Yellow Mama Archives

W. Jack Savage

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arniesbagman.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright

Arnie’s Bagman

 

By W. Jack Savage

 

          

“The thing about a story is that once it becomes folklore, nobody questions it any more. When it started out as just a story ya may have asked questions, or at least wondered out loud if all of it was true, but after a while, it became folklore, ya know?”

Harry sat there in his prison jumpsuit and held forth: legs crossed, Lucky Strike half smoked between his yellowing fingers and with each gesture, lost more ashes on the floor than would wind up in the ashtray. Across from him, Special Agent Rumsey of the FBI: dressed in a suit and tie, a perpetual scowl for a face and a general ambiance that seemed to Harry as though his ass might actually be sewn shut.

“Stories are the way people kept their history before there was writing. But, ah, ya gotta understand; stories were entertainment too, and lessons for life. So maybe a thing happened but it didn’t happen quite that way. It’s the same today; the one about the guy who called in sick. Everybody’s heard that one. The guy calls in sick and his boss drives by his house and sees him mowing his lawn…Baboom! The guy gets fired. The lesson? Call in sick only when you’re sick. Did it really happen? Maybe. Did it happen like that? No, they had it in for him and were waiting for an excuse to catch him doing something they could fire him for. But who really knows? Ya gotta understand these things or ya miss the point. Jesus told stories; parables they’re called. ‘There was a guy and he did this and that, but the other guy did those things too but remembered to do this other thing…so he was okay’. As we speak, there's religious nuts arguing over whether there really was a 'guy', or not. They miss the whole point. Or sometimes, the story is not the deal at all. You seen The FBI; that show on TV? I’ll bet you started thinkin' about bein' a Fed when ya watched that show as a kid. But here’s somethin' ya might not know. The FBI was the first show with only one sponsor; Ford. Ya go back and watch the show and it’s a Ford world; everybody drives a Ford. Even the parked cars are Fords; no Chevys anywhere, just Fords. So, you’re watchin' the story, but the real story is in the background. It was a good show and it was on for quite a few years. But it stayed on because Ford was sellin' cars. So ya come up here because ya want somethin' from me. Fine. But what you want is three pages in the middle of the book. It don’t work that way.”

“We’re looking for a William Parkinson,” Special Agent Rumsey said.

“Like I said, good luck with that,” said Harry.

“We understand he may have used another name in the past; William Broom or Bill Broom. In exchange for your cooperation in this matter, we agree to be represented on your behalf at your next parole hearing.”

“What does that mean? You gonna come and watch them say no…again? They waited almost all my life to get me in here and now they’re never gonna let me out. Besides, there’s nothin' for me out there anymore. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if they did. You seen The Shawshank Redemption? What am I gonna do, put groceries in bags for little old ladies? Fuck that. But I’ll tell ya about Billy. If I was you though, I’d make sure I was well insured before ya go after him.”

“We understand that he may have been involved in the disappearance of an Alfred Anitou and his son Jeffery five years ago. What can you tell us about that?”

“To know what happened with that, ya gotta know the whole deal. That’s what I been sayin'. What happened was this. Arnie Pasteur needed this guy to go away, if you get my meaning; to kill him, ya know? But it was a little complicated, because as a snitch, which the guy was, you could kill 'em and it was no problem. But as a potential government witness, it became federal. Now the issue, ya know, the reason for killin' the guy, had nothing to do with the government deal, but Arnie felt he needed to kill 'em anyway. That’s where Broom came in. Billy Broom did a little juvenile time back in the day and he goes up with Arnie’s nephew. They didn’t know each other, but being it was their first time inside, they kinda made some kind of pact, ya know? 'You watch my back, I’ll watch yours', kind of a thing. Well, right away the nephew, I can’t remember his name; Terry, no, Gary, starts having this problem. Billy makes the problem go away and anyway, over time they get out and the nephew brings Billy around and Arnie gives 'em a job and he does okay. But what his crew never realized was that Arnie was a negotiator.  If the cops were wise to somethin' Arnie was up to, and he found out about it, he’d make a deal,” Harry said putting out his cigarette in the ashtray. As he moved the butt around he smiled and shook his head.

“Arnie was real piece a work, that guy. He’d say somethin' like; you let my deal go through and I’ll give ya a robbery and the four guys who are gonna pull it and when and where; or maybe a warehouse someplace or somethin'. Now it was, ya know, competitors for the most part, but not always. He’d sell out anybody who worked for him too, just to make a problem go away. His crew never knew. They might have suspected something, but nobody ever said anything. So anyway, that’s how Billy Broom got put on the spot. Arnie made some deal to kill this government mope, but the feds wanted the trigger-man; no questions asked, in exchange. So Arnie sets up Billy to be the fall guy. They off this snitch in the parking lot of some strip mall where he buys cigarettes, and pass off the gun to Billy, whose job it is to get rid of it. But before he can, the cops grab him and he’s got the gun and as far as they're concerned, they got their guy. That’s the way it was supposed to go down anyway. But Billy went away in the first place working with lifters; pickpockets, ya know? One would make the lift and pass it off and then to another and before ya know it, three or four people handled the wallet. Nobody knows if Billy somehow got wise, or if he just was careful like that or what, but the cops landed on Billy within thirty seconds of the dropoff, and it’s like the kid swallowed the gun; it’s nowhere to be found. They search everywhere and trim the shit out of Billy, and still no gun. So while the cops are tryin' to figure a way to put him in the frame anyway, Billy notices nobody is bailing him out, and there’s no lawyer, and right away he knows he’s been set up. After a few days they let 'em go, but now Arnie’s on the spot with the cops and the feds. He tells him he’ll get the gun and they’ll go from there. But Billy never shows up back at Arnie’s and that night, well, ya know what happened? Arnie goes home, eats his supper, goes out on the porch to read the evening paper, and when he’s done with that he blows his brains out with, guess what? It’s the gun the cops are lookin' for. Nobody ever saw Billy after he got released that day and as far I know, nobody ever went lookin' either. The cops had their gun and their man, and Arnie’s operations got split up among the crew and others, and life went on. Had Billy stuck around, someone would've killed him because ya can’t kill a boss like that, and everyone knows Arnie’d kill his own mother before he’d off himself. But here’s the other thing. Arnie wasn’t stupid. He screwed everybody and so he made sure nobody came back to try to screw him. He owned this four-plex and he and his mother lived upstairs. The bodyguards lived across the hall and the door was always open. Nobody, and I mean nobody, got past those guys. But Billy did; he got in, offed Arnie, got out and was never seen again.”

Harry reached for another Lucky and lit it with some book matches. He took his left leg off his right and put that leg over his left.

“So now, years go by, and over time the whole deal changes. Guys die, guys go away, guys get moved out and new guys take over; you know how it goes.  Now, back in the day Arnie had this cop for a bagman, Al Anitou; Tooey he was called. Guys at the precinct used to say, like Lawrence Welk, ya know, ‘a one anna two’ like on TV. Pretty soon, it’s Tooey. Actually he was more of a go-between and because he was, he knew the whole deal about Billy and how it all shoulda gone down. But when Arnie died, well, he wasn't much of a cop and it wasn't long before he was being encouraged to find something else to do. So Tooey stayed in the civil service but moved over to the post office. Like I said, quite a few years pass and one weekend he's out fishing with one of his boys and there's some high roller pontoon deal out on the lake and him and his boy float by and he sees Billy; tossin' back margaritas with the high rollers. Nobody really cares any more but Tooey starts thinkin' about how easy his life was before he started humpin' mail for a livin' and before ya know it, starts figurin' there’s maybe a few bucks to be made rattin' Billy out to anyone who might still care. So, when they get in from the lake, he asks about the pontoon party and who they were and all that, and nobody knows nuthin'. But now Tooey, who was only up to the lake for the day, gets a cabin, and decides to hang around for another day and he makes a phone call.  'I think I just saw Billy Broom', he says. The next thing ya know, Tooey and his boy decided to do some midnight fishing and wind up at the bottom of the lake. I mean, it coulda happened that way, but nobody thought it did.”

“We understand the bodies were never found,” said Special Agent Rumsey. “They dragged the lake. Is it possible they were killed and the bodies taken somewhere else?”

“Anything is possible. But if you ask me, they didn’t look deep enough. I’ve seen that dragging bullshit. If they didn’t want them found, you won’t find them.”

“How do you think Parkinson or Broom found out what Anitou might be up to?” asked Rumsey.

Harry made an 'I don’t know' gesture and said, “He could have recognized him. How do ya know anybody’s a cop? They think they’re invisible. They stare right at you; like you can’t see them staring. They got that bulletproof…ambiance, and they don’t lose it after they change jobs, either. Here’s a hard and fast rule for ya, pal; the worse the cop, the bigger he acts. And your bagman is even worse. Nobody and I mean nobody, in law enforcement, wants to count on a bagman following him through a door, period. So ya take a second or third tier guy, who somehow got through the police academy or maybe a mascot type guy; funny but not good for much else. Ya make 'em a bagman and because he’s on the inside a little, he feels important; useful. But nobody picked him because he’s the man of the year and most of 'em know it. But since nobody on the outside knows it, they puff up a little, assume the position of authority a little quicker than some of the others. I figure he goes up to the boat rental place; now you think about this; how stupid this is, he’s in a rowboat and he’s askin' about guys on a pontoon deal. Now you tell me; of those two parties, who’s more likely to tip the guy a fifty or a hundred to tell 'em if anybody comes nosin' around? That’s what I mean; not the brightest or the best. But that deal don’t end there.”

“What do you mean?”

“You kill a cop, even an ex-cop, is not good,” Harry said. “But like anything else, it happens. But you kill an ex-cop and his son, that’s really not good; families, you know? So the question comes up; who’d kill Tooey and his boy? The guy’s a mailman, for Christ’s sake. So bein' a former cop and bagman, ya figure he saw something or somebody he shouldn’t have. So speculation goes back to when Tooey was on the job, and it wasn’t long before Tooey bein' Arnie’s bagman comes up, and how that ended. It ended when somebody killed Arnie and for all the years, everybody knows who the last guy Arnie tried to fuck over was, and he was never seen again. Add to that the last thing that happened to Billy Broom was a beating at the hands of the very cops lookin' into all this. So they get on to the local police up there at the lake and they don’t know nuthin' but the way they sound like they don’t know nuthin' tells 'em they know plenty. Now three of these four cops lookin' into this are still driving squad cars and the fourth is Kenny Jackman. Kenny made detective and worked out of robbery homicide and he thinks they should all go fishin' up at the lake and rent a pontoon thing and all that. Some of the others aren’t so sure that’s a good idea, but Kenny says it’ll be okay and that he’ll set it up. That was the last time anyone saw Kenny. His last wife moved out the year before and he’d been livin' in his house alone, so no one paid much attention. But when he starts missing work, they go over there and it's no car and no Kenny. Naturally, Internal Affairs asks around if anyone knows what he might have been up to, and the other three know but decide to let it all go. It was a good decision too 'cause as far as I know, that’s the last of that deal up there.”

