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Murder in a Small TownBorn 1949, M, from Colorado Springs, CO, United States
Murder in a Small Town
What started out as a funeral for Steve Carson’s father turned into forty-five days of hell. He learns an old friend was killed, and an old girlfriend’s coffee and breakfast shop is threatened by a New York City Mob. He has to deal with a determined Mafia type, a frustrated police chief, a pissed off prosecutor, and burned out lawyer. Welcome home son.
Standing in the middle of the old farm yard that was Darryl Walker’s, an old boyhood and school friend had rebuilt on his father’s old farm several years ago. The farm and rambling house was originally built around an old stage coach stop on a hill after the Revolutionary War, the farm followed in the 1870’s. I looked over the scene of the murder with a critical eye to detail. I never heard anything about Darryl’s murder until I got home. My mother distraught over my father’s recent death never told me about it until after the funeral. I had to hear about it from an old friend of my father’s, Bob “Smitty” Smith, the chief of the Readington Township police. And that was because I was sitting with him at the breakfast counter owned by my former girlfriend and lover Maryann Daley (nee) Foster and her late husband Rick.
The ground of the rebuilt farm buildings was all tore up. What little I knew of police forensics any possible evidence was compromised or contaminated. And this was supposed to be the east coast, the sophisticated method to police work. ‘Okay if they say so.’
The twelve head of cattle and ten head of sheep were auctioned off by the county before I got home.
Yellow POLICE LINE tape flapped and snapped in the wind. I was intent on studying the ground, the blood was still evident where Darryl was supposedly killed. I looked closer then saw the casing for a nine-millimeter. ‘Somebody is cheap if they can’t afford anything better than a nine-millimeter. Hate the damned things.’ I always took my personal service .45 semi-automatic with me when I went to the field. Caught more flack about it. I had more faith in the stopping power of a .45 then a measly nine-millimeter, just like I can’t stand the 5.56x52 millimeter rifle. Give me a good Ruger 7.62x51 with 30 round banana magazines and I’m set for the duration. In other words, give me something that will reach out and touch someone.
The flapping of the police line tape, the old crows, starlings, squawked and chirped, the tree squirrels chattered and june bugs made their noise. The sounds that I often associated with my childhood I ignored as I studied the scene. If the police and nosey reporters left anything intact it was hard to tell at that point. The sound of a car engine straining against the rough ground made me look up.
“What the hell …?”
Somebody obviously didn’t know what they were doing, driving cross country from the lane that led from the main house to the barn was a hefty walk. I parked my big black 4x4 Chevrolet Suburban with its small forest of antenna and full off-road package near the barn. This person cuts across country and bottoms out their car. All I heard was, crash! smash, smash! Then the engine died.
I stood up to see the driver, a good-looking woman’s eyes round with shock as the off-road lights on my Suburban. I started to walk over to see if she needed help. She drove into the old milk house foundation. Rather, she managed to pry the door open looking out the open window.
“What are you doing up here?” she demanded in an angry tone still trying to get the door open. “Who gave you authorization to be here?”
I stopped a few feet away from the car placed my booted foot on the old weed infested brick foundation of the milk house. Pushed my black Stetson back taking my buck knife out, snapping the blade open to pick at my teeth. The woman had a shocked look on her face watching me. I said with an aggregated Texas drawl, “Well now ma`am, two weeks ago I coulda been yer best buddy, but well, seeing as ya-all want ta` be such a hard case about this, I’ll be yer worse nightmare by tomorrow morning.”
“Who the hell are you and where do you get off like that?” she screamed at me.
I damned near laughed at her but that would have pissed her off even worse and I was fast getting tired of her high-handed attitude anyway.
“Lady you don’t want to know.” I walked away from her which pissed her off even more.
“I’m calling the police.” She yelled as if that would do any good pulling out her cell phone.
“When you do say hi to Chief Bob Smith for me. Tell him Steve Carson said ‘hi.’”
She stopped in the middle of dialing 9-1-1. “Smith? Bob Smith, You, know Bob Smith Chief of Police for Readington Township?”
I think the name dropping suddenly made her think. I don’t think she was a stranger to the name of Carson. I was the proverbial prodigal son of the three siblings.
I was walking away toward my truck not paying any attention to her which was getting her even more pissed at me.
“Wait a minute!” she yelled waving at me. “Hoa!”
I think that’s when she noticed the Colorado plates and the Fort Carson post sticker on the truck. She fought her way out of the car tearing her slacks. She rushed through the dried grass and weeds to me as I pulled the door open. I looked at her coldly with a fifty-mile stare that could have chilled a bottle of beer.
“You aren’t thee Steven Carson of the Carson family, are you?”
Funerals were not one of my better past times. I had better things to do then stand around a funeral home and look like I knew what I was doing. I was living off-Post in Colorado Springs, Colorado stationed at Fort Carson and looking forward to getting west of the Mississippi again and staying there. I had not been east of the Mississippi since 1982. And now, 2010 I was forced – the way I saw it, to come east. My father was in the hospital, his condition worse. I was gassing up my monster Suburban in Easton, Pa. when Dad passed away. Today was the funeral. I felt like a private at an NCO dining in dinner. In other words, I was about as out of place as a square peg sticking out of a round hole.
My problems started on a Friday close to six-thirty. I was in a sour mood when I got home from Post and when the phone rang it did not help my disposition any.
I grabbed up the receiver: “Sergeant Carson speaking …”
It was my mother’s voice.
“Yeah, Mom…?” Less than friendly, scared.
“It’s your father, he’s in the hospital extremely sick …”
My mood changed in less than a couple seconds. All I could muster was: “Oh.”
There was a sudden knocking at the door. Grumbling I told Mom to hold on, someone was at the door. Setting the phone down, I opened the door to a woman in a light blue uniform. “Mr. Carson?”
“Sergeant First Class Carson, yes, ma’am?”
“Sorry. Amy Howell from Red Cross.”
The next morning the First Sergeant looked at my LES (Leave and Earning Statement) to see I’d handily racked up forty-five plus days of leave. The First Sergeant said, “Use it or lose it. Take forty-five days leave, Sergeant. You’re a mental case anyway. Who’s taking the Platoon `til ya get back?”
“Good. See ya when ya get back.”
I was unceremoniously pointed to the door. The company clerk already had me signed out. Nice kid. I packed a couple bags, grabbed my dress greens and was on the road east bound and down.
I had not been east of the Mississippi since the summer of 1982. The last time I saw anyone from the family was my brother Keith at Fort Knox, Kentucky at the NCOES (Non-Commissioned Officer Extension Course) for Armor, he was in the Armored-Infantry advanced training class. That was another story – brothers at Fort Knox together.
The day of the viewing the funeral which was the day after I arrived home an unexpected soft satin smooth hand touched mine. I looked down to see a dark haired brown eyed petite woman, a beauty standing beside me, Elaine the only cousin I bothered to talk to. “How are you holding up, cuz?” She asked in a low voice. “The only way I recognized you was by the uniform.”
My heart stopped. A girl with long black hair, the face of a doll, the sensuous voice of an angle in a little black silk dress was standing beside me.
I found my voice.
“Not bad,” I replied looking around the room as people filed in taking a seat some coming up to
me to give their condolences. Standing with my back to the casket I said under my breath, “I’ve seen friendlier looking firing squads at Fort Leavenworth.”
She surveyed my uniform, the awards and patches none of which made sense to her. All she had ever known was I was in the Army and by that time I had been around the world and back four times and working on my fifth deployment.
“Take it easy,” said Elaine holding my hand giving it a slight squeeze. “Try to smile at them at least.”
“Who? You and your parents are the only ones here I know or remember.”
She slipped a business card in my hand with a date and time to see her. “A lot has happened since you’ve been gone, Steve. We need to talk.”
“I’ll be there,” I said softly slipping the card into a pocket.
Elaine tucked a lock of her dark hair back. “I know you will.”
The funeral director nodded to me and Elaine it was time to begin. Keith and our sister Lindsey in uniform also were already sitting down beside Mom, Elaine and I on the other side of her, the minister stepped to the podium to begin the service.
The next day, six o’clock in the morning the mid-weekday morning rush was on. The door to the Gibson Town General Store was opened and closed several times for customers entering and leaving some wanting a quick cup of coffee and maybe a donut or pastry to go. They had the commuter train into Jersey City and New York City to catch. Some people may order a whole breakfast, those were the ones who worked in the area and had time to sit and read the New York or a Philadelphia newspaper before heading off to work.
