Novels

Soldier of Misfortune (part 1)

September 12, 2016

This is the continuing story of Augustus and Julian, (Agustus’ Smarter Brother) the follies of imagination and the total screw ups of brother Augustus. Post WWII, the fifties were an interesting time in San Francisco. To say more would spoil the adventure.

Bob McMurtry

starfish bright

 

Soldier of Misfortune

         The city never rests; like a beehive during the height of summer, there are just too many people in one place without something going down. Nathan Knox had gotten wind of another possible shooting in Chinatown; at least there was a report of shots being fired in the vicinity. San Francisco Police arrived at the scene but found nothing, the proprietor of a social establishment insisting there was no problem in spite of drops of blood on the floor, a bad nosebleed according to the witnesses. No victim or witness of a shooting stepped forward to offer a complaint or potential perpetrator. If there is such a person in Chinatown, he had not visited this establishment.

Word on the street provided police with nothing tangible; discovering an actual crime was nearly impossible given the secrecy of the neighborhood. And in San Francisco a crime was not a crime unless they had a victim and suspects, the Chinese of the area tending to take care of their own problems without including police intervention. It could not said the problems were always handled in a legal fashion either.

Nathan had just wrapped up the homicide involving Bernie Schwartz and felt no great desire to snoop around in Chinatown again, leaving that task to the cops on the beat. It wouldn’t have surprised him if certain names popped up when it came to trouble in Chinatown, the names Augustus and Julius Rose littering his reports. He was not looking forward seeing them again soon or ever. True, Julius Rose was less of a problem, bailing his brother out of every dangerous situation using a degree of good common sense. One could not say the same of Augustus when it came to being in the wrong place at the wrong time and making bad decisions. Nathan shuddered at the thought.

 

“At the airport?” queried Julius to his sister on the phone. “You say you’re going back to Chicago? I had no idea you were in the city. Why didn’t you call Cleo?”

“Not important at the moment, Jules. Just in case anyone asks,” she added. “I was never here. I gave a phony name when I bought the plane ticket to be sure; learned that from Angelo’s sleazy friend in the mafia, a thug but nice man actually. The long and short of it, it seems our dear brother got himself involved with some shady characters in Chinatown again, something to do with gambling. You know how I am, I felt something was wrong, that sixth sense keeping me from sleeping at night. I jumped on the first plane after packing a few things to tied me over. I got there just in time too. Dear bother Augustus was about to get a close shave with a switchblade, the owner of said switchblade looking forward to the experience. Augie isn’t much to look at but I didn’t agree with the new look the man had in mind for him. So I took care of it. I’m getting weary of this running back and forth. Our Augie has a talent for getting himself in these terrible messes.”

“Is he?” began Julius before stopping to listen.

“Augie is fine, though I doubt he can ever show his face in Chinatown again,” reported Cleo. “The two men I shot won’t die but I’m sure they are pretty pissed off by now.”

“What? You shot somebody?” exploded Julius. “You could be arrested, Cleo. That’s crazy!”

“Oh, Jules, don’t be so dramatic. I believe the man with the knife will still has four fingers on his hand; the one I shot in the shoulder won’t be throwing any fastballs for a while, a lefty by the look of it. You know I don’t shoot to kill. I would if I had to, though. Let’s hope it never comes down to that. You need to keep closer tabs on our brother.”

“How did this happen or dare I ask?” pressed Julius.

“Would love to talk more Jules but my plane is boarding in a few minutes. Ask Augie; I’m sure he can fill in all the details. By the way, next time I drop into town tell Clara I’d love to go shopping with her. She is so good at picking out the right styles and colors for me. I just don’t have an eye for clothes like her; I tend to buy stuff that makes me look dumpy. Gotta go, bye Jules.”

Cleo had hung up before Julius could utter another word.

 

Augustus did indeed have a talent for doing the wrong things, like taking on a murder investigation with no idea what to look for. He also had a talent for being a victim; a sign hanging around his neck wouldn’t have made it any more the obvious. Twice he had been captured snooping around Chinatown by a Chinese youth gangs and held for ransom. The first time Julius managed to pay the gang off with a lesser amount, given the late hour and closed banks. The second time Cleopatra shot off the ear of the offending youth with the promise of further injury to private parts. Needless to say the Chinese youth gang fled for their lives, Cleo blowing at the smoke from her pistol like an old western.

Cleo was the brave one in the family, venturing into areas where the average woman was not safe. Its not that she was tempting fate or anything like that; putting herself in danger wasn’t something she believed in. She just felt that in a country where freedom was preached, she should be able to go anywhere without worrying about being molested by criminals. Her handy little pistol had assured her safety on several occasions. Chicago could be a rough town if one didn’t know how to take care of themselves. The purse-snatchers and other low-life thieves had paid the price when they encountered Cleo.

Augustus wasn’t a bad person, perhaps a little naïve about life in general. Finding schemes to get rich quick had always appealed to him, though implementing them proved to be a greater task. Like so many other amateurs he felt prosperous vocations could be easily acquired by taking as many shortcuts as possible. Why waste time on things you don’t need to know?

His college years proved to be much the same. When confronted with classical literature as part of a class, he found condensed versions amounting to five percent of the original pages. He said it was a little bit like watching a baseball game. One does not have to witness every pitch, only the hits, reducing the entire game to a matter of minutes.

 

Thursday morning Julius pulled into a space in front of his 9th Street building, Bond Paper Company written across the front. A refrigerated boxcar was parked along the siding immediately next to it, obviously not something the paper company needed. He couldn’t remember ordering any merchandise requiring a boxcar; large orders were rare, most being delivered by truck. This was stationary not ice cream; there was definitely no reason to chill paper goods. Once again he grumbled about the meter and the errant mayor who promised to remove it two years before. This only added to his anger about Augustus getting himself into trouble again.

The double door was locked on one side, Len claiming it needed to be repaired. One door was enough anyhow. Standing at the bottom of the long staircase his nose was assaulted by the smells of the old building. It was hard to describe the mixture of old building and years of use in a single word.

He trudged up the staircase to the second floor, fatigue holding back his feet with every step. He couldn’t sleep after talking to Cleo, his mind a flurry of dangerous possibilities. What had Augustus done now? The Dr. Pepper machine at the top of the landing beckoned to him as he searched for nickel in his pocket, none to be found. A Dr. Pepper would not sweeten how he felt but it might take his mind off of his brother’s impossible foibles.

“Morning Julius,” chirped Diane smiling from her order desk. “You look terrible. Have a fight with your wife?”

“Thanks Diane. Just didn’t sleep. By the way who’s the smart guy who deposited a boxcar in front of our place? Know anything about it?”

“I put in a call already,” reported Diane. “There was no answer.”

“Great! We’ll have to listen to that damn refrigeration unit all day. Keep calling until you get someone. I’ll be in my office with some aspirin and Dr. Pepper. Wait! Give me a dime from petty cash? No change in my pocket again.”

“There is one message for you,” added Diane digging in the petty cash drawer extracting a nickel. “That police guy Mr. Knox called; wanted to ask you a few questions, Augustus too.”

“Need I ask if my brother is in yet?”

“No, Julius but he called and said he would be in soon.”

“Must be about the Chinatown thing,” Julius muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” asked Diane.

“Nothing,” he grunted. “Tell my brother I want to see him as soon as he walks through the door. Thanks, Diane. Oh, and tell Len or Mario to keep feeding the meter outside, damn boxcar is taking up all the space in front. Give some them some more change from petty cash. I’ll put it back later.”

Life was so simple if you dotted your ‘i’ and crossed your ‘t’. You put in your ten hours at work and go home to repeat it all the next day with a weekend to rest; not a bad life when you consider there is time off for good behavior, vacation in Tahoe for a couple of weeks of camping out in Yosemite. There was always the quick get-a-way to the Russian River area too. A friend of his had a cabin in Gernewood Park, which sat empty most weekends.

Julius liked Yosemite a lot but hated the crowds that tended to frequent the place during the summer. It never ceased to amaze him how stupid people were about the bears, warning signs all over the place. In spite of all the warnings, tourists wanted to feed and touch these furry beasts. One of the park rangers had told him about a man who put his child on the back of a bear so his wife could take a picture. Luckily for the child, the bear was more interested in the candy bar offered as a bribe. It was remarkable how the human race continued to prosper given the enormity of stupidity that existed in the species.

