Friday, December 17, 2010

places: speaking of a stranger

Angelo started by asking Weems about the fires. 

Agent Weems responded, “We drove out, talked with the police on the scene. Like I told you, there were dead bodies in and around the place. It’s definitely more than arson. We found shell casings nearby. An unknown, a sniper had set himself across the street where he could pick his victims off as they came out of the burning building.”

“Check out the casings.” instructed Angelo.

"Already working on it." 

“Have you finished talking to all the people in the neighborhood?”

“There’s a little more than what I was able to tell you earlier.” answered Weems. “At first the house on Cherry Lane looked as if it was some kind of gang that had attacked it. I was figuring that a couple of guys ran up to set it on fire while one of them played sniper. There were only two houses on that street. One house was vacant, the family had left town for a couple of days.  There’s an old couple who lived in the house across the street from the scene. The old man said he didn’t see a thing. His wife who was inside said that she saw a lone man walking down the road and get into his car.  She was looking out a window. The old man said he had a better view of the incident and said he didn’t see anyone. He said his wife was always seeing things and wasn’t well in the head. The woman seemed fine to me. I’m inclined to believe the old woman. For some reason I think the old fellow is keeping something to himself. I'd like to bring him in and talk to him some more.”

“Do it.  Is that all with the Cherry Lane location?" asked Angelo.

“No. I’ll probably have more for you. It's a possibility that this was done by a lone gunman. If so, it had to have been done by a professional. The grounds are still being checked - I'll let you know what I find out.

"Okay -keep looking." Angelo turned to agent Ted Smith. “What about the Pope Street arson?” 

“Gunfire too. I think it’s the same gang - or the same guy. Walking around the place I got the feeling like the killer - or killers weren’t as efficient. There were three people dead on the premises, but not clear if anyone escaped.”

“Smith, why do you say that the job wasn’t as efficient?” asked Weems.

“Well, I walked around both sites. You came by and walked around there  Cherry Lane is the same kind of attack, only sloppier.  It was very unlikely that anyone could have escaped the first location.  Cherry Lane, just didn't seem as efficient."

Weems nodded and Smith continued.

“The Pope place looked as if a gasoline cocktail had been thrown at two sides of the building. The Cherry location had been strategically burned from all sides. The fires at the first location had been started directly beneath the windows as to limit the chance of escape by its inhabitants.”

Weems added, “I can see that. Like it was just one guy.”

Angelo looked at Smith and Weems. “Do you think that it’s just one man doing this?”

Weems shrugged. “It’s very possible.”

Angelo agreed with Weems. “We’ve all seen what just one man can do. If it is a gang, what gang?  There's been no evidence of a organized group of vigilantes in our area...highly unlikely. It’s a possibility that we’ve got some unwanted help from private citizens - but I get the feeling that we are dealing with one man.”

"So Agent Forte’", Weems asked, “Who is this guy you met the other day?  Did you get a look at him?” 

The room filled with laughter. Forte’ rubbed the back of his head and smiled.

“I sure wish I did. I wasn’t in the position to interrogate him.”

“Or did he interrogate YOU?” another agent joked. 

“Put your mind at ease fellas - I didn’t talk. He did tell me where to find Robert.”

The chuckling subsided.

“So who is this guy?”

“I wish I knew. I’m sure we’ll catch up with him. He told me that he was not with the Russians. I am inclined to believe him. He really didn’t have to tell me anything. He had the drop on me. He could have easily killed me. If he was really with the Soviets, he wouldn’t have talked like he did.”

“What did you find out about him?” asked DeMint. 

“Only that he said he was not a Soviet...and that he found himself in a scenario in which he couldn’t walk out.”

“He might have been the arsonist at Clayton’s. We found bodies in there too.” said Weems.

“This John Doe said he was with Rod, saw him shot and took him away from the scene. The guy is the last one who was with Robert when he died. He is either the killer or is a civilian in the middle. If he was with Townshend, he probably had dealings with Clayton. If we could get hold of him, we might find what information Robert gave his life searching for.”

“But sir, we don’t have a name or a face. The rendering we have is a man with a bruised and bandaged face.  There’s not much to go on.”

"If this John Doe isn't with the Russians, why didn't he simply come to the authorities? Why does he feel he's in the middle?" asked Weems.