When I opened the door, a middle-aged woman was leaning over the stacks of newspapers and magazine rack straightening them up. As I entered the coolness of the store, the smell of breakfast assailed my senses, eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, biscuits and gravy brought back ancient memories of a time that was long past. The place smelled better than the mess hall. I was the ‘stranger in a strange land’ in what used to be my hometown. The prodigal son comes home but does he fit in?
Glancing to her right the woman was looking at my highly shined pair of Cochran jump boots. The grey-green pants creased razor sharp. The array of medals and awards and decorations meant nothing to her. Taking the black beret off I leaned down for a newspaper our eyes met. Years suddenly fell away; our teen years came back like the rerun of an old TV show. Neither of us could help but stare at each other for a second. The woman felt her breath taken away; I was puzzled. I should remember this woman. After all I once swore as I left for the Army I would never forget her, nor she forget me. She cried as the Greyhound bus took me north to Newark and the Armed Forces Induction Center.
“Steve?” She said in a soft voice. “Steve Carson?”
Straightening up I looked at the woman momentarily puzzled anyone would remember me. The last time I was home was the summer of 1982 and here it was 1987. I glanced down at the name tag on my gray-green dress uniform jacket then returned my eyes to the woman.
“Excuse me?” Our eyes held each other for those few minutes I was still puzzled that I should remember her name nineteen years later.
“Maryann Dally. High School? Hunterdon Central? Well yes, Daley was my maiden name, now its Foster.”
“Oh…” There was not much I could say to that as I was left speechless. Talk about feeling dumb.
Maryann moved behind the counter again. “Coffee? I know you guys like coffee.”
Sitting at the counter I opened the paper. “Yes. Thank you.” I tried to keep my eyes off her. Even now, some eighteen years later, she was still a beauty.
But, the newspaper, as far as I was concerned what they had in the paper was nothing compared to what I’d seen and done the years I was in and out of Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. And I was still scheduled to go back the end of the month for a two or three-month mission. Yeah, they had journalists embedded with some outfits, I know my last tour there I had to put up with the clowns. They were more dangerous to themselves then the Taliban and Al-Qaida were to us put together.
“Thanks. And just black.” I looked up meeting Maryann’s weary smile. “Black as the slate boards when we were in school.”
“You do remember.” She managed a weary smile.
“Now like it was yesterday.” I looked up smiling at her. “Talk to you when you have a chance.”
I could not help but glance at her left hand. Yes, she was wearing a ring and married probably to a jealous husband. I know I would have been if we had gotten married. I went back to reading the newspaper ignoring stares from customers having never seen me in there before, much less someone in a military uniform.
She poured the coffee. “What else, Steve?”
“Full breakfast. Creamed beef and biscuits?”
“Bobby can make it up.”
“And add home fried potatoes with four eggs sunny side up on top and sausage all on one plate, please.”
Maryann raised a brow as she mmpassed the order back to the short order cook. “Big breakfast.”
“That’s nothing. Ask my favorite waitress at the IHOP in Colorado Springs about what I normally eat on the weekend” I let the coffee cool Maryann passed the receipt in through the serving window.
I looked up with mild surprise. “Mom?”
I just could not picture Maryann as “Mom” she just did not fit the image. At least to me it didn’t. Maryann moved on to her regular customers along the counter. The door opened again another customer entered taking another stool. The man glanced toward me then seemed to do a double take.
“Steve?” he asked.
I looked over to the other then I realized who was sitting next to me.
Maryann grinned as she poured Police Chief Bob Smith a cup of coffee. “That’s getting to be a popular question around here.”
We shook hands.
“Home for long?”
Folding the paper to an article I wanted to read later, I said, “`Til next month. The First Sergeant said I had forty-five days leave, use it or lose it. That’s the nice thing I don’t have to be back to duty until next month – nothing to do but figure out what civilians do for a living.”
Six o’clock in the morning the weekday morning rush was on. The door to the Gibson General Store was opened and closed several times for customers entering and leaving some wanting a quick cup of coffee and maybe a donut or pastry to go. The high calorie stuff. They had the commuter train into Jersey City and New York City to catch. Some people would order a whole breakfast, those were the ones who worked in the area and had time to sit and read the New York or a Philadelphia newspaper before heading off to work.
“Keith and Lindsey going to be here?”
“They’re here, just ahead of me by a day. They came in by way of Chicago’s O’Hare. Keith is in from Fort Riley and Lindsey’s came up from Fort Polk. They came in to Philly the other night just before the viewing. They’ll be here just for the funeral than back to duty. They both told me – talked to them via cell phone on my way here Keith has a field problem to get back to by next week. And Lindsey has the dreaded AGI to look forward to next week. Forget the reading of the will, they don’t have time for it –so that leaves big brother to handle the rest of this. And me – the First Sergeant said I have forty-five days to burn – use it or lose it.”
Smitty glanced at the tabs on my right shoulder, Ranger and Air Assault one over the other. He wasn’t familiar with military insignia and had only seen me in uniform one other time, basic training and AIT sans all the awards and rank strips.
Maryann moved back up the counter with my order I asked, “So how’s your husband?”
Smitty grit his teeth, Maryann was quiet a second then said, “He – he passed away six months ago.”
She moved back along the counter leaving me with an uncomfortable feeling I stuck my foot in my mouth. Smitty leaned toward me, I was feeling embarrassed and at a loss for words. “Come on up to the Township Building and I’ll tell ya the rest of the story.”
Breakfast was finished in silence, Smitty was the first to leave.
Thinking a minute, I looked around at the old store that went back to the 1870’s at least. I finally got Maryann’s attention. She moved back up the counter. I gestured to her as I pulled the money from my pocket. I always had a soft spot for her and women especially. Pressing the money into her hand I leaned over to kiss her and turned to leave.
Pulling in the parking area of the Readington Township building I parked my big old Suburban between two Township police cars. I stepped inside the cool interior of the police station stopping at the front desk that was like walking into a glass booth. The desk sergeant looked at me in uniform surprised.
An audio devise clicked on. “Yes, may I help you …?”
“Sergeant First Class Steven Carson to see Chief Robert Smith.”
“Yes. Um …Yeah certainly.”
I suppose he didn’t know what to make of the uniform and somebody from the Army calling on Bob Smith. A minute later Bob came out opened the door for me and I entered. The policeman on duty looked at me wondering what this was all about.
I sat down, Bob leaned on his desk gazing at me across the clutter. “To put it plainly, Steve this is not the town you left fifteen years ago. You haven’t been back since – what, seventy-two?”
“Anyway, a lot has changed since then – and not necessarily for the better either. Maryann still thinks it was just a random drive by shooting that her husband was killed.”
I could not help but show my surprise. “It wasn’t.”
Bob shook his head. “No. It was planned. A Real Estate mogul out of New York wants to open a convenience store there. Tear the old general store down and build an ultra-modern one – in the middle of town no less. He wanted the Fosters evicted so he could get the land. I said, ‘No but hell no.’ Apparently there are not too many people who can tell him no and get away with it.”
“Murdering her husband was his answer to the problem.” The MO was a familiar one of the mobs’, their favorite.
“Yes. He set one of his least important people up as the fall guy who I arrested. He keeps himself just clean enough the New York cops can’t get him on any one thing.”
“Gee, nice boss. And Darryl, I understand is dead. Mom told me yesterday.”
“Same way. That was easy to figure out but apparently, he got some smarts after the last incident with the General Store he’s lying low on this one. I figured out what his game is. He wants Darryl’s land to build luxury homes up there. And your Mom’s place too. Darryl was of the same opinion I was. ‘No but hell no’ on the condos or luxury homes idea.”
“So, what is the town council doing about this? By the way, who is this ass hole anyway?”
“Nothing. A mobster by the name of Billy Jo De Martino. And the County? Just sitting on their fat asses. Wouldn’t doubt taking bribes too while they’re at it.”
That gave me something to think about. “I gotta see my cousin this morning before the funeral. I’ll talk to her.”
“No heroics and none of the commando stuff either. And I’ll be at the funeral this afternoon.”
“Gee Bob, you just spoiled all my fun.”
By the time I’d made my rounds of the funeral home and cemetery I killed two hours before I had to be to Elaine’s office. One of the stops I had to make was to the cemetery. I parked my big old rig and walked to the plot but I was interested in a certain site which was not far away. A cement bench set close to the grave site. I sat down staring at the head stone. I asked myself a popular question, ‘How many wars must one fight before fighting too many; how many deaths must there be before there have been too many; how many lives must one live before living too many?’
Driving back to the middle of town parking near the old Central Railroad of New Jersey station. I pulled out Elaine’s business card, checked the address and walked over to her office which fortunately was not that far from the newspaper office where I had to post some legal paper work there about Dad’s passing to be published three times for the next two weeks. The obituary would be taken care of by the funeral home.