 

It would be nice to go somewhere where there are mountains and trees, small streams running through them, he thought closing his eyes. Clara and I would spend the day hiking around, playing in the water or just lazing around the campsite. It won’t take but a few minutes to load the camping gear out of the garage and go. I might even do a little fishing; that would be lovely.

 

The intercom on his desk buzzed shattering his dreamlike state. He had almost forgot he was at work, not in some lovely setting where the wind was blowing through the pine trees, the scent of nature filling his nostrils.

“What is it, Diane?” he answered forgetting to press the intercom key.

“I got ahold of the man responsible for our boxcar,” reported Diane yelling back from her desk. The intercom was a new toy in the office, both Diane and Julius not used to it yet. “He said the boxcar is for Maltesta Meat.”

“Maltesta? They’re not on 9th Street,” said Julius. “How can the railroad make such a stupid mistake?”

“The yard manager said this was the address given for delivery. He said he’d give Maltesta a call and will move the boxcar by tonight.”

“I suppose that’s better than nothing,” returned Julius. “Thanks Diane.”

“Oh, also Len and Mario both have deliveries to make and won’t be able to keep tabs on the meter for you until after lunch,” reported Diane. “You’ll have to run down to the car in an hour and put money in the meter. Sorry Julius.”

 

Taking Aim

Tucked back in a remote area of the San Bruno Mountains Sparky McNealy surveyed the enemy, taking careful aim at his victim while lightly squeezing the trigger on his M1 rifle. With a loud explosion the muzzle sent its projectile hurtling toward the target in a fraction of a second, splattering pieces of the victim all over a nearby tree. It was a difficult shot the envy of any sniper considering it was done without a scope.

 

Three hundred yards with a clean kill, thought Sparky. I’d like to see some stuffed shirt Army guy do better. See what they missed when they wouldn’t take me in their stupid army. I coulda’ wiped out hundreds of Germans and Nips.

 

“Nice shot Sparky,” congratulated Andre, his mentally challenged minion. “You done blowed that zucchini all ta hell.”

“That, my friend, could have just a well been someone’s head,” boasted Sparky. “That coulda’ been a Nazi or some sneaky Jap trying to kill our guys and I woulda’ been a hero; the army would make a big deal about it and give me a medal.”

“Don’t seem right, them turning you down for army,” added Andre. “Why’d they say you couldn’t join?”

“Some college boy-doctor said I was mentally unfit,” replied Sparky gritting his teeth. “Claimed I had a lot of bad shit in my police file; also some silly-ass thing about being unstable just because I busted some guy in the mouth for pushing me in line. He called me a misfit. So what if it was a medical exam for gettin’ in the army. The joker that pushed me will know better next time he screws with me.”

“Don’t seem right,” repeated Andre. “Just one guy and they get all nervous about it.”

“Well, that guy and a couple others that squealed on me,” amended Sparky. “Bunch of pantywaist homos if you ask me.”

 

Sparky McNealy was born in Arkansas, moving to California shortly before WWII broke out. There weren’t any jobs in Arkansas, his uncle offering him an opportunity to run a small chicken farm near Colma while the uncle ran a larger ranch in Petaluma. The small farm didn’t produce much in the way of eggs or poultry but was enough to keep Sparky clothed and fed. It was the perfect situation for him since he had trouble getting along with people, his temper quick and often violent. Maybe that was the reason he quit school when he was only fourteen, though it wasn’t uncommon for boys to do that when they lived in rural areas.

He had an extreme mistrust for authority, contempt for anyone wearing a uniform of any kind, especially law enforcement officers he might encounter. Several run-ins with the sheriff in Arkansas and numerous stays in the local jail had inspired his father to send him away. Caleb McNealy couldn’t afford his son’s behavior trickling into his aspirations as a respected businessman with designs on politics.

The town doctor told Caleb, Sparky should be in a mental hospital where they could deal with Sparky’s antisocial behavior. A kid in the nuthouse was not a good political asset, opponents using that to imply insanity in the family, a trait perhaps carried by the father as well. Caleb McNealy had done all he could to raise the boy right. Discipline and a good beating now and then kept Sparky in line. Keeping him out of jail was another problem. It was just before leaving for California that Sparky developed an interest in guns, all kinds of guns, good time to send him off to Caleb’s brother.

 

Excuses

 “It wasn’t my fault, Jules,” argued Augustus. “They never told me the rules. I think they were worried I was going to win all the time since I’m such a good player.”

“Augie, you cheat at solitaire all the time,” barked Julius. “Those men are professionals who would cut their brother’s throat if they caught him cheating; they would surely have no trouble slashing yours. Besides, the game, ‘Beat the Chinaman’ is not the sort of thing respectable businessmen play. It’s still considered gambling and that is illegal in San Francisco.”

“Who cares. Being respectable is no fun,” whined Augustus. “It was fun when we were doing detective work. Now its just boring work, work work.”

“Fun? You mean the part where we got locked up in jail or when the Chinese gang was going to kill you?” replied Julius. “I’m sure finding that dead body in the basement apartment made your day?”

“Okay, maybe that wasn’t so good,” admitted Augustus. “But the rest was fun.”

“You have a good job here with a future,” continued Julius clenching his fists to emphasize the seriousness of his words. “If you did a little more work, any in fact, instead of spending so much time with all your crazy schemes you could make a good living.”

“I don’t want to make a good living Jules. I want to be rich and enjoy what I do, not sell stationary and paper goods. I want to be an international spy, drink cocktails in Moscow, carry a gun and dodge the bad guys. I want to see the world and have beautiful women sit at my feet while I read secret documents. I’m not like you Jules. I need excitement.”

“Augie, can I be honest with you for a moment?” returned Julius leaning back in his chair, rubbing both hands over his face. “Look in the mirror, brother. That is not the face or the body a beautiful woman would find sexy, spy or no spy. None of the Rose family ever won any beauty prizes, me included. I am thankful my Clara saw something in me she liked and agreed to marry me. Just stop with all these ideas of being a spy, secret agent, detective or whatever. Try to come to work on time and do exactly that. Work! You’re not a teenage kid anymore.”

The intercom buzzed. “Yes, Diane what is it?”

“A three-wheeler just put a ticket on you car Jules. You forgot to put change in the meter.”

Julius collected his thoughts, wondering if anything else could go wrong during the day. Getting a ticket wasn’t the worst that could happen yet it was like lighting a fuse on a box of dynamite. Mentally he snuffed out the fuse, opting for calm and reason. He knew his brother wasn’t retarded, though Augustus acted that way on more than one occasion. He was simply not cut out for the kind of traditional work ethic required in business. He was a dreamer, fantasizing about a life he could never lead.

He couldn’t completely fault his brother because Julius had had dreams and aspirations as a young man too. The paper business had never been his dream; it was a legacy handed down by their father who wanted his sons to have a little security in their lives. It was also his wish to carry on a business that the father had started out of nothing. Julius considered a long list of vocations while in college, each more interesting and glamorous than running a wholesale stationary business. But dreams soon melted into reality, responsibility taking the wheel when the wishes of others supersede one’s uncertain visions.

“Okay, so tell me what happened in Chinatown, Augie. I want to make sure there are no repercussions when our old friend Officer Knox drops by later. I’m sure we were at the top of his list when there was the mention of trouble in Chinatown.”

 

After a few false starts Augustus recounted the events of the previous evening. As it was Augustus had been frequenting a gambling room in Chinatown to study the procedure of solitaire betting, commonly called ‘Beat the Chinaman.’ For this Julius could not fault his brother since he actually made an effort to study something, a new facet he had not seen until then. The games were held secretly and only those with approval were let in. Augustus bribed someone to make entry, finding himself in a smoke filled room with only Chinese as company.

Each game was overseen by one person, who made sure there was no cheating; all play was in accordance with the very strict rules. None of this was forthcoming to Augustus; they were written in Chinese. To him it looked pretty simple. He did notice that the referee, if that’s what one should call him, stopped the game if anyone made a wrong move or failed to make a move that was necessary. Failure to make a move and play on was a breach, the game being put to a stop and the entry fee forfeited.

After a couple weeks of observation, Augustus let it be known that he would like to play fanning paper money to show his good will. The owner of the gambling establishment was hesitant at first but agreed once Augustus placed a wad of five-dollar bills on the table. Communications was limited to hand signals and a mixture of Chinese and English, none of which Augustus understood. Ignorance of the rules was not tolerated, enforced by a rather sharp knife in the possession of the referee. One mistake would bring the bright shiny blade to bear if any player tried to continue after being told to stop.

