Short Stories

Soldier of Misfortune (part 2)

November 2, 2016

Little History

Sylvester McNealy wasn’t always called Sparky; the name given to him after an unfortunate accident, which managed to spare his life. At the age of five he managed to insert a paring knife into a wall plug, shorting out the fuses and creating a brief but effective light show of sparks. Except for the metal rivets, the wooden handle insulated the blade enough not to kill Sylvester but left a nasty burn mark on his right arm, which he later covered with a tattoo as a teenager. His father called him Sparky from that time on, a smirk on his face the first few times he used the name.

Sparky had never been what one might call terribly bright but the incident left him emotionally disturbed. The local doctor said this sort of thing happens now and then, suggesting it to be a temporary condition. The change never took place, Sparky having difficulty with school and other kids his age. To make matters worse his mother died two years after his near electrocution, leaving a father who was too busy to pay much attention to him.

Small incidents, during his youth, made it clear Sparky was antisocial. He had no friends and developed a fascination with knives and guns, accidentally stabbing a kid in school, which brought the sheriff to his door. Sparky may have said it was accidental but those who knew him knew he had it in for the victim. Caleb McNealy was faced with a twelve-year-old boy with violent tendencies and an embarrassment to his business in town. The victim of the stabbing had minor injuries because friends had grabbed Sparky before he could make another thrust. During the tussle the knife was dropped and McNealy ran away.

His father decided to let him spend a little time at the county juvenile farm to teach him a lesson. It wasn’t jail but the offenders were locked for the nights they were sentenced there. Sparky did learn some lessons, all of them bad. He tried to emulate the meanest boy on the farm, Chuck Hatter, who was quick to anger and dealt with it on the sly. He had the nickname of Gator because he would lie and wait for his victims. Gator also did not have any friends.

Sparky saw Gator as the boy he wanted to be, tough, a loner. He didn’t need friends and was feared because of his keen need for revenge. At the farm, even the guards were afraid of Gator since he managed to pull off secret deeds without being caught. A guard’s lunch pail might have weed poison in the coffee or pig dung in the sandwich. Gator may be limited to what he could do but bad things happened when you challenged him.

By the time Sparky had left the farm, three months later, he was ready for some serious retaliation. Boards with nails sticking up were left on paths used by his imaginary enemies. The boy who was stabbed stepped on such a board a little after Sparky was released. The sheriff suspected Sparky but had no proof, warning Caleb nonetheless.

Several stolen cars and confrontations with the law branded Sparky for life. The army didn’t want him because he was too young; Sparky lied about his age and had a bad record when he tried to enlist. The young doctor making the determination of Sparky’s undesirability had his tires slashed follow the screening process. Again nothing could be proven.

Sparky was a bad seed and was growing into a bad person capable of serious violence, a time bomb. Caleb McNealy did the one thing that spared his business and political reputation, sent Sparky away. There was no love lost between father and son, Sparky being careful not to anger his father. Caleb was a little old school when it came to punishment, taking out a leather strap and beating Sparky until his arm got tired. The beatings did little to change the boy; in fact, Sparky went deeper undercover with his illegal activities.

 

Show and Tell

“Augie, I’m so impressed,” said Francis after she heard of his up-coming survival training. “When do you start?”

“I was thinking of starting right away, tomorrow,” he answered unwrapping something in a towel. “I picked up this gun at a pawn shop yesterday. The guy said it’s a good gun.”

Francis snatched it out of his hands and inspected it carefully. “It’s an old military Springfield, not too different from the one I got in my collection. It’s pretty beat up and nobody has cleaned this in years,” she said. “We better go through it before you try to fire it. It’ll be exciting.”

“I was kinda thinking we might play around a little before we fool with the gun,” he said with a sheepish smile.

“No, this is more important and there will be plenty of time for that when you get back,” she returned. “This rifle will need some serious attention before you go off tomorrow. I can’t even be sure it will work right. But when you come back I’ll be in such a hot mood to see you, you won’t believe it. Just you wait and see.”

It took hours cleaning the rifle, rust, oil and dirt almost plugged up the barrel of the Springfield. Francis made him take it apart and put it back together for at least two hours after she was finished cleaning it.

“You have to know how to do this with your eyes closed,” she insisted.

“I’m sure they are going to teach me how to do that in the training,” whined Augustus.

“Why wait?” she claimed. “You’ve already wasted a couple of hours and still can’t get it together right. The instructor is not going put up with that. You have to be good at it before you start.”

