty, am I really so old that I hail six decades as young?”
So, maybe he wasn’t young. It was more that he always seemed young because he was so vibrant even at the end when Cirrhosis killed him.
He took a deep breath and sighed louder than he had intended causing one of the students at a table full of student to turn and give him a scornful look. He sneered back at him and the boy looked away. “Scorn” he thought “It’s what youth does best. Well that, and travel in packs.” He was solitary man and always had been.
Returning to his gaze out the window he watched them park at the far end of the street and start to job towards the café, covering their heads from the rain drops. He turned and ordered two teas, Earl Grey, and a coffee for Wolfe and returned to the view on the street. He studied them carefully. Glee, the departed soul’s wife, although lovely, tall and graceful as ever, looked old and tired. The lines in her stately face were deep and shouted out her weariness.
Mary, once the protégé from the departed, walked slightly behind her of course. Beautiful but timid. Younger than all of them. She had been their secretary, of sorts, and now she was another friend who remembered things past. And then there was Wolfe. God help us all. Look at how large he’s gotten. By the time they were close to the door, the teas and coffee were ready and he collected them and placed them at the table, just as they entered.
He stood and greeted them all, embracing Glee, kissing Mary’s hand and offering a curt nod to Wolfe and then remained standing through the traditional shuffling of positions and then he sat.
Mary unbuttoned her heavy coat to reveal her still slim and curvaceous figure and turned to him and said “It’s all like a bad dream isn’t it?”
“Let’s not discuss it” Susan said as she removed her coat and hat and then pulled him closer and gently kissed his forehead and said “Let’s just talk about the old time, shall we? The good times.”
“I don’t like this chair” Wolfe said “Terrible view”
“Would you like my seat” Mary asked with a smile.
Wolfe looked over the offering and said “No. That seems only worse. I’ll take yours Earnest”
“Screw you” he replied. It was the only way to handle Wolfe.
Wolfe looked around the shop with disdain. He did disdain well. His eyes looked over the faded black and white tiles on the walls and ceilings and asked “What is this place?” It has the feel of morgue”
“It’s a coffee shop” Earnest answered “It’s a place where nice people go to drink coffee. I bought you one” and pointed to the cup in front of him. Wolfe took the cup, placed it close to his nose and smelled the coffee. A flask appeared from his rain coat. He poured a bit into the cup.
The young man behind the counter pointed an accusing finger at Wolfe and said “There is no liquor here, sir”
“I know dear boy” he answered pouring a pinch more “That’s why I brought my own”
Susan sat to my left and clasped my hand in hers “How are you Earnest?”
Mary leaned forward in her chair to hear his answer. He felt nervous and played with the rim coffee cup.
“I’ve been better” he answered as he inspected the cup.
“You’re depressed over what happened recently” Susan said.
“Why” Wolfe asked “What happened recently?”
“She means” Mary answered “His death. Depressed over the death”
“I am not depressed over his death” He said and added as an afterthought “All right maybe a little depressed.” He paused again and said “I’m very depressed over it”
“People die” Mary said as she aimlessly stirred her coffee. “If only I had……”
Silence fell over them.
“If only you had what?” Wolfe asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know”
“I gave up on him.” Earnest answered sadly.
“We all did” Mary replied with a tilt of her head.
“Well I certainly didn’t” Susan said. And she was right in that. She had stayed with him through it all, even after he divorced her, she was there for him
“I feel numb” she said to no one in particular. “It all seems so meaningless. It took me five hours to get ready this morning and I can’t recall a single moment”
“Have you asked yourself the question” Wolfe said “Is this something worth being depressed about?”
He leaned forward when he spoke. He always did that, leaned forward into person’s space and I hated it when he did it and I was thankful for the table between them.
“What sort of an asinine proposition is that?” Earnest asked “You want me to be happy over this?”
“I want you to see it for what it is.” He answered with a shrug “And what it is, what it’s all about, is that it’s about time. It’s about time he died”
“Oh that’s lovely” Earnest said “I’m so glad you came along to the funeral. You’re a delight, really”
“Oh Wolfe” Susan cried “What in heaven’s name is wrong with you?” She pushed her tea to the side, crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.
“Wolfe. Really” Mary added.
“He was confined to his bed for the past eight months.” He said and then added loudly, “He wore a diaper because he had no control of his bowels” and at that a very young student, a girl, turned and crinkled her nose at him causing Wolfe to return the look to her and add “Oh grow up kid, we all have bowels and every now and then they do whatever the hell they want to us”
Returning his attention to them he said “He hallucinated. He cried.”
“That’s enough” Susan said
“He howled. He demanded. He begged.”
“Wolfe” Mary said “Enough”
“He vomited. He was on a constant painful withdrawal from something for the past ten years only to become addicted to something else. And you tell me you are depressed that all that is over? Well I’m not”
“Why are you so angry, Wolfe?” Susan asked snapped.
“I’m not angry” he answered “I’m simply saying that for once in its long creepy career, death, that goddamn thief, finally came at the right time “
“I have always wondered if you were mentally ill” Earnest said
“Let him be” Mary added. “It’s his way of healing”
“And how are you healing” Earnest asked her.
“My usual way” she answered “Guilt and trying to bargain with God to make it all not true”
“Well I’m not angry” Wolfe said again.
“It’s all right if you are angry” Mary said “Anger covers pain. There are other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time”
“Thank you Doctor Mary” Wolfe said.
“Why don’t we discuss something pleasant?” Mary said.
“I know what we can do” Susan said happily “We can all meet again, like we used too in the old days. Sunday’s. Remember how it was on Sundays? We can have that again. There’s the four us and he’ll be with us, in spirit. What do you say?” It’ll be just like it was, just like it should be. One big happy maladjusted family.”
No one was interested.
“What will you do with his things?” Wolfe asked.
“His things?” Susan asked indignantly.
“Well his instrument….his…things” Wolfe said haltingly. He knew he was in trouble.
Susan turned her slender body to face him “What do you mean what will I do with them?
“Well” he said slowly “will you donate them to a charity? Sell them perhaps? There is a market certainly. I could probably fetch well into the six figures or more for his instrument if you’ll allow me to make inquiries”
“I’ll do no such thing.” Susan snapped “I’ll keep them where they are, where they belong.”
“Why?” Wolfe said equally loudly “He left you nothing except debt. So why won’t you let me sell them for whatever I can for you?”
“Why?” Susan shouted emotionally “Because they are his, they are his belongings”
“He’s dead and gone and your broke and here” Wolfe said flatly.
“You know he never liked you and now I can see why” she answered.
“Now come on, that’s uncalled for.” Earnest said
“Heartless little schemer.” She added and then turned her back on him.
No one spoke but after several seconds. Finally Earnest said softly “However the heartless little schemer is correct, Susan. He is dead and you should start thinking about…”
“That doesn’t mean everything changes.” She snapped “That isn’t what it means. Only people like you think like that”
“Yes I recognize that this is a somewhat inappropriate statement to make at this time” Wolfe said.
“When has in inappropriate ever stopped you?” Susan snarled.
“All right” he said emphatically “Okay. Fine. You talk about not being liked?”
“I think we need to get off this” Earnest interjected “Before we say more things we don’t mean”
“I don’t know why I’m here.” Wolfe said loudly “I didn’t like him very much” and then he corrected himself “Not at the end” and turning to Susan he said “And I knew him for years before you arrived. There wasn’t much about him to like at the end”
“I prefer to recall him as in his fantasy life” Earnest said “The glamorous life. The ideal of him”
“When did you hear from him last, Earnest?” Mary asked
“Oh, five years was it? Yes. Five years. But we were on again off again constantly. He would stop the drugs, stop the boozing and seem genuinely interested in focusing on music again. But he had declined as a performer although some of the old spark was there every now and then. He told me he was embarrassed by the bookings he was getting. Retirement communities, that sort of thing”
“After he got ill last summer, he just decided to die.” Susan said “He stopped playing entirely. It was too painful for him. He felt like his career had been ripped from him, and he didn’t have the great venues to play in anymore and it just crushed him.”
“Ripped from him by whom? Fate?” Wolfe asked “He screwed himself, plain and simple”
“They closed the doors to him.” Susan said angrily “He was blacklisted. You know that. You know that more than anyone else”
“He was blacklisted because he lost control of himself and as a result everything around him disintegrated, his career his family. Everything.” Wolfe said “How can anyone with that much opportunity be called a victim? ‘He had everything handed him and he messed it all up.''
“When did you see him last?” Earnest asked Wolfe.
“Oh” he rolled his eyes and calculated “Last year…no …yes, last year when he had that liver failure issue. I phoned. Didn’t actually see him”
“I didn’t hear about it” I said
“We kept it under wraps.” Susan added “He wanted it that way”
“He should have died then” Wolfe said twirling a plastic stick in his tea.
“Oh ease up will you please?” Earnest said.
“Why? I speak the truth... There have been other concert violinists with the same problems and they did not just give up. Their careers did not suffer. Other concert artists have gone into decline, accepted it, and just moved on, but for some reason, our boy could not bring himself to move along.”
A group of students slowly made their way into the cafe
“Must they open that door every time they come in and leave?” Wolfe growled as he cast the evil eye on some departing students.
“Well yes, that’s the entire purpose of a door” Earnest said “It serves no other purpose”
“It lets in the cold air” he snapped.
“We’ll have them exit through the back, how would that be?” Earnest said
“Why don’t we just meet in a bus station or something?” he snarled.
“You have no idea what bus station looks like.” I said “For all you know this is a bus station.”
“And what happened between you and him?” Mary asked Wolfe.
“He stopped talking to me ten years ago.” He answered “I booked to play for a large condo community in South Florida. The money was good. Glamorous? No. But a good paycheck. I brought it to him in person. He was drunk or maybe he was high, but he was in a foul mood. He was insulted. Kept screaming “A condominium!” smashing things. Threw a lamp at me. That was the last of us. Then he called earlier this year. We spoke for a while. Never mentioned Florida”
He stared out into the rain and then turned to Susan and said “It’s astounding how much of what he did to us we simply decided to forget”
Although she was looking out the window, Susan reached across the table and taking Wolfe’s mighty hand in her own and kept it there.
“Mercurial. He was a mercurial performer” Earnest added “It was what I called him in the first column I wrote about him. He didn’t know what it meant. He assumed it meant mediocre”
“He was barely educated” Wolfe added.
“So I look up from desk the next morning and there he is, red as beat, my column in his clenched fist demanding to know why I called him mercurial. I reached across the desk opened the dictionary and read the definition “Wonderful word mercurial. Related to the Roman God Mercury. Unpredictable, lively, active, brilliant, impulsive, consistent.” He said “Oh. Well in that case do you want to go and have a few drinks?” I said yes. He needed an agent. I abhorred writing columns so I told him I would be his agent. He agreed. We were both good and drunk by then. But I represented him for seven years. Never had a written contract between us. I booked him in more than 100 concerts a year back then. He grossed almost a million bucks a year just from the shows. And then there were records.
“What happened between you two?” Mary asked Earnest
“I was with him one afternoon” Earnest replied with a deep sigh “we were both drinking, this was in the beginning of the end and he asked me “Why aren’t I on television anymore?” and I lied and I didn’t know. Well we argued, as drunkards do. So in the spirit of complete meanness, I phoned…I’ve forgotten his name, the producer up in New York, he’s dead now. I get this producer on the line and he asked him, on the speakerphone, “Why is our boy not on television anymore?” and the producer doesn’t miss a trick and says “Because your boy is an unreliable drunk” and he hung up. A few weeks later I got a letter from the questionably esteemed Mister Wolfe seated here on my right stating that he was now representing our boy”
“I thought he would be a good client” Wolfe said nervously and turning to Earnest added “And I did not pursue him, he came to me”
That was lie, they all knew it, but the course of the conversation changed.
“Where was the second wife? Why wasn’t she there today” I couldn’t remember her name but I could picture her beautiful face “What’s her name?”
“The bitch from hell.” Susan offered.
“What was her name?” Earnest asked.
“That was her name” Susan countered.
“It was her title, actually” Wolfe offered.
“Why did he marry her?” I asked “She was so awful.”
“She thought he had money, he thought she had class” Susan said recalling her face “Jesus, he really was a hick back then wasn’t he?”
“No” I said “I think he was just young”
“You could spot her a mile away” Wolfe said
“Well, now we could, yes” Earnest replied
“She’s the one who turned him to drugs.” Mary said “He was innocent drunk before” her.
“She didn’t even have the class to show up to the man’s funeral” Ernest said.
“Well thank God for that because she’s dead” Susan said happily.
“Dead?” Earnest repeated.
“Seven or eight years ago” Susan said “Put a gun in that lovely mouth of hers and pulled the trigger”
“I understand no one claimed the body” Mary added.
“Jesus” Earnest whispered “She was so beautiful”
“What about the mother?” Wolfe asked “You never hear much about his mother.”
“A drinker” Susan said taking a sip from Wolfe’s flask “very tragic. Dead too.”
“I heard” Wolfe said “his father pushed him, mercilessly. He pressured the kid to practice for hours at a time.”
“Well that’s the oldest tune in the book though isn’t it?” Earnest said.
“He told me” Mary said “That it was his old man who got him into Juilliard.
“He got booted out though” Wolfe said.
“Why?” Mary asked.
“Generic disciplinary reasons is what I’ve always read’ I answered.
“He seduced a teacher.” Susan said flatly.
“A man or a woman?” Wolfe asked. He was fishing for gossip.
“You’d love it if it were a man wouldn’t you?” She answered.
After a brief lull in the conversation, Susan said “Well his rise was fast his descent was so painfully slow.”
Wolfe added “I heard that when he returned home from the international competitions Moscow to Idaho….”
“Colorado” Mary corrected.
“All right, Colorado.” Wolfe said “I heard that when he returned home from Moscow to Colorado that his father had choreographed a publicity stunt and that included having the boy’s horse met him at the airport.”
“That’s a long drive for a horse isn’t it?” Mary asked.
“And” Wolfe said tossing more gasoline on the fire “Let us return to the august Carnegie Hall. He sold the place out?”
“Yes we did” Earnest answered.
“But to that I say, so what? Putting asses in seats does not equate to talent, we’re not Hollywood you know.” Wolfe said “The entire point of that concert, if you will remember was to prove that he had the right stuff for a long term career that he wasn’t a pretty boy flash in the pan. And all of you saw what happened, you were all there. All that he managed to do was to reinforce the image of a musician wonderfully adept at light repertory and at sea in Brahms.”
“Show some Goddamn tact will you?” Earnest begged
“He succeeded but for the wrong reasons.” Wolfe said firmly “It’s the same with all of these competition winners. They never have a chance to recover. His is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a gifted young artist, still personally and musically immature, is turned into a global commodity for a spate of wrong reasons. His entire package was nothing more than mastery over a small body of 19th, 20th century showpieces that were intended to show off the violinist's art. That was all well and good in the beginning but as the years went by it grew old”
“He didn’t mature” Mary added “as a musician”
“And” Wolfe continued “as expected the critics took him task increasingly for what they saw as, correctly I should add, of flash over substance.’you used to be able to start an artist in Carnegie Recital Hall and build them up over seven years. Now you have a couple of competition winners who reign supreme over a limited ability until the next couple of winners come along and pushes them out of the way.''
“But” Earnest interjected “they always said that about him, from the very beginning “His repertoire relied too heavily on flashy pieces that lacked depth” but it didn’t bothered him, not in the beginning anyway. Nothing bad could touch him and he knew it. He used to say to me “Aside from technique of the highest caliber, you need the glitter. The conviction of your own style. The polish."
“He had no polish” Wolfe said looking directly at Earnest “Not the right kind. He had flash. There is a difference you know”
“He was never an introspective artist, he said that once” Earnest said in his defense. “He told me “Ernie, the problem with introspection is that it has no end.”
“He failed completely in the heavier repertory, Beethoven and Brahms.” Mary said “You know that”
“Because he was never given the opportunity early on to develop and grow.” Earnest said
“That’s not true” Wolfe said “The opportunity was there for the taking. He chose not to take it and he paid for it as a result. The Big Five orchestras barely acknowledged him.
“He played with Philadelphia and Cleveland” Earnest said
“He played with them once” Wolfe corrected him “perhaps twice Boston, Chicago New York Philharmonics? Never. The music directors at those orchestras didn't want to spend their time conducting his repertory. And had they asked for Beethoven or the Brahms, he wasn't ready. You can't make a career just on bravura repertory.”
“But you can make a career out of being charming” Earnest said “And he was charming”
“And he was overbearing” Wolfe added
“And he could be tactlessness.” Mary added “He told a conductor once, I’ve forgotten who it was, when he was told that he would have to perform a duo recital ''I don't intend to share half the burden with the pianist. It's a violin recital, and I intend to play just that.''
“My God” Wolfe said as the memory came to him “He posed for After Dark, do you remember that? What an uproar that caused! Do you recall that?”
“How can I ever forget?” Ernest answered mournfully.
Wolfe leaned into Earnest to closely and whispered “Tell me truthfully. Did you arrange that?”
“You are really obnoxious” He answered “and no. I did not. He did it on his own.”
Earnest paused and looked out into the rain and saw them, the two of them twenty years ago in Manhattan at the photo shoot. He’s lying naked, belly down on a white carpet on the floor, the auburn red of the violin covering his torso, a bottle of Armand de Brignac in his hand “Cheer up Ernest! We’re letting them see a new side of me”
“Managing him could be a nightmare” Earnest said aloud but barely above a whisper.
“You’re telling us?” Wolfe shouted. A group of students at a table turned to look at him.
“You are being loud” Mary said with an eye towards the kids.
“Oh fuck them” Wolfe said directly to the kids and waving them off he turned to Mary and whispered “Our boy did a three page spread, shirtless, wearing cowboy gear.”
“I missed that one” Mary said “What’s After Dark”
“It was this Gay rag” Wolfe answered. “It was long before you were around”
“Before I was around?” she asked
“Yes, you know, before you two were involved” he replied
“I think it was a legitimate weekly magazine, filled with celebrities” Earnest added
“Well he was a cowboy, you know” Mary said
“Oh please, not everyone from Colorado is Cowboy” Wolfe said waving her off.
“Yes true” Susan replied “but everyone from Turkey Ridge Colorado is a cowboy. I’m certain of that”
“Cowboy indeed” Wolfe said dismissively “He was trained at Juilliard.” And then he turned to Earnest and snickered “You couched him into wearing those damn boots”
“I did not.” Earnest said “The man wore cowboy boots”
“Snakeskin they were.” Susan said “Who in the name of God hunts down snakes for their skin? Where do they get people to do that sort of thing?”
"He could stand on a horse" Ernest said “Only cowboys can do that”
“Now there’s a talent every violinist needs.” Wolfe added with a majestic wave. “Did you advise him on that bit of trashy behavior as well?”
"He could play violin on a horse.” Mary said “I saw him do it when we went to his father’s ranch or far or whatever you call those horse places"
“Oh I’m so sorry I missed that.” Wolfe said with a condescending air.
“Well anyway, it’s difficult to do.” Mary added
“How would you know?” Wolfe cracked and then added “And once again I say unto ye “The triumph of flash over substance. He could play a violin on a horse but he couldn’t play Beethoven in New York, or Chicago or anywhere else for that matter”
Pensive for a moment, Ernest took a sugar packet, examined it, rolled into a ball and snapped across the table with a flick of his fingers. .Susan ran a manicured finger over the rim of her cup, squinted and asked Wolfe “What did you just say?”
“That he wasn’t a real cowboy” Wolfe answered as he poured more whiskey into his coffee cup.
“No” Susan said sharply, her lips closed tightly her clear blue eyes focused completely on Mary’s face. “You said to her ‘before you two were involved’
She leaned in and stared intently at Mary from across the small round table “You were involved with my husband?”
Wolfe and Earnest looked across the table at Mary. There was no saving her from what was about to happen. Her mouth was open, her eyes were wide, her fingers dug into the sides of her cup. She took a deep breath.
“That isn’t what I meant” Wolfe lied.
“It was for one summer” Mary said
“It’s all ancient history” Earnest said cutting her off before she dug the grave any deeper.
The sentence was barely finished when Susan reached out quickly and slapped Mary across the face. Mary reached up to in shock causing the cup to tip and spill over the table. The shop fell silent as every eye watched the drama unfold.
“You two faced” Susan searched for the words, her face flushed. She raised her hand again but Earnest took her by the wrist and lowered her arm to the table as Wolfe sopped up the coffee from the table.
“Every all right over there?” the tall, thin young man from behind the counter asked in a way that was intended to be commanding.
“Does everything look fine?” Wolfe asked and then waved his hand dismissively at the student who stared across the shop as thought they were frozen in place. “Return to your comma’s.”
“It happened quickly. It ended quickly” Mary said as she tilted her slender face up towards to white ceiling “ I didn’t know you then, well I didn’t know you well. He told me that you two barely spoke. He lied. He lied about everything all of the time. I learned that later”
She looked directly across to Susan and with her eyes filling quickly with tears she shook her head and said “I was young and he was beautiful and I was stupid and dumb and you are my best friend.”
“And you are my only friend” Susan said taking Mary’s hand “and if a girl can’t slap her only friend who can she slap?” and Mary laughed against her will and wiped away her tears and Wolfe rose a meaty hand in the air and shouted “Garçon! Coffee’s!”
“It’s self-serve” Earnest told him.
“I don’t know what that means” he replied.
“Well its much like your life philosophy” Earnest said.
“He was flat broke” Susan said and then taking Wolfe’s hand in hers again she said “Maybe you should look into selling his things, his instruments and all”
They fell into a moment’s silence.
“The public forgot him.” Susan said “He became unfashionable”
“He should have known the public would tire of him.” Wolfe added “Celebrity in the mainstream is a fleeting thing, nothing more than a disposable commodity in the mainstream.”
It was about that time” Susan added “when he tried to come back by presenting himself in a more sober and serious light, but the classical world didn’t want him back”
“Well no one took him seriously anymore.” Wolfe said “Those people tend to mistrust sudden fame. You know, he once said to me “Wolfe my lad, fame will make me immortal” but actually fame killed him. And it killed him a hundred times or more”
“He was so bewilderment by it all, by the loss of his career.” Susan said “He started losing weight. He drank more until he stopped playing the violin entirely.”
The young man from arrived with a filthy white towel and sopped up the spilled coffee and walked back to his position to the counter causing Wolfe to point a spot on the table and say “I think you failed to leave some germs here, on this spot”
They were tired from the subject and the gloom of the day darkened their moods.
“Are we okay?” Wolfe asked to one and all “Is everything all right between us?”
No” Susan answered “but we will be. We just have to accept what happened to him was his own doing, really, not ours”
“Well what more can be said?” Earnest asked
“He seemed unable to thrive out of the limelight. So, he withered and died” Wolfe said. “Even the brightest candles are not meant to burn too long”
No one spoke for a moment until Wolfe said “I should take a leak before we leave” and he did and they waited for him making small talk and when he was finished they gathered their coats and hats. The rain had stopped and the sun appeared cautiously from the clouds.
Karma Finds Franny Glass
Speeding out of her buildings garage in the East Seventies and then racing her Lamborghini over the George Washington Bridge, Franny Glass found it amusing that Zooey Salinger considered her an absolute dearest friend. Actually, Zooey was being too kind when she exaggerated those words on the finely engraved invitation. The truth was, she saw Franny Glass for what Fanny was, transparent and shallow. Everyone else in their tribe saw her the same way, but, in fairness, that was also how they viewed Zooey Glass and themselves as well. It is how these people are.
Compounding Zooey’s intense dislike of her absolute dearest friend Franny Glass, was the awkward fact that Zooey and everyone within their small universe, knew that Franny had been sleeping with her husband, Zen Salinger, a partner in Salinger, Sacco & Vanzetti, mergers, acquisitions and promotions a specialty.
She also knew, again as did everyone else, that it was Franny who had been the defacto cause for Zen’s fatal coronary in flagrante delicto. Of course, the pending federal indictment and the certain RICO conviction that would follow and then Zen’s mandatory sudden disappearance with the cash in the firms escrow accounts, may well have played a role in his unexpected early demise as well. But, for the time being, gossip being what it is, everyone, simply everyone, was blaming Franny for his death. What Zooey didn’t know, was that it had been such a dreadful experience for Franny, (Zen Salinger dying at the grand finale, not the sex, which was not in the least grand) that she more or less absolutely sworn off sex with married men for an indeterminate amount of time.
All that was behind them now and Franny found it reassuring that the permanently oblivious Zooey Salinger should invite her to a reception at her woodsy-leafy Litchfield place on Pilgrim Way to meet the enlightened Maharishi Yogi Barish.