Such a condition existed the night of Augustus’ unfortunate mistake. A couple hands of solitaire were lost when the cards obviously did not favor the player. He submitted to these losses expecting to do better and win all the money back plus more, his confidence overriding good sense. The next hand showed promise, Augustus eager to show these men his superior skill in the game.

He picked up one card placing it down and then realized there was a better move to be made and a necessary one. Before he could reverse the move, the call for a stop was made and the owner was about to remove the five-dollar bill placed as a bet. Augustus got to the money first attempting to retrieve it under protest.

“That’s not fair!” complained Augustus. “I was going to change my move and then it would be okay.’

“No okay,” said the owner with a thick accent. “You move, take hand away. Done! Give back money.”

“No!” protested Augustus. “I didn’t know about taking my hand away.”

The referee was waving a switchblade close to Augustus’s neck when someone burst into the gambling parlor brandishing a gun. Surprised with this and the fact it was a woman, everyone froze. The Amazonian said nothing but proceeded to shoot the referee’s hand and shot the owner of the establishment a split second later. Too shocked by this turn of events everyone in the place ducked under tables or behind doors. Cleo smiled blowing the smoke from the barrel of her pistol like some movie with Hopalong Cassidy minus his trusty horse Topper.

“Augie, get out of here before these gentlemen gain their wits about them.”

For good measure, Cleo fired off a couple more shots as they left to insure a safe departure. No one was about to challenge this dragon lady from hell, who shot first and didn’t ask for questions later. The sound of moaning and chattering teeth was all that could be heard in the gambling parlor. Fear of death had a way of making even the hardened thugs more benign.

Cleo had always had this sense when her little brother was in trouble. Even as she sat in Chicago she felt something brewing in the West Coast. After arriving in Chinatown right from the airport she inquired about a stupid white man, who might be around there. Needless to say people knew exactly who she was talking about and pointed her in the right direction. The rest unfolded as told.

“You are so lucky your sister got there in time,” replied Julius. “Do you have any idea the trouble you could have caused her? No matter what these men planned for you, Cleo could go to jail for shooting them or worse if any of them had guns.”

Like a sinner in the confessional, Augustus bowed his head promising to repent. The experience, although exciting, did have the potential of putting Cleo in harms way, not to discount the possible injury done to him. He never felt he was in real danger, a fault in his mental processing.

 

Who Done It

After speaking with the officers investigating shots fired in Chinatown and a brief inquiry with the Rose brothers, Nathan Knox came to the conclusion no crime had been committed, tossing the complaint in the dead file. The San Francisco Police Department had enough crime without looking for any more. The drunks and vagrants kept the files full, though they were put toward the back in priority. These were dead end cases where an investigator can waste hundreds of hours and get nowhere. There were the usual informants but they could be just as unreliable as the men passed out drunk.

“I should have been a farmer,” muttered Nathan. “Growing artichokes in Castroville can’t be as crappy as this job. Fresh air and a few miles to the ocean.”

“Did you say you want to be a farmer?” asked Art, a co-worker and young investigator.

“Nah! Just thinking out loud,” returned Nathan. “It would be different, though. You stick things in the ground and wait for them to grow. When it’s all done you have made something, food for people. Growing food, it’s so real and does something good for people. This job is nothing but damage control; I get a little nuts babysitting the city sometimes. Might be a nice change to let people handle their own problems, deal with it. Come to think about it, isn’t that the way Chinatown handles things? We see the tip of the iceberg there, Art. Those people take care of their own, none the wiser.”

“You might get all goose bumpy about letting Chinatown take care of itself but we still gotta check those things out,” declared Art like he was reading the department manual. “What would happen if they thought we were ignoring them? Before you know it they’d take over the whole city, Nate.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” returned Nathan. “This isn’t Gotham City where the bad guys run the place. And you’re not Superman either.”

Nathan held the complaint of a shooting in his hand, wondering what really happened in Chinatown. There had to be thousands of stories the he never heard about the place. It had its own form of mafia, which was tolerated because the people there were used to being shaken down. It wasn’t right but there was nothing the police could do until they got names addresses, the general Chinese public too afraid to offer up that information.

“You should see the sweetheart I’m going out with tonight,” boasted Art. “Ran into her at lunch the other day while I was buying some socks. She’s a classy redhead and got legs that go all the way up her…..”

“Stop! Art, not now, please,” scolded Nathan. “There are women in the station who might be offended.”

“Hey, just because you don’t get to fool around anymore doesn’t mean I have become some kind of monk,” replied Art. “Besides this gal’s so warm for my form, I might even buy her dinner.”

“You don’t normally buy dinner for the women you date?” queried Nathan. “Have you no shame?”

“Let’s face it Nate. I know what I want and I know what they want. So why not cut to the chase? Saves a lot of time and money. If all goes well I’m done by eleven o’clock and go home for a little shuteye unless I tag one who wants an all-nighter.”

“What about respect?” pressed Nathan a little bothered with the conversation. “Did you ever consider that? Women are people with feelings. Don’t you think your method is a little on the shallow side.”

Art didn’t answer only laughed. Nathan knew better than to convince Art how to act around women. The man was young and happily sowing his wild oats, which was not very moral but not uncommon in young men and women. Post war wartime had changed a lot of people, especially the ones who were too young to serve. Nathan often wondered why the young were so different than he.

 

Zeilsac at Zimms

Augustus sat in his cluttered living room surveying his life so far. His last breeding tropical fish, Peter had died, perhaps because the fish bowl had turned green. He really thought they were just kidding when they told him to clean the bowl once a week. The loss of Peter wasn’t exactly devastating since breeding fish required more than one anyhow. Augustus decided to abandon any idea of buying more, the price of this species pretty high.

The detective work was harder than he thought and playing ‘Beat the Chinaman’ was definitely out since Cleo had shot a couple of them up. It was doubtful they would forget in a hurry. His life was becoming boring, no new vistas to explore. He needed something to cheer him up, something to stir the adventure juices. The thought of juices inspired him to go somewhere and grab a burger. He hadn’t eaten in awhile; the things in his refrigerator were just as green as Peter’s fish bowl.

Burgers were his favorite food and cheap too. He decided to go to Zimms since they had a different manager, who did not know Augustus. They were quite rude to him before, he deciding to forgive them because he liked their burgers. It was about 7:30 pm, most of the dinner patrons done, the few night shift people drifting in for a snack; he knew the schedule having frequented the place often. The waitress, Grace waltzed up behind the counter and asked for his order, her pretty blonde hair bobbing behind the hairband she wore. She was pretty cute and looked like the kind of girl Augustus might like to get to know better. His track record with women was pretty dismal.

“Okay honey what do you want?” droned Grace. “Chicken dinner is on special and includes a slice of apple pie for an extra fifty cents.”

“That sounds good but I think I’ll just have a burger and fries,” returned Augustus.

“Coffee with that order?” returned Grace scribbling down on her order pad.

“No, but I’d like to take you to a movie or something,” Augustus blurted out.

Grace rolled her eyes, setting down her order pad on the counter, searching for the perfect comeback. It was not the first time a man had been so obvious; it happened all the time.

“Listen buddy,” she began. “Just because I wait tables, doesn’t mean I’m on the menu, understand? If you were paying attention you’d also notice the ring on my left hand with the big diamond. My boyfriend is a big guy and would pound you into the ground if he knew you were flirting with me, he’s terribly jealous. So, coffee or no?”

“Uh, no,” returned Augustus feeling worse for having tried. Quietly he decided Grace was not his type anyhow, too chatty and he didn’t like the way she dressed. He wondered if he would have had a chance if there hadn’t been a boyfriend in the picture.

Halfway through his burger someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and saw a woman with hair that had been combed with an eggbeater and a face slightly asymmetrical. She wore huge silver hoops on her ears and a dress that showed a plethora of unrestrained flesh.

“Augie, it’s been a long time,” she spouted, all smiles. “High school if I remember correctly, Lincoln High School.”

“Uh, I’m not sure I remember you,” he responded. “Were you in any of my classes?”

“Francis Zeilsac,” she answered. “No, we were in the same detention room a few times. I was a little heavier then, ate a lot of my insecurities back then. My face was a mess, pimples really bad but they cleared a few years later. ”

Augustus was trying to place her and had vague recollection of who she might be.

