The Reckoning: Chapter Twenty-Seven . . . Ghost

Ghost

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

 

Detroit

1940

“She moved through the Fair, Johnny,” the Kid said softly.

It was not the opening I had been expecting when I entered the Kid’s bedroom. Far from it. But the Kid had gotten to where I was going long before I had ever intended to. I had gone to his room to discuss two long dead people alright, not just one. I was just surprised that somehow he seemed to completely understand that.

Few people on earth had ever had the challenge and privilege of knowing the real Kid McCoy.

I had the feeling I was about to.

The Fair reference was to an ancient and extremely mournful Celtic folk song. Although the Kid was being intentionally cryptic, I knew it well. It was one of Jan’s favorites. It was about lost loves, and long lives of sorrowful loneliness.

“You’re a liar, Kid.”

“I know I am. It’s one of the many things I was never much good at.” The Kid moved to one of the windows and parted the sheer white curtain with his hand, looking out with vacant eyes. “I once had a sweetheart. I loved her so well. I loved her far better than my tongue could tell.”

“You never married her.”

“No.”

“You didn’t kill her.”

“No.”

“She took her own life.”

“She did.”

“The woman I heard singing in the night.”

The Kid slowly shook his head affirmatively as He continued to stare at the empty and dark Virginia Park Street.

“Singing to dead child, Johnny.”

“What was her name?”

“Teresa. That was her name. That is her name.”

“She’s not much dead, is she, Kid?”

“Oh, she’s dead alright, Johnny. She’s just not much gone.”

“Why, Kid? Why all the lies? Why not just tell it like it was?”

“Because a man accepts responsibility, Johnny. Because that’s what a man does. I was a man damned precious few times in my life. This time I chose to be one.”

“You went to jail.”

The Kid shook his head again. “For a while. It was a small price to pay, Johnny. It was better to let everyone think I had murdered her. It kept her pure. It kept her innocent.”

I didn’t point out to the Kid that her suicide was her own private sin—not his, and not his to remove. Sometimes reason plays a very small role in what we say, or do.

“And you saved her immortal soul?” I said.

“Yeah, Johnny. Hell is real to a good Catholic woman. And to me.”

“She never cheated on you.”

“No, Johnny. She never did.”

“Well, she’s not in Hell from what I can tell, Kid. I have an insight on those kind of things these days.”

“Nor in Heaven either, my friend. She’s here, here in this house—and suspended somewhere between the two.”

“How’d you pull it off, Kid? In court I mean.”

The Kid chuckled a bit. “I put on a real show, Johnny. You should have seen me. Me and the shyster lawyer I hired. He wasn’t worth a tinker’s damn, but that was exactly the reason I wanted him. I didn’t want somebody that had a clue what they were doing. I didn’t want him accidently getting me off.”

“What was his name?”

“Carson. Harvey Carson.”

“What was your defense?”

The Kid smiled. “I told the absolute truth. Just exactly the way it actually happened. My secret though, was to make the jury so thoroughly despise me that they’d be convinced I was lying and convict me anyway. The day after she died, I put on a hell of a freak-show at her little antique shop. Everybody thought I was as crazy as a barrel full of monkey assholes.”

“How did it really happen, Kid?”

“We had a fight, Johnny. She blamed herself for everything that had happened. She was despondent—depressed they’d call it now days. She was in pain. Had been since little Beatrice went missing. She screamed that she couldn’t take it anymore and went for a little .380 automatic that I kept in a desk drawer. I grabbed her arm and we wrestled for it. She won—and shot herself in the head. Yeah, I know, Johnny. I could have changed it, but I didn’t want to make her into . . . well, what you and I are.”

I nodded my understanding. “So instead, Kid—she became an unquiet ghost.”

“Yeah, Johnny—just exactly that.”

“Go on, Kid.”

“Carson and I rolled around on the courtroom floor ‘recreating’ the struggle. We pissed off the jury so bad I’m pretty sure they would have convicted both me and him of her murder if they could have. My multiple public failed marriages and ribald lifestyle only added to their dislike of me.”

“You didn’t serve a very long sentence—for murder.”

“I didn’t,” the Kid agreed. “It was second degree. I got paroled a little over seven years later. The evidence was never very strong against me. Mostly circumstantial. Besides, I was a model prisoner in San Quentin. It was a tough place. During a riot in my last year, I threw in with the guards. They said I maybe even saved one or two of their lives. It helped a lot when I came up before the board.”

“Anyone ever try for your life in there, Kid?”

The Kid smiled again. “Sure. Several times, Johnny. But as you know, I still move pretty well for an old man. I moved even better back then.”

“How old are you, Kid?”

“Sixty-seven, Johnny. And tired—tired as all get-out.”

“I don’t doubt it. You’ve led an exhausting life.”

“I have,” he agreed again.

“Is it over?” I asked.

“Just about, Johnny. Just about.”

“You need to square some things first.”

“I know, Johnny. I need to tell her I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t kill Beatrice Alderman.”

“No—but I have sins to atone for. Teresa was the only woman I ever truly loved.”

“Have you spoken with her before?”

“Many, many times, my friend. She comes to me often in my dreams. She listens to me intently as I pour my heart out. Then she turns and walks away—returning to the blackness.”

“Does she ever speak, Kid?”

“Yeah.”

“What does she say?”

“Always the same thing, Johnny. Always the same. As she turns away to leave me for yet another time, she says . . . “It will not be long, love— ‘til our wedding day.”

