The Reckoning: Chapter Twenty-One . . . Escape!

Reckoning

 

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

 

1 

 

Washington, D. C.

Present Day

 

The gurney stopped moving. It was all that Shahida could do to not pull the pistol from behind her back and to a more instantly accessible location. It was too early she knew. There was still a chance that they might all make it out without gun-play. The guards seemed young, and they might well sneak by. But she was also painfully aware that here, they were in the dragon’s lair, and should it come to a shooting match, she and her two friends would be woefully over-matched.

The voice from outside the box was muffled, but still Shahida could easily make out every word. It was a male voice, that of a youngish man.

“Is that the suicide from the B4 unit?” the voice asked.

Weeks hesitated an uncertain moment and then spoke up. “Yes sir.”

“Alright. Let me see the DC.”

“The DC?”

“Yeah smart-ass, the DC—you had Strumpf pronounce, didn’t you?”

Weeks looked blank.

“Jesus, where do they get you guys from anyway? You can’t just take a body out of here until the doctor comes over and does a pronouncement.”

“A pronouncement?” Wiggins said.

“Yeah, genius. A doctor, a medical physician specifically—has to examine the body and pronounce it dead. Us, we’re way too stupid to be able to tell a thing like that. How’d she off herself?”

“Bullet through the head.”

“Well then, there you go. You or me, we look at a body with a big gaping hole through the noggin, and a bunch of brains leaking out, well, you can’t expect us dumb shits to know if she’s dead or not. Takes a physician for that. Then he has to sign the DC—the death certificate. You have present that to me, or to whoever is on shift here when you come through. One of us signs it too and off you go over to the Sunny Side funeral home. They do our cremations. No double signed DC—no cremation, simple as that.”

“Sorry, we didn’t know.”

“Then I’ll bet Dr. Strumpf wasn’t even called, was he?”

“Sorry, no.”

The guard signed. “Okay then. Park her over there in that side hallway and I’ll give his office a call. Probably take a few hours for him to get over here, but maybe we’ll get lucky and be able to get you two out of here while we’re all still in our youth.”

Another voice spoke up, this time from the end of the hall. Shahida recognized the voice as belonging to the FBI agent that had been with the President. Things are turning sour pretty fast, she thought, as her hand tightened on the pistol.

“It’s okay Officer,” the voice said. “I’ll take over from here. This lady is a special case.”

“Yes sir,” the guard replied. “No problem.”

“Thank you,” the older man said, as the young guard turned and walked away.

“Weeks, Wiggins—take a right at the hallway. I have a hearse from Sunny Side waiting. Where’s Pulini?”

“Staying behind,” Weeks replied. “He’s got the shits this morning. Too many hot peppers on his pizza last night.”

“Okay then,” the older man replied. “We need to make this fast. Too many people already looking for her. Faster she’s in an ashcan the better.”

“What’s the deal with her anyway?” Weeks asked.

“None of your damned business is what’s the deal with her,” the older voice said. “The less you know the better.”

“Okay, okay—just curious, that’s all.”

“Remember what they say about the cat. You like all the extra money you’re making?”

“Sure.”

“Well, keep your eyes and your mouth shut and you’ll keep making it.”

“Okay–got it boss.”

“So start pushing this damned thing then. Long way out to the loading dock.”

“Yes sir.”

The procession started moving.

 Detroit

     1940

 

2

 

It was quite easy to sidestep the punch. Child’s-play really. It was easy to see how the Kid, and Brick too, for that matter, had been able to win all those fights. Gabriel stumbled forward slightly as his right connected with nothing but air. I gave him a cuff on the side of his head as he went by. I could have done a lot worse, but I really didn’t want to seriously hurt the guy. I kind of liked him. And besides, the whole time-travel fighting thing seemed a lot more than just a little shady to me. It wasn’t quite cricket, to say the very least. On the other hand, I didn’t exactly want a good beating from Gabriel either—so I kept it up—momma didn’t raise no fools.

“Knock it off, Sam!” I said as he passed me for about the tenth time. I added another powder-puff swat for emphasis. “You can’t win this, big-guy.” Apparently he didn’t know that, as he cocked his big mitt for another try at the center of my face. He didn’t miss by much, and I felt the breeze as his knuckles passed an inch or two from my nose. Brick and the Kid had at last turned away from the bar to watch the festivities. They were both holding their drinks, and looked prepared to defend them if necessary, or at the very least keep them from spilling if we waltzed in a little too close.

It was not as though Brick and the Kid were no help at all. They shouted advice and encouragement. Trouble was, it was directed toward Gabriel, not me. I guess they probably looked at this altercation as a learning experience for me, and as an added bonus—they did not have to be the ones doing the teaching. At any rate, it was plain that they were enjoying the spectacle and having a good time. Again, I thought it about time to bring this so-called “fight” to an end. Trouble was, I wasn’t exactly sure how to do that—at least without causing Gabriel to lose a lot of face, and I didn’t want to do that. I was starting to really respect the guy. Anyone who absolutely refuses to give up, no matter how one-sided the odds or pointless the conflict—well, some qualities just have to be acknowledged.