“Were you the short, fat girl with the bad skin and glasses that sat in the back of the detention hall?” he managed.

“Yeah but I wasn’t really fat, actually,” she amended. “I was in a transitional period, you know, baby fat. Kids used to call me ‘Franny with the big fanny.’ So cruel, it used to upset me until I lost a bunch of weight, eighty pounds to be exact when I went to college and started dating. My shrink said I had self-esteem issues, which contributed to my love of potato chips and donuts. But I’m okay now.”

He wanted to tell her she was still pretty fat but decided not to, given his past experiences with women. Women did not like to be called fat or skinny, they had enough issues with hair, body type and whether their breath smelled. Words like shapely, nice figure and cute were the acceptable terms. If you told her she was skinny she might get upset because you want a little more on the bones. If you tell her she’s fat, she’d make up all kinds of excuses like, hormonal imbalance, big bones or flat out get pissed at you. No, it was best to use generic terms.

“Yeah, I can see that,” he answered. “Cute!”

“My last boyfriend hated skinny women,” she rattled on. “Told me there’s nothing to hold onto. Of course, he cheated on me with the skinny produce girl at the New Mission Market, so I’m not sure I should believe him. The skinny slut was selling produce and thought she was God’s gift.”

“I’m sure he was right,” returned Augustus. “I mean, about skinny girls.”

“You know what I miss the most about him?” she said posing a rhetorical question while slipping into the empty stool next to him. “The sex! We screwed all the time. As much as we did it, I’m surprised he cheated with than skinny girl. Manny used to beg me to stop, you know. Said he needed to recharge the battery, you men and all your mechanical jargon. I am going to miss our sweet couple-jingle, Franny and Manny; he was Mexican, you know. A couple of time we talked about getting married. Then he’d have another beer and he’d laugh about it. Maybe he wasn’t the one. I thought he was but I guess not. How does a person know that?”

“I don’t know,” answered Augustus. “I guess you get to know each other and it happens or it doesn’t. I haven’t done that well in relationship department either, always too busy with my different businesses and stuff. I don’t mean to brag; a little while ago I help the police catch a killer. Was starting my own detective agency at the time. I had to quit because my brother and sister said I didn’t have the aptitude for it, plus the police were pissed off that I solved the case.”

“How interesting!” cooed Francis. “I like a man who has that adventurous part. Better than working is some stuffy office in a suit.”

The more he talked with Francis the better looking she was getting. True, she was a little plump in several areas and her skin still bared witness to years of bad complexion but her declaration regarding sex as very enticing. Perhaps some alliance could be arranged before his meal was over since it had been some time since Augustus had been with a woman. In fact, he really couldn’t remember if he had ever been with a woman in that true sense of the word. His last girlfriend had chronic headaches along with the previous women he dated, curtailing any intimate activities claiming other maladies. He was hopeful medical science would soon find a cure for these epidemic related headaches women tended to have.

Francis did not miss the fact that Augustus was staring at her cleavage. She made sure that he saw all he wanted while they were getting acquainted; or at least that is what it looked like from any unbiased observer.

“My Harley liked these too,” she stated pointing out her ample bosom. “Harley wasn’t his real name but he got the nick name cause of the chopper he road. I used to like riding with him, straddling the vibrating monster he drove. Made me so horny we couldn’t wait to get off the bike and screw like rabbits. He used to be a Marine, ya know. Killed bunch of guys during the war while in the Pacific. He had medals and stuff; turned me on so much, that man. I like a guy who get’s off on danger.”

“Oh,” said Augustus feeling a little left out of the picture. “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend.”

“Nah, he’s an ex,” she reported a whimsical smile on her face. “Poor bastard played chicken with a Mac truck and lost. Really screwed up the chopper pretty bad, totaled in fact. The CHP said there were parts of the bike and Harley all over the road, pretty gruesome.”

“Uh, yeah I can imagine,” responded Augustus.

“I do miss him at times,” she continued. “No one could ever call him a pussy. He lived on the edge. But a girl can’t sit around forever. Thought I might hook up with some lucky guy tonight, celebrate Harley one year anniversary of being splattered on the road. I sure do miss the sex we used to have.”

 

Perhaps she is just the friendly sort, thought Augustus. What luck! I wonder if I should ask her out sometime.

 

“Uh, do you ever get headaches?” he asked as she put her hand on his shoulder. “I mean, do you have a lot of problems with headaches?”

“Only when I drink cheap shit wine,” she answered with a smile. “I’m really more of a beer person. Never drink when I drive, though. Streetcars and buses work just fine for me.”

Now was the chance to ask the big question, the question that might spell rejection.

“Francis, would you ever like to go out sometime, I mean like a movie or here at Zimms for dinner?”

“How sweet of you to ask Augie. I was just thinking the same thing. But we are already at Zimms and I’m done eating, so why not come back to my place for a nightcap. I’ve got some killer Greek liqueur that tastes like licorice, great stuff. It goes straight to my head and I lose all my inhibitions.”

Augustus was definitely warming to this woman and her potential for losing inhibitions, given he past lack of inhibitions with Harley.

“Of course as a gentleman you wouldn’t take advantage of me, would you?” she added with a smile that might indicate the contrary.

“Uh, no not at all,” he answered a little disappointed. “Just a drink would be fine.”

 

The Idea

Diane Kotter had been working for Bond Paper Company for twenty-five years and felt no great desire to retire. The other people in the office were pleasant and the work interesting. It fascinated her how the world went round, paper being part of the fuel that made it happen. Julius was a serious, good employer, much like his father, never demanding she work overtime unless he paid extra. Augustus was not as serious, not a bad fellow in general, though he lacked the same work ethics as his older brother. There never appeared to be a dull moment when Augustus took on his side ventures. Maybe this was the reason she liked working there. Augustus and his messed up life was better than listening to the radio.

Sam Kotter, Diane’s husband was retiring and suggested they travel, now that he was free from the responsibilities of handling the US Mail. The post office on 3rd Street had been his life for thirty years. He saw no need to continue chasing off the bums and winos that tried to take up residence in the building.

As a supervisor for the last fifteen years, he had all the headaches of the post office and none of the friendly personal interaction of a mailman. He started out like all mailmen, hauling a big heavy leather mailbag along his route chatting with people along the way when the opportunity presented itself. It was hard work, very tiring but he liked being in touch with the human element of the mail, the faces of Mrs. Johnson or Billy Rudd familiar. Whether it was tradition or just a folk tale, Sam knew almost every person on his route and the type of mail they received. The usual bills were easy to spot and of course benefit checks were the ones people anxiously waited for each month. Unusual packages were items of speculation, people generally telling him what was inside. It was better beating the pavement in some ways than supervising a collection of personalities while handling the administrative parts of the service. On the street you were as much a friend as their mailman.

The trouble with retiring in any job is finding something to do with your time. Sam liked to fish the ocean and sometimes took to traveling inland for fresh water trout. This was hardly enough to do as a hobby considering Diane did not care for fish. Catching up on his reading was a little too sedentary for his liking. He had read everything by Zane Gray and a few of the classics. Besides, he had stared at enough words and addresses to last a lifetime, handwritten envelopes requiring some interpretation from time to time. He wanted to do something that was physical and filled the time without being boring.

Diane balked at the idea of traveling to Europe for a few months. The paper company could not possibly survive so long without her, training a new person in a couple weeks out of the question. She and the customers were like family and she knew what discounts each had without having to look it up all the time. There were dead beats that had to pay cash, the drivers did not always remember which one was which. She had suggested a simple rubber stamp of a star or several stars for the cash only customers. Julius liked the idea but it hadn’t been put in place quite yet.

While going out to lunch in the afternoon she saw a mimeographed flyer with an interesting idea. It was an ad for a basic training similar to the army but designed for mature men seeking adventure. Sam was in excellent shape and might enjoy the challenge of being outdoors with certain goals to be achieved. It was sort of a summer camp for very big boys, hikes, fishing and survival skills included.

When she went home that evening she mentioned the flyer to Sam pointing out the benefits of being outdoors everyday. She had scribbled down the phone number on a napkin and gave it to him.

“You think I could do this Dee?” asked Sam rubbing the napkin between his fingers. “I will be gone for weeks. Will you be okay?”