“I was hoping we could spend a little time together,” he said. “You know, like close and sexy.”

“Don’t be silly this is more important,” she returned. “I dunno, Augie. This barrel is pretty badly scored and the firing pin looks worn down. You shoulda’ talked to me about this rifle before you bought it.”

“The guy said it was good,” argued Augustus. “Said it was the kind of gun a soldier of fortune would have.”

“Yeah, maybe,” replied Francis. “It would have to be better than this one.”

“Well, when I join one of those mercenary groups, I’m sure I can get another one,” returned Augustus trying to get her excited. “I’m planning on dumping the stationary business and become a full time soldier of fortune. What do you think of that, baby?”

“You?” she responded with doubt. “I dated guys like that and you don’t strike me as the type. Most of them grew up with guns and rifles and didn’t need any training.”

“Well, I am going to do it,” he declared.

Francis smiled, setting down the rifle.

“You make me so hot with that kind of talk,” she whispered. “Let’s take a break so you can rub my feet.”

 

Parts is Parts

Henry Fong loved his job because it was interesting and offered challenges, one does not often have at work. The most recent one was literally putting together a murder victim. His sense of humor was different from others, several people questioning his jocularity with the departed.

“The toe bone’s connected to the foot bone,” he sang.

“I hope you’re not going to take all day singing that stupid song,” complained Wally the coroner. “I do have other stiffs to work on here.”

“Oh, quiet down, Wally. I’m having a little fun and I’m sure this guy doesn’t mind. I sure this is a male about one hundred eighty pound and about forty, I’d say.”

“Sounds good to me,” replied Wally. “Kinda hard to say since we don’t have all of him. Somebody must have been pissed off big time.”

“I think this guy was killed and then hacked up,” reported Henry. “No bruising anywhere on the parts which means he was dead. Our dissector was good with a blade too, very neat cuts and all in the right places for easy disconnect, experienced from what I can tell.”

“I wonder where the head is?” posed Wally.

“Don’t really need it,” returned Henry. “I found some fingers mixed in with the shipment. I’m having them run the prints while we check the rest out. The killer enjoyed his work by the look of it.”

 

After contacting the Chicago Police, Nathan sat back waiting for someone to return his call, which could be hours depending on who they had available on the other end to chase down the information needed. The only slim chance of finding out who the body belonged to were the fingerprints being processed. The link with someone in Chicago could speed up things. Already the FBI was breathing down his neck because the body could have crossed state lines making it a federal offense.

Nathan didn’t mind working with the feds. They had resources beyond what San Francisco had plus more personnel to throw at the case. The downside of their involvement was the degree of secrecy they practiced, not always forthcoming with clues and discoveries, choosing to operate outside of the local jurisdiction. It made the police department’s efforts redundant in some cases. For now, the FBI was sitting on their heels waiting for identification of the body.

A ding sounded announced an incoming message on the Teletype in the main office. It was too soon to get the information requested but Nathan moved quickly to see what was coming in. Strangely enough it was addressed to agent Campbell of the FBI.

“Harry!” yelled Nathan. “Did we have some FBI agent come her today? The Teletype is for him.”

“Yeah, some asshole trying to take over my desk this morning,” replied Harry. “Said he had priority. I told him he could priority someone else’s desk; I had work to do.”

“Was his name Campbell?” asked Nathan.

“He flashed his Identification but I didn’t see the name,” reported Harry. “Said he’d be back later.”

“Oh swell,” muttered Nathan. “The feds are already jumping on this case. It would have been nice if someone informed me ahead of time.”

The Teletype is a fast way of communications but not very secret when it sits in the middle of the police station. Nathan couldn’t resist reading the notice, interested in what it said. He scanned the room to be sure no one was watching, tearing off the notice for a quick look-see. He chuckled when the notice said ‘For your eyes only’ following the heading with Campbell’s name.

 

These guys must think we are idiots, he thought. Maybe they have some little secret room with their machine in it but not here.

 

The notice had a list of possibilities, men who disappeared recently in Chicago and several other cities. Nathan made a mental note of the names before turning the notice face down on the table. He wrote on the back, Agent Campbell Only. He was sure no one would pay attention to it but thought it might make the agent feel better.

As if reading his mind the phone rang the person on the other end a Chicago cop.

“Is this San Francisco Police, Detective Knox?” asked the man on the phone.

“Yes it is.”