In the end, the finish wasn’t very pretty. I tripped him. I admit it wasn’t much flashy, or even very fair, but damn–did it work. He sprawled headlong and face first into the floor, which gave me a terrific advantage as I basically stood on his neck and demanded his surrender. Like I said, it would never make the annals of the great fist-fights magazine year-end photo edition.

Sam twisted his neck around enough to be able to speak.

“What was that you were drinking?” he inquired.

“Club Soda. Neat. No rocks.”

“Tell the barkeep to make it two, and I’ll have one with you.”

“Fair enough, Sam,” I replied with a smile. “Fair enough.” I quickly removed my foot from his neck. He rose slowly to his feet, straightened out his jacket and vest, and then stuck out his hand for a shake. I was only too happy to accept it.

“I’ve fought many a man,” he began. “And not a one of them ever made the fool of me that you just did. I bow in your presence Mr. O’Brien, and I tip my hat to one hellofa great fighter.” Gabriel tried for the cap tipping thing but it wasn’t on his head anymore. I had knocked it off in the first few seconds of the fight. I reached behind me and retrieved it from the floor and handed it to him.

“Just Johnny to my friends, Sam. Just Johnny to my friends,” I repeated.

“Yes sir, Johnny,” he said enthusiastically. Let’s have some of that soda stuff. Can’t say I’ve ever had it before. Maybe I’ll like it!”

“Maybe you will,” I agreed. “I hope so, Sam. I truly do.”

We bellied up to the bar, all four of us in a row—kind of like crows on a telephone line. Brick and the Kid nursed their liquor. Gabriel and I sipped our Shirley Temples. It was practically a Hallmark moment. Sam allowed as to how his soda didn’t taste near as bad as he had expected it to. After his little go-around with me, and the absence of new intoxication for a few minutes, old Sam was starting to lose his buzz just a little bit. When he spoke, his words were not nearly as slurred. He spoke to the Kid, but somehow I just sort of intuitively knew to whom he was referring. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just a little. And my skin crawl.

“Big Al’s back in town.”

“So I’ve heard,” the Kid responded dryly. “Been awhile.”

“Years,” Gabriel agreed. “They say he’s dying.”

“And Satan always speaks the truth, doesn’t he?” the Kid replied sarcastically.

“You’re not a believer?” Gabriel asked.

“I wouldn’t believe that bastard if he said the sky was blue,” the Kid responded.

“What’s he got to gain? He’s a broken man.”

“Yeah, right. What he has to gain, is the only thing that ever really mattered to him. Power. Power over men, over women, over anything of good, worth, or value. Money was only the means to his end.”

I jumped in. “Are we talking about the “Al” that I think we’re talking about, Kid?

“Yeah, Johnny. The one and only.”

“You kind of forgot to mention earlier that he was a friend of yours.”

The Kid screwed up his face in distaste. “He was never a friend of mine, Johnny. Never. No man on this earth was ever the friend of Al Capone.”

4

     Washington, DC

     Present Day

  

Shahida rinsed the last bit of ketchup and syrup out of her hair. Finally, after nearly thirty minutes in the shower, the smell of the fake blood concoction was fading. It was just in time too, as the hot water was quickly beginning to fade from the smallish sized water heater. Weeks’ digs were a little surprising to Shahida. It was an exceptionally neat and clean apartment for a bachelor guy, and well decorated too. Not what she would have expected. Shahida had wondered if the oddly good-looking Weeks and his goofy partner might be a couple, but several photos of Weeks and his very pretty girlfriend rapidly ended that speculation.

Weeks’ taste ran to colonial style furniture, but instead of the more common maple stain of that period, his was rich dark wood, and very stylish. A nice four poster bed in the bedroom, along with matching end-tables, and a large dresser. A drop-front desk in the living room, and a sweet corner cabinet—all perfectly matched. The extra-large sofa was cloth, and a sedate cream color. One look told Shahida it would be a comfortable sleeper.

Quickly she dressed in the bathroom, and wrapped a towel around her wet hair. In a few minutes she would blow-dry it and brush it out. Not much more needed to done with it—Shahida’s hair had a natural wave to it, and always quickly bounced back. She expected nothing different this time, despite the oddly concocted “shampoo” that it had been subjected to. It wouldn’t do to not look her best when the time shortly came to question the FBI guy. It was a matter of dominance.

He was currently seated on the big comfy sofa, with both hands and feet securely handcuffed. The last that Shahida had seen him, he did not seem like a particularly happy camper, having just been bested by a junior agent, and a female one at that. She had to smile at the memory of it.