I first stopped at a telephone kiosk to have the area code changed on my cell phone which I hadn’t been done yet. I dropped fifty cents in to the telephone change box and called a special number for my cellphone service to change the area code from 719 to 908. Then I called Mom but Lindsey answered the phone.
“Where are you?” Lindsey demanded sounding just like Mom. For a moment, I could not tell who I was talking to, Lindsey or Mom.
“Lindsey?” I said surprised at the response. “I’m in Flemington finishing up preparations for this afternoon.”
“Well Mom’s wondering where you are.”
“I’m stopping by Elaine’s office. She wants to talk to me.”
“Alright – make it quick.”
Mom’s daughter all the way around. Always was. She gave Keith and me more problems and arguments as kids growing up. I felt sorry for the poor guy she was able to corral. That done I walked over to Elaine’s office. I still couldn’t believe my favorite cousin was a lawyer. Her office was in what was once a Victorian era house on South Main Street near the Borough Library.
I walked in to the office on the second floor, a converted suite of offices and was promptly greeted by a cute young paralegal. She could not help but look me over not having seen anyone in military uniform before.
“Yes, sir?” she asked as I stopped by her desk. She was all smiles.
“Miss or Ms. Carson, please – I’m her cousin, Sgt. First Class Steven Carson.”
“Oh, yes.” She stabbed at a speaker phone. “Ms. Carson, your cousin is here.” She turned back to me: “She’ll be with you in a moment, sir.”
Cringing at use of ‘sir.’ While I waited I looked over the huge rows of legal books, which I understand she inherited from a retiring lawyer in town. I paced around the front room for a moment looking the office over when the door opened. Elaine was the image of the successful female lawyer in a black silk woman’s suit, black pumps, her hair looked as if she had just stepped out of the beauty shop a half hour ago.
“Steve, you’re early,” she said as I walked into her office, pausing to give her a kiss. That’s one part that never changed between us.
Elaine closed the door as I turned three-sixty looking her office over. “Yes. Nice place, Elaine.” I turned back to her holding my beret as she gestured to the chair. “It was either this or sit down by the Post Office and feed the pigeons for an hour.”
“Always the sarcastic one.” She sat looking up at me twisting a pen in her fingers. She gestured to the chair in front of the desk.
“That’s Keith.” I said sitting in front of her desk then asked, “How about lunch?”
She held up parts of a legal document. “This is lunch. And a sandwich and soy milk. All this before the funeral.”
I made a face. “Take a break. Talk cousin talk and family business.”
“Yes, we do have that to cover before the funeral too.” She sat back pushing the documents aside. Elaine looked me square in the eye. I felt like I was the one suddenly on trial. “You know Uncle Steve disinherited you?”
“I heard something about it from Keith a couple years ago.” I could have cared less at that point.”
“According to your mother you and Uncle Steve had a feud going on.”
“We did?” I replied: “Okay, if she says so. If I recall – a big if here – I stayed in the Army after my first three years and never returned east – of the Mississippi that is. I didn’t feel up to the drive and besides, the dummies when I was at Fort Hood thought I was supposed to fly out of Whitman Air Force Base, Missouri to go to Korea. I had a surprise for them. I flew from McGuire by way of Travis Air Force Base instead. C141 going to Japan by way of Guam. I still got there with days to spare.”
Elaine tossed the pen on to the desk. She said leaning on the desk: “You know who the executioner of the will is then?”
“Definitely not Keith. Besides, he has to be back to Fort Riley day after the funeral anyway and Lindsey back to Fort Polk for the AGI week after next.”
Elaine shook her head. “No. Bad enough I did Keith’s second and third divorce. Guy didn’t know when to quit. And Lindsey is smart, no attachments. Me. I did his last two divorces.”
“Why am I not surprised?” I grinned then said: “Still want to go to lunch? Besides the funeral starts at fourteen hundred …”
“Military or European for two o’clock.”
Elaine looked back at me, said with a sigh: “Yeah, let’s go. I need to get out of here for a while anyway.”
“Anything special?” I asked as I stood.
She shook her head again as I quickly stepped around the desk to help her stand up. “Come on, cuz take a break. It’s not every day we get to talk like this.”
Elaine smiled as I led her from the office telling her paralegal we’d be out for a while.
We stood outside in front of the converted house. “Where to?” I asked.
She shrugged slipping a hand through my arm. Despite the years we still held something for each other. “Oh yeah, you haven’t been around with all the changes?”
“No. Not since eighty-two. I seem to recall the Spread Eagle Restaurant at Turn Table Junction.”
“Ryan’s Inn now.”
“Client’s this afternoon?”
She shook her head, her long loose hair swishing back and forth. “No because of the funeral I had to push them back two days.”
We started across the street passing the converted old CNJ railroad station that was now a bank. Not bad, they did a good job restoring the building. The Black River & Western Railroad had a pair of diesels parked just up the track idling near the old freight station, now a women’s boutique.
“No. Most of them I try to do in the morning and leave the afternoon open for the paper work.”
Walking past the bank along Railroad Avenue she held my arm tight laying her head against my arm. We slowly walked shoulder to shoulder.
I glanced down at her then ahead again. We were silent for a moment, I said in a faraway voice, “You know what this reminds me of?”
She made a sound of, “Mmm, I don’t know. What?”
“When we were kids. Actually, I was in high school, Junior, and you were in – what, last year of Junior high. We’d take those long walks along the creek.”
She smiled a bit but let it fad. “Oh yes. How time flies.”
“We were each other’s confident.”
“There were no secrets between us,” she mused, then said, “How could I forget?”
“You were the sister I never had at the time.”
“And you were the big brother I never had.” Gripping my arm, she asked, almost a rhetorical question, “What happen to us, Steve? I mean you stayed in the Army, me I’m stuck here.”
“You don’t have to be. You can pack up and move, transfer your bar license to Colorado.”
“Suppose I don’t want to?”
“What move or transfer your bar license?”
“Like waiting on tables?”
“No thanks.” She tapped my hip with hers. “I did that when I was in college.”
We stopped for a moment to look in one of the jewelry shops we were near.
On impulse I boldly asked, “What do you want?”
“Huh?” She looked at me astounded. “But…?”
I held her hand said quietly: “Who do I have to spoil? I’m basically by myself.”
She looked me in the eye. “I know. Your mother said …”
“Ah, come on.” I almost dragged her into the store.
We looked the selection over deciding on a necklace and earring and bracelet set. I quickly laid my gold card down.
“Steve ...!” She started to protest.
I grinned and kissed her on the forehead. “You deserve it.”
She looked at me as the clerk quickly rang up the purchase and I signed my life away. The set took a chunk out of my card but I reasoned: what the heck. The love of my life was gone a year now and I had only one cousin I even cared about anyway. The rest I have not seen or heard from since I joined the Army. But then they would be at the funeral like vultures at a kill.
Elaine flung herself into to my arms.
“Thank you, cuz,” she said with tears in her eyes.
We kissed, the clerk blushed, then I took the necklace off she was wearing and placed the new one on her, then the bracelet and changed earrings. The clerk placed the other set in the box.
“Come on, you can show them off at the restaurant – and the snooty cousins we have.”
She frowned at me. I soon discovered she had even less opinion of them then I did. We walked arm in arm to the restaurant. Elaine was thrilled with the gift. At least someone was happy that day.
Arriving at the restaurant we were quickly seated. Elaine spun the bracelet around her wrist then fingered the necklace. The waitresses looked at me with admiration. I could sense they were comparing notes on us.
We small talked for a few moments, looking the menu over before finally making our choices then set the menus aside.
“Look, cuz,” she began, folding her hands looking me straight in the eye. “All kidding aside, you’re basically odd man out in the family.”
She put on her best court room persona again. We met serious gazes across the table. I said in an equally serious tone, “Can I level with you, cuz?”
Elaine met my steady gaze: “I’m a lawyer. Sure.”
“I really did not want to come out here but – well, Mom insisted she needed me. And besides, I have forty-five days of leave built up. The First Sergeant said, ‘use it or lose it’. So, I’m using it.”
Elaine glanced down at the table then lifted her eyes back to mine: “Want to hear something from my point of view?”
“I’m a platoon sergeant, you’d be surprised what I hear in confidence from the guys in my platoon. Sure. Go ahead.”
“I can imagine in the Army. I really didn’t want to be executioner of the estate.”
“But Dad twisted your arm?”
She nodded sadly. “Family and all that.”
The waitress finally came over to the table to take our order then I added: “So who’s the alternate?”
She looked down at the table, drew in a breath lifting her eyes to mine again: “Guess who?”
