Dick Masterson's Blog

Thedore Roosevelt

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The One We Won

I’m working the day shift with Fred, ten years my senior. We both hit it off pretty good. Freddy, a crusty old Marine from the big WWII, likes two things, The Marine Corps and the Mets.Like all of us he looked forward to his pension and living the easy life. He had a little under three years left before his retirement. We started our tour on Monday, Fred as always, began grumbling about the Mets, hoping they would have a better season than last year. I responded with the usual, “Yeah Fred, lots a luck.”
I liked Mondays, especially the day tour. Everything seem clean and fresh, you could see the kids going to school, the iron grates were off the store windows, people were out and you could stop and inhale the civilized world. Even though we worked in the ghetto, the low life stayed out of the sun, like the vampires. We were looking for an easy day. Last tour we had 35 complaints, plus a vehicle homicide, delivered a baby and had to take an old man who lost his mind, to the psycho ward in a body bag. Maybe today, things would go a little slower. It was the first day of spring and it was being ushered in with a warm breeze that made you think of baseball and the Jersey shore.
Fred spotted a car making a turn into a one way street the wrong way. We followed the car and spotted two teenage males inside.“It looks like two Indians.” (Fred's description of young black males) Fred sneered". I waved them over to stop. They pulled over to the curb and looked nervous. I got out of the car and asked the driver for his license and registration. He handed me his license and nervously said. “I left the registration at home.”“Who owns the car?” I said, bending to look in.You mean this car?" he smiled. That’s right” I said, "The car you’re driving.” giving them a closer look. After furthering questioning, they both admitted to us that, they had borrowed the car from the High School parking lot.“Borrowed, from whom?’ I said.
“From a friend,” the driver said.
“What’s your friends name and where does he live?” I said.
“Ah aah,” he stuttered. “Actually we just kind of took it.”
Fred chimed in. “Looks like we have a couple of car thieves here.”
I told the boys to get out of the car, “So you’re telling me you took the car without the owner’s permission. Right?” I said.“Yes,”
“But we were going to bring it right back, honest.”
I asked them if they were carrying any weapon’s.“No,” they said. “Are you going to arrest us?”
Fred opened their car door and ordered them out and into the back of the patrol car.“Your both are going to be arrested for possession of a stolen car, now get in.” Fred barked I could see they were scared stiff sitting in the back of the patrol car. Their eye’s weld up in tears as they pleaded with us.“Officer’s, we never did anything like this before, this is our senior year, were suppose to graduate in June. We wouldn’t want our parents to find out.
”Fred picked up the mike to call in a PA (police action).“Hold on Fred, let me think this one over.”
Fred gave me that look.” Think! Think what over; we have two admitted car thieves right? So what’s there to think over?”
I told Fred to step outside of the car, I wanted to talk.
“Look Fred”, I said. It looks like they just took the car for a joy ride. Right?”Fred nodded. “Maybe,” he mumbled.
"Its probably belongs to some teacher or whoever and probably doesn’t even know it missing, until schools over, Right?”Fred nodded again and another maybe.“It’s only One o’clock, there’s no damage on the car, they look like good kids, I think they need a break. So how does this sound. I’ll take the car back to the school with these two guys in it. You follow me with the Patrol car. I’ll put the car right back in the same space (hopefully) that they took it from and nobody will be the wiser, got it?”This time Fred didn’t nod. He rolled his eyes in his pissed off manner said “You gotta be kidding me, if this idea of yours goes sour, there goes my pension. Besides, we don’t owe these people anything. You know their type, their hopeless. At their age I was in the Marine Corp, fighting for a cause, so these characters can breathe some free air. I didn’t hang around the corners stealing cars. I did something with my life. Back then, when a cop came by, you show respect or you felt the law at the end of his nightstick. That’s we these two birds need.”I pressed on. ‘Look partner don’t worry, I think we can pull this off, trust me.”
“Ah…okay.” Fred said, but I know I’m gonna be sorry.”I pulled the car into the school lot and sure enough the spot was still there, pointed out to me by the boys. I parked the car and took the them aside and spoke to them like a Dutch Uncle.“Now listen up”, I said, looking both these kids straight in the eye. Where going to forget this ever happened, I want you guys to do the same, understand? Something like this could send you to prison. You’ll be living with a bunch of low lives, you’re lucky if you don’t get raped once a week in the joint. How do you think you parents will feel, you think it’s fair to them. Now what you did was stupid and against the law and a thing like this could ruin your lives.”Speechless, they turned and went into the school building,Fred and I went back patrolling our district. About a year pasted. Fred and I were still in the car patrolling the same district. We often thought about those two kids and wonder what they were doing. Every time I mentioned them. Fred would say. “What else, their probably out there mugging some old lady.”“So you think we made a mistake Fred?He snapped back at me.“We, hold on partner, it was your idea to let those two Indians go. I still think you made a mistake.”Just then the radio kicked in ‘Fifty One car, report to the Precinct.”I responded back, “Car fifty one received.”Fred still somewhat grumpy said, “So what do you think they want?”“I don’t know Fred, maybe they want to give you the “Sam Spade Award,” for cop of the year.”“Okay, funny man, let’s see what they want.” We reported to the desk Lieutenant. He pointed to the back room, “There are a couple of guys in the back that want to see you two birds.” In the back room we were greeted by two young Marines in their dress blue uniforms. They both stuck out their hands to shake ours and said, “I don’t know if you remember us, but were the two knuckle heads you let go over the car incident, remember?”After we graduated, we decided to join the Marine Corps. We’ll be out in two years with an option to go to college, all paid for.”I looked at Fred, he looked at me and we both grinned and shook their hands telling them, “Sure, we remember.” “Well”, they both said, we often thought you two guys. We want to thank you for what you did for us.” Fred and I got back into the patrol car and started our tour.Fred looked at me and without looking back, I said, “You know partner sometimes we win one.”
Fred said. “Just drive.”
The End

Friday, January 15, 2010

Granny and The Canoe

Dr. Henry Stone closed the garage door and rattled the handle a few times to check the locked. He turned the corner of the house and squinted at the hot July sun peeking over the blue spruces that lined his property, telling him, this day will be a scorcher. He opened the front door and hollered out “Let’s go everybody, were ready to leave.”
The Doctor’s two teenage children, Bob 17, and Betty, 15 came running to the front door carrying the last of their luggage.
“Okay, Dad, were ready. Don’t forget we have to pick up Jenny.”
Betty’s girlfriend Jenny whom they invited along as a companion for Betty
“Don’t worry, Betty, you have been reminding me all week,” the doctor said.
Dr. Stone’s mother a seventy-five year old widow lives with her son since her husband Arthur’s death, was in the kitchen talking to her daughter-in-law Mary.
Henry stuck his in the kitchen and interrupted the two women with, “Hey, let’s go, girls. Were all loaded, canoe’s tied on top, everything A-okay for takeoff. The sun’s starting to climb, looks like we’re going to have a hot Fourth of July weekend, let’s go, chop chop.”
The old women smiled at her son” Now Henry, you’re just like your father, always in a hurry and I told you I’d rather stay home and mind the house. Besides, it is air-conditioned, and don’t tell me the mountain air will do me good. An old hen like me will just be in the way.”
Henry winked over at his wife Mary. Wrapping both his arms around his mother he said.
“Just listen to her Mary. I think the only reason she wants to stay home is so she can entertain her secret lover.”
Both women laughed and walked toward the front door.
Henry gave a quick look around. He set the burglar alarm and followed them out to the car.
The station wagon pulled away from the curb and Henry could feel the extra weight and the rattling of the canoe on the roof.
Turning into Madison Avenue, Henry thought to himself, “I hope we brought enough supplies, living in the Seneca Mountains for one week in a cabin without the comforts of home and two hundred miles from the nearest telephone certainly will test one’s self reliance.” He now turned off Madison Avenue onto Elm Road and stopped at number 12.
“Boy, I’m glad she didn’t bring a lot of luggage,” Henry thought to himself.
Jenny had one suitcase and an overnight bag. He helped her load it into the station wagon
After some small talk, the Millers wished everybody well and a good time. The station wagon pulled away and made its way toward Highway 9 and them to Interstate Thruway number 78.
The sign read North, Seneca Mountains Moosehead Lake State Wilderness Area.”
The rattling of the canoe reminded Henry of the many trips he made with his Mother and Father as a kid. He looked forward to the four hundred and fifty miles of pristine mountain country. And then the fifty mile drive on the old deserted logging road and the bumpy ride on the wagon road along the lake that ended at the cabin.
Bob shouted “Hey Dad I can see the cabin from here”
His grandmother sighed as she opened her eyes, “Thank heavens, it’s been a long ride and everybody looks exhausted.”
Everyone got out of the station wagon, stretching, yawning and making comments as to the beautiful scenery.
Jenny sighed. ”Ah look at that sunset, isn’t it beautiful, reflecting off the lake like that?”
Henry untied the canoe and called to his weary travelers.”Hey, let’s go, gang, don’t get to comfortable, we have to unload this stuff. Mary” he called to his wife. “Where’s my bag?
It’s right where you left it, between the two front seats of the station wagon.”
The elder Mrs. Stone slowly walked to the edge of the lake and sat down on a log bench and looked out over the lake.
Carrying the medical bag, Mary sat along side the old women and gently put her arms around her” Tell me Mom, I’ll bet you thinking about Arthur?”
“It only seems like yesterday, the old lady sighed that Arthur and I first came up here and discovered this beautiful site. Oh Mary, all the good times we had. And did you know, that right where we are sitting, Henry’s father proposed to me. You know that was over fifty years ago. Yes, Arthur really loved this place. It was his escape from the hum drum world. I used to call this place Arthur’s Waldon. He found peace and quiet here, if there is such a thing.”
They walked back to the cabin and the sun disappeared behind the tops of the ponderosa pines that dotted the mountain tops, a mountain that presented itself as a fortress, shutting out society’s evils and allowing the Stone family to experience nature inside its own sleepy hollow.
Henry Stone got the fire going in the old wood burning stove and turned to his wife ”Mary, what’s for supper?”
‘I have some hamburgers and potatoes out on the barbeque and as soon as the water boils we will have coffee.”
Mary made the old lady a cup of tea and a light snack.
“Henry.” she said. “I think your mother is very tired and I told her to go to bed right after her snack,” she’s all in.”
The elder Mrs. Stone finished her snack and retired for the night.