As the coffin reached the loading dock, the senior agent had called for it to be opened. Since there was not going to be a doctor called in on this one, or a death certificate, he explained, he was going to have to do a visual on the corpse. Not trusting the older agent to be a complete moron, Shahida intended to give him something interesting to see. After Weeks and Wiggins nervously opened the lid and the agent stepped forward and unzipped it, the “corpse” rose up quickly and jammed the barrel of her 9 mil against his forehead. The agent’s eyes grew large with the complete and total surprise of it. Shahida couldn’t help smiling too as she remembered Weeks and Wiggins eyes also enlarging considerably as her “blood” smeared breasts tumbled free of the body-bag. Once they had the agent cuffed and gagged and on the floor of the hearse, Shahida returned to the dead for the short trip to Weeks’ apartment. Fortunately a small complex and under cover of darkness, it was no trouble to smuggle Shahida in, wrapped in one of Weeks’ bathrobes. Likewise with the old agent, who had decided that he would rather comply than lose a few inches of spine as Shahida’s pistol pressed into his back. The escape had gone remarkably easy—freedom for her and her two friends, and a captured crooked agent as a bonus. She hoped that their good luck would continue. Experience told her however that that was probably not going to be the case. When her body did not show up at the funeral home, and Pulini was discovered, Shahida decided that all hell was likely to break loose at the White House.

4 (2)

Finally finishing with her hair, Shahida stepped into the living room.

“Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?” She asked the very uncomfortably seated agent.

“Why should I tell you anything?” he answered, spitting out his reply.

“It’ll be more fun that way for one thing. And help pass the time. Let’s start out with name, rank, and serial number. It’s traditional.”

“Oh why the hell not?” the agent replied. “Kessler. Senior FBI agent number 105455.”

“You don’t carry an ID.”

“Not a good idea in my present line of work.”

“What’s your first name?”

“None of your damned business.”

“That’s a name you don’t hear every day. We’ll just stick with Kessler. Okay Agent Kessler. Why does the President want me dead so bad?”

“You’re a bright girl; bright enough to have gotten the drop on me—you figure it out.”

“Okay, I’ll take a shot at it–pun intended, by the way. You tell me where I’m going wrong.”

“Feels good to be on top, doesn’t it, Agent Faris? My advice; enjoy it–it’s not going to last very long.”

“Nothing ever does,” Shahida allowed. “So the President of the United States sets this great big glorious ‘Jihadist plot’ machine of his in motion and gets some of the biggest and best names in law enforcement nationwide to go along with it. Why? To create a frenzy, and a giant smoke-screen. Screening what? There certainly isn’t and never was any plot to kill children in a Christian academy–that much’s for certain. But it’s a great story; no one’s going to ignore the possibility of a toddler massacre. Everyone goes crazy. Everyone reacts. So what’s really going on?”

“Maybe, bringing people together? Kessler replied. “Ever see Die-Hard?”

“No, I’m not into American movies. Too violent. Bringing who together–O’Brien and Wahl?”

Kessler slowly nodded. Shahida’s hunch was paying off. He was turning out to be a talker. Egotists usually are.

“Why?” Shahida asked.

Kessler sneered. “Okay sweetheart–I’ll help you along. What does this President–hell, what does any President want most in all the world?”

“To have more power.” Shahida said.

“Bingo–and to keep it a lot longer than eight measly years. No President ever wants to relinquish power. Goes against the natural instincts of a predator.” Kessler added.

“So contriving a fake Islamic State attack would allow him to stay in power?”

“Depends. Go deeper,” Kessler added. “Let’s see you work those Poirot ‘little gray cells.’ Do the math.”

“You would have to declare martial-law to be able to suspend elections,” Shahida mused. “And you would have to get most of the country, including Congress and the US military to think that it was a good idea. It would take something pretty damned big to be able to do that.”

Kessler grinned again, more savagely this time. “How about an attempt on the life of the President of the United States of America? One that was traceable to a foreign power.”

“Not enough. We’ve had that before.”

“Right. How about an attack on the President that he survives, but about three-quarters of the US Senate and the House of representatives do not?”

Shahida shuddered at the thought of it. An attack on the heart of the United States government. “Impossible. They are way too well guarded.”

Kessler chuckled. “If you think that, then you don’t know Sal Moradi very well.”

“I don’t know him at all–outside of his dossier. Apparently no one else does either.”

“Wrong Agent Faris. One man knows him very well.”

“Who?”

“Mr. O’Brien’s new partner.”

“Wahl?”

“Right. Jedediah Wahl. He and O’Brien are not together exactly by accident. Moradi has an interest in O’Brien as well, although I don’t know precisely why.”

“And are you ready, Agent Kessler, to accept an American dictatorship?”

“Not too much worried about it to tell you the truth.”

Shahida pondered this. “How involved is Central?

“Not at all.”

“Secret Service?”

“Pure as the driven snow.”

“How about the DC cops?”

“Plenty dirty–except for your two.”

“Yeah, except for my two. I kind of like them. They’re almost like a pair of missionaries they’re so wholesome and good. How dirty is the District FBI?”

“None.”

“Except for you.”

“Except for me.”

“Why?”

“Personal reasons, Agent Faris. Extremely personal reasons. Let’s just leave it at that for now, if you don’t mind.”