“My names Frank Anello, Chicago PD. I got your request for missing persons and have my own thoughts about who it might be. There’s been a little movement in our city with the mafia chieftains. One of their main guys got wasted a month ago and there’s a struggle to fill the vacant spot. We try to keep tabs on these guys for obvious reasons but have lost track of one called Eddie Santori alias the Viper, hit man for the mob. We know he’s responsible for a dozen or so murders but can’t prove it in court. He lives up to his name, slinking out of every charge we throw at him.”

“You think this might be the guy?” asked Nathan.

“Good possibility,” returned Anello. “He pissed off this chieftain called Bene Tutti and we think Viper is either at the bottom of the East River in concrete overshoes or pushing up daisies in some empty field. That’s usually the quick and easy way to make someone disappear.”

“So why do you think this Viper is in my backyard?” questioned Nathan.

“Funny you should ask,” responded Frank with a chuckle. “It seems that Bene Tutti is part owner in a meat business. We think a few unfortunates have found their way to the meat processing plant here and there, never to be seen again. When I got your request I put two and two together. Maltesta Meat company buys from several suppliers, Bene Tutti’s included. Maltesta Meat has been under investigations by the FBI for months now.”
“Yeah, I get the feeling this was not the first time the feds dealt with Maltesta,” replied Nathan. “FBI showed up even before we made the case official. They’re already sending Teletype messages to the station.”

“Just so you know,” added Frank. “You never heard any of this from me, you understand. I work undercover a lot and don’t want to blow it.”

“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”

Nathan cut to the chase calling Henry with this bit of news. Narrowing the search down to Eddie Santori will move it right along. He will also have to turn the whole mess over the FBI whether Nathan likes it or not. But the credit will at least go the San Francisco Police Department instead of the FBI, not that it mattered to Nathan. He wasn’t the type to play politics when it came to crime. Others, like he chief of police, would love that feather in their cap.

 

New Recruits

Francis fell asleep while Augustus rubbed her feet hoping for a hint at intimacy from her. After an uncountable number of beers, Francis snored like a trooper, a hint of spittle escaping from the corner of her mouth. As horny as Augustus might be, this picture did not titillate his sense of romance. He opted to leave before she woke up and forced him to field strip his Springfield a dozen more times. Besides it was time for him to go home and get rest before his first day of training.

Before retiring he curled up with a magazine called Soldier of Fortune, the reason he was doing this program in the first place. All the ads and photographs showed big strong men with menacing looks on their faces holding an array of weapons designed to deal with anything that came their way. It amazed Augustus the variety and the places where these weapons could be hidden.

The boot knife was a standard, long enough to kill a enemy yet light enough to keep it concealed in the top of the boot with comfort. Several other knives were displayed in places he had never thought of before. Scanning the pages he did not see a Springfield like his. In fact none of the rifles looked anything like his. Augustus was sure that was an oversight on the part of the editors of the magazine.

One article spoke about surviving in the wild, accumulating sustenance from the land itself. Nuts and berries were just the tip of the iceberg when wild game was available. Snares and other devices were demonstrated with remarkable success. One soldier of fortune had brought down a water buffalo with a knife less than four inches long. It was a simple matter of finding the vein in the neck and cutting it quickly. Augustus wondered how one was to cook something the size of a water buffalo. Later reading revealed a method of butchering and drying the meat; the hide could be used for a list of things after the animal was properly skinned. He thought about that for a long time. Opening meat from the grocery store was a challenge for him, the tape hard to cut with his dull kitchen knives.

These rugged men in the magazine also knew how to camouflage themselves by smearing dark paste on the faces. The cheeks were the important parts, reducing the reflection of the light when firing their rifle. It helped to break the pattern of a recognizable face as well.

 

Augustus parked his car at the top of Mission Street waiting for some guy named Sparky to show up. This part of Mission was in Daly City and adjacent to Colma, the electric buses turning around somewhere at this point. He had no idea what the man looked like and had thought of suggesting something to identify him, like a carnation in his lapel. He offered to stand on the corner with his Springfield in hand to be recognized by the stranger. Sparky informed him such a display was stupid and likely to get him arrested.

Jefferson High School was just down the road a bit, no one there on Sunday of course. Traffic was very light, a condition odd for this part of town. Augustus stood on the corner trying to think what he should do if Sparky didn’t show, no phone number was left to contact him.

A green 1950 Chevrolet Coupe passed by several times, slowing to watch Augustus or so it would seem. Fifteen minutes later another man came to stand on the same corner as Augustus.