“Sam I think you should go,” she answered. “I’ll be fine here. I’ll watch TV at night and spend some time with our kids on the weekends while you’re gone. I know you’re going to go crazy hanging around the house all the time. I told Marsha about it and she told me a friend of hers had done it twice and wants to go back the next year. Said it was the best experience ever.”

“Okay, then,” he replied. “I’ll give them a call tomorrow.”

 

Boxcar Bingo

Two days had passed since the boxcar for Maltesta Meat had been parked in front of the office on 9th Street with no action except for the rail yard people coming out to replenish the diesel fuel in the refrigeration unit. The unseasonable weather normally required all the windows to be open which now was impossible due to the exhaust fumes from the boxcar. Julius was about ready to push the boxcar into the middle of 9th Street and let the railroad deal with it, also impossible since there was nothing powerful enough to move it. Even worse, the small leaks in the boxcar oozed out rancid liquid from the meat causing the flies from five square miles to congregate in huge numbers to bask in the decaying liquid. Walking down the street required the flailing of arm to avoid the insects and remembering to keep one’s mouth closed in the process, lest they swallow a fly or two.

Phone calls to the rail yard manager proved to be fruitless, his excuses making no sense to Julius. The meat company refused to accept the delivery until their existing boxcars were unloaded from their own siding. They claimed there was no room for an additional one. The yard manager was unsympathetic about the exhaust fume pouring into Bond Paper Company office. The movement of merchandise and the boxcars they lived in did not include storage in the stockyard. More direct action was going to be required.

 

“Maltesta Meat, can I help you,” droned a woman’s voice on the phone.

“Yes, you may,” returned Julius making every attempt to control his temper. “My Name is Julius Rose and there is a boxcar parked in front of my building that belongs to you people. It’s been here for three days and I would like it removed.”

“I don’t know nothing about that, sir,” she replied unimpressed with Julius’s dilemma. “You should call the rail yard and talk to them. Those are the guys who move stuff around.”

“Miss, I already have done that and they claim your company will not accept the shipment. This is not my problem and I want your company to remove it immediately.”

“I can’t do that, sir,” continued the young woman. “Like I said, I don’t know nothing about no boxcar. You’ll have to talk to my Uncle Guido and he ain’t in town right now.”

“Is there anyone else I could talk to who might be able to remedy this problem?” pressed Julius struggling not to lose his cool.

“Oh, yeah,” she answered. “That would be my Uncle Sal but he ain’t here neither.”

“When will he be back?” asked Julius his resolve melting by the second.

“About a week I guess, along with my Uncle Guido. They both went to Vegas on business but I know they was lying cause they told me they was gonna gamble. My aunt don’t like it, so they lied about where they was going. Said they was going to Los Angeles to work a deal with Uncle Pritzi, who don’t need no business on account of the deal he done with the union. I don’t know what that was but he sorta got the monopoly. Funny, huh? Meat monopoly!”

“Do you have any uncles left there that might be able to help?” said Julius his hopes fading rapidly.

“Nah, only guy that knows anything is Benny in the warehouse,” she rambled. “But Guido told him to keep his mouth shut and do what he is told. I think that was mean but my uncle is a fussy guy. He don’t want nobody messin’ with the business he’s gone. He even called me stupid once because I didn’t give him a message. It wasn’t my fault since I had to pee, bad and didn’t write down the message. Still, I don’t think it was right to call me stupid for that. My mom told him so too. Now my Uncle Mick treats me like a princess says nice things and compliments me on the way I look. Says I got a built that men dream about. Actually he ain’t my real uncle but a friend of my mom.”

“Thank you, Miss you’ve been very helpful,” returned Julius putting an end to the meaningless conversation.

 

Uncle Guido and Uncle Sal appeared to have things tied up. Julius was going to have to find another way to rid himself of the noisy, noxious boxcar. Then it came to him, there’s more ways to skin a cat and there are other people who might be able to remove the offensive obstruction without Uncle Guido and Uncle Sal.

A few phone calls later and there was an official city car double-parked next to the boxcar. A man in his forties walked around the boxcar holding a handkerchief to his nose and shaking his head. An hour later the police arrived with bolt cutters and a search warrant. The boxcar was opened the police climbing a ladder provided by Mario in the warehouse. In spite of the refrigeration, a foul smell emerged from the boxcar of rotting meat. Sides of beef and pork hung on racks with smeared US inspection stamps that appeared to be bogus. Upon further examination human body parts were discovered wrapped in plastic and tucked between animals part boxes, perhaps a special they were having at the meat company. By afternoon the police had the boxcar removed to a siding where further investigation was to be conducted.

Mario hosed off the siding where the boxcar had stood washing the nasty liquid and flies to the storm drain. What began as a complaint to the Health Department turned into something a bit more serious. In any case, the boxcar was removed and some sense of normalcy returned to the Bond Paper Company office, none too soon due to a delivery of paper products to the warehouse.

 

Whistle While You Don’t Work

Augustus had been coming in late every morning for the past week. Julius attributed it to the foul smelling boxcar but there was something different about his brother; he smiled a lot and had less of a disoriented look on his face. He barely did his job, which was not unusual, though his attitude did not reflect his continued contempt for the paper business. True, he still complained about the lack of excitement, an emotion never experienced unless one received a new client with a substantial business order. Even then Augustus had little enthusiasm for the windfall.

“What’s with your brother?” inquired Diane. “He’s not acting the same. I heard his whistling yesterday. Poor man can’t hold a tune, though. Not getting anything done either. So, what’s up?”

“I don’t know,” returned Julius. “I chewed him out about being late all the time and he merely shrugged his shoulders offering no argument. I asked him if something was wrong. He didn’t answer me, smiling at some secret he was unwilling to share.”

“Tell you what,” added Diane. “Marsha and I will take him to lunch and pry it out of him. He’s more likely to spill the beans with us girls.”

 

“Interesting!” replied Marsha. “And her name is Francis?”

“Yep, and we’ve been seeing each other for a week now,” returned Augustus. “We go to her place at night because she says my place is a mess. Okay, I admit there might be a little clutter but I know where everything is and hate to reorganize.”

“So, what’s she like?” pressed Diane. “Pretty?”

“Not exactly pretty as one might say,” began Augustus pained by trying to describe her. “I would say average, maybe.”

“Tall, short, thin, chubby?” added Marsha.

“She’s lost a lot of weight,” he said being diplomatic about her chunkiness. “Still working on it too. Claims she wants to reach target weight of one-hundred and seventy-five pounds.”

“Guess she’s kind of tall then,” replied Marsha amazed by the declaration.

“Nah, I think she said she’s a little over five feet tall,” answered Augustus. “Perfect height for me. I really don’t like women who are taller than me. She’s also got the cutest tattoo of a spider on her…..,” he paused unsure if it was necessary to be exact about the location of the tattoo. “It’s a nice tattoo, artfully done. She says it’s hard to find a good tattoo artist these days. Said I should get one too.”

The ladies extracted all the information they could, soon turning the conversation to other subjects. There were a few things about business and shopping expeditions, finally moving on to Sam’s proposed adult boot camp. Diane explained the purpose and the details of the camp. Her husband had not been taken into the army because of his bad feet. Ironic since he was a mailman. Augustus listened intently, asking questions about each detail of the camp. By the end of lunch Diane pointed out the flyer in the window of the café. Augustus wrote down the phone number with genuine interest.

 

Francis will really get excited when I tell her about this, he mused. She said she likes a man who is exciting and has adventure in his soul. Maybe then she’ll let me get a little further with her. Massaging her feet is okay but I hoped we’d have sex by now.

 

Contrary to his expectations Augustus had not found an easy woman. Maybe she was, with the right man but not so much with him. To date, their sex life was very one sided, she gaining all the pleasure with the promise he would be included at some point in time. Massaging her feet every night had potential guided by the mood Francis was in. The mood seemed to shift back towards her ex-biker lover, Harley. Augustus felt it was only a matter of time before she saw how macho, dynamic and adventurous he could be. A civilian boot camp, akin to army basic training would surely warm her cockles.

Back at the office he made the call to the camp representative. As stated by Diane it had all the elements to make a man out of a boy or make a man, more of a man. There was only one catch, money. It cost several hundred dollars to take the training along with the time away from work. Augustus had already borrowed an advanced month’s worth of salary and doubted his brother would agree to more. Previously he had advertised in the San Francisco Chronicle trying to sell all the materials from his failed enterprises of the past. No one wanted to buy the boxes of greeting cards or the first six volumes of a twelve volume, encyclopedia. Even the fifth edition of Sherlock Holmes books drew no takers. He would have to find another way to impress Francis if he expected to get anywhere with her.