Shahida shrugged away her indifference. “Fair enough–I don’t care. You’re reasons for being a traitor to your country are you own. You can explain them to a Federal judge.”

“Assuming you live long enough to get me in front of one.”

“Yes, assuming that. Why are you helping me, Kessler?”

“Who says I’m helping you?”

“Have you said a false or untrue word to me so far?”

“Why would you believe me, if I told you I hadn’t?”

“Because oddly enough, I don’t believe that you’re lying to me, even if you’re not helping me.”

“Correct, Agent Faris–and very astute. Every word I have told you is the complete truth.”

“But there’s more.”

“Of course there is. There’s always more.”

“What?”

“Nope, Faris–this is the place where I keep my big, fat mouth shut tight.”

“Doesn’t matter. I know enough to stop this thing.”

“Not even close, Faris.” Kessler rocked slightly back and forth, smiling savagely as he did so. He spoke in a mocking tone. “You’re a little girl who’s about to lose your life–and all your fine friends with you. And this time–you stay dead for good.”

“Because?” Shahida asked.

Kessler answered slowly and deliberately, rocking harder and still smiling–falling into a child’s sing-song voice.

“Because I know one thing you don’t.”

Man in Fedora and Raincoat

Thanks for reading! Be back in a few with a new installment . . .

Dumb Joke of the Day (A classic Far Side)

Dumb Joke

The Reckoning: Chapter Twenty . . . The Stonehouse Bar

Stonehouse Bar

Detroit

    CHAPTER TWENTY

 

Detroit

1940

We finished our work in the Kid’s backyard in probably an hour, and cleaned up quickly in the house. The antique and aged water heater in the old building had seen its better days. I thought the water was going to have to run long into the afternoon just to get warm, but it finally responded, and I was able to wash the dirt and grime off my hands.

Brick and I assembled in the front yard, waiting patiently as the Kid started up his car and backed it out of the garage. I kind of wondered what would be Norman’s taste in a set of wheels, and as it turned out, it was a sweet ride—a 1939 Ford Deluxe Tudor. It was destined to become a classic, with its rakish curves and brilliant chrome grill, and was well on its way to that status even in its first year. The car, as it turned out, was a gift, or rather a loaned company car of the Ford Motor Company, to the Kid. He was employed by Ford, and rather uniquely so, as I was soon to understand, and the car—well, just let me say—it was a good investment for the company.

Brick took the passenger seat, while I settled into the back. The Ford was equipped with optional leather seats, rather than the standard cloth. They were beautiful and stylish on the one hand, but very stiff and cold in the frigid Detroit Spring air, on the other. Again though, smart—bodily fluids would not soak in so easily as cloth. And much, much easier to clean up if they did.

“Tell me about Ford,” I said to the back of the Kid’s head.

“Big company. Builds cars. Makes a lot of money doing so.”

“Funny. Tell me what it is exactly you do for Ford.”

“I bust heads, Johnny. And I don’t mean the one in the engine either.”

“That’s what I thought,” I replied. “Is that what you were doing when your daughter went missing?”

“Don’t you mean when my daughter was murdered?”

“I mean I don’t know if she was murdered or not. And neither do the Detroit cops. And neither do you.”

The Kid harrumphed. “I hadn’t worked very long for Ford when she ‘disappeared.’ I was still in the fight game then—at least on the side. I was a manager and trainer.”

“Of who?”

“Well, let me see. That was in December of ’29. It would have been Murray. Patrick Murray.”

“Just after the crash,” I observed.

“Yeah, you bet—things were tough. The country was still in shock. The reality of the Great Depression hadn’t quite set in yet.”

“Tell me about Murray.”

“What’s to tell? He was a real mick. With an Irish temper to boot. A little slow in the ring, but after he got hit a couple of times, he’d generally explode and tear his opponent’s head off. Not a bad fighter.”

“You improve him much?” I asked.

“Naw. He didn’t need much. I couldn’t exactly impart the secret of time-travel to him. But even at that he was alright. Never gonna be the champ or anything like that, but he could, and did, win a few matches.”

“Make you much money?”

“Not too much. Especially after black Friday. But him and me kept food on the table. In those days that was no small thing.”

“Back to Ford,” I challenged again. “Why the strong-arm stuff? I’d of thought you were a classier guy than that, Kid.”

“Well you’d of thought wrong,” the Kid replied more than a little peevishly. “The depression wasn’t exactly over in a few months you know. I was getting older and weaker. I needed something that produced a more regular paycheck.”

“You were a little past your prime by then.”

“Yeah, I was—but the Ford guy that hired me never knew it.”

“What do you mean?”

The Kid looked out over the steering wheel and off into a distant past, obviously viewing people, places and things that only his eyes could see. They had a kind of almost vacant look, but even at that, I could see that he slightly smiled—a smile with teeth in it. Exactly the same smile that I had observed just before the Kid had saved my life back at the old warehouse by knocking a couple of hoods into the next week.