Henry opened his bedroom window and peered out into the night air. He could hear the rhythmic shrill of the whippoorwill broken by the splashing sound of a large mouth breaking water.
“Henry” he wife said. “You better come to bed and get some sleep. Remember you promised us a trout dinner tomorrow.”
Henry extinguished the oil lamp and climbed into bed and sank his weary body into the soft feathered mattress. The last sounds he heard were the cries of the timber wolves echoing through out the mountains, warning all creatures that strangers had invaded their domain.
Henry woke up with the smell of fresh coffee and bacon. He looked out the window and saw Bob flying casting along the edge of the lake encircled by the rising mist coming off the water. He inhaled the cool fresh breeze that blew through the cabin window.
“Mary” he said I’m starving what’s cooking good looking.”
Mary came out of the elder Mrs. Stone’s room and sat down next to her husband, “Henry, I tried to wake your mother. I think something wrong.”
Henry went to his mother’s side and observed her being very still and showing no signs of breathing.
“Henry, I tried to wake her but got no response., do you think she’s--.”
“Quick, get my bag Mary.”
Dr Stone gently lifted his mother’s wrist, trying to locate a pulse response which proved negative.
Mary laid the doctor’s bag down along side of him. He removed the stethoscope and applied the receiver to his mother’s chest trying to pick up the beat of a heart that had finally worn itself out.
Mary’s voice broke, “Henry is she?”
Henry removed his stethoscope, and lifted his mother’s eyelid, waiting for a muscle response.
“I’m afraid so Mary, she must have passed away during the night.
Mary laid her head against her husband shoulder and quietly wept.
Dr. Stone covered his mother with the bed sheet and walked out of the room closing the door. He gathered the children together in the den and informed them what had happened.
Mary spoke first, “Henry what could have happened?
Henry had his arms around both girls to comfort their grief and tears. Bob just sat quiet in the chair.
“Mary.” “I don’t know. I think she just wore herself out and died a peaceful death. After all, she would have been eight six next month. The years after dad’s death, she became lost in herself.”
Henry began to think,” The nearest phone is seventy miles away. Just to ride there and back would be one hundred and d fifty miles. Then the hearse would have to drive over five hundred miles and try to find a place that doesn’t exist on the road map.”
Then the idea came to him which seemed like the only solution.
He addressed the family.
“We will leave now and go home and take grandma with us.”
The others couldn’t believe what he said, as they stared at one another.
He quickly responded, “No no, let me explain. I have it all figured out.
“What we are about to us is a must. Please listen.”
We will wrap her in the sleeping bag and then tie her inside the canoe which will be securely tied to the top of the station wagon. Then head straight home make one stop for gas, and when we arrive at home, then I’ll make the necessary phone calls. Everybody understand what’s to be done?”
Mary said “Oh Henry.
I mean really.
We can’t.
What if… something happens?”
The doctor raised his hand. “Believe me, nothing is going to happened, trust me, this is the only way, there’s no other way, now let us get started.
With the station wagon loaded and Granny tied inside the canoe, they were back on the road. The station wagon made it’s way down the bumpy wagon road onto the logging road heading for the Interstate which would bring them home with all fingers crossed.
The station wagon hummed along the super highway, everyone in silence and holding their breath with thoughts on the canoe and granny.
Heavy traffic began to mount along with the tension due to the heavy hoilday travelers that slow the station wagon down to a craw and then bumper to bumper.
The sun high in the sky caused cars to pull over, lifting their hoods to cool down the radiators..
The sweat rolled down Henry’s back and frustration started to build in the Stone’s station wagon.
Then it hit Henry, “Oh my God he thought, With her wrapped in a thermal sleeping bag and this mounting heat, she should soon be in state of discomposure.
“Henry.” His wife said. There’s a Howard Johnson’s just up ahead and they sell gas. I suggest we stop there. Nobody’s had breakfast and think we should have a little something to eat.
“That’s it” said Henry, I’m sure they have dry ice, enough anyway until we get home. I’ll load the sleeping bag with dry ice; that should keep her till we get home.”
“Good idea Mary. I think we can all do with a bite.”
Although vacationers filled the lot, Henry found a spot at the extreme end under the Howard Johnson sign.
The Stones entered the restaurant and Henry confirmed with the manager about the dry ice.
The family now in a more relaxed state seated themselves in the booth and savored a light lunch. They were all anxious to get home.
Henry paid the bill and told his family “I’ll meet everyone in the front of the restaurant after I pick up the dry ice. We’ll get the gas on the way out.
Henry in quick step crossed the parking lot and made his way to the Howard Johnson sign, only to find that the station wagon was not there. Someone had stolen it along with granny and the canoe.
The End