I shuddered involuntarily.

“Which room is she in, Kid?”

“The nursery.”

I shuddered again, remembering blood alley. “Where else, I suppose. Where is it?”

“Downstairs. Just off the dining room. It was a library when we bought the house, and we converted it.”

“Why? Beatrice was your step-child.”

“Teresa and I were planning on having one or two of our own. Her death put an end to that.”

“What did you do with the room after she died.”

“Nothing, Johnny. On the day I returned from her funeral, I closed the door and turned the key on it. I’ve never opened it again. My financial manager kept up the bills on this place while I was in prison, and he had someone take care of the outside—but I don’t believe he or anyone else ever ventured inside. He always said it gave him a creepy feeling just standing on the front porch. I know it took a lot of cleaning up after I returned. It was a dusty mess.”

“I don’t doubt it, Kid,” I allowed. “Please don’t tell me the nursery is where she died.”

“Yes, Johnny—it was.”

I shuddered a third time. It was getting to be a habit, here on Virginia Park Street. “I asked you not to tell me that,” I said.

“Sorry,” the Kid said. “I’ve been living in purgatory so long, my friend—it’s come to almost feel normal. I should have long ago burned this house to the ground and had Father Bain consecrate the soil it stood on. That’s what I should have done—but unfortunately, that isn’t what I did. Instead, I kept the sickness alive.”

“We need to talk,” I said.

“We are,” he replied.

“The three of us,” I replied. “Don’t play stupid with me, Kid. It’s an act that doesn’t become you.”

The Kid’s eyes flashed anger, but he didn’t move. It would be an interesting fight, I speculated. I had more than twenty years on him. He had a hell of a lot of experience on me.

“I hired you to find my daughter’s killer, O’Brien. I paid you with your life. Now how about delivering on what I paid you for. Tell me.”

“What makes you think I know, Kid?”

“I saw what you did tonight. I know you went away for a while with Capone.”

“I thought I was better than that, Kid.”

“You were perfect, O’Brien. I didn’t watch you—I watched Sam Gabriel. I knew something was up between him and you.”

“Makes sense, Kid.”

The Kid took a step forward. “So tell me what you know you son-of-a-bitch. I’ll pass it on to Teresa when I see her tomorrow—in hell.”

I shook my head slightly side to side.

“Not a chance, Kid. You get to be a man again tonight, on this, the last night of your life on earth. I tell you and her together—right here on this side of the veil—or I tell no one at all.”

He took another step forward, forming his hands into fists.

“I could make you tell me,” he said.

“You could try,” I said with a bravado I didn’t really feel.

It could have gone either way for a few seconds as the Kid thought over his options. Finally, the tension in his body relaxed as he un-balled his fists.

“Okay, Johnny—you win. I’ll have to find the key.”

“Why don’t you try your right trouser pocket, Kid? My guess is it hasn’t left that pocket very often over the past few years.”

“How’d you know that, O’Brien?”

“Lucky guess, Kid. And like I said—you’re a damned poor liar.”

“Guess I am at that,” he said, pulling the old-fashioned skeleton key from his pocket. “Guess I am at that. All right detective—you wanted to meet your other client? Well, this is it. Let’s go.”

The Kid quickly opened the bedroom door and headed out into the hallway and toward the stairway to the first floor. He didn’t look like a man that was about to stop, even if I had asked him to. Even if I had told him that I had reconsidered this most unusual client conference. This was a man descending the staircase with a mission and a purpose. I followed.

This time I didn’t shudder anymore.

I was past that now.

 

Man in Fedora and Raincoat

 

 Southern Arizona

Present Day

 

 

It took Joshua a while to pull and clear away the overgrowth and debris from the entrance to the old Carson Mine. His hands were raw and bleeding by the time he was finished, and his body covered with sweat. It did not improve his mood any.

Turning on his flashlight, he ventured into the shaft. A bat brushed the top of his head as it made its panicked flight from the darkness. Joshua swung at it wildly with his hands, cursing as he did.

Once inside the shaft, Joshua was surprised with the drop of temperature, just as his grandfather had been so many decades ago. It was almost chilling. The flashlight beam played on the darkened and broken stone of the walls. In another moment the beam caught the outline of an old doorway just to his left. The wooden door had long since been broken apart and hauled away, the individual planks to be reused in other projects.

Joshua pointed his light into the room. Empty now, the floor littered with trash and rodent droppings, the only indication that it had once been an arms stash was a few broken and unusable wooden crate planks.  Just inside was the ancient padlock, now rusted nearly to pieces.

Turning from the doorway, Joshua trained his light to his right, where he knew from Matt’s stories, the vertical death shaft would be. The shaft that had once held the bodies of his grandfather and two Mexican gun runners. He located it easily. In more recent times, someone, probably from the state mining office, had placed several two by four inch eight-foot-long wooden studs across the dangerous opening and covered them with plywood. Red spray paint warned of the danger below.

Joshua kicked them aside and pointed the flashlight beam down into the shaft. Empty now, except for additional mine debris and rat turds, Joshua gazed downward for several seconds before he spoke aloud into the darkness.

“So this is the place where your worthless corpse rotted to pieces. And this is where it will again—after I kick it back into this godless hole. You never should have left it you bastard. Yes, grandfather dearest—this is where the last of the nine lives of Matthew Mason McCabe end . . . once and for all, and forever.”