“The guy’s name was Harry. Harry something or other. I can’t really remember anymore. Anyway, he was the head of “hiring” at Ford. But he wasn’t exactly hiring assembly line workers. Ford was at war with the new United Auto Workers Union. And more exactly they were at war with Walter Reuther.”

I remembered back to my high school history class days, and the formative years of one of the first great American labor unions. Walter Reuther was the first President of the United Automobile Workers of America—better known as simply the UAW. It was not especially popular with big business interests of the day. “I’m guessing the higher-ups at Ford wasn’t none too thrilled with Mr. Reuther, right?”

Reuther

“Right, Johnny. Ford considered Reuther to be a commie pig, and they weren’t about to cave in to him. General Motors and Chrysler had already suffered costly sit-down strikes and signed labor agreements with him, but Ford wasn’t about to. They were bound and determined to make a stand. They wanted to teach him a lesson, and if they couldn’t do that—well, they wouldn’t have minded even one little bit seeing him end up good and dead.”

Walter Reuther (L) and Richard Frankensteen, after being beaten bloody by Ford private police in "The Battle of the Overpass."
Walter Reuther (L) and Richard Frankensteen, after being beaten bloody by Ford private police in “The Battle of the Overpass.”

Going back to my mental history book, I remembered the airplane crash that had finally killed him. It was about a year or so before I had been born.

“Do you think they finally made him good and dead, Kid?”

“Possibly, Johnny. You have to remember though, that plane crash happened several decades after the events we’re talking about. If they did, it was pure payback. Labor laws and union contracts for more pay and better working conditions were well established by then. It would have been pretty pointless to kill him at that stage from a profit/loss standpoint. People die in plane crashes all the time. Sometimes things just happen for no real good reason, Johnny.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, my voice dripping with just a bit more than doubt. “Sometimes they just do. So what about this Harry guy?”

“I answered a sort of ‘cattle-call’. Ford wanted tough guys for their newly formed ‘security’ force.”

“Ford private police, right, Kid?”

“Right, Johnny. Strike-busters.”

“How many ‘cattle’ showed up, Kid?”

“Around a dozen, best I can remember. Hoods—every one of them. Pimps, bookies, and thugs. All strong young guys too.”

“Except for you.”

“Except for me. Harry took one look at me in my three piece suit and thinning gray hair and laughed in my face.”

“Mistake number one, Kid?”

“You bet, Johnny. Pissed me off good. Mistake number two was when he walked up to me and shoved me hard in the chest. Caught me off guard and I damned near fell over backward. Harry thought it was funny as hell and laughed again.”

“What did you do, Kid?” I was already beginning to see pretty much how this thing was going to play out.

“Well, after I got my balance back and straightened out my vest and jacket, I called him a miserable fat pig and asked him if he’d like to try that again. He did. Came at me with a fully cocked fist. His mitts were about the size of a small ham.”

“Never laid another hand on you, did he?”

“Only to shake my hand and offer me the job of head of security.”

“How bad did you work him over?”

“Enough so he’d remember it for damned sure. My last punch knocked him completely over the desk in his office and slammed his fat ass into his desk chair—backwards and upside down.”

I had to smile with the thought of it. Pretty much, I figured, people had been underestimating the Kid for most of his life. Not very long before—I had been one of them. It was easily a fatal mistake.

“He hate you for the beating enough to grab your kid?”

“No, Johnny. We became pretty good friends to be honest. I remember his name now. Bennet. ‘Big’ Harry Bennett. A semi-pro boxer and an ex-Navy guy.

Bennet

 

“How ‘bout anyone else you roughed-up?”

“I doubt it. They were all small-fry, Johnny. Nameless, faceless factory workers. Just trying to keep a roof over their heads and a little food on the table.”

“Any regrets, Kid?” The Kid was silent for a few seconds as he thought it over. Finally he spoke.

“Naw. It was a tough old life, Johnny—back in those days. Hell—it still is.”

“Amen to that, Kid,” I replied. “Amen to that.”

Brick spoke up. “Tell Johnny about the world-famous corkscrew punch, pops.”

The Kid laughed a little. “It was my trademark. My finishing move. My ‘lights out’ punch. It was a left. But when it hit, I turned my wrist about ninety degrees. I really don’t think it was a damned bit better than any other decent left hook, but the crowd loved it and ate it up. I made up a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and hokum about developing it from the principals of gun barrel rifling. Another story was that I watched a cat batting around a ball of yarn. That’s all it was too. Just a yarn—another good old Kid McCoy tall tale. Public didn’t care. They couldn’t get enough. They just loved the ‘Kid.’”

Norman was silent for a long few seconds. Then he spoke. “It was a good life, Johnny. A damned good life. I don’t regret a thing I ever did. It was the god-damned time of my life.”

“You ever regret killing your wife?” I could tell that I had hit a nerve as the Kid’s face flushed a mild red.

“No sir,” he replied softly. “I regret that less than anything I ever did in my life.”

“Tell me about her.”

“I’d rather not, if you don’t mine.”