Lolly

Jeff didn’t see or hear the blue sedan roll into the parking lot through the fog with its lights off. Moments later, he felt the cold steel of a gun pressed behind his ear. Although it was Halloween, this was no trick or treat. Jefferson Smith was being kidnapped.
The old women closed the curtain, laid the pencil down and put the scrap of paper in the pocket of her cardigan. She sat back in her rocker and continued with her knitting, letting her mind drift back 70 years when she was a sixteen-year-old girl. It was Halloween night and she sat at the piano in the Hope Chapel Church practicing her piece for Sunday services, when Homer Potts came busting through the front door, waving his arms and hollering.
“They’re here, the Martians! They’ve landed.”
Terror gripped the citizens of Grover Mills, located in the central part of New Jersey, by the broadcast read over the airwaves by famed radio actor Orson Welles. ‘The Martians had landed in Grovers Mill, New Jersey,’ echoed the melodic voice of Welles, stirring the people of Grovers Mill into action as defenders of the world against the Martian invaders. Not since the Revolutionary War, when reports of Hessian soldiers hiding in George Grovers’ carriage house, did the citizens arm themselves.
Lolly could only think about her mother, home alone.
“And if this is the end of the world,” she feared, “I want to be with her.” Lolly closed the piano and ran home to find her terrified mother glued to the Philco, mesmerized by the pudgy dispassionate voice of Welles, describing the following conditions in Grovers Mill.
“Good heavens,” he cried. “Something’s wriggling out of the shadows like a gray snake. Now there’s another one and another. They have tentacles…ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable.”
Wait a minute. Let’s get back to the present. It’s Halloween and we’re at the Yankee Doodle bar and grill, located inside the Nassau Inn in Princeton, NJ, where John Cruckle, VP of Geothermal Energy (GEM), is making arrangements for a dinner party in honor of Jefferson Smith’s retirement. The dinner is set for tomorrow night at 8 pm, in the Paul Revere room.
What’s the big deal about Jefferson Smith? He just happens to be the President and Director of GEM and one of the richest men in the country. He reintroduced GEM back into the country.
Jeff Smith and his wife Jane moved from the old home office in Norman, Oklahoma, to their new retirement home in Princeton, New Jersey.
I might add Jeff is a UFO buff. He never saw one, but he thinks they’re out there.
“Thank God that’s over, Jane sighed, as she watched the Mayflower van drive down the street.
Jeff opened the door to the Mercedes.
“Jane,” he called to his wife. “I’ll be right back.”
” Where are you going?" Jane said. "We have to unpack all this stuff.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said, clipping his seat belt. “I’m going to take a ride over to where they have that monument, before it gets too late.”
“Monument! What monument?” she asked.
“Don’t you remember me telling you about it? You know…the Martians.”
“Martians? Oh, come on, Jeff,” her arms akimbo.“Where did you read about that? In that silly magazine you get every month?” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, honey, I wish you would grow up. Its four o’clock and we have a lot of work to do. It’s going to be dark soon—what about all these boxes?”
“Jane, I’ll be right back, it’s not far—”
“How far? And what’s the name of the town? Remember we have the testimonial dinner tomorrow night, there’s a lot to do. I still have to get my hair done…did you check your tux? I hope—”
“Stop! Don’t worry, it fits,” he said, turning on the ignition. “The town’s only a few miles from here. It’s called Grovers Mill. I’ll be back in plenty of time. Now let me go before it gets dark.” He backed out of the driveway, stopped and rolled down the window. “Oh, if John Cruckle calls, tell him to make me a copy of the VIP seating list. You know him. The last dinner party he tucked the McLeans away in some far corner. Harry’s wife still talks about it. Love ya.” Jeff then drove off.
After driving up and down Hightstown Road several times, Jeff gave up and pulled into the Gulf station. The guy with the turban knew less than he did. The pickup with a bad muffler rattled in behind Jeff. The washed-out sign on the truck door read ‘Homer’s Hay and Feed, Deans, NJ. An old man stepped out of the pickup, wearing blue overalls and a plaid shirt topped off with a straw hat.
Jeff called out, “Excuse me, sir. I’m looking for Grovers Mill.”
The old man took the pipe out of his mouth “Grovers Mill! Why, it’s just down the road apiece,” he said, spitting in the dirt. “Can’t miss it neighbor.”
“Thank you,” Jeff said. “Could you direct me there? I’m new to this area.”
The old-timer wiped his hand on his overalls and stuck it out.
“Welcome, neighbor. The name’s Horner; just call me Percy. As ya can see, I’m in the hay and feed business. Course it’s not like it was years back. All the chicken farmers left.”
“Is that a fact,” Jeff said, looking at the setting sun, “Uh…Grovers Mill?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the old man said with a toothless grin. “I suppose you’re looking for the monument.”
Yes,” Jeff said, getting out of his the Mercedes. “Do you know about the monument?”
“Know about it, course,” the old man said. “Doesn’t everybody? It’s in Van Ness Park.”
“Tell me, sir,” Jeff said, excited. “Do you remember the night it happened?”
“Ya mean, when the Martians landed? Well, I’d tell ya what, neighbor,” the old man said, pulling his hat down to block the setting sun. “I do and I don’t. I slept through the whole thing. But I’d tell ya what. Lolly remembers.”
“Lolly? Who’s Lolly?” Jeff said. “Did she see—”
“Why, everybody knows Lolly. Lolly Day. She saw the landing and everything. Yep, seen it with her own eyes. Well, that’s what Lolly says. She lives right across from the park. Yes sir, that was some doings. That Hollywood feller, the big fat guy. he had everybody scared shitless,” the old man said, slapping his knee with a hearty laugh.
“Okay, thank you, sir,” Jeff said, looking at his watch. “I better get there before dark if I want to see anything. So…uh, what’s the best way to get there?”
“Get where?” The old man gaped. “Oh, the park. That’s whatcha asked me in the first place, didn’t ya,” he cackled.
Jeff nodded with impatience as he watched the sun fade in the west.
“This is Hightstown Road,” the old man said, pointing with his pipe. “Straight down that-a-way…I’d say about a mile…you’ll see Angus’s barn—”
“Excuse me,” Jeff said with a hint of annoyance. “How would I know its Angus’s barn?”
“Can’t miss it, neighbor. It’s a big red thing with a hanging door.” (he spit again) “He never did fix it. Scotchman, ya know, he’s got the first penny he ever earned, if ya know what I mean,” he said with a wink.
Jeff gave a half a grin. “Then what?”
“Let’s see…ya make a left, that’s Clarkville Road. Follow that right into Cranbury Road. You’ll come to a fork, stay right, you’ll see the pond.” The old man stepped closer. “If ya ever want to catch some big catfish, that’s the place,” he whispered.
“And Van Ness Park?” Jeff pressed.
“Oh yeah…sorry bout that. A little further up is Van Ness Park. You’ll see the driveway, pull right in. The monument’s about fifty yards, right behind the swings, this side of the pond, can’t miss it.”
Jeff put the Mercedes in drive and drove off with a wave of thanks. The old-timer hollered out, “Watch where ya walk, Sonny, that park is full of goose shit. Good luck.”
Jeff pulled down the visor against the glare of the waning sun, with an eye out for Angus’s barn.
His odometer showed he went a mile; and there it was, the barn, even the hanging door. Jeff stretched his neck out the window. No road signs. This must be it.
He made the left till it came to the fork, kept right and there it was, the pond. A little further, the park. Jeff drove in and parked the Mercedes close to the swings. A cool breeze blew off the pond. He zipped up his jacket. The old man was right. But not everything was right. Jeff failed to notice the blue sedan that followed him into the park. His watch showed 6:30 pm. The sun almost gone, he turned to the voice behind him and observed two men walking through the smoky fog. The tall one had something in his hand, the smaller one lagged behind.
“Please, sir, could maybe you help us?” the tall one asked, with Middle-Eastern accent and features. “We are trying to find Turnpike of New Jersey. Please, maybe you help. Thank you very much.” He presented an open road map of New Jersey to Jeff.
Jeff took the road map—Must be tourists—Jeff thought and spread it on the hood of the Mercedes. “Look here,” Jeff said, putting his finger to the long green line on the map. “This is the New Jersey Turn—” His body stiffened against the cold steel pressed behind his ear and froze to the whisper.
“Please, mister, you don’t move. Keep mouth shut. Move. Get in car.”
Jeff complied and got into the back seat of the blue sedan. A black bag quickly covered his head, his hands secured with tape. The blue sedan drove to the end of the lot, stopped and made a left-hand turn.
Jeff thought about Jane.
The foreign voice over the phone told Jane to write down what he said and then read it back. When she finished reading it back, the phone went dead. Jane Jefferson sat terrified, her body shaking. The last part of the message reaffirmed her fears. “If you call the police, we will send you his head in a box.”
John Cruckle got to his cell phone, which was on the third ring before he found it in his jacket pocket, hanging in the closet. He couldn’t identify the hysterical voice. “Who? Jane! Janie, calm down. What?..What about Jeff?..I can’t under…What? Where are you?...Stay there. I’ll be right over, don’t call anyone.”
The bells on Sean O’Connor’s cell phone chimed out “Anchors Aweigh.” He pulled to the curb and flipped the lid on his cell. “Hello. Who? John! Oh, John Cruckle, is that you? Last time I saw you, you were—what? Say that again, our Jeff Smith. Where are you now? Jeff’s house—Princeton. Give me the address and whatever else you have. Did you call anybody? Good. I’ll be right over. Keep the locals out of it, we need to find Jeff alive.”
Sean dialed the FBI at the Newark office. “Yeah, I want to talk to Jim Booth. This is Sean O’Connor.
“Hello, this is Special Agent Booth, can I—“
“ Jimbo, this is Sean. Did you ever hear of a town in Jersey called Grovers Mill? Yeah, Grovers Mill. Somebody put the snatch on Jefferson Smith—yeah, that’s right, our Jefferson Smith. You know what he looks like, right? Good. Here’s his plate number. Get over there and see what you can find. Keep in touch.”
John Cruckle arrived at the Smiths’ house with his wife Mildred and two VPs from GEM, Jerry West and Charlie Casey.
Jane opened the front and was immediately embraced by Mildred Cruckle.
John Cruckle took Jane’s arm and introduced her to West and Casey. He sat her down. She handed him the note. He read it, then turned it over. “Jane, is this all he said? Did you ask to speak with Jeff?”
She shook with tears. “No, that’s all, he said he would call back with further instructions, then the cell phone went dead. John, what can we do? They’re going to kill Jeff.”
“Listen to me, Jane,” Cruckle said, “nobody’s going to kill anybody. I contacted Sean O’Connor. You remember Sean. He served with Jeff in Vietnam. He’s now the FBI’s head man in the tri-state area. He should be here soon.”
The air around Jeff felt clammy. The darkness clouded his senses. He heard no sound beyond the noise of breathing and the smell of cigarette smoke. He wanted to speak, but dismissed it, remembering the cold steel against his ear. He knew the temptation to struggle against the tape around his wrist was useless. But it was real. And it was happening to him. He had to say something. He opened his mouth.
“Who are you?” he said.
Silence.
The blue sedan turned onto a gravel road for a short distance, then stopped. He heard both front doors open, then his door. Hands pulled him out of the car. He was pushed further, then up a few steps, through a door. They took everything out of his pockets before shoving him in a closet. The last sound he heard was the click of the lock.
At the Smith house, all parties were introduced. Sean established a command post in the library, strewn with unwrapped furniture. Sean ripped the bubble wrap off the hunt table and spread the map of New Jersey out. “Okay, what do we have so far, besides the phone call, the note?”
“Mr. O’Connor,” Jerry West interrupted, “don’t…you think we–we should call the State Police?”
“State Police?” Sean said, eyeballing West. “What are they going to do, besides make a lot of noise? Nooo. We keep this thing as small as possible. If we bring in the locals, it’ll turn into a Chinese fire drill.” Sean eyed everyone in the room. “Everyone follow?”
All heads nodded.
Sean flipped the lid of his cell to answer the ring. It was Jim Booth. “Jimbo! Whata we got? Really.” Sean looked at Jane. “They found Jeff’s car.”