When Fanny arrived, Zooey planned to take her by the hand and waltz her from one end of her spacious home to the other, making small talk, the only kind of talk these people really know, making sure that everyone, simply everyone saw that they were the dearest and closets of friends. Zooey had no choice in this really. The day would come when she would carry on with someone else man, or woman, and would be found out, for these people always find out, and life would go on as before. She would not be cut out or cut off. She had to ensure that, not only for herself but for all those others in this special tribe they belonged too.
So Franny accepted Zooey’s invitation. Driving at break-neck speed through the Connecticut countryside, Franny was, despite her near complete unreflective nature, somewhat concerned that she lived alone and that age 35, marriage was not on the horizon, circumference, radius or any other Goddamn celestial acronym. She reasoned it away. “A little solitude” she thought “never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone and she wrote some of the most moving um….what did she write? Was it science fiction?
Something like that. Anyway, they were some of the best whatever they were type of stories the world has ever known...a lot of them became movies.”
She also recalled that Emily Dickenson went stark raving, barking mad and ended her life in a mental asylum so she decided to think about something else.
Tossing her phone into oxblood Versace bag, she brought the car to a screeching halt and waited for the wrought iron gates to Zooey Salinger’s estate to open and then raced the car up the gravel drive.
Taking her place among the very landed gentry, she sat shoeless on the silk Zarcharakian rug, sipping a Chateau Lafite and stealthily dripping a drop or two on the carpet because….well just because, that’s why. It is just the way these people are.
There was Zooey Salinger, clad in black Michael Kors One-Shoulder. It was so last season. But, then again, Franny reasoned, Zooey was so last season. She was calling everyone to attention. Standing beside her was a short, swarthy little man dressed in white linen robes and fitted with a Buddha belly. So this was him, thought Franny.
“I like the long flowing white silk robes” she said to herself “Nice effect and so very de riguor for any savior and/or mystique” She noted his salt and pepper beard and his strategically designed mop of hair. “Micelle of Paris” she though “No one else is that good”
Everyone feigned rapt attention as a smiling and crying Zooey once again launched into another retelling of how this little man, the Maharishi Yogi Barish, the Wise Child, entered her life.
It started with a death, but then again, most things about Zooey revolved around death in one way or another. First, it was Zen and then Seymour, her toy Shiatsu, the canine in-residence until last fall last autumn when he went out the window at the Salinger’s Park Avenue place, falling Nine Stories to his death. Actually, it wasn’t the fall that killed him. He survived the fall. What killed him were the giant hooves of a team of hansom cab horses as they pulled away to show another tourist from Wichita dubious wonders of Central Park at night.
As one can imagine, the death just absolutely mortified poor Zooey, coming in the wake of Zen’s death. She was beside herself with grief and not one of her three analysts, the Freudian, the Jungian or even the Mime therapist could pull her from her sorrow. Well the Jungian probably could have, but he insisted she do it herself.
The situation worsened after rumor started that it was not suicide and that perhaps Seymour had been pushed. It was the talk of the summer people at the Hamptons but not of the summer people at Newport because they play tennis.
It was about that time that Dede Bradley came back from Europe, because she was always coming back from somewhere, and was bursting, simply bursting with the news of the Marharishi Yogi Barish who was taking London by storm. Dede told Muffin Walsh who told Geno the hair sculptor who repeated everything he heard anyway, thank God and that was how Zooey heard all about the wonders of the little man.
A the Marharishi Yogi Barish estate in London, Zooey was fairly certain she was in London, she didn’t handle those details, she found her scrawny naked body lathered in tea oils and saturated rose infused yogurt.
By weeks end, the Marharishi inserted in her, among other things, the spirit of Seymour the Shiatsu which assured Zooey that he had not taken his own life nor had he been pushed from the ledge. Rather, as she would later recall, again and again and again, for enthralled hairdressers from Park Avenue to Palm Beach...she didn’t do Aspen because it’s so...so...so...not New York and the people are so...so not New York, that the spirit of Seymour the Shiatsu said he had fallen from that of that window because he a brain the size of a walnut. She was also mentioned, quite often, that Seymour the Shiatsu spoke English. Everyone was so delighted for her.
The Marharishi Yogi Bera was, proclaimed Zooey to all the right people who had gathered in her bar sized living room that autumn, a spiritual genius and all agreed with a hardy burst of applause. Of course, to these people, anyone who had an occasional reflection on the meaning of life beyond Town & Country, was a spiritual genius because, argued many, these people had no souls.
When Zooey was finished gushing on about the little man, the little man spoke, whispered really, whispered and smiled and babbled on for twenty minutes speaking psycho-social babble gibberish intertwined with most of the keywords needed to create spiritual hogwash. It was, thought Franny Glass who was there to judge the performance, a cellular performance.
It was only kismet that Zooey should invite Franny to heat Yogi Bera. Her firm, Salinger, Sacco & Vanzetti, mergers, acquisitions and promotions a specialty, had been watching this little man and was impressed with what they saw and what they saw was money and the potential for more money.
Franny had hired Hal Martini ‘Olive’ Lipchitz everyone’s favorite P.I and learned that the Marharishi Yogi Bera was a fourth generation East-ender from Londoner whose true name was Rajesh Gupta Barish, the western equivalent of Joe Smith. He was raised vaguely Hindu but he had absolutely no interest in the faith because its deep, beautifully simple doctrines confused him.
The firm’s data analysis experts...their term for computer hackers...had determined that the Marharishi Yogi Bera liquid assets were in access to one hundred and fifty million. There was the clothing line, Yogi for Young Kids, and an airline, Flying Carpet Airlines with hubs in New Delhi and Hanoi. There was the Happy Hindu Hotel chain with locations throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. There was the equally profitable Curry Up and Eat! Restaurant chain, assorted real estate holdings, which included an off- shore casino in the Caribbean and a nut farm in Brazil.
The Yogi had everything a money hungry yogi could want. Everything except the vast richness of America. The problem was that the Marharishi was a European phenomenon and what he needed was a single magic bullet that would shoot open the golden gates of the land of milk and honey.
It was an odd twist of fate, kismet if you will, that the Maharishi’s magic bullet to America came in the form of the spirit of Seymour the Shiatsu. Zooey Salinger had introduced the Yogi correctly. She waited for the late fall, that special magical time between the closing of the summer places and the arrival of the first dividend checks from those offshore investments that nice people did not discuss, not without a lawyer present, anyway.
Zooey made sure the yogi had face time, a favorite expression of these people, with that smart-alecky Carlo Saint John River from The New Yorker and of course, Thomas Wentworth Higginson from Charge, Style and Life Magazine just absolutely had to have his ten minutes.
By the end of the month, the Marharishi Yogi Barish was famous in America and so was his ‘Self-Help and Actualization Movement’, or ‘SHAM’. Although it was all explained in his 125 page, ghost written book, The Way of the Christian-Hindu Pilgrim, the basis for SHAM was taken from the Yogi code of life, ‘To know nothing is to know bliss’. The concept was fusion, Judeo Christianity and Hindu principles and that the Yogi had gotten the idea after eating at the Paris French-Chinese restaurant Chinois. When asked if the book was henotheistic, the Yogi replied no, it was for homosexuals as well.
So, now the grinning Guru had every intention of quadrupling his cash by taking his show to the states and lifting cash from the pockets of the fad happy-spiritually starved Americans and the senior partners at Salinger, Sacco & Vanzetti, mergers, acquisitions and promotions a specialty, believed they could help the Yogi with that conquest.
So while the firm wanted his business, Franny needed his business. The remaining partners of Salinger, Sacco & Vanzetti, or more specifically the wives of the remaining partners, the ones huddled in the corner throwing her death-stares, believed that Franny should have been boiled in oil for sexing Zen Salinger to death. Barring death by oil, they made it very clear to their husbands that Franny Glass must go.
Yes, the end was near and Franny Glass, a born survivor, could smell it in the air, and it troubled her. She felt vulnerable, a new sensation for her. That was why she had given herself that ‘A little solitude and Emily Dickinson lived alone’ pep talk on the way up to Connecticut.
He drooled for her. “Hello my lovely” leered the Yogi to Franny when she managed to push, shove and elbow her way up to him. Franny, who stood just over 5’10 with in her Stu Weitzman heels, thought it was rude that the Marharishi, who was surrounded by two massive former Mossad men, did not stand when he met her. Staring at him, she realized he was standing. Franny smiled her best heartwarming smile and handed the little man one of her plasma designed translucent plastic business cards.
“Franny Glass, Costello, Lansky, Siegel and Accardo” he said reading the card aloud. He looked over Franny again and stopped giggling. He leaned in close and lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper and said in a distinct British working class accent “I have the letters you sent to my general manager. But caw blimey girl, had we knewed you looked as you do I woulda called” and then, effortlessly returning to his high pitched south Asian dialect, he said loudly, “You must come to my new ashram”
The Marharishi Yogi International Academy of Meditation was, the Yogi’s financial advisors advised him, the strategically right thing to do. If he intended to conquer America, he would have to give the Yanks what they expected. What they expected was for all of their Maharishi’s to fit their version of authenticity. Their version of authenticity for Maharishi’s everywhere demanded that they lived in Ashrams in India.
So, after they slowly explained to the Marharishi what an ashram is, a buyer was dispatched eastward to purchase a 2,000-acre former maize plantation along the edge of Lake Vembanad in Duta, Arunachal Pradesh, in the easternmost tip of India, under the snow peaked Himalaya Mountains, where Bhutan and Tibet meet.
Franny Glass arrived at Tezpur Airport after a grueling 15-hour, seven thousand mile flight. She had her Henk luggage tossed into the back of a rented ancient Russian made Orbita and started the 200-mile ride north to the Yogi’s ashram.
Five hours after she left the airport, Franny Glass arrived at the ashram, her nerves shattered. The Russian made car had come equipped with a tape deck, circa 1972. After a couple of hours of silence, Franny slammed in an ancient eight track she found in the backseat, a Russian made tape, Yuri Popinov sings Elvis. She turned the volume up all the way and listened to Yuri’s very enthusiastic rendition of A hunk a Bunk of burning Funk and then the tape got stuck.
She hit it, several times but all that did was to make it louder. After a half hour, she kicked it, she spat on it and she threatened it with an injunction. Nothing worked. For the next three and half hours the lyrics “I’m a hunk a bunk a burning funk….yeahhhh!... I’m a hunk a bunk a burning funk….yeahhhh!...” played over and over and over and over again, sung in English in a thick Russian accent set at full volume. By the time she arrived at the ashram, Franny was temporarily deaf, spoke with a distinct Russian accent and had developed an eye twitch.
In stark contrast to the majestic but rugged mountain that surrounded it on every side, the ashram had a by-design laid-back feel to it. To ensure that the local smell of wet mud, cow dung and burning garbage didn’t disturb the nasal sensitive westerners, every two hours, the ashram staff would spray vast amounts of floral aromas and pleasant spicy scents into the air. Meals were prepared by a Parisian chef and each guest cottage was built with a private plunge pool and came equipped with an 88- inch television theater set.
In her massive and beautifully appointed room, Franny found scented candles flickering in the near darkness as magnificently beautiful and uncomfortably sensual Asian women with almond eyes, almost seductively asked Franny to disrobe so she could begin the Ayurveda treatment. Surprised but intrigued, Franny slowly undressed and as directed lay face down, across a solid oak table. Slowly and methodically, the beautiful woman with the almond eyes slathered oil, infused with pungent herbs, along the length of Franny Glass’s slender milky white body.
About a half hour after the treatment began, the Marharishi Yogi Barish wordlessly slithered into the room, leaving his two bodyguards waiting outside. The women with the almond eyes slipped quietly outside. He then disrobed and reached out to Franny’s prone body in a way she would have never expected. Feeling the light nudging on her ribs, she lifted her head from her forearms. When her eyes focused, she wondered how that ugly fat mouse crawled so far up the table. Then she refocused. A few seconds later, her curled fist landed in the Maharishi’s groin with a sickening snapping sound. The little bearded man’s eyes immediately turned inward towards his nose. Sucking in an enormous amount of air as he fell to his knees he uttered, squealed really, one word “okay”
Franny leaped from the table and frantically wiped the oil and honey from her body and dressed just as the Yogi dragged himself to his feet. My goodness what magnificent legs she has was the last thought that went through his tiny brain before Franny’s karate kick to his forehead knocked him unconscious.
Dashing out the door, she slowed considerably as she passed the solemn sun-glassed bodyguards, slipped into the ancient Russian Orbita, whispered a her version of a quick but silent prayer that it would start, smiled at the guards when it did and with Yuri Popinov happily singing away, she sped out of the complex and down the Burma Road.
When the Marharishi awoke, he had a severe headache and the sinking suspicion that his advances had not gone over well with the American woman. Worse, if word of his behavior reached the right New York circles and then the press, he was ruined.
He called for his guards. “Find her! Bring her back!” he ordered, “Offer her a free week at the Ashram”
As the guard rushed towards the door, he reconsidered “No, wait. Offer her 50 percent off a half week at the Ashram”. A moment later, as the guards were about to peel away in a black Mercedes with tinted windows, he stopped them again “Make that, ten percent off her bar bill! Now go! Find her!”
When Franny looked into her rear view mirror, one of the few times in her life that she had actually used the device, she spotted the black Mercedes pulling out of the ashram gate and closing in on her fast. The Russian clunker strained to hit a top speed of fifty miles an hour and when it did it shook violently, reconsidered exerting itself, and slipped slowly into second gear.
Franny spotted a cut off from the road that disappeared down a slope. Turning a violent left that nearly toppled her car, she sped down the narrowing road. Moments later, the Maharishi’s guards, up the main road, sped past her.
Franny kept driving down the road until it turned into what she assumed correctly was a cow path, which is why it was odd that she should have been surprised to see that large black and white cow, running towards her.
Kharaab Kismet hated that cow. He suspected the cow hated him as well, but that was not what had ignited his complete contempt toward the ugly beast. Theirs had always been a complicated, rocky relationship largely because, as cows, go this one was as savvy and spiteful as it was ornery. This is why Kharaab was certain it had trounced into his neighbors tea rows on purpose, performing a sort of bovine ballet as it crushed hundreds of the neatly aligned rows of the precious mint under its mud-caked hooves before the performance ended and she was led away.
The local magistrate determined that Kharaab’s cow had caused $600 worth of damage to the neighbor’s crop. In a good year, a very good year, Kharaab earned $450. In a bad year, which was most years, he earned half that amount. To pay for the damages he would have to sell his tiny patch of land that sat aside the Apatani River and without his land, he had nothing. So the cow, the symbol of abundance, had taken everything he had.
With that recent torrid history in mind, it made sense to Kharaab Kismet to kill that goddamn cow and then, since he had nothing left to live for or to live on, he decided that he would kill himself as well.
He was slightly concerned about how he would kill himself with the wooden club, the only thing he owned resembling a weapon. He was new to suicide. Certainly, beating oneself to death would be very painful and take a long time but he elected to deal with issue when he got to it.
Of course, there was another issue. There always is. Kharaab was a devout Hindu it was wrong to kill a cow, even that smirking weasel that had caused him so much misery and shame because, Lord Krishna appeared on earth as a cow. But, thought Kharaab with a twinge of guilt, not even the great and mighty Lord Krishna would save this cow from his wrath.
Walking about behind the arrogant grazing cow, Kharaab raised the wooden club up over his eyes and screamed “Krishna!” His eyes were opened wide with murderous rage.
The cow’s eyes were opened wide in terror. Nobody’s fool, the cow ran before Kharaab could lower the killing blow. Up the cow path it scurried, running, in as much as cows can run, for dear life itself.
Kharaab didn’t give chase. He tossed the club aside and let out a long miserable sigh. He could not go through with it. He didn’t have it in him to murder a living thing, even that miserable beast of a cow that deserved so much to die.
Now he would have to live with his actions; the contemplation of taking a sacred life was an affront to the great Lord Krishna. He, Kharaab Kismet, whose existence on this earth meant nothing, had spat in the eye of the magnificent and giving Krishna and he was ashamed. So Kharaab Kismet, this good and decent man with the broken heart and the empty stomach, fell to his knees and lowered his head and spoke to the Lord Krishna. Praying aloud, he said, “I fear my anger has driven you, oh great and merciful Krishna, the essence of my very soul and the purpose of my life, further from me and without you, your humble servant is nothing. Forgive me Krishna.”
Krishna, who is a basically good-natured type god, in as far as gods go these days, heard his servant’s heart-felt words and smiled upon him. The cow hit the fan and every other part of Franny’s front engine, killing itself and the car in a single head-to-head blow.
Hearing the crash and the mandatory screams of frustration, from both Franny and the cow, Kharaab rose to his feet and climbed the knoll and looked down at the crash site. Realizing that the car had killed the beast, he broke down in tears of joy. The Lord Krishna, in all his greatness, had heard his prayers and had forgiven him. Better yet, that bastard cow was dead and he hadn’t done it. Tears of joy; great unadulterated, wonderful joy, streamed down his wonderfully weather beaten face.
“Krishna!” He cried as he fell to his knees “Krishna!”
“Let’s not cry over spilt milk” said Franny as she climbed from the wreck and lit a Gitane.
She disdainfully inspected the considerable damage to the cars mostly tin engine and then looked full circle at the endless miles of Himalayan vastness and asked, “Is there a Hertz around here?”
Kharaab shrugged in reply.
“El…el…” she groped for the words “El caro rento”
He shrugged again
“Oh honestly” she fumed lighting a second Gigante to accompany the first “Why can’t you people learn English?”
“I speak English, Mame,” he said in flawless English
“They why didn’t you answer me?” she demanded, also in English
“I don’t speak Spanish Mame,” he said, again using English.
Franny was completely confused and decided not to follow up on that angle. “Well where can I rent a car?” she said exasperated
“At the Tezpur Airport in Assam” he answered pointing over the mountain towards Assam
“That’s where I rented this car” she fumed
“So you can see then, I am correct, it is a very good place to rent cars Mame”
“Would you drive me there?” She asked “I’ll pay you”
Kharaab pulled himself to his feet “I have no car Madam”
“Then how do you get around?” She didn’t believe him. He pointed to the dead cow
“Look” she paused, handed him one of her plasma business cards, and extended her hand “Franny Glass, merger, acquisitions and accounts management…what’s your name?”
Kharaab was fascinated with the card. Like half the people in his village, he was illiterate so the words on the card didn’t matter but he had never seen anything like it. Franny withdrew her hand since he hadn’t accepted it and asked again, “What’s your name? Kay es su namo? “
“Kharaab” he answered still looking at the card
“Well listen Carlton, what’s it worth to you?”
Kharaab returned the card with a sad smile. “I can’t afford it, Madam, I’m sorry”
“No, you idiot not the card…the cow thingy…how much for the cow?”
“The cow is sacred to us. In India we call it the gift of Avataar”
“In Manhattan we call it sirloin. How much?”
Kharaab thought it was amusing but odd that the people in Manhattan named their cows and then continued “The cow’s dung is worth a fortune. It is used as an insecticide, a source of fuel and a fertilizer….and then there are the dairy products”
“My God” Franny said appalled “You mean you people use cow dung as a dairy product?” she waved off the thought “No don’t tell me…look Carol, I’m sorry I killed your little” she turned and looked at the animal’s corpse because she couldn’t remembered what they called those things “Bull cow friend or whatever ….but it was Krishna’s fault. He ran out in front of my car after escaping from the… a...a….um…” again a word escaped her “a bunch of cows where he belonged!" She was dialing her phone and waiting for the signal to connect
"Not a bunch, Madam, a herd", he corrected her respectfully.
"Heard of what?" she asked, her eyes glued to the phone screen
"Herd of cows, Madam"
"Of course I've heard of cows."
"No, a cow herd."
"No, a cow herd."
"What do I care what a cow heard?” She said peering up on the road for the Yogi’s thugs, “I have no secrets to keep from a cow! Look Caribbean, I’ll pay for your little friend but don’t try to milk me on this one”
He considered the vaguely sexual physical act of milking a cow and pondered what his ancestors were really thinking when they explored that option. He was jolted out of his thoughtful trance by the sound of Franny’s snapping fingers under his long, thin nose.
“They moved my eyes up here, buddy boy” she said, “Look. Carmichael…I ….”
“Kharaab” he said respectfully
“Whatever” she said disrespectfully “I won’t take any bull”
“I don’t want to give you a bull, Madam,” he said completely confused
“Well don’t,” she repeated busily digging through her purse.
“I don’t even have a bull,” he said to himself because New York had picked up and was busy making arrangements to bring her home. The bad news was New York wouldn’t be able to get her another car out of the valley until the following morning. The good news was, well actually, there wasn’t any good news.
She slammed the phone closed and looked around the barren hills. “Look, crabby,” she said to Kharaab “Is there a Hilton or anything resembling a hotel around here?”
“Yes” answered Kharaab cheerfully. It wasn’t often he knew the answer to two questions in row “I am told there is a very fine hotel at the Tezpur Airport in Assam….very fine a Motel Six”
Franny, who was at least a full foot taller than Kharaab blew a ring smoke in his face and said quietly “Don’t bust my balls or I swear to God you’ll join your little friend over there”
Despite what he suspected might be a hostile attitude from the American, Kharaab invited her to his humble home to spend the night because she had nowhere else to go. It is the Indian way.
He prepared a reasonably good, if spicy but bland dinner of seasoned rice with bamboo shoots and local herbs, a pile of leafy vegetables and maize with eggs, all washed down with Apong, the local drink made from rice and millet.
Franny, who had not eaten that day and was very hungry, had noted the sparseness of the food and noted again that Kharaab took less food for himself than he had given to her.
“Thank you Kharaab” said Franny Glass when the modest meal ended. There was nothing unusual in the words themselves. It was only unusual that she meant it.
“I should tell you, Karuba, there are men after me. They want to harm me. I’ll go up and sleep in the car, if I stay here, you could be harmed”
The near constant smile fell from his face and Kharaab looked her in the eyes for the first time “You are a guest in my home. No harm will come to you that will not befall me first” and then the smile returned to his face and for the first time Franny Glass smiled at him as well.
“Thank you Kharaab” she said quietly, this time with a smile.
When night fell, Kharaab took a thin, musty blanket from the shed and set on the ground. The lady would have the bed for the evening. He would sleep out under the canopy of stars that shone a brilliant bright blue against the black sky. In so long as gallant souls like Kharaab Kismet roam the earth, the last faint lights of chivalry will never die.
Although she didn’t understand why he did it, Kharaab’s sacrifice wasn’t lost on Franny Glass, an unusual moment of cogniscence for her, but then again the experience of having someone act decently without cause, was new to her. Before she turned in for the night she said “Sleep well Kharaab”
“I doubt it,” he whispered back
Franny slept well. In fact, she couldn’t recall when she had last slept o well and woken up so refreshed and relaxed. Maybe it was brisk mountain air, the dose of healthy food or the unbelievable beauty around her that she was noticing for the first time since she’d arrived.
She joked with Kharaab as he prepared them a traditional breakfast of warm rice, stuffed paratha bread that Franny recognized as crepes, cold butter, cooked spicy aloo sabzi and unsweetened milk. It had been over a decade since Franny had sat and eaten a full breakfast and when it was over, she did something she rarely ever did, and she relaxed. She lay back on the ground and stared up at the mountain peaks.
When the man entered the property, Franny noticed that Kharaab’s hands were trembling and he would not raise his eyes to look at the unhappy visitors as they spoke in a language she didn’t understand. She was pretty sure it wasn’t Spanish or Russian. Maybe Chinese.
The man left as abruptly and as unhappily as he had arrived and in his dark and gloomy wake stood Kharaab who slowly drew back his head and sucked in a deep, long breath and then closed his eyes and lowered his chin to his chest.
Franny stood to her feet and walked over to where he was standing and placed a hand on his arm “What is Kharaab? What’s wrong? Who was that man? What did he say to you?”
They walked silently to the river’s edge and washed the morning plates and as they did, Kharaab told Franny about that horrible cow and his neighbor’s field and the magistrate’s decision and how his neighbor, the gloomy man who had just left, had come to evict Kharaab from his land. This tiny patch of earth that had been the home of his father’s father and his father’s father before that. When the story ended, Kharaab lowered his head in defeat and after a long silence, Franny said “Wow...…you mean that cows name wasn’t Krishna?”
That evening after a supper of a mild meat and vegetable dish cooked in yogurt and flavored with fragrant spices, Franny asked Kharaab “How much do I owe you for the cow”
Kharaab smiled warmly at the American. Hers was a noble spirit he thought. Like him she was poor, in fact, he recalled, she was so poor that when they first met, she tried to sell him a plastic card with writing on it.