Harry suddenly looked at Special Agent Rumsey and smiled.

“But that’s not why we’re talking today, is it? You want to know what Billy’s up to these days. I’m afraid I don’t know.  But I heard an interesting story a while ago. Gee, must have been fifteen months ago, there’s a DEA witness and it’s like Arnie all over again. They got this guy in a motel, except nobody’s in the motel but this guy and a whole lotta DEA guys; with one of 'em staying with the guy in the room. Somewhere in the night, his replacement comes to the door and they switch; everything’s fine. Except an hour later, the replacement’s asleep and the pigeon's hanging from the shower fixture in the bathroom. Now remember, DEA guys awake and everywhere. But then, you know about all that, don’t you?”

“How do you know about this?”

“There’s one or two guys in here on drug-related crimes. You might take a look.”

“So, for the record, you’re saying this Billy Broom is William Parkinson and is doing contract hits for organized crime?”

“No, I never said that. You said that. I told you what happened to Arnie, Tooey and his boy and Kenny Jackman. They went away, is all I said. They could be playing cards somewhere for all I know, but I’m bettin' that, between hands, they’re playin' a fuckin' harp in the clouds somewhere.”

“You said Anitou made a call from the lake. Do you know who he called?”

“Sure I do.”

“Will you tell us?” asked Rumsey.

“Ya know that movie, that Jeremiah Johnson?”

“Yes.”

“That was based on a real guy. Actually he came down from the mountains and became a lawman in Wyoming territory some years later. Only, in the movie, he just killed those Indians that came after him, one at a time. In real life they said he cut out their liver and ate it. That’s how he got his nickname, 'liver-eating Johnson'. They used to scare kids who wouldn’t settle down and go to sleep, by saying, 'liver-eating Johnson will come and get you'.”

Harry smiled and put out his cigarette.

“Nobody really knows what Billy’s up to these days but he’s kinda becoming a spook story like that. And since he can, like, walk through walls or somethin' without being seen, ya figure the less ya say the better, about William Parkinson.”

“Anitou called you, didn’t he?”

“That’s all I’m gonna say. You can stay home for my parole board hearing 'cause I’m better off in here.”

“Well, we were thinking of maybe getting you out of here a little early,” said Special Agent Rumsey standing up. “And letting it be known that we’re building a case against your Billy Broom, AKA William Parkinson.”

“I won’t do it.”

“Sure you will,” he said, with a smile. “Or we’ll let some other information you provided us with be known to the general population of this prison.”

“Either way I’m dead,” said Harry, shaking his head. “I might as well take my chances here.”

“Yes, well, as of right now, you’re a material witness in the murder of a protected government informant. In fact, you won’t be going back to your cell at all, so if there’s anything you need from there, it’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”

 

Special Agent Rumsey and his team made a show of parading Harry through the lobby of a fine hotel in Minneapolis and up to the fourth floor, where the FBI occupied two rooms and a suite. Harry was escorted down one floor and dressed in a maintenance worker’s overalls. He was then taken down the service elevator with two FBI Special Agents dressed the same way. At the loading dock below street level Harry and the agents got in the back of a van and drove out of the hotel and into traffic, less than ten minutes after entering.

“Where am I going now?” Harry asked.

The agents didn’t answer.

“They got room service there?”

One smirked and said, “No, but they got a swell vending machine in the lobby; whatever ya need.”

“How about some drinks? I’ve been away for quite a while. A coupla highballs might be nice.”

Just then the van slowed and honked twice.

“No,” said the other. “Career criminals don’t get any highballs, Harry: just coffee and the vending machine.”

“Just out of curiosity, did Rumsey tell ya to be a couple of pricks to me or does it come natural?”

“Shut up, Harry,” said the first one. “Your usefulness is now at an end. Tomorrow you’re back in the joint, so don’t push it.”

“Or what? Ya gonna beat the shit out of me? Ya know I’m a part of something in prison. There’s a million of us in the joint right now. There’ll be two million pretty soon, in prisons meant to hold a fourth of that. Everybody wants us gone, but nobody wants to pay to keep us off the streets, so ya know what’s gonna happen? Ten, maybe twenty thousand guys, are gonna break out at once and kill those cheap, conservative cocksuckers with their own guns. I’d kinda like to be around when that happens. On that day, the years won’t seem so long. FBI huh…the brightest and the best. Did ya, ah, hear the driver honk twice back there? Did ya hear that?”

“Here we go,” said one.

“Yeah, we heard about your stories, Harry. So just shut up until we get to the motel.”

“Well, you’re probably right, but I believe in giving everyone a... a last chance; a last chance to be nice to an old man. Why don’t you get the driver to stop at the liquor store and get me a jug and some canned beer?”

They shook their heads and smiled. The van turned left and drove up what felt like a driveway. A moment later it stopped. The door was locked from the outside and as they listened for the key to open it, Harry smiled and said, “Well, so long, boys. This is where I get off.”

The key opened the back door of the van, and two men with shotguns stood there.

“Put your fucking hands up, motherfuckers.”

Harry got up and walked past the two men and was helped down by one of the shooters.

“Thanks,” he said. He turned back and said, “It’s out of my hands now, boys. Just remember you had a chance to be nice.”

Harry walked away and the door of a car parked just off the driveway opened. A man of around thirty got out, took off his sunglasses and smiled. Harry smiled and the two embraced when they got together.

“It’s great to see ya, Uncle Harry.”

“A sight for sore eyes yourself, Billy. How did it go on your end?”

“Real soft. Just like you said. How’d ya do it?”

“I told 'em a story. Nothing like a good story to make the feds feel like they’re on TV. Can we have a drink before we go?”

“We sure can, Uncle Harry. God, it’s good to see you. I got your favorite.”

As they crossed the driveway heading for the house, the two shooters had the two Special Agents on the ground with their hands on their heads.

“How about these two, Harry? They treat you okay?”

Harry sighed and looked at his nephew and said, “It’s not in their nature, Bill. But I been treated worse. Get their clothes off and drop 'em out in the woods somewhere. Make sure you get rid of the clothes separately.”

Harry walked over to the two and said, “So long, boys. They got a swell vending machine out there in the woods; everything ya need.”

 

 


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Art by W. Jack Savage 2013

That Window Upstairs

 

By W. Jack Savage

 

 

In the outer office, Doctor Nordmeyer shook hands with Charles Van Owen. The doctor was a little shorter than Charles who stood over six feet but to all the world, the pair looked like the young, thirty-something professionals they were.

 

“I hadn’t realized David’s concern, I guess,” said Charles, “and so I must say while I wasn’t sure this was necessary, speaking with a mental health professional I mean, his gesture recommending you and then giving up his time this week so I could come here, was rather touching, I thought. I also want to thank you for seeing me under these circumstances, in his place, I mean.”

 

“Not at all, Mr. Van Owen,” the doctor said as he gestured with his hand for Charles to enter his main office. As he did, Charles took a few steps in, then turned and waited for the doctor who then passed him and pointed again toward one of two chairs separated by a small table.

 

“Please sit down,” he said

 

The doctor moved to his desk and as he did, vaguely thought he felt something on the back of his leg but picked up the yellow pad on his desk and joined Charles in the opposite chair.

 

“May I call you Charles?” he asked

 

“Yes, please do.”, said Charles, who checked the time on his watch and then clasped his hands together.

 

“When I talked with David, he mentioned that this fixation you said that you developed began with thoughts of your son?”

 

“Yes. This time that I speak of, I wasn’t going to see my son Bill that Christmas, and so I arranged to come back the first week of December. I suppose if he wasn’t always so glad to see me, I wouldn’t feel as bad or at least as bad as I used to. But we liked each other. I made him laugh and he made me laugh and as I told David, I knew even then that I’d never love anybody or anything that unconditionally. That’s kind of a blessing and a curse. It is in my business anyway.”

 

“What is that business exactly? David said you’d rather not get into that, but can you tell me at least in a general sense what the job entails?”

 

“I deal in a sort of, ‘after-crisis-management.’ An arbitrator gets two parties together, sometimes more than two and anyway, once the situation is resolved I see that the agreements on what should happen are kept. But it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t lend itself to sentimentality of any kind, and then add to that the loving and giving nature of the holidays, this year, for whatever reason I began feeling like, like Scrooge I suppose. Imagine foreclosing on someone’s home on Christmas for example.”

 

“I see. So into this mix comes this visit with your son?”

 

“No. I mean, that happened years ago, but it kind of colors the season. It has ever since, really.”

 

“What is your relationship with your son now?”

 

“I don’t have a relationship with him. I haven’t seen him in…many years. I don’t even know where he is. These things happen. They grow up and you drift apart. While I was an absentee father, at least for much of the time and he was in school, it was different. Now he’s… I imagine he’s dealing with his own life.”

 

“Apart from thoughts of your son and Christmas, was there anything specific, a trigger so to speak, something that set off these feelings again?”

 

He paused as if far away for a moment. Then he said, “Yes, I, well in performing the work I do, I move around a lot. Rather than living in hotels, I prefer to rent by the month when I can. I’ll take a furnished place and just…you know, my clothes and cooking things and set up housekeeping for short periods. Anyway, I don’t know why this should have made me think of Billy. I never, we never allowed him to have a BB gun or anything like that, but in the window in the place I was renting and near the bottom was one of those little air gun holes…like from a BB gun or even a small rock I suppose. The weather too…it rains a lot here, it seems to I guess. It was raining last week. One morning there was a frost and the hole on the window, well you know the frost seemed to decorate the window sometimes, the little hole was frosted up like a snowflake. I know this sounds crazy but you know how kids make these little snowflakes by folding up paper and cutting holes and then when you open it up, it looks like a snowflake? I didn’t think about it much at the time but after…well, as I was dealing with resolving the issue with my job I found myself…well, at first I just felt like I needed some time off but pretty soon I realized that, it was that place, that window in particular that held me in some way. It’s hard to describe really. Then, it became like the bars on a cell and I felt captive to the feeling I had that morning, the morning of the frost.”

 

“Apart from the Christmas holiday, why do you think that happened when it did?” he asked. “Was it possibly a specific Christmas you were remembering or some other event you shared with him?”

 

“No. I’ve thought about that but, no, not really. It was nothing specific at all, really. Well, there was one thing but I don’t know why that should…enter in to it but there was this…exchange I had with Bill once. His mother told me he had invented an imaginary friend…like a father figure while I was gone. It ah…hurt me more that I was gone and he felt the need to do that but I’ve been told that’s somewhat common. It is, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes. Was this imaginary…friend a protector in some way?’