“I do mind, Kid. If your daughter wasn’t nabbed by union thugs, there’s a damned good chance the mystery revolves around your wife. After all, there’s not much else left—right?”

The Kid was silent again for several seconds. “Right. I guess. Okay, Johnny. I asked you for help. I guess you can’t do that if you don’t know it all.”

“Thanks, Kid.”

“I can’t go there without a little fortification, Johnny. You have to grant me that one.”

“Okay, Kid.”

“I know a good bar, Johnny. Just a mile or so down the road.”

We rode on in silence. Finally the Kid slowed the car and right turned onto a lovely tree lined residential street. Odd place for a bar I thought, but as the Kid stopped in front of a rather quaint looking Victorian style two-story house, I could plainly see the lighted sign.

It said . . . The Stonehouse Bar.

 

Washington, D. C.

Present Day

 

Weeks and Wiggins were as gentle as possible in lifting Shahida up and into the casket. Through the narrow slit in the unzipped portion of the body bad, Shahida could see Officer Pulini. Weeks and Wiggins had done a good job of tying him up. Pulini wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. A heavy gag protruded from his mouth—firmly taped over with duct tape. His hands were cuffed behind him, and also anchored with stout twist-ties. The ankles were identically secured, and then additionally chained around a rather large and heavy looking refrigerator. If Pulini tried kicking the refrigerator over, it would probably dislocate his hip joints as it went. Pulled toward him, the machine had a very good chance of killing him as it fell on him. Pulini was settling for laying very still on the floor, even as he shot hard looks at his adversaries.

Once inside the coffin, Shahida began to pour the fake blood over her body and head. It was an interesting combination—common tomato ketchup mixed with chocolate syrup and then slightly thinned with mineral oil, along with a dash of red food color. It was the same old tried and true combination used in the motion-picture trade for time immemorial. It did have its real-life drawbacks however. While visually very convincing, it would literally never pass the smell test if anyone were to examine the “corpse” very closely. Not a problem in the movies—here, the ketchup and pancake syrup odors presented a substantial risk.

Weeks and Wiggins zipped the bag shut and quickly closed the lid. It made a loud click as it snapped into place. The sound was more than a little jarring to Shahida. In her old country, she had heard the same sound many time. There however, the occupant of the casket didn’t care much, and would never rise again. Here, Shahida said a silent prayer to her new Christian God, imploring deity for assistance and assurance that she would soon see that lid open again. Shahida pushed her pistol deep into the small of her back. It felt cold against her naked skin. The darkness inside the casket was total and complete.

In a few moments, the casket began to move as Weeks and Wiggins opened the outer door and began pushing the gurney out. There was a slight pause as they stopped to lock the door behind them. Then movement began again as the trio started the simultaneously short, and very, very long walk to freedom and escape.

The procession ended abruptly as a muffled voice spoke up from outside the darkness of the box.

“Halt,” it said.

 

Detroit

1940

Once inside the Stonehouse bar, I was rather amazed at what had been done with the grand old residence. The ground floor had been widely opened up into a much larger and more usable space. There were probably a good baker’s dozen of tables and chairs scattered about. The tabletops were littered with drinks, drinkers, cards and card players. Even fairly early in the afternoon, the Stonehouse was a busy place. There were a set of stairs going up, but chained off. I had very little doubt that whatever was going on up there probably did not include drinking and gambling—or Sunday school lessons either.

The Kid strode up to the bar like he owned the place and ordered a double scotch—neat. Seemed like he’d done it before. Brick followed suit but settled for a draft beer. It looked delicious—a good old-fashioned foamy head and deep amber color. I could tell at a glance that beer quality must have been going down for a while. What I really wanted was something I was pretty sure they weren’t going to have—a Diet Coke. I tried for a glass of Club Soda on the rocks instead, and when the bar-keep didn’t do a double take, I figured I was probably home free—at least as far as the drinks went.

Wrong again—as per usual.

Stonehouse Bar (2)

As the bartender turned away to fill my order, I felt a solid jar on the right side of my body as a big and burly guy pushed in close beside me. He didn’t have to—it wasn’t that crowded a bar.

“Hey, barkeep!” he bellowed. “Bring a whiskey on over for my new friend here.” He was a bruiser all right. Probably an inch or so over six feet, and he had a good solid forty to fifty pounds on me. “First one’s on the house for any friend of Kid McCoy!” he bellowed again. The Kid didn’t even bother to turn his head to look at us, although Brick was sizing the goomba up from the corner of his eye.

“You gonna be okay, Johnny?” he asked a little paternalistically.

“Yeah, brick—I’ll be fine. Thanks anyway.” I looked the guy over. He wasn’t about to win any beauty contests, that was for damned sure. His suit and vest had seen a lot better days. Just a little bit more than threadbare, and long past it’s prime. The plaid English driving cap perched crookedly on his noggin could sure as hell have used a good dry-cleaning as well. The face sitting under it didn’t look as though it had seen a lot of hot, soapy water in the very near past. His breath roiling out from the lumpy face did not exactly remind me of a lily-field either. A flame anywhere near it would have presented a clear and present danger.