She moved toward Sean, then stopped when he raised his hand, “Just the car, I’m sorry, Janie.”
Sean reached for his pen. “Where? Van Ness Park. Go ahead…Grovers Mill, gotcha. Who’s with you? Marino, good. Jim, I want you to stake out the car, I’m sending a team down. Let me talk to Carmine.
“Yeah boss.” Carmine resonded.
“What’s it look like Carmine?”
“Quiet!” Carmine said. “This burg looks like Brigadoon, except for the fire hydrants. The only noise ya hear is the rustle of the leaves, real quiet boss. We have the car, a Mercedes. It’s parked in what looks like a community park. In the rear of the park is a pond. Can’t see too much. We have a pea soup fog covering the entire area—”
“Carmine,” Sean barked. “Ya got a photo of Smith? Good. Start knocking on some doors…maybe somebody saw something. Don’t panic the local yokels. The last panic they had was in ’38.”
“What happened in ’38, boss?” Carmine quizzed.
“Martians,” Sean said.
Silence.
“We’ll talk later, go to work.”
Most of the houses on Cranbury Road were set back across from the park. The white Victorian with a wraparound porch topped off with a widow’s walk caught Carmine’s interest. It overlooked the park and the pond. The second floor had a light in the window. He stepped closer. I wonder… Then the light went out. He walked up the front steps quietly with his I.D. in his hand. His watch showed 9:30 pm. He rang the bell. A soft voice on the other side spoke.
“Is that you, Viola? I’ll be right there.” When the door opened, a middle-aged woman appeared with a welcoming smile, wearing a printed dress with an apron, holding a wooden spoon.
“Well, good evening, sir.”
Carmine identified himself.
“Land’s sakes,” she said “the FBI. Is there anything wrong?” she said, peaking around the door.
“No, nothing’s wrong, ma’am,” Carmine said. “I’d like to ask you a few questions…do you mind if I come in?”
“Of course not. excuse my manners. Come right in. I was expecting our neighbor, Viola. She lives right next door. Come this way.”
Carmine followed her into the parlor. “Thank you, Miss…”
“Rebecca. Rebecca Day, but everybody calls me Becky. Sit right here. How about a nice glass of cider?”
Carmine set down in a fluffy settee with crochet doilies, “No, thank you,” he said, “I just have a few questions. We’re looking for a certain individual. We have information that he may be in this area.”
“Oh my goodness,” Becky said, putting her hands to her throat. “Did he murder someone?”
“Oh, no, it’s nothing serious. This man is a friend of ours. We thought he might have had car trouble and stopped by to make a phone call. Did you see or hear anything out of the ordinary tonight or hear of any strangers about?” Carmine showed her Smith’s photo.
“No,” she said, handing the photo back to Carmine. “I did go over to Nellie Ouch’s earlier…stayed a bit.” She looked over at the stairs. “Don’t like to leave Lolly alone too long.”
“Oh, someone else lives here?” Carmine said, following her gaze.
“Yes, my aunt, Mabel Day, course, everyone calls her Lolly. This is her house, I live right next door. I look in on her now and then,” Becky said, fidgeting with her apron.
“Would it be possible to speak with her?” Carmine said.
“Well, she is eighty-five years old…I don’t know how much help she can give you…she doesn’t go out that much, stays up in her room most of the time, listens to the radio and of course tends to her knitting and a little crocheting—”
“Becky is that Viola down there?” a crackled voice called from upstairs.
“No, Lolly, we have a visitor…” Becky leaned toward Marino. “Should I tell her you’re from the FBI?” she whispered.
“Of course,” Carmine said. “Would it be easier if I went upstairs to speak with her?”
“No,” Becky said, “I think I hear her coming now.” Becky raised her voice. “Lolly, come downstairs, there’s a very important man here, he wants to ask you a few questions.”
“He does, about what?” Lolly hollered back.
“Oh Lolly!” Becky said in a louder voice. “Why don’t you come down, he seems like a very nice gentlemen.”
Lolly came down the stairs, stopping at the last two steps, supported by a black briar cane. “Is this the fellar?” she squinted.
Carmine stood up and walked over to Lolly. She wore a long black housedress with a white lace collar, and had hair as white as snow. Her wire-rim eyeglasses looked like two mason jars. She reminded him of George Bailey’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life, bun and all.
“Lolly,” Becky said, helping the old lady down the last two steps “This is Mr. Marino, he’s from the FBI. He would like to ask you some questions. Mr. Marino, this is Lolly. I’ll be in the kitchen, icing Henry’s birthday cake,” she said to Marino. “Henry is Viola’s husband,” she said to Carmine. “He’s wonderful man. They’ll be married fifty-two years come November or December. Or was it last month? Lolly, do you remember? Land sakes, time seems to move so fast these days, especially when ya get to be my age.” Becky giggled.
Becky walked toward the kitchen, stopped and turned. “Oh! Lolly. If Viola comes, let her in. Nice meeting you, Mr. Marino. I’ll be right in the kitchen, in case you need me. You’re sure you don’t want a glass of cider? I just bought a fresh jug today from Nellie Ouch’s. She makes the best cider in the county, you know.”
“No, thank you,” he said and glanced at his watch—9:45 pm—then over to Lolly. “Mrs. Day—”
“Just call me Lolly,” she said as she lowered herself into the mission rocker, supported by the black briar. “Everybody does.”
“Okay, Lolly. I have just a few questions to ask you.”
“Questions!” Lolly said. “Question about what, young man?” she said with a jaundiced eye.
“Oh…nothing special, Uh…your niece tells me that you spend a great deal of time in your room.”
“Yes, I do. I like listening to the radio. And of course I have my knitting.”
“Were you up in your room most of the afternoon?”
“Why, yes, I was, I had my nap around two this afternoon. I always take my nap at two; it helps me function better. Always did, ever since I was a little girl. Don’t you agree, Mr. Martin?”
“That’s Marino,” Carmine said. “Well, I—”
“’Course, back then,” Lolly continued with folded arms, “there was so much work that had to be done on the farm. Poppa had two cows that had to be milked. I would start the fire, prime the pump, by then Poppa was up and ready for work, not before I made him his breakfast. Back then, there was no school bus, we had to walk…almost two miles…I believe. I used to walk with Viola Heap. Did I tell you about Viola? She lives right next door.”
Carmine leaned closer. “Lolly,” he said, “I’m going to ask you something very important. And before you answer I want you to think about it.”
“I always think, Mr. Martin, about everything,” she said. “I can remember the last time they were here—”
“It’s Marino.” Carmine said. “They?” Carmine questioned.
“Why, the police, of course. I answered all their questions.”
“About what?” Carmine frowned.
“About the Lindbergh baby.” Lolly’s eyes shifted around the room. “And when they caught that murderer, they put him in the electric chair.”
“Interesting,” Carmine said. His watch showed 10:00 pm.
“Lolly!” Carmine pressed. “Let’s talk about tonight and—”
A knock at the door, followed by, “Yoo hoo, I’m here,” a voice sang out.
“Come right in, Viola,” Lolly said, leaning from her rocker as she peered around Carmine. “The door’s open.”
“Hello, every—oh,” Viola Heap said. “I see you have company. I didn’t know…I’ll come back later—”
“Viola! You’ll do nothing of the kind,” Lolly said. “I want you to meet Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin is with the FBI and I’m helping him solve a—” Lolly motioned to Carmine with her arthritic finger to come closer. “What are we trying to solve?” she whispered.
“Nothing.” Carmine shook his head with raised eyes. “Nothing.”
“Hello, Mr. Martin,” Viola beamed. “Has there been a murder?”
“Why, hello, Viola,” Becky said, coming to Carmine’s rescue, still holding the wooden spoon. “Come in the kitchen, Vi, I think Mr. Marino wants to talk with Lolly a few minutes more. You know, Vi, the FBI are very busy people and they have a lot of work to do. Come, I want to show you Henry’s cake. It’s chocolate, his favorite.”
After Becky and Viola went into the kitchen, Marino continued questioning Lolly.
“So Lolly, you were in your room most of the afternoon and part of the night?”
“Yes. I just said that,” Lolly said, giving Carmine a concerned look.
“Yes, you did; and during that time, did you notice anything unusual going on in the park across the street?”
“Unusual! Like what?” she said, with a wrinkled brow.
“Earlier today, a man drove a gray Mercedes into the park,” Carmine said, showing her the photo of Smith. “Do you remember him driving in?”
Lolly adjusted her glasses. “No…I don’t. I didn’t see him drive in. But I did see the other car drive out.”
“Other car!” Carmine paused ” There was another car.” Carmine said in a direct voice.
“Yes, there was,” she said, as she rocked back and forth.
The bells on Carmine’s cell chimed out the tune of “Garry Owen.”
“Excuse me,” Carmine said, taking out his cell. He flipped the lid and saw Sean’s name on the screen. “Yeah, boss.”
“Anything Carmine?”
Carmine stood up and turned his back to Lolly. “I got a ‘maybe’ going. Boss! There was another car.”
“We got any numbers?” Sean fired back.
“I’m working on it, I’ll call you ba—”
“Carmine” Sean shot back. “We got a second call…they want ten million in two hours, or Smith’s fertilizer.”
“Give me a few minutes.” Carmine checked the time on the cell: 10:10 pm. “I’ll get back to you.” Carmine closed his cell.
“Okay, Lolly,” Carmine said, taking out his pen and pad. “The color, make, year, anything about the car.”
“The fog made it hard for me to see any faces,” she gestured with her hands. “Might have been dark blue…maybe black or…I don’t know…”
Lolly took off her wire-rim glasses and let them dangle between her thumb and index finger in thought. “Well, like I say, Mr. Martin—oh, excuse me, Marino. The car had no headlights. But when it turned out of the park, the headlights went on; even that little light in the back, you know the one that lights up the license plate? I don’t know what they call it. Do you?”
“No,” Carmine said, losing patience. That’s not important.”
“Well, Mr. Marino—what do you know? I got right that time. I remembered what happened the last time the police came to the house.”
“Last time!” he said with indifference. “Do you remember the plate number? That’s what’s important—”
“No, I don’t,” Lolly said. “If you let me continue…Mr….yes, Marino. It was when them Martians landed. Matter a fact, it was a night just like tonight, ’cept I was at church, playing the piano—well, just practicing really, for Sunday services, and guess what?”
“I don’t think that really matters now, Lolly.” Carmine cringed. “What’s important—”
“So how is everybody?” Becky said, followed by Viola into the parlor. “Viola’s leaving now. Don’t forget Henry’s cake, Vi. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Viola kissed Lolly and gave a nod to Carmine. “Nice meeting you, sir.” Viola left.
“Well now,” Becky beamed. “Were you helpful to Mr. Marino, Lolly?”
“A little bit,” Carmine said with a silent groan. “I’ll have to leave. I want to thank both of you for your cooperation.”
“Oh…” Becky said. “The kettle’s on the boil, I thought you might want a cup of tea before you left.”
“No, thank you,” Carmine said, walking to the front door. His watch showed 10:20 pm. “I really must go.”
“Mr. Marino,” Lolly said, getting up, bracing herself on the rocker. “You didn’t let me finish about the car.”
Carmine walked back to Lolly, supporting her to stand. “Yes, Lolly, go ahead, tell me.”
“Well! I was telling you about the last time the police were here. They questioned me about the Martians, if I saw them or if I saw anything funny, you know. Well, I did see something. I don’t know what it was, kind of hard when you’re scared. That’s what I told the policeman. Well, I don’t think he believed me. He kind of smiled and said, ‘Young lady, next time you see something strange, write it down on a piece of paper so you won’t forget.’
“So I did,” Lolly said, taking the piece of scrap paper out of her cardigan pocket and handing it to Carmine. “I wrote down the plate number of the car, so I wouldn’t forget it. I may have a hard time reading the paper, but I can spot a ripe tomato fifty feet away in a field.”
Carmine took the paper from Lolly and stared at the number written on it. He heard the bells of “Garry Owen.” It was Sean.
“Hello boss.”
“I hope ya got something, Marino.”
“I sure do, boss. Are you ready to copy. If I’m not mistaken, here’s the kidnapper’s plate number.” Carmine read the number on the paper to Sean. “Ya got it? Good. I’m on my way over.”
A federal SWAT team broke into a farmhouse located at the end of a gravel road in Hightstown, New Jersey and rescued Jefferson Smith out of the broom closet, no cuts or bruises; and arrested two men of Middle Eastern extraction.
The next day, the dinner party went off as scheduled, with Lolly as the guest of honor, sitting next to Jefferson Smith.
Jeff Smith stopped believing in UFO’s. Now he believes in miracles.