Joshua quickly turned off the light, and turning, made his way toward the light of day—and exit.

 

Det (1)

 

Detroit

1940

 

     The key made a slight snicking sound as it turned in the lock. My throat made another one as I swallowed hard. I was starting to think I must really love dark creepy places. I had certainly placed myself in enough of them over the years. The door didn’t open easily. The Kid placed his shoulder against it and pushed. The door gave way slowly, opening hard. When it did, long strings of spider webs stretched from the door to the frame. The hinges groaned loudly.

It was a great special effect.

The interior of the nursery was airless and black. As he expected, when the Kid flicked the light-switch just inside the door, nothing what-so-ever happened. The Kid had brought a candle. I had another one in my hand. We lighted them now. As we entered, I was surprised at just how much illumination they provided. I could make out the features of the room easily.

The walls had been painted a non-gender specific off-white. It had darkened and stained over the years. In many places in the dank surroundings, long strands of black mold crept their way over the various surfaces. Cob-webs filled the corners of the ceiling. There were but two windows, both placed high up on the walls. They were dirty and covered with dark curtains that the moths had been very busy with. They now hung in shreds.

In the corner was a crib, still in remarkably good shape. Less so the surface it stood on. Wood flooring, it had been the victim of moisture, and buckled in many places. A sizeable and now tattered rug took up the center of the room. The large reddish-black stain nearly in the center drew the Kid’s attention immediately. I had little doubt what the stain consisted of.

There was a small library sized fireplace. It was now the residence of numerous spider-web homes, complete with mom and dad spiders and their entire families of little ones. Just to the right of the fireplace screen sat a wooden rocking chair, again, in as good a shape as the crib. There was a lot of dust on that old floor. Except where the wooden rockers of the chair met the floor. There was little to no dust there. It was obvious the chair had been regularly used over the years.

I can’t say I liked the looks of that very much.

Even at the ripe old age of my mid-forties, I also couldn’t really say that I had ever completely decided if I believed in ghosts or not. Now, I figured would be a good time.

As the spirit, or ghost, or whatever the hell it was, of Teresa Mors entered the nursery by simply walking through the wall—I quickly decided that I did. I was rather impressed. I had been thinking that we were going to have to do something to conjure her up. I don’t know, like maybe a séance or something.

She walked by us as though we weren’t even there, and seated herself in the rocker, her eyes cast down at the floor. I was happy to see that she did not have an infant with her. That would have simply been too much to bear.

The Kid did not seem terribly put off by seeing the very late love of his life outside of his own dreams. But then again, I wasn’t totally certain we weren’t all in one.

Finally, the Kid broke the dead silence.

“Hello, sweetheart,” he simply and softly said. The ghost of Teresa looked up slightly. I could see a tear working its way down her cheek. Although she didn’t say a word, her eyes easily spoke a love for the old, worn out, and rather pitiful looking man standing before her.

The Kid went on. “I loved you so very much,” he started, choking slightly on his words, as tears welled in his own eyes. “I loved little Beatrice as well. I tried, dear, to find out what happened. I tried so long, but I couldn’t find anything. I just wasn’t good enough.”

Teresa continued to look at the Kid. There was a slight smile on her lips. She had been a very beautiful woman in her prime. I guess she was still in it. And I guessed she always would be.

I was pleased that there was no apparent bullet hole in the side of her head.

I cleared my throat to speak. This was my first interview with a dead person. I had to admit that I didn’t have much of an idea of how to go about it. So, as usual, I just decided to just wade forward and hope for the best.

It was about all I had going for myself.

“I’m so very sorry for your loss,” I fumbled. “I’m a private investigator,” I explained. “I have not been able to discover what ultimately became of your child. But I do know who took her—and why.”

Teresa’s gaze turned to me. It was uncomfortable, to say the very least. I returned it to her without blinking. As I did, I was able to see beyond the scariness. This was no creature from a Stephen King novel. This was a lady that was lost. Lost—and in pain.

The Kid spoke up. “Was it Capone, Johnny?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Indirectly. Capone set-up the kidnapping, but no one was supposed to die. A hood named Liam Gorchow stole your daughter. He was supposed to keep her safe until you and Patrick Murray threw his championship fight.”

“No one ever told us to take a dive,” the Kid replied.

“I know, Kid. Gorchow got into a bar fight and was killed before he got a chance to hunt you down and give you the message.”

“Then what happened to Beatrice?”

“Unknown, Kid. Dead men don’t talk, and Capone said they could never find her. He believed that Gorchow killed her because of the clothes.”

“I knew Liam Gorchow a little,” the Kid said. “He and I never had a problem. Hard to believe he’d kill her just for spite.”

I hated to say it—but I had to. “There is a darker explanation, Kid.”

“I know, Johnny. The clothes. I hate to think of it.”

I looked at Teresa. Tears ran openly down both cheeks now. I hated that I had put them there, but she needed to know the truth—if she ever had a chance to move on.

“I’m sorry,” I said to her. She nodded her head slightly. “Can you go home now? I mean your real home.” She continued to stare blankly at me, making no reply.

The Kid did.

“We’re both going home, Johnny. There’s nothing left. Gorchow is dead. I saw Capone last night. He soon will be. I don’t have to do anything about that. It’s time we both went home.” The Kid held out his hands to Teresa. She arose and took them. They seemed real enough now. Not ghostly at all.