“You got a name, pal?” I cordially asked, as I managed a friendly smile.

“Sam,” he bellowed once more, slurring his words slightly as he did so. “Sam Gabriel.” It was plain that his daily libations had begun considerably before ours.

I stuck out my hand and Sam took it, pumping it several times. He was no weakling. I could have sworn my feet slightly left the floor on the upswing. “Well, Sam, my name is O’Brien. Johnny O’Brien. Just Johnny to my friends. I thank you for the offer of a drink, but today I’m just having a soda. If you want to buy it for me, that’d be great—but that’s all I’m drinking today.” His face darkened at the rebuke, as his voice lowered an octave.

“Everybody new to the Stonehouse gets a free whiskey. That’s just the rule.”

“Rules are meant to be broken, Sam.”

“Sorry, Johnny—no exceptions to the rule.”

“Let me put this to you as plain and simple as I can, Sam. I don’t drink booze. Ever. I’m going to have a Club Soda today. If you’d like to have a friendly drink with me under those terms, I’d enjoy it. If not—well, just let me say right here at the outset—please don’t start in on me—because I really don’t like to hurt people.” I could see Brick smile a little on the edge of my vision.

“You’ve got a lot of confidence—for a little man,” Sam said.

“As a little man, I have to,” I replied. Sam backed up a pace. A couple of other patrons hurriedly backed up several more. It was plain they had seen old Sam in action before.

Brick casually leaned over a few inches closer to me and whispered, “Try to see the punch before he throws it, Johnny.”

That’s your best advice, Brick?”

“Sorry. We didn’t exactly have time for the full course. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine—I’m sure you’re probably a pretty fast learner.”

I didn’t have time to thank Brick much for all the great advice he hadn’t given me before I felt Sam shove me hard with both of his massive hands. It backed me up a couple of steps and I was damned glad to have a little more room to move around in.

“Sam, I’m only going to say this once. I’m not in a good mood today. Matter of fact, I’m in a damned bad one. Please don’t screw around with me. You don’t have an idea in the world of what you’re starting here.”

“I’ll risk it,” he said as he pushed me again even harder.

That was it. I waded in. I threw what I thought was a pretty decent punch, but Sam caught my hand in his like a baseball in an oversized catcher’s mitt. His right smashed into the left side of my face and actually lifted me a couple of inches off the floor. I staggered but didn’t go down. Grabbing me by the front of my shirt and pulling me closer, Sam plowed his left into the other side of my mug. This time I hit the floor hard—but only after staggering into and overturning a table and breaking three or four glasses and mugs that had been sitting on it. The lights were getting a little dim by this point, and birds were beginning to make a faint chirping sound in my head.

It was shaping up to be a long afternoon.

Once more Sam was towering over me as he reached down and grabbed another handful of my shirt and hauled me to my feet, fully intending to turn my face and nose into blood and snot soup. I could see Brick and the Kid watching from the corner of my eye. They seemed contentedly unconcerned, and very unlikely to interfere. Sam pulled me to my feet as he lined up his right fist for the nightly-night punch. My eyes bore into his right balled-up hand as he cocked it back as far as he could go. In my mind’s eye, I could see the punch as it sailed toward me through the air. I could see it connecting with my head. Funny thing happened then though.

The punch, never reached my face . . .

1

Thanks so much for reading tonight. See you all again in a few days.

Dumb Joke of the day:

Dumb Joke

From the Brier Patch . . . The “Dreaded” One Star Book Review

 

Brier Patch

 

 

As most any writer of anything much longer than the note on the back of a Christmas card will tell you . . . there are always critics. It is especially so when the work has been published. Publishing a book and selling it at almost any price, or even for free for that matter, does open one up to much anticipated and often times feared reviews as well. For the most part, reviewers and reviews are kind of fun and they can be extremely edifying.

And then there is the “dreaded” one-star review.

Why do people write and post them? Often they come from Internet/Amazon trolls, simply to try to hurt and do damage. Then too, I am told that they may be posted by folks that personally know the author and have some reason to try to do harm.

People can be very strange indeed sometimes.

I got my first one-star this morning. All of my writing friends tell me that by receiving it, I have now officially “joined the club,” and am at last among the many, many professional writers that have been soundly and roundly trashed and panned by “experts.” Even the “big” hitters in the writing game have garnered a fair share of these fun reviews. Ultimately, they rather tend to help the author, rather than hurt. One-star book reviews usually work to spark interest in the author’s work, rather than discourage it.

one-star (1)

Mine was on the Barnes and Noble ebook “Nook” site, and was rather neatly sandwiched between several much more normal four and five-star reviews. I am reprinting it in its entirety, not changing a single solitary misspelled, missing, misused or mangled word. It came from “Anonymous.” It seems that particular individual is a pretty busy fellow—or lady, as the case may, or may not be.