The End

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Street Arabs

His chest sunken, shoulders sloped, the boy stared through hungry eyes at the tall policemen.
“Whatcha going do with me?” he said to the six foot four frame of Paddy Ryan. A tough no nonsense cop who dictate's the law in Hell’s Kitchen with the end of his night stick. One of the few patrolman to walk the streets alone.
“Tell me lad, where’s your mother?” Ryan said, looking over at the dead man on the sofa.
“Me mudder’s dead, she died when I was little,” he sniffed. “Mister, what are you going to do with me?”
“Do ya have any other family lad?
The boy shook his head. “No.”
“Ya can’t stay here.” Ryan said. “I’ll be taken ya to the shelter. Tis the best all around. What happen to your old man?”
“He wuz sick, past a week now…he just laid around and groaned all day. I don’t know what wuz the matter with him—“
“And the doctor,” Ryan said. “Why didn’t some one call the doctor?”
“ I don’t think he cared,” the boy mumbled, “I don’t know.”
Ryan took out his pad and pencil, “What’s his name lad?”
The boy raised his dirty nicotine stained fingers to wipe his eyes, “John, the same as mine.”
“John what?” Ryan said.
“Moran.”
“Moran tis it. Did he work Johnny?”
“Yeah, as a night watchman.”
“Where would that be now?”
“Thirty-Seventh Street docks, when he woiked.”
“Did he say anything before he died?”
“Last night he asked me to help him get into the bed. I tried, but I couldn’t lift em. “Get a rope he say’s and help me pull me self up into the bed, he tells me. I can’t find no rope, so I tried to drag him across the room, but he wuzz too heavy. So’s, I goes down stairs and gets Hickey, he help me put em on the sofa.”
“Hickey! Who’d Hickey be ?” Ryan said with raised eye brows.
“The super,” Johnny said wiping his runny nose with the back of his hand. “He lives in the cellar.”
“What happened then lad?”
“I went out to get a roll, I was awful hungry,” he said holding his stomach. When I came back, he looked worse. His legs and belly all swelled up. Last night he groaned something like awful, then he stopped. In the morning, I called to him four or five times but he didn’t answer.”
“Tell me lad, do you think he twas dead?”
“I don’t know, maybe,” Johnny said looking down at the floor. “I went to school.”
Ryan stooped down to Johnny’s eye level, trying to keep his uniform coat from touching the grimy floor. “Did ya tell anybody about your old man?”
“No… jest some of the feller at school…I had to go to school, cause I knew the truant officer be looking for me. They came back to the house--”
“Who came back to the house?” Paddy interrupted.
The fellas, they took money out of his pocket and his watch. The big boy took most everything. Then the ran away, they didn't give me give me any of the money.”
“Who were they Johnny?” Gimme their names--”
“ I don’t know their names, I think one of em belongs to the Gophers.”
“The Gophers, tis it. I should of known, twas it Stampy, Stampy Malarky?”
“I don’t know Stampy, maybe. They jest come up and took everything.” Johnny said.
A bunch of cut throats, the lot of em.” Ryan said, standing up. Would you know em if ya seen em lad.”
“I don’t know.”
“After they ran away, what did you do Johnny?”
“I went downstairs to tell Hickey, he got the cops. I’m sorry the old man’s dead, he treated me good, he never kicked me; well not much any way. What are they going to do with me mister?”
“You’ll come with me son; they’ll put ya in the shelter, or else your gonna wind up as an Street Arab. Get ya duds now and come with .”
Johnny Moran had no one, a twelve year old boy, left to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen to become a member of the over ten thousand homeless children known as Street Arabs.
Hell’s Kitchen, a cess-pool, formed from the over flow of the slag that spilled out of the America melting pot, spurred on by the Irish Potato famine and waves of poor immigrants arriving with their meager belonging in a sack, slung over their back teeming into lower Manhattan. Looking for a better life, only to be greeted by persecution, corruption and violence that harden them into a mass rabble, to fight for their existence to live. Johnny would become a member of that rabble, to confront the perils of the streets and try to survive.
If he got in the way of a wagon, he would feel the lash of the drivers whip out of contempt. If he plays around the store front, the owner would give him a kick or cuff behind the ear to get rid of him If the policemen comes, he feels the sting of the night stick to go play someplace else.
Ryan placed Johnny in the detention room in the back of the Ludlow Street Station House, next to the prison cells.
Confronted by the steel bars in the next room, Johnny remembered what his father told him about jails. ‘Johnny me boy. don’t let the coppers get ya in the jail house, or you’ll curse the day you were born.’
He heard about the shelters from other kids and didn’t like what he heard. Bad food, hard work and beatings. The shelters had a section called the pit, where it was said they put the people they called the crazies; retards and the demented ones.
Left alone, Johnny Moran escaped, back to old neighborhood on Tenth Avenue. He joined a large crowd outside the tenement and watched as two negro’s slid the pine box in the back of the wagon. When everyone left, he went upstairs and found the door padlocked. He went down the cellar to see Hickey.
“All that’s left in the house Johnny, I locked in the cellar,” Hickey said. “Twasn’t much, but it’ll cover the back rent. If ya want lad, ya can stay in the coal bin till the morning, there’s and old mattress the dog uses. You’ll have scare em off though, don’t fret son, he won’t bite ya. Come morning, ya have to get out. I don’t want any trouble with the coppers mind ya.”
In the morning, Johnny met Timmy his closest friend outside the tenement.
“Johnny,-- I heard, is he dead?”
“Yeah.” Johnny said looking away, hiding his tears. “They took em away last night.”
“Whatcha gonna do?” Timmy said, bending down trying get his friends attention.
“I don’t know,” Johnny said,looking back at the tenement, “right now I’m hungry, I’m gonna find something to eat, he said feeling his empty pockets. “Ya have any money Timmy?”
“No, not a cent.” Timmy said pulling his empty hand out of his tattered pants to show Johnny. “So, what ya gonna do Johnny, where ya gonna stay. Maybe the coppers will help ya.”
“Naw! They want to put me in the shelter with all the drunks and crazies. I can’t go back to school, either, the cops will get me. I don’t wanna go to no shelter Timmy.”
“Where ya gonna do? Hide out Johnny, how ya gonna eat…I mean where ya gonna stay?”
Johnny looked toward the freight yards. “I don’t know yet, maybe I’ll hop one of those freights and go out West.”
“What ya gonna do out there,” Timmy said squinting his eyes against the morning sun. “Ya never rode a horse.”
“I can be become a Hobo like Hickeys brudder Eamon,” Johnny shot back.
“Hickey! Timmy said. "Ya mean the guy that lives in the cellar."
"Ya" Johnny said with fold arms. "See", he’s got a brudder… and he became a Hobo and went out West…long time ago, he wurks on a ranch and rides horse and everything. I’ll bet he carry’s a gun too, I’ll bet.”
“I don’t believe ya. My old man knows Hickey.” Timmy shot back. “He say’s he never was right after the war…always telling story, especially when he’s drunk. I bet he doesn’t even have a brudder.” Timmy said, kicking an empty into the street.
“Ya never make it Johnny. I’ll tell ya what, ya could hide out over in my house, there’s not much room. I’ll ask me old man. Okay?”
Timmy’s family consisted of his father, older brother Willie and his baby sister Maggie. Timmy’s mother died of the consumption when he was three. After she died their father turned to heavy drinking. He took the boys out of school and put them to work in the soap factory. Twelve year old Maggie, kept house for the family.
“Ya think so, ya think he would,” Johnny said. Do ya have anything to eat there? Lets go now and ask him.”
“Come lets go.” Timmy said. with his arm around Johnny’s shoulder. But first lets check old man Lebowitz fruit cart, he always has some stuff ready to throw away, may he’ll give us something.”
Old man Kelly let Johnny sleep in the cellar that night on bundles of papers and rags. In the morning he took Johnny down to the soap factory; the floor boss gave Johnny a skinners knife and sat him down on a wooden bench to scraped the fat off the hides of slaughtered animals. Johnny put in a ten hour day.
All the money Johnny made, he handed over to old man Kelly, in return for some food and unwanted physical abuse. The rest of the money old man Kelly spent on filling his growler. Any complaints from the boys, they felt the razor strop on their back or the toe of his boot.
Johnny now a year older, wanted out. The curses and physical blows set him on his way. Timmy begged to come along. Johnny told himself, it was tough enough for him, but to have Timmy, just a shaver would…well he just be in the way. In the end, Johnny gave Timmy the nod. They left on a cold night in December. Gathering up what little belonging they put them in a sack and headed for the freight yard to meet up with Jack Mullaney, a member of the Gophers that everyone called Smiley.