 

“Yes…in a way, yes. He called him the ‘fifty foot tall man’ and that sometimes he would come to Bill and sometimes he would go to the fifty foot tall man’s house, which was a castle, he said.”

 

He smiled at the memory. “He said that this…this guy had dragons: six dragons. Then he said, as if I wouldn’t know, he said…’They bite, you know?’ So I said, ‘Do they bite you?’ He said no and I asked who they bite? He said…he said ‘Sneaks and other people.’ I mean, how can you forget a story like that? But in that place…with the window, I thought about it again but that’s not unusual because I often think of that when I think of Bill.”

 

“Tell me Charles, in your home when your son was growing up, were you the disciplinarian or did you and your wife share those duties with your son? When your son would misbehave, I mean?” 

 

“Well ah…I guess I was, yes, but after we separated I suppose she did. I do know she would… oh, say things like ‘when your dad gets home, we’ll see about that.’ You know. Our roles were rather traditional I guess. I was the father and she, she was the mother…that sort of thing. Even after we separated it was that way.”

 

“When was that?” the Doctor asked. “I mean, how old was your son when that happened?”

 

“About fourteen I think. And then the next year…it was a tough period for Bill I know.”

 

“You said that perhaps you needed some time off. Was there anything out of the ordinary in your work this time, something stressful or more so than usual during this period?”

 

“No, not really. Why?”

 

“You said the first thing you thought of was that maybe you needed some time off of work. Let me ask you this, I assume your resolution to these matters in your work is flexible. That it isn’t certain when you’ll take care of them and that allows you to rent furnished rooms instead of hotels. Would I be wrong in thinking that?”

 

“Yes...I mean no, that’s about right, in a general sense. But I’m not exactly sure when my services will be needed again. That’s right.”

 

“So let me ask you this. You mentioned cooking things…pans and plates and so forth I would imagine. That would mean you bought groceries and cooked your own food. Is that right?”

 

“Most of the time, yes.”

 

“I wonder about your work that week. Did it take longer or about the same time as it usually did?”

 

“About four days, so I would say that’s fairly normal for what I do.”

 

“Well then, let’s see. I would guess that you maybe buy enough groceries to last about that long. So, did you have enough on hand once the job was done to know that you could stay there for a few more days?”

 

“Yes. You’re right about that but I usually buy enough for say, seven days, just in case. So, that was not an issue. After the job, I had enough to stay there for a while.”

 

“When, as you say, you felt captive by the place, the window in particular, did that occur to you at all?”

 

After a pause, “No, I can’t say that it did. In fact there was no real consideration of…I didn’t eat much, actually.”

 

“I have to tell you, Mr. Van Owen…Charles, that what you have described to me is fairly typical of absentee parents and even more so for those who have become estranged from their children in some way. We tend to assign more guilt over…well everything related to being a parent than say, any slight we might have been shown in our own upbringing. Children as a rule tend to be more forgiving than we as adults can understand. I’d like you to bear that in mind as we go forward because I feel this is more your issue than it ever will be his. When you’d look at the small hole in the window, did you imagine a scenario that involved Bill?”

 

 “I did actually.”

 

When he paused for so long the doctor continued, “Tell me, what does a window represent to you? What do you think of when you think of windows in general?”

 

“Somewhere…something where you can look out on the world, I guess.”

 

“Anything more than that?”

 

“Functional, I suppose. They allow me to see things as they are or will be.”

 

“That would seem to indicate you saw things through that window. Was there some event you witnessed through that window while you were staying there?”

 

He looked up and nodded his head and smiled slightly. “No. I mean, I know what you’re getting at but no, not in this case. I meant functional as a, a part of my work which is separate from the little hole in the window.”

 

“If you’ll forgive me for saying so, Charles, while you may be able to separate your work from your personal life, a window you call functional in your work, and the same window you have a fixation with based on a BB gun hole near the bottom seems unlikely. What do you think?”

 

“So you’re saying my work and use of the window to look out of that might involve that work, and the window with the hole in it which reminds me of my relationship with my son Bill, may have some connection? Is that correct?”

 

“From what you’ve told me I’d say it’s possible. This disconnect you say you have between your work and your relationship with your son or even the rest of your life, may not be as separate as you’re willing to accept. David mentioned one other thing about your issues, in addition to the window. He said your wife betrayed your trust by breaking into some locked drawer in your desk and that she told you she did it. Is that right?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“He said after that, your wife left you and your son, and you had to raise him through his teenage years yourself. That couldn’t have been easy for either you or your son. You had to continue working, I would think. That could be very difficult while raising a teenage son. Do you think that might contribute to these feelings? Do you think you could look at that as a possibility?”

 

“Doctor, and I say this for the benefit of both of us really, going down that road is not going to be worth it. The work I do, important work, has an element of not what I’d call secrecy but of strict discretion. So taking it out of context, even as something that I do that might, as you say, contribute to these feelings about my son have no real bearing on the window.  I was gone a lot when Bill was growing up. I had to provide for my, my family and for Bill and his mother following our divorce, so I had to keep working. That took me away from my family even more. After that incident, my wife left and it was very difficult, because Bill took her leaving very hard and I still had to work. But we came through that period and as you say, it wasn’t easy. But you misunderstand about the window. I assure you that it had no connection to the job I was doing when this sort of fixation began. I do understand your imagining that it might have but I assure you it did not.”

 

“Fair enough. Let me ask you this. This ‘fixation’ as you call it. Did it manifest itself in any physical way? Was there any shortness of breath, dizziness, anything of that sort?”

 

“Fatigue maybe. A kind of a melancholy and then I’d get tired. Other than that, nothing I can think of. You know I’d look at it…stare at it for a while and then I’d go on to other things.”

 

“How did you sleep during this period?”

 

“Not any different really, a few hours here and there. It’s been that way for some years now.”

 

“Your appetite was the same as well?”

 

He paused and said, “No, as I said, I haven’t been very hungry, I must say, not since I moved into that place really.”

 

“What about alcohol?”

 

“No, I never drink when I’m on a job but ah, I did pick up some brandy at the store. The weather had turned chilly and as a rule, I like to have some brandy around when that happens.”

 

“But you didn’t have any?”

 

“No.”

 

“Tell me then,” Doctor Nordmeyer said, glancing at his watch, “What do you think brought on this fixation as you called it?”

 

“Is my time almost up? Is that why you checked your watch?”

 

“We still have some time left. What do you think is going on with you, Charles?”

 

“Do you ever record your sessions, Doctor?” asked Charles checking his watch.  “Have you ever recorded them in the past?”

 

“No. But I’d still like to know what you think is going on?”

 

“When David Godbout recommended I come and see you, I wondered why at first, why he would say that and then I realized that I must be drawing attention to myself in some way. Then I thought it might have something to do with our business, his and mine, after the fact. In the end, I do feel this could be a help to me in the long run. Being that our time is running out and you were good enough to see me on such short notice, perhaps you might recommend a colleague you know in the Minneapolis area? David said you studied there and I live in St. Paul between jobs so I was just wondering.”

 

“I see,” he said. “Well sure, I know several actually. Ahh, you know there is one doctor, he works in Roseville. Robert Olsen. He might be able to see you and I think if you’re willing to commit to a period of analysis it could be beneficial to you. I wouldn’t want you to misunderstand. I do think what you’re going through is to some degree normal for an absentee parent but your willingness to accept and come in for help indicates to me that you might be able to better understand and deal with some of these feelings if you did. I could call Robert if you like?”

 

“No,” he said. “That won’t be necessary,” he said getting up and stretching. “I should tell you that David Godbout won’t be coming in for ahh…anymore.”

 

“Really? How might you know that?”

 

“You see before addressing my business with David, before that, I told him I was having a few problems. He did speak highly of you and was kind enough to set this up. Then, in the course of my work, I killed him. I had to come and see you anyway, being that he confided in you and possibly exchanged…sensitive information. But I must say you have given me some things to think about. I am sorry about the subterfuge because I do try to be up front with clients but in this case I have wondered lately about that little hole in the window and how it gets me thinking about Bill…and his mother.”

 

“So that’s it,” he said. ‘Your after-crisis-management’ is cleaning up loose ends? So now you’re going to kill me?”

 

“No, doctor. I’ve already killed you. That dampness you felt on your right calf? That was the cocktail I squirted on the back of your leg just before we sat down.  Any moment now, that tightness in your chest will mimic the effects of a heart attack and I assure you that’s what your demise will be chalked up to. I’ve gotten so I can dilute enough of the cyanide to predict within a few minutes one way or another, exactly when it will start to take effect.”

 

As the doctor loosened his tie and swallowed hard, Mr. Van Owen continued. “I’m sure it doesn’t help you to know that there’s nothing personal in what I do. You just had the wrong man for a client. These things happen. But, you see my wife pried open a locked desk drawer thinking there was money there. Bill never found out, but the fact that she never came back after I told him she’d left, he always blamed on me anyway. I’m sure in his heart he knew she was dead. I did the best I could for us, though. In the end it wasn’t enough. A boy needs his mother and as you can see, I still carry the whole thing around with me so while I might be getting away with killing David and you, there’s always a price to pay no matter who you are or what you do.”

 

The doctor was now sweating profusely and his breathing became labored. “You killed your son didn’t you? That’s what…what the hole in the window is about. The world you look out on is flawed and always will be. You killed your son because the hole in the window obscures your view of the world.”

 

“Yes,” he said. “It does. But if I killed Bill, it was only by killing his mother. The truth is, Bill took his own life and that’s his business but I did the best I could for us. A less honest man might blame his mother. She never wanted for anything and yet couldn’t resist breaking into my desk. She left me with no alternative. But I’ve carried that along for years now. Perhaps I’ll follow up with your Doctor Olsen. I like Roseville during the Holidays. They decorate the Rosedale Mall beautifully.

 

“You don’t get it do you?” the doctor said as he fought for breath. “Your wife never broke into your desk. Your son did. She told you she did it knowing that whatever he found in there meant you’d have to kill him and she knew you would. She gave up her life to save your son. Bill knew it too. In the end you’re right, you killed him by killing his mother, in his place. But the nobility in your reasoning is hopelessly flawed…as you are…hopelessly… flawed.”

 

Charles paused and watched the doctor’s life slip away like a light bulb going out. ‘Flawed?’ he said to himself. “I should hope so and yet what a civilized word denoting who I am based on what I do. ‘Flawed’ yes, why not.’

 

In less than fifteen minutes Charles found the microphone and as he had thought, the tape machine was in the outer office where Doctor Nordmeyer greeted him initially. After wiping down the arms of the chair he sat in, Charles left the office and headed down the street. As he did he thought about what Nordmeyer had said. Bill and not his greedy wife broke into the desk? You’d think they’d want to use their last moments of life for something besides getting in the last word. With their last breath they play out the movie that was their lives, like somebody gives a shit. Between marriage and watching a person’s last breath, the nobility of the human race seems a little flawed too. It’s a lot like marriage. When you’re with them, fine. When you’re gone it’s like you never existed and when that happens, selling you out is a done deal. The Bill thing was sad but in the end, she fucked him too. Bill’s bi-polar disorder came from her side of the bed and he did what he could for them while he was alive. Nothing lasts forever and if you can’t deal with that, you can’t do a job like this.  While the clock is still ticking though, even a flawed individual can enjoy Christmas and they decorate The Rosedale Mall beautifully at this time of year.









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Art by Author 2014

Middle Management Can Kill Ya II

By W. Jack Savage

 

           I was John’s business manager. I sent guys out on jobs and arranged transportation sometimes…fences, payouts, that sort of thing. If anything ever went wrong on a job, other people would look into it and I rarely heard anything about it after that. So when this guy, this Drake shows up after that jewelry store heist downtown went wrong, I was very surprised to see him. After all, he was the only survivor of a run-of-the-mill Jewelry store screw up. Had it been me, I’d of been long gone.

        After putting his briefcase down, his eyes never stopped: moving, scanning. His manner was more careful than nervous, as if we might have expected him to come by and if he did, be ready to tie up loose ends. The waitress joined us.

        “Ya wanna cup of coffee?” I asked.

        He shook his head, then looked up and smiled at her. She left.

        “I just felt an explanation might be in order,” he said, “given the news accounts I mean.”

         I shook my head… “witnesses always get it wrong. Oakley gave you no choice, right?”

        “That’s not the way it happened,” Drake said, meeting my eyes for the first time.

        “Okay, you tell me?”

        “Oakley was gonna kill Eckers anyway…it was actually about killing him. He figured the robbery was a perfect time to make a little money and kill his partner in the process. The wild card was me. I didn’t know either one of them that well and I decided if Oakley’d kill Eckers, without even telling me, why not kill me too? So I shot him right after he shot Eckers, but there was no shoot-out like they said. I figured, why take the chance? Now remember, Oakley and Eckers came in with shotguns. I was still a bystander as far as everyone in the store knew. They were gonna make it look like they were taking me hostage and we’d jump in the car I had out back. After I shot Oakely, I told them all that I’d done time and shouldn’t be carryin’ a gun and just ducked out the back in a hurry.”

         “And now?’

         “Nothing. You referred me. They’re both dead so I figured I owed you an explanation. Our business is concluded.”

         “Is it?”

         “Yes.”

         “So you’re not looking…to be compensated in any way?”

         He shook his head and looked back. “That was not our deal.”

         “I am curious. Why didn’t you keep on going?” I said, taking a sip of my coffee.

         “I don’t know. I never killed anybody before, I guess.”

         “Really? What ah…so…Impressions?”

         Drake considered the question and looked down, “It felt…empowering somehow….well, in the circumstance. Actually I have killed men but, only in the war. I meant empowering in the sense that, I’ve worked with, with idiots before and when they screw up you, you can feel almost like a victim yourself. Maybe I was reacting to that…situation.”

         He looked at me and then away again.

        “What I meant was,” I began, “if we thought you might …stick around, there might be some work coming up.”

         “No. I’ll be leaving…soon anyway. It’s a unique situation. I know you took a chance on me, that’s all…just, the people I’d worked with. I wouldn’t want any…ill feeling towards them as a result of this, either?”

         “No, of course not,” I said. “It is interesting though. I mean, we appreciate you coming in like this…and now, your concern for those who recommended you. But you don’t seem to have, to have…any fear for yourself. I could only assume you feel protected somehow?”

          “You mean like a guy with a high powered rifle on the roof over there? No, nothing like that.”

          “What then?”

          “The truth is, others connected the dots before I did. Why would a guy who worked with the same partner for years suddenly kill his partner during a job? It could happen, I suppose but not when you factor in hiring an unknown like me to drive with more experienced drivers available. Oakley killed Eckers for you and would have killed me too, just like I thought.”

            “Why would I want Eckers dead?”

            “Who knows? More importantly, who cares? You’re on the spot here, not me. Well, maybe me too but I brought a little insurance for that. Once I sorted it all out, I went over your head, so to speak. As far as the insurance is concerned, we’ll see how good that is in a minute.”

            “Let me guess…wearing a wire, are you? What did they promise? A walk? Doing your time out of state?”

            “No,” he said with a smile. “Cops are just the other side of the same coin. You know that. No, but my…insurance could be helpful for you too. In a way our fate is tied together. Like I said, we’ll just have to see.”

            “Helpful,” I said. “Interesting. Helpful in what way do you think?”

            “How do you suppose they’ll deal with you knowing your bullshit got two six figure earners taken out? What? A bullet in the head; that sort of thing? Or will they beat you with baseball bats and bury you alive? You see this?”

             He held up what appeared to be a clicker with a button.

            “If they tell me to take a walk, I’ll hand it to you. If they try to fuck me too and insist that I come along, I’ll take care of it. I wouldn’t worry, though. We won’t feel a thing and they won’t be able to say you didn’t go out with a bang. It’s in the briefcase. I was just a driver looking for a job so I know your hiring me wasn’t personal.”

              Just then a Lincoln Town Car pulled up. Two men behind us inside the restaurant got up and one stood behind both of our chairs. Charlie Steinberg and Eddy Gafford got out of the Town Car and walked over to the table. Steinberg smiled. All this guy had said was true.

             “What is this?” I asked.

             “It’s your birthday Mel,” said Steinberg. “We’re taken you to your birthday party.”

             I nodded slowly.

             “What about this one?”

             “No… he’s goin’ about his business. Take a walk, driver.”

             I felt the clicker and opened the palm of my hand. Even as I did I knew it must have been a joke. Drake got up, nodded and walked away quickly. As I started to get up I saw him duck into another doorway and decided, “What the hell.” I clicked the button and there was nothing for a second and I looked at Steinberg smiling. The next thing was one leg of the cast iron, Lion’s Paw chair. It was going up and up. It was still goin up when I…quit seeing it. Now I don’t know where the hell I am. Where Lion’s Paw chair legs go, I suppose.



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Art by W. Jack Savage 2014

The Face on Seehutter’s Garage

 

W. Jack Savage

 

 

 

           I picked up my papers about ten to six and most of the snow had melted but it was kind of cold and wet. I would usually show up at about five-thirty but Jim Wells was a prick and picked on everybody. I just got tired of it and we had a fight. I wasn’t the first but I guess I was the most recent guy to get his ass kicked by Wells. I just figured a day without hearing about it from that asshole would be okay. As I opened my bundle of newspapers I found a little grease pencil the guy used to mark our bundles with. I don’t know why but I put it in my pocket and after delivering my papers, I walked down the alley between Palace and James. The sun was up and it wasn’t as cold and as I passed Seehutter’s garage I saw this image on the old paint. I took out the grease pencil and sort of drew in some lips and an eye and sort of an ear. Then, for some reason I looked down and picked up this rock. It was about the size of a baseball and even as I looked at it I wondered why I picked it up. Just then I looked back up at the face and a snowball exploded right on it. It was as if I was somebody else for a second there because I spun around and threw the rock even before I saw who it was. Jim Wells was only ten feet away and it hit him right between the eyes and he went down right there where he stood. Like I said, I felt like somebody else because I just went over to him and dragged him between the garages across the alley. I picked up another bigger rock and I smashed his head three times. Then I went home. I never walked down that alley for quite a while after that because the police questioned all of us paperboys. They found out about our fight and what a prick he was but the more questions they asked the more they found out just how many guys hated him: at school, in his neighborhood and all along his paper route. The alley wasn’t on either of our routes but like I said, I figured I could do without seeing him for a day or so and the alley was a shortcut home for me. The strange part was, he was in a coma for a while but I never worried about him waking up and saying I did it. I never felt like I did it at all, ya know? So when he died, it was like, no big deal. I didn’t really feel anything.

           I’m not exactly sure how long it was before I walked down that alley again but it was a few years, I think. It was just before I went in the service and long after I quit delivering papers and when I did, that face I had drawn on Seehutter’s garage was still there. As I looked at it I thought about that day and how weird the whole thing was. I looked down where I found that rock and saw this little pocket knife. I reached down to get it and it really wasn’t old or rusty or anything so I put it in my pocket. I took it home, cleaned it up and carried it all through Basic Training and AIT and finally to Vietnam. There was no landing strip on LZ Sharron at Quang Tri so after my year was up this Sergeant Brown said he’d drive me in a jeep up to Dong Ha and the Marine airstrip up there. That road wasn’t very bad but we hit a mine anyway. The jeep flipped over on Sarge Brown and killed him and threw me about forty feet, along the side of the road. I couldn’t hear anything and my head was pounding but for whatever reason that weird face on Seehutter’s garage came into my mind and I reached into my pocket for that knife. I couldn’t feel my left side so I managed to get the blade open with my teeth. I’m not sure what happened after that but the next thing I knew, somebody kicked me and I figured right away it wasn’t a medic. I was right and when he turned me over I stuck that blade in his neck below his ear and just pulled. We rolled into the ditch and he fell on a grenade I figured he was gonna put under me thinking I was dead. After that, I don’t know but when I woke up I was in Japan. Not long after that I got a medical discharge. It wasn’t too bad really, considering. I lost three fingers and even if I hadn’t I couldn’t catch a ball with my left hand anyway because I can’t raise the arm any higher than my elbow. The blast took part of my ear too but not so anybody notices anymore. I went home for a while but I couldn’t take the cold anymore so I moved back to Long Beach where I spent some time at the VA Hospital. After that, it was just life: school and a job. The marriage didn’t last a year and what with not being able to hear out of my left ear either I just went on full disability and helped out on this tourist fishing barge now and then.

             After Dad died I came home for the funeral. I don’t know why but twenty years had to have gone by since I first drew that face on Seehutter’s garage. While I was home I went down that alley to see. It had never been painted and it was mostly all gone but I could see it. As I stood there I wondered why I never felt anything about killing Jim Wells that time. Like I said, it felt like somebody else did it. Then, after all those years I found that little knife right at my feet where I picked up that rock. The strange thing is, I was a cook in the army. I never did kill anyone in Vietnam except that guy on that road to Dong Ha. I got that close to a clean getaway but somehow, I kind of had that appointment with that guy. It was like, I know it sounds crazy, but that face knew I was gonna need that rock and that knife someday. My whole world had changed but the face on Seehutter’s garage was still there. It was to me anyway.




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Art by W. Jack Savage 2014

The Young Man from Coventry

By W. Jack Savage

 

             As he climbed the hill for the fifth time he realized that not only had he overcome his fear, he was also having fun. It was more like playing war than being in one. That pain in the right side of his ass didn’t matter anymore. Besides, as far as he knew, it was just him and the Sarge, now. He wouldn’t be sitting again anytime soon. When he reached the crest he saw two enemy soldiers wrestling with Sergeant Harold and he never hesitated. He raised his rifle and fired two bursts but he killed all three. The Sarge was dying anyway and like he always said, as long as the other guys die and he didn’t, any tradeoff was worth it. Besides, he was now all alone on the crest and if the NVA took the high ground, everybody behind him would all be dead. So this was it; dying for the geography.

           As he scurried over to the three dead bodies a hand grenade bounced next to him and down the hill behind him. He pulled the pin on one of his own and just let it fall over the edge. But it fell too far and the explosion seemed far away so he pulled the pin on his last one and held it;…one …two…then toss. Not a moment too soon as the blast took off his helmet which he reached back for and put right back on. They’d be on him any moment and the thought of playing dead crossed his mind. But he found himself smiling as he thought of Sarge Harold: wrestling with those two assholes and him with an ear missing and two holes in his stomach. No. To take this spot they’ll need to go through me, he thought and smiled again.

           He began reloading magazines feverishly. First one then two and three but where were they? He looked down and there was the glint of something through the trees. An asshole with a trumpet or something and he took aim shot and the glint went away. Another two grenades bounced near him and went over the side again but he knew more were coming. He reached out and grabbed one leg of one of the two guys he killed with Sarge Harold and pulled him close, just as another grenade landed two feet away. He picked up the body and used it as a shield. Falling back from the blast another grenade actually hit his foot and he picked up the dead NVA soldier and fell on the grenade with him on top. Most of the blast was absorbed but not all and now his thigh seemed on fire. Crawling now, he realized he was smiling again as he grabbed his M-16 and continued to the rim. There he held his gun out and over the side where he aimed downward, pulled the trigger and spent the whole magazine in what seemed like a moment. Pulling it back he found another magazine, locked it in and released the bolt. Now lying next to the other dead NVA, he dragged him in front and would use his body for cover. He repeated his first volley with a second, holding but not aiming his rifle before him.

           “Two more magazines and what Sarge Harold had left,” he thought and enough ammo to load into another. Just then another grenade landed and bounced off the other enemy body. He reached out, got it and threw it back down and in a rage rose to one knee, picked up the body of the dead enemy and threw it over the ledge. As he lay back down he reloaded and this time, looked over the lip of the rim and fired two bursts. He pulled back and realized all he saw were dead bodies. Yes, well it wasn’t dead bodies throwing the hand grenades and so with a burst left he set about reloading magazines and checking the Sarge’s equipment to at least consolidate all he had left and as he did, a strange thought took hold for the first time. “I might actually survive this,” he thought. As he did he shook it off just as quickly but after making ready for whatever came next, nothing did. He was wounded in the ass and the thigh near his knee and something along his hairline was dripping wetness down one side of his face. Nothing hurt very much but his smile was gone and so was the fun. He was just tired and he seemed to hear voices in English moving along the ridge toward his position. Minutes later two of his guys were there and he tried to tell them the situation but none of it seemed to make any sense. There was intermittent gunfire but it seemed to be moving away. Now there seemed to be way too many people on his ridge top. There was only just enough room for five or six. He tried to stand up twice but they kept telling him to stay still. “It could be sheets to sleep on tonight,” he thought if they could just get him out of there. That didn’t seem likely.

            “You killed all of those guys down below?” asked an officer.

            “No. I don’t know; some maybe. I’ve been all alone for the last…for the last forty minutes or so. Two NVA got up here and Sarge Harold was taking them hand to hand when I got back. I killed them and the Sarge…died…too. After that  it was just me but they kept throwing up grenades that bounced over the back side there. Two others…maybe three landed but I picked up this guy for cover. Well, not him but one of the two...it worked okay. Did they…did they pull back?”

            “Yes. So you’re not sure how many you killed?”

            “No…some I guess but…no. So…what? It’s over now for a while?”

            “It’s over for you, soldier. We’re gonna get you out of here.”

            “I’m the only one? What about the rest of the squad? What about Parks?”

            “I don’t know. You said you…when you got back up here. Where were you?”

            “The last time I was getting ammo but I didn’t have to go very far. I took it from our, our dead guys. There were six I think. I took all their ammo and two grenades.”

             “What about the other times you left and came back?”

             “When we got to ridge top Sarge said to go back and see if any of the wounded could walk and you know, get em’ up here. I couldn’t find them…I mean, guys who weren’t dead.  Another time it was to report to Lieutenant Bates that we took the ridge. But he was dead so I told the guys who were there and came back. I got wounded after I left there. A grenade I think but I could still walk. The last time he said to tell the Captain we had the ridge and we need reinforcements and to bring some water. Sarge was wounded bad by then; two in the stomach and his head too. But he was still able to fight those guys when I got back. I killed them…but…I killed them.”

              “No others made it up here.”

               He shook his head.

               “If there was only two of you, why did he keep sending you away?”

               “I don’t know. I think he thought with only two of us and no radio it was a lost cause. Without more guys, we couldn’t do it. He was almost right.”

               “Are you okay?”

              “Sure, I’m great. How are you?”

              “I mean…I’m here to determine…” He cleared his throat and continued. “Can you tell me again what happened up here; when you got back the last time.?”

              “I just did. When I got back up the last time Sarge was taking the two hand to hand.”

              “And then…?”

              “I killed them, I told you.”

              “The two NVA?”

              “No, I killed them all; probably the Sarge too. This isn’t the movies. You can’t make the bullets go everywhere you want and you can’t stop them from killing anyone you don’t want to kill either. It’s just…killing. So yeah, I probably killed him too.”

               After a pause, the officer said, “Well, you can’t be sure about that. You just take it easy now and we’ll get you out of here.” He turned and yelled “Medic!”

             “What an idiot,” he thought, “and spit-shined jungle boots…out here.”

             “I probably killed the Sarge too, Sir.”

             “Don’t worry about that now, soldier,” he said.

             “What if I did?….I probably did kill Sarge, too,” he said “What kind of a medal do I get for that, sir?”

              After nearly three weeks in the field hospital he was forcing himself to get around without the cane they gave him. They had interviewed him again in the hospital about what happened but his smart mouth was gone and all he wanted to do was serve out his time and go home. He knew when they released him and he went back to base camp, being only a Spec 4 he’d do what everybody else did: K-P during the day and guard duty at night. They didn’t let you sit around in camp and so with only six weeks left before going home, he figured getting back out in the field was better than hanging around.   

             When he got back to base camp and checked in the orderly room, they told him all his things had been moved out of his tent. He had been the only survivor of his squad and only one of fourteen in the platoon. The Executive Officer, a First lieutenant, read orders promoting him to Sergeant E-5 and then handed him a few ceremonial patches. They had taken his jungle fatigue shirts and had all the significant patches, including his new rank, sewn on and he was told to get a haircut and shave in advance of an awards formation later that afternoon. He was shining his boots and imagining he’d probably be put in charge of the new 2nd Squad with nothing but new guys to break in. His only thought was that he hoped they didn’t throw the new guys into the soup right away like they had with him. An hour later he and three other guys from another battalion in the brigade lined up in a brigade ceremony down by the 1st of the 8th Club. He knew this was going to be a pretty big deal: Silver Star probably and when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara got out of a jeep that pulled up with two Generals he was sure of it.

              Two months later, of the ceremony itself, he didn’t remember much. After that it was packing up and being sent home with VIP treatment. He had tried to be gracious throughout but he was mostly embarrassed. He hadn’t been much of a drinker; a few beers with the guys, mostly, but with everyone toasting his new celebrity he soon began to realize that when he was drunk, he at least felt better. When he got home, Coventry being the small town that it was, it was one thing after another until each night he was drinking a half a pint of Vodka just to go to sleep. Then, all of a sudden, there was nothing: no job, nothing to do and with all the fanfare over with, he left the Congressional Medal of Honor on his nightstand and told the family he needed to go off by himself for a while. He drove his old Dodge three states away and threw away all his ID along the way. He hoped maybe they’d just figure he went off and made a life for himself somewhere far away. He felt sure they’d  know he’d never kill himself but that all of it, everything just was too much. After a while, he quit drinking altogether and the day he got to Camp Pendleton for his basic training to be a Marine, was the best he’d felt for a long time.



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Art by W. Jack Savage 2015

Ellie Is Here 2

 

W. Jack Savage

 

 

          I never met her. We spoke in a chat room following the breakup of my third marriage. Her chat room nickname was Ellieishere2. The “is here too” part caught my eye somehow. It was like she was announcing that she existed, as if maybe she’d been dismissed in her real world. My instinct was right.

          I said hello one day, and we began a chat room acquaintance which led to a friendship. We spoke to each other on Messenger and emailed each other now and then. We were both in need. I was depressed from another failed marriage, and she had problems in her marriage, too. She was a housewife in Sylacauga, Alabama with kids in their early teens. She never got too specific about her trouble at home. Her husband had cheated which led to her getting involved with an old college friend in nearby Birmingham.  She seemed embarrassed chatting about that as well. So we just sort of propped each other up from time to time. After a while we communicated by letter. She sent me a birthday card, and I responded with a thank-you note. I never thought much about our exchanging addresses. Then, after nearly a year of chatting with her at least three times a week, she disappeared.

          I thought about writing, but with her gone I thought maybe her husband might get the letter. I was worried about her, though and finally went online and checked the Sylacauga Newspaper, fearing that she might have gotten in an accident or something. I hadn’t heard from her in ten days, and as I scrolled down the death notices I remember sighing with relief when I didn’t see her name. I was about to give up when I saw a little notice in the funeral section.

          “In lieu of flowers, Bobby Harris and the Harris family have requested that donations to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital Depression Center be made in the name of Ellie Sue Harris.”

          That was it. No death notice and no visitation and no other funeral announcement for the previous ten days in the paper.

          I felt awful. Here was a woman who had become my good Internet friend, and she had died under circumstances somehow not worthy of a death notice. So I got terribly drunk and vowed to find out what happened.  After a few days, I let it go. The family was suffering enough, I reasoned, and after sending a hundred bucks in Ellie’s name to the UAB Depression center, I sadly went about the business of getting on with my own life. It may well have ended there, but for the night I sat staring at her name on the computer screen. In fact it was the moment that I was thinking about deleting her from Messenger when she came online.

          “Hello, hello,” I typed. There was no reply.

          “Ellie, are you there?” I typed again. “Are you alright?”

          “Who are you?” was the response I saw, and I knew at once that Ellie was truly dead and that probably her family was investigating Ellie’s Internet life.

          “I’m an Internet friend of Ellie’s,” I wrote. “My name is Gary, and I live in California.” There was a long pause.

          “I’m sorry,” I began again, “but when Ellie hadn’t come on for ten days, I looked for word about her in your local newspaper there. Can you tell me if it’s true? Is Ellie dead?”

          “Your party cannot answer because they appear to be offline” was the usual heading in response to my last question. Whoever it was had gone offline.

          I kept Messenger open all night and stayed up until after midnight, hoping they would come back online. Finally, I sent an email saying I respected their wishes for privacy at a difficult time but that Ellie and I were good Internet friends, and she helped me cope after my divorce. I also said that while Ellie seemed to have had some problems around the time we had met—problems she never shared—she had seemed fine and even upbeat right up until the time she disappeared. I asked if someone could please respond and tell me at least what happened. But no one wrote back.

          The next two days I sent emails again, but the result was the same. I kept Ellie’s name in my Messenger in hopes someone would come on again.  Three days later I got a letter.

 

Dear Gary

 

          My name is Carolyn Harris, and I am Ellie Sue’s daughter. I found your address on a thank-you note in her box of personal items. I’m hoping you’re the Gary who was on Mom’s Messenger. She talked about you sometimes. I guess you know Mom died. It’s been very hard for us since then, and I cry a lot. They say Mom was depressed and that she killed herself with a gun, but I don’t believe it. Mom got depressed sometimes, but lately, she had been a lot happier. They say that one day I’ll understand how depression works. All I know is that while Mom was going to school at UAB, she’d come home depressed sometimes. After she dropped out she was a lot better. Anyway, Mom is gone now, and I’m glad you were her friend. I’m sending you her journal because everyone around here is trying to pretend she never lived, and I don’t want them to find it and throw it away, too. I took it and hid it in my bed when they were going through her things. I couldn’t find the key. I loved my mom very much, and I want a friend to have something to remember her by. I didn’t have enough for first-class postage, but they said third class would just take longer. They deleted everything of hers out of the computer. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you that night on Messenger. But I thought I might get into trouble.

 

Yours Truly

Carolyn Harris

 

          How terribly sad I felt when I read the letter. It didn’t get any better the third or fourth time, either. One thing did seem odd, though. Ellie had said she was thinking of taking some classes at UAB the previous fall. I remember encouraging her, but later she said it hadn’t worked out and that she never enrolled. Her daughter seemed to suggest that her dropping out had been a recent development. Now, in the spring, I wondered why she hadn’t told me she was going to school, unless she wasn’t attending but just getting away for a day now and then. And what the daughter had written about Ellie’s recent mood was the same thing I had noticed. She had seemed happier than ever.

          The days before the journal arrived had gotten long for me again, and when it came, I tore it open like a kid with a present. After twenty minutes of trying to pick the lock with a paper clip, I gave up and cut the strap holding it together. As I paged through the early entries, I noticed that Ellie didn’t write every day. Once or twice a week, she’d reflect on one thing or another. It went back two years, and she began the entries shortly after she found a love letter in her husband’s pocket from his secretary. She seemed so conflicted about what had happened. She admitted that the honeymoon had long been over, but when she confronted her husband Bobby with the note, he became violently defensive. He accused her of spying on him and left that night and never returned home. She drove out to the apartment complex where his secretary lived and saw his truck there in the morning.  But she was scared of losing her home and decided in her own interest and that of her children that she’d try to get through it.

          There were other entries. She wrote of finding me on the Internet. I cried when I read how much I had meant to her and what a “rock” I had become in her life. It was nearly two in the morning when I put it down and undressed for bed. I took the journal to bed with me and marked the place that I had stopped reading. I felt I needed to page ahead before sleep and found her last entry. This is what it said:

 

          Dear Journal

 

          I have finally taken the bull by the horns, and by tomorrow my ordeal and the ordeal of other women like myself will be over. I am meeting with U.S Attorney John Barnes and will give him a deposition and the other evidence that will prevent this from happening to any other woman in the future. Maybe I should feel scared, but what I’m really feeling is exhilaration that I haven’t felt in years. I know I’ve made mistakes; however, doing this is not only the right thing to do, I feel it’s the only thing to do. And that makes me feel great!

          I went to sleep that night knowing the Ellie Sue Harris I knew did not take her own life. Someone took it for her.

          The next day I read the rest of the journal. Ellie and many other women in and around the Birmingham, Alabama area had been the victims of a fairly elaborate ruse. It began with choosing attractive women who were housewives and mothers, seducing them and taping the event without their knowledge. But then two men posing as government agents would approach the victims. They would show them the tapes and say that they’d been investigating their lovers who, over time, would have threatened to reveal the tapes to their husbands to make them perform sexual favors with others for money. They’d tell the victims that they were lucky they caught this in time, or they would have had no choice but to name them in their investigations.

          Then the other shoe would drop. As a condition for keeping their names out of all this unpleasantness, the victims would have to perform certain duties over a probationary period until their investigation was completed. If they refused, their names and the tapes would come out in the indictment. If they consented, they simply had to…well…fuck whoever they told them to for a period of months, usually six. And while this seems ridiculous, both on the surface and at the heart of it, what real choice did the victims have? They’d lose their homes and their children in the subsequent divorce, and while they might have explained their way out of it if only their husbands found out, a televised scandal with indictments must have seemed overwhelming. Besides, they had already cheated on their husbands. Why not simply do it with many lovers for the period and be done with it. And even if they figured out what was going on, the penalties for not agreeing were just as severe.

          For the perpetrators, the advantages of using housewives under duress were many. To begin with, they weren’t prostitutes. They were clean, well mannered, and attractive; they had no choice but to simply make lemonade out of lemons. For her part, Ellie had not only been afraid of losing her home when she found out her husband was cheating; she admitted as much to the old college chum she favored with a roll in the hay after running into him at a mall one day. However, Ellie figured it out pretty quick, and the guys posing as government agents went as far as to suggest she begin by thanking them personally and sexually at their initial meeting which she did.

    As I read on I became saddened on many levels, not the least of which was how her souring marriage mirrored at least two of my own in some ways. But my sadness quickly and frequently gave way to the kind of rage I hadn’t known in many years. Even so, the diabolical nature of this scam and, in particular, the kind of language and legalese with which these people presented themselves made me feel whoever was running this thing wasn’t stupid. Ellie’s death was proof enough of their ruthlessness. But the most disquieting factor was the fact that, whoever did this, knew she was going to see a real U.S. Attorney. They faked her suicide before she got there. The likelihood that real government officials had knowledge of these events was at least possible. The final problem was that no one, and I mean no one—whether victim or perpetrator—would want these matters to come to light.  That presented a solution that happened to fall right in my wheelhouse.

          As my plane landed in Atlanta, my notes seemed adequate to the occasion. I knew, of course, there’d be plenty of improvisation but that presented no problem. I rented a car and headed to Sylacauga. I found a florist and by mid-afternoon placed my flowers on the grave of my friend.  As I did, I felt someone looking at me. I turned around and saw a young girl of thirteen or so. I knew immediately who she was. She joined me at the grave.

          “Did you know my mom?” she asked.

          “Yes” I said. “We were friends on the Internet.”

          “I knew it was you,” she exclaimed. “I had a feeling it was.”

          “You have good instincts, Caroline,” I said looking back at Ellie’s grave. We stood there silently for a minute or two. I could feel her stealing looks at me every few seconds.

          “My Mom didn’t kill herself, did she?”

          “No Caroline, she didn’t. You were right about that, too. But everyone will assume she did and your knowing the truth won’t change what they think. Do you think you can be satisfied with that?”

          She was quiet for a moment. “I guess so,” she said. “Do you know who killed her?”

          “No,” I said. “We’ll see.”

          I said goodbye to my friend’s daughter and drove to Birmingham. I checked into the Birmingham Marriott where Ellie had met all of her men; I tipped the bellman $40.00 and asked if he could tell me where a gentleman might meet a suitable and clean lady for the evening.

          “I think that could be worked out, sir,” he said. “Will you be dining at our fine restaurant this evening sir?”

          “Unless you can recommend someplace better, I will be.”

          “No, sir,” he said politely. “I think our restaurant is excellent. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. May I ask if you have any specific preference in a lady sir: blonde, brunette, redhead?”

          “Apart from her being attractive and amiable,” I began, “none at all.  Let me add that she has to be clean—no one who walks the street if you know what I mean.”

          “I can assure you, sir, the fellow I’ll refer you to would never use such women,” he said.

          “I see…but I was hoping to deal just with you, young man. The need for discretion is of great importance to me as I’m sure you can understand.”

          “I certainly understand, sir; the man I’m talking about is a frequent visitor to the lounge in our fine restaurant. Believe me, he is very discreet.”

          “How will I know this man?” I asked.

          “He’ll find you sir,” he said. “Enjoy a cocktail before dinner. Will there be anything else, sir?”

          I smiled and shook my head. After he left, I showered quickly and dressed for dinner. It was going pretty much as I supposed.

          In the lounge I noticed the restaurant was indeed popular and three quarters full by seven-thirty. I sat down and ordered a scotch on the rocks.  Before the drink arrived, I saw them.

          She was about thirty with a homespun sort of look about her. I imagined she made wonderful Sunday dinners. She looked as though she probably did volunteer work wherever she lived. He was short and stocky and had the look of a top ten salesman. They saw me, but ambled toward the middle of the bar just the same. He exchanged some words with the bartender and then came over. He introduced himself and the lady, asking if I might like to join them at a table.

          “So Mr. Fox,” he began, “What brings you to Birmingham?”

  “Business, of course,” I answered. “I’ll be looking at some properties around town for possible development. I was told someone would meet me here in the lounge tonight. Is that you, Mr. Brown?”

          “Yes it is.”

          “Then, if you don’t mind,” I said, “I’d prefer we discuss that business.”

          At this, Kathy, after being introduced, excused herself to the ladies room. After sitting back down, he began again.

          “How long will you need Kathy tonight?” he asked.

          “Probably no later than ten thirty, I’m thinking, and I’d prefer if she could join me for dinner here as well.”

          “I’m sure she’d like that,” he said. “I can arrange the charges to be spread out over your hotel bill if you like. I understand you’ll be with us for three days.”

          “Yes,” I said, “but there’s no need for the subterfuge. I’m an independent contractor, Mr. Brown. No need to fool anyone about expenses.  You do take credit cards?”

          “Yes,” he said. “I think $300.00 should cover everything.”

          “That’s fine, provided she’s clean.” I said.

          “I can assure you that she is.”

          After concluding our business in the lounge, Kathy and I went in for dinner. I noticed a white band on her finger where her wedding band had been. We had a nice dinner and talked about the area a little. She was candid about being married and spoke of a daughter in junior high school.  Afterwards we went up to my room where I made a phone call. After hanging up, I told Kathy that something had come up and that I wouldn’t be needing her after all. As she was leaving, I stopped her.

          “He’ll...Mr. Brown will be down there won’t he?” I asked.

          “Yes,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll credit you. I wouldn’t worry about that.”

          “No,” I said. “I mean, he may send you to another...client.”

          She looked down.“Maybe.”