 

Gettin’ That Feeling

Cleo Rose-Bocca felt a twinge in her stomach, normal if one was coming down with the flu but not normal when her brother was about to get into trouble again. No sneezing, head or body aches accompanied the stomach pain. All symptoms pointed to one thing only. It had to be Augustus.

“Angelo are you feeling okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, why, honey?”

“Just want to make sure it wasn’t something we ate,” she replied. “I got grumbling in my gut.

“Augie?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” she answered. “I’ll start packing now but wait a little while before I decide to go. Maybe the feeling will pass.”

 

Things were hopping in the police lab as parts of the body from the Maltesta Meat boxcar were brought into the lab for analysis. Henry Fong headed the team hoping to find some small clue to who the person might be; cause of death was unlikely to be found since the parts offered no specific clues. There was no way of knowing what he or she died of. It would have been easier if they had all the parts but that was hoping for too much. The most they would be able to get is the blood type and perhaps whether it was a man or woman if certain parts of the anatomy were available, which they were not.

“Hard to say,” said Henry as he examined the parts. “Very hairy arm and leg, big bones. You might assume it is a man but I know women who can be just as hairy, not Asian of course.”

He liked to joke about little facts like that. Henry wasn’t married but had a lovely Chinese girlfriend who was a petite woman.

“I can tell it’s not a rich person because he has been wearing cheap shoes for a log time,” he continued. “Look at the calluses on the toe and edge of the foot, most likely a man by the thickness of the fingers too. We’ll take samples and see what else we can find.”

“Let me know if anything else comes up, Henry,” replied Nathan. “Our guys are checking out the meat packing place to see if there are any other body parts floating around.”

Henry smiled. “I know what this one died of, serious stress,” said Henry. “He just fell apart.”

“Funny Henry,” returned Nathan. “Your sense of humor is a little on the macabre side. I’m sure glad you never became a family doctor.”

“Come on Nate, this is forensics not pediatrics. I thought about being a doctor once, even was pre-med for a year. But I enjoyed playing with the chemicals and analyzing stuff too much to limit myself to runny noses and dispensing aspirin. Besides, I see more interesting things in a month than a doctor sees in several years, plus mine are already dead so I can’t screw up. A doctor is be like being a beat cop all whole your career, rousting drunks and giving tickets. A forensics investigator gets to see a hell of a lot more.”

“Sometimes a lot more than I’d like to see, Henry. The one thing I hate about this is the fact we found the body parts in front of The Rose brothers office. I don’t suspect them but what are he chances the boxcar had to be there? The Rose brothers give me a headache, mostly Augustus.”

“I can tell you one thing, Nate. Whoever did this was no amateur. All the cuts are perfect, following the line of muscle and severing the limbs at the optimum place. If you cut up a body wrong you need to have a saw to get through the bones. It can be done but time consuming. You got someone who knows how to dissect a human.”

“I’m getting a bad feeling about this one already, Henry.”

 

The growing feeling that his life was useless and threatened by the outside world preyed heavily on his mind. Living on an income from raising chickens did not make him rich or provide him with opportunities. He needed to have a specific goal; Sparky McNealy had to create something like a training program for people who wanted to handle guns. That would get him where he wanted as a survivalist and an independent not relying on dumb chicken farming. With enough cash he could dig into a place in the foothills of California and live out his life without authorities breathing down his neck. If someone got in his way, a quick shot and a shallow grave would rid him of the problem.

When the big nuclear war happened, he would be prepared to defend his place along with whomever he decided to take with him. Andre was cooperative but a weak link in Sparky’s plan, not to be the chosen one if it came to that. He would have to be left behind in favor of smarter and more loyal people, perhaps a woman to do his bidding. He needed people who could think and follow orders at the same time. Getting enough cash to develop his plan was the biggest problem now. As if reading his mind, Andre had a good idea, perhaps the only good idea in two decades.

“Sparky you should advertise,” began Andre. “I bet there are a lot of people who would like to learn to shoot as good as you and know all that other stuff too. I really like it when we get dressed up in the army stuff and play war.”

“It’s not play, Andre,” barked Sparky. “This is about what is coming soon, the fucking commies. Read the newspaper and you’ll see how the Russians are getting ready to take over America, blowing up the place if anyone resists. In fact, I think they are already here pretending to be Americans. It’s all part of their plan, get their people in the government and then take over, make us all communists.”

“Spies?” questioned Andre shaken by this new information. “You mean we got spies here?”

“Worse, Andre! All them Congressmen and Senators want to control us and run our lives, setting it up so we don’t see it coming. I’m not sure the President of these United States isn’t in on the whole thing. I heard there are others guys who feel the same way as I do. They call themselves the Colorado For Freedom Militia.”

“Wow! Bad, huh?” returned Andre.

 

“Is that right? I am surprised he met an old classmate from high school and hit it off. He was never very popular with the girls from what you told me. We should invite Augie’s new girlfriend for Sunday supper,” suggested Clara clearing the breakfast dishes. “Sometimes I don’t think we pay enough attention to him. Augie just needs a little attention; it would be nice. He’s your brother after all.”

“I already did but he said they couldn’t because Francis goes to the firing range to practice Sunday afternoon,” answered Julius. “Augie told me she likes to stay on top marksmanship.”

“She owns a rifle?” asked Clara. “Very unusual for a woman.”

“No, it’s a handgun, some monstrous cannon thing from what Augie says. I’m a little concerned about him with this woman. I don’t want my brother to get any funny ideas, like buying a gun or doing something stupid.”

“Think about what you just said,” added Clara. “Your brother is always doing something dumb but usually harmless. That whole detective thing was bad but you got him out of it, right? You can do it again. Maybe this woman will be a good thing for him. I wouldn’t worry so much.”

“Clara he could have been killed several times over if it hadn’t been for Cleo and me. I don’t want to know anything he does. I’m not sure I have to patience to do it one more time.”

She gave him that sad look when he was being difficult but did not press the issue, seeing as Julius had gone above and beyond his duty to protect his brother on numerous occasions. Augustus couldn’t be faulted for a lot of this because didn’t go out of his way to create trouble; it seemed to find him. Good intentions and crazy ideas lead him down the path of potential trouble.

“Augie is a grown man and needs to take responsibility,” ranted Julius. “He’s not a kid anymore and we’re not in the schoolyard. Adult bullies don’t just punch you in the nose. They get serious with weapons.”

Clara tilted her head to the side, a clue that Julius was being uncooperative. He set down his coffee cup leaning both elbows on the table, exasperated. “I’ll find out which night for dinner would work for his gun maul. I’m getting a funny feeling about this already. But maybe you’re right; she could be fine. I shouldn’t worry.”

 

Nathan Knox couldn’t stop thinking of the silence that existed in Yosemite Valley in the early morning hours. He enjoyed rising early and watching the nocturnal animals finish their foraging, he, sleeping until the middle of the day. There was the ripple of the Merced River as it slipped through the valley almost quiet at times with little flurries of white water now and then. Granite and water was everywhere a primal place. The falls were never far away and the roar of water crashing down was like music.

This morning all he could hear was the ringing of telephones and varying degrees of noisy chatter in the background, doors slammed and a robbery suspect noisily hacked every two minutes, like he was about to cough up a lung. Homicide was bad. Finding a murderer and connecting it with a victim took care and methodical investigation; luck might be involved too. A homicide with body parts presented a whole different problem.

“Somebody give that man a cough drop,” yelled Nathan pointing at the robbery suspect. Except for the phones the room fell silent for several seconds at his outburst.

“Hey, Nate,” injected Art. “Your wife forget to make you coffee this morning? You’re acting like Mr. Grouch this morning.”

Was Nathan really being grouchy? Perhaps. The thought of wide-open places with sounds of nature made his place of business unbearable.

“Art, have you ever stopped and just listened? The noise in this place reminds me of the futility of our job, yelling, screaming, constant bickering between good and evil. The noise solves nothing; sometime we solve nothing yet the world still turns and the water falls still roar, No arguments or accusations of anything just the earth doing what it does best.”

“Huh?” replied Art.