That night, Smiley took em over to Park Row, to the Herald building and told them about making money selling newspapers.
They would fill up their arms with papers, then go out on the streets of Hells Kitchen selling their papers. The fw pennies they made bought day old rolls and stale cider.
At the end of the day, all the newsboys fought for a spot over the exhaust grate of the press room for the warm air that spewed out from machines, machines that rumbled throughout the night the printed word.
The grates were full of newsboys. Smiley motion for Johnny and Timmy to help him lift the lid on the coal chute, so they could slide down into the coal bin and be near the furnace.
In the morning they took their place in line for the newspapers. More pushing and shoving until the boys got their share of newspapers.
The coal bin didn’t last long, two nights later the Police cleared the cellar out with their nightstick. Johnny and Timmy escaped with Smiley down to the banana docks along the East River. There they met members of the Gophers.
Frankie Madden, a member of the gang told Johnny, the gang has a hide out in an abandoned brewery, over in the Bowery, called the Rookery.
“Yeah.” Smiley said. That’s where we all hang out, if you want ya can join us."
“Yeah,” Frankie said, ya can bring the runt, who is he, your brudder?
“He’s no runt,” Johnny snapped back, pushing close up to the Frankie's face, who was older and a few inches taller. He’s my friend , he’s name is Timmy.”
“Okay, don’t get sore,” Frankie said, backing up. “I didn’t mean nutting, so what about it, ya coming?”
“Yeah will come.” Johnny sneered.
Well if ya do,” Frankie snapped back. “Ya have to join the Gophers, its one for all and all for one and we don’t like squealers. Got it..”
"Yeah, I got it." Johnny said eyeballing Frankie picking up his sack, “Lets go Timmy . stay with me, were gonna join the Gofers.”
An abandoned brewery that served as a refuge for the displaced and homeless. The wood rickety structure smelled of garbage and dead vermin. Despite the cold wind blowing through every crack in the rotting timber and the rats feeding on garbage, the boys made this their refuge and shared it with other Street Arabs.
Their newfound friends were the terror of Hell’s Kitchen feeding off the weak, dispossessed and extorting money from the push cart workers with the clenched fist.. At the end of every day, the gang met at the Rookery and shared their swag what ever it may be. Johnny and Timmy chipped in part of their newspaper money. Scraps from the slaughterhouses , stale bread, crushed fruit discarded by peddlers, kept the growl in the boys stomach to a minimum.
They drank spoiled cider, sold to them for a penny a glass. Nobody would drink it except the Street Arabs.
The winter took its toll from the Rookery, leaving the weak and sick frozen where they lay.
The gang looked out for each other in defense of other gangs that roamed through Hell’s Kitchen, especially the Fourteen Avenue Gang headed by Dutch Hendrich, a brute who battled his way through the cobblestone street stealing from and attacking other gangs that encroach on their territory. Johnny and Timmy survived many scraps. In return they learn to survive on the streets by their wit and bare knuckles.
Winter melted into spring, leaving the boys to suffer the hot humid summer month ahead. The boys that survive the winter had to face the summer decay of rotting garbage and rat fescues. The Grim Reaper was their Doctor.
The only relief they found during the hot summer months, was swimming in the River, tainted with the blood and bile of pigs, sheep and cattle waste from the near-by slaughterhouses.
That summer took other lives too, Timmy’s sister Maggie died from consumption, a liability when working in the soap factory. The extra money help fill old man Kelly’s growler. After Maggie’s death, old man Kelly went on the bum, the police the body on the Bowery.
Nobody knew whatever happened to Timmy’s brother Willie. Some say he just got lost in the system.
Winter came early to Hell’s Kitchen that year. The temperature dropped to ten above. Dutch Hendrich and his gang attacked the Rookery and burned it down, sending the gophers out looking for a place to stay. Johnny and Timmy then decided to break from the Gophers and go on their own. They found refuge in a hay barns, back of wagons and abandoned building,
During the day they spent hustling newspapers or helping Lebowitz with his fruit wagon for left over scraps.
The weather turned to snow followed by a cold wind, forcing the boys to look for warmer shelter. They found an open freight car and huddle in the far corner on some straw. They shivered most of the night. Timmy developed a cough that got worse.
Before day break they were roused by the railroad police and taken to the Ludlow Street Station.
The newly appointed Sergeant at the desk was no other than Paddy Ryan himself He stood up and peered over the desk at the two frozen boys wrapped in rags.
“Well if isn’t Johnny Moran,” he bellowed, “the last time I saw ya lad , ya was climbing out a window. Aye welcome home. And I see you brought a friend. Tell me now, what have you two Arabs been up to? Before they could answer. Ryan screamed across the desk. “NO GOOD, I PRESUME” Ryan screamed.
“Breaking into the railroad car., now tell me whatcha was ya doing in the freight car, the truth, or ya feel the back of me hand.”
Timmy’s his eyes weld up in tears.
”Ah, Mr. Ryan, Johnny sniffed, we needed a place to stay, honest. The Rookery burned… and well we needed place to stay... we didn’t take anything , honest we just wanted a place to stay for the night and get out of the cold.”
“I’ll tell ya what, ya become, STREET ARABS,” he roared. “Just like the rest of the divels in Hell’s Kitchen., didn’t I tell ya, ya come to no good. And who is this little shaver alongside ya?”
“Timmy, Mr. Ryan, he’s my friend.”
“Timmy, ya say, Timmy what? I sure he has a last name, what is it.? Paddy Ryan roared.
Johnny jumped back “Kelly, Timmy Kelly sir.”
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may the saints preserve us, another Mick’s, what’s to become of us.”
“Murphy” Ryan yelled to the reserve men in the report room. “Come in here.”
“Yeah boss, what do ya need.”
“Is that man from the newspaper still here?”
“Yeah I think so, he’s in with the Captain.”
“Is he now” Ryan said. “Go fetch him, tell em to stop by the desk before he leaves.”
“Okay boss and what about these two Arabs?”
“Don’t mind yourself about the lads, just do what ya told.” Ryan sneered.
A tall well-dressed man with a high collared shirt, wearing a Chesterfield coat with felt a collar and completed with an ascot, walked out of Captain Kruger’s office.
“Sergeant Ryan,” he said. “My name is Trevor Wilkinson, I represent the Herald Newspaper, you wish to speak to me?”
Wilkinson , a born Englishmen came over to Hell’s Kitchen as a reformer with an idea to help in reforming homeless boys. He bought the Herald, a failing newspaper, hoping to revive it. He built a newsboy home next to it and hope to put his ideas of reform to work.
“Indeed I do sir. ”Ryan said. “Early today sir, ya told me ya newspaper has a place for newsboys, a place where they can work and also stay. A home I think ya said, tis that so sir?”
“Wilkinson looked down at the two boys, “Yes, that is correct, we take in homeless boys, give them a job selling newspapers and house them in a unit next to the plant. We introduce to them hard work, responsibility and self reliance. They get three meals a day and a place to sleep. Oh and by the looks of these two waifs, we introduce them to soap and water,” he smiled. “which is an agent to morale building, may I say more powerful than the pulpit.”
Paddy Ryan gave a slight smirk with a nod, “I get ya meaning sir. And would ya have a spot for these two dirty Arab’s in your home? I don’t even think they can write their own names. But with names like Moran and Kelly, I’m sure they’d be hard workers.”
Wilkinson stepped back, looked the boys over and nodded. “Yes Sergeant, I believe we can accommodate these two lads. The doors are open to all boys, and wider yet to the ignorance. I assume their homeless?”
“Homeless as a Tinker,” Ryan smiled back.
Johnny Moran and Timmy Kelly found themselves ushered into the news boy home, up the stairs into the washroom with a bar of soap in one hand and a towel in the other.
Tired, but clean. The boys crawled between two clean sheets and pulled the blankets up to their chin. Just lying there looking at the ceiling alongside rows of other one time Street Arabs. Timmy turned to Johnny and said. “Ain’t it nice?”
That was a long time ago. Hell’s Kitchen lost the fight with Johnny and Timmy. They both survived to adulthood. Timmy graduated from the streets to land a job inside the plant working the linotype machine and later he became foreman.
Sergeant Paddy Ryan they told me became Captain Ryan and his last act before retiring was to swear in a new recruit name Johnny Moran.