My mind did somersaults on that one. I said in a low disbelieving tone: “Nah.”
She nodded again. “Yup, your brother.”
“But he’s in Kansas in 1st of the 63rd Armor and they head to the field for two weeks, and he’s about as interested as I am.”
“Sad but true. That’s why your mother wants you to handle everything. And I have too much work right now to do a decent job of it.”
I sat back to think then said: “I have almost four weeks left. The First Sergeant and CO kissed me good-bye and told me to use it. Actually, I have more than a month and a half built up. Ha. Some leave…”
She looked at me smiling: “Your Mom said you studied paralegal work for a while. What happened?”
I grinned and toyed with the fork and knife for a minute then replied: “Duty, deployments, and lack of time to put into studying. Completed all but a semester of the studies before having to drop out because of an extended mission.”
“That will do it.” She took a drink of her ice tea looking at me over the rim of the glass. But something was on her mind, she suddenly seemed nervous, fidgeting with the silverware then her glass. This was not the sign of a seasoned lawyer and I know Elaine this would not be her style.
“Steve, I – I should have told you this earlier at the office, you know Darryl is dead.”
“I know Smitty and Mom told me.” Our meals finally arrived.
She said: “So you do know.”
“Like finding out your best friend just bought the farm on patrol.”
Lifting her eyes to study my expression. I know it was hard for her to comprehend my cool façade, which was my way of hiding the grief of things lost. Combat teaches you a lot in a short space of time.
Lifting her brows in a puzzled manner, as kids she knew Darryl and I were close. Elaine changed the subject back to the will but my mind was still on Darryl and what Smitty told me. ‘What was that classic Bible verse? Vengeance shall be mine, sayeth the Lord’?
We finally came to the conclusion to keep the situation as prescribed by the will and probate law. The executioner would still be her, but so she could keep up with her job and her paralegal from wasting time, I could do all the leg work in her name. Nice idea.
I headed home after walking her back to her office. Behind closed doors, I gave her a kiss. The kiss caught her off guard but she smiled and gave me a more than sisterly kiss.
“Later,” I said and stepped out through the outer office past her grinning paralegal.
Nothing like having someone get in your face first thing in the morning. Reminded me of basic training and the DI’s. Those were the good old days. The wimps today would be crying on Mommy and Daddy’s shoulders about the cruel DI’s. How did I ever survive basic, but that taught me to be a survivor?
The young female attorney, Beverley Savage backed up a step. “You’re one of the Carson kids.”
“Bigger then Stuttgart. Now what’s your problem?”
“What are you doing up here? This is a crime scene and is supposed to be off-limits.”
“That’s the key phrase – ‘crime scene’ come here.”
Beverly followed me back over to the taped off area. I walked under the tape looked at the ground then spotted the casing. Using a piece of straw, I picked the casing up holding it out to her.
“Whoever your forensic doctor is needs to go back to school and learn what he’s supposed to be doing for a living.” Holding the casing up I scanned the ground again. Something glinted in the sun light. Pulling a handkerchief out I carefully picked the object up by the retractor. “A retractable ink pen. Wonder whose?”
“You want a job?” Beverly asked me her mood changed from pissed as hell at me to pissed as hell at the County.
“That’d be nice but I got three years and a wake-up left on this enlistment.” We walked back to the truck where I found a couple plastic bags from my sandwiches for the trip. “Don’t worry the bags are clean. Didn’t have the sandwiches in them long enough to matter. I ate the sandwiches on the fly between Colorado Springs and Limon and didn’t need anything to eat until I got home.”
I handed her the bags. “Have fun.”
“Wait! What about my car?” she asked scared that she would find herself stranded.
I started to climb back in the truck looking at her car stuck in the milk house foundation. I wanted to tell her, ‘Lady you have a problem’ but I didn’t. Of course, my other question was, ‘Got a cell phone?’ Sighing I got out to walk over to the car. Kneeling I cleared some of the dried grass and weeds away from the car then shone my Mini-Mag flash light under the chassis. I went to the other side looked under the car.
Sitting, lifting my Ray Bans, my back against the car, I said, “How good is your credit?”
Beverly frowned at me with a puzzled look. “Why? Can’t get the car out of that hole?”
Standing I shook my head grinning trying not to laugh. “That’s not the problem, ma`am. You need a whole new car. You screwed up the under carriage and transaxle.”
She looked at me aghast. “That car is less than a year old!”
I pulled out my cell phone and some file cards and a pen. “Key word – was.” I dialed 4-1-1 for information. The operator gave me a couple different numbers. I think Beverly and I buried the hatchet that morning. I guess she figured for me being a smart ass, I was safe to be alone with and not such a bad guy after all.
“…An hour?” I asked the guy from the recovery company.
“That’s the soonest I can be there, sir,” the guy replied.
The upshot of it was, Bev left the keys in the car, emptied her stuff into my truck. She had no choice but to ride with me, or walk. I opened the passenger side for her. She looked at the height past the grass and weeds and how high she’d have to step up to get in.
Finally, I said, “Hold on Bev.” Grasped her about the waist, she let out a yelp as I boosted her into the truck.
“Do you do that with all the girls you help?” she asked getting her breath back.
“Only the ones that need help getting in.”
“Let’s go.” Apparently, she forgot what she was there to look for.
Beverly was smiling as we left the Walker property behind. She called her paralegal she’d be late getting to the office we were stopping at the police station first to turn in some new evidence.
A short time later we arrived at the Township building and Police Station, the desk officer was surprised to see us together. He let us in Smitty stepped out of his office when he heard us.
I said holding up the two plastic bags, the 9-millimeter casings and ball point pen, “How good is your forensics doctor, Smitty?”
The other officers were surprised when I handed over the two bags to Smitty.
“Okay. Why?” He looked at the two bags I was holding. “Oh?”
“He needs to go back to school and take evidence gathering 101 over again. He must have been sleeping through that class.”
I know he was wondering what I was doing with Beverly Savage, the Township Attorney.
“Oh, by the way, Smitty her car is sitting in the milk house foundation – wreaked.”
Beverly’s face turned red with embarrassment that told Smitty of her plight.
Smitty was surprised looking at Beverly. “What happened Bev?”
Beverly looked from Smitty back to me mortified.
I said, “You want to tell the Chief about your little escapade or me?”
“I will,” she said annoyed at me. Seems she didn’t want me embellishing on the story. Wonder why. “I drove across that open area in front of the barn on the Walker property and drove into the old milk house foundation. It was hidden by the tall grass and weeds.”
I know Smitty wanted to ask what she was doing out there with a car. He looked at me, I shrugged. “She was driving not me, I know better.”
Beverly scowled at me giving me the evil eye. Smitty signaled one of his officers to take the report, single vehicle accident on private property. Easy.
We arrived at her office, an hour later a converted Victorian house from the 1880’s where a doctor’s office, and CPA, and her office were located. We carried her things in to her office her paralegal suppressing a grin.
“Now I have to call my insurance agent – get a rental, god this is maddening. A wasted day.”
I wanted to say something but didn’t. Too dangerous. The lady had no sense of humor at that point. I figured I’d better get out of there before I got involved in something else. I said good-bye and left.
Mom was puttering around the house while I sat under the old maple thinking. Things – this case or situation still was not adding up in my mind. The one focus I could get a handle on was some small-time hood by the name of Billy Jo De Martino out of New York wanted Maryann’s and Daryll’s places for developments.
Billy Jo Martino was about to have a problem.
Think like the enemy. What would the enemy do first? I gave it some serious thought. This guy wants the store serious enough for his own purposes. The store for a money laundering operation – a housing development for a drug operation. Makes sense.
‘I wonder? Smitty never did give me a date on Maryann’s husband getting murdered. But, seems its time this Billy Jo character tried something and Maryann’s place the store would be the logical place to start.’
I ran up to the room to get my laptop. Then I realized Mom didn’t have either an ether net connection or Wi-Fi hotspot; nothing remotely digital.
“Hey Mom, how do you survive without an ether net or digital connection?”
“I cannot afford it and I have no use for that stuff,” she called from down the hall in another room.
Cussing her stubbornness and 1950’s attitude I dug out my Wi-Fi hookups and hooked up the cell phone.
Crossed my fingers and signed on to the net. I let out a heavy sigh when the splash screen appeared. Within a few minutes of dinking around with the homepage I signed into Google to look up Billy Jo De Martino - NYC Mobster, small time Mafia type, real estate magnate, land development between New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania…Been in and out of jail (his jail cell has a revolving door on it) Connections with Mafioso in Italy and Sicily … The rest was of no immediate interest to me.
As they say you can find anything on the internet, just open your eyes and look.