“Will you still have me, my darling?” the Kid said. Teresa shook her head yes, the sadness fading for a moment as she smiled.

“Then I will say to you, my love—It will not be long, until our wedding day.”

They embraced then, the two of them. Long. Hard. Her head on his shoulder, his face buried in her hair—both gently rocking side to side. I believed they heard music that my ears could not detect. It was meant just for them. They both wept. So did I. I know they say that suicide is a sin—but who am I to judge. I once came within a moment of doing the same, and for the very same reason. To be with the woman I loved.

No sir—I was no one to judge.

Finally, they parted. Teresa simply disappeared, like mist in the morning light.

The Kid and I reclosed and locked the nursery door. We retraced our steps to the Kid’s bedroom. Outside, in the hall, we stood for a while, not speaking. And then we shook each other’s hands, and said our goodbyes.

He would be gone when we awoke the next morning.

We wouldn’t meet again.

 

Norman Selby, aka Charles "Kid" McCoy
Norman Selby, aka Charles “Kid” McCoy

 

Thanks for reading. Be back in a few with another installment . . . 

 

Dumb Joke

The Reckoning: Chapter Twenty-Six . . . The Safehouse

Safehouse

 

 CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

 

Virginia

Present Day

 

The lights of the District faded in the rear-view mirror. Wiggin’s big Suburban picked up speed heading south on highway 395. It was amazing to Shahida just how fast the city faded away and how soon they were cruising in a far less populated countryside.

“Where we heading, Harold?”

“Fort Belvoir. Well, not exactly the fort itself, but close by. North of Davison Field, and south of the Belvoir County Club.”

“Which place do you spent most of your time, Harold?”

Wiggins smiled. “Depends on how chaotic the world is at any particular moment. Let’s just say I don’t get out on the links as much as I’d like.”

“Pricey neighborhood.”

“Not for me. The house is a government perk.”

“Special guy.”

“Guy—no. Special talents—yes.”

“Which are?”

“Which are, Agent Faris, to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut.”

“Which is my cue to do the same—right, Harold?”

“Smart girl.”

The Suburban slowed as Wiggins exited the highway and turned onto a two-lane blacktop heading in a southeast direction. The lights faded further as it appeared they were headed into a black void.

“You’re not going to drive us into Chesapeake Bay, are you Harold?”

“No. But you might think so. Folks around here keep a pretty low profile.”

“What’s on your mind, Harold? I’ve got a feeling there’s something you’re trying to keep from us.”

“You’ve got good instincts, Shahida. You’re going to make a damned good senior agent someday. That is if you live long enough,” Wiggins added with a grin.

“What is it?”

Wiggins turned slightly in the driver’s seat and spoke to the two young men seated behind him. “Trey and Dallin. Lean forward so you can hear me plain. When you two busted Shahida out of the White House, what condition did you leave Officer Pulini in?”

“What do you mean, gramps?”

“I mean as in living—or dead?”

“Living. Chained to a refrigerator, and his mouth duct taped shut. Why?”

“Because he’s dead now. Shot through the head.”

“Jesus,” said Weeks and Wiggins, almost in unison. “How do you know?”

“Because I get updates, that’s how. It’s kind of what I do, you know—keep my ear to the ground.”

“Updates from who?”

“The tooth-fairy. And I’m not being intentionally vague either. That’s his code-name. Even I don’t know his real one. He texts on my secure line.”

“An FBI White House snitch?” Trey said.

“Exactly. Everyone the Bureau watches isn’t an agent of a foreign government.”

“Which are worse?” Weeks asked.

“Hard to tell sometimes,” Harold replied.

 

Detective

Shahida spoke up. “A shame—he was just a kid. He didn’t deserve to die.”

“That’s a mighty charitable view, Agent Faris. He would have watched you die in a second.”

“Still.”

“How do you feel about Agent Kessler, Shahida?”

“Him I don’t care much about, Harold. He’s rotten to the core and damned sure old enough to know exactly what he’s doing.”

“Was.”

“Was what?”

“Was rotten. He’s dead too.”

Shahida sighed deeply. “How?”

“Found at Dallin’s apartment. Handcuffed and his throat slit.”

“When we left him, he was sitting on the sofa, in handcuffs he’d put back on himself—very much alive. He was under the impression he’d be okay if certain people didn’t think he’d helped me escape, or talked. I agreed.”

“Well, he way underestimated the opposition, Shahida. He failed them. Someone didn’t want any potential witnesses to your jail-break, like Pulini. Or one that might just crack under questioning either, like Kessler.”

“Any idea on just who that might be, Harold,” Faris asked facetiously.

“Now-now, Agent Faris. No good finger pointing. I assure you there won’t be a molecule of evidence to make any kind of accusation.”

“Except for us.”

Wiggins smiled. “Exactly, Shahida. You have sized-up the situation precisely—and you got it on the very first try. You, Officer Weeks, and my grandson are now wanted for the murder of District of Columbia police officer Ringo Pulini and FBI Agent Francis Kessler.”

“He wouldn’t tell me his first name,” Shahida said softly.

“I don’t doubt it. He always hated it.”

“What next, Harold?”

“There are warrants out right now for the arrest of all three of you.”

“Then you should probably arrest us, Harold.”

“You’re right. I probably should. I am an officer of the law you know. I’ve got a better idea though.”

“Like what?”

“Like putting your asses to work, that’s what. I know you don’t have a phone anymore, Shahida—but Trey and Dallin do. Hand them over, guys.”