          “I don’t want to put you out that way. Why don’t you stay here for a while and watch television? I would like the company while I work and that way you can go home afterward.”

          She smiled sadly and said, “Thank you.”

          “No problem; I enjoy your company. Why don’t you order us some tea?”

          I sat at the table with my laptop and made some notes regarding the initial meeting. After our tea arrived, I outlined a series of questions I wanted to ask her. It had to do with a hunch I had about the initial motel where Ellie Sue and her old college chum had gone.

          “Tell me, Kathy,” I said. “You know the area and I don’t. Do you know much about the northeast part of town? There is a restaurant and motel complex near where I’m looking for development properties. I believe the motel is called the Outer Limits.”

          Her face told me my instinct was correct. “Yes, it’s not a very nice part of town. Not dangerous or anything, but kind of run down.”

          “Good,” I said. “And how near the juncture of these two freeways would you say it is?”

          She came over and looked at the map.

          “I’d say less than a mile for either one.”

          I took off my glasses and looked at her. “I’m not sure if Mr. Brown will question you about this evening, Kathy, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention the areas I’m looking at.”

          “No, I’d never do that.”

          I got around to asking her about the second area nearly an hour later, and as I suspected, she was familiar with it, also.  They used the Outer Limits Motel for the taping.  Then they’d send the ladies downtown to an old Federal Building, only partially filled with new private renters. There, someone posing as a judge would inform them in official tones of how they were going to “get themselves out of this mess.”

          Nearing ten thirty, I’d got to the point in the questioning that would most closely resemble normal curiosity, and Kathy had warmed to me in ways I felt she could answer my questions in a candid manner. She told me the men she dealt with amounted to only four altogether and there was also one woman. Two men posing as U. S. Attorneys, this fake judge and his secretary, and Mr. Brown seemed to be all there were. But she’d never seen more then two of them together at once. As to any other women she knew of in the same circumstance, she had only met one. It was clear, however, that they didn’t let any of the women interact with each other in an unsupervised manner. This made perfect sense, of course, but also made my job a little harder.

          “Tell me something, Kathy,” I said, “These officials you speak of—is there anyway you can contact them?”

          “Only through Adam, that is Mr. Brown, and Judge Henry downtown.”

          “I see. Did you ever see the judge again?”

          “Not yet; next month my probationary period is over. I have to see him then. Please don’t tell Adam that I told you anything about this.”

          I shook my head and got up.

          “Kathy, believe me that knowledge of any of this could put me in danger, too, I’m sure. I would never betray your confidence. In fact, I have an idea that might interest you. This would be for my protection as well, but I was wondering about something. Is there any way I could hire you for the next three days and end your obligation earlier? You said next month you would be done with this, and I assume at one day a week that would bring you closer.”

          “I could ask,” she said, “but I don’t think I could explain it to my family. One day a week is all I’ve been able to handle.”

          “Yes, of course, but if your Mr. Brown was amenable to ending your obligation early, would you at least consider it?”

          She agreed and, after meeting with Brown the next morning, he was encouraging as well. He offered her for $800.00 a day which I got down to $700.00 after telling him there’d be future visits to Birmingham. He “assured me” she would be amenable.

          “I like only one girl at a time,” I told him. “I’d want someone else in the future.”

          “That works out perfectly,” he said, leading me to believe they might actually let these women off after their obligation was done. We stood up and shook hands.

          “You provide a fine service, Mr. Brown. I’ll be sure to recommend this...hotel to others.”

          He agreed to meet me with Kathy for dinner that evening. I left with my briefcase around ten and headed downtown.

          After spending the morning getting the cook’s tour of the old Federal building from a representative from the investment company holding the lease, I stopped for lunch. I had noticed a door with Judge Henry’s name still on it. He explained the new renters only used the office now and then and hadn’t bothered to change the name. But, as we were leaving, I noticed some movement behind the frosted glass. After lunch I went back and talked to a couple of tenants. I tried the door at Judge Henry’s office, but it was locked.  After knocking, a middle-aged woman with glasses answered.

          “Hi,” I said. “Some people I’m working with are interested in the building. I always make it a point to talk with some of the renters. Would you have a moment for me?”

          After trying to put me off with talk of only using the office to receive mail and some storage, she finally let me in. The outer office seemed normal enough for a Judge. At first glance, nothing would give the impression it was not Judge Henry’s Office.

          “Oh, I must have misunderstood,” I said. “Doesn’t the judge keep an office here?”

          Just then a heavyset man with red hair walked in. He exchanged looks with the secretary who was beginning to look uneasy.

          Twenty minutes later I left the office, turning the lights out and locking the door on my way out.

          I put the bag in the trunk of my car and headed for the Outer Limits Motel.

 

 

          “Hi, it’s me, Terry at the motel,” he said in almost a whisper. “I think you’d better get over here right away. Some developer is looking at buying the place, and the owner is taking him on a tour of the rooms. I told him yours was under repair, but I think they’ll want to see it anyway. I can stall them for a while, but the owner has a master key.”

          After hanging up I said, “That was very good, Terry.  Are they coming together or will there be only one?”

          “They always come together, but I don’t know for sure.”

          “Fine,” I said. “Here’s the first five hundred. You’ll get the rest after I’ve met with them.”

          As I heard the key turn in the door, I listened for footsteps. They were both there. Ten minutes later I came out, locked the door, and went back down to the office.

          “Here’s the rest of your money, Terry,” I said handing him $1000.00.  “I’d wait at least two days if I were you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that, in any case, I won’t forget this...or you.”

          Terry shook his head as he fingered the money. “No…no problem,” he said nervously. “Not a problem.”

          Nearing seven o’clock, I saw Brown and Kathy walk in the front door.  He looked confident as ever, and I felt sure none of the day’s events had come to his attention. I cut them off on the way to the lounge and asked if I could speak with him privately. I gave Kathy the key to my room, saying I’d prefer we eat there later. On the way to the parking lot, I told him my travels took me to an interesting property north of town and wondered if he had a few minutes to take a look at it with me. He agreed and I headed to a largely vacant industrial area I had seen. We got out and I began by talking about the property.

          “You see, my people are looking for undervalued areas not unlike this one,” I said, “with good access to the main artery highways.”

          He nodded and looked around. As he did, I shot him in the knee. He screamed and rolled around in pain.

          “Your partners are dead,” I said and shot him again in the ankle.  “You’re gonna be dead in minute, too. But I thought you’d like to know why you’re all dying. Remember Ellie Sue Harris? She was a friend of mine. I’m afraid all I can offer you is a shorter death then you deserve, but one last thing remains. And if you don’t tell me...right now, I’ll kill you all night, and believe me, it won’t be fun.”

          I squatted down near him as he writhed in pain.

          “Who told you Ellie was coming to Birmingham to give a deposition?” I asked.

          He writhed some more and shook his head. I shot him in the elbow, and he screamed again.

          “Last chance, pal, because I’m not asking after this. Who told you Ellie was coming to town to give a deposition?”

          “Oh, God,” he choked.  “I…it was my brother. He works in the U.S. attorney’s office.”

          “His name?”

          “He didn’t know anything about it,” he screamed. “He just told me things.”

          “Deadly things, as it turns out. Last chance for a name and an end to this, Brown.  His name?”

          “Tom,” he said.

          I shot him in his other elbow.

          “Complete name, please.”

          “Tom Scarborough….Oh, God please... Oh, God.”

          I stood up and put two in his stomach and walked away. On the way back to the hotel I disposed of the tapes I’d taken from the old federal building.

          Back in my room, I sent Kathy home to her family saying I was quite sure she’d never need to do this sort of thing again. She kissed me in a way that told me she was grateful and with a passion that indicated she might indeed do this sort of thing again. That couldn’t be helped, of course.

          The next morning I watched Tom Scarborough kiss his wife goodbye at the front door and secure his small son in the child safety seat of his Bronco before driving off. I decided to let it go.

          As I was checking out of the Marriott, I saw the bellman who had referred my prey. I tipped him another $40.00 and thanked him for his help.

          “It was a pleasure, sir,” he said with a smile. “I hope everything was satisfactory.”

          I nodded and said, “You’ve been a help to me young man, and I’d like to tell you something that might help you. In a day or so the police will want to interview you. If you have any reason why you wouldn’t want that, it might be better if you weren’t here or at the address you gave the hotel.”

          He understood and nodded quickly.

          Forty-five minutes later, I stood before Ellie’s grave once again.  After a few minutes I saw Caroline walking down the path toward me. She carried schoolbooks in her arms. We were silent for a few minutes. She stole looks at me from time to time and seemed to be forming a question. But she never quite got it worked out.

          “I don’t think your mother would like it that you come here every day,” I said.

          “I won’t, now.”

          We stood there for a while longer, and I felt her take my hand. “Thank you, Gary.”

          “You’re welcome, Carolyn,” I answered.

          She started to walk off and then stopped and turned ten feet away.

          “Did you kill them?” she asked.

          I turned and looked at her evenly. “Yes,” I said.

          She walked back to me and handed me an envelope. It was my thank you note to Ellie with my return address on it.

          “Thank you,” she said. “Goodbye.” I smiled and waved as she walked off.

          I drove back to Atlanta to catch my flight. The fact is I don’t have many friends. Ellie Sue Harris was my friend and avenging her murder was an act of personal satisfaction. I’ve been in this business for nearly thirty years. I had never killed for pleasure before, only business. Caroline’s heartfelt gratitude put this whole episode back on the business side of the ledger to some degree. I smiled to think of it.




yellowfood.jpg
Art by W. Jack Savage

YELLOW FOOD

 

By W. Jack Savage

      

 

 

          It’s the kind of thing you remember but you’d rather not. It was not all that sinister, but something you’d rather not dredge up and certainly nothing you’d want others to know. Having come forward with my theory, I simply had no choice but to associate myself with the idea of yellow food. Two people were dead. They were two people I knew, and believe me, that crossed my mind the day I called the police, as well.

          I suppose it’s not so terribly strange. For example, I remember a girl who threw up in third grade. Christine Kittles was her name. Sad as these things are, I never knew her to be associated with any other event. She was simply 'the girl who threw up in third grade', and while, in more contemplative moments, I have wondered what she might have become  without that moniker, to be synonymous with vomit did nothing to make her more popular at school. As for myself, I forgave her almost at once, but others did not. They just couldn’t get it out of their minds, somehow. But for me it was something else. For me it was yellow food.

          When I read about Colleen in particular, dying in the restaurant the way she did, it occurred to me to ask what she was eating. Actually, it was the restaurant and the fact that it was morning, because, well, a lot of morning dishes contain yellow food. But while I did ask, the fact that Colleen had an omelet in front of her certainly would not have stood out in a crowded restaurant at breakfast. Someone behind her in another booth whom nobody could remember seeing, had taken what must have been a small sword with a blade of at least eighteen inches, and stuck it through the back of the booth, killing Colleen almost instantly. When she slumped in her seat, two of her co-workers actually laughed, thinking she was mugging in some way. The booth was not high, but no one saw anything. 