"I've given it some thought and only have a hunch or two," answered Angelo. "First hunch - and he would be right in thinking it - our John Doe is the prime suspect in the killing of Special Agent Townshend. He is after all the one who told me where the body was dumped. My second hunch is that he's steering clear of the authorities because his hands are dirty in some way. Either way, we've got to get hold of him. He's got information that we don't have, because he's hitting places that we didn't know about. He's ahead of us and we need to catch up with him. We need to find out who he is and nab him as soon as possible. I don't want him dead, we need him alive. There's a chance that he was telling me the truth. If so, we might be able to work out a deal.  I want this to turn around soon.  I don't want to be following this man's wake!"

"So what do we do now?" asked DeMint. 

“Everyone out on the streets, follow every lead. Our John Doe has left a big trail of dead bodies behind him. There's got to be more clues.  Keep your eyes and ears open. Go over the information that we’ve got. While on the phone earlier with the Washington bureau, it was decided that Townshend’s acquired names were to be rounded up immediately. I wished that this had been done the night we raided the local locations. I don’t know how many across the nations have scattered to the winds by now.”

“Frustrating!” said agent Phelps.

“The good news is we’ve got J. Edgar Hoover himself behind us. I don’t think we’re going to have any more bureaucratic setbacks. This magnitude - the size of this exposed spy ring has given this case top priority. If any of you men run into any snags - just let me know.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

places: angelo's office

There were six agents in the room. The coffee pot was perking - working on its second batch of joe. Angelo was one of the agents. He was sitting on the edge of his desk for lack of enough chairs in the room. He was ready to get the crew up to speed and on the case. 

On the day S.A. Robert Townshend was buried, the Director Hoover himself called from Washington and asked agent Forte’ what he needed to get the job done.  The Director was angered by the death of an agent and assured Forte’ full support. “The people responsible for this will be captured and will be punished for this! You just let me know what you need Angelo and you’ll get it.” 

Angelo had the bandage off his head. He was an easy going guy. There wasn’t much that could rile him. The bump on his noggin still ached - yet his ego wasn’t bruised by his encounter.

One of the agents in the room spoke out before the briefing started. 

“Just who are we looking for?  What’s the M.O.?” 

The coffee was too hot to drink. Angelo blew on it slowly and took a few careful sips. 

“You know we are dealing with alien subversives - Soviets."  Some of you in here know some of what I’m about to tell you. We’ll go over all the ground to benefit everyone here." 

Angelo warmed his hands on the cup while trying not to spill it.  He seemed to be more occupied with it than the meeting.  His eyes gazed down into his distorted reflection in his coffee.

He didn’t just bury a co-worker, he buried a friend. He had to put his emotions aside and focus on the case. If he seemed calloused or indifferent it was his way of dealing with his loss.

The new agents had good reason to question Forte’s manner, but the older agents were accustomed to it. Those who knew Angelo, knew that he was a man who stayed on task. They had seen it before, from Angelo as well from fellow agents.

“Most all of you personally knew Special Agent Robert Townshend. His job with a supplier for the Soviets was to deliver false documentation for Communist infiltrators. Townshend had given us names of many of these infiltrators. The names he supplied are now part of a nationwide manhunt for the bureau. I am confident we are going to be able to apprehend those who Townshend had identified as to date.” 

Another agent spoke, “I've been on the outside of this. I thought we were just dealing with illegals. But you just mentioned Soviets. We’re not talking just a massive illegal integration. We talking subversive activity, saboteurs, spies?” 

“You’re Sam?"

“Yes sir, Sam Clark from San Francisco.”

"Glad to have you here Sam." said Angelo, “To answer your question - yes.”

“Agent Forte’, asked Clark, “Why did Townshend remain undercover after securing the names?  What more was he looking for? Where there more leads?”

“When Robert went undercover, we were not expecting to find an underground railroad. Most cells consist of half a dozen communist.  We thought we were fist dealing with communist sympathizers.  Townshend was the one to discover that this was a point of entry and had acquired trust with Clayton's forgery outfit. Robert infiltrated the network, he opened a vein of intelligence for us. We had been processing an overwhelming amount of information for the past six months. This is a very large spy ring. We have a lot of leads, a lot of names, but Townshend knew that there were more out there.  Robert’s sacrifice has taken us to gate. It’s our job to finish his job - close that gateway where alien subversives are entering our country.”