“We are the humble of the earth” he smiled “We owe each other only our kindness”
“All right you bastard, you won. I’ll pay out” Franny barked as she took out her checkbook
“Now I’m going to assume that cow thing was a Holstein or Goldstein or whatever those things are, right? So what’s the value on that? Six? Seven grand?”
“Well” said Kharaab thoughtfully because he had no idea about what the hell she was talking about.
“All right! All right!” she snapped, “Seven five and that’s it. Now since...um…cowing or whatever it’s called….is your primary source of income which is just a screaming endorsement to bring back vocational training in my opinion, you’ll need to get back on your bare feet, so that’s another year or so to train the new cow to…do whatever you two do together….so what will you gross this year? Twelve, fifteen grand? We’ll call it an even 13 five, how’s that? I’ll toss in another five for stress, trauma and turmoil and….” She said handing him the check form the Bank of New York for twenty-six thousand dollars “That’s that”
Although at the time, handing over the check was a spur of the moment-never-to-be-repeated act of generosity on Franny’s part; her accountants later labeled it a legitimate travel and business expense and wrote it off of her taxes. It wasn’t all that much money anyway, not in the larger scheme and not when you considered the thirty-five thousand it cost to charter the private helicopter that flew her out of Kharaab’s back yard the next morning.
In the end, maybe Franny Glass really was, at her core, a very bad person, although if you were to ask her if she was, she would say it wasn’t so. And she would say it wasn’t so because she could recall once, during a fleeting moment in time, in a place that didn’t matter, the great and merciful Krishna had tested the goodness of Franny Glass’s soul, and for a brief and glorious moment, Franny Glass was a powerful and great spirit filled with goodness, kindness, decency and all those other wonderful but sadly rare things that occasionally allow a mere mortal to stand with the gods.
What she did for him
In his mind it was always a brisk autumn afternoon, late in the day, the sun setting to a perfect pitch of comfortable grey and soft blue and delightful red. And because of that he looked on this hot and humid July day as an annoying, tactless intruder. In fact, everything about that day annoyed him, not a lot, but enough to alter his naturally good and happy disposition.
As they walked he frowned at the bit and pieces of trash strewn in the gutter and he silently shook his head in disapproval of the type of people who would toss it there. Then a cloud floated in front of the sun blocking out its rays and he raised his eyes to the cloud in a way meant to imply to the cloud that he was displeased with the cloud and its blocking actions.
“Stupid cloud” he thought to himself but loud enough for the cloud to hear.
“Look” she said pointing to the gutter that was besieged with the litter he so disapproved of.
He stopped and looked and seeing nothing he asked “What?”
“The dandelion” she said. “It grew from a crack in the sidewalk. Look at how pretty it is. Look at the colors”
He looked but didn’t see the dandelion. But that didn’t matter. There would be other dandelions. What mattered is that she saw in him a man who would like to know about tenacious dandelions that grow out of sidewalks. What mattered is that she saw in him a man who would appreciate brilliant colors. What mattered was that when he, in this foreign dark mood of his, saw only litter in the gutter, she saw flowers. And that was why he loved.
The legend of the four egg omelet.
I watched his face drop in complete shock and it captured me with such surprise that even the noise and bustle of Times Square faded away momentarily as I focused on his features.
“What is it?” I asked frantically “Are you all right?”
“It’s him” he whispered loud enough to be heard over the city’s din. His eyes narrowed as if he were seeing something completely unbelievable.
“Who?” I asked half turning to look into the steamed covered window of the Athens and Apollo Grill.
“No!” he said and grabbing my shoulders, he turned me full about to face him. “Don’t stare at him”
“Who?” I begged and began to turn again only to be pulled back around.
He held his hand to his mouth and clenched his teeth into his one gloved hand and momentarily closed his eye and shaking his head sadly he said “There were stories that he had come back the city. That he had hit bottom. Like most people, I put it off as urban legend. But it’s true. Rock bottom. Of all the gin joints in all the world, he landed here. A Greek carry out in Times Square”
I noted the ending of the sentence had a slight rhyme to it, clever, I thought. I also enjoyed homage to Casablanca although I still believe that Rick was better off without her. Victor Laszlo was a humorless bore and so was she. Now Rick, ah, Rick, now there was a man of character and don’t even get me started on Renault, Major Strasser, Signor Ferrari or Signor Ugarte and if Casablanca was French why weren’t they called monsieur? Well anyway.
He sighed deeply and moaned, he actually moaned the words "How the mighty have fallen"
“In the midst of the battle" I added.
He looked at me and asked “What?”
“Oh how the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle” I answered.
"How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!" I said “King James Bible, 2nd Book of Samuel. From a report on the death of Jonathon.”
“What is that?” he asked his face twisted in confusion.
“That’s where the quote is from” I answered defensively “The Bible”
“You read the Bible?” he asked incredulously.
“Yeah” I answered “Why not?”
He stared at me as if he had never seen me before and it made me uneasy. I tilted my head the general direction of the Athens and Apollo Grill and asked “Look, what’s this about?”
He was still looking at me as though I were complete stranger.
“Gill” I said “What’s this about”
Climbing out of whatever though cavern he was lost in, he looked across the width of the wide street forlornly and said “It was a long time ago. He was the King of the gastronomic world, the grand earl of the epicurean, the emperor of the gourmand, the…..”
“All right” I said holding up a hand to stop him “I think I’ve got it. He was a good cook”
“Oh he was more than that” he answered with squinted eyes “He was…he was….” He couldn’t find the words because I had already found them “yeah” he said in defeat “he was a really good cook”
Then he rolled back his head and smiled wistfully and added “But he was good. He was very good. He invented the three egg omelet. It was him. That was his baby, his darling”
“He did?” I asked skeptically with a smile that displayed by doubt “Wasn’t there always the three egg omelet”
“Oh no, my bible reading friend, oh no” he said “Back in the old days the wisdom of was that an omelet only needed two eggs and that rule was rigorously enforced by the rigid Old Guard of rations.”
I was deeply impressed with his instant command over descriptive words beginning with the letter R although I had some doubts about his usage of the word rations in context with the rest of the statement. I also didn’t care for being called his bible reading friend, but I set that aside for another time.
“The old guard of the gastronomic commanded that omelets would be prepared with two eggs and only two eggs……but he….he” He paused and clenched his gloved hand into a fist and raising his voice slightly he said with great drama “He fought them, by God! And he gave us the three omelet eggs”
“Well couldn’t have been much of fight” I added but he wasn’t listening and this wasn’t the first time he hadn’t listened to me and so once again I questioned the value of keeping him on as a friend.
“After that” he continued “he set them all on their ears by adding cheese to the omelet”
“Get out of here” I said “He invented the cheese omelet? You’re telling me he invented the cheese omelet?”
I have wondered, now and again, if my friend was missing a screw here and there.
“Well where do you suppose it came from?” he snapped “A Greek grill in Times Square?”
So that’s how it was going to be. Another one of those days where everything I said was wrong, erroneous and incorrect. See? I could do it too. I could have instant command of related words but just not out loud.
“Well I just assumed the some French guy” I stopped myself. Perhaps the word Omelet wasn’t French in origin as I assumed it was all these years. Actually, I had never considered the word at all. In fact, in the priority or things, if I were ever to sit down one day and considered the origin of some words, omelet would not be one of them. It wouldn’t even be in the running. But now, tossing the word around inside my head it sounded vaguely Russian-ie/ Arabic-ie.
He looked up to heavens with a pained expression, sighed again and then grabbed me by my lapels and said “After the acclaim and success of adding the cheese, it all went to his head. The publicity, the public adoration, oh the public adoration was not to be believed” he released me and held a solitary finger in the air “Oh but he believed it!” and then he whispered “The poor damned fool”
He waved his arms majestically across the square and said “It all went to his head. He thought himself infallible. He introduced the four egg omelet” he stopped and took a deep, deep breath of winter air “and that was his downfall”
“He flew to close to the sun” I added which seemed to disturb him, greatly.
“Do you want to tell this story or should I?” he said sharply.
“No” I answered “I was just….”
“May I continue?” he asked curtly
“By all means” I answered formally and stiffly because by my observation most Royals seem very stiff.
“The kings of the connoisseur, the emperors of the epicure had enough of him.” He continued “This time, they said one and all, this time, this time, this time he has flown to close to the sun!”
“But I just said that” I offered.
“Yes” he answered “But it means something different now that I’ve said it”
“That year” he continued “At the Bocuse d'Or, the world's most prestigious cooking competition, was being held in Dubuque”
“Dubuque?” I snorted.
He turned a cold eye on me and said coldly as to match his eye “Dubuque” and he looked sharply to his left to demonstrate his displeasure with me.
I stand by my rebuke of Dubuque.
“Anyway, the Omelet portion of the competition came around and” he stopped himself and raised his palms “I am not accusing anyone. Nor will I name names. But, the story goes that someone, a paid assassin I should think, slipped a fifth egg in his mixture while he was looking the other way and…..”
He hung his head “You can only imagine what happened next”
“No I can’t” I said “I’m not a cook what happened?”
“Take a guess!” he roared.
“I don’t know, for God’s sakes” I yelled back “That’s it? You’re going to send me out into the world with that ending? I should sue you!”
He slapped me. I grabbed him by his throat and threw him to the ground and we wrestled there for several minutes until he, him, the one, stepped from the diner out on the sidewalk and bellowed “Hey you!”
I released him and stood to my feet and faced the great man.
“Me?” I asked breathlessly because I was out of breath.
“Yeah, you” he said “Go someplace else and argue with yourself. You’re scaring off my customers and take that shopping cart with you”
Boomers on a Train
“Metro Center doors open on the right” the train’s operator announced from a speaker in the subways cars ceiling. The crowd of almost a hundred that had been waiting on the platform flooded into the trains fifteen cars and scurried to the nearest plastic seats for the ride out of the city and back to the suburbs.
“Doors closing.” the disembodied voice announced “Next stop, McPherson Square”
Unable to find an empty seat, Katherine and Tillie, independent of each other grabbed a hand rail while the train slowly lurched forward, holing their briefcases and pocket books under their arms while they struggled against the car uneven rhythm on the rails. A young man, perhaps he was just 18, caught Tillie’s eye, smiled and sprung to his feet and gestured for her to take his seat. She returned his smile and gladly accepted his offer. “You’re very kind.” she said to him “It’s been a long day, my feet hurt.”
“Yeah, that’s OK.” the kid responded “My mother says the same thing when she gets home from work” At that, a second young man stood and in a gesture more sweeping than he probably intended offered his seat to Katherine who, for reasons she didn’t really understand declined his offer “Oh! Um...no I’m okay, but thank you”
“It’s okay” he said “we’re getting off at the next stop anyway” and that, she took his seat and said quietly “You’re a very considerate young man, thank you”
Tillie, who had taken out a magazine to read, put it down and nodding at the boys said “Their good kids, this generation.”
“They are.” Katherine agreed.
From across the aisle, Dickie Judd, who had watched the seating arrangements added “You know why? Their parents haven’t declared a culture war on them like they were with us. It makes a difference.”
“You’re right.” said Stella Daly who was seated near him “That’s true. Very true.”
“You forget how young they are” Katherine said “The other day I told this girl in my office that Americans were held hostage in Iran. She was appalled. She goes “We need to get them out of there!”
“Do you realize” Dickie asked “That they have no recollection of the Wall coming down and what that meant. The Cold War. They don’t know what that was. They have never known the fear a nuclear war. Khrushchev. The Cuban missile crises. Hell, Tiananmen Square means nothing to them. I think they view the Vietnam War the way we viewed World War 1.”
The women nodded and Tillie added “Wow. You’re right. Am I that old?”
“No.” Katherine said “They’re that young. In their world, there have always been computers, and Internet. MTV.... AIDS...... “
“McPherson Square” the conductor’s voice blared, interrupting her and the two young men exited the train
“What astonishes me” Stella said “is how much younger their making adults these days. You know, most of my co-workers were born the same year I was hired at this job. When did we become the old people? You think the government would send out a notice something. I’m over the hill. Which is cool, but I wish they had told me when I reached the top of the damn hill, cause I don’t remember it. I suppose it’s universal and timeless that inside every older person is a younger person...wondering what the hell happened. The other day it struck me, I was old, when my daughter called me at 9 o’clock and asked "Did I wake you?"
“Today” Tillie responded “I got into in a heated debate over pension plans” causing them all to shutter a bit “On the other hand” she added placing her glasses on to read her newspaper “the AARP is hot for me”
There was a momentary silence broken by a man sitting a few rows down who asked “You know you stoop down to tie your shoes?” causing the group to look at him with interest and nod “Well” he continued “Do you find yourself wondering what else you can do while you're down there?” causing them all to wince in familiarity.
“I’m starting to have a hard time” Katherine said “remembering simple words like um......so anyway..........I bought some pills to improve my memory”
“Well that’s alright” Dickie said
“I forgot where I put them.” she continued “You what would be a good invention? If we born at the age of 80 and gradually became 18. But I’ll tell you what really shocks me. The other day I was in an antique store in Kensington and they had Malibu Barbie in there. Remember Malibu Barbie?”
They all smiled and fell silent recalling their childhoods.
“Somebody should come up with Barbie’s for us as we are now” Stella said “like Bifocals Barbie, Hot flash Barbie, Flabby Arms Barbie!”
“Divorced Barbie” said the man in the back “It comes with Ken’s house! “
“McPherson Square doors open on the left”
They smile at each other
“Do you remember”” the man in the back asked “when nobody and I mean, nobody, owned a purebred dog?”
They all nod.
“Next stop Foggy Bottom”
“Maybe I’m wrong” Tillie said to no one in particular “but I can’t remember our house doors ever being locked”
“Ours either” Dickie added
“Well that’s because they weren’t locked” Katherine said “nearly every one's Mother was at home when you got there from school.”
“Our minivan was the station wagon.” Stella said “You rode in the back facing the cars behind you. It was kind of nice, looking at other people and having them look at you. The keys to the car were in the car. In the ignition. Can you imagine that today?”
“The Trans Am.” Dickie said wistfully “What a great car...with a hula girl on the dashboard and an eight-track tape player. Now that was boss cool. The cops warning you to slow down.” He paused and, looked out the window in the blackness of a tunnel and said “Now my doctor warns me to slow.”
“You didn’t have to worry about the price of gas.” Katherine said “You and your girlfriends could cruise all night on weekends.”
“Peeling out!” said a middle aged voice from the back of the train
“Laying rubber.” another man shouted and pressed his foot to an imaginary gas pedal
“A driver’s license was just a piece of paper with no picture on it.” Dickie said
“You know” Stella countered “by then end of the week I actually look like the picture on my driver license.”
“I remember being worried about passing the driver's test.” one older man said to the other older man sitting across from him “Now I worry about passing the vision test. “
“Best card game ever invented?” someone shouted above the rails noise
“Go Fish.” several voices shouted back
“Playing baseball in the street and having to stop to let a car go by.” the man in the back said
“Football in the snow.” Dickie countered “No adults. If an adult tried to enforce the rules of the game, you stopped playing.”
“Remember when the worst the worst thing in the world, no matter who you are, was being picked last for a team?” Katherine said
“No” said Tillie
“No” Stella repeated
“Yeah, me either.” Katherine concluded
“Remember” asked an older man from the front of the train “when you had to ask for permission to use the Hi-fi in the pallor?”
“Slow dancing” Katherine said dreamily
“Dancing close.” Dickie said with one eyebrow raised
“I went to a grocery store yesterday” Katherine said “and they were playing the Muzak version of "Stairway to Heaven".
“Well” Tillie said “actually....the other day...I found myself singing along with the elevator Muzak.”
They all shook their heads in admittance
“That’s nothin’” a voice from the middle of the car said “last week I thought “You know, accordion music’s not that bad” and then the man hung his head in shame.
“I worry a lot” Dickie added “that the guy who thought up Muzak may be thinking of something else to invent”
“Farragut doors open on the right”
“I remember” Stella said looking out the window “when going downtown seemed like going somewhere important. It was kind of a big deal. They even had a song about it.”
“Petula Clark!” somebody said quickly
“All the pictures from my childhood are in black and white.” Dickie said “I see that and I go “Wow, dude, you are so ancient”
“When I was a kid” Stella said “every television in the world was black and white. It took five minutes for the TV to warm up. I don’t know why, it just did. So, if your show came on at eight o’clock, you sent your little brother down to turn on the TV at five minutes to eight. If a storm came, my mother made us turn off the TV because it attracted lightening. That probably wasn’t true but it was scary enough......the thought of a bolt of lightning coming through your TV set and zapping you dead in your living room.... that you listened to her and turned it off. “
“You know what else was in black and white?” Dickie continued, talking to himself more than the others “Sneakers. And there were two kinds, boys and girls .Every sneaker in the world was made by Keds and only by Keds and the only time you wore them at school was for gym”
“Catching fireflies was important.” Katherine said “So was spinning around, getting dizzy, and falling down. No reason, you just did it. Sometimes I would run until I was out of breath and you know why? Not for health reasons...just...I don’t know...just because... that’s why...and then you’d collapse on the ground and laugh about it. Today you do that, you’d get arrested.”
“I used to stop and stare at clouds” Tillie said. “Sometimes I’d try to see things in them, like shapes, or sometimes I’d just stand there and watch the wind blow the clouds around and a lot of times, I don’t know, I just watched the clouds because...why not? When was the last time you uttered the words "That cloud looks like a..."?
“Yeah” somebody whispered loud enough for all to hear. It was a good whisper
“Popcorn balls at Christmas!” Stella said “What was on those things? Shellac?”
“oly-oly-oxen-free!” Tillie said loudly “What did that mean anyway? Was it “All the Ox in for free?” and why?
“Running through the sprinkler!” Katherine countered
“We actually made decisions by going "eeny-meeny-miney-mo". Tillie declared and then added “Do kids still do that?”
“I hope so.” Dickie answered “I still do. Remember when the kids on the next block around the corner seemed like another culture in another universe?”
“Where I lived it was true” a voice from the middle of the car said
“Remember sitting on the gutter yelling at each other across the street.” someone asked from the front of the car “Wasn’t it great to yell?”
“Going steady.” Stella added with a smile as she looked into yesterday “It wasn’t a theory. You actually declared it. Out loud. Girls wore their boyfriend’s class ring with an inch of wrapped Band-Aids to keep it from falling off. “
“Ironing your hair!” Tillie said
“Fallout shelters” Dickie added and then said “Wait a minute...ironing your hair? Why would you do that?”
“To make it straight.” Katherine answered for her “It looked granny glasses and white Go-go boots”
“We had a corner store” an older man towards the front said loudly “sold wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water, two cents each. You could buy a box of candy cigarettes. Imagine that? Candy cigarettes for children! Blackjack chewing gum...what redneck neo-Nazi thought that up? Who bought that stuff and why?”
Tillie replied that “School had smells that were all their own.” She paused and added “I used to love to laugh so hard my stomach hurt.”
“The ice cream man!” someone in the center rows said
“I was not above reaching into a muddy gutter for a penny.” Katherine added “There was no telling where I would reach for a lost nickel and a dime. Forget about it. A quarter was big money.”
“Yeah but, you could do a lot with a quarter.” Stella reminded her
“A pack of baseball cards and Beatle cards and Man from Uncle cards only cost 11 cents plus tax.” Dickie said “They came with a slab of pink bubblegum that was as hard as cardboard but you ate it anyway.”
“Oh!” a man towards the rear of the car said with a raised finger “Black lights. Lava lamps. Tie-dye T-shirts. Mood rings. Love beads. Platform shoes. Bell-bottoms. Did I really wear bell-bottoms?”
“I used to worry about seeds and stems.” a man towards the front told his seat mate “Now I worry about roughage. My search for killer weeds been replaced by my search for a really good weed killer. In fact, the only time I even mention good grass is when I’m talking about somebody’s lawn”
“We walked to the movie theater from home.” a lady towards the back said to anyone “When was the last time you did that? “
“I can remember which episode of "The Brady Bunch" it is by the first scene” another woman added “Laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes or towels hidden inside the box. Milk came in bottles. They came with cardboard stoppers to seal it back up again after you opened it. Stuff from the store came without safety caps and hermetic seals, because at that point no one in America had yet tried to poison a perfect stranger. Would you drink something that was left on your doorstep today? And there was only one kind of milk. The regular kind. No one percent, diet, ten percent of whatever, there was just milk.”
“Balsa wood airplanes” Dickie said to himself
“Tinkertoys.” a voice in the room replied
“Erector Set that never erected anything unless your parents helped you.” said another
“The Fort Apache Play set.” Dickie answered “and Lincoln Logs.”
“Climbing trees.” Katherine said “and Mosquito bites... Jumping down the steps...how long has it been since you jumped down some stairs?” Tillie pondered “and being tickled. Being tired from playing ...what a great notion isn’t it?
“Court House, doors open on the left. Clarendon. Next stop Clarendon”
“That’s me” Tillie said, standing to leave
“Me too” Stella added, also standing.
“That’s me” Katherine added
“Sometimes I wonder” Stella said “how the world will judge our generation. You ever wonder about that?
“Well this is me” Dickie said and stood to leave the train as well “You know, there’s this story about how, after the end of world war two, this English duchess or something was at party and she kept pestering Dwight Eisenhower about how the US really won the war and what was our secret weapon an all. So, like she just kept going on about this secret weapon. So after a while, Eisenhower turns to her and goes “Lady, I’ll tell you what America’s secret weapon is America’s secret weapon are the best God-damn kids in the world” I kind of like to think that describes us too. Overall, we were pretty good kids, I think. We did okay. I mean we didn’t blow up the world or anything seriously bad like that. Anyway, take care, mouseketier”
As the train slowed, they walked towards the doors together. As the doors opened and they left and the train slowly pulled out of the station.
“Next stop, Dunn Loring- Merrifield doors open on the left”
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”- Philo of Alexandria
For as long as he could remember, Morty always had a problem with Jesus. He recalled Rabbi-Parent day down at the temple when his parent, Mary and Jospeh listened to Gafelt the Elder counsel them, in all his wisdom, on the failings their eldest son, Morty.
“The kid is dreck, a huck, a klutz and a nudnik” Gafelt the Elder said with a wary eye on Morty “Now Jesus,” he added as he visibly sparked up “Jesus, on the other, there’s a boy to be proud of!” he beamed rising an index finger in the air.
“So tell me something I don’t know” Mary shrugged which caused Morty to peel a suspicious eye toward Jesus and sum him up. While Morty, like his parents, was short, squat and, well, hairy, Jesus was tall, handsome and had that instant likability thing going for him, a trait so desperately disliked by those who lack it.
“He’s adopted you know” Morty whined in his nasally voice, pointing to Jesus. “Different Father, you said so yourself” he reminded Mary. Embarrassed, Mary shrugged “I don’t where he gets these things” and then mouthed the word “Meshuga” to Gafelt the elder who nodded solemn in agreement.
And so, over the decades, it came to pass that Morty, son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth who were of the tribe of David and the tribe of Abraham married Deborah the Large, the daughter of Abbie and Goldie, who ran a previously owned chariot place over in Cana.
At the wedding Morty planned to make his big announcement. With the help of his in-laws, he had leased a nice commercial space where he would open his deli, his lifelong dream, sometime that fall. He had also forgotten to send Jesus an invitation to the wedding. This was would be, Morty told himself, his moment, the moment of Morty.
Standing gracefully from his chair at the main table after the ceremony, Morty strolled happily to the podium. All eyes were on him and he loved it.
“I want to apologize” he told the guests “for running out of wine so early...you people can really pack it away.” he chuckled “Anyway, I have an announcement to make, a big event in my life. I want to announce...”
At that moment, a guest stuck his head in to the room and shouted “Hey everybody! Jesus just turned water into wine!” The room emptied, of course. Even Deborah the Large bounced off to regale at the endless wonders of her brother-in-law. And that was how it went over the next few years. When Morty’s pain in the Toches Mother-in-Law died, Jesus brought her back to life and then there was the day when Morty’s kids told their father that when they grew up they wanted to be “Just like Uncle Jesus!”
And so it was that one day, Morty, who was still schlepping as a salesman in his Father-in-Laws lot came upon Jesus preaching by the sea before a crowd of five thousand.
Luke came to Jesus and said “This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat”
There was a long silence and Jesus said “In English” and Luke snapped “The crowds getting ugly because their hungry and you haven’t pulled any rabbits out of your hat”
“I don’t wear a hat,” Jesus snapped again.
“It’s an expression,” added Mathew
“You think I don’t know from expression?” Jesus barked and then, regrouping, he added “Sorry dude, it’s the hunger talking” and he then converted five loaves a bread and two fish into enough food to feed the entire crowd.