“The bus stop is across the street,” informed Augustus. “They don’t pick up on this side.”

“Not waiting for a bus,” replied the man. “Supposed to meet someone on this corner.”

They stood a few feet apart each waiting for the other to leave. The stranger was short, skinny and very nervous.

“Are you Sparky?” asked Augustus.

“I was wondering the same things about you,” answered the man. “I kinda met him in the dark a week ago and showed him the rifle I got. It was late at night and he was wearing something to cover his face. I thought you might be him since I never really saw him.”

“You suppose we are both waiting for the same Sparky?” questioned Augustus. “I don’t know a bunch of people by that name unless you do.”

“Nope, this is the first one I’ve ever known,” said the man. The camaraderie of the corner brought an eventual introduction. “Eric is my name, what’s yours?”

The men discovered they were both waiting for the same Sparky to whisk them away for special secret training.

“I’m a little nervous,” said Eric. “I’ve done anything like this before.”

“What do you do for a living?” asked Augustus trying to make conversation.

“Accountant,” answered Eric. “Been with this firm for eight years and I don’t even think they know I exist. Haven’t had a raise in five years and pretty sure they’d fire me if business was slow.”

“That stinks!” returned Augustus. “I’ll bet it’s boring too.”

“Yah, a little,” replied Eric. “I sort of like numbers though. They’re always the same and don’t change. The number 5 is always the same as are all the others. I find that reassuring.”

“So if you love that so much why are you doing this?” pressed Augustus.

“I really don’t know,” answered Eric. “Calculating numbers always resolve; it’s exciting sometimes but not enough, really. I thought this training might spice it up a little, my life, that is. Why are you doing it?”

“A woman,” returned Augustus. “She’s sort of picky about men; likes them to be manly and stuff like that. I thought this might impress her and give me a chance to have sex with her. We haven’t gotten that far yet and this might speed things up a bit.”

“Lucky guy!” exclaimed Eric. “Women aren’t even interested in me. One girl at the office told me I was a bookworm; she said she’d rather date the book than me. She was completely wrong about that but I couldn’t convince her; she didn’t stick around long enough to me to show her. She walked away laughing. I don’t read that much but I do like numbers.”

The green Chevrolet cruised by again sizing up the two men standing on the corner together. The gaunt looking face sneered at the sight of them, both men geeky and losers by appearance. Sparky didn’t really care what they looked like as long as they gave him the cash he needed. The car slowed and eventually stopped twenty feet from where the men stood. A man dressed in army fatigues stepped out staring at them. With a flick of his head he beckoned them to come over.

“Ericson, you still have that piece of shit rifle?” asked Sparky.

“Yes, sir,” returned Eric assuming the man was Sparky.

“And you,” added Sparky directing his inquiry to Augustus. “Are you the guy I talked with on the phone about my training program.”

“Augustus Rose,” responded Augustus. “I was hoping to take the crash course so I can dump my job and be a mercenary. I read that there are all kinds of jobs for men like that, though I might not actually shoot at anyone, more like pose for magazines.”

Sparky smiled, laughing to himself. Neither of these men would be able to do anything beyond peeing in their pants if the shit hit the fan. But that didn’t matter. He’d take their money and let them play warrior for a couple weeks. If they didn’t kill themselves in the process, all the better.

 

Art in Action

At last there was some hope of finding out who the dismembered body was. Finding the killer was not a job for the local police given the chance the victim was killed elsewhere; Federal agents would surely take over the investigation.

“Art why don’t you go down to Maltesta Meat and see if you can find out anything,” suggested Nathan. “The two bosses aren’t there but there is a chance an employee might slip-up with something we could use.”

 

There were very few cars in the parking area, yet there was one very nice new Chrysler all by itself. It wasn’t the sort of car a casual worker would have but someone who made a decent salary.

“My name is Art,” he announced smiling at the pretty receptionist. “I’m with the police and I’d like to ask a few questions if I could.”

“You got a ‘A’ name like me,” she returned grinning back at him. “My name is Anita; ain’t that a coincidence?”

“Yeah, right,” replied Art checking out her vital statistics in his head. Anita was in her late twenties or early thirties and well put together. Briefly Art forgot why he was there, enjoying the view more than was professionally appropriate.

“I don’t know nothin’,” she said smiling, well aware she was being admired. “I told the other guy the same thing, Mr. Art.”

“Just double checking,” added Art.

“He don’t seem so friendly like you,” purred Anita. “I bet you’re real nice to a girl, huh?”