Mom looked in on me as I studied the two pages of information on Billy Jo. None of it good, none of it promising.
“What are you looking for any way you need to connect to the internet? You can’t just go to the library?”
Still staring at the screen, I shook my head. “No not this you can’t. Mention the Mafia to that bunch and they’ll go to pieces.”
“What do you need to know about the Mafia for?” The pitch of her voice rose a notch.
I looked at Mom as if she were a kid asking a dumb question. “They’re putting pressure on Maryann to sell the store so they can put a modern convenience store in there. Maryann and her late husband put too much work into that store to lose it to these fools. As far as I’m concerned, I told her ‘no but hell no’ she’s not selling. Not if I can help it.”
Following supper and Mom going to bed early I waited a moment before going up stairs to change. Why I brought along a set of temperate zone BDU’s and a few other things, I’ll never know. But it was coming in real handy now.
I took the E7 rank off, put on a black long sleeve turtle neck shirt and hood, put the boots on down stairs, put on black skin-tight gloves, and a poncho in the back of the truck I could use for cover. I arrived in town when Maryann locked up for the night.
She was driving away when I pulled in, no traffic – thank god. Unusual. I pulled around to the back parked in the shadows under a tree facing out. Threw a tarp across the windshield to cover the glass. Suburban’s, even though I own one, are miniature greenhouses on wheels – lots of glass to deal with.
Looking the area over I picked a location where I could cover at least three sides of the building. I had to hope they were the lazy kind and would use the avenue of least resistance, the driveway to the back of the building and no witnesses. Another problem I had no weapon – New Jersey is paranoid of weapons – anything that can be used as a weapon – to include pen knives! But being the Mob (with a capital M) they’d have weapons whether New Jersey liked it or not. I chose an area where I could cover the building, but I needed weapons, I saw the broom and mop by the back door. Idea! I would owe Maryann a broom and mop tomorrow.
Broke the heads off making two nice staffs or spears. I pulled on a black ski mask, the same type our unit used on hit and run operations. I pulled on a pair of black leather gloves and got myself under the poncho to wait. Two hours passed before I heard the shuffling of feet in the gravel and voices.
‘Yup, can tell these guys were never in the Army – or Marines. Big feet and fat mouths.’
Two men appeared around the corner with a can of gas and hand full of rags.
“Nope nothing,” one said to the other setting the can of gas down. The other had a couple old rags. “Gimme the rags.”
I let them get started then carefully stood the poncho falling away I threw the handles like throwing spears. The handles hit them in the back stunning them. I followed through hitting them on the fly. One started to draw a gun. That was his next mistake. I hit him with a flying leap slamming him back into the wall the gun flying through the side window with a crash of glass. The other guy was drawing his gun as I came around on him in a roundhouse kick slamming him back in to the empty bread racks. His gun sailed over his head behind the jumble of racks. The racks went over with a crash -- metal on metal. The other guy was picking himself up as I came around on the rebound putting my foot in his face knocking his head back against the wall. The other one was untangling himself from the bread racks I grabbed him putting his head into the wall. Both were stunned and neither knew what hit them.
I picked them up by the collar and belt tossing them into the driveway. The can of gas was knocked over in the melee spilling gas over the porch and down between the boards into the dirt.
“Shit!” The odor of the gas was strong. I don’t think anybody was bothering to smoke anyway. I managed to set the can up with my foot without touching it with my hands even with the gloves on.
One was trying to get up. I put my foot in his back shoving him to the ground. “ON THE GROUND, RODNEY -- SPREAD EAGLE ASS HOLE! FRONT LEANING REST POSITION – GIMME FIFTY PUSH-UPS PRIVATE! YOU THINK YOU’RE SO GREAT, PRIVATE NOW PROVE IT! START PUMPING `EM OUT! MOVE IT! YER TOO SLOW!”
They tried looking at me but I still had the ski mask on. They must have thought they’d joined the Army or Marines that night. I talked to them like they were a couple privates.
Taking out my cell phone, I dialed 9-1-1. An operator came on. “9-1-1, is this an emergency?”
“Yeah you might call it that.” I replied with a bit of sarcasm. “It would be nice of you to send the police and paramedics to rescue these two would be arsonist from me who are bleeding all over Maryann Foster’s back driveway behind her store, Gibson General Store making a mess of it. They tried to set a gasoline fire to burn the store down, Gibson General Store on the Main Street of Whitehouse Station.”
“Is anyone hurt?”
I laughed. “Yeah, these two idiots I dismantled. The paramedics will probably waste a couple good Band-Aids on them. No, other than that just scuffed my boots is all. Does that count?”
I think the operator wanted to say no but didn’t. “Is there a fire?”
“Nope. Now call Maryann Foster, owner of the Gibson General Store and tell her to get over here fast.” I found the phone number on a bill of lading for the bake goods company listing both home phone number and store phone number, gave them to the operator. “I’ll give her an after action report when she gets here. NOW DO IT!”
I know I lost the operator on the last part but I really didn’t care. I was still too pumped up from taking these two fools apart.
A few minutes later, everybody but the National Guard showed up in the back alley. When the police showed up I was leaning against the porch railing with my foot on one of the guy’s back holding him to the ground.
“I guess you guys are here to take charge of these idiots, huh?”
Where Smitty came from I don’t know. But he was surprised to see me in the BDU’s with my foot in the one guy’s back.
I pulled a pair of nylon tie-stays from my pocket left from our last training exercise. I pulled their hands behind their backs and zipped the stays on. “All yours guys.”
The police were surprised I had the two on the ground. Smitty wasn’t.
Smitty walked up to me. “I would remind you about no heroics or that commando stuff. You did a helluva job here tonight.”
“Yes, but I don’t think this will end here, Smitty. This will only set Billy Jo back a couple days. He’s the type that’s determined to have things his own way.”
Maryann followed by her kids, Bobby and two girls rushed up the driveway, tears of fear running down her face. I reached out grabbing her, pulling her to me.
“Easy, hone. Nothing happened. I stopped them before they did do anything.” I held her close as she sobbed burying her face against my chest, I ran my hand through her soft dark hair soothing her like a frightened child. Maryann cried into my chest. The kids gathered around us, the boy comforting his mother.
“What did they do?” Bobby asked looking at the area where the gas was spilled. The firemen tearing up the porch to get to the gas that spilled on the ground underneath. “You did that? Beat them up?”
Maryann wiped at the tears watching one of the firemen toss the boards aside as they began shoveling the gas contaminated dirt into Hazmat bags.
“Yes. Tried to burn the store. I had a hunch they’d try something like that. I’ll get the lumber and paint tomorrow and fix the porch for you.”
I caught the look of fascination in Maryann’s eyes as she regarded me. The boy only knew at one time his mother and I were romantically involved until I joined the Army.
Maryann looked up at me wiping at the tears. “You don’t have to do that; Steve I can get someone to do it.”
“And pay a fortune? No way. Besides, I owe you one.”
She looked at me with a bewildered expression. “Since when?”
“What happened in 1990?” Maryann was still bothered by my elusive answers.
Now I had the police and paramedics curious as to what happened between us in 1990.
“That stupid letter I sent you from AIT about us getting together – alone on my leave.”
Her face showed amazement. “You remembered that?”
“All these years.”
I was holding Maryann close, she was still crying, my chin resting on her head, suddenly three flashes went off in our faces. Damn newspaper photographers.
Later that morning Bobby showed me where the Huston Lumber Supply and Home Improvement Center was off Gaston Road west past Interstate 278.
“This place is still here?” I said pulling in to the lot.
“As long I can remember, sir – I mean, Sergeant.”
“Man, this is going to bring back some memories.”
Of course, I got all kinds of strange looks like, especially when they noticed the license plates. ‘You lost?’ ‘Colorado? Kinda far from home ain’t ya, bud?’ and ‘Army? Whatda they want?’
The clerk was staring at me as I walked up to the counter – still in the BDU’s. The yard was still the same as I remembered it. The interior of Huston Lumber’s store seemed to go back in to forever. Overhead florescent fixtures hung down from the open ceiling. A mixture of odors filled the store’s interior: paint, lacquers, rubber, wood, metals. We paused by the front counter I looked around still amazed the lumberyard was still the same after forty-seven years.
A few other customers stared over the tops of shelves of tools and other hardware at me. I guess they don’t get too many military people around here these days.
I gave the clerk the file card with the number of boards, measurements and hardware plus paint to repaint the deck – plus new mop and broom. The other biggie – the glass that was broken when the guy’s gun was flipped through the window.
By the time Bobby and I got back the coffee and donut crowd were gone, mostly the retirees who live around town descend on the General Store as a third wave getting cups of coffee and donuts and newspapers can spend half a morning there. Word got around town in a hurry that I’d saved the store for Maryann.