Weeks and Wiggins complied. Harold lowered the driver’s window and tossed them out.

“That was a six-hundred dollar phone, gramps,” Trey complained.

“Well when you replace it, get yourself a cheaper one. You’re a damned cop, for crying out loud. What, are you made of money?”

“Not exactly. You don’t think that throwing those phones out the window is going to destroy the GPS, do you?”

“No. Of course not. That’s the point.”

“The point of what?”

“Spreading breadcrumbs, sonny. That’s how it works.”

“That’s only two crumbs, gramps.”

“Okay, wise-guy. Let’s make it three.” Wiggins reached into his jacket pocket and handed his own phone to Faris. “Send a text to O’Brien. Follow-up with a phone call. Chances are pretty damned good he isn’t going to answer an unknown number, but that doesn’t really matter. Voice mail will be actually be better. Just say you are free and on your way out of DC. Don’t say where. Say you’ll call tomorrow with more details. Say you need to get together with him as soon as possible. Don’t mention me at all. Doesn’t pay to be too obvious. The Bureau or Secret Service will figure it out.”

“They’ll be monitoring?” Weeks asked.

“You bet your sweet ass they will.”

“What’ll happen?”

“We’ll get some company pretty damned fast. That’s what’ll happen.”

“Cops?”

“Probably. And Bureau agents. And if we’re lucky—Mr. Saal Moradi in his glory.”

“That’s a hell of a lot of attention,” Shahida offered.

“It is. But then, we’re going to set a hell of a trap.”

Finally the Suburban slowed again and turned onto a long gravel drive. Shahida could just make out the dwelling at the end if it—a long, ranch style house. Probably built in the mid-fifties, it was obviously updated, enlarged, and improved. Still, it harkened back to a simpler time, and reminded her a lot of the house that she had lived in for a while after immigrating to the United States.

Wiggins pulled up close to the garage but did not enter it.

“Best leave our calling-card parked right out in the open.”

“Aren’t you a little afraid of it sustaining some damage?”

“Not really. Even if it did, there’s another one just like it in the garage, and the double brick walls makes it pretty much bullet proof—except for rocket launchers of course.”

“You expecting rocket launchers?”

“Hey, you never know.”

“You live here all the time, Harold?”

“Yeah, pretty much I hang my hat here when I’m not on the road. It’s a comfortable house. Built in 1955. Added on to many times. The original owners were worth some bucks, the way I understand it. It was the cold war era, so they installed a bomb shelter in the backyard. You used to have to leave the main house through the back door to access it, but about twenty or so years ago, the house was enlarged out over the top of it.”

“Neat.”

“Yeah,” Wiggins agreed. “It’s sweet, and the old shelter has been expanded just a bit as well. Let’s get inside and I’ll show you all around.”

“Trey been here before?”

“Oddly, no he hasn’t. He was raised by his mother after my son was killed, just outside Rapid City, South Dakota. I was in and out of his life a lot back in those days, but after I retired from the police department and took a job with the bureau, we didn’t connect that often.”

“How did your son die, Harold?”

“Well, I wish I could tell you it was in combat, Shahida, but the fact of the matter is, it was simply a dumb-ass military training accident. Sometimes things like that just happen.”

“Yeah, sometimes they do, Harold. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.”

 

Detective #2

 

“How did you get to be a District cop, Trey?—if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Not at all. Mom passed away just a few years after dad died— of cancer. I had just turned eighteen and asked gramps if he could put in a good word for me for a job with his old police department. He did a hell of a lot better than that and recommended me to one of his friends with the DC department. I’m glad he did. Never been a dull moment since.”

“I’ll bet,” Shahida smiled. “Found a little corruption therein?”

“More than a little. I reported what was going on to gramps over at Central, and before you know it, I’ve got job number two—keeping my finger on the pulse of the sordid underside of the department.”

“And Dallin?”

“Met him in my rookie year. We became friends. He’s a good man.”

The elder Wiggins smiled. “Yeah, they became best buddies from the moment they met. If they weren’t both straight, they would have made a lovely couple.”

Weeks and Wiggins grinned back, obviously unoffended.

“Anyway, that’s why I’ve never been out here before,” Trey continued. “Despite the same name, we intentionally didn’t connect with each other very much. No one noticed the name—there’s about a million cops and government workers in this neck of the woods. Whenever I had to tell gramps something, I’d generally meet him in the park across the street from his office, always in plain clothes. We shared enough park-bench hotdogs and coffee the local Langley police probably thought gramps was a chicken-hawk scouting out young stuff.”

Harold grinned wider. “Touché, Trey—touché.”

Unlocking the front door, they all stepped inside. Harold flicked a light-switch just inside the door, flooding the spacious living room with light. Shahida’s impression from the outside was confirmed. A beautifully appointed and furnished house—worthy of the finest efforts of a professional interior decorator.

“Nicely done, Harold. You, or a pro?”

“Actually, it was me, Shahida. My book isn’t quite as crude as the cover might suggest.”

“Never thought it for a minute, Harold. You have good taste.”

“Thanks. Mrs. Wiggins was always fascinated with interior decoration. She taught me a thing or three.”

“Is she gone too, Harold?”

“Sadly, yes she is. A fine lady. I miss her every day.”

“Again, Harold—sorry.”

“Again, thank you. We Wiggins have been kind of a hard luck family.”

Shahida quickly changed the subject. “How many bedrooms?”

“Four, up topside. Three more down below.”

“Three? That’s a large bomb shelter.”

“Well, Shahida, like I said, it’s been expanded a tad. Shall we go see?”

“Love to, Harold.”

Wiggins crossed the living room to an over-sized brick fireplace. It was two, actually. Large and wedge shaped, one side of the wedge heated the living room, while on the other, a slightly smaller fireplace faced the kitchen. There was a considerable amount of space between the two.

“Nice,” Shahida allowed.

“There are some special features,” Harold said. The kitchen side is a conventional fireplace. As in wood burning. The other, the living room side is a gas log. You will soon see why.”

Wiggins reached above the hardwood mantle and pushed a certain brick. Immediately the entire fireplace, along with the grate and screen began to rotate counter-clockwise.

“Simple,” Wiggins observed. “But sometimes you just can’t beat a good old-fashioned classic.”

For a lot of heavy brick on the move, oddly the revolving fireplace did not make much noise—mostly a moderate hum. Finally it came to rest, exposing a simple and amazingly clean narrow set of concrete steps going down. Harold reached inside and flipped a switch. The staircase was instantly illuminated.

“Ladies first,” Wiggins said, expansively waving his hand toward the entrance.

“Oh, why the hell not,” Shahida said. “I’ve recently been in a casket. I might as well go into the crypt as well.”

“That’s the spirit, Agent Faris.”

Shahida started down. The three men bringing up the rear, just behind her. The temperature decreased markedly.

At the end of a short hallway there was a simple door. Shahida opened it, pushing it inward with some effort.

“Steel?”

“And reinforced, as well,” Wiggins said.

Stepping through the opening, Shahida was surprised by the cleanness of the air in the smallish room. She had expected mustiness.

“Smells fresh.”

“The air is pumped in from the outside, and it’s charcoal filtered. The intake is about a hundred yards into the woods and not that easy to find, but if it were, we could shut it off in a second and go to internal Oxygen. Four people could live down here for about ten days with what we have in tanks.”

“Nice,” Shahida allowed.

“This room is like a hub of a wheel,” Wiggins explained. “It’s the nerve center. The desktop computer on the table to your right is set up to monitor the exterior cameras. There are six. They are set up in some of the larger pines surrounding the property. Four of them cover each side of the house above us, while a fifth and sixth monitors the road from both directions. Anybody comes our way, we’ll know about it well ahead of time.”

“What are the other doors, Harold?”

“Three are the bedrooms, and the fourth is a bathroom.”

“Where’s the arsenal?”

“You get right to the point. I like that, Agent Faris. Help me push this sofa aside.”

Once the rather large and comfortable sofa and rug underneath it was pushed out of the way, Shahida could clearly see the outline of a trapdoor.

“A safe house within a safe house,” Shahida said.

“Kind of,” Wiggins agreed. “Down there is food and water storage, along with small arms and ammo.”

“Why so much, Harold?”

“There are quite a few facilities like this around the District, Shahida. In the event of a massive governmental emergency, there are thousands of critical workers that would have to be put up somewhere safe. So starting back in the fifties, the government began building these things, or converting existing facilities like this one. I certainly don’t know where they all are, and I don’t know who would—FEMA maybe.”

Weeks and Trey Wiggins pulled on the latch. For a heavy door, it lifted easily. A short steel ladder descended into the darkness. Once again, Shahida took the ladies first position and started down. A couple of rungs down the ladder, she could see a pull-string for the overhead lights and yanked it. The much smaller room was illuminated. The three men followed her down.

Along two of the walls were shelves for food storage. They were filled with cans and boxes of all kinds. It was plain that three or four people were not going to starve anytime soon in this facility. The third wall and a good part of the fourth consisted of heavy-duty plastic barrels filled with purified drinking water. Shahida estimated there were at least several thousand gallons on hand. Just to the left of the last row of barrels was a lone door. Again, it was of solid steel construction, set well into the concrete wall.

“The goodies?” Shahida asked

“The goodies.” Wiggins confirmed with a smile.

He pulled the door open, pausing in the doorway before entering. “There are a dozen high-powered semi-automatic and fully automatic assault rifles in here, Shahida, along with over ten-thousand rounds of .223 and .308 rifle ammo. There are also several Beretta model 92 handguns with several hundred rounds of 9mm hollow-point ammo to go along with each of them. Two cases of grenades, and two rocket-launchers. We’re well supplied. If Mr. Moradi is stupid enough to come this way looking for O’Brien, we’re going to hand him his ass in a bushel basket. Come take a look.” Wiggins reached just inside the door to his left for the light switch.

“Stop!” Shahida said, instantly drawing her pistol.

Wiggins hand stopped moving. “What?”

“Please push the door closed, Harold—slowly.”

“What the hell’s going on, Faris?”

“There’s air coming out of that room, Harold.”

“Of course there is, Faris. It’s on the same ventilation system as the rest of this structure.”

“It’s not the air that concerns me, Harold. It’s the smell coming with it.”

“What smell?”

“Are there any explosives in that room?”

“No.”

“I smell plastic.”

“Impossible.”

“No, it isn’t Harold. I’ve smelled them before—in Iran. Both after and before they went off.”

“Plastic explosives don’t smell, Shahida—but something else does, doesn’t it?”

“Right. Not the plastic itself, Harold—the taggants,” Shahida said.

“Yeah,” Wiggins agreed. “Smells a little like lemons, or seltzer. I catch it now myself.”

“What’s it tagged for?” Weeks asked.

“For bomb-detection dogs, and CSI guys.” Wiggins said.

“Something’s been bothering me, Harold.”

“What?”

“How’d you know that Agent Kessler hated his first name? He never used it.”

“I knew him for years, Shahida. We came up together in the academy.”

“He knew you well?”

“Yeah, kinda—we weren’t poker buddies or anything like that, but we knew each other. He didn’t know anything about this place, if that’s what you’re driving at.”

“He knew the kind of man you are, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, I guess he did.”

“What else was done to Kessler, Harold. Besides cutting his throat, I mean.”

“How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess. Tell me.”

“I didn’t mention it before, Shahida. I didn’t think there was a point. Knowing what they did to him wasn’t going to make him any less dead. I didn’t mention it out of respect for him.”

“Tortured?”

“Yeah. They tied him down and shoved an electric carving knife up his ass. And then they nearly sawed him in half with it—from the inside of his body.”

“And why do you think they did that, Harold—for kicks?”

“Yeah. Probably for kicks, and for information.”

“You’re getting too old for this line of work, Harold my friend. And way too over-confident.”

“Yeah, Agent Faris,” Wiggins said weakly. “I guess maybe I am.”

Slowly they pushed the door partly open again as Weeks crossed the room to retrieve one of the emergency flashlights. Gingerly, he shown it into the darkened arsenal room. As the beam played over the room, they could see the empty rows of wooden wall racks. Racks that had only shortly before held firearms.

“Jesus, Shahida. They’re all gone.”

“Yeah, and something left in their place,” said Weeks as he focused the beam on a small table in the middle of the room. On it lay a small black leather brief case. From it a single wire stretched upward to the light fixture above. A single piece of white paper was taped to the wire. It sported a short note. One written in letters large enough to be read from where they stood. Just below a bright red happy face were the words—“BANG, you’re dead.”

“It’s wired to the light,” Trey Wiggins said.

“Yeah,” Shahida agreed. “And just in case we spotted the note in time to not flip the switch and kill ourselves instantly, I’ll bet it was also wired to the light I turned on when we came in. Probably to a timer.”

“Holy mother of God. How long do you think, Faris?”

“Your guess is about as good as mine, Harold. But not long.”

“Suggestions?”

“Yeah. Close that door and latch it tight. Then let’s get our asses out of here as damned fast as we can. That much C-4 shouldn’t blow a locked door as heavy as this one. Moradi’s obviously way ahead of us. He’s the cat—we’re the mice.”

“I’ve been a fool,” Wiggins said.

“I’d love to debate that with you another day, Harold. For right now let’s get the hell out of here. If that satchel goes off, it’s likely to take most of our hearing with it—at the very least.”

The elder Wiggins climbed the ladder first, quickly followed by Weeks and Shahida. Trey Wiggins had taken an extra few seconds to roll a heavy water barrel against the arsenal room door, and his head was just emerging from the trapdoor when the bomb exploded.

The steel door didn’t hold.

 

Dective #2

 

Thanks for reading. See you again shortly .  .  .

 

Dumb Joke

From the Brier Patch: A Rant . . . JFK, and the rise of Trump

 

Brier

 

Kennedy

 

    JFK . . . and the rise of Trump  

 

Even after the space of a half a century plus, the old photos and newsreels remain fresh and poignant. A handsome and vibrant young President and a beautiful First-Lady riding in an open air limousine on a bright, crisp and cool Texas November afternoon. Waving to a cheering crowd. Smiles—a lot of them. Some images even a large amount of time can’t erase. I guess that’s the way it will always be—at least until the last human being alive that day has passed from the earth. I was a fourteen year old kid that November afternoon, growing up in a small town just outside Detroit, Michigan. And like a very large number of Americans living at the time, I loved JFK—not to mention his incredibly lovely wife Jackie, and their all too cute two children.

It was November 22, 1963, and as it would turn out, it was a day that America and the world changed—forever. I don’t remember getting up that morning. I don’t remember going to school that day. I don’t remember what my thoughts were, or what I had for breakfast. But I do remember the afternoon, and the haunting and terrible three days that followed. Those days would become a part of my being, and a part of the nation’s consciousness—for a couple of generations. A nation in mourning, and an America divided and torn apart. Camelot was over, and, as we would come to understand in the dark days that followed, a very big piece of our nation’s heart and soul had gone with it.

And I think we knew too that day—that we were never going to get it back.

And we didn’t.

 

Assassination

 

I was in fifth hour science class. It was in the basement of the old red brick junior high-school building in downtown Walled Lake, Michigan. It was a cool room, with Bunsen Burners and test tubes on countertops, and a creepy old greenhouse attached. In a corner near the teacher’s desk hung a plastic human skeleton. Gross. A periodic table of the elements hung on the wall. Bugs and frogs in jars of stinky formaldehyde. You get the idea. Everybody loved the science room. Best I remember it was another boring Friday, another boring science lecture—I couldn’t tell you on what. The little hand inched toward the top of the hour, and our release.

The next hour would be the last of the day.

And joy, the next day was Saturday.

But then, at about a quarter to two, the PA system speaker crackled and the voice of Principal Carlson filled the room. He said that he wanted to inform the student body about the events in Dallas, Texas, before rumors began to fly. He said that there had been shots fired at the President’s motorcade, and apparently the President was injured. No one knew how badly at that point. He told us that was all the information that was available at the time, and that he would keep us posted as further news came in.