“Never mind,” returned Nathan. “Just something on my mind, I can’t shake. Anyway, did we get anything on that boxcar?”

The boxcar with the meat and dead body came from Nevada, though there was a stop in between to pick up the porkers, the beef originating further east. The manifest for Maltesta Meat was reasonably accurate, give or take a side of beef, not surprising, no mention of human body parts. An all-points bulletin was put out for any missing person between Nevada and San Francisco with no results to date. There is no guarantee the victim came from anywhere near these places but it was the best bet we had. Henry said it was he couldn’t tell how long the subject had been dead since refrigeration halted the decomposition, making it impossible to gage. He had ascertained the sex of the victim, adult male, the age and other vital stats unavailable, blood type O, the most common.

“Stay on the wires to see if anyone comes up missing, Art,” said Nathan. “I’d be willing to bet our guy was somehow linked with an organized crime group. It reeks of thugs putting a hit on someone.”

“You ever wonder if that meat company could have just ground up the guy in hamburger?” suggested Art. “I mean that would be a perfect way to get rid of a body when you think of it.”

“I already get a bad gut feeling that was a possibility,” returned Nathan. “Guido and Sal Maltesta have been suspects with ties to the mafia for awhile. The FBI shared that bit of information with me after I hounded them for hours. They also said there was no legal proof of their link to the group. The Feds would like to get in on this if it turns out the murder happened across state lines. Personally, I’d like it better if we could solve this before they screw things up.”

“What about the Rose brothers?” added Art. “I still don’t think these guys are totally innocent; too much of a coincidence with the murders in Chinatown and now the boxcar in front of their business.”

“Trust me,” answered Nathan. “The Rose brothers are clean. Why would they call the health department and open up suspicion? Julius Rose is smart enough but his brother, Augustus is more inclined to become a victim not a murderer. Let’s not waste any time with them.”

“Okay, you’re the boss,” replied Art turning to leave a thought lingering. “I wonder who buys the meat from Maltesta? You know, I think I’ll stop eating burgers for a couple weeks.”

 

Great White Hunter

“What the fuck do you think this is?” growled the instructor on the phone. “You want a scholarship? This ain’t no music conservatory, pal; this is training for real men not panty-waist homos. Seven hundred dollars in my hand or no-go.”

“Yes, but it says customized to each man’s needs,” complained Augustus. “My need is for a scholarship. Trust me, I’ll tell all my friends and that will more than make up for the scholarship.”

“I’m booked for the year. I got a waiting list of guys hot to jump into the program,” barked the instructor. “ And they have the money. I teach real survival skills, hunting, eating off the land, shooting, a list skills that would make your mama faint. When I’m done with them, no one will ever kick their ass. They’ll be the ones doing the kicking.”

“I’m not interested in kicking anyone’s ass,” whined Augustus. “I just want to impress my girlfriend and get laid.”

Obviously the patience of the instructor was wearing thin. Augustus could tell by the tone of his voice a scholarship was not going to happen.

“Listen, this conversation has just ended,” added the instructor with a click of the receiver.

Augustus was a little disappointed with the inflexibility of the survival instructor. Why couldn’t he make an exception for him? He would tell all his friends as promised though they were few. In fact he really didn’t have any unless you count the guy at the ice cream store in West Portal. And could he count him as a friend just because Augustus left a dime tip each time he went there? The guy seemed to be happy to get it.

The challenge remained; Augustus needed to do something to make Francis warm up to him. Anything would be better than working behind a desk at a stationary wholesaler. Francis was so macho; he found driving three miles over the speed limit daring. She smoked cigars and sported several tattoos while he suffered from a persistent rash that the doctors said would go away in time. If he didn’t do something soon Francis will look elsewhere for excitement. If so, he might as well be a monk living in some monastery making wine and being celibate, the major drawback not being, Catholic.

At the bottom of his front stairs a bunch of paper trash and freebee newspapers swirled in the wind. Though not especially neat, Augustus picked them up prepared to throw them in the trash. Something caught his eye in the want ad section. The words ‘Survival Training’ in bold ‘$200 for First Week’ jumped out at him. He read further noting the similarities to the other flyer he had read, handling guns, hunting, and survival skills. Two hundred was so bad when compared to the other place. He could manage that as long as he didn’t eat for the month. Besides, he was sure they had to feed him while in training. He could always grab a meal with Julius the rest of the month.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” said Sparky talking to someone on the phone. “You have to have a real gun not a BB gun for this training, two-hundred bucks for the first week and one-hundred every week after. I got extra rifles but that will cost you more, ammunition not included. Sure, can bring a friend as long as he pays too.”

McNealy’s ad had produced a half dozen men, varying in ages, all wanting to take the survival course. Most of those interested didn’t have the immediate cash and begged off for a later date until they could get it. Sparky didn’t have any specific plan in mind, let them fire off a few round, dress up in old army fatigues and crawl in the dirt like they were in Korea or something. They’d never know the difference.

To date he had one young guy with glasses with cash in hand named Eric Ericson, his five foot-one inch, hundred and five pound frame anything but intimidating. Soaking wet he might weigh one hundred eight pounds, which included the roll of quarters in his pocket. The rifle he brought with him was an old Russian World War II piece, Mosin Nagant with twenty-five rounds of ancient ammunition, the rifle never fired since the war. There was a good chance the rifle would explode in his face and kill the trainee, which didn’t matter to Sparky. There were plenty of places to dump a body if that happened.

The promise of self-confidence with weapons lured Eric who was a total nerd trying to compete with men twice his size in the land of the dating game. Like so many others he felt that this training might change the way women saw him. Though brilliant as a mathematician, he lacked the social skills women wanted. Even nerdy women found him boring. Sparky began by providing him with fatigues to alter the image, the metamorphosis improving the image very little at this point. Training would begin as soon as Sparky had another sucker to apply for the survival training.

“Colma?” questioned Augustus. “Where exactly?”

“Listen, this is a secret training area and I can’t tell you over the phone,” said Sparky. “The damn government has spies all over, phone taps and surveillance cameras, stuff like that. Meet me Monday morning at Jefferson High School at ten. Oh, and bring the cash; this isn’t a free session.”

 

Saturday night dinner was celebrated with Francis, Augustus’s new girlfriend. Julius answered the door when the couple arrived a little shocked at Francis’s choice of clothes. The dress was so low cut in the front that it appeared her breasts might explode the confines with any quick movement. The skirt was slit up on one side exposing a very meaty leg and her black garter belt with nylons. Beneath the nylons one could make out a tattoo of a snake moving upward, beyond the perimeter of the skirt; one could on guess where it ended.

“Francis Zeilsac,” she said extending her hand. “You must be Julius; I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Oh, I suppose that’s a good thing,” returned Julius trying not to stare at the brazen woman before him. “Please come in and make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink?”

“Maybe a small one, I chugged a six pack earlier and don’t want to overdo it. Make it a double, bourbon straight up, no ice.”

Taken aback by her request, Julius led the couple to the living room, where he excused himself to get the drinks. Francis plopped herself on the couch sitting spread legged in a very unladylike fashion, Augustus smiling like an idiot at the display, twitching his eyebrows in appreciation.

Clara was still attending to dinner preparation when Julius entered placing both hands on the counter his chin to his chest.

“I’m sorry dear,” said Clara. “I just had to get this in the oven and couldn’t answer the door with you. I’ll go out now and introduce myself.”

“You might want to wait for a minute, Clara. First you have to prepare yourself.”

“Huh?”

“Do you remember that girl Augustus dated a couple years ago, the rude unattractive one?”

“Yes.”

“This one is worse,” returned Julius shaking his head.

“Why, what did she say?” probed Clara.

“She didn’t have to say anything,” replied Julius. “You’ll know when you see her.”

Clara took a peek through the kitchen door, her eyes widening as she saw Francis filling an ample portion of the couch, her posture suggestive.

“Oh my God!” she whispered. “Augustus is dating a prostitute?”

“I’m sure she’s not as bad as she seems,” said Julius. “Maybe she has some hidden assets we don’t see, though she appears to show more of herself than most.”

After brief introductions to Clara the foursome sat chatting until dinner was served. Clara tried to engage Francis in girl-talk but was thwarted by her guest, who spoke about the stopping power of certain types of handguns, the 45 automatic her favorite, though the 357 mag. could ruin anyone’s day. Things did not improve during dinner when the mention of wrestling came to bear. An avid fan of wrestling, Francis related the shortcomings of wrestlers during sex, their bodies developed but not their technique between the sheets wanting. Clara decided it was best not to throw gas on a fire and allowed the subject to die when Francis ran out of tactless details.