My cell phone chirped for my attention.
“Cuz? Elaine, congratulations, you saved Maryann’s store!”
“Um, yeah.” I was trying to manipulate a power driver and fasten a deck plank down. Bobby got me his late father’s power tools. I found where Maryann lived.
Whether I liked it or not, I suddenly became the local hero. The next time my cell chirped it was Beverly.
“Wow! You’re one bad ass, Steve. Congratulations. How did you do it?”
I gave Bev my usual stock answer. “Three months of training for fifteen minutes of glory.”
“Get serious, Steve. I mean there’s more to it than that.”
“Come on out to Fort Carson and watch us – or come down to Fort Hood to our parent Headquarters and watch us.”
By lunch I was entertaining journalists and photographers again. Elaine and Beverly darn near had to twist my arm to let the photographers take my picture – Maryann was proud of me for saving her store. It was all the girl had of her late husband’s memories.
Later I was sitting at the end of the counter sipping coffee. Maryann made the mistake of letting me make the coffee.
“Hey Maryann, you wouldn’t by some off chance know where these guys come from, besides just New York would you?”
Finishing with a customer she thought a minute. “If I recall. Just before Rick’s death they gave us a business card.” She went to the back to get a Rolodex business card holder. Finding the card, she gave it to me. “You can have it.”
Looking at it. “Yeah I remember this neighborhood. Half our graduating class went to New York when they reached eighteen to party and half were picked up on the way back by the New Jersey State Police for DWI. The state made out like bandits on the weekend.
I used Maryann’s office computer to look up the address on Google Earth. I ran off copies of the street and community. It seems the address was also a residential real estate business. So, I was guaranteed all the pigeons would be gathered in one place.
‘Good. This will make it easy tonight.’
There was no guarantee my idea would work but it was worth a try. I kissed Maryann good-bye and goodnight and left. I remembered just Staten Island was forty-five minutes. As a kid, it seemed longer than that. So, add another half hour with traffic to get to Valley Stream, Long Island.
I made sure I was leaving when it was dusk or close to six o’clock p.m. An hour and a half later I was on Interstate 487 that took me north to NY Highway 27 to Valley Stream. I wound my way through the neighborhood until I found the street then the address.
‘Yup, a residential address for a real estate business – and light up like a circus at this hour. Three regular cars and two Lincolns ….’
I turned around the first chance I had and parked on Brentwood Lane. Completing my disguise and blackening my face, I assured the interior lights were turned off and slipped out of the truck. Looking around to assure nobody was about walking their dog or taking a stroll, I dashed across the street. Doing some hedgehopping and fence jumping and avoiding the local canine patrol. I found the fence vaulted a couple six-foot-high fences. The last I jumped far enough in to the yard to avoid the chance of setting off infrared sensors. Finding the right house was the next trick. Assuring it was the right address I moved behind a row of tall bushes, throwing pebbles and wood chips mulching at the windows.
Ding, cling, ping!
“What hell is going on out there?” Billy Jo demanded. “Somebody find out what the hell is going on! Those damned kids again I’ll have their asses!”
Pling, ding, ding!
I’d moved around to the back door where I figured somebody would come out. Yup. Bigger than Stuttgart.
Two of Billy Jo’s men slipped out the back door hoping to surprise somebody. Key word, hoping. Their night vision was already ruined by the light. With hand gestures, they split up the one closest to me by a few feet was the first to go. He never saw my high kick to the jaw.
The second guy circled the house calling for his partner. That is until a neighbor shouted, “SHUT UP OR I’LL CALL THE COPS!”
“AH BLOW IT OUT YER ASS BIMBO!”
I thought those two would take it to the street. The neighbor was the smart one. He went back inside I guess to finish watching the football game. Billy Jo’s man kept watching over his shoulder for the other guy. Never saw the sole of my size eleven Cochran jump boot coming, hit his jaw. Thirty seconds later he too was out. Both were tied with nylon tie-stays.
Three more pebbles hit the windows.
“What hell are you guys doing out there? God damn help ya get these days are worthless assholes.” Billy Jo was swearing up and down. “Get out there are find those jerk offs and damn kids!”
A third man stormed out the front door starting my way. I had moved back to the dark side of the house where he would miss seeing me as he passed. Circling the house, he called for his two partners again the neighbor was yelling, “YOU SHUT THE HELL UP – I’M CALLING THE COPS!”
The third man disappeared as he passed me. Billy Jo rushed outside just as I swung over the railing, both size elevens hit him square in the face knocking him back into the door. Within minutes he was bound and gagged and tied to the railing with a 503rd calling card stuck in his mouth. ‘This body brought to you, courtesy of the Black Berets.’
His other man rushed outside only to find himself getting a foot to the mouth and tied to the other railing.
I made a hasty exit over the back fence. The last I saw his neighbor was standing in the yard with a baseball bat, gapping at the bodies, his mouth hanging open.
Skipping fences and hedges I called 9-1-1.
“Nine-one-one is this an emergency?”
“Yeah, you might call it that. Send the Valley Stream police over to 5142 Kalmia Lane to finish my heavy work. Billy Jo and his boys are tied up nice neat like chickens for them.”
The next morning, I was seated at the counter at Gibson’s General Store having breakfast, Bobby fixing the biscuits and gravy and eggs the way I like it. The New York paper spread out across the counter to the article about Billy Jo’s demise. Maryann was pouring me my third cup of coffee. I can usually finish off a pot by myself by seven a.m.
“I hope you like it. I made a special pot just for you.”
I looked around to assure nobody was watching leaned over the counter putting my fingers under her chin drawing her to me giving her a big kiss. She blushed a pretty shade of red. She was beaming with pride.
The door burst open. Smitty rushed in with the New York paper and other documents in his hand. “I knew I’d find you here. `Morning, Maryann.” He took the stool beside me slapping the newspaper and fax’s in front of me.
“Good detective work, Smitty. Whatda ya need?”
“Since when have you become a one-man police force?” Smitty demanded stabbing a finger at the New York paper.
Maryann was pouring Smitty’s coffee, her eyes moving between the two of us.
“How do you know it was me?” I innocently asked wiping up the last of the gravy.
“It’s got your earmarks all over it and who else …” He laid another Fax in front of me like a lawyer laying out the evidence, “leaves 503rd calling cards on their victims?”
It didn’t take Valley Stream police no four years of math at Columbia University to add two and two to arrive at I was connected with the bust in Whitehouse, N.J and then Valley Stream, Long Island.
I think Maryann was getting the idea I was busy out of town last night.
“Anyone of the guys in the 503rd could have done it. Ask the Taliban.”
“Don’t play head games with me damnit! This is obstruction of justice.”
“I thought I was doing Valley Stream police a favor busting Billy Jo and his boys.”
“Their lawyer got `em out on bail.”
“You know the muzzle velocity of bail, don’t you?”
“Zero.” I made a zero with my fingers. “A big fat zero.”
Smitty left pissed at me but smiling. Maryann and I exchanged smiles. Shyly she said, “Thank you.”
Again, I leaned over the counter to kiss her.
Late afternoon Elaine and Beverly and I were sitting on the porch at my mother’s house. Mom stood inside the front door listening to us as we discussed what Billy Jo might or might not want to do. I could see part of the barn and tractor shed from where I sat.
“I smell smoke,” Elaine said getting my attention.
I couldn’t help but answer, “But where’s there’s smoke there’s also fire.”
“That’s what we’re afraid of,” said Bev. “Nothing illegal.”
Still staring at the Walker farm with an uplifting of my lips I said, “Spoil sport.”
“Okay, cuz. I’ll do like I did when we were kids,” said Elaine with her trademark wicked smile.
Beverly looked at Elaine with mild interest. “Okay this should be interesting. What are you going to do?”
I was jarred out of my thoughts. I looked at Elaine with surprise. This was an inside joke of ours. “You’re not?”
Elaine held a finger up as she stood and walked over to me. I knew right then what she was going to do. Mom watched with interest remembering what Elaine used to do to me to get answers. And she was the only cousin who could do that and get away with it.
She stepped around to my back leaning over me she made soft cooing and love sounds kissing and nuzzling my neck. I felt her reach down my back grabbing my right arm pulling it up sharply into an arm lock the other around my neck. “Now tell mama what your idea is – or I’ll break yer damn arm!”
Shocked, Beverly was impressed. “I gotta remember that.”
“Better then water boarding him,” said Elaine as I tried to get out of the chair.
Forget it, Elaine had me trapped in the chair. “Hey, okay cuz let go.”
Mom said with a shake of her head, “After all these years you think you’d learn.”