Seeing this, Morty’s head spun. When the day was done, he pulled Jesus aside and spoke to him. “Look, you know I’m opening a deli right?” Morty whispered as he leaned in very close to Jesus. “Here’ what I’m thinkin. We move out of this burg and up to Rome.
We rent a small place, you know, keep overhead low.” Slinging his hairy stubby arm across Jesus shoulders and gazing dreamily skywards he said, “Morty’s Fish & Loafs” that’s what we’ll call the place. He waved a hand majestically across the sky “I see dozens of them, hundreds of them, all over Rome, each one exactly like the other like a ...” he groped for the word “A...chain....or sorts” and then added as an afterthought “The Romans are big on chains”
He turned and placed his open palms on Jesus’ chest “We put Ma behind the counter, Pop on the register and you in the quote ‘kitchen’” he said with a sly wink “And I figure, first year, we pull in, what? A half million denarius, easy”
Jesus didn’t like it. For one thing, he always got top billing. But Mort didn’t care “I guess we’ll need a dishwasher.” He said more to himself than anyone else “No, maybe not. We’ll just throw the dirty ones away” and then dramatically stopping himself he stared at Jesus with wide eyes “ You can dishes appear, right?”
“Look, Morty..” Jesus started
“And we’ll need forks. Napkins, Salt.” And then added quickly “Not that your fish and loafs needs salt, I mean don’t get me wrong, you’re a good cook”
“I cannot do this,” Jesus replied staring off into the clouds” For I must do my father’s work. I must descend into the fire of hell for forty days and then die painfully upon the cross”
“You know Jesus” Morty said “You only think of yourself”
“Do not” Jesus said
“Do to” Morty countered
“Do not” Jesus said
“Whacko” Morty hissed
“Don’t call me that” Jesus warned
“Whacko” Mort said again, which is when Jesus slapped him and then slapped him again on his other check. Morty grabbed a handful of Jesus’ hair but the Apostils were on him in seconds and kicked his ankles and stepped on his exposed toes until Mary, the Blessed Mother, leaped between and commanded “Morty! Leave your brother alone!”
They didn’t speak to each other for a few years after that, and Morty opened a small deli, Mort’s Place in a heavily Jewish neighbor Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City. The hand chiseled sign outside read “Mort’s Deli. Try our Knish! Bar Mitzvahs a specialty!” Otherwise, Mort’s Place was the usual ancient Israeli deli, tile floors; Formica topped tables and signed pictures from various celebrities who were regulars like Ezekiel, Ruth, Solomon and Pontius Pilate, whose picture was signed simply “To Morty, all the best. Poncho”. Each of these people had a menu item named after them including the John the Baptist Hot Brisket that boasted, “You’ll lose your head over this one!”. There was also the meatloaf platter, which had been renamed from its original Dead Man’s Meatloaf Surprise to the Lazarus special.
Life was pleasant for Morty and his deli until one evening on the day of Passover, just before closing time, Morty was seated comfortably at his spot in the kitchen, studying the returns from the days camel races; when he heard a commotion out in the dining room and went to investigate. It was Jesus and his boys.
“Who told you guys you could shove all those tables together?” and sweeping his arm across the empty deli “I got other customers you know”
“We’ll put them back when we have finished” Jesus replied with a slightly strained smile
“You bet your ass you will” Mort said wagging his chubby finger under his brother’s nose.
“I said we would” Jesus replied, his smile becoming slightly more frozen to lips.
“I’m not gonna schlep around here doing your work” Mort counted placing just a little too much emphases, Jesus thought, on the word work.
“I said we would put them back” Jesus said slowly “Make sure you do”
“I think you’re belaboring the point” Jesus said
“I run a respectable place here,” Morty said “I can’t have you and your little hoodlum friends screw’n it up on me” and in the same breath he added “Why doesn’t that guy have a beard?” he asked pointing at John who was using a handkerchief to clean off his chair.
“Him?” Jesus whispered “Him, we’re not sure, Morty”
“Well, wadda have?” Mort asked
“Give me” Jesus said spying the menu “11 house specials and one diet plate”
“I can give you a nice deal,” Morty said as he scribbled a few figures together
“Let’s say...uh...twelve denarius”
“Twelve denarius!” Jesus yelled “What are you, nuts?! Jesus H. Christ. Get outa here with twelve denarius”
“Listen, kolboynik, it’s Passover.” Mort yelled back “You’re lucky I’m open at all, for Gods sakes ”
From the back of the room, in the general direction of Paul the Apostle the word “Gonif” filtered into the air causing Mort to jab at the numbers on his estimate.
“Gonif! I got 11 Bust Your Borsht Belt Specials with slaw and potato salad on the side with a kosher dell with egg malted, and one diet special for Mister Money Bags here.” He said pointing to Jesus “Right there...you nudnik...is six denarius, toss in your 90% Roman tax, overhead...I’m losing my shirt here. I’m giv’n this away, over here. I’m a yutz!”
“What’s a shirt?” somebody yelled from the back
“You should be ashamed!” Peter roared as he pulled out his dagger.
“And you should go hungry, you shlub!” Mort replied “You don’t like it? Go to the Roman joint down the street...pastrami with mayonnaise!”
There was a momentary silence.
“We can live with that!” John shouted and the others mumbled agreement.
“Yeah” Mort retorted “but on white bread?”
The apostles mulled it over and Simon-Peter said to Jesus “The yutz has a got a point”
“Thank you Peter” Jesus said raising two fingers above the disciples head.
“It’s Simon-Peter” Simon-Peter replied and pointed to regular Peter “He’s Peter. I’m Simon –Peter”
Jesus sighed dramatically and threw his hands in the air and replied sharply “It would kill you get a new name? With the Peter’s and Simon’s. You can’t go with a just Simon?”
“We already got a Simon,” Simon said from the back
“Ouy” Jesus mumbled as he rubbed his temples
“I’m sorry,” Simon-Peter said sorrowfully.
Jesus patted Simon-Peter on the back “No, no, Dude. It’s the hunger talking. I’m sorry”
“Well maybe” Mort said turning his gaze to the ceiling “If a certain somebody had a steady income instead of wandering around the desert all day, this would not be an issue”
Jesus face flushed red and pointed a finger an inch from Mort’s face “Don’t start with me, Morty”
“I’m just say’n” Mort shrugged
“Alright, Shmendrik...”Jesus spat between clenched teeth “Drop the Bust Your Borsht Belt Specials and bring us 12 diet plates”
“Shmendrik?” Mort replied, tossing his dishrag over his shoulder.
“But I really I had my heart set on a nice pastrami” John whined with the other nodding in agreement
“Think of the future, you yutz!” Jesus snapped, “I can’t be holding up a freak’n pastrami on rye with a malted saying ‘take this pastrami and eat it, this is my body!”
“Why not?” Mort countered deeply offended “You say’n there’s something wrong with my pastrami?”
“I’m saying” Jesus growled “I don’t want to turn the entire Christian world into” and then he screamed out the last words “A race of diabetics!” and then calming himself with a long, deep breath, Jesus looked at Mort and said “This is all over your ‘Ma loves you more than me thing’ isn’t it?
“Don’t pull that Freudian crap with me you schnook” Mort hissed “Its twelve denarius, take it or leave it!”
“Woe to the man” Jesus continued, punctuating each word with a jab of his finger into Mort’s chest. “Who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born!”
“What? Are you, threatening me? Is that some sort of whacko threat?” Mort said as he stepped into Jesus’ space.
“Who’s Freud?” somebody asked from the back
“I’m just say’n,” Jesus said pushing Mort back a few steps “And don’t call me a whacko”
“Whacko” Mort taunted
“Stop calling me that” Jesus said
“Whacko. Whacko whacko whacko”
On the last whacko, Jesus grabbed Mort and put him in a headlock. Mort countered with a leg lock and they both tumbled to the floor, fists flaying. Peter pulled out a knife and started jabbing at Mort’s ears as the Apostles pulled them apart. Judas shouted “I got a thirty pieces of silver on Morty!”
Separated, out of breath and seated in chairs at either end of the room, Jesus and Morty glared at each other.
“I was root’n for Jesus” Judas lied
Panting and touching his nose for signs of blood, Jesus asked “Where’d you get thirty pieces of silver?”
Before Judas could answer, John took the floor and, pointing dramatically at Jesus and Mort he said “Love thy brother as thy self!” to which Jesus said “Ah shut up and sit down!”
Jesus and the Apostles huddled together in a corner and watched Jesus count their collective coins. “five...six...what’s this? Jesus said holding up a small ball of lint “Who gave me lint?” causing the apostles to look at their feet and the ceiling fan.
“Six lousy denarius! That’s all we got between us?” Jesus raised his eyes to the ceiling and then continued, “Remember that little talk we all had about how somebody had to get a regular job. Does anyone recall that?”
The apostles stared at their sandals. No one answered. Jesus tossed the money to Morty
“Here! ya Shvantz!” Jesus spat “What can we get for that?
“Six denarius?” Mort shrugged “Loaf of bread, jug a wine and on that, I’m taking a beating”
Jesus looked at his watch and snapped, “I don’t have time for this. Just bring the food”
One evening, a few days later, again just before closing time, while Morty sat at his place in the kitchen reading that day’s camel returns, Jesus, floating on a brilliantly lit white cloud, suddenly appeared to me.
“Morty” Jesus whispered
Looking up from his paper, Morty stared at Jesus and then lowered his chin to chest and breath “Ouy”
Pointing to the cloud and brilliant bright glow that surrounded him, Jesus smiled and “How’s that for entrance?”
“I thought you died” Morty said flatly
“I did. I came back to life” Jesus replied in a way obviously meant to impress.
Morty threw up his arms in disgust “Why I am not surprised?” he sighed, “So wadda want with me?”
“I didn’t want to leave without getting things straight between you and me,” Jesus said softly as he lifted two fingers in the air.
Morty rolled his eyes “Okay. Go ahead. But make it snappy. I gotta lock up
Disgusted, Jesus darted his eyes quickly left and murmured either the word Luck or Smuck, Morty wasn’t sure. And then resuming the smile on his face, Jesus said, “Morty, you’re a kind, generous man with a good heart”
Morty put the newspaper down and, slightly choked with emotion asked “Really?”
After a pause, Jesus said, “Well, no, not really but ah...um...but you do have many fine attributes. I have always said that”
“Really?” Mort asked with a gentle smile “Like what?”
Jesus shrugged. He groped for something else nice to say about his brother but nothing
Came to him. There was a very long pause and the smile started to freeze on Morty’s lips.
“Like what?” he asked again.
Jesus held up one finger and said “Hold on, I’m thinking about it”
After another very long pause, Jesus snapped his fingers “I got it! You make good deli food”
“Really?” Morty asked again
“Of course some would ask, how would I know?” Jesus shrugged “You wouldn’t give me any! Your own brother...bread and water I get!
“Don’t start with me Jesus, I swear to God”
“Your own brother” Jesus moaned “bread and water I get!
“You’re lucky you got that!” Morty yelled and then grasping at his chest “Look, don’t get me worked up, I blood sugar”
“Blood sugar!” Jesus mocked
“Yeah, wise guy, blood sugar!”
“Blood sugar” Jesus whispered and then cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “I got nailed to a cross!”
“So, this is my problem?” Morty shrugged “You know those fercockt Romans charged Ma for the cost of the cross. I hope you’re happy. I had to pick up the tab”
Jesus had no reply and after several uneasy seconds, Morty, realizing he had gone too far, pulled an empty chair to the table. “Why don’t you sit before you run out of rocket fuel” he said softly. And Jesus sat. They did not speak for several minutes, each staring off into their own thoughts until finally Jesus asked sheepishly “You and me okay?”
Without lifting his eyes from the table, Morty threw one of his hairy, beefy arms around his brother’s neck and said “We always were” and then he added, “So, you’re hungry?”
“I could eat” Jesus shrugged
And so it came to pass that evening that Jesus and Morty, sons of Joseph of and Mary of Nazareth who were of the tribe of David and the tribe of Abraham, shared a hot pastrami and a malted and all was well between them
The Lighter Side of Metamorphosis
When Jacob Hanson woke up that morning from easy dreams he never thought he would find himself changed into a wonderful bird. And because of that wonderful dream he lingered in bed longer than he should have and so, Jacob Hanson was late again.
Dashing out of the front door of his comfortable home in suburban Edina he raced to his car which waited expectedly for him on the off white cement of the driveway.
Jacob stopped and took in the morning air and turned to gaze at the Minneapolis skyline not so far off in the distance and say the clear dark outline of the Essex building where he worked and where they were, angrily no doubt, waiting for him, again. He stopped to pause and think which was one of the primary reasons why Jacob Hanson was late so often. He was a man of thought and pauses.
“You know” he said to himself “If I could fly, I’d be there already”
Whatever it was that overtook him pushed him forward and then in an upwards direction into the air and then, with a rhythmic rocking motion that came naturally, he lifted himself higher and higher into the air. By leaning forward he glided across the sky, floating past the cars and buildings and landed, somewhat roughly, in front of the Essex Building.
Someone filmed the whole thing, from beginning to end, with their phone camera and posted the unusual site on YouTube and within hours Jacob Hanson of Edina Minnesota was the center of the world’s attention. The international media flocked to his door and wanted to know how he could fly.
“Are you an alien?” was the most popular question to which Jacob replied
“You mean” Jacob replied “Like one of those illegals?”
“No,” said the reporter with a shake of his head “like the other kind.”
Jacob nodded his head in understanding “Nope, I’m from right on earth.”
“Then how come you can fly?” came a question
“I don’t know how I learned to fly,” Jack Hanson replied. “I was in a hurry to get some place and I just sort of,” he stopped in mid-sentence and finding the correct word, he continued, “Well I suppose I willed myself to fly. I just thought it and saw it in my head and the next thing you know, by gosh, there I was, flying.”
“Can you explain a little better than that?” a reporter asked.
Jacob shook his head and nope, no he couldn’t, and then asked the reporters a question. “Can you explain to me how you will your body to walk?”
No, they couldn’t. “Well,” Jacob said patiently, for he was a patient man, “I can’t explain how I will my body to fly. I just sort of thought it and there you go.”
Well sir, as you can well imagine, a lot of people wanted to fly. These people, just average folks, didn’t have any place special to fly to, they just wanted to fly, so they willed themselves to fly and they did fly. It turns out humans could always fly, just like they could always walk and move their arms and turn their necks. In the next month, after people got the hang of it, Hawaii had a lot more tourists than usual and so did the North Pole, Florida and beach towns in Southern California.
By week’s end an emergency meeting was held at the White House to discuss the human flying issue or what was popularly known as “The Hanson”, as in “let’s Hanson down to Mexico for spring break”. Sitting in on the meeting at the White House that morning were leaders of industry and commerce, leading members of the scientific community, the President and the President’s top people. The first to speak was Drew Nally, the aged and powerful Speaker of the House of Representatives, a noted captain of industry.
“Mister President” he said in a no nonsense way “this flying nonsense must be stopped until we can control it!”
“Why? Everyone seems to be having a good time. What’s wrong with it?” the President replied with a smile.
“Well a lot is wrong with it sir, a lot. Our hotel industry is in big trouble, sir, big trouble” he said furrowing his brow on the second use of “big trouble” to make sure the President understood that it was big trouble and not just a little trouble.
“You see sir, most of these folks, these, these…..’ he searched for the word that offered just the right amount of condescending disapproval to it “these flying people,” he said almost choking on the words, “they’re mostly common, everyday folk.” They just drop by for the day; at best most are only staying a night, maybe two. There are just too many other places in the world for them to visit, you know, now that it’s a free for all”.
“Same with the restaurant business,” said the man who represented restaurant businesses. “With no airline carry on restrictions, people are carrying their food with them.” He turned to the man who was sent by the hotel businesses and said with a look of great disdain, “Whole families carrying their meals in knapsacks!” He scanned the table and said “knapsacks!” and all gathered there pushed out their lower lips and shook their heads in great disapproval of families carrying food in knap sacks.
“Mister President, I demand, in the name of the American people that we stop the American people from partaking in this sordid flying business before entire industries collapse and disappear forever, perhaps.”
“Like what?” asked the President
“The question surprised Nally mostly because he hadn’t expected a question, because a man in his position is so rarely questioned and because he had absolutely no answer to the question asked. In the past six decades he had simply barked his opinions at Presidents and the Presidents did whatever Mister Nally suggested they do.
“Well,” Nally sputtered, “like…say for instance…umm…” He stared at the flag pole standing so rigidly in the corner of the room and then raised a solitary finger. “Think of those people who make stairs!”
“Stairs?” added the President.
Still flustered Nally, rallied with his best answer “Yes, stairs. Why if everyone is flying why would you need stairs?”
It was a stupid answer and it hung in the air for several very, very long seconds before someone else spoke.
“May I add,” added the eminent physicist Doctor Han Snider, “that aside from the catastrophic toll that human flying will take on the stairway industry” he said condescendingly with an eye towards the Vice President, “we must ask the all-important question….are we still human if we can fly? Were we, in fact, ever human?”
The President turned his head slightly to the left, considered the question and then said, “That isn’t as stupid as the stairway issue but it is still epically dumb.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” added Charles Dunning of the Intelligence agencies. “I mean…what comes next? Will we be able to shoot lasers from our eyes?”
He chuckled and flashed something that was akin to a tense smile, stood from his chair and strolled across the room as he spoke. “I jest, of course, but I say we add some money to the defense and intelligence budgets and get on this thing ASAP.”
The man from the US Department of Commerce looked angry. “Folks are just landing in the country from anywhere and everywhere and we don’t know who’s here, who isn’t here and who’s here that doesn’t belong here….” His voice trailed off angrily, for he was an angry man. In complete defeat he lowered his head and stared deeply into the rich dark grains of the oak table and whispered “People are doing whatever they want. We’re powerless.” The general from the Air Force leaned forward instinctively, and with all in the room watching him, bit his lower lip and patted the man from the Immigration people on the back.
“Mister President,” said the Air Force general without moving his sympathetic gaze from the man from the Immigration people, “our nation is in grave, grave, grave danger.”
The generals from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Directors of the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA nodded their heads as one in complete agreement with Mister Dunning. Then, as one, the admirals and generals and secret directors turned to the President for an answer
“Forget it, boys,” the President said. “You’re not getting another penny.”
The President stood from his chair and those in the room stood respectfully and watched as he collected all of his Presidential pens and notebooks and prepared to leave the room. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I see no harm in any of this. People are happy. Let’s just leave it alone. I don’t see any real problems here, unless people start to swim under water like fish,” and with that, he strode, in a Presidential type of stride, out of the door.
Jacob Hanson was late again. He had taken his family to Lake Minnetonka. They flew there to escape all the media glare that his simple yet magnificent deed had created. He had been fishing at Gray’s Bay Damn on the vast lake east end and enjoyed himself so much that he’d forgotten the time and now he was late, twenty minutes late to take his wife and daughter to a Walleye Dinner at Lord Fletcher’s Restaurant. He would have flown over the lake but a thunder storm that carried the occasional flash of lightening had darkened the sky and it would take him a full half hour to drive around the lake to the cabin.
He stopped to pause and think, for as I said before, Jacob Hanson was a man of thought, he considering his options, he stared at the clear blue lake water and said to himself,
“You know, if I could swim, I’d be there already.”
Surprise, Arizona, 1984.
John Dillinger eyed the heavy set man walk into park and continued to watch him as he passed the swings and the broken water fountain and made his way to bleachers and took a seat two rows down and just to the left of Dillinger. He studied the man. He had seen him several times that week. He was too old to an FBI agent or cop.
After a few minutes of sitting in silence the man turned, looked up at Dillinger and smiled and nodded towards the Little League players on the field.
“Follow the game?” he asked.
Dillinger shook his head “No, not much” and then pointed at the boy on first base “My grandson”
They watched the game in silence for several minutes before Dillinger spoke.
“You know who I am” Dillinger said without taking his eyes from the game and then added “So who are you?”
“I’m Ray Brennan.”
Dillinger turned and looked Brennan over and asked “FBI?”
“No” Brennan answered with a smile. “Reporter. Chicago Tribune”
Dillinger sighed and then nodded his head in the direction of his grandson and said “He’s never heard of John Dillinger. Doesn’t know a damn thing about him. You know what he does know?”
Brennan smiled softly and shook his head.
“He knows that if you hurt someone, you apologize. He knows God is good. He knows that he should love his country, be respectful to his parents. That stealing is wrong. So is lying and cheating. He knows those things because I taught him those things. He knows his grandfather is a decent guy, a guy who would never harm a soul.”
He stopped talking and looked down at the sun baked blue paint on the bleacher and said “I disappeared fifty years ago. I haven’t robbed a bank or broken a law since….”
He stopped to recall the dates and then continued “since we knocked off the Merchants National Bank in…………..” he voice trailed off and he searched his memory for the banks location.
“South Bend, Indiana, June 1934” Brennan added.
They fell silent for a moment and then Brennan asked “Did you pay the FBI to let you disappear? What was the agent’s name?”
They both knew the agents name and they both knew that asking was a reporter’s trick.
“Purvis” Dillinger added “Special Agent Melvin Purvis. Did I pay him? No, Melvin Purvis was the straightest arrow ever made by God or man.” And then he shook his head, smiled and said “Did you know that the only federal charge ever made against me was that he drove a stolen car across state lines? When I broke out of that jail at Crown Point, Indiana.
“March of 1934” Brennen added
“I took a sheriff’s car and drove into Illinois.” Dillinger continued “Based on that, and just that, the FBI decided I was Public Enemy Number One”
They booth watched a boy swing desperately at a low pitch.
“So what’s the story?” Brennan asked.
“I don’t know much. What I heard was that in the summer of 1934, a dirty cop in Chicago named Martin Zarkovic approached Agent Purvis and told him that he knew a woman named Anna Sage who was running a brothel and that one of her girls was seeing me as a regular. Anna Sage was an illegal from some place in Europe, was getting booted out of the country after a moral arrest and that she could set up Dillinger if Purvis would assure her the deportation was called off”
“Were you?” Brennan asked “Were you involved with one of her girls?”
“Hell” Dillinger said “I never heard of no Anna Sage or nobody who worked for her.”
“So you didn’t know Zarkovic the cop was Anna Sage’s partner in the brothel?”
Dillinger leaned back slowly and said “I’ll be damned”
“Purvis had a small army of agents with him waiting outside the theater.” Brennan said. “When the film was over, Sage would walk with Dillinger. Purvis had told his men that he would light a cigar when he spotted Dillinger and on that signal they would draw their weapons and move in.”
“And that’s when his Jimmy Lawrence fellow saw the agents, figured they were cops and ran for it down the alley next to the theater” Dillinger added “And Purvis shot him”
“Well that’s what we wrote in the papers” Brennan said “What happened was that James Lawrence and Sage started walking down the street when the cop, Zarkovic walked up behind Jimmy Lawrence, fired two shots into the back of his head, Lawrence fell face down into the alley entrance and then Zarkovic disappeared into the crowd. Purvis and his men rushed in, guns drawn so everyone assumed the FBI fired the shots because Dillinger had tried to escape down the Alley, it was just one of those remarkable acts of God at the right place at the right moment”
“You can image I surprised I was” Dillinger said “When I opened the morning paper the day after to read that I was, shot and killed by Special Agent Melvin Purvis of the FBI outside the Biograph theater”
“I went to the morgue that morning” Brennan said “Jimmy Lawrence might have looked like you alive but as a cadaver, you two had nothing in common”
“Is that so?” Dillinger asked.
“Yeah” Brennan continued “Purvis explained it away as plastic surgery. But I was there. I saw two pathologists perform the autopsy before twenty medical students with a recording nurse in attendance. She recorded ever word for the final report
“And where’s the final report?” Dillinger asked.
“Agent Purvis took it. And it was never seen again” Brennan answered. I got my hands on a copy of the original autopsy. The nurse kept it. I’ve had it for almost fifty years”
He reached into his pant pocket and took out a couple of sheets of folded papers and handed it to Dillinger “You can see for yourself, it says right there, the corpse had brown eyes”
“Mine are blue” Dillinger said reading the report as he spoke.
“The four inch scar on your abdomen from your surgery in the navy wasn’t on the corpse. The bullet wound scars on the arms were missing. The measured the corpse at six foot four, a full six inches taller than you and it just went on from there”
“Fingerprints?” Dillinger asked
“Provided to the Coroner’s report by the FBI” Brennan said. “So how did you end up here?”