“Most of you in this room have been brought into this investigation at different times. As of today - you  will each be completely dedicated to this case. Washington is sending more agents from out of state. It’s going to be kind of crazy here the next few days. I’m counting on everyone in this room to be cooperative by helping me coordinate this investigation. Just  plan on our having frequent meetings like this. Consider yourself my lieutenants.”

Weems asked, “So where did these illegals heading once in the country...the spies that Robert Townshend had identified?”

“Different places Doug. They’ve mostly been headed to industrial cities. We’re pretty sure they’ve got inside help with local unions throughout the country. If they don’t have inside help, they’ll be finding ways to infiltrate in order to establish Communist cells. Most of us have seen this before.”

“Are the unions all they are trying to infiltrate?” asked Sam.

“No.” Angelo answered, “New York, California, even Washington, DC – political influence. 

“By the size of this list - it's more like an invasion!" exclaimed Weems. "What's behind all this?"

Angelo continued. “We’ve heard a lot of hearsay, but no one knows exactly what the Soviets are up to. 

"What do the higher-ups think is really going on?"

Their intentions have always been to overthrow the American government. It’s apparent that the Soviet Union is planting seeds to grow start more cells. Their planting ears to generate influence. No matter what their intentions, great or small - they are aggressively attempting to establish a foothold here in the United States.” 

Another agent chuckled, “We’ve got the bomb. Ol’ Ike ought to just threaten to drop one on Moscow as a message not to mess with us.” 

Another agent said, “I was in the 3rd Army with old Blood and Guts himself. General Patton told us that we needed to deal with the Ruskies then. DC wasn’t interested in continuing the war.  Now we’ve got communists in our own backyard.” 

Forte’ took back the conversation. “You guys can talk about this on your own time. I need to get back on point.” 

Angelo took a drink from his coffee as the men in the room watched him quietly.

Angelo continued. “I was tempted to pull Robert out, but he was confident that he wasn’t suspected. I don’t know how his cover was blown. I knew Robert, he wasn’t one for taking unnecessary chances. He would have bailed if he had the faintest notion that he was in trouble.” 

He paused...reflecting...thinking. 

Robert was working close with the counterfeiter, the supplier to the Soviets - a Mr. Clayton Tyler.” 

“That’s the guy who’s body we found in the creek, whose house burned down?” asked agent Ralph DeMint.

“Yeh.” answered Angelo, “His place had been torched just prior to our moving in. The four houses that were used as drop-offs had been evacuated by the time we got there. Our entire bust was a bust. It was Tyler Clayton’s place that Townshend said we would have found needed legal evidence.”

Angelo stood up and stretched his legs. “We’ve got more to talk about, but I’ve got to eat something.

“How about that guy that hit you over the head?” asked Weems, “How does he fit in this?”

Yeh, we’ll get to that.  DeMint and Smith checked out a couple of arsons that happened last night - more dead guys with guns in and around the place. We’ll get to that after lunch. One of you guys get a sandwich order together and the office’ll pay for it. Whoever goes to the delicatessen, make sure you bring everybody back a soda-pop. I’m going to step out for a minute and see if I can scrounge up an aspirin.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

places: killing

I’ve seen men die a thousand ways. I have lost men that I loved and likewise have taken lives that others have loved. 

It's all bad. 

Tonight I have moved up to the front-line, where the bad men live. Clayton’s book has paid off.

The place was a two-story job in a seedy side of town. I drove past it and noticed a guy standing in the bushes on lookout.  He didn’t look the neighborly type.

I kept driving. I know good and well that to go knocking on doors wasn’t going to be the way to stay alive for long. These are the kind of doors that you don’t walk through if you’re not invited.

I had some time before dark. I drove back to my place and picked up some gear.  I also made Molotov cocktails.  I made six.

I really didn’t have to think of a plan after seeing the house and location.  I knew what I was going to have to do within a block of leaving the place.

Chances are they would have at least one or two lookouts.  My gut tells me that there would be one, but I’d keep my eye out for others.