Laughing as I made faces of pain, Elaine’s sneaky way of getting answers from me. She did the same thing when we kids at Christmas time. I had ways of getting her fancy presents which she loved and made me proud of her. But that’s after she literally twisted my arm for the answer.
I shook my arm to get the blood circulating. “Okay, Billy Jo’s next target will be the farm. I’ll use the VC booby trap training aid 102 – booby-traps two-oh-one.”
“What’s that?” Beverly asked with a frown.
Elaine moved back to her chair. “Knowing him, you don’t want to know.”
That evening as Mom and I were eating supper there was a knock at the side door. I answered it.
“Message from Billy Jo,” he said starting to leave.
“Woa!” I called stopping the messenger. “Wait. Is he expecting an answer back?”
The messenger shrugged. “Dunno. Didn’t say.”
“His mistake. Hold on” I read the terse message. He was holding Maryann and the kids’ hostages until I left the area. He already knew I was in the Army and would have to return to duty but not when. “Mistake number three.” I told the other. “I hope they enjoy the dying scene. Where is Maryann and the kids being held?”
I looked at the note a second then wheeled around grabbing him, spinning him around in a hammer-lock slamming him against the wall. “You can’t or won’t?”
All of a breath later he said wheezing, “Her house.”
“Why didn’t you say that to begin with? Would have saved me the trouble having to torture you for the answer. Wait here. Don’t go anywhere, I’m not through with you yet.”
Mom stared at me in horror.
I went to my pilot’s jacket took a “503rd Calling Card out and gave it to him. “Read the card. Understand?” He looked at me. There was no mistaking he was looking into the eyes of death. “Make damn sure Billy Jo gets this card – and reads and understands it. Understand?”
He read the card. ‘This death brought to you courtesy of the Black Berets, 503rd Combat Reserve Group’. His face turned white as a sheet. My steel hard gaze met his sudden fear.
“Now move out smartly.”
He bolted for the driveway. The last I saw of him was his tail lights disappearing up the road to the county road.
I turned around and bumped into Mom.
“Where are you going, Steve?”
“Maryann and the kids are being held hostage by this ass … excuse me, idiot Billy Jo. His mistake.”
I started for the steps Mom right behind me.
“You let the Police handle this,” she insisted as I started into the room and my gear. “What if they are armed and have guns?”
“What are the Police going to do? Negotiate? I’ll handle this the way I was trained to handle these situations.”
“What are you going to do? Shoot them?”
“Possibly. Let me get my hands on a .308 or a .30-06 with spotting scope, I will.”
I closed the door on her. I pulled out my BDU’s again, the Cochran’s and black hood and tin of face black. Within fifteen minutes I was finished and heading out the door to Maryann’s place. Mom sitting in her favorite chair crying.
Slowly driving past Maryann’s house, I pulled down the street looking lost. One was sitting on the porch and another pacing around the driveway. No telling how many they posted on the place. Fortunately, Maryann lives in an area still being developed so neighbors are still far and few between. I parked, lights out and sat for a few minutes to get my night vision back. Pulling the black hood on I slipped out of the truck closing the door without slamming it I slipped through the weeds and underbrush near the house.
Staying to the shadows I moved toward the back of the house using the 503rd Field SOP, ‘recon the area first’. No lights on in the back rooms. Only three were posted at the house. Their mistake. The guy who was pacing the driveway started along the side yard toward the back. I hunkered down beside a flowering bush to wait and watch. I was like a panther ready to strike my prey. I watched him as he walked along, a rifle held limply in his arms smoking a cigarette. Mistake number two.
Looking around as if he knew what he was doing I decided to intercept him as he circled the house. Waiting until his attention was diverted I moved around the side of the house. I was not to be disappointed. I could smell the cigarette smoke before I saw him. Hunkering down beside a rose bush I watched as he rounded the corner looking to his left he was close to my position trailing cigarette smoke behind him. I stood lashed out with my foot catching him in the face with a high kick, he staggered groaning from the pain. I kicked again spun around kicking his legs out from under him. The rifle went one way the cigarette was smashed into his mouth, blood oozing from his mouth and nose. I pulled two tie stay sets out of a side pocket binding his hands and feet then went to the corner.
Making a meowing sound, I know Maryann would remember it. I used to tease her with the sound. She’d swat at me making me stop and laughing at the same time. I made the sound a couple times to attract the guy sitting on the porch.
“Hey K.C.,” he called in his Brooklyn accent standing to look around. “K.C. whatcha doin’ man, sleepin’? Frank, I think something happened to K.C.”
“Go find the asshole. I’ll stay here.”
I could see Toby, was his name, but he couldn’t see me. He stepped off the porch the porch light at his back making for a fine silhouette. The one inside, Frank stepped to the living room door looking around, the lights outlining his image the porch lights washing out their night vision.
I made the sound of the cat again but a mad cat. They still had not caught on.
“Hey Toby where’s K.C.?” Frank asked not wanting to leave Maryann and the kids alone. He stood in the front door fingering the semi-automatic peering through the bright lights. He was frustrated not being able to see anything past twenty-five feet. He could not understand why. He’d looked back on them in the bright living room lights to see if they’d moved. He was suddenly puzzled by the mysterious smile on Maryann’s face.
The other one looked around but could not see anything. He called, “Dunno. K.C.! Where are ya? Quit screwing around.”
Looking around the cars he walked toward the back of the house calling for K.C.
The cat sounded its meow again.
The third one inside called, “Find K.C. and get his ass back here. I don’t like this roaming round he’s doing.”
“Sure. K.C.!” he called a nervousness in his throat. “Come on K.C. …”
He never saw the shiny Cochran coming. He suddenly had a mouth full of highly shined leather in the mouth. His head hit the corner of the house, he was out cold.
He was bound hand and foot, a gag ball stuck in his mouth I laid him beside his partner.
“Two down one more to go.”
“Toby – K.C. where the hell are you guys? Shit this is getting stupid. K.C.! Toby! Where the hell are you guys at?” He stepped out to the porch looking in the direction the other two walked.
I circled the house to the far side peering around the side I saw he was looking where the other two had walked. Frank, now scared ran back into the house.
“Come here, sweet heart. You’re going to get your boyfriend to give himself up. Got it, bitch?”
He pulled Maryann out to the porch she was struggling against him.
“As Steve says, that’s the last mistake you make.”
“Asshole, you just signed your death warrant.”
“Hey Dude, I got yer girlfriend…Now what are ya goina’ do?”
“Glad you asked. Have I got a surprise for you.”
I moved in to a cluster of flowering bushes his back to me. I was lucky, the house had a nice front porch. I looked at the porch roof trusses to see how much finger hold I’d have. Judged the distance again, stood jumped on the porch took two strides jumped grabbing for a truss, I swung my feet up as he turned. Turning toward me Maryann screamed. All she saw was the soles of my Cochran’s coming toward them. Ducking and twisting free, being short my boots sailed over her head in to Frank’s face.
The kids watched as my booted feet passed the open door connecting with the guy’s face. Frank was knocked over backward. Maryann jumped off the porch as he attempted to sit up grabbing for his gun, I let go of the truss my feet landing on the gun and his hand. He screamed in pain as I twisted my foot on his hand holding the weapon.
The boy stepped to the door watching with amazement as I flipped Frank over to put the tie-stays on him. He was still groggy as I put tie stays on his wrists and feet.
I knelt down making Frank look up at me. “You know Frank I’ve been in and out of the Middle East twice now and I’ve been through some pretty tight situations. So, I hate to be the one to break your heart, but even the worse ISIS and Al-Qaida fighters are better than you guys are. You guys are sad, real sad.”
I stepped down off the porch stopping to kiss Maryann relieving her fears. She looked up into my face, black with the grease paint, black hood, shirt and gloves.
She said around our kisses, “If you told me about this twenty years ago I’d never have believed you.”
“But certain dreams do come true,” I said kissing her again.
I went back to retrieve the other two, still out cold.
As I dropped the last body on the ground I had all woman in my arms. Despite the grease paint Maryann was kissing my face, crying, the tension and stress snapped in her. “I am glad you’re home. I don’t know what I’d do on my own with this. With Rick gone I’d be lost.”
I held Maryann close, the three kids holding onto me. I called Elaine’s apartment on my cell phone.
“I should have known it was you,” she answered the phone dripping with irritation at being disturbed at home. “What’s it this time?”
“’Evening, kid what are you doing besides watching the boob tube?”
“Watching the boob tube. Why?” She had a frigid tone to her voice cold enough to chill a can of beer.
“Good. I don’t care if you’re in yer jammies. Get down to Maryann Foster’s now. And get Beverly down here too. No questions asked. Get here fast. I’ll call Smitty then.”