“I waited a few weeks, you know, laid low” Dillinger said “The story disappeared from the papers and I figured ‘Hell, I must be dead” so I high tailed out of Chicago. Lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon for a while. The over to California for a bit and then made my way down to Arizona when the war started, got a job at airplane assembly plant near Tucson. That was in the winter of 43. Stayed with em until 1973, retired. Full pension. Got married, good women, God rest her. I never told her more than what she needed to know. Two kids, two girls. You?”
“Divorced” Brennan said “No kids”
“What happened to the woman, Anna Sage?” Dillinger asked.
“Purvis had her deported back to Rumania. She died right after the war.” Brennan answered.
“And Zarkovic? The cop?” Dillinger asked.
“He took over the brothel for himself and was appointed chief of the East Chicago Police Department” Brennan said. “The FBI backed the promotion”
“Purvis?” Dillinger asked
“He shot himself through the head in 1959”
“And you” Dillinger asked “What made you find your way down here?”
“After I saw the autopsy on Jimmy Lawrence I knew you were still alive. And I told my editor as much. He had a good laugh and he said “Well, kid, if you want to go find John Dillinger, by God, you go find John Dillinger”. So I did”
“It took you fifty years?” Dillinger asked.
“Well you’re not an easy man to find. Worlds only travelling dead man.” Brennan said as he stood to his feet “Besides, it isn’t the story that makes the reporter, it’s the tenacity”
Brennan looked at his watch.
“How did you find me?” Dillinger asked.
“Tenacity” Brennan answered.
“So” Dillinger said “I don’t suppose there’s any way I can get you not to file this story”
“Nope” Brennan said “Not for love or money. That is if I had a place to file it”
Brennan looked at his watch again “By the time I get back to Chicago tomorrow, they will have retired me from the paper”
“How do you know?” Dillinger asked.
“I’m a reporter” Brennan said “I find stuff out”
“So now what?” Dillinger asked. “What happens next?”
“So now we enjoy the rest of our lives and leave the past behind us” Brennan replied.
It was the second day of cold and miserable weather. The kind of miserable day that lasts too long and leaves the soul feeling empty and alone. A day that took twice more than it gave. He was unloading the food from the trunk of his car when the voice reached across the cold rain and asked “Sir? How far is it to Route 2?
He slowly and reluctantly maneuvered his head around the hood to see a boy, more of a young man than a boy, tall and so thin that his wet and ragged clothes hung from every angle of him and dripped rain on to the soaked gravel of the parking lot. From inside the bar, someone flicked on the overhead sign and the words “Two Deuces Cocktails and Dining” sprinkled hundreds of red and blue reflections across tiny stones of the lot.
He looked at the boy and then looked past him into the blur of speeding cars that threatened to drown out his voice, so he yelled ‘About two miles, maybe more. Straight down this road. Route 2 crosses over it”.
He noticed the boys sneakers didn’t match. Maybe it was a fashion, he thought. He didn’t know anything about fashion. He didn’t know much about kids either. The boy, he figured him to be maybe 18-years-old, nodded his thanks, but in a way that let it be known that he was already tired and didn’t want the long journey before him.
“You gonna use that?” the boy asked, nodding his head towards the trunk floor.
“Use what?” he shouted back.
“That hat, that baseball hat?” the boy replied pointing his long boney finger at the truck.
He looked down at his Twins baseball cap. He’d bought at a game down in New York two years ago. It cost him a pretty penny. He looked over at the boy and the hood that covered his head was soaked through with rain.
“Sure, I’ll give it to you” he said leaning into the car “Take it, it’s yours.”
“I’ll take it” the boy said with a nod that seemed ever so slightly aggressive.
He reached into the truck and tossed him the cap. The boy caught it, pulled down his rain soaked hood, placed the cap on his head and pulled the hood over it. He stood to his full height and shoved his thin bone white hands into his pant pockets a move that caused the trousers to inch down precariously, forcing him to quickly move his right hand around to the back and left hand to the front and pull the pants up in one quick yank. Then he lowered his head against the rain and moved on.
He noticed the boy hadn’t thanked him for the cap but still, for a moment, he pondered offering the boy a ride down to the road because it was raining and cold and miserable and the traffic was dangerous. But he was going to offer the ride because he was a kind man, a good man, a decent man. So he pondered it and decided against it because more than once his worthy nature had caused him more grief than joy. So he returned to the shelter of the trunk hood, lifted out the last of the grocery bags and closing the trunk with a push of his elbow, he trudged across the parking lot and pounded on the restaurants thick wooden door.
He heard the lock release from inside and watched the door swing open to reveal the still dark dining room, vaguely silhouetted in an ugly yellow glow from the kitchen light. The scene made him slightly uneasy but for no particular reason other than he was a man who liked things the way they were. He liked the undisturbed sameness of things. Routine. Warmth.
“Did you get everything?” Brian asked lifting his nose above the edge of the brown paper bags and searching inside for everything and anything.
The question annoyed him, slightly, but it still annoyed him. He was not a complete incompetent; he thought to himself, he would never actually say something like that out loud. But, he added to his thoughts, that he was enough of an incompetent to need someone like Brian to run the place, to manage the details that he knew he was incapable of handling because, truthfully, he just didn’t care.
When his father ran the place, he ran it alone but he wasn’t his father and that annoyed him too. Before he answered, his mind darted back to the boy and the cap and he wondered if he had allowed the boy to buffalo him.
“Yep” he answered as he handed the bags over to him “Everybody here?”
He prayed everyone was there. He didn’t handle restaurant problems well. He was born into that business; he was not born from it. It wasn’t a joy for him as it had been for his father. For him, it was work, joyless work. Every morning he dragged himself across the parking lot whispering “Let there be no problems today, please” and every morning he recalled his father jogging across the lot, rushing inside to find a problem.
“Just about” Brian answered “the girls are in back, got all the tables covered, the cooks here” Both of them moved their heads to the right looked past the open kitchen door. The short order cook who was older than dirt and was bent over his counter in his kitchen, and it was his kitchen, lost in the rhythm of a chopping motion and the dull thud his knife blade pushing into a vegetable. He was a good man when he was sober and a bad man was he drunk and the busted bones and scars on his face testified silently that he was more often drunk than sober.
“He okay tonight?” he asked, speaking rapidly to get the cold out of his veins.
“Is he sober?” Brian answered slowly “Yeah, but the night’s young. Talk to me when we close at 2.”
“Long as he gets us past the bar rush” he said “I don’t really care what happens after that.” And they both looked into the kitchen again.
The dishwasher?” he asked hopefully. “What’s his name? Juan…..” he drew a blank.
“Juan, Don Juan, Don Corleone, I don’t know, anyways, not here” Brian answered shaking his head “and probably won’t be either. If you want, I’ll wash, you cover the floor”
He had hired the kid. It was Brian’s job, but he had leaped into the middle of things and hired the kid without Brian’s consent and now he was gone with no signs of returning.
“No” he answered with a long sigh that was drawn mostly out of resignation for his inabilities “No. You’re the manager, you manger. I’ll wash”
“I’m sorry” Brian said with a tilt of his head.
“It’s not your fault.” he answered feeling somewhat condescended to and looked down at his white shirt and blue tie “I’m going to slip home and change into something more dish washy.”
“All right” Brian answered in a way that was intended to be uplifting but felt oddly out of place “I’ll get this stuff in the back, see you in a bit”
Back in the safety of his car, he drove slowly through the increasing darkness of the day, agitated that the dishwasher, what’s his name, had taken his last paycheck and not returned. Son of bitch. No work ethic, that’s the problem. No manners. No respect.
A mile down Wolcott Road, peering through the brown mist on his windshield, he saw the tall, rail thin boy sluggishly making his way through the rain. His chin was held close to his chest, his hands buried deep in his pockets. He pulled the car up alongside the boy, lowered the window and felt the cold air invade the car. The boy bent over and looked into the car.
“You still going to Route 2?” he asked.
It took the boy a few seconds but when he recognized him from the parking lot a surprisingly warm smile came across his face.
“Oh!” he said “Hi”
“Come on” he said “Get in, I’ll give you a ride”
“I’ll take it” the boy replied. “I’ll take what I can when I can”
He climbed into the car and sat, stretched out his two long legs and rode along silently, looking out into the rain swept street. They drove along for several miles without talking, the boy adjusting the seat to fit his long legs and then leaning it back, far back, as though he intended to sleep until they reached Lakewood Road. He didn’t like that the boy moved the seat without asking. He thought about saying something but didn’t instead he reasoned his way out of it. People had to be comfortable after all. It was human nature.
“So” he asked without looking over to his passenger “Where you going today?”
“The car wash up on Route 2” the boy replied without bothering to look at him “They had an ad in the newspaper. They’re looking for people and I need a job”
“What are they paying?” he asked.
“Minimum wage I suppose” he answered lazily and then turning to him with a wry smile, the boy added “Moneys money, right?”
That’s right” he answered and they returned to their mutual silence. Common sense told him there was something not right with this boy, that he was trouble. That he had a slight but obvious bad attitude. But his better angels, he had many of them, pushed those thoughts aside and he reasoned that poverty and hard times would make anyone a cynic, make them harsh. The boy just needed a break, he needed to see that there was goodness in the world.
“So, where do you live?” he asked the boy.
“Up on Binary Road” he answered.
“Binary Road” he said repeating the boy’s words. He knew the area. It was a bad. There were trailer homes on some of those lots that were older than he was.
“That’s near my place, my restaurant he said and then added “You know, it’s a good haul up to route 2 for minimum wage. I’ll tell you what, if you wash dishes, I got a job for you. It’s a lot closer than all the way up here. Free meals too. And we’re stable. We’ve been there for fifty years now”
“If you want, sure” the boy said as he were doing him a favor.
“Yeah, I think it would be good for the two of us” he said and turned the car around and headed back to the bar.
Late the next morning the weather was equally miserable when he pulled into the parking lot. Brain and the cook walked across the lot to meet him. They never did that. Never. Something was wrong. His stomach tightened. The center of his chest hurt, but just slightly. He stepped out of the shelter of his car and walked towards them.
“White trash is all he is” the old cook grumbled “Just plain white trash. I knew it the minute I laid eyes on him”
“What happened?” he asked “What the hell happened?”
“We were robbed” Brian answered “Burglarized. Wiped us out”
“White trash is all he is” the old cook grumbled again “Just plain white trash. I said that from the get go. But did anybody listen to me? No”
“Where’s the kid?” he asked but he knew.
“I been in this here business longer any you been alive” the cook said too loudly. He was already drunk.
“He’s not coming back” Brian said with a look of sympathy across his face.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, but he knew.
“Because he broke in last night. He must have left the back door unlocked before he left. We got him on the house camera. Took the strong box with him, about $1,000. He cleaned out the register for another five hundred. All of our steaks, another $500 at least”
“I gave him everything” he said.
“It’s not your fault. Its human nature, is what it is” the cook said to him “You got yourself two kinds of people in this world, the givers and the takers. That’s all there is. He seen you a giver and he took, noth’n you can do about it. Just Human nature all it is”
The Well-Meaning Mister Carlson.
With the company’s blessing, they met once a month for a five mile stroll around Georgetown. He and the Old Man. He was called the Old Man, behind his back, because it was how the Old Man referred to virtually everyone. “Now listen here, Old Man.”
The Old Man knew about the title and didn’t dislike it. The moniker appealed to the large streak of snob in him.
The Company is what the agency, the CIA, is called, although the newer breed prefers to call it “The Farm”, a reference to the Virginia apple orchard that once occupied the massive plot of land on the banks of the Potomac where the company sits.
The Old Man had been a power in the company once until his fall from grace after the
Operation Corrective Vision fiasco. The plan was to overthrow Leonidas Trujillo, AKA El Jefe, the president for life of the Dominican Republic, who was insane. Truly a madman. It was also agreed by the powers that be, from the White House to the Kremlin, that El Jefe would die in a coup. It was just better that way.
On the day of the coup, the Old Man leaked news of the assassination through a series of reporters the company owned who reported that Trujillo had been assassinated by his own military at 4:30 in the afternoon on May 30, a Tuesday, as he was driven from the capital to his beach home. Junior officers had shot him twice through the head. That was how the story ran.
Unfortunately for the Old Man, due to a series of mishaps, the assassination actually took place two hours later. Upon learning of his impending death, Trujillo barricaded himself in his office in the Presidential Palace with a machine gun. A well placed hand grenade killed him.
Critics, the Latin and European press and eventually the US Congress, demanded to know how the media was able to predict the assassination two hours in advance. The American media, a mechanism designed to exonerate itself from all culpability and faced with the choice of blaming itself or hanging the Old Boy in the public square chose the latter.
As a courtesy, for there were many in the company who felt the Old Man had done no wrong, he was placed on the payroll of a company owned sugar export company and
Unofficially kept in the loop. This was why he and the Admiral took their five mile stroll around Georgetown once a month, although the frequency of their walks depended on many factors. The route was always the same. They met on the corner of M and 28th Street and walked west up 28th, stopping at the corner market at P and 28th for a carry out coffee.
The Admiral disliked The Old Man. He found him to be a boor and when allowed, a subtle bully. There was rarely any small talk between them as they strolled the rain soaked streets looking like two older, well dressed gentlemen engaged in civil conversation.
“So,” the Old Man began, “what’s the word from the front lines?”
“Henrik Carlson?” the Admiral said. “Henrik Carlson is news from the front lines.”
“One of ours?” the Old Man asked.
“No,” he answered quickly. He always answered quickly. “A civilian. Dirty business”
“So what of Mister Carlson?” the Old Man asked.
“Mr. Carlson” the Admiral began slowly, “made a fortune. Three times. And with every fortune he made the less interested he became in being wealthy. We took care of his money concerns. We spent it for him.”
“Background?” The Old Man asked without looking at him.
“He was 64 years old when he came onto our radar,” the Admiral answered. “Native of Edina, Minnesota. Episcopalian. Private school education. He referred to himself as ‘an imperfectly socialized person’ and he was right, he was. Stood 6-feet-2 and walked with a forward tilt. Had a light, nasally voice. Brilliant in many ways but his train of thought was lost on a regular basis. Wore his hair long, giving him that aging-hippie-with money look. His shirt pockets were stuffed with pens, most of which did not work apparently. When he wore ties, they were distinct in their ugliness.”
They passed under a leafy elm towards the top of the hill.
“Political leanings?” the Old Man asked.
“We know that he served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua when he was an undergraduate.”
“Left of center,” the Old Man dismissively said. It was an opinion not shared by the Admiral. “Where did he study?”
“MIT,” the Admiral answered. The Old Man stuck out his lower lip and tilted his head. MIT was safe. The company recruited from MIT. The company funds MIT projects.
“His area?” the Old Man asked.
“R and D,” he answered. “He held several well-paying jobs as an engineer, but had a habit of getting himself fired from each place he ever worked. Then he struck it rich, about 50 million dollars. The first fortune came from inventing an early word-processing system and then made an even bigger bundle, about 100 million from the stock he got for selling his software company, which had developed a system for connecting phone networks to the Internet. With those funds he formed an investment firm called Paperboy Investments.”
“So named because he delivered newspapers as a child,” the Admiral answered as they topped the hill and looked past the high black Victorian style fence into the Oak Hill cemetery where the city’s leading citizens were laid to rest.
“He made his third fortune on a company called Aimlin Pharmaceuticals,” the Admiral continued. “It was a tiny, struggling firm that caught his eye while he was evaluating drug treatments for his wife, who has diabetes. Aimlin had been dong innovative diabetes research. Carlson poured $6.2 million into Aimlin’s research office, patented several new drugs and made two hundred million in two years. The wife died a year later. Heart attack.”
“Net worth?” the Old Man asked. Mention of the wife had no effect on him.
“At that point, $300 million. Almost all of it available cash” he answered. “His money and willingness to foot the bill for far left causes allowed him to globetrot with celebrities, although he was, truly, oblivious to pop culture. He just wasn’t in the universe with the rest of us. He didn’t care. He drove badly, a 15-year-old black Honda Accord with a coat hanger for an antenna. He never owned a television. In as far as we could tell he owned one pair of shoes. Loafers. Anyway, he and his money eventually stumbled their way into Honduras.”
They continued their stroll up R Street, past the Dumbarton Oaks Mansion that sat gracefully on a finely manicured lawn. It was here in 1944, that the delegation from the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States drew up the plan that decided how a post-war world would look and then conceived and chartered the UN.
“And what motivated this stumbling into Honduras?” the Old Man asked.
“Our ambassador at the time motivated it,” the Admiral replied.
“Who was he? Remind me,” the Old Man asked curtly.
“White,” the Admiral answered. “Nathan White.”
“Oh God help us all,” the Old Man moaned.
“Carlson met him at a fundraiser of some sort and told White essentially, 'I'm immensely rich, and I want to spend my money fighting poverty in Central America. Over a three year period, our Mr. Anderson poured tens of millions of dollars into building libraries and underwriting reading programs for the poor throughout the country. The Pope wrote him letters of encouragement. The UN named a day in his honor. There was talk of building a statue to him in the capitol city. It would have been fine if he had left it at that but Ambassador White changed Mr. Carlson’s agenda. He refocused him on bringing democracy to Honduras.”
“Well that’s not good,” the Old Man injected. “We can’t have that. Can’t have that at all.”
A light rain started in as they rounded Wisconsin Avenue.
“Didn’t we own a man down there?” the Old Man asked.
“We did” the Admiral replied. “Pepe. Remember Pepe?
“Ah yes” he said with a smile. “Pepe Lobo.”
“Right,” the Admiral replied. “Pepe the wolf. Reliably corrupt, wonderfully greedy, brutal and completely ignorant. Basically everything the company needs in a dictator. Henrik Carlson’s problem with Pepe the wolf was that Henrik was a tree hugger and Pepe, being Pepe, had raped the country’s precious hardwood mahogany forest through illegal logging operators who handed him a ten percent cut of everything. In the process, the chopping decimated indigenous communities and when the locals rose up, he used the military to put them back down. In the meantime, the well-meaning Mister Carlson, with the urging of Ambassador White, was using his millions to search for a candidate to run against Pepe the Wolf.”
“Did he find one?” the Old Man asked as they stopped on the corner of R and Wisconsin. The Old Man pointed his black umbrella to the left side of the street and they crossed. A light drizzle was starting.
“He did,” he answered. “Actually, the meddling Ambassador White found him. A man named Zela, Manny Zela. A longtime member of the National Senate. Zela billed himself ‘A man of the people.’”
“Oh God help us,” the Old Man said. “Not another man of the people.”
“The problem was,” the Admiral continued “that Manny Zela was competent. With Anderson’s millions behind him he ran one hell of a campaign against our man Pepe. Zela spoke publically about the country being owned and managed by multinational corporations. He promised to do away with a class based educational system and raise the minimum wage. He promised that if elected he would crack down on illegal logging and would improve human rights and generally, as they say, spoke with the voice of the people. Even those who didn’t agree with his politics liked him because he said things they knew were true but that no other presidential candidate had said before.”
The rain increased and both men opened their identical black umbrella with maple handles and continued their walk.
“Carlson was everywhere during the election,” he said. “He didn't trust the local media because he said it was almost completely controlled by various oligarchs, which is true enough of course. So, he took over a small newspaper, El Libertador, and encouraged the reporters to write tough stories about Pepe the Wolf.”
An attractive young woman in a black business suit and trench coat approached them and he stopped talking. When she passed, he continued speaking. “Then Anderson funded an investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international organization that had ferreted out illegal loggers in Asia and other places.
“Let me ask the obvious,” the Old Man said, “why do we, the company, why do we give a damn about this?”
“We were partners with Pepe the Wolf in the logging operation. The money from that operation funds the peasant revolt in Tibet. I think it’s Tibet.”
They crossed at R Street and crossed over 34th and then 35th Street as the rain increased.
“This watchdog group, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the EIA” he continued “had one of its investigators posing as a lumber buyer secretly videotape a meeting in Miami with a Honduran congressional candidate who told the investigator that to ensure the steady flow of lumber they would have to kick back to Pepe the Wolf.”
They turned right onto 38th Street.
“Carlson got the tape and pounded the illegal logging story on the front pages of his newspaper and booked $200,000 of advertising time on the Nicaraguan television networks. He saturated the air waves with the tape, and even had operatives show it on screens set up in parks. Carlson estimated he had spent $2 million trying to influence the outcome. His boy Zela won, by a squeak, but he won and our boy Pepe the wolf was out.”
“And our skeletons were left hanging in the closets?” the Old Boy asked.
“They were,” the Admiral said as they turned left on S Street. “Zela alienated the Honduran elite by cultivating leftist allies in Central and South America. He enacted some of his reforms which resulted in the country becoming even more profoundly polarized between. There was tension in the air. Then he made a speech in which he called for ‘an insurrection’. A poor choice of words in a nation where seven of 10 people live in poverty. That same day the company heard from all of our friends, the conglomerates that own hydroelectric plants, coffee interests, and the fast-food market, and they were not happy. The problem was that Zela still had Carlson’s mountain of cash behind him and they were using it to popularize their programs. So we had no choice but to drain his bank accounts.
They turned left on 39 Street.
“How much?” the Old Man asked with interest.
“Where was it reinvested?”
They turned right on to Reservoir Road where tall trees protected them from the persistent drizzle.
“That is out of my area but I understand the company put the bulk of it in an oil drilling project in Iran, I think. I don’t know for sure, or maybe it was a shoe factory in China. You hear things. Anyway, in a wonderful little bloodless coup the Honduran Army ousted Zela -- in his pajamas – and we had our boy Pepe the Wolf back in office the next day. The Honduran army backed the move.”
“And the well-meaning Mr. Carlson?” the Old Man asked. “What of him?”
“Our people in the Army took him as well. He was living in his own suit in the Presidential palace. Apparently he slept in the nude. They took them both out to the jungle and executed them, buried them under a rubber tree or a coconut tree or something.”
“Our involvement?” the Old Man asked.
“Minimal,” he said. “We handled the PR on Zela as being alive and well and living in Miami on the fortunes he stole from the people of Honduras.”
“No one asked about Carlson. He had no family. No friends. He was an odd duck. Almost no one knew about the role he played in the national election and how he almost single handedly elected Manny Zela President.”
“Well good,” the Old Man said. “Let’s keep it that way.”
At 35th Street they took a right and the rain started to fall harder. They fell into silence for a few seconds. This was the end of the stroll. They would part company now.
“It’s a shame really,” the Admiral said.
“Shame?” the Old Man asked as he turned to look at him for the first time.
“The whole mess,” the Admiral answered. “It’s too bad.”
The Old Man stopped walking, looked at him and asked, “Why?”
“Well,” the Admiral replied searching for his car keys, “were Carlson not planted under a coconut tree he would have spent a fortune for higher causes like making the world a better place. The Honduran poor would have a slightly better life and the Honduran rich would be slightly less rich.”
“And how do you know that?” the Old Man asked. “You can’t answer that because you don’t know. And that was why we had to make his money evaporate. Because we don’t know either. What we do in the world is to ensure that there are no unknown factors. We iron out the risks. And it is a damn good thing we do. What if Zela had succeeded in his plans? Then what? The price of coffee goes up by a nickel or a dime? Maybe, maybe not. Fast food chains increase the price of a burger because Honduran lettuce cost more? Maybe, maybe not. This Henrik Carlson fellow, yes, he could have changed things. But he had to be a kingmaker. All you see is a man without greed, and all I see is a man drunk with power. We didn’t kill Henrik Carlson. Henrik Carlson killed himself. He doesn’t make kings. We do. That is our job in the world. That’s what we do when we must do it. Because if we don’t others, far worse than your beloved Henrik Carlson, will.”
Realizing that he had become emotional the Old Man cleared his throat, paused and then continued, “The problem was that your Mister Carlson actually succeeded at it and he succeeded at it without us. We just can’t have that. As for the rest, well, it’s human nature, the oppression of the poor. I don’t like it any more than you do but it’s a tradition as old as the earth. It’s wrong of course, but for the time being, in the way the world is now, at this moment, it is often in our interest to stand on the side of the oppressor. Have a good day Admiral. Please see that you are not here for the next briefing. Have them send someone else.”
The Company’s Dime
As always, they met instead at the Tombs on 36th Street because meeting on the Hill was too obvious. The Tombs was good enough to serve their purpose, especially during the day when the students from Georgetown didn’t monopolize the place.
The lawyer, that’s what they called him, was a contract man for the company. He worked on staff to a senior US Senator and the company’s man on Capitol Hill. In that capacity he had sole access to a seven figure slush fund and many other less impressive tools.
He had proven his worth to Langley when his team of three information technology specialists and a Senate building janitor hatched a successful break into a protected database used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff. Once inside the data base, his team delated accurate files that detailed the company’s most sensitive activities with “modified version” files. Several years before that, another team he employed had placed monitors on computers of every chief of staff on the Hill.