          Later, when Scott was killed, the first news account I saw didn’t say a thing about his eating. He was just killed, not unlike Colleen; stabbed in the back.  But this time, sitting on a park bench across the street from where he was having the oil in his car changed. I mean, people die, of course.  But for two people you know to be killed within a month was odd enough for me to call the police.

          After going down and making a list of all the people I knew who were associated with both people, I was the only one who knew both of them. I was about to leave when the detective said 'if someone else you know dies eating dinner, we’ll be in touch'. I didn’t put it together until I was out in the hall, waiting for the elevator. Then it hit me and I went back.

          “Did you mean,” I began, “as in 'breakfast, lunch and dinner'?”

          “Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry, bad joke, I guess.”

          “No, I mean, Scott was eating lunch?”

          “Yes,” he said, and shuffled some papers until he picked up one. “A sandwich.”

I just stood there for a moment.

          “It didn’t say anything about that on the news,” I said. “Can I ask what kind of sandwich?”

He looked at the notes.

          “A cheese sandwich,” he said. “There’s an Italian deli down the street. He got it there. Why?”

          “I’m.... I’m not sure,” I said. “Isn’t it odd though, that they’d both be killed while... while eating?”

          “I suppose,” he said. “Does it seem odd to you?”

          “Yes,” I said, “it does.”

      

          On the way home, the yellow food idea seemed too far-fetched to have any connection. I hadn’t shared that curiosity with the police, but by going to them and identifying myself as a person with a connection to both victims, I realized I’d made myself, at the very least, a person of interest. I had no real alibi. During both murders I was at home, but since I live alone, I had no way to prove it. But they hadn’t asked me where I was during Scott’s murder; only Colleen’s.

          I had an aversion to yellow food when I was a child. I had a very sensitive nose and the smell of, say, eggs frying or especially, boiled eggs in some form, was very bad to me. Then, there was cheese. Cheese is harmless enough, as are eggs to me now, but back then, the smell of cheese was just as bad. This had the effect of grouping together nearly any yellow-colored food as something to avoid. I’m afraid it followed that as I didn’t like it and avoided yellow food, I did the same to people who liked yellow food; avoided them, I mean. I didn’t like them anymore and being too embarrassed to say why, I’m sure it seemed terribly unfair to them that one day we were friends, and the next day I was acting like a jerk. I got over all these things by my late teens but as I learned things about various social disorders; being uncomfortable eating in front of others for example, I began to realize that I probably had a social disorder, and when it was happening, it was like I had no choice. It was a real thing to me.

          So when Andrea Bigelow from work was killed, I began to feel quite sure that whoever killed her had a terrible aversion, as I had had as a child, to yellow food.

          “Why are you telling me this, Mr. Harrison?” the detective asked.

          “Listen,” I said. “Poor Andrea was brutally stabbed by someone who took the time to open what was left of her egg salad sandwich, and smear it onto her face. I’m not saying killing her was somehow normal, but doing that afterwards, to me smacks of something else.”

          “Such as?” he asked.

          “Listen,” I began, “I know it sounds a little crazy. But today, people are treated for things like this. Back when I was a kid, for example. I grew up in Minneapolis. I did well in school in the fall and in the spring. But in the dead of winter, those long, cold, and mostly dark and overcast skies, got me down real bad. Today they call it Seasonal Dysfunction Disorder and they treat it with light. There are special 'daylight lamps' for these people.  My point is, it’d be worth looking into some of these support groups and outpatient studies going on that deal with social disorders and just see if they’ve come across someone with an aversion – even a psychosis, connected to yellow food.”

          “Did you and Ms. Bigelow get along, would you say?” he asked.

          “Yes,” I said. “For the most part we did. She could be a bitch but on those days you just tried to avoid her. She’d even say, 'just leave me alone for a while' sometimes. We worked at M. J. Dunn together for over a year. I don’t think we ever, you know, other than the Christmas party, ever socialized. But this –  this is just terrible.”

          “There is one other fellow we’ve found with a connection to all three victims,” he said, “besides yourself, I mean.”

          “There is?” I said. “Who? I mean, can you tell me who?”

          “An author,” he said. “A William Elgin.”

I rolled my eyes.

           “Is something wrong?” he asked.

          “Yes,” I said, getting up. “I’m William Elgin. That’s the name under which I wrote my book. I was excited. I gave copies to everyone; cost me a small fortune. It’s self-published.”

          “Really?” he said, and looked genuinely surprised. “That’s not what the author’s biography says.”

          “The author's biography,” I began, “not unlike the author himself, is full of shit. Or at least was, when he was in his 'Renaissance man' period.”

I sat back down.

          “And before you even ask, I have gone over in my mind everyone I can remember from M. J. Dunn, and no one was capable of this. It would have to be someone outside; one of our vendors perhaps, but no one within that company. And there’s something else.”

          “Your connection to the victims?” he asked.

          “Yes,” I said. “But more than that even. What are the odds that the one person with a connection to all three victims has a theory about the killer, based on his childhood experience with a similar affliction?”

          “Pretty long odds, Mr. Harrison,” he said. “Very long indeed. How do you account for it?”

       “I don’t know,” I said. “But there’s only one person, say, outside of yourself, and you’re off the hook because I just told you about it, who knows what I just told you about me as a child and yellow food.”

 

*            *           *           *        *

             

          “Yes, I know Burt Harrison,” said Doctor Blum. “He was a patient some years ago. He became very angry with me for some reason. He finally stopped coming.”

          “Do you remember any of the circumstances of that falling out?” he asked.

          “As a matter of fact I do,” he said. “Burt was basically a fairly well-adjusted neurotic. Bit his fingernails down to the quick…not an alcoholic, in my judgment, but would overdo it now and then. He occasionally felt bad about, well, everything really, and we’d talk. Finally one day, he came in and said I wasn’t doing him any good and he was better before he started coming to see me. I didn’t say anything, but I actually agreed with him. I never heard from him again.”

          “We were wondering about the possibility of a social disorder,” he asked.

          “Actually,” he said, “calling Burt a well-adjusted neurotic, albeit somewhat facetiously, is more information than I’m willing to share about a former patient. But I can say that I saw no signs of anything like that.”

          “You said that he became very angry with you. Might I assume that digging up the past into the here and now tripped off some of that hostility?”

There was a pause.

          “You could fairly assume that, I think,” he said. “Actually there was one event during his early schooldays that was somewhat pivotal to his hostility. But while it came up quite often and now that I think of it, he would find ways to bring it up, it became such a flashpoint for his anger, that I suggested at one point he see another therapist. This he took as me somehow evading my responsibility. That’s not uncommon…turning the

tables like that. On balance though, I never got the feeling Burt was dangerous in any way; to himself or to others.”

          “I see,” he said. “One other question, Doctor, may I ask if the event had any connection to…yellow food, in some way?”

          “After a fashion,” he said. “Vomit actually, and yes, he described it as yellow.”

          “It would be a big help,” he said, “if you could remember the name of the person or even the school where this happened?”

He smiled and said,

          “The girl who threw up in third grade. That was the title he gave her; Christine something. Christine Kittles I think”.

 

*       *       *       *     *

 

          After a few weeks, I had begun to settle back into a sense of normalcy. I had assumed the police hadn’t found any connection between my old therapist and the killings, and while the whole thing was terrible and bizarre, I mean, life goes on. I took a few days off after I told the detective what I thought and took the opportunity to get my life in order; store a few things and whatnot. While I was down at my storage locker on a Saturday, putting the last of the stuff away, the detective walked up just as I was locking up.

          “Hi,” I said. “What are you doing down here?”

          “I’m here to see you, Mr. Harrison,” he said.

          “How did you…have you been following me?” I asked.

          “Just now I did, yes,” he said. “You were driving off just as I was pulling up at your townhouse. I wonder if we could talk about another aspect of your theory that’s come to light? Do you remember a fellow student by the name of Christine Kittles?”

          “Of course,” I said.

I unlocked the padlock and began to raise the door.

          “In fact,” I said, “It’s funny you should bring her up. I just packed away my High School yearbook and stuff. I’ve got her picture here somewhere. Why do you ask?”

         “Your doctor said you had some issues with Christine, Mr. Harrison,” he said. “I did a little research and found she had died some years ago.”

I kept looking through my pictures.

          “She’d been killed, actually,” he said. “And strangely enough, she’d been stabbed.”

I pulled out the long picture of our eighth grade graduating class.

          “Here she is,” I said, and stepped toward him to show him.

He paused for a moment, and took a step toward me to take a look. When he did, I kept my eyes on her picture in my left hand, and stabbed him through the heart with the bayonet in my right.

          “Look at her,” I said. “You’d never know how disgusting she was from this picture, would you?”

As he fell to his knees, I continued to show him the picture.

          “A fucking abomination really,” I said. “Eating and regurgitating yellow food; disgusting to everyone.”

          I pulled the bayonet out and let him fall forward into the locker. Twenty minutes later, I had moved enough boxes to make room for the detective’s car and I backed it in. I put him in the trunk, and as I was locking up again, Harry, the facility manager, drove up and got out.

          “Good morning,” he said.

          “Hi, Harry,” I said. “I’m sorry about this. I sure appreciate your coming down. I closed my checking account so I hope a money order will do?”

          “Not a problem,” he said. “I’m sure sorry to hear about your mother, though.”

          “Thank you,” I said. “They said a year at the most but…well, as you can see, I made it out for two years, just in case. At any rate I’ll let you know before then when I'll get back.”

          “Don’t worry about a thing, Mr. Elgin,” he said. “We’ll be here for you.”

          The thing about this is, while I’m nearly powerless to do anything about it; if they’d just taken me seriously to begin with, they could have put an end to it. God knows, I’ve given them every opportunity. Short of walking up and saying, 'I did it and I’d do it again and I’ll keep doing it', I don’t know what they want from me. I mean, I’m doing all the work here. I do it, I identify myself and offer a theory and tell them my connection to it, and in this case, I even gave them a blueprint to a previous event. And what does he do? He drives over, alone, and lets himself be suckered into a long-term storage facility where it’ll be at least two years before anyone finds him. I’m sorry but I’m not about to 'cry for help' any louder than I have been.






Jack was retired from broadcasting and teaching and everything was fine. Now, his wife Kathy is retired also and hanging around the house every day, too. It's okay, but "fine" no longer applies. He actually was looking for a part-time job until Kathy suggested he get one and now he's standing his ground.


 


He is the author of seven books including Imagination: The Art of W. Jack Savage (wjacksavage.com) and has been staring at the same unfinished novel for two years. As a result, another non-fiction, autobiographical deal is nearly ready to go as well as what will be his third short story collection. . . . Please stand by.

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