I cut the connection using the one guy’s rifle I sat guard on them Maryann with her two girls in my arms. Bobby sitting behind us. It was a half hour later Elaine and Beverly pulled up to the house. Elaine in her jammies and Beverly in her sweats. They stood on the edge of the lawn aghast the three-armed mobsters were subdued so easily.
I tossed Beverly my cell phone. “Call Smitty, Beverly and tell him the good news we need some heavy weight here to take care of a small problem, like what to do with these three idiots. Right Junior?” I kicked one in the side all I got for an answer was a groan. “Hey, do-do face and tell Billy Jo he needs to get some better help if he wants to stay in business. Like I told Frank, even the worse Al-Qaida fighters are better than you guys are.”
Beverly and Elaine finally found their voices.
“What happened?” Beverly said walking around the three amazed that I had taken them down single handed. Their weapons laying on the porch.
One finally groaned, “I want a lawyer.”
I replied, “You got two right here. Your choice, the township attorney or my cousin.”
“You an attorney?” he looked up asking Elaine.
“Yeah but I don’t think you could afford me.”
I gave Elaine and Beverly a quick rundown on what happened.
“Kidnapping,” Beverly repeated leaning back against a porch post. “I’d say they’re in trouble after that.”
“I know a good attorney who needs the business,” said Elaine sitting on the porch floor. “So, what do you want us to do?”
“Witnesses I grabbed three of Billy Jo’s men trying to kidnap Maryann and her kids. Plus, an intimidating note.”
I showed them the note.
“Nice,” the girls agreed.
A few minutes later the first policemen showed up. He looked down at the three. “Billy Jo’s people?”
I said with a smile. “Signed, sealed, and delivered. Oh, and here’s Junior’s rifle. I wouldn’t take this to Afghanistan on a bet. The damn thing is libel to jam on me.”
I dropped the magazine and handed him the rifle. “I don’t need it. My special ops unit has better weapons than this in its arms room.”
Smitty showed up with more policemen a few minutes later. He just shook his head and didn’t even bother to comment. He read the three their rights – which in my mind they lost when they kidnapped Maryann and her children.
I stayed the rest of the night with Maryann and the kids. I slept on the sofa but I felt something lay down beside me. I opened my eye enough to see a tousled head turn. She said, “Thank you Steve. I – I am just glad you are here. This all could have gone wrong.”
Our lips met in a long passionate kiss. I said into her lips, “That’s what I do best.”
The next morning, we opened the General Store. I spent the day trying to imagine what Billy Jo’s next move would be. This was turning in to open warfare. With five of his boys in jail, three by way of the hospital, I think so far Billy Jo was getting the idea he was in a desperate position.
The next day, after I slept on my idea. Sitting up in bed I remembered from my first tour of Vietnam – the Indonesian Tiger trap. Bev and Elaine and I met at the Walker farm. The girls watched as I used Bob Walker’s old Allis-Chambers bucket loader to dig a hole 10-foot wide by the width of the lane by 6 foot deep.
The girls stood back watching me dig the hole. Nearby was a small pile of 1x2 poles to hold the tarp up so I could lightly spread dirt and rocks over it to look like part of the driveway.
Bev stood with her arms wrapped around herself scowling at me, she said, “You know, Elaine he’s dangerous.”
“You didn’t know him when he was a teen-ager.”
“His brother and another cousin decided early on one nutcase in the family was enough.”
I fixed the poles over the hole then with the girl’s help I spread out the tarp then lightly laid on the dirt and rocks. We settled in for the day before they decided to leave going way out around the gas pump and down the winding drive way. They had their own businesses to tend to and could not spend the time with me.
On the third day which put the whole thing into the first couple days of the third week the girls arrived just before dark. They quickly parked their cars in the tractor shed out of sight. Well before I covered my face with the black theatrical paste than put on a full black suit with the black hood.
Elaine looked me over with a critical eye. “Well, cuz if you don’t beat them to death, you’ll definitely scare the hell out of them with that suit.”
Bev said with some sarcasm, “You look like something out of the Middle East.”
We watched the road then everything came together. We could just make out the end of the long lane and the road. Two sets of head lights turned off the main road onto the lane.
“That’s them. Under cover. Call 9-1-1. The cops will have to rescue these idiots from me too.”
Pulling the ski mask hood in place I ran out getting under the poncho by the tractor. Elaine was calling 9-1-1 as the cars, two Lincoln-Continentals made the last quarter mile of the hill. They had to gun the engines racing up the hill to reach the flat area by the wagon shed. The cars were literally bumper to bumper the last few hundred feet. Snapping, splintering and tearing of canvas the first car dropped out of sight into the pit with a resounding crash, the back end rose up in the air. The second car, following too close slammed into the underside of the first, a crash and crumpling of metal shoving the first car forward, the front wheels dropping over the edge stunning the occupants.
I threw the poncho off running to the second car wrenching the driver’s door open pulling the guy out by his collar as he was trying to draw a gun. I pulled the gun out of his hand throwing it into the field kicking his feet out from under him slamming him to the ground. The rear door was opening, a hand with a gun was poking out; I spun around hit the door with my foot pinning his arm in the door. He screamed. Pulling the gun from his hand I tossed it after the first kicking the door again getting another cry of pain from him then high kicked him in the chin knocking him out of the back. I jumped across the roof, the car was low enough the occupant was just climbing out. He heard my feet hit the roof, he looked back and I swear he turned white as a sheet. After that he knew nothing as my size 11 Cochran jump boots connected with his face knocking him back into the door. I grabbed the gun out of his hand throwing it over my shoulder into the weeds.
The next thing I heard was, “FREEZE, BUSTER!” I turned, Bev to my surprise was holding a 9-millimeter on the two lying on the ground.
And, “NOT MY COUSIN YOU’RE NOT!” Screams followed as Elaine’s dainty narrow size five foot hit the door.
The sound of multiple sirens and a sea of red and blues coming down the road past my house in the waning light of the evening one by one were turning in to the lane snaking their way up to the house and sheds. We had effectively wiped out Billy Jo’s operation that evening.
Flood lights were on as the police sped up the road, the first car stopping as the officer saw the front end of the Lincoln plowed into the other, back end up into the air tail lights still on. Smitty in the third car pulled off the lane onto the grass jumped out, gun drawn then stopped. I was standing on the roof of the second Lincoln arms crossed with a smile. Bev and Elaine had the second group covered. The first ones were still trapped in their car. Somebody was going to have a job untangling this mess.
I called, “They’re all yours, Smitty.”
The next morning newspaper articles, pictures adorned the wall of the General Store. Customers stopped to read the articles on the wall, others were buying two and three copies. Elaine and Bev were heroes for helping me, we occupied stools of honor at the breakfast bar that morning.
Bobby was standing with Maryann, pictures were being taken by every newspaper from New York to Philadelphia, a reporter from the Somerset County Reader asked Bobby, “So what are you going to do now that everything is back to normal, Bobby?”
Bobby unabashedly replied, “I want to enlist in the Army to be in the 503rd Black Ops like he is.”
Apparently, the reporters were vaguely familiar with the 503. A tall order for a kid his age.
Maryann gave me a worried look. Elaine nudged my side. “I think the boy needs someone to look up to after losing his father -- hero worship.”
The last days of my leave I spent down at the General Store helping Maryann and truth be known, romancing her. The last day of my leave before I had to get back on the road back to Colorado I brought Maryann out in front of God, County and Customers, dropped to a knee,
“Maryann, it’s been some twenty years since we were an item together at school and we went our separate ways – but, will you marry me?”
She broke down in tears nodding, tears streaming down her face. A loud cheer erupted as she choked out, “Yes. Steve – Yes!”
She dropped to her knees in front of me as I held the ring out to her. We embraced on the floor people taking pictures, more pictures showed up in the local papers.
A year later the door of the Detachment D, or Det D, 503rd Combat Reserve Group Headquarters, Fort Hood, Texas opened, a young boy struggled through the door with his bags before any of us could hold the door for him. He set the bags down rendering a crisp salute announced, “Private First Class Robert Foster reporting for duty, Sergeant!”
I was talking with some of the NCO’s and officers when Bobby reported in. New BDU’s, his beret squared on his head, clean brown field boots, the patches and tabs still brand new, a genuine smile on his young face.
I said, “Welcome to the 503rd, PFC Foster.”
Bobby was beaming. He was one of three out of one hundred who qualified for the 503rd. I walked over to shake his hand. That evening I’d be able to tell his mother Bobby was in my platoon. Maryann Foster was now Maryann Carson would be proud of her son.
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