He met the two men from Langley as they all entered the Tombs together. Taking a standard covert seat in back of the restaurant they ordered lunch and with that done sat back in their seats.
The lawyer spoke first.
“You know the owner named this place after T.S. Eliot’s poem, "Bustopher Jones: The Cat about Town."
“But it’s called the Tombs,” Ash said.
“Yes, of course, I meant the Tombs is mentioned in the poem.”
“T.S Eliot knew about this place?” Ash asked “Wasn’t he from Europe or something?”
“No,” the lawyer started hesitantly. “What I meant was….”
In mid-sentence he realized that in his attempt to explain himself, poetry and Eliot were fruitless. Company men are not known for their literary interests.
“Why don’t we get down to it” Anderson said. “Why are we here?”
Pleased to be onto a new subject and choosing to overlooks Anderson’s obnoxious ways, the lawyer answered, “The Company’s name is being mentioned on the Hill and not in a good way.”
Nothing new there,” Ash smirked in an all too blatant play to win Anderson’s approval.
“Over the past 12 years,” the lawyer said, “a man named John Cotton Teale has been a high-level staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s 64 years old and works as a senior policy adviser in the Office of Air and Radiation. His base salary is $164,700. He has been with the agency for 19 years. His background is clean. We checked. He grew up in Fairfax County, graduated from the University of Maryland and took his MA from George Washington on the government’s dime. Divorced. His ex-wife is a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation. No children. Lives in Arlington, near Marymount University. Starting about three years ago Teale started working on a second Masters, in fine arts in writing. At about that same time he was often away from his job and started to cultivate an air of mystery and explained his lengthy absences by telling his bosses that he was doing top-secret work for you guys.”
“For the company?” Anderson asked.
“Yes” the lawyer answered. “Was he?”
“No,” Anderson answered.
The lawyer looked Anderson directly in the eye and waited.
“He is not with us,” Anderson said again.
“The problem is,” the lawyer continued, “he travelled to China, South Korea, South Africa and England, Fiji, a couple of dozen other places and all of it, first class air travel, first class hotels, everything, picked up by EPA.”
“First class?” Anderson asked.
“Yes sir. He said it was a CIA requirement necessary for deep cover agents. There was one flight, to London, that cost taxpayers $14,000. A coach ticket would have cost just $1,000.”
“I’m a goddamn senior man with the firm and even I don’t fly first class,” Anderson said.
“Last year he took off two months on sick leave, paid of course, said he had picked up a case of malaria in the Amazon while working for us. At the beginning of this year he took off for about six months. He told his managers he was working on a research project or working for Langley, for you guys.”
“And where was he for six months?” Anderson asked.
“Based on phone records,” the lawyer said, “he was at his beach house in Cape Cod. He has a summer place there.”
“He has a summer house?” Ash said, mostly for his own benefit.
“And no one,” Anderson asked “not one single person doubted any of this? They just took this nut at his word?”
“Yes and no. On the few occasions he was asked to explain his expenses and his travel he always replied that he was, and I quote “doing sensitive work for another agency.”
“And no one found this,” Ash searched for a word, shrugged and said, “odd?”
“Apparently, no one checked,” the lawyer said. “They just believed him. In fact last year his was given a $25,000 bonus as a retention incentive so he wouldn’t leave the agency and go to work for an energy company.”
A waiter brought water to the table. They waited. When he left, they continued.
“Did he plan to leave the agency and go to work for an energy company?” Anderson asked.
“No. The retention incentive is something the EPA gives out to all its senior people.”
“Maybe we should all find a job with them,” Ash smiled. No one looked at him.
“Anyway,” the lawyer continued, “he started working a four-day work week.”
“I know the answer to this but let me ask anyway,” Anderson said. “Did anyone ask why he was taking the fifth day off?”
“Yes. An administrator inquired and Teale replied….in writing….let me repeat that….he replied in writing….that he had to spend at least one day a week at Langley on paperwork.”
Anderson sat back in his chair and shook his head in disbelief. “He didn’t try to hide this?”
“No. Not at all. In fact on his EPA electronic calendar, he wrote that he was working at the CIA's Directorate of Operations. He told several managers at the EPA that he had been assigned to an interagency, special advisory group between the State, CIA, the White House and for some reason, the EPA. Anyway, is he caught now?”
“How did they catch on to him?” Ash said as he looked around for the waiter. “We should order, I have to get back.”
“One of EPA’s administrators got wind of Teale’s remarkable expense account and started asking questions. The administrator launched an in house investigation and then turned over her findings to the Inspector General Office and they launched their own investigation. They interviewed 140 people at EPA who knew about Teale’s supposed secret agent background. Amazingly not one of them ever suspected Teale was a fraud.”
“Let me interrupt you,” Anderson said as he snapped his fingers in the air for the waiter. “Can we trust the Inspector General’s office to keep this buried?”
“The EPA’s inspector general? Sure”
“Because the Inspector General’s role is to investigate improprieties with their assigned branch of government and if they find anything, they bury it. Basically the Inspector General’s job is to ensure that the branch they work under is never embarrassed”
“Go on,” Anderson said as he turned to look for the waiter.
“The IG’s office compared Beale’s cellphone records to his travel expenses and determined that when he claimed to be in Pakistan and other locations on CIA business, he was really at his Massachusetts’ vacation home.”
“Doing what?” Anderson asked.
“Writing. Teale is an amateur novelist.”
“Let me guess,” Ash added, “spy novels. He writes spy novels.”
“Why did I know that?” he sighed, smiled too fondly and shook his head.
“Well, the IG’s office called Langley, told them the story and Langley confirmed that he wasn’t with you guys.”
“But Langley never followed up?” Anderson asked.
“And Langley never notified the interior decorators?” Anderson asked. The interior decorators was company speak for internal security operations within the company.
“Apparently not,” the lawyer said. “Anyway the IG’s people contacted Teale and told him they wanted him to meet them at Langley. Rather than appear at the meeting, Beale admitted his deception. He’s under house restriction.”
The waiter, a senior at Georgetown Ash reckoned, appeared, apologized for his lateness and took their orders. Two Manhattans, wet. All good company men are drinkers. Three salads, three steaks, coffee. It was on the company’s dime. When the waiter left the lawyer continued, “He’s into the EPA for an estimated $886,000, in the form of unearned pay.” The lawyer continued, “And then there’s fraud, and conspiracy. At the least he’s looking at eight years in federal prison. At the least.”
“The EPA will never press this thing,” Ash said confidently. “They’ll look like idiots.”
“They don’t have a choice,” the lawyer said. “Somebody squealed to Senator Stroman’s office. Stroman heads up the agricultural committee, he’s from Iowa, a farming state where the EPA is considered a branch of the Nazi party. There’s an election coming. Stroman wants a piece of the EPA’s ass and he’s going, very, very public with this thing.”
“So why are we here?” Anderson asked.
“It’s a heads up. Stroman doesn’t like you guys much either. He’s going to drag the company into this thing because Teale is sticking to his guns on being part of CIA.”
Anderson sat up straight in his chair, leaned forward and smiled. “You can assure the people on the Hill that the company is clean on this one. Absolutely and completely clean.”
Then he leaned back, looked the lawyer straight in the eye, nodded and said,
“Now where’s that fucking waiter?”
When the meal finished and the lawyer was gone, Ash and Anderson stepped out onto the street.
“I think we’re okay on this one,” Ash said. “No one believes Teale, they figure he’s a nut and besides he doesn’t really know anything.”
“Anderson pulled his lips together tightly, “I’m not so sure.”
“What was he doing for us?” Ash asked.
“Teale? Checking air radiation levels in countries where we’ve let off a few next generation germ bombs. That kind of stupid horse shit. Something to do with cancer. The company figured he already had a good cover to get into those places, he already knew the local scientific community.”
They fell silent and walked down 31st street.
“I think Teale needs to be taken out of this equation,” Anderson said. “Without Teale they have nothing and a heart attack makes sense. He’s the right age for one. Under a lot of pressure, out of a job, facing jail time. He had a heart attack.”
“Chief,” Ash said, “like I said, Teale doesn’t really know anything and you know how Langley doesn’t like domestic accidents. They can be messy.”
Anderson stopped walking, turned and stood very close to Ash and said in a hushed tone, “What can get messy is if someone figures out all the other active participants we have in the rest of government, the GSA, DID, National Archives….all of them working for us and charging their time to every agency in government.”
“The National Archives?” Ash said.
“Sure, you never know, we might need to change history someday. Look at it this way, we have, what? A thousand active participants in the federal government alone, then you toss in a few thousand more in state and local governments. All of them working for us on somebody else’s dime. That gets around and we’re in the midst of a self-made shit storm that could bring down everything and I mean everything. Okay Teale went overboard. We should have kept better track of him. It was a screw up. But we can’t have this. We won’t have this. He’s under house restriction. Go there. Bring the right people. They know what to do. This has to happen.”
The Warriors Wife
She keeps a black and white photo of them by the front door and she glances at it whenever she enters or leaves the house. It’s framed in silver and sits on a windows ledge, faced away from the sun. The photo was taken on the steps of the Trinity Catholic Church on N street on their wedding day. She was a nominal Episcopalian but he was a Catholic, a staunch Catholic, and although he insisted on virtually nothing in all the years he knew her, he refuse to marry outside the church.
She wrapped herself in a long, soft brown winter coat with a matching cashmere scarf, black leather gloves and locked the large red door behind her. She pulled the knob tightly, they’d been robberies in the neighborhood. Robberies and Georgetown are almost synonymous. She carefully and slowly made her way down the brick steps to the even sidewalk and strolled slowly down 28th Street. Lifting her coat collar against the wind.
They met on a blind date right after the Second war ended. She was a ne’er-do-well unpaid intern to a New York Senator. He was back in the states after four years in combat in Europe and was working for what was then a new and unknown government body called the National Intelligence Authority. They married a month later. She was 25, he was 30. They had one child, a small, dark haired gentle soul they named Dora but called Doe, their little Doe. She was born with epilepsy and anorexia and all of her short life was spent in and out of one hospital after another. She rarely knew a day without pain and suffering.
She took a right on Dumbarton, that wonderfully old and dignified street. The wind ceased and the dull winter sun peaked through a cloud. As always, she stopped and lifted her eyes to the tall windows of a magnificent Georgian where an ancient Beagle lay at his post on the floor, half-asleep soaking in the days first rays of the sun, one eye open. As he did every morning, he slowly raised himself up when he noticed her and pressed his nose to the bottom window pane. She waved to him. He sneezed a greeting back her and she continued on.
All of that seemed so long ago now, but it wasn’t. Not many years had passed since then, it just seemed as that way. But he was gone, their little Doe was gone, just memoires now and when she thought often that after she was gone all of those memoires of them, the three of them, would disappear with her.
It was Wednesday. The day the ladies met at a cozy new pastry shop on the far end of O Street in Georgetown. Well, new, the place had been there for over thirty years but the ladies had been a part of Georgetown for decades longer than that. She stopped at the crosswalk on Wisconsin Avenue, waited for the light and crossed.
The ladies were fiercely loyal to one another because they only had one another. It was difficult, no, impossible really, for any of them to build relationships of any kind in that life. The Life of a company family because balancing a life of secrecy in an open society is more work than its worth, so they, the people in that world, they close down, they shut down, they learn to block out others, to watch what they, to think before they speak and when it’s over and their husbands role in the missions were done forever they, the women of that generation, found themselves alone and isolated without friends, with no community that would understand them so they created their own.
Their husbands had been a cold warriors from the first day they met them and they were their husband’s window dressing and they were good at what they did, skilled in fact and a learned and vital skill it is. Anyone could risk their lives and be a field operative with the company but it took a truly remarkable person to be a company wife. The wrong word at the wrong time in the wrong county could cost a life. They said that with a company wife the government got two employees for the price of one and it was true. Everything about them, their very identities are wrapped around their husbands and the company and the mission.
There were times when, really, she didn’t know what role she was playing. When they were at a brief posting in Stockholm right after the war he told her they a Foreign Service family. She leaped in to each job title and role with her typical enthusiasm and charm, shoring up his weak cover and convincing many people that he was in fact what he said he was — a diplomat, a military attaché, a file clerk, whatever the job cover was. In Rome she immersed herself in the country’s language and religious and artistic heritage while he disappeared for days and sometimes weeks to prevent a Communist victory in Italian elections.
Inside the café, Betty Willoughby sat next to her, she always did. They knew from a posting in Peru, twenty or more years ago. More than that she thought. The countries all sort of blended together after a while. So did the years. Betty’s husband was gone to, heart attack a year after he retired. She liked Betty. There was no pretense in her. Despite the demeanor of toughness around her, the years and the worry of all those years showed on her face. All the company wives eventually looked like that.
“Let’s see a show of hands.” Betty rasped “Did you ever turn on the washing machine because he couldn’t figure out how to do, but he needed it on to muffle his phone conversation?”
They all smiled and raised their hands.
“Mine preferred the blender” Mary Rose said.
“Running bath water” said another.
Angie Robins held her open palm up and said “Do you know where we went for our honeymoon? To Scandinavia. He said we would tour at the castles. And we did. At every stop his operatives picked up radio devices hidden in the car’s trunk. My honeymoon was a mission”
When it was her turn, she leaned forward into the table and recalled the time when he served as the station chief in Saigon during the America’s war years there and how she received her baptism under fire during one of the country’s seemingly endless unsuccessful coups. “Bullets whined through the windows. I barricaded Doe and I in the kitchen with the help. I had a loaded pistol in my house coat pocket. Me. A pistol. Can you imagine?”
They all nodded. They’d all been there in one way or another, in some third world banana republic or another.
She widen her eyes in wonder and added “I was holding a loaded revolver. We kept it under the mattress in case anything ever happened. Can you imagine? Me? With a big loaded gun?”
What she didn’t say was that he wasn’t home because he was directing a counter coup from his office at the embassy. Nor would be home for two nights after the coup was defeated, its leaders executed.
“He sent us home after that. At the airport he told me "You should have probably married a guy from Columbus, Ohio, instead of me. You’d be living in Columbus now. He'd be devoted to you. You would go to the dances and play golf on weekends.” And then he shook his head and said “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of this”
What she didn’t tell them was that he looked like a lost boy when he spoke those words so she held his chin in her hand and he looked around in embarrassment and she leaned in close to him and said "But then we wouldn't have had Saigon, or Rome, or Venice or Washington. Or our Doe and I would not be married to a good and decent man and I would not be part of his noble mission”
She didn’t have to share that part of it with them. They knew. They’d all spoken words like at point or another.
Nor did she tell them that he stayed on for two more years after that and that she and Doe were alone again as they almost always were alone because he was almost always away, someplace and she never knew where away was or how long he would be there. So she faced increasing difficulties of caring for Doe who declined more and more with every passing day. And then one day Doe died as they expected she would and he was away so she was alone for that too.
He had mentioned to her once, on a beach up in Maine one summer, that his heroes…he used the word pantheon instead of heroes, as only he would….were Richard the Lionhearted, Joan of Arc, and St. George the Dragon Slayer. It pleased her then and now that one of them was a woman although she didn’t understand that. All of them were warriors. That she understood. He was a warrior, a cold warrior. And all of them, like him, were zealots and she attributed that to his Irishness and Catholic upbringing, another thing she never really understood.
His Catholic faith also the reason why he viewed the company as a kind of priesthood. It made sense those who knew him. He was a Midwestern Catholic. In fact he was almost the definition of the Midwestern Catholic. He said little regarding his work and nothing, ever, of his considerable accomplishments. He came from a long line of WASP educators on his father’s side and garden variety second generation Irish Catholic on his mother side which is what brought him to Notre Dame.
She was Midwestern too, but he often scoffed at that and said that she may have been Ohio she not of Ohio. Her father ran one of the largest pharmaceutical in the world from an office in Cleveland and her Manhattan born parents, sent east as a teen to be educated for ten years, four at Middlebury, four at Wesleyan and two at Vassar where she took a masters in humanities.
He adored John F. Kennedy. She recalled how they had stood in the audience at the young Presidents inauguration with clenched teeth and applauded wildly at Kennedy’s words "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty." He repeated the words often. It was his mantra she thought. But for all his worldliness he was remarkably naïve about politics.
He did that lot, repeating the words of other. She remember the one time he did that and it sent chills up her spine. By then he had risen high in the company, in part because he deserved it and the company rewards its own and in part because he had simply outlasted everyone else. But he was an unwise choice for anything above an intelligence officer because he both lacked the political sense and failed to understand the importance of social skills necessary to navigate the very dangerous marble halls of Washington and because of that it eventually crashed in around him with the fall of Viet Nam. Then his nation, the nation that had called him a hero warrior, now called him a war criminal for the company did.
He was called him to testify on the Hill a dozen times. She saw it as more of a grilling, and they called him in a dozen times in one year, always making sure the media got the transcript early. She saw it as punishment, a humiliation lesson than anything else. It ripped her apart to watch what they did to him.
“They have no right” she said “No right”
“The ends justified the means” he said to her “And if we had won, if Saigon had not fallen, none of this would have been an issue. But it is an issue because Americans don’t like losing, we don’t accept failure and somebody has to pay. I’m the somebody this time. It’s nothing personal.”
“They have no right” she said.
He was watching television, an old black and white film. He pointed to the screen and said “Ever see this? The Third Man, Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. Great film”
She absentmindedly looked at the screen for a moment and then back to him and said “We should hire a lawyer. We should….”
‘Shh-shhh” he cut her off and pointed at the screen. Orson Welles character was sitting high atop a Ferris wheel with Joseph Cotton’s character. When Welles character spoke her husband spoke the lines aloud along with him and didn’t miss a single word "Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me—would you really feel any pity if one of these dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really tell me to keep my money—or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?"
Day by day the attacks from the Congress and the media grew worse and he was increasingly unable to defend himself against it. He started to drink more. Finally, almost mercifully, the President himself fired him. There were no ceremonies, no gold watch, no speeches and no words of appreciation. A clerk from the Chief of Staff’s office called and told him the President wanted his resignation.
A month later he left her for another woman, the former wife of an ambassador. They’d all know each other, off and on, over the years. It was sudden thing, there had been no secret dalliances. He was always loyal to her. And he didn’t leave her because the other woman offered something more or better, he left her because he was very good at making war all that came with it. But now there were no more wars, no more missions. It was time to change. To become someone else. She was part of a life that had been and was gone.
He took his new wife and moved out of Washington and retired to the life of a country squire in St. Michaels, sailing town in Southern Maryland. She never saw him again after that although he called one night, late one night. She asked what was wrong and said “Nothing, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to talk to you”
The words surprised her. The call surprised her. At his best he was clipped both in his speech and in his emotions, everything really. He was more British than English. It was almost impossible to engage him in a phone conversation but that night he talked for hours about everything and anything. He told her he was losing his memory and she said that it was age and he said “No, no it more than that” and then he asked if he had done enough for her.
“When?” she asked
“Always” he answered.
“Yes” she said because true or not she sensed it was something he needed to hear.
“Did I do enough for Doe?” he asked. “I was gone so much”
He had never discussed it before. They never really talked about her death. It happened, there was a funeral, and that was it. She was forgotten after that, by him anyway.
“We did what we could” she answered and that was true.
He died a week later. He suffered a sudden heart attack and died in his boat, on the water. She held a memorial service for him at the National Cathedral. It was part of the mission. It’s the way things were done. The new wife didn’t attend although she had sent her an invitation to speak. The White House sent an emissary.
He didn’t leave much when he died. His cash assets amount to just under $2,400 and his most valued possession, a first edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence that they had bought together during a Sunday afternoon walk on the Strand in London. He read it so many times in so many different places that he could recite that to from memory.
Noon approached and the ladies ordered a bottle of wine and a tea sandwich platter of Ham, Brie and apple spread, Cucumber and Dutch Butter with Watercress and grilled shrimp with Ham Puree.
The price for playing the game
“I was thinking, just now before your late arrival” the Old Boy said looking over the front window of a restaurant called the Happy Hamburger “Do you recall when this was the Au Pied de Cochon? They had an ancient large lobster in a tank in the window.
“I remember it well.” He said looking over the building.
Because the Russian compound is just up the street a mile or so, it was our meeting place for Soviets who were considering a defection. It was also a favorite watering hole of little punk named Vitaly Yurchencko. Do you know the name?
He frowned and then shook his head “No.” he said “It doesn’t ring a bell”
“Towards the end of the Cold War Yurchencko was assigned to the Russian compound up on Wisconsin Avenue as chief of security, or, in other words, the guy that prevented defections. He was a man-about-town, liked the Americans to call him “Vity”. He was a lush” the Old Boy stopped and looked at his companion and said whispered “So many of those Russians are you know” and then continued walking “Every bartender in every posh tavern in town knew him”
One day, he walked into the FBI building downtown asking to defect. He claimed to be frustrated with his stagnant life as a Russian spy, his failed relationships with his wife and so on so and so forth”
“He handed over to two of our own men as KGB agents: Ronald Dallton and Lee Howard. We knew about them already and we had been sending them disinformation for a year or so before Yurchenka showed up but we could not be sure if the KGB knew that we knew about them. So we went along with it.”
“Why would the KGB turn in double agents?” he asked
“I suspect they knew we were on to them or perhaps they were of no more use to them. Collateral damage, old boy. The price for playing the game”
“He’ll live on in history as a fake defector, but I spotted him as a fake from the start.” Defector indeed” he spat out the last words “You see the KGB almost never used fake defectors. They are a proud people, the Russians. Defection would be a propaganda problem for them. The Soviet Union was a workers paradise, they said. So why would a ranking member of the Intelligence community defect? That led to one of many misunderstandings with that idiot Yurchenka. He assumed we would not leak his defection to the media. We explained that had one of our defected to the KGB the Russian press would never stopped writing about it. But he was in fact a legitimate defector but he was insane. A very disturbed individual let me assure you. The entire time we had him he was deeply, clinically depressed. He was in love with a woman married, a true beauty, wife of a Russian diplomat. He convinced us that she loved him as well. He said that if we could arrange for her to be with him in America, he would give us all the information we could possibly want. So we found the woman, he husband was assigned to the Soviet Embassy in Canada at the time. She refused to meet with him. Said she was not in love with him and in fact thought him something of a snake. Finally, we convinced her to meet him.”
“How much?” he asked.
“It cost the American taxpayer a cool half million dollars, cash” The Old Boy said shaking his head “We arranged the meeting in a hotel room. Once there she slapped him, called him a despicable traitor and a disgrace to the Soviet Union and I believe she spat on him as well before she stormed out.” He chuckled slightly “Turns out our Canadian people didn’t think to search her. She was wired, with a camera. Goddamn KGB filmed the whole thing. Took our money too”
As you can well imagine that only deepened his depression. We pressed him for more information but said he had a stomach ulcer. It was almost all that he talked about. Claimed that Russian Doctors couldn’t cure him. We had him examined by the very best people. They could find no ulcer. In fact they could not find anything wrong with him at all on any level. We told him and that and he said we were lying and he became, if it were humanly possible, more depressed.
Well by then, we’d had enough of comrade Chebatriova but we still weren’t sure what he was or what purpose he may or may not have been serving, or was he, as I advocated, simply a lunatic.? The Old Boy turned and shrugged and then held up his right index finger “We had to find out”
That night I was lying in bed, couldn’t sleep started to think, and it hit me. The next morning I went down to the mail room at Langley picked out a young man who I deemed might look good in suit and took him to my office. We spoke and it turned out he was a recent grad from…..”
He thought for a moment and said “One of those colleges they have in one of the states”
He signaled that they should continue walking while he checked the sky for impending rain “I asked him why he was with us and he replied that he wanted to be a spy so I knew then that we had out man. I called in the domestic people and we explained to the boy that we were assigning him to act as a sort of bodyguard for recent Russian defector. He was not ever, under any circumstances at all, to discuss his private life with Chebatriova.
A few weeks later we pulled the kid in for a talk and told him to disregard everything we had told him not to tell Chebatriova and that he was to take Chebatriova out to dinner or drinks, anywhere away from the safe house and tell Chebatriova everything about his short career with our company. So the kid takes Chebatriova out to Au Pied de Cochon and tell him everything that we told him not to tell him, his recent narrow graduation form college and how he had worked in the stock room at Langley and so on.
The kid says that Chebatriova eyes went as large as plates, his mouth was open. He got the message. He was useless to us and he knew and now we knew it. He says to the boy “They think I am joke?”