Science class ended, and I made the long climb from the basement to the third floor and English class. There were six short flights of stairs, winding upwards around each other, forming a stairwell. I was a lot younger in those days, and I did it easily. I remember the dead silence of the normally boisterous hallways.

Thinking back, I guess we knew—even before we knew.

Not too long into the English class, Mr. Carlson came back on the PA. His voice was broken and halting as he announced the death of the thirty-fifth President of the United States. It was obvious that Mr. Carlson was a fan of John Kennedy. He had a lot of company in that school that day. A lot of the girls cried. Everyone, male or female, teacher or student, had sad faces. There was very little talk.

 

Dallas

 

It was the same on the bus ride home. Silence. A five minute walk from the bus-stop and I was home. My mother met me at the door, asking if I had heard the news. We hugged. Dad came home in a couple of hours, also distressed. And thus began our long weekend of mourning. Walter Cronkite in tears. Oswald murdered in a police station. A new President sworn in. A blood and brain splattered Jackie Kennedy standing in shock on Air Force One—her husband’s casket in the cargo hold. Three days forever burned into my memory. Etched—just like it was yesterday; and so it will be always.

For the rest of my life on this earth.

Our lives went on of course, and the days and nights, weeks, months and years rolled by. And the sixties, seventies, and eighties unfolded—like an old-fashioned horror movie.

 

Bill O’Reilly of Fox cable news recently stated that the two biggest news stories of his life were the assassination of JFK—and the unlikely political rise of Donald Trump. Those are book-end events in my view, bound together by a succession of days and nights, sunrises and sunsets, and bad happenings.

The death of JFK in the streets of Dallas is what I like to refer to as a “watershed” event, or moment. That is to say that before it, the country was in one condition, and after it, it was in an altogether different one. After that pivotal moment in United States history, all events began to run in the same direction, much like water from the top or crest of a hill.

And it wasn’t a good direction.

Assassination became a political tool. Dr. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and a host of lesser known. It became commonplace—a new staple of the American diet.

And the Vietnam War. Bloody, mindless, pointless, endless, and a product of the failed Lyndon Johnson administration. Right up there with the war on poverty, the war on drugs, or the so-called “great” society.

Yes, I know that it wasn’t solely the fault of Lyndon Johnson. George Kennan’s hands bore blood too. Yes, I know that it began in the Eisenhower administration. But it expanded into a bloodbath and national nightmare during the Johnson years.

And it need not have.

John Kennedy learned something of a hard lesson in his disastrous Bay of Pigs “invasion” of Cuba. He learned more in the high-stakes Cuban missile crisis. No one will ever know for sure, but there is a small amount of antidotal evidence to suggest, that maybe . . . just maybe, John Kennedy was beginning to rethink America’s increasing military involvement in Southeast Asia. Again, no one will ever know beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it is at least a possibility that with just three rifle bullets, Lee Harvey Oswald may have killed one President, and at least fifty-eight thousand innocent American kids.

John Kennedy might have gotten us out.

We’ll just never know.

The President took his thoughts on the subject to the grave.

What we do know for sure is that in those blood soaked rice paddies of Vietnam, faith in our political institutions, faith in our religious organizations and in God, regard for one another, and respect for human life largely eroded and died.

Dead and gone in those tumultuous decades that were the sixties and then the seventies.

Dead in an ever increasing horrific inner-city death toll.

Dead in an ocean of aborted infants.

Dead in the loss of our souls, and our human compassion and decency.

For some things, there must be a justice and a reckoning demanded.

For some things there must be a price paid.

There were but three bright spots—the civil rights movement with its heroic freedom-riders, the magnificent Rosa Parks, and the incomparable Dr. King—the Beatles invasion, and the first man on the moon in 1969.

The thirty years that followed the sixties and seventies only accelerated the steep decline in our culture and our society. There is very little left today of the America that existed on November 21, 1963. Those days are sepia-toned and misty colored memories now, as dead and gone as Kennedy himself—never to return.

And in that decline and loss of our faith of better days to come, came the desire for a magical “strongman,” someone that could, by force of personality, bring back the halcyon days of our youth.

To bring back the rotting inner cities. To bring back the lost jobs. To return to simpler values, like respect for one another, and our country, our flag, our Churches, our way of life—one that seems under assault from all directions these dark days.

 

Trump

 

To many—Donald John Trump is that man.

He does seem to have risen from the long-dead and cold ashes of what was once Camelot, and the American Dream.

The death by sniper fire of five Dallas police officers recently just a few blocks from Dealey Plaza remind us just how long and precipitously steep has been the decline of our culture from that sunny Dallas afternoon so long ago, to the dark night of our soul in almost exactly the same spot just five decades later.

Is Donald J. Trump America’s savior? I dunno—but I kind of doubt it. And the point of this blog isn’t to make an election year political statement either.

It’s just to warn of darker—and rougher days ahead.

And a short jog down memory lane.

It’s just to make us old-timers remember rose-colored and sepia-toned days.

And new-timers to consider watersheds.

And bookends.

And the fifty-three years between.

 

Thanks so much for reading today. We’ll be back shortly with another installment of THE RECKONING. Take care now, be of good cheer, and hug the ones you love. Hug them good and tight . . .