The End

Eddie Clark

Topping is the prison term for executing a prisoner by hanging. I learned that from an old friend, Bill Mc Gee. Bill worked for the Sunday Call, a paper that came out on Sunday morning, informing the locals what went on in the past week.
After the war the city fall apart. The tax payers got tired of the high taxes, corrupt government, and the new clientele that raised the crime rate. They got into their cars took their wallets and followed the Garden state Parkway South to look for their dream house with a patch of grass. With the people went the business, now the newspapers.
“Friday’s the last day Bat,” Bill said. Then the wrecking balls takes over. It’ll probably become a parking lot. Nobody wants the building, nobody wants this town. Its seen better days.
“So what ya going to do Bill,” I said, looking for some place to sit.” Got anything planned?”
He stopped throwing papers into a cardboard and looked up. “Oh yeah, I’m outta here. I’m going fishing, if ya know what I mean.”
“You mean your retiring, throwing in the towel?”
“Call it what you want Bat. I’m outta the newspaper game, I've been doing close to fifty years. Started as a copy boy with the Morning Ledger, then the Call, been with the Call close to forty years.”
Bill held the top spot on the Calls reporters list. He really knew how to cover amcover and write a story.
“Do ya remember the first day we met Bill?” I said.
He frowned. “Ya mean when that young girl took a Broody of the twenty fourth floor at 744 Broad. Yeah! do I remember! That was some mess. I hated those assignments,” he winced. “She was just a kid…and what was it…yeah” shaking his head, “her boy friend, broke up with her. Can ya believe it; some one could take their life over something like that.”
“Tell me Bill, what’s the biggest or worse assignment ya ever covered? Ya musta had a few, right?”
He put both hands on the back of his neck, leaned back in his oak swiveled chair and looked up at the ceiling.
“The biggest…that’s gotta be the Lindbergh kidnapping. The worse? Yeah…let me see…the worse, a topping.”
“What ya mean a topping, what’s that?” I frowned.
“Eddie Clark 1927. I’ll never forget it. I had to cover his execution. They sentence him to be hung up at Sing-Sing prison.
I laid my nightstick down and pulled up a chair.
“You mean you witness the actual hanging, no shit…what was it like, I mean ya know. I can’t imagine. You saw the whole thing. Tell me about it.
Before I start,: Bill said. "Do ya have any pulls (duty calls) coming up? This could take a little time”
“No", I said taking off my coat and hat, "I’m good for an hour and a half. I just made one on the corner of Bank and Halsey. Go ahead, so what was it like?”
He picked up the coffee pot, “black right?”
“Yeah.” I said. “Black, no sugar”
Bill poured two cups. “I’ll never forget,” he said. “September 23rd 1927, Jack Dempsey was fighting Gene Tunney at Soldier’s field that night in Chicago. This was suppose to be the fight of fights. Dempsey was trying for a come back. No heavyweight ever made a come back.”
I blew across the top of my cup. “Yeah.” I said. “My father often mentions Dempsey as one of the greatest fighters.”
“Yeah,” Bill said. “Jack was a tough guy. Jack the giant killer they him, after he knocked out Jess Willard, Willard was 6’ 5” 250 lbs, known as the big cowboy from Oaklahoma.”
“So what about Clark,” I said. ya know the hanging?”.
“Oh Clark, yeah. I just got my wings as a reporter and of course being low man on the totem pole, I had to fill in for Jake Metsky. Jake got to cover the fight, lucky stiff. You remember Jake, dontcha?” Bill said, reaching for a cigarette.
“No, he was before my time. What about Clark?”
He leaned again back in his swivel chair blowing smoke through his nose. “Too bad, he was some reporter. Everybody like Jake” Bill took another deep drag from the cigarette. “Too bad.”
“What’s too bad,” I said.
“Jake.” he snapped back. “It’s too bad how soon your forgotten…Jake died two years ago down in Miami.” He looked at his cigarette. “Lung cancer.”
I checked the oak school clock on the wall then with my pocket watch. Bill got the hint.
“Okay, Eddie Clark. Here we go, the paper wanted the preliminaries. Ya know…how he passed the night, what he had for breakfast, ya know Bat,” he smirked, “the morbid public. The execution was set for ten that night. We had to be there early.”
Bill crushed his cigarette “I promised my wife when I retire I’m gonna quit these things. I’d better, or I’m gonna wind up like Jake. Well anyway, did ya ever of Paddy Ryan? He worked out of bunko, hellava cop, worked with Bust O’Neil”
“Yeah stories.” I said. “They was before my time. What about Clark?”
Bills eyes were fixed on a plague hanging from the wall. He took it down and looked at me holding it up. ”Man of the year.” he said…just more bull-shit.” He threw in the box.
“Let me tell ya Bat, Paddy was a tough cookie. They called him camera eye. Never forgot a face. That’s how he nailed Eddie.”
“So he got Clark.”
“Yeah, second time around, he recognized him from a wanted poster.”
“What ya mean second around Bill?”
“Let me finish the story, that’s part of it.”
“And…” I said, leaning forward.
“Yeah, so I meet Paddy at Penn. Station. Paddy was assigned to witness the execution.
We caught the train to Sing-Sing and on the way up, I asked Paddy “What about Clark, what’s he getting stretched for?”
Paddy puts his longs legs out onto the seat across from us and stretches.
" Let me tell ya Bat, Paddy was as big as he was tough, but a nice guy to know.
Bill reaches for a Divino and lights up, then offers me one, I declined it. "Back then" Bill said ya could get Cubans. Anyway here’s the story, oh has your coffee? Need a refill?”
“No, I’m good Bill.”
“Okay, so here what Paddy tells me, Eddie’s charged with killing a sailor on the Bowery in New York, one of them merchant seamen. Gets locked up and gets convicted, murder one. On his way up the river, he escapes outta the train and some how makes it to South Dakota.”
“Hold on.” I say to Paddy. “How did he escape?”
“How’d think.” he says, taking the cigar out of his mouth. “He had to take a shit and once inside the toilet, he’s out the window, got it?’ He sticks the cigar back in his mouth. So Eddie winds up marrying some local dolly, I think a waitress and starts a small painting business. His Dolly doesn’t know about the sailor or his past. He doing alright though, until his mother dies. Oh I didn’t tell ya, Paddy says, Eddie’s originally from Jersey. He makes the trip home to attend the funeral and that’s when I nail em at Penn. Station coming off the train.”
“So I asked Paddy, why did Eddie kill the swabby?"
“It was over some dame. He swears he didn’t do it.. his story is, he happened to be in the bar that night when all hell broke loose, then the lights went out. When they turned them back on they found Eddie laying along side of the sailor. Everybody took off, except for the two guys they found sleeping in the shit house.”
“And Eddie.” I said.
“His stick with his story. He maintains before the lights went out, he was hit from behind. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the precinct cell block that’s Eddie’s story.”
“Paddy tells me, Eddie had a kid back in South Dakota with the second wife. The next thing ya know, he comes home one day and finds his wife in bed with the traveling salesmen, while you know the rest. She left with the kid in the salesmen car. Eddie bought a bottle and road the rails trying to drink away his troubles until he winds up on the new York docks as a checker for loading ships. Paddy say’s, he believes Eddies story…say’s he couldn’t hurt a fly--”
“Ossining, Ossining” the conductor cried out. “Ossining, Sing-Sing prison next stop.”
We arrived about 9:00 that night with a load of other reporters. It’s the first time I saw Winchel, ya know…big gray fedora and all. Winchel was a big deal back then. He had dibs on all the hot stuff in New York. We were lead into a room where all the news guys met, Walter kind of took charge.”
‘Listen up,’ his says. ‘Lets not everybody go nuts on this thing. When it’s over, we’ll share the phones.” We all nodded are amen’s.
“There was a another character I met, I reporter from some rag in South Jersey. His blood shot eye’s told me he was real juicer.”
‘Dam," the juicer blurted out, the time sure drags.’
“Paddy pokes me, it may be for him but I’ll bet it fly’s for Eddie.”
I whispered to Paddy, “ya think they’ll give em a shot of booze or dope before the drop?”
“I don’t know,” Paddy answered from the side of his mouth, clenching his Devino.
The juicer took out his pocket, “It won’t be long now,” he said.
Some of the guys walked away in disgust.
The warden walked into the room. A tall guy, wiry, with glasses and slightly bald. He looked more like a librarian. This was his first execution.
“How do feel,? Some one asked.
“Alright,” he answered, with sarcasm, crushing a cigarette in the tray. “It’s not pleasant to jerk a man into the great beyond.”
Silence fell over the room, nothing more was asked of the warden.
Let’s grab those two chairs over there.” Paddy said.
The juicer was behind us. He leaned over. I could smell the stale booze.
“I heard this jerk,” he whispered, “killed a sailor over a broad?”
Another reporter chimed in. “Who’s was the dame?”
Two others spoke up. “It was in the paper, just a local hustler”
Paddy looked at his watch. “It’s nine thirty” he murmured, getting close.”
The Captain of the guard walked in and raised his hand. “Okay everybody, follow me over to the execution building,” Lets try and stay together and watch your step going up the stairs.
We marched in single file through the prison yard. Across the way we could see guards escorting a lone prisoner.
“There he goes,” some one said. “that’s Eddie Clark.”
Further down the yard we pass the morgue, they called it the butcher shop. The surrounding walls had guards (called herders) with loaded rifles. We reached the end of the yard and stopped at the foot of wooden steps and started climbing the three flights. Fearful of the rickety construction, we walked up a few at a time. A fat guy grumbled on his way up. At the top, I turn to Paddy, “You know, there were thirty five steps we just went up.” He didn’t said anything. Kept a tight lip.
We passed through the print shop. Four prisoners sat at a desk editing the prison paper. Tacked on the wall were pictures of actresses of long ago. From the print shop we passed through a small room with three gaunt prisoners standing along side of a pine coffin. They were called the scavengers. It was there job to take the dead man down from the scaffold, place him in the coffin and hurry him to the little cemetery on the hill with the rest of the men with broken necks.
I touched paddy’s arm, I could feel it shake. You wouldn’t believe it Bat, I think this whole thing was getting to Ryan.
The door opened. We entered into the room of death. The room must have been about sixty feet long and thirty feet wide, with a twenty foot ceiling. The brick walls were painted a sickly pale red. On the far wall they constructed the death platform with thirteen steps to the trap door. One rope already knotted hung as the noose from the gallows. Alongside the noose stood a tall man in a black suit with a slouched hat. I checked my watch, ten minutes.
An oppressive silent rolled through the room and then broken by the creak of the hinge opening the far door at the end of the room. The warden entered, followed by Eddie Clark being escorted by two uniform guards. The Chaplain followed, he was mumbling something. Eddie’s neck was bare his eyes were wide open and glassy, his mouth sagged, as if too tired to appeal for help. His knees bent, all power of locomotion had gone from his legs. His arms, strapped to his sides. Under each armpit the heavy hand of the law helped Eddie up the steps of no return. Before they pulled the hood over his head, Eddie turn slightly as if to say something. The chaplain read from his book in a dreadful monotone.
Bill stopped and looked at me.
“How much time ya got before the pull?”
I looked at my watch. “I’m good Bill, go ahead don't stop now, you were saying the chaplain read from the book.”
Bill reached for the coffee pot and refilled his cup, then looked at me. “Refill?”
“No.” I’m good. So…he read from the book, so go ahead.”
“Yeah, right. Just seven words.’ Confide this soul to the mercy of God.’
The warden raised his hand. The trap door sprang with an awful noise. Eddie’s body dropped ten feet. They placed a step ladder underneath the scafold in front of him. The doctor stepped on it, ripped open the dying man’s shirt down to his heart and applied the stethoscope. One of the scavengers held his body firm. Another guy, I guess the doc’s assistance held Eddie’s hand. Every now and then he would feel for a pulse.
Paddy turned and faced the wall, tears in his eyes. Imagine Bat, Paddy Ryan moved to tears. The juicer pulled out his pocket watch and began counting to himself. Some guy next to me, noded at the juicer and murmured ‘The sick son-of-a bitch.’
The seconds ticked by like they had no conscious. It was over in thirteen minutes. They pronounced Eddie dead. The scavengers took him away.
The silence broke with everyone rushing out the door looking for the nearest phone. I followed the crowd with Paddy close behind into the wardens outer office. Everyone took turns waiting for a phone.
“Listen up everybody,” the warden said in a loud voice holding up a piece of paper. “I have a note, Clark wrote to me just before he left his cell a few minutes ago. He handed it to Winchel.
“Here read it Walter.”
Bill reached into his cardboard box and took out an envelope; Eddie Clark’s note.
“Here Bat, I made a copy of it. Go ahead, read.”
Dear warden,
Many thanks for the find treatment. I know how you feel sir, and believe me I can sympathize with you-it’s your first and I hope your last. I have only a few minutes and I want to say now, that I had no more to do with that sailor’s death than you did. I don’t blame the jury-how can I when the state’s witness lied-yes, two of them. The rest told the truth. But with a poor lawyer and a record, the verdict would have been the same had I been charged with the death of Abe Lincoln. Yes. I have one prison record and two $50.00 fines against me. The rest is just arrests…vagrancy, not even a jail term. My prison term was for a $14.00 check for which I was pardoned. Thanks again.
I didn’t say anything, I just handed it back to Bill. “So what happen next?” “After Winchel read it, he handed back to the warden.”
‘Did any of you guys ever bother to read the testimony of the state witnesses?’ the warden said.
A few grunted, ‘yeah…some of it… why?’
‘There were two witnesses,” the warden continued. “One says he saw Eddie in the bar holding a knife in his right hand. The other one says he saw Eddie arguing with the sailor.’
A voice from the rear said. “so what’s that’s suppose to mean?”
“I’ll tell you what it means,” the warden said taking off his glasses.
As you could see, it took a long time to pronounce Clark dead. The doctor had a hard finding a pulse in his right wrist, simply because Clark’s right wrist was paralyzed. He suffered an injury during the first war…he’s right hand was useless.”
“And that’s the story of Eddie Clark,” Bill said.
I look at the wall clock. Holy sh--,” I said, “look at the time, I have just a few minutes before my pull.” I grabbed my coat and night-stick running toward the front door, just as I got there, Bill hollered, “By the way, Dempsey lost the fight.”
The End