“I don’t know” answers the boy and at that Chebatriova gets up and walks to the bathroom and climbs out a window. He walked up the hill to the Russian compound. There had been two other re-defectors, Betova and Chebatriova were their names and the KGB let be known far and wide that both had been welcomed back with open arms. Yurchenka apparently thought the KGB might treat him well if he returned. The Soviet Embassy called a press conference where Yurchenka announced he had been kidnapped and drugged by us.
“Why did he bust out the window?” He asked “Why didn’t he just walk out the front door?”
The Old Boy shrugged “Who knows? He was a madman.”
“Do we know what happened to him?”
“Oh yes” the Old Boy smiled “Yurchencko vanished for a while but several days after the Soviet Union fell a group of KGB boys rounded up Yurchenka and those two other re-defectors, Betova and Chebatriova, and shot them dead. Dumped them in the forest someplace. Our own man, Lee Howard, the one Yurchencko gave us. He defected to Russia. Lived there for some years. They married him off to a KGB agent. The same day they killed Yurchenka, Betova and Chebatriova, she killed him. Karate chop to the neck.”
Perception is everything.
It was raining when he left DC, although he couldn’t remember leaving the city, or getting into the car or just about anything else that happened that morning. He wrote it off to old age. It was raining when he arrived at the prison in Pennsylvania. He didn’t like the rain and the dark and the overcast that came with it because it depressed him and reminded him of how lonely he was. He should have married. He felt cold. He looked at his hands that were clutching the steering wheel that were almost colorless. He turned the heat up.
Parking the car in the empty rain soaked prison’s guest parking lot, he put on his hat and overcoat and stepped out of the car and opening the back door on the passenger’s side he lifted the overweight Beagle out from under her blanket and carried it to a small grassy area and held the pet up over the grass. And then he waited.
“Go ahead fellow,” he whispered. “It’s all right. When I can’t walk any more, you can hold me up so I can take a leak.”
He opened his hand and placed it over the dog so that the cold rain wouldn’t fall on her face and the sleepy dog leaned forward and gently licked the old man’s wrinkled hands. The dog was sick. He was dying. He’d lived almost 14 years, an old age for a good dog and while he knew that the decent thing to do would be to put him to sleep, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The dog was all he had and he was all the dog had and they loved each other.
After a while, he returned the dog to her bed in the back seat and pulled the plaid blanket up over her and said quietly, “I got to go inside for a little while. If you get cold, old girl, you go under the blanket and wait for me to come back and I’ll make you warm again.”
The Beagle turned itself upright to show him her belly.
“I can’t rub your belly now. When I get back.” He reached over the seat and rubbed the dog’s soft, warm belly and said, “All right, I’ll be right back” and stepped out of the car, covered his head with an Irish walking cap and checked the rear window one more time to be sure Sarah would have enough air. Then wrapping the rain coat tightly around his neck he jogged slowly into the prison. It tired him. It tired him to the point where he felt that if he were to sleep, he would sleep forever.
Sitting alone in the visitor’s room he noticed that the windows were barred but the parking lot sat just outside those windows. Easy escape route. It was cop-think. Other people saw a parking lot. He saw a possible escape route for a felon. He sat back in his chair and listened to the incessant humming from the neon light above him.
Maybe he should sell the house. It was too big for him. He grew up in that house. He had inherited it after his parents died. A townhouse on Veazy Street NW off Wisconsin Avenue. Veazy had been Mayor of Washington. He was an Irishman. He recalled that it was one of the first things he had ever learned.
He sighed as he waited. He had worked on this case for how many years? Thirty? Thirty five years? He had promised himself that he would get to the bottom of it, if it was the last thing he ever did, he would get to the bottom of it.
The room was divided by a glass partition. Bullet proof he guessed. Smash proof anyway. Desks and chairs were positioned every five feet on both sides of the glass partition and just a foot above each desk was a screened opening that allowed the parties to speak to each other. Sort of a soundless glass coffin.
He had read in a magazine that it was best not to grow old in a house with stairs. His house had stairs. But if he took an apartment what would he do with the dog? She loved the yard. She didn’t do much in the yard. She laid under a shade tree but it was still her yard. Dogs should have a yard. People should have a yard.
The imposing windowless metal door that led into the prison suddenly flung open, disturbing the serene silence of the room. Soulokus, that was the prisoner’s name, Nick Soulokus, came in first. Leg irons fastened around his ankles forced him to take tiny steps that were almost effeminate and out of place in the setting. A prison guard with enormous biceps and a crew cut followed Soulokus into the room and sat him in a plain dark wooden chair and then effortlessly pushed the chair and Soulokus closer to the screened opening.
The guard focused his dark eyes on the middle part of the partition that divided them in a way that allowed him to address Soulokus and his visitor without looking at either party and then he spoke in a way that was mechanical and dispassionate but commanding. “You have thirty minutes. Do not ask for additional time in that it will not be given. In the time allocated to you do not raise your voice, stand or make any attempt to have physical contact with each other. Do not expose any part of your anatomy. Do not simulate any type of sexual or otherwise inappropriate bodily behavior. Any infractions of these rules will immediately terminate said visit. Are there any questions?”
“Do you plane to practice any inappropriate bodily behavior?” Soulokus asked his visitor.
“Not here” he answered, “I only do that at home.”
Soulokus turned and looked up at the guard and said, “As long as he sticks to his word I think we’re okay.”
“You gonna be a wise ass Soulokus, you’re not gonna be okay,” the guard said and stepped out of the room, slamming the imposing windowless metal door behind him.
“Before you talk” Soulokus warned his visitor “they’re recording everything you say.”
Hagerty nodded that he understood. He was remembering Soulokus from three decades before. He had aged well. His hair was still dark and full. His face lean. His body was small but muscular. He knew that Soulokus had married twice and divorced twice. There were a couple of sons someplace.
“I’m Nick Soulokus. Who are you?”
“Joseph Hagerty,” he answered.
Soulokus rolled the name around and then shook his head. “Don’t ring a bell.”
“I used to work with you down in the Seventh Precinct, in Georgetown. Well, we worked in the same place” Hagerty said. Soulokus leaned forward and stared at Hagerty and then nodded with the faintest of smiles.
“Oh yeah,” Soulokus replied his eyes narrowing, “I remember you. Burglary division.”
“No homicide,” Hagerty said. “Started in burglary.”
“They don’t call it the Seventh anymore,” Soulokus said. “That’s what I hear anyways.”
“No,” Hagerty said. “The whole thing has changed. The whole ballgame has changed.”
“So you still active?” Soulokus asked. “You still on the payroll?”
“Naw,” Hagerty said with a laugh and wave. “Too old. I’m out to pasture. Retired. Eight years ago.”
They were both smiling but weary of each other. Soulokus didn’t recall much about Hagerty, except that the two of them had never spoken except for a passing greeting in a hallway. He thought that the face matched the name. A Mick with a round red face. After a few seconds, the smile slipped from Soulokus’ thin face.
“What can I do for you Mister Hagerty who’s retired from the force?” Soulokus asked without any emotion.
“I’m going over some old cases, thought you might be able to help me,” Hagerty said.
Soulokus shrugged and pushed out his lower lip. “You a lawyer now?”
“No,” Hagerty said and then took a long, almost majestic look around the room and asked. “How did you end up in here, exactly?”
“Well,” Soulokus said as he leaned back in his chair “I’m sure you already know that.”
“I know bits and parts of it,” Hagerty answered. “The case was hushed up.”
“Okay,” Soulokus said. He figured Hagerty was doing Private Eye work for somebody. “I got no secrets. Back thirty years ago, the practice of the Seventh Precinct was to maintain a "vacant house book" for area residents. Even in those days, Georgetown was filled with people who had more money than God, you know? They had treasures in those houses. Silverware, statues, paintings. You name it. So we set up the vacant house book. A resident would call down to the station and tell the desk when they planned to be away from the house for, you know, an extended period of time and we entered it into the vacant house book and those properties were placed on the patrol watch list. You know, a guy on the beat would walk by the house, make sure everything was okay while the residents were gone. I mean those people are loaded, most of them leave for the summer. They got other places down on the beach someplace, Cape Cod, Newport, Maine, like that. So long story short, we robbed the places.
“Oh you’re being modest.” Hagerty said with a wink. “You and your partner…what was his name?”
“Hammersmith,” Soulokus answered.
“You and your partner Hammersmith” Hagerty continued “robbed over a hundred properties in one summer alone and got away with one point five million in loot and sold most of it to the fences we usually locked up.”
“Yeah that’s right,” he answered quickly and with an edge to his voice. “We did, and I’ll tell you, had Hammersmith, that idiot, stuck to the plan, sold the loot to the fences over in Maryland that we had deals with, like we agreed we would, and not to that antique dealer, we’d all be free today.”
“Oh that’s right,” Hagerty said leaning forward. “Hammersmith sold that expensive clock to the Georgetown antique dealer who had just sold it to a Georgetown family a month before. Bad luck for you.”
“Bad luck for me.” Soulokus repeated.
“Internal Affairs got their hands on him and he worked a deal and you went to jail,” Hagerty said.
“Except Hammersmith,” Soulokus said.
“Except Hammersmith,” Haggerty repeated. “Pretty shrewd deal for Officer Hammersmith.”
“Look Hagerty,” Soulokus said sharply. “What do you want?”
“I want to talk about how you shot your partner.” Hagerty answered quickly. “I want to talk about how you murdered Hammersmith.”
Soulokus threw himself back in his chair to show his exasperation with Hagerty. Then, taking a deep breath he lifted his hands in the air as if he were a solider in combat surrendering to the enemy and he said, “All right. Fine. It’s all a matter of record. I was indicted. Hammersmith ratted us out. But he was all they had. They had no evidence, nothing. Just him and without him they got no case. I called Hammersmith and he’s still playing the fool, pretending nothing is wrong. I told him to meet me at the Holiday Inn way out on New York Avenue. You know the place?”
“Yeah.” Hagerty said. “Hooker heaven.”
“Hooker heaven,” Soulokus said. “So he comes out, goes to the room number I gave him. He knocks. I’m standing behind the door on the other side. I get a bead on him through the little peep hole thing they got in the door. I step back and Bang Bang Bang. Three shots. Direct hits. Down he goes forever and ever. I figured they got him wired up and I was right they did. But all they got is the sound of three shots and him falling dead.
“And there was a squad of cops from Internal Affairs in the room across the hall in the other room.” Hagerty said.
“…and there was a squad of cops from Internal Affairs in the room across the hall,” Soulokus said. Caught me with the gun in my hand and here I am. End of story.
“Oh no,” Hagerty said. “That’s a long way from the end of the story.”
Hagerty sat back in his seat and looked Soulokus dead in the eye and asked quietly “You remember the Mary Cord killing?”
“Can’t say I do,” Soulokus answered too quickly. He knew where all of this was going and only male pride kept him from leaving the room.
“I remember that day very well,” Hagerty said. “In fact I would say that day is as vivid in my mind as if it were yesterday. I go over it time and again and each time I examine it from different angles. It was my first day in plain clothes. It was a perfect October day. I was assigned to the old Seventh in my old neighborhood, Georgetown. You were there for how long? Ten years?”
“Nine,” Soulokus answered. “I put in nine years at the Seventh.”
Hagerty relaxed for a moment and leaned back in his chair. “Remember when parts of Georgetown were blue collar? You know, working people?”
“Sure. I’m a rare bird, a DC local born and raised in the District,” Soulokus said with a smile. “Same thing up by Tenleytown. It was working people when I was a kid up there.”
“That was your neighborhood? Tenleytown?” Hagerty asked.
“It was,” Soulokus said. “I couldn’t afford a shack up there now with the prices the way they are.”
The arrogance had left his face now and the general air of the place had taken on a sense of surrender.
“Like I was saying,” Hagerty continued, “it was 12:30 in the afternoon. I was on the day shift, sitting alone. The old guys didn’t mingle with the younger guys in those days. You remember that right?
Soulokus smiled and shrugged. “Everybody goes through that. It’s always going to be like that, no matter what.”
Hagerty continued, “The radio dispatcher calls in a 25 and 26, both cars assigned to the homicide squad, to go to the C&O Canal in Georgetown. I knew the place, of course, and the station was what, four blocks, maybe? So I ran up there and I get to the bridge on Wisconsin Avenue and I look down on the towpath on the canal and I spot a woman’s body all curled up in a ball. There were no police on the scene except you, and you were across the canal on the other side of the body. But down the canal, I saw the lines of cops forming a dragnet and closing in along the towpath from west and east. They knew there had been a shooting but they didn’t know where the body was. There used to be that gas station right there. You remember that?
“Yeah,” Soulokus grunted.
“Two guys,” Hagerty said “were there changing a tire and they came up to me and say, “We heard a shot and then a woman screamed ‘please help me’ and then there was another shot. We called the police.” I got their names and started down to the canal. I grew up there like I said, and I knew there was a tunnel under the canal that let out just a few feet from where the body was.”
Hagerty put his hands inside his coat pocket and continued. “I look down at her. You remember what she looked like? She was lying in her side like she was asleep. She was beautiful in death, blonde, tall, dressed in a light blue fluffy angora sweater, pedal pushers and sneakers.”
“By then the units had arrived, maybe ten twelve guys in uniform, a half dozen plain clothes guys” Hagerty said and then crossed his legs and said, “We spread out. I was the one who found the suspect. When I found him he was lying face down in the grass on the edge of the river, hiding from us. His name was Roy Crum, a thirty three year old black in what was, in those days, white Georgetown. His clothes were wet. He had cut his hand. He gave us three different stories in less than 30 minutes. He said he had been fishing and had dropped his fishing pole and gone into the river to retrieve it. He said he had been drinking beer and went to sleep and fell in the river. He said he cut his hand on a fish hook even though we later found his fishing rod in a closet where he lived, on the other side of the city, and then he said he cut his hand on a beer can and then on a rock when he was pulling himself out of the river. One of our guys walked into the river and pulled out Crum’s jacket and cap.”
Hagerty repositioned himself in the chair and said, “Another detective found a witness, a guy named Henry Higgins. He was a car mechanic who was working on a vehicle on Canal Road, when he heard shouts for help. Wiggins said he ran to the edge of the wall overlooking the towpath. He said he saw…..”
Hagerty took a small black notebook out of his coat pocket and read the words “a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman."
He put the notebook back and said, “I interviewed a young Air Force Lieutenant who had been jogging on the towpath. He told me that he passed the victim as she walked up the towpath and when he turned and jogged back, he saw her a second time, and walking several hundred yards behind her he saw our man Crum walking up the towpath towards the victim. So we figured we got our guy. Two witnesses. So we booked for homicide. It was a good pinch. Crum had the means, the motive and the opportunity to kill her. He lived across town yet he was seen by two witnesses standing over the body seconds after the shot was fired.”
A sly smile came across Hagerty’s aging face. “The problem was we didn’t have a murder weapon. We searched the towpath and we dredged the canal and we sent divers down into the Potomac, but no weapon. We never found the murder weapon. And that proved to be a deal breaker.”
Hagerty looked around the otherwise empty room and asked, “You can’t smoke in here I suppose?”
“Naw,” Soulokus said. “Federal facility. No smoking.”
Hagerty shrugged it off and turned his attention back to Soulokus and asked, “You know what the legal definition of guilty is?”
“I was a cop for twenty years,” Soulokus said in a defensive tone and then used his manacled feet to push himself further away from the table.
“That doesn’t mean you know what the legal definition of guilty is,” Hagerty answered.
“Why don’t you tell me, oh great one?” Soulokus said.
“Okay I will. The legal definition of guilty is to be found guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of that murdering son of a bitch Roy Crum, you helped to create mountains of reasonable doubt.”
“I did?” Soulokus asked pointing a finger to his own chest.
“After the killing on the canal, word got out that we didn’t have a murder weapon but that we were holding the suspect Roy Crum, on a murder wrap. Crum’s mother called her minister and told him her versions of the facts and the minister formed a neighborhood delegation.” Hagerty wrapped his fingers together behind his head and relaxed. “The minister lined up twenty people in one day and each of them gave a sworn statement that said Roy Crum was a good man who was married and had five children and they believed he was being railroaded by the white establishment. It turned out not one of those people ever met Crum and he was married but his wife threw him out after he locked her in a closet with the kids and then tried to burn the house down. So the minister phones Birdie Roundtree, one of DC’s best defense lawyers, hugely popular in the Black community. She had an acquittal rating of 80% for clients charged with murder and a lot of her clients were charged with murder. The minister asked Birdie to meet with Roy Crum’s mother and a delegation from their neighborhood and she did and she took the case. You know how much she charged Roy Crum for her fee for the trial?
Hagerty waited for an answer and finally Soulokus said, “How in the hell would I know?” He was agitated.
“One dollar,” Haggerty said. “More great publicity for Birdie and that’s why she’s sitting in Congress today.”
Haggerty leaned forward and said, “I sat in the court room that day. Crum’s lawyer, Birdie Roundtree showed up wearing a pink-and-white striped seersucker dress, with white earrings and white shoes. A sight to behold let me say.”
“The prosecution called Roy Crum to the stand,” and then Hagerty sat upright. “Crum’s story was that he missed the truck that would take him to his morning construction job and despite the fact that he was married, decided to stop by the home of a girlfriend to see if she was interested in, as he said ‘doing something’. The girlfriend had a car and they bought a six-pack of beer and a small bottle of gin and drove to the park, where they had sex. Afterwards he drank so much that he fell asleep and the girl took her car and went home and left him to get back on his own. We couldn’t find the girl, if she ever existed.”
“The assistant U.S. Attorney charged with prosecuting the case was Al Huntsman. You remember him?”
“Do I remember Al?” Soulokus laughed.
“Oh that’s right. He jailed you didn’t he?” Hagerty said and then added, “He was a kid back then. Never tried a case before and screwed it up from the get go. You know what he told the jury in his opening remarks? He said, “This case in all its aspects is a classic textbook case in circumstantial evidence.”
Birdie stands up for her opening remarks and stands in front of the prosecution’s table and stares Al Huntsman right in the eye and she says very quietly,” “As this trial revealed, there was no physical evidence—no blood, no hairs, no fibers—nothing that links Mister Crum to the murder. No eyewitness claimed to have seen the killing. The gun was never found.”
Hagerty clenched his teeth. The missing gun. It kept him up nights.
“We launched probably the biggest gun hunt in Washington history,” Hagerty said. “I’m positive of that. We scoured the area. We walked four abreast over every inch of ground where Crum could have walked. When the scuba divers didn’t find the weapon, we emptied the canal and dug up the muck and mud. No gun. I went back there on my own time to look for the weapon. Night after night but nothing, never found it. I went there for years to look for it but never found it and since guns don’t disappear into thin air, that’s really what got me stuck on this case. What happened to the gun? It bothered Birdie Roundtree too. I remember she told the jury, ‘The other problem the state has is that no one has ever seen Roy Crum with a gun, ever. I can call thirty witnesses who are ready to testify that Roy Crum is known in his neighborhood as a fine human being, a good guy. The only exhibit I will use is Mister Roy Crum himself, in all his insignificance. Take a good look at him.’”
Hagerty smiled as he recalled what happened next, “And then without lifting her eyes from Huntsman she points her finger at Crum and every eye in this place fell on this exceedingly unimpressive little man. A small man, I mean tiny really. When we all looked at him he lowered and hung his head. Hollywood could not have crafted a better scene. Birdie walks over and stands in front of the jury and she says, ‘My client, she says, is a poor, confused, harmless little man who was being blamed for a crime he has not committed.’ She even tells the jury that the poor little man cried when she visited him in prison.”
Hagerty stared up at a spot on the gray colored walls as he spoke. “Birdie Roundtree was in rare form that day. She packed the courtroom with supporters. She brought in a map maker who showed diagrams that proved that there were at least six possible exits from the towpath that were not sealed off by the police proving her point that the real murderer had escaped before the police closed off the exits from the area and then proved that the lead investigator on the case never closed the crime scene to the public.
He stopped and looked over at Soulokus and said, “Even though we had the entire area closed down, you know that. You were there. Anyway, then she called the state’s top witness, Henry Wiggins, the car mechanic who was working on Canal Road, when he heard shouts for help. I told you about him. Wiggins ran to the edge of the wall overlooking the towpath where he said he saw “a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman."
“Birdie spent more time with Higgins than any other witness. She slowly and patiently went to work on him, always polite and soft spoken with that deep Southern Virginia tone of hers. She walked him through the details over and over again until it turned out that Higgins now said he was no closer than 100 yards from the crime scene and not a few hundred feet that he told us and that he glimpsed a black man standing near the body for maybe ten or fifteen seconds and not for a full minute. She made it look like the description of what the man was wearing had been written for him by a policeman …that would be me…after I took Crum into custody.”
“Then she rested her case. Well Al Huntsman was just astounded. He asked the judge if they could approach the bench. The judge called them forward and Al says, ‘Never in my wildest dreams did I think Mrs. Roundtree would rest’ and Birdie says for all the world to hear ‘You try your case your way and I’ll try it my way’.”
“She concluded her case without calling a single witness, and in closing remarks, after only one hour of deliberating, the jury found Roy Crum not guilty. So Crum, the violent lunatic walks free to go on to live a life of crime. Twenty-two arrests over the next ten years including charges of assault with a deadly weapon, arson, and rape and then there are the crimes he committed that we don’t know about.”,
“So you’re looking to find out who killed this rich guy’s wife?” Soulokus asked.
“Naw” Hagerty said looking down at the floor. “I know who killed her. The guy we pinched is who killed her. Roy Crum killed her. I’m sure of that.”
“Well you know,” Soulokus said, “I read that she was running around with the President of the United States. Her husband was some kind of super-secret agent, CIA guy. She knew a lot. She could have caused a lot of people a lot of grief.”
“What’s your point?” Hagerty asked.
“Could have been a professional hit,” Soulokus said nodding his head as if to confirm the claim to himself.
“Just before Crum plugged her a second time,” Hagerty said “she yelled out, ‘Someone help me, someone help me’ and then she was shot. What professional gunman is going to let his victim know she’s going to get shot to death? No, those guys are quick and silent. Those guys shoot and walk away before the corpse knew what hit them. No, she was killed in a botched rape attempt and her murderer was Roy Crum.”
“I don’t get it,” Soulokus said. “What do you want from me? You didn’t drive all the way up here from DC to tell me how some jig got lucky and beat a murder rap. What do you want?”
“I’ll tell you what I want,” Hagerty answered. “But first let me ask you something. Do you know anything about the woman he killed that day on the canal?”
“She was a rich guy’s wife, something like that,” Soulokus shrugged.
“On the day of the murder,” Hagerty said. He was growing to dislike Soulokus with every word he spoke. “One of the senior homicide guys, I’ve forgotten his name, you knew him, told me to go and find out who the dead woman was. Ask questions. A crowd had formed by then. I asked around, and the shop keepers knew her. They said she was an artist and she had a studio nearby, and she had gone out for her usual lunchtime walk. They had seen her painting on the tow path. They didn’t know her name but they all said she was pleasant and pretty and what a shame it was about what happened and all.”
He leaned very close to the desk between them and said, “I found out who she was. Her name was Mary, Mary Cord. Everyone I talked to about her said the same thing. That she was ethereal. I didn’t know what that meant. I had to look it up. It means sort of otherworldly, fragile. She was the niece of the Governor of Pennsylvania and two United State Senators. Her family owned a bank along with a couple of hundred thousand acres of land in Virginia and Maryland. Did you know that she had so much money that she lived off of the interest on the interest from interest? Can you imagine that? The interest on the interest from interest.
“No,” Soulokus answered sarcastically. “I can’t imagine that.”
“Anyway, she attended Vassar.” Hagerty lifted his head, looked at Soulokus and said “That’s a very good school.”
He lowered his head again and continued, “She wasn’t one to sit on her duff, even with all that extra money lying around. She worked as a journalist, a magazine writer, went to graduate school at Georgetown and got an advanced degree in Fine Arts. She married a guy named Michael Cord. A blue blood. He was a Yale graduate and a former Marine Officer, who served in action in the Middle East, and lost an eye to a bomb fragment.”
He looked across the table and laughed. “The guy actually wore an eye patch.”
Hagerty sat back in the chair and said, “They should let you smoke in here.”
Soulokus didn’t respond so he continued. “Eventually Michael Cord joined the CIA and ended up running their media propaganda and disinformation service.”
Soulokus was wearing a sly smile and nodding his head he asked, “And when did the princess start dating the President?”
“She knew him,” Hagerty said quickly. “All those people in that small, tightly woven universe of privilege all knew each other. But that’s as far as the facts go. The rest is hogwash. A few years before he was elected to the White House, the President served in the Senate for a term and he took up residence over in McLean Virginia, bought a mansion right next door to the Cord’s. The wives knew each other and the men had been at Yale at the same time. There were some drunken cook outs, and swim parties, so who knows what may or may not have happened at one of those things. I guess you heard our dead President had a tendency to play grab ass in his living years with just about anything female that could walk.