“Detective Knox is a serious man,” defended Art but smitten by the woman. “Of course so am I but I can appreciate what I see.”

Anita waddled out from behind her desk making sure Art got an eyeful when she bent forward, her pink silk blouse with two buttons undone at the top. He didn’t miss the fact her hair was dark, the heart shaped face and perfect proportions as she came to the front of her desk sliding her rump on the edge for good measure. Looking down she made sure the top of her hosiery was just in sight, enough to distract a man. Art didn’t miss that either.

“I hope none of the guys in the plant parked close to my car,” offered Anita. “My uncle makes them part in the street cause of that.

“The big Chrysler?”

“Yeah, yeah, that one,” she answered.

“No, your car was the only one out there.”

She didn’t strike him as the most intelligent woman he had ever met but the kind he liked to get naked and play around with for a night or two before moving on to the next. This one was pretty enough to do an encore if necessary. He wondered if there was a husband or boyfriend in the mix, not that it mattered if one were discreet. It was hard to tell since she had rings on several of her fingers, decorations or souvenirs of past nights of heavy breathing.

“I’ll just nose around and talk to the workers if you don’t mind,” said Art his eyes still riveted to her legs, which she made available for obvious reasons. “I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

“Nose around,” she cooed. “I like the sound of that, very professional.”

“Uh, yeah.”

Art had been to a slaughterhouse when he was a teen, the experience disturbing at the time. Maltesta Meat was different since the animals were killed elsewhere and stored there for processing and sales. Several meat lockers covered thousands of square feet, each with its particular animal. Benny wasn’t exactly the manager, though he seemed to know where everything was in the plant. Art pegged him as a little slow on the take but truthful.

“We don’t like to mix up the meat,” declared Benny with conviction. “Of course, sometimes we gotta do it cause we ain’t got no room. Guido and Sal get pissed off otherwise.”

“Do you ever get anything strange?” probed Art.

“Huh? What da ya mean?”

“I mean like horse meat or other kinds of meat you don’t normally have?”

“Nah, they don’t even got chicken or turkey,” reported Benny. “Sal says its too much trouble because of fuckin’ salmonella. I don’t know what it is but we don’t want it.”

“What about the others?” Art continued. “Have they ever seen anything unusual being delivered?”

“I wouldn’t know,” acknowledged Benny. “I ain’t always around when stuff comes in. Guido is always sending me to deliver stuff.”

“If you think of anything unusual then let me know,” said Art.

Art continued with his questioning, the other workers no more helpful than Benny. A German employee named Schulman was in charge of the hamburger and sausage, the processing done in a room separate from the storage. He was very particular about what went into his end product, swearing only good ingredients were used, his pride refusing to be compromised.

Ja, Guido likes the sausage I make and sells it to many places,” reported Schulman. “He was asking me to use cheaper meat but I say to him; I will not. He says nothing after that and I think it is fine.”

“Does anyone else handle the meat you use?” asked Art. “Ja but he is good man and good butcher; makes without much fat for my sausage. Too much and it is not so good any more, a little should be in there. I learn this many years ago. Making good sausage is an art.”

Art was beginning to get terribly bored with questioning, nothing useful coming to light. He’ll drop by Anita to say his farewells before leaving; another peek at those legs would be welcome.

 

A courier was bringing by a copy of fingerprints for Eddie Santori, fortunately stored in their archives. As luck would have it Santori had visited San Francisco years before and been pulled over for being drunk. Nothing ever came of it except a fine, which he paid without blinking an eye. Nathan was sure Santori, the Viper, was his man. If all went well, he could turn it over to Agent Campbell, who could deal with it.

He decided to eat a little of his lunch before Art returned, reading the Chronicle while waiting. Buried on the forth page was the report of annoying shots heard in the San Bruno Mountains south of the city. Nathan was glad that particular problem was out of his jurisdiction; chasing a gun happy person was a waste of time. He noted there was an art exhibition in Golden Gate Park on Saturday. He might take Gladys to that to make up for his time away from home lately. She liked that sort of thing, though he thought paintings of old people and landscapes and such were boring.

Half way through his sandwich he heard Art stomping through the office.

“Get anything helpful?” asked Nathan.

“Yeah, I got Anita’s phone number,” reported Art. “It took a little finesse but she caved in when I charmed her.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“I figured that was better than nothing,” returned Art with a silly smile on his face. “I was getting nothing after I raking everyone over the coals. I don’t think anyone there has a clue.”

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