Anonymous

1 star The writing was so bad that i could only read 48 out 248 pages. The writing style was high school level, the two main characters continuely belittle each other similar to HS or college boys. The characters verbally attack of each other with very little civil interaction did not help develop the story or move it along. The attempt to descibe other characters was a joke example “the man looked 65 or some where near there, instead of he appeared to be in his 60’s.” One scene to explain what was happening he had a nurse give a dialogue of what happened then she explain she was off when the shooting occured made no sense how did she know what happen was it hearsay? The author should of presented the information via asking the witness questions and having them slowly expose what occurred. This book needed a proof read and editor to help with a complete re-write. I cannot believe all the great reviews either they have low expectations, didn’t read the book or family & friends of the author. I would like to say it had a great idea but poor execution but I can’t for I did not read enough and the 48 pages was so poorly written you could not get interested in the book or get you hooked on the story . What little I did read did not give me enough of an idea that the concept was original or good. I cannot recommend this book and thankfully it was free. I will be deleting this book ASAP

I’m kind of glad they got it for free as well!

And as far as getting friends and family to write reviews for me–I’ve been trying for years, and no luck so far!

The actual text of my book (Time Enough to Die) went like this:

 

Making our way into the room, a fit and trim looking sixty-five or so year old Mr. John Devon greeted us with a firm handshake, and we made our introductions. Turned out that Mr. Devon was an ex-marine. Tough and hard as nails, he had spent his entire career after leaving the service in private corporate security. He was trained to note details, had a solid head on his shoulders, seemed to be afraid of nothing and was used to taking command. I had a feeling he was going to make an excellent witness.

I was right.

 

The “Nurse” scene went like this:

 

Emerging from the elevator and walking over to the reception desk on the fourth floor, we were greeted by a petite and very pretty little blond nurse named Mary Hayes. It was obvious that she had been informed that we were coming and was expecting us. Mary was the Care Coordinator for the entire fourth floor dementia unit, which consisted of twenty-six patients or residents, as they preferred to be called, at the moment. She was all smiles as she held out her hand and greeted us.

“Good afternoon,” she said, looking us both over and sizing us up. “It’s Detective Carter, isn’t it?” she ventured.

Howard, always a schmuck for a pretty face, smiled broadly and said “Chief Carter actually.” Nodding toward me, he said “and this is Detective O’Brien.”

Five minutes on the job and already I had been promoted.

“I understand you would like to speak with the Devons, Chief Carter?” she said. “Is that right?”

“It is if they are the people that witnessed the shooting last night from the fourth floor balcony,” Carter replied. “A couple of my men who were canvassing the building for potential witnesses this morning said Mr. Devon might have been up there at the time.”

“I believe he was,” Mary said. “He and his wife were visiting her mother, Mrs. Nyles. I understand that he had gone out onto the balcony for some air. It was a very warm evening. All of that shooting must have really scared the residents. I wasn’t here at the time, but got a phone call at home shortly after. Do you have any idea who might have done such a crazy thing as shoot up a building full of kids Chief Carter? It’s a wonder and a miracle he didn’t manage to kill someone. And right here in Bellevue!” she huffed.

“No idea at all right now Ms. Hayes,” Carter replied. “That’s why we’re here.”

“Of course Chief Carter. Follow me if you would. The Devons have been here all night to comfort her mother and make her feel safer. And please call me Mary.”

“Thank you Mary,” Carter said as she turned and started down a hallway. Mary moved her hips like she had done it before and it wasn’t a bad view, and I was glad to see that Howard still wasn’t too old to appreciate it. Carter whispered an aside to me as soon as Mary was out of earshot, “We’re keeping the dead girl quiet right now Johnny,” and started after Mary.

“Dead people usually are, aren’t they?” I replied, and after taking a second to once more enjoy the pained expression on Howard’s face, joined the procession in the hallway, which ended at room number 461. The name on the door was Mrs. Mildred Nyles.

 

I leave the judgement call to you. My best advice about “dreaded” one-star reviews? Well, if you are going to write them—please spell your words right, and correct the sloppy punctuation and grammar. If you don’t, well then, your review is probably going to do a whole heck of a lot more to help me than to hurt.

one-star (2)

And if you are an author, either seasoned or new, and have just received your first one-star review? (And if you haven’t—you will) As the late, great French motion-picture actor Maurice Chevalier once said (sang, actually—in In Search of the Castaways) . . . “It’s life—don’t worry—enjoy it!”

If you are a writer (or reader/reviewer) of fiction, please feel free to leave a comment or two and let me know what you think about one-star reviews. I am providing a link to the book in question, Time Enough To Die: The Watchmaker, Book One, if you would like to read the entire thing. I think it’s pretty good. It’ll cost a penny under four bucks to find out if you agree or not, but if you do, just respond with your email and I’ll send you book two (Elliott Bay) for free!

Thanks so much for reading today. We’ll be back in a few days with Chapter Twenty of The Reckoning.

See you then . . .

Dumb Joke of the Day:

'You must be the tenth doctor who's told me I'm suffering from paranoia. What is this, some kind of conspiracy?'