Anyway, in the first days of the President’s administration Edward Wilson, in his capacity as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency asked the President to name Michael Cord ambassador to Guatemala. The suggestion was rejected out of hand. The President didn’t trust the CIA that he inherited and he didn’t trust Director Wilson, whom he inherited and for some reason he disliked Michael Cord. But Cord had his hopes up and when the rejection came he took it hard, real hard. That’s why, later on, he began his campaign to black ball the President and that eventually led to his asinine story about his wife having an affair with the President. He started the whole thing, the entire story about his wife and the President comes from him and no one or nowhere else.
During the President’s first term the Cord’s dog, a golden retriever, was hit by a car on the curve of highway near their house and killed. Mary mentioned to some friends that she was afraid the same thing might happen to one of her children. Well it did. A few months later the Cord's nine-year-old son, Michael, was hit by a car on the curve of highway near their house and killed. It was the same spot where the family's golden retriever had been killed a few months earlier.
The tragedy didn’t bring the couple together. They never got along. Hell I don’t think they even liked each other from what I could tell from what people said about them. So that Fall Mary filed for divorce. In her divorce petition she alleged ‘extreme cruelty’, mental in nature, which seriously injured her health, destroyed her happiness, rendered further cohabitation unendurable and compelled the parties to separate. In other words, he smacked her around good more than once, especially when the little weasel drank too much and he drank too much a lot.
So she left him and filed for divorce and then she was murdered. Mary Cord’s death would have faded off into oblivion had the National News Enquirer not printed a story about a two-year affair she had with the President. The source of the story was a reporter named Robert E.L. Prewitt.
Michael Cord, Mary’s husband, ran a department at the CIA that was known as the ‘dirty tricks department’. Part of his job was to manipulate the press. He ran a project called Operation Parrot Influence. His group paid off journalists, or they bugged them, set and controlled hundreds of phony magazines, and newspapers all over the world where they ran thousands of fake stories on whatever subject they needed the story to have swayed their way. Cord used to feed insider Prewitt information and in return Prewitt would occasionally write disinformation stories for Cord.”
Hagerty stopped speaking and looked around the room for a water faucet. There wasn’t one.
“A few months after the murder,” Hagerty said with a deep breath, “Graham Phillips, who was the publisher of the Washington Capital Newspaper, took the microphone at a publishers meeting in Arizona and blurted out something about Mary Cord, having an affair with the President. He would have rambled on no doubt had he not been pulled from the stage. A lot of people assumed it was true because he said it. He was a friend of the President. He wrote drafts for several major speeches. He successfully lobbied for the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury, and he was known to have advised the President multiple times about other appointments. Of course very few people knew that at the time he was in the throes of the mental illness that led to his suicide three months later. Crazy leads to crazy. Apparently Phillips picked up the story from Robert E.L. Prewitt.
So now it’s a rumor with legs and it’s going places. Another writer said that Roy Crum was the perfect patsy, better even than Lee Harvey Oswald. Mary was killed by a well-trained professional hit man, very likely somebody connected to the CIA"—the idea being that she knew ‘too much for her own good’. You know, it got to the point where, for the longest time, I started to think there was a conspiracy to kill her.
It was a juicy story and it made sense in a way, Mary having an affair with the most urbane President we have ever had. She matched him in the social and intellectual credentials, perhaps exceeded him. She was beautiful and witty and full of life, a better than average self-taught artist who was noted for her abstract paintings.
The problem with that, as I said, is that she didn’t have an affair with the President. That story was encouraged by her husband. What the diary listed were the dates that her husband visited her at her studio and threatened to kill her for leaving him and the times he broke in drunk, and beat her up. She even told people that if anything happened to her that they should check her diary. This reporter, Prewitt started to suffer from mental illness, paranoia, that kind of thing. He got fired from his job and he moved to Mexico and spun a series of remarkable but baseless stories about, among other things, Mary Cord being involved with the President. Again, the source of his stories was his good and close friend Michael Cord. Like his boss, Prewitt eventually committed suicide. When his wife was pushed to produce the damming pieces from Mary’s diary that he said he had, she said that it had been stolen by the CIA.
So you take the mean spirited lies of a jealous husband out to protect his fragile ego, feed those tall tales to mentally unstable newspaper people, toss in a remarkably blundering CIA director and mix them with the oddities of the case….missing paraffin tests, missing murder weapon…..and you’ve got yourself a conspiracy. And a goddam good one at that. Next thing you know sensational fragments of the story start to turn up like Mary Cord was the wife of a major CIA guy, and Mary Cord slept with the President. Conspiracy theories pop up everywhere. Who really killed Mary Cord? Was Roy Crum set up? By whom? Why? I can’t say I blame people, I mean it’s a hell of a good story, that’s why it grabbed the public’s imagination that worked on two possible narratives.
The fact is that if Mary’s diary revealed a romantic connection between the President and Mary Cord no one has any evidence of it. It’s a baseless rumor started by her malcontent husband.
On the day she was killed, Mary’s sister and her husband John Hodges Choate, the executive editor at the Washington Capital Newspaper, went to Mary’s townhouse in Georgetown. It was just a few blocks down from their place on N Street. They weren’t looking for her diary, that’s more fabrication. They were just doing what any family would do after the death of a loved one. While they were there Edward Wilson, the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency pried open the lock on the front door of Mary’s townhouse and let himself in only to confront the Choate’s. He told them that his wife, Mary’s Cord’s best friend and former college roommate, had told him that Mary kept a diary and he felt that it was best, in the name of national security, that he take the dairy and destroy it. He said it contained names, dates, places and photographs that could, as he put it “affect things in the negative.”
Edward Wilson wasn’t just another government worker with a great job title. He was a son of a bitch and was a special son of a bitch. Not one single, solitary person I interviewed had anything good to say about him. He was so despised and feared inside the agency that when a new director came in he actually tape recorded his firing. When I interviewed the new director for this little investigation of mine and I asked about that, about the recording, he said it was true and added that it was one of the best things he had done as CIA director.
Wilson knew about the diary and the pages and pages of comments by Mary about how her husband threatened her and how he beat her senseless and how he threatened to kill her. He knew because, like I said, he was married to Mary Cords closest friend, Sissy, who was also her roommate at Vassar. She told him about the threats Cord had made and how Mary was recording it all for the divorce proceedings.
I interviewed Wilson’s wife too. She said that she saw Mary once or twice a week but never with her husband because he was Mary’s husband’s boss and it would have been inappropriate but also because Mary, like just about everyone else in DC, didn’t like Edward Wilson. Didn’t like him from the moment she met him. She said he was creepy and that she was sure he was tapping her phone, and she also suspected that one of Edward’s people had entered her house undetected, looking for something to blackmail her husband with.
So Wilson and the Choates searched the house and they found the diary and Wilson took it. The Choates only knew him in passing, but they knew who he was and what he did for a living and they knew Mary was married to a spy, so it all made sense. So they handed the diary over to him.
“If there was no funny business going on” Soulokus said “with her and the President, then why would the Director of the CIA want her diary? I mean think about it, she’s so bored all she does is paint pictures and stroll down on the canal in the middle of the day.”
“Blackmail.” Hagerty answered flatly. “Like I said the only thing of note in the dairy was one passage after another about how Michael Cord had shown up unexpectedly at her studio in Georgetown and just about anywhere she went. He was stalking her. And she wrote it all down. In the meantime his position and power within the CIA continued to increase. The diary was something to hold over his head, keep him and his famous temper in line. I mean why would the CIA give a shit about her diary? You think she knew something they don’t know? The CIA and the Navy have bugs in every corner of every room in the White House. They have everyone in the White House from the cook to gardener on their payroll. They know what’s going in the White House before the White House does. So what could she possibly know that was so scandalous?
“Well, copper” Soulokus grinned, “things are never what they seem are they?”
“I rebuilt her final day. At approximately noon on October 12, Mary Cord finished what would be her last painting. She then dressed in warm clothes and set out on a walk by herself while the painting dried.
She left her studio, between N and O Streets in Georgetown, and walked down towards the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. As you know, the towpath is located between the old C& O Canal and the Potomac River and it’s separated from the Potomac by a wooded embankment. Crum had tried to pull Mary off the canal towpath to the wooded area to rape her. She struggled with him. She ran and grabs a tree. He pulled her from the tree and dragged her 22 feet away. I know that because she left an impression in the dirt on the path.
The gun didn’t belong to Crum did it? She carried a pistol because she was certain she would have to use it on her husband the next time he showed up drunk and wanted to punch her around for leaving him. So she bought a gun. And being rich and innocent, she bought the best gun on the market. Now when Crum approached her, started to molest her, she pulled out the gun but he takes it from her, like candy from a baby. Now he’s got the gun and she cries out for help twice, and from the footprints in the dirt on the tow path, her sneakers left a distinctly different imprint than our copper’s shoes. She tried to run for it. He chased her and then he shot her in the back. She cried for help, and he put one in her temple to get her to stop screaming. It was a brutal murder. That first bullet traveled from left to right and struck the right side of the skull, then ricocheted back to where it was found in the brain. The second bullet entered over her right shoulder blade and traveled down through the chest cavity, piercing the right lung and the aorta, the heart’s biggest blood vessel. The third shot also came from no more than six inches away, for it too was encircled by a dark halo of powder burns.
Henry Wiggins, worked at the M Street Esso station, you remember that station? Well he was called to the area of the towpath that day in order to jump start a gray Rambler with a dead battery. As he got to the vehicle on Canal Road, he heard a woman yell, ‘Someone help me, someone help me’, from the towpath down below. He then heard two gunshots and ran to the edge of the wall overlooking the towpath. He saw, in his own words, a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman… Crum was drunk. He came to his senses and remembered to drop the weapon where he fired it and then he ran down towards the river. Both wounds showed signs of being inflicted by shots fired very close to the skin. The first shot, the one to her back, produced blowback and caused blood and brain matter to spew on the shooter. …so he ditched the jacket in the water. Wiggin’s testimony confirmed that. So Wiggins jumped in his truck, sped back to the Esso station, and called the police department. That was the call I heard, the one that took me over to the towpath……….”
“Look Hagerty” Soulokus cut him off. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh I think you know why I’m here,” Hagerty answered with a smile.
“Nope” Soulokus said with a bored resignation. “I can’t say I do. Why don’t you tell me?”
“You were on the scene before anyone else.” Hagerty said.
“I was on patrol.” Soulokus said raising his voice “I told you that. Somebody had to get there fast. It was me. It could have been you, but it wasn’t. It was me. I knew the neighborhood. Like I told you, I grew up not far away, so when the call came out I got there fast. So when I got there, I see the woman all dead and everything across the canal. Then I see you next to the body.”
“When I arrived,” Hagerty said “I ran down to go through the tunnel that goes under the canal but by the time I got there you had already used the tunnel. You got to the crime scene first, you took the gun, and you hid it on your person someplace. I looked at the case against you. You murdered your partner, Hammersmith, with a Walther PPK.
“So?” Soulokus shrugged.
“Where did you get the gun?” Hagerty said looking him in the eye. “And don’t say you didn’t have the gun. You were holding it in your hand in the hotel room when Internal Affairs kicked in the door.”
“I don’t remember where I got the gun,” Soulokus said.
“Well you must have gotten it in Europe, or in Germany,” Hagerty offered.
“Yeah,” Soulokus said, “I don’t know. You never know where things come from.”
“You’ve never had a passport. I checked,” Hagerty said. I also checked on the serial number of the gun. Did you know that all Walther pistols made prior to 1948, like the one you used to murder your partner, were individually stamped? Each part, stamped with its own individual number. High quality gun. Easy to trace. I checked with the company and the pistol you used to kill Hammersmith was sold to Michael Cord who gave it to his wife. That was the gun she was carrying when Crum attacked her, the gun he took from her, the gun he killed her with and the gun you stole from the crime scene.
When I figured out that you stole the gun I went down to the property room where the physical evidence in murder cases was stored. I wanted to see her sweater, Mary’s bloody sweater, because nowadays a DNA test on that sweater even after all these years, could have told us something, but it was missing. All the evidence from the case is missing. And I figured, well okay, score one for the conspiracy crowd.”
He leaned forward and looked directly at Soulokus and said, “I thought you had destroyed the Paraffin test too, but you didn’t destroy them did you? And the reason you didn’t destroy them was because there never were any paraffin tests to destroy were there?”
Hagerty waited for an answer and when no answer came, he continued, “You clowns never gave him a Paraffin test did you? You figured you had your man, open and shut case. Then Crum gets a lawyer who actually knows her ass from her elbow. She requests copies of the Paraffin tests results, and you guys realize nobody took the test so you lie. You say the tests are missing from the file. So with the evidence missing, I went back to the field reports and went over the evidence taken from the scene. There was a set of emerald earrings, gold wrist bracelet, and four rings, with an estimated value for the whole catch, $500,000. She was wearing her expensive jewelry, most of it family heirlooms, because her husband had a nasty little habit of breaking into her townhouse and stealing things, expensive things that he had given her over the years as gifts. The detective in charge was Ruberts, you remember Ruberts? He was a decent guy and he knew how the DC morgue worked, and that the morgue attendants can and will steal everything they can off a corpse.”
He stopped and smiled, “Did you know those bastards were actually shaving the hair off of some of the homeless dead that were brought there? Yeah. They were selling to a wig maker over on Capitol Hill.”
He shook his head in disbelief at his own story and continued, “And her credit cards. Somebody charged fifty thousand in household appliances and electronics on her card before it was cancelled. You stole the gun, the jewelry, and the credit cards. You were assigned, or you volunteered to bring the evidence to the property room. You stopped someplace, took the contents and refilled the evidence box with junk and signed it into the property room. If it disappeared no one could blame you. You had done your job, and you signed in the evidence.”
“You know Hagerty,” Soulokus hissed, “I met a million guys like you, old cops with nothing to do but relive the glory days, the days when they mattered, before they were old and lonely and alone. Alone because the job was the only thing that mattered to you. And I’ll tell you something else I know.”
Soulokus leaned as close as he could to the screen that divided them and said, “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Soulokus sneered. “And you’re an idiot too. You read the report about my arrest in the hotel room right?”
Hagerty nodded in the affirmative.
“Did you read that when the clowns from Internal Affairs kicked open the door, they cuffed me?” Soulokus stopped and looked hard at Hagerty, “And then what do you do? What’s the procedure Hagerty?”
“Search and body pat,” Hagerty answered.
“Yeah,” Soulokus said, “and that’s when they took my service revolver.”
The guard entered the room and Soulokus stood and turned his back on Hagerty and as he walked slowly from the room he said, “Hammersmith had the gun. He was waiting in the room not me. I was the rat not Hammersmith. I was the guy who tried to hook the expensive clock to the Georgetown antique dealer. They had me cold. I squealed. I was the one wearing the wire.”
He stopped walking and turned to face Hagerty. “I opened the hotel room door. Hammersmith had the weapon ready to shoot me. I was faster, and stronger. I got the gun. I shot him dead. So now the Department’s got a dead cop and a real mess on its hands. I mean, come on, cop’s robbing the very houses we were supposed to be protecting from thieves. The public doesn’t want to know that. The politicians don’t want to hear that either. So I selected to take the fall. I was looking at life, easy. You know, they get upset when you kill a cop. I could have dragged it out, asked for a trial, aired lots and lots and lots of dirty laundry. Things that would have interested you.” He stopped and grinned and then continued, “But, like I said the public doesn’t want to know that. The politicians don’t want to hear that either. So we worked a deal. I agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, third degree murder. I do ten years. On the upside, you’re right, I took her jewelry. Made a quick ten grand on it.”
“And Hammersmith took the gun” Hagerty said in a voice filled with resignation.
Soulokus smiled, shook his head at the cop’s naiveté and turned and walked towards the door again and stopped. “There’s one more thing.”
“What’s that?” Hagerty asked as he stood up from his chair.
“You had almost everything wrong.” He smiled a deep self-gratifying smile “You think you’re so slick, so smart. Well Sherlock, Crum didn’t kill anybody. He was some poor dumb son of a bitch who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hammersmith and me, we seen her before, this Mary Cord. How could you miss her? Blonde hair and tall. I mean you know yourself, she was a knock out. You don’t ever see women that beautiful in real life.”
“Hammersmith, he was a little sick when it came to women.” He stopped and smiled broadly, “Well, he was a lot sick when it came to women.”
He continued, “Hammersmith took a liking to her. That day, the day she got whacked, we were on patrol on her street. We saw her leave the house so we followed her in the patrol car, you know, for something to do. We got to the canal and Hammersmith says, ‘wait here’ and he walked up the path to talk to her. So he’s talking to her on the other side of the canal and I’m watching and he tries to pull her into woods. She fights back, he gives her a slap and the bitch pulls out a gun. That’s when I got out of the car. He shoots her, I mean what else is he gonna do right? He jumps into the woods. You show up, Mister Boy Scout copper and you see me. A few minutes’ later ten million cops show up on the scene and Hammersmith just blends in.”
He stopped talking and tilted his head to the right and said, “See copper, you ain’t all that smart after all are you?” Then Soulokus turned to the guard and said, “Let’s go,” and the metal door slammed shut.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.” he shouted after him. “I want you to sign a deposition.”
He collected his note pad and pens and stepped out into the cold rain and the darkness of the day. In the car he found his beloved dog sleeping but breathing heavily. The animal opened his eyes wearily and looked at him and wagged her tail once and closed her eyes again. He reached over the seat and pulled the blanket up closer to the dog’s neck and then warmed her gently with his massive hands.
“We’ll go get a hotel,” he whispered, “get you something to eat, and warm you up.”
At 4:45 that afternoon, Detective Sargent Lawrence Hoicowitz reluctantly answered his phone. “District Police, Internal Affairs, Hoicowitz.”
The voice on the other end of the line was direct and business like. It was a lawyer who represented Nick Soulokus.
“Yeah, I knew Nick” Hoicowitz said.
“There was a retired cop named Joseph Hagerty who had been to the prison and was harassing his client, Mr. Soulokus,” the lawyer said. “Are you familiar with Hagerty?”
“Oh sure, I knew Joe,” Hoicowitz answered. “Knew him well.”
Where could this Mister Hagerty be reached, the lawyer wanted to know. He wanted to mail him a letter, a certified letter, informing him that his client was greatly disturbed by his visit to the prison and that he was not to contact his client again, by any means at all.
“And you say this happened when?” Hoicowitz asked.
“Yesterday,” the lawyer answered.
“You’re saying to me,” Hoicowitz said, “that Old Joe Hagerty showed up at the federal pen yesterday and questioned Nick Soulokus, is that right?”
“Yes,” came the reply.
“Well you’re mistaken then,” Hoicowitz said. “Joe Hagerty died a week ago. I was at the funeral. He had a dog. The dog died and old Joe died a few days later. So I think you’re mistaken.”
The Orphans Explanation
You had all of me most of the time
It’s all I’m capable of, most of the time.
I have ghosts that follow me
Most of the time
Disguised as the past
Pulling me backwards
Away from all of you.
Most of the time
You think I failed you
But you have no idea
Most of the time
What a great, Herculean effort it was
Just to give you that much
All of the time
This Thing Between us
It’s all in our heads, it’s all in the family
This thing between us.
Me and you
This wall. This invisible thing
That everyone sees it, except us.
You and me.
For you, you’re the victim
For me, I’m the victim
For you I’m the bad guy
We’re someone we’ll think about forever
We’re a fine suit that doesn’t fit
Because we won’t let it
We won’t admit it
But everyone knows it.
Everyone except us.
We won’t call it a shame
We won’t talk about it.
We’ll only feel it.
Our loneliness, our sorrow, our loss
We can dream of what a fine thing we would have been
You and Me
Me and You
Epitaph: The Night We Buried McEvoy
A poem about a time long gone ago
When I was but a boy back in 64
Old Bull McEvoy hit the proverbial floor
Where he went nobody knows
But dead he was, dead for sure, dead down to the core
The wake we give him
‘Twas the event of the year
Everyone who was anyone
Made sure that they was there
After mass and the chalice we retired one and all
Down to Sullivan’s corpse palace
Just near the Hibernian hall
Where a grand time, I tells ya’s was planned by one and all.
We in our best soots and ties worn
Like feck’n hangman’s noose
Calloused hands with neither watch no ring
Naw, not for us, our kind don’t wear dose tings
The ladies dolled their Sunday best
Whispered to the widow wit respect
And promised her they’d die pray’n
For the hosts eternal rest
One by one we knelt before the future
Our hands in pious prayer
Over the old boys corpse
Where it noted, goddamn life it ain’t fair.
Big Murphy the cops comes in
But he don’t know the dead
Makes his way to the food trays
To get his fat ass fed
Riley the carpenter follows
Sans coat and tie
And tells the window dear that
“The Mac chose a good day to die”
And my what a fine coffin
Twas a fortune to buy
If himself would just move over, says he
I’d gladly give it a try.
And here’s Pat O’Meara Wit da wife, the dear old lovely skinny Vera
“I never seen the Mac look finer, says he with a nod
And wasn’t just the other day
We was pick’n horses down at the Valley Diner
Sullivan the plumber sailed in
five sheets to the wind
behind him come da corpse third cousin
And all da odder various kin.
Father Murphy’s there to console the poor widow dear
He gives her a rosary and a prayer
Then joined the boys in back
For a song, a butt, a shot and a beer
The Roselli’s brought fried eggplant
but it went mostly untouched
But Steinberg brought a corn beef
that caused a table rush
The AOH come by and so did the KOC
to offer the widow thar pity
And behind them dressed in black
Come the old lands Biddies
Den da union people slithered in
and pretend to know our names
But now we’re all the wiser
To their feck’n games.
And when the last shops close
And there is no more blood to suck
They’ll be at the sweat shops China
Try’n to hustle a china man’s buck.
By ten the coffin joined the spirit
and started to sway with the walls
and when boys from Hill Top Hose arrived
we had an early fireman’s ball.
If Bitsy McGee coulda stood she woulda stood
And ah, I tell you, the golden words she woulda weaved
But she couldn’t and she didn’t
All she says is “Boy’s I gotta pee”
So Junior McEvoy commanded the floor
And demanded it stop spinning
And den defied gravity itself
Cause just by standing he was winning
He had his fill to the gills
Of the Celt killer the drink.
Ah but so smooth was he with his fine words
We coulda charged a fee
Let us speak of my pop, the McEvoy himself
He knew that it’s in the giving we receive
And when injured by others
We should always offer reprieve
Where there was darkness
He offered light
And where he wronged
He almost always made it right
To those who faced sorrow
He spoke of a better tomorrow
He believed in the eternal life.
Where there is no want, no sadness and no strife
He lived his life
He loved and he won and he lost
And never, not once, can it be said
He shrunk from the deep, deep cost
He knew much pain yet held on to hope
He never made an evil gain, God bless him
He never learned to hate
And never surrendered a single day to fate
The way he seen it
Despite all it’s pain
Magnificent is ours world
But it’s the heavens we must gain
He nipped a bit much
He laughed when he could
He doubted yet the kept the faith
As, Lord knows, we all should.
He was of the generation
That handled the fuss
They’ll never see your likes again
The mangy ungrateful cuss
Yous who a depression faced
Yous who put a man in space
It all come from us, the working class
That saved this world’s ungrateful ass.
Wasn’t it us that made Tojo bow?
And us that gave feck’n Hitler his due.
And now look at us
We drive Volkswagens and Subaru’s.
Here’s how it is ain’t it true?
The boys at the top
Close our shops
And there ain’t a damn thing we can do
The America you saved my friends
She all gone she’s died
And with her went our world
Our hopes, our work and all our earthly pride
Then from the floor rises
“War” she axes “
Does a lady go to pee?”
So we shows her the bowl
What to Chris Finally” says old Bitsy
“I got a pot to piss in.”
At the end the flags was furled
The coffin closed. Dead to the world
To the sidewalk we staggered
Tired drunk and haggard
Finney tells the widow dear
“If you’re Irish the world will break your heart”
And there is no earthly thing to do of it
So may we laugh until this world we all part.
TO THE DUDE
I thought that you would grow tall and brave
And I would grow old and wise
Two roots of the same tree intertwined, together, forever.
Now I wonder if you will remember me at all.
Will you know me when these surly bonds of earth have released us to the ages?
Will you know me through all the millenniums that will pass before us in eternity to come?
Will you remember me?
Or is our past nothing more than shallow mists and slight fleeting images that disappear because they pointless, as pointless as our reflections on the cold waters of this dark pond?