The Table

I just finished the day watch and planned to stop by the cabinet shop to see Leon. Leon’s Cabinet Shop was one of few business who elected to stay in the neighborhood after the riots. As an amateur woodworker, I had a few questions to ask Leon about building a table. I did not know too much about Leon Cohen, except, as a German Jew, he came from Europe as a refugee after the war. He stood about five foot four, his face showed more than his age of 50, a friendly guy always ready to go out of his way to help people.
“Leon, how’s business?” I hollered over the buzzing of the table saw.
“Business, Feh-feh.” he responded in Yiddish.“So how’s by you officer.” “Okay,” I said, “I want to build a table. I have a question to ask you about how tall a table should be.”
“A table!” he smiled. “My friend, that’s a very good question. I was asked that question many years ago and knowing the right answer, saved my life.” “Saved your life? This I have to hear. What do you mean saved your life?”
He locked the front door, turned off the light.
“Enough for today,” he said. “Come lets go in the back, I have a fresh pot of coffee on the burner, come I’ll tell you about it.”
He poured two mugs. “Here,” he said, handing me the mug. “Oh I forgot, you use milk, there’s evaporated over there on the self, I don’t use fresh milk, it sours to fast.”
“Black will do.” I said, “Remember, I’m an old Navy man. So what about the table Leon? It saved your life, really?
“It was a long time ago officer.” He sank back into a worn parlor chair with the stuffing coming out the sides.
“Longer than I want to remember. It happened in the summer nineteen forty two…I was just a young man. The Nazis took us from our home, my mother, father and sister--.”
“Just like that,” I interrupted. “Why?”
“Why, there’s no why. They just took you. They took all the people …Jewish people from my village and put us on trains.”
“Your family…I mean…what happened to them?”
“That’s the last I saw of them, at the train depot where we were separated. I don’t know where they went. Me, I was taken to Plasgow…a little town outside of Krakow…to a labor camp. You have to remember officer. They world was a much different place then. We were political prisoners.”
“Political prisoners and you never saw your family again.”
“After the war, I looked for them… never found them. I supposed their part of the eight million.
Then, I realized that Leon was a holocaust survivor.
“So Leon, what happened when the train reached Plas…the labor camp?
“The labor camp was run by the SS, a man named Amon Goeth. A very cruel man. I remember that October, cold weather had set in early. We were all rousted from are beds early in the morning. We had to line up outside. The snow covered the ground and the wind blew through the camp. I remember it well. We stood there for about twenty minutes shivering. A car drover into the camp flying the flag of a German officer…I think a Colonel. The car stopped and when the back door opened, a very tall man stepped out, Colonel, he wore those high black boots and he had a leather overcoat with…you know the fur collar. He looked very distinguished, and of course threatening.”
I remember as a kid they had the newsreels in the movie theaters of the concentration camps and the thousands of prisoners behind barb wire fences. I asked Leon why the prisoners didn’t rebel against the guards or put some type of resistance’s.
“Yes, I agree. But we are Europeans, not Americans. I know what you mean. The Americans value their freedom and the would of found a way to overthrow the guards. We are taught to summit to the enemy once we were defeated. I sure its hard for you to understand. Like I said, we were lined up outside. The Colonel stepped before us, in a loud voice he shouted, ‘Is there a cabinet maker among you?’
“At first I became hesitant and afraid to step out. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew if they found out later that I lied, I would be punished. However, I did step out.”
Hands on his hips, the Colonel approached me, “Are you a cabinet maker?” he said.
“Yes sir”, I replied.
“What is your name?” He demanded.
“Leon Cohen.”
“Tell me Cohen, what would be the height of a kitchen table?” he asked,
staring down at me.
“I gave him the answer, not knowing what to expect.”
‘I am Colonel Siefried Hildebrandt,” he said. “I am taking you to my home. I need some special woodworking and joinery work to be done. He turned and addressed Amon Goeth.
“Has this man been cataloged?
Goeth clicked his heels in response.
The officer ordered me into his car.
“We traveled for many miles, crossing over into Germany and then north to a town in the mountains called Rostock. The Colonel had a large villa there that looked out over the Baltic Sea. I had my own room in the servant quarters and had my meals with the servants. I worked there for about three months building cabinets and doing odds jobs.”
“How were you treated” I said “Were you watched by guards?”
“No, life was much different from the camp of course. I still worried about my family. I didn’t know what to expect. In the early Spring, they brought in new workers. I noticed my friend Emil among them, a prisoner from Plasgow, raking in the garden. I asked him why he was here also about my people He took me aside, “Leon,” he whispered. After you left, the camp was evacuated. They took all the people and shipped them to Auschwitz in box cars. The old and sickly were sent to the gas chamber and burned. Remember that red building at the far end of the camp. Remember me telling you about what they were doing? But you didn’t believe me.”
“I asked him again about my family. He said he didn’t know and that the camp is empty.”
“Some how I knew I would never see my family gain.”
“And you did try to contact them?” I said.
He bowed his head, “yes, many times. But that was a long time ago.”
“So what finally happened Leon, I mean how did you escape?”
“Escape, I did not escape, let me finish--”
A knock came from the front of the shop. Leon turned and looked and went to the front door spoke a few words than came back.
“Ach, its junior,” he said. “He doesn’t understand why the shop is closed. Junior was a local black kid that lived in the area and worked for Leon on and off. He was a good kid. Leon was teaching him the cabinet trade.
“I told Junior, enough for today, and it was my friend the policemen paying me a visit. You know junior likes you. He said. ‘Maybe some day he might become a policemen.”
“You never can tell Leon.” I grinned, they hired me, miracles do happen. So you did finally get out and here you are in America.”
I am a lucky man, you see Emil wanted me to help him smuggle cigarettes into the area. Cigarette’s were very hard to get. He told me he made a contact with a supplier.
I told Emil, “I didn’t want any part of what he was doing. You know what will happen if your caught,” I warned him.
“About a week later a van pulled up to the villa and two men got out. They were the Gestapo. They walked toward me, they knew me.
“‘Leon Cohen?’ they said. ‘Come with us, you’re under arrest.”
“I entered Gestapo headquarters and was put into a cell with other Jews. I recognized Emil. He had blood on his face. I was afraid, and didn’t know what to expect. Before I could speak with him, I was taken and put into an interrogation room. The lieutenant in charge told me to sit down in the chair. He asked me, “Where are you getting the cigarettes and who else is working with you?”
“‘I don’t know.” I said. “I don’t know anything about cigarettes,”
Then two other interrogators began hitting and kicking me. I fell to the floor and they again asked me the same question. Again, they began kicking me. Again, I pleaded, “Please I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I pleaded. They picked me up and sat me back in the chair. Just then they all snapped to attention, and when I looked up, Colonel Hildelbrandt stood there with his overcoat draped over his shoulders.
“He looked at me, then back at the interrogators, “So what goes on here,?” the Colonel said, looking back at me, then back at the lieutenant. The Colonel began spitting out the questions faster than the lieutenant could answer.”
“Do you know who this man is,” the Colonel said. “And can you tell me why he is here, and why he was taken from my home without my permission?”
“The lieutenant spoke up. ‘Begging your pardon, mien Colonel, but we have information that this man…he’s has been involved in smuggling.”
“Smuggling what?” The Colonel screamed.
“Cigarettes. Mien Colonel.” The Lieutenant nervously responded, clicking his heels.
“Leon,” the Colonel said. “Go outside and get in the car.”
“My ribs felt like they were busted. Limping, I slowly I walked out to the car.
The Colonel walked up to the lieutenant and grabbed him by his lapels. “You dumkoffs are spending your time worrying about cigarettes, while the Third Reich is going down the toilet.” He bellowed.
“He got into the car. ‘Leon,’ he screamed. “Why are you getting mixed up in this petty shit with cigarettes?’
“I tried to explain what had happened and that I only knew Emil from the camp. The Colonel just waved me off. “That’s not important now. I have to tell you something. Germany is losing the war. I’m ordered to the Russian front. Germany is falling apart. I’m having my family shipped to South America. I made arrangements for you to work in a factory run by a friend of mine. He’s an industrialist. His name is Osker Shendler. You’ll be alright there. Tomorrow a van will pick you up and take you there. Its just outside of Berlin, a town called Henningsdorf.”
“The next day I was taken to Henningdorf by the Colonels aide.” Leon continued.
“The factory in Henningdorf made munitions and was constantly bombed at least twice a week. Every day there were fewer guards. I remember it was cold and all the windows were blown out.”
“So Leon, why didn’t you just leave?”
“We were prisoner’s oficer,” he said, “you obey. I know it’s hard for you as an American to understand. Then the day came… I think it was a Sunday, the sun was shining and while I worked at my machine I saw tanks coming over the hill. When they came closer I could see they had white stars painted on them. My friend said to me, “Leon, they are Americans.”
“Americans,” I said to my friend, ‘Now what do we do? That’s when I found out that the war was over.
“So you see, Officer, knowing the correct height of a table saved me from being shipped to Auschwitz.”
“Leon” I said. “What about table?”
“The table, in America the table would be 30 inches, in Germany 0.7620 meters.” He smiled and said, “Officer, how about another coffee

The End

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Bus Ride

When I first told my family about it, they didn’t believe me. So Jack let me tell you what happened.
I 'm walking on South on route 9, hitch hiking my way back to the base. It was in the middle of July and the sun fading. I figured there’s no problem for a sailor hitching a ride, especially if he’s wearing his whites.
A pickup stopped and took me five miles. Then an elderly couple stopped. “So where ya headed, sailor?” the old guy said.
“Lakehurst.” I said.
His wife smiled. “He reminds me of Chuck, let’s give him a ride.”
“Hop in,” the old man said. “So whatcha doing in Lakehurst?”
I’m going to a service school.” I said, closing the back door
“Service school, what's that?” the old man frowned.
“Meteorology. I'm studying to become a weatherman.”

Our son was in the Navy in 43, he never made it back from the Pacific.
“School!” he frowned. I thought sailors served on ships.
“I’m studying to be an Aerographers mate.”
“Aero…what?” he said.
“Weather school.” I answered back. “I’m learning to be a weather man.”
After about five miles, he pulled over.
“This is where we turn off, son,” the old lady said, then squeezed my hand with moist eyes. “Take care of your self and God bless you.”
“Thanks for the ride folks.” I walked toward the setting sun.
I no sooner walked a few steps, when a semi stopped. “So where ya headed swabby?” the driver hollered.
“South Jersey, Lakehurst ” I said.
“Jump in. I’m going to Phillie. I’ll drop ya off at the circle.”
The trucker squinted and furled his brow. “Lakehurst huh, what's doing there?”
“I’m going to weather school.”
“Weather school!”
“Weatherman… ya know, I’m learning to forecast the weather.”
“Oh, I gottcha, weatherman. No shit, I’m an old dog soldier myself. Spent some time with the big Red A in France in 44.
I leaned back in the seat and welcomed the breeze rushing through my hair. I must have dozed.
“Okay kid, here’s where I turn off, take care of yourself.”
I started down the dark highway. I turned to the hissing of air brakes turning I and saw a bus, with no inside lights. At first it appeared to be draped in black. The door opened
“Hop in,” He said. “This one’s on me.”
I got into the empty bus.
“So where ya going mate?” the driver said with a big wide grin reflected by the dash lights.
“Lakehurst.” I said.
“I’ll take ya as far as Lakewood, I’m on a ghost run. I have to drive this empty bus down to the terminal for a special run. I’ll let ya off a few blocks from the terminal. I’m not suppose to have any passengers.”
“Thank you.” I said.
“Lakehurst Naval Base” he said. LTA right kid?”
I nodded.
“Don’t tell me there’ve putting those Blimps back into action. I thought after the war the Navy scraped them.”
“Yer right.” I said. “Its a service school now, for Aerographers mates.” His nameplate read Charles O’Connor.
“I did a hitch in the Navy” he said. “Served on a wooden bottom—“
“Wooden bottom,” I interrupted. “Ya mean a mine sweeper, must have been scary.”
“Yeah, depends,” he said with that wide grin.
“So how ya doing at school?” he said changing the subject.
“I don’t know" I said, hunching my shoulders “Things aren’t really working out.”
“Not working out. Like what?” he saaid glancing in the rear view mirror.
“It just too hard, its simple as that. I’m looking to leave and apply for sea duty.”
Nothing was said until we reached Lakewood’s main street.
The bus slowed and pulled to the curb. “Wants some advice kid?” he said tipping back his hat.
“Sure, go ahead.” I said.
Why don’t ya back and gets into those books, pick a guy ya can study with, ya know quiz each other back and fourth. Give it a shot,” he said with his thumb up. Maybe things will work out, Stay away from the sea kid, its no fun, I know.
I convinced my room mate Homer Pruitt to study with me. He had a problem too comprehending the big books.
We both passed our final examinations.
I thought about Charlie O’Connor many times. I really wanted to thank him.
On the way home, I stopped at the bus terminal and asked the agent. He peered over his glasses with a puzzled look,
“O’Connor, there’s no Charlie O’Connor working here. There used to be---I’d say about fifteen years ago…yeah Chuck O’Connor. He went down with his ship, the Skylark during the war. He was a local boy too. Look over on that far wall sailor you’ll see a plague with a group picture. He’s the tall guy in the back row with the big wide grin, giving the thumbs up.”
“Well that’s the story Jack whether you believe or not that’s what happened, and that’s how I ended in San Diego, as a weatherman.”

The End