I waited in my car looking at the last light of day disappear.  For a while, I felt drowsy, as if I could just go to sleep.  I’d felt this way before in times before combat. I don’t know why.  I rubbed my eyes and got out of the car.

I found a spot in the brush to lay my rifle. I loaded it and left it there.

I walked back to the car for the cocktails. I left them in a ditch at the edge of the property. I crouched in there for a bit – to see if I could spot anyone outside.

I cocked my .45 and gripped a bayonet. My hands were shaking so I gripped the bayonet even tighter. It seemed to help a little.  I casually walked around the left side of the house.  I kept the knife to my side and the .45 aimed ahead.  I moved silently and controlled my breathing.

I made my way around the back of the house.  I then walked around the other side of the house. Nothing.


I then walked back around the house, staying close to the walls.  I was walking around the corner when I heard a screen door open on rusty springs.

Not good.

I stepped back and hunched down. Peering around the corner, I looked to see what he was up to. He stood there for an eternal minute. He lit a cigarette and took a couple of drags. I was hoping to do this quiet if he walked out. He wasn’t holding a gun. I locked my piece and switched the bayonet to my left hand.

Finally the guy stepped off the porch.

He was coming my way.

I was still crouched in a corner. I didn’t leap. I just let him walk toward me in the shadow of the brush.  I could barely see his face in the darkness, but I heard his gasp. I pushed the knife deep as I rose to my feet. I put my warm blood wet hand over his mouth to keep his mouth from crying out.  His arms flailed helplessly.

Killing him was quick. I slid the knife into his chest cavity and then drew it out to slice his throat.  He lay still within moments.

My hands were wet with his blood. Just moments and I felt I had him all over me. It was dark, I couldn’t tell. I felt through his coat pockets. He had a weapon in a shoulder holster. I tossed his .38 in the bushes. I found his wallet and stuck it in my coat pocket. The blood on my hands stained his white shirt. His still form looked eerie in the illumination of the pale moonlight.

I could hear voices inside. Just talk.  I could tell that the inhabitants didn’t have any idea that they were going to die. They were talking, chuckling, and laughing. I put on the dead man’s fedora and picked up his smoke.  It was still lit. I stood up and looked around.  I took a few puffs and dropped it.

It sounded like they playing cards. Poker. I peered into the window and counted three men. Beneath the window I found and cut the telephone line.

Work fast.

I took a chair and wedged it underneath the doorknob of the back door. I placed an unlit cocktail next to the chair.  I started placing cocktails around the house. I placed a cocktail beneath each of the two windows on each side of the house.

I grabbed my Zippo and gave it a couple of flicks.  I lit the first one and quickly lit the second.  I ran.  I didn’t care how much noise I made.  I had my .45 drawn.  I focused on lighting the cocktails as fast as possible.

Each time I felt as if I was going to blow myself up.

The first two went within the minute.  Then the one at the rear of the house exploded. Even though I knew what was happening, the noise of it made me freeze up a little.  Startled and stunned, I failed to light the last two.

I stumbled away from the house and saw figures running in the house. They were yelling. They were of course completely surprised. I saw someone in the window on my side of the house.  I heard glass break and a man yell, “Someone’s out there!” 

I fired three rounds into the window, but wasn’t sure I hit anyone. I ran back to the ditch and threw the last cocktail against the front wall of the house.

I ran across the street hoping no one was looking out the front window. I stumbled to my position and lay down behind the cover.

It was my plan to torch three sides of the house and leave the front door as the only exit. I had to take my chances with the upper floor.  I failed on the right side. I could see the flames starting up the back and rear. A minute or two more and the night would light up.

A man rushed out the front door. He was firing blind.  I nailed him as he ran across the front lawn. A chair came out the side window, the side I failed to torch. As he jumped out another one followed. I squeezed off two more rounds.  They both fell.

I don’t know how many people were in the house. I was expecting them to come out like rats on a sinking ship. I’d kill as many as would show themselves.

It’s a possibility that someone could have climbed out an upper window and would be able to flank me. I was only one man. I couldn’t keep my eyes on the darkness surrounding the burning building. I’d keep my ears open and my eyes on the house.

I heard gunfire. I figured they were shooting at shadows. It was clear that they didn’t know where I was positioned. I waited. I watched. I listened.

I lucked out and saw someone moving in an upstairs window.  I fired. He dropped.

I reloaded and rolled over to another position. I could see the left side of the house now. The wall was consumed in fire. The roof was starting to burn. I couldn’t see what was going on in the backyard. That would be too risky.

I sat there watching the fire take hold of the house.  I was thinking there would be more, but maybe that was all, a body count of five.

The neighborhood seemed to come alive. Lights came on, dogs were barking.

“I think I woke the neighborhood.”

I pulled back and stood behind a tree. I heard the distinctive sound of a shotgun being cocked. I turned. An elderly man was standing in the doorway of his home. He was looking straight at me.  He had his gun aimed straight at me.

I stood there knowing that he could shoot at any moment. He had me dead to right. In the porch-light of his house I could make out his features. If I raised my rifle – I would be shot. Even if I could pull it off, I didn’t want to kill an old man defending his property.

A blood-curdling scream rose from the burning house.

He looked at the house for a while. I was afraid to move.  His shotgun was still aimed in my direction. After a minute, I thought I made out a grin on his face. He looked at me and then looked back at the flaming house.

He then dropped his gun to his side. To my dismay he looked over at me and then turned and walked inside. Dumbfounded, I stood there as he turned off his porch light. A minute later, I noticed that he had turned off an upstairs light, presumably his bedroom light.

I left.

Perhaps the Russians had been bad neighbors. Who knows, I was lucky.

I briskly walked to my car. I don’t know how many people watched me walking down that street. My legs were shaking. I felt as if they’d fail me at any given moment.

I threw the rifle into the backseat. I got in and closed the door.  I fumbled for the keys. I nearly flooded the engine pumping the gas like I did. I thought I heard Rod from the backseat say, “Idiot.” I looked over my shoulder to find no one there.

Your imagination can run wild on a night like this.

The car cranked and I swerved out of there.  I don’t know if I was made, but I got out clumsy and fast.

Friday, December 3, 2010

places: unexpected guest

I decided to visit the other places I’d been to.  I’d never been inside them, but decided to mark them off the book. All of them were like the first, furnished but nothing personal or homelike. It was as if the same people had lived there. All of the places looked as if the inhabitants had just picked up and left at a drop of a hat. They were all the same except for the third place.

Someone showed up.

Fortunately I had the drop on him. I don’t know why he was alone. He had walked in the front door without knocking or ringing the front bell.

I had seen him coming up the front sidewalk and so I waited behind the door. Just like in the pictures.

He felt my gun at the back of his head once he walked into the foyer.  I shut the door behind him. I could feel him cringe through the barrel of my .45.

He tried to turn to face me. I pressed the gun firmer against his scalp to let him know I didn't like that.

“Don’t turn around. You can talk where you’re facing.”

“You’re making a big mistake mister. I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If you shoot me you'll end up frying in the chair.” 

I pushed him against the wall and told him to not move.  I frisked him and relieved him of his hardware in his shoulder holster. 

“Seriously, you’re digging your own grave!”

“My grave is already dug. Slowly hand me your badge.  Let’s see if you are who you say you are.”

With one hand the agent reached into his coat pocket and retrieved his wallet. He handed it back to me without trying to look back.

“Well Agent Forte’, it looks like this is the real thing." 

Angelo tried to put his hands down and turn around.

I pulled the gun from the back of his head and placed the barrel firmly on his right cheekbone. He got the message.

“We can talk just fine like this.”

“What's the matter with you buddy, you’re killing me is just asking for trouble.”

“Just keep facing forward, I just want to have a chat.  You won't get shot unless you give me a good reason to."

“You’re not going to be able to leave, I brought company.”

“I watched you come in, you came alone. You’re not kidding anyone. Since fate has brought us together, let's talk.”

“Talk?  About what?”

“I ask questions and you move your lips in the form of answers. Kapeesh?”

“Eventually you’ll be talking to me, whoever you are.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. You’re here because of Larkin, because of the case he was working on.”

Angelo’s face went red. I could sense his grimace.  I didn’t have to be looking at him face to face to see that I had his attention.

“Where’s Larkin? What have you done with him?  We can work a deal if you can inform me as to his whereabouts.”

“I’m not looking for a plea. I can tell you about Larkin...he’s dead. I didn’t have anything to do with it. His cover was somehow blown and he was shot. I tried to get him out of there, but he was already dying.”

“I don’t understand.  You’re not with the Soviets?  Give me proof and I’ll work with you.”

“I can’t.”

“I can help you.”

“I doubt it.”

“Just back off of me and let’s talk.”

“I can’t afford to. You know as well as me that you’re only option is to bring me in. I’m going to do my best to keep things in my favor and remain anonymous.”

“If you are not with the Russians, who are you and what are you up to?  Why are you here?”

“I got sucked into a scenario that I can’t escape.”

“I can help. Let me go. Let me know where his body is. Identify yourself, tell me what you know. I will do everything I can to help you. We can protect you.”

“You can’t see my face right now, so I’ll just tell you that I’m giving you an incredulous look. I’m not making any deal with you because you and I both know that I’m already in the frying pan. I’m not giving myself up. I’m not jumping into the fire.”

"Will you show some decency and tell me where he's buried?"

"To tell you is to give you evidence that I might have been the one to kill him. I'm going to tell you anyway because I had nothing against him. Rod's body is in the woods, on a logging road off of Larker Road. His body isn't buried and it isn't hidden.  I guess I'll never know his real name."

"Probably not...but thanks for telling me where to find him."

"Was he married...any kids?"

"Yes. Married..with a kid..a two year old." 

There was a brief silence.

“I’m going to walk out of here.”

“We’ll eventually catch up to you. You’re eventually going to have to meet me face to face!”


I pulled my gun from the back of his head.

“Maybe.” I said as I cold-cocked him.

I left his gun and badge by the back door. I moved fast, knowing that I didn’t hit him hard enough to kill him. He’s lucky. If he were with the Russians, I would have killed him.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

places: first address

I’d been here before, on a delivery, but never left the car. I took only a handgun this time. I tucked it into my trench coat pocket. The place looked vacant but I didn’t take any chances. I parked on a side street and found my way to the back door. It was unlocked. I walked in with the gun pulled.

I went from room to room like the good old days. I was sure that I was walking through another vacant house and I was right. From bottom to top. I found nothing there. From room to room I saw nothing but roaches.  I went through the closets.  I went through the drawers.  It was a nasty empty place.

It was evident that someone had recently been living here. The house had been lived in, but clear that it hadn't been anyone's home.  It was a place where people had stayed.  I cataloged the house in my head. There was nothing hanging on the walls of family. Nothing in that house showed that a family lived here. The people who had been here were just passing through.

For some reason seeing this place made it okay for me to do what I had to do.  I was going to be invading houses...houses that are not homes. This address is vacant.  These houses that I will be visiting are only places infested with subversive vermin.

I can reconcile this.

It's time to play the exterminator.  There are no courtrooms on the battlefield.  It's time to kill the enemy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

places: ashes

I took a hike in the woods in the morning.  I huffed up a side of a mountain with my rifle and binoculars.  Once on the east side I surveyed Clayton’s property.  His place was gone. No more.

I was thinking that I was going to see it under some kind of federal surveillance. There wasn’t anyone in sight.  In fact, Clayton’s house was no more. Clayton’s house had been burned to the ground.

I could guess why.  The Russian or one of his red comrades came back and torched the place to destroy any evidence that Clayton had on the property.

I had Clayton’s black book. It was a good thing that I went there that night...even if it did cost me.

I looked down at my injured hand and thought about that doctor. 

“Digit” I spoke out loud and chuckled.

I took my time while perched up there. I felt safe up there.  I’d had some time to collect my thoughts.  I wasn’t in a hurry.  I pulled a sandwich from my pack and had a little picnic amid the quiet there.

I saw a buck just down the hill. I picked up my rifle and put him in my sites. It was a beautiful creature. I didn’t pull the trigger.  I just watched it slowly walk away. I’d never killed an animal. I’d never been hunting. I was a city kid trained to kill a different kind of game.

I made my way down the mountain. To me visiting Larkin’s and Clayton’s places were not a waste of time. I had to cross them off my list so I didn’t have to look back.  I didn’t want to feel as if I was overlooking anything.  Even if I had, there was no going back now. Tomorrow was going to be a different place.  Tomorrow I’ll be walking into the unknown.