“Darling,” Julius said to his wife. “Augie and I will get desert. You girls can relax. Coffee Francis?”

“Nah, maybe another double shot of bourbon,” she answered. “The last two didn’t, hardly give me a buzz.”

In the kitchen Julius closed the pocket door to keep the conversation with Augustus private.

“I’m not one to step into your private life, Augie but this woman has some serious rough edges; she’s a disaster. Are you sure you want this kind of relationship?”

“Jules, the woman is hot for me,” he returned surprised his brother found Francis anything but charming. “I got a plan too. Sooner or later she will want to go all the way; I can feel it. I just need to show her I’m as macho as the other men she’s been with.”

“So I take it that nothing has happened in the way of intimacy.”

“Well, a little, sort of,” answered Augustus. “I mean she seems to have fun when I do the things she asks.”

Julius glanced at his brother, feeling sorry for him and frustrated that his brother did not have the sense to see the obvious.

“Okay, so what’s your plan, if I dare ask?” continued Julius.

“I need a couple weeks off to do this thing,” answered Augustus. “Francis will come around then, I’m sure of it.”

“A couple weeks?” questioned Julius. “Not that it will matter a lot but what do you plan to do with it?”

“Just thought a little time off to show her I’m a real man,” continued Augustus. “That’s all I need. It’s my secret plan.”

Julius slumped against the kitchen counter defeated by the lack of logic his brother asserted. At least Augustus was not going to return to gambling in Chinatown or so he assumed, a small glimmer of hope in that department.

“Okay, Augie. You do what you want but stay away from Chinatown. The gangs all know your face and will cut your throat just for fun. From what Cleo told me you didn’t leave on good terms.”

“Chinatown? No, that’s old news,” insisted Augustus. “My plan is must better than that.”

 

Later that evening Augustus snuggled on Francis’s sofa kissing her neck while she downed a bottled of beer. He hoped the snuggling and beer would put her in the right mood, though his past experiences in that regard did not give him an enormous amount of confidence.

“Franny, I got something to tell you,” he announced. “Monday I’m going to survival training camp for a couple weeks. The guy says I’ll be learning to shoot a gun and stuff like that.”

“ Really?” she responded. “I didn’t think you knew anything about guns.”

“There are a lot of thins you don’t know about me,” he replied. “I like to keep myself prepared, honed like a sabre; I take this course all the time. So what do ya think?”

“I will say this; it turns me on to think of you doing this manly stuff. In fact it makes me want…”

She stopped, thinking about what she should say. “I’m going to show you good time tonight,” she cooed. “Maybe not everything but a little bit more, if you know what I mean.”

He didn’t know what that might be but was glad that his idea might bear more fruit in time.

 

 

Guido and Salvatore Maltesta sat with their attorney at the police station checking their watch every two minutes. Questions were fired at the both of them, little in the way of helpful responses.

“I’m sorry but my client cannot answer that question,” announce their lawyer. “To the best of their knowledge, my clients know nothing about the unfortunate circumstances of the 9th Street boxcar delivery. I have instructed them not to answer, however because I have not fully examined the case. You might ask the people whose building the boxcar was found.”

“There is no case at this time,” replied Nathan Knox. “We are simply trying to ascertain the facts. Body parts are not normally found in locked meat shipments, am I correct?”

“My clients are not obligated to answer that,” returned the lawyer. “But I can say it is not a normal occurrence, which neither of my clients know anything about and cannot state without proper legal representation.” He paused adding, “If we are finished here, I’d like to end this needless examination. The Maltesta brothers have many obligations, which require their attention. I see no reason to continue this line of questioning.”

“Yeah,” added Guido. “You guys got nothin’ on us; and I don’t want to be late for my barber appointment. He gets pissed off when I’m late.”

“Thank you for coming in gentlemen,” said Nathan positive the two brothers were involved somehow.

“Oh by the way,” added Nathan. “We may need to ask more questions later. Stick around town for awhile.”

“My clients are required to travel often on business,” added the lawyer. “You cannot restrict them unless you charge them.”

“Yeah,” piped up Sal. “We got lots of business in Vegas with the girls.”

The Maltesta brother left with their attorney discussing where to have for lunch. Nathan hated these sessions because they rarely bore any fruit, the suspects saying nothing while their attorney relayed the same refusal to answer. The law was not perfect, especially when it came to situations like this. He could trump-up some reason to lock the men up but they would be out within the hour claiming harassment.

“Art, I’d like to put a tail on the Maltesta brothers,” said Nathan. “I doubt we’ll find out anything but these guys might get sloppy and give themselves away. Anything on Nevada?”

“Nothing came back about a missing person or suspicious activities,” replied Art. “There was one report of a freight from St. Louis arriving earlier the same day the Nevada freight left. I sent an inquiry to the police there about missing persons in their area, probably won’t get back to us for a couple days. Claim it’s not a priority for them.”

“Good work Art. So much for cooperation between departments but I can see their point. We all have our own problems to worry about without adding more. I know I especially hate missing persons. They show up after we hunt all over for them.”

Nathan shuffle a few more files on his desk digging to0 see what had to be taken care of first.

“Anything more on that Chinatown report?” added Nathan. “We got twenty-three calls on it and no one knows if anything happened.”

“Not much except that the word on the street is the place was a gambling den for the Chinese,” reported Art. “We been trying to bust the place for a long time but they manage to hide everything when we get there.”

“I get this itch on the back of my neck when I feel something is not right about that,” said Nathan. “I still think Augustus Rose had something to do with it but I can’t prove it. Why this guy keeps popping up in my life is a mystery to me. I know the man isn’t violent or the type to intentionally break the law. He just has a talent for being in the wrong places, his brother bailing him out all the time.”

Nathan rubbed his eyes frustrated with the case. He reached inside of his desk drawer and pulled out a brown paper bag containing his lunch. A little food and a few minutes without thinking of the case might clear his head. On his desk he had yesterdays edition of the Call Bulletin newspaper. He never got a chance to read it the night before deciding now was the perfect opportunity.

There was a headline about a big fire in the Mission District caused but a man smoking in bed. The man died in the fire and the old building was seriously damaged. Nathan couldn’t understand how firemen could do that kind of work, always risking life and limb with something as unforgiving as fire. He had thought about being a fireman years ago or even a mailman. His father-in-law kept pestering to get a good stable job in order to support his daughter. Civil service jobs were the best, though they did not pay that well. Being a cop was not at the top of the list but the position manifested itself before any other job came about.

He turned the page a couple times a small headline mentioning an illegal operation somewhere in the San Bruno Mountains near Colma. People complained about shots being fired in the area and a few seeing a man with a rifle, acting our some kind of military attack. The paper reported gunfire was not an unusual occurrence in this remote area, many people using firearms in those hills for target practice even though it was against the law. Local authorities investigated but heard no shots being fired when they inspected the area. Evidence of camping and a few empty cartridges were found, nothing else.

Nathan remembered going to that very area years ago to do a little target practice. There wasn’t much except hills, a deep gorge and a few rusted out cars, which made great targets. Of course that was before an ordinance was posted banning use of firearms in the area. A local farmer complained that he had been shot at accidentally while tending his field of artichokes. No one was ever hurt but it was now considered off limits to target shooters, though several ignored the ordinance. The place wasn’t that dangerous but when one added the human element, mistakes happened. The law was in place because people did not use common sense.

He opened to the next page where there was a small byline about a missing Teamster Union official in Chicago. The article didn’t spell out anything surprising except the fact a union meeting was to be held the day he disappeared, an unusual time for the official to come up missing. The official had a history of alcoholism and was thought to be on a binge. Nothing was said about a search or any serious concerns about the missing man. Police refused to get involved until the forty-eight hour period had passed, which was standard operating procedure. Most missing persons surfaced during that time, a waste of taxpayers’ money to investigate.

Nathan almost moved to the next article when he began to consider the timeline of the last article. The date of disappearance was a few days before, the wire services slightly behind in updates. It seemed ridiculous to think this had anything to do with the Maltesta Brothers but it was better than banging his head against a wall for unavailable evidence. He would call Chicago Police and find out if that union official was found.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply