You Asked How Ray's Retirement is Going?
(Ten Responses Over the Years)
Minneapolis, MN, USA
Copyright 2004 by author
(This is a draft of a fictional story. Some events were inspired by news stories over a period of decades and characters are inspired by people I’ve known or known of; with several people often having served as inspiration for a single character. All resemblance, the to actual people or events is coincidental. All rights are reserved by the author, Zev Aelony, Minneapolis, MN USA, 2001 and his heirs).1/1/05 v.99 You are welcome to download it for personal use or to share with friends, as long as this copyright notice is included.
Now, with a pain in his gut, Ray is waiting to present his report on the Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford affair to the governor. He had insisted on presenting it in person and alone in the governor’s office.
Facing reelection in just eight days and expected to follow a second successful term by seeking and winning higher office, the governor had assigned friends to prevail on Ray to leave his family for a week to investigate and prepare this report after Ray initially refused.
At seventy-four, Ray is still a straight and athletic man with ‘Grecian Formula’ brown hair. It is impeccably trimmed short so that it stands up straight, just as he wore it at eighteen when he volunteered for the Marines. He had obeyed his father’s command that he get his high school diploma first. Without waiting for the graduation ceremony, he’d run to sign up, praying that the Pacific War, all that was left, would last long enough for him to get in his licks. It didn’t. The Japanese surrender was signed on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Harbor as Ray’s unit was debarking in Hawaii. He did get to Japan, and spent a few months in the US Zone in Germany using his knowledge of German as a translator in an intelligence outfit. Still, as a WWII veteran, he’d qualified for the GI Bill and used it for two years at the University of Minnesota. Later he volunteered to go back in for the Korean War. He was proud of his role flying close ground support, which he distinguished from the soft flyboys who dumped their loads from miles up and returned to distant bases and hot baths. He’s not a large man and now his suit seems a bit loose. This morning he is uncharacteristically nervous, even disturbed.
Ray realizes the governor is eager to get to an outing with some friends and sponsors, and that he agreed to see Ray only because he considered ‘face time’ as a reward for handling this touchy matter. ‘Face time’ was not Ray’s concern.
However reluctant he’d been to come out of retirement to do a final pre-execution review of the case against Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford, Ray had done his usual thorough and professional investigation. Ray’s pride in his craftsmanship was as intense as it was the day he left The Academy. Whatever resentment he had to being ripped from his recently acquired private life, and whatever concerns he had about conflict of interest, he would live up to his Grossvater’s dictum: ‘whatever you do, be the best!’
His family took pride in his past accomplishments, too, but begged him not to accept this assignment. "If you do this favor for them, they’ll just keep coming back for more."
The execution is now scheduled for tomorrow, over eighteen years after Ray’s meticulous investigation had proven with no room for the slightest doubt, that Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford, then a spectacularly attractive but dissolute 22 year old redheaded college student, morphine addict and prostitute, had hideously murdered Kenworth Kaiser, the then-27-year old squeaky clean head of one of the state’s first families, and among the world’s premier landowners, ranchers and meat packers.
Ray had retired from the Bureau when the Kaisers had hired him to find and prove definitively who had murdered Kenworth. The local prosecutor had previously failed to bring charges, feeling the case had been too weak. Faced with Ray’s evidence, Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford had broken down in tears and signed the confession he’d had prepared for her. There had been no remorse, only hopes of getting mercy from the court. Ray had encouraged her in this hope, but later argued against any such mercy based on the hideousness of this prostitute’s cruelty to a man she herself admitted had only picked her up because he thought she was in trouble. She had described in detail her difficulty in seducing him, and then his unwillingness to pay her. She had admitted right off that she had slipped two $100 bills from his wallet while his pants were down, and fled. But she had been belligerent and showed not the slightest sign of remorse.
Kitty’s family had hired a sharp law firm to defend her and they had tried to get the confession thrown out, but Ray had made no errors in eliciting it. He had been careful and he knew for a certainty that no one confesses to a crime, especially to such a hideous crime, unless they were guilty.
Last minute appeals had managed to derail previous execution dates seven years ago and three years ago. The governor is determined to prevent that from happening again. They aren’t going to spoil his tough-on-crime image!
The governor’s secretary answers her phone, looks up and announces, "The governor will see you now, Sir. . . . . Do you always present a card without a name?"
"Not often, lately, Ma’am."
Ray closes the door behind him, looks around the large executive office. As agreed, there is no one there but the governor. Ray had seen his technician, who just did an electronics sweep, leave moments ago.
"Ray, I agreed to see you because you are doing me a favor by checking this thing out, but the election is in nine days – eight days, now! -- and I’m really swamped. Can we make this quick? I don’t understand why you couldn’t just submit a one-page written report like everybody else."
"Governor, I didn’t ask for this. You implored me. I put in fifty years serving this country! I’m older than your Dad, for whom I was privileged to work. I joined the marines right out of high school and then went to Korea, gung ho to do my duty to my country. I was a cop, went through The Academy and after retiring, worked for the Mattarese agency for ten years to ensure that my grandchildren would be able to get the best educations. In between I was hired by your friend -- and, according to press reports, your largest campaign contributor and major sponsor -- Preston Kaiser, to pursue this case when the district attorney didn’t want to prosecute without stronger evidence to ensure conviction. I worked nearly a year to put this crude whore away for the hideous murder of Preston’s older brother, Kenworth.
"Sir, when this ‘Mary O’ and her anti-death penalty naïfs came to me with this file and asked me to look it over, I handed it right back and told them that my time now belongs to my wife and especially to my grandchildren and our brand new great grandchild. Your aides begged me to put all that aside to ensure that you could finally go ahead with this execution as you’ve promised to the Kaisers, and not be embarrassed before the election. If not for your mother’s plea, I would have stayed retired.
"The reason this has to be done in private . . . . Shit! You’re not recording this or anything, are you?"
"No, I swear!"
"Nobody can hear a word?"
"Not a chance!"
"You’d better be very sure, but it’s your funeral if there are any leaks, Sir. The sound I thought might be a recorder’s motor seems to have stopped."
"Forget that. Ray, what are you leading to."
"Governor, you’d better stop this thing, Sir.
"Sir, Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford is a disgusting embarrassment to humanity -- to say nothing of her family which just wants to get this thing over. She came from a good, solid family, you know. Had all the advantages. Her father is a well respected foreman at an oil field supply company. The family hasn’t had anything to do with her since they learned who she really is at the trial. Before her mother always referred to her as 'My Daughter' but ever since she just sadly refers to her by her childhood nickname, ‘Red.’ They had been so proud of this first member of her family to go to college. She wasted everything they had put into paying her way to the University, Sir, and spread infidelity and disease everywhere she went, but she had nothing to do with putting Kenworth Kaiser through that meat deboning machine. What’s more, Mary O and her thirty law student bloodhounds from up there by Chicago are within days of having proof of that. They will have the proof by Thursday, and at that time there will be no time to spin it. They are fanatics and will spread it everywhere! Proving that you knowingly went ahead with the execution of a woman you knew to be innocent will make them all famous and they have the contacts to make sure the whole world knows!
"I know it’s a major problem. I wish I could be telling you anything else. Sir, call it an accommodation to a plea from the Pope– he's appealed for mercy and the Catholic votes you’ll gain will balance the white votes you’ll lose. Whatever, but stop it!"
"What the . . . ?! Oh, I see. Ha ha! Ray, I know you have to be putting me on, and I haven’t got time for it. Thank you sincerely for your report. I’ll see you to the door. Please submit your expenses to Missy and I’ll see to it that you get a check immediately!"
"Governor, this is no joke. I am not presenting you with a 200-page report as a joke! I don’t joke and I’m too old to work this hard. I haven’t slept more than maybe twenty hours in the last six days, and part of what I did catch was on planes. I’m in no shape to joke.
"Governor, I also have other things to do -- among other things, my wife and I are expected to dinner at your mother’s table this evening." There is a worried pause.
"Sir, you are dead meat unless you handle this very carefully, Sir."
Anger was slowing appearing in the governor’s eyes.
"Fuck you, Ray! When you agreed to look into the file, you assured me yourself that you’d spent months turning over every stone and that there was no chance these kids could turn up anything you didn’t already know."
"Governor, as you said yourself, I’m the best there is. Well, I am. And I was wrong."
"Look, Ray, this has been up and down through our courts, to the Supreme Court three times. There can’t be any mistake!"
"It was the final Supreme Court ruling last month that led the abolitionists to bring their materials to you and me. The court ruled 6-2 against them. Justice Cane recused himself because he had been a Kaiser lobbyist at the time of the crime. The ruling was NOT that she was guilty or that there was not new evidence, but that the request for a further delay was not permissible because there would always be new evidence, and that barring compelling proof, evidence of actual innocence was not a grounds for halting an execution, only proof of significant procedural error. That is what left this very hot potato in your lap, Sir."
"And now you are sure -- again? You expect me to risk everything on your certainty this time?"
"As sure as I can be. In any case, I know that these kids will release that compelling evidence of actual innocence that will blow up your whole campaign and probably turn the public against legitimate executions -- unless you act to stop it. Do you want to risk betting that I am wrong without even knowing what I know – and what the bleeding hearts have been contending -- and will be able to prove as soon as they get some confirming lab reports back?"
"Can’t we get to them?"
"The bleeding heart kids. Can we get to them?"
"Governor, you’ll have four or five days and there’s at least thirty idealistic and politically very naïve kids and their solid as granite academic advisor, plus who knows how many other experts they’ve consulted by now. Some of these kids are from leading families up there. You tell me. . . .
"I’ve had friends look for anything we could get on Mary O.. Sir, she’s a ‘Mary Poppins’ who’s raised three children, one of whom is a leader of the Nebraska legislature."
"Is her son a leader of the House or Senate?"
"Sir, they only have one house. Her daughter is assistant majority leader. Your party.
" Sir, attacking these people will get us nothing but stink."
The governor’s countenance had been turning darker and darker, but now lit up: "Then, Ray, I’ll be the hero saving the terrified lady in distress and announce that, as in every case, I’ve investigated this case thoroughly. In this case only, my investigation has discovered a flaw in the evidence. It will be the exception that proves the rule. I will announce that I will present that evidence to a judge with a recommendation that if it is verified, she be acquitted and compensated for our honest mistake. I will also publicly ask you to come out of retirement to head the investigation into who did commit this hideous crime."
"I’m sorry, Sir, but I don’t think you can do that. First, this Kitty is no lady in my book, and I think that would be a hard concept to sell. Her supporters tout her as a born-again Christian, but I’d be willing to bet that, even in her 40’s, she’ll be back on the streets not too long after she’s released. Be careful, Sir!"
"Who cares? ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’ Ray, my boy, this is simple and it should give us, net, an extra two or three points!"
"Sir, the evidence strongly points to several other suspects."
"Even better! We can wrap it up quickly. I don’t get blamed for the original error since I wasn’t involved and the other party was in power; and when we convict the real killers, I not only come out a hero with the public, but also gain points with the Kaisers! You’ll again enjoy their gratitude, too!"
"Careful, Sir. Read the report. I don’t think you can do that, Sir."
"Cut the shit, Ray. Why not?"
"You’ll see, Sir, that the evidence points to Preston and Barbara."
"God! The boy’s mother! You are crazy! I refuse to believe it! You’ve got to be wrong! You’d better have good reason for even saying that, slandering people of that quality!"
"Sir, I would like to ask you to postpone your appointments for one hour for me to brief you on the report, and then I will happily leave you. My family has already left the area and I will do the same. Our dinner at your folks’ home will be our last pause in the state before retiring to a secure place, but I will leave you a means of contacting me if needed."
The governor stares at Ray blankly for a moment. He begins breathing hard as he realizes that one way or another he can’t afford to not listen.
"Shit!" The governor addresses his intercom. "Missy, call the club and tell the boys that urgent state business has caused me to have to postpone our get together for at least an hour. I’ll have to skip the round, but I’ll join them for a late lunch." Then, off the intercom, "Fuck that bitch for causing all this! . . . . I probably should get Herb and Colonel Foster in here."
"Sir, that may be a problem. Remember both the Attorney General and your state police chief have worked for the Kaisers, were recommended for their posts by Preston, and, by the way, are still on generous retainers."
"No, Sir. I have checked. They are under contract and a check goes monthly to the Attorney General’s account in a bank in Nauru – in the name of his married daughter. The account number, the check numbers and amounts are in the report. Colonel Foster has money delivered in cash and keeps it in a safe in his cabin in the mountains outside Monterey. The layout of the cabin including a description of how to locate and open the panel in front of the safe, and a copy of the electronic code key that opens the safe, are there too. As of Tuesday, there was $1,258,111 in cash in that safe. Can the colonel’s salary account for that?"
"How do you get such stuff?"
"I am good at what I do."
"What do you have on me?"
"Sir, you are my friend’s son. But this is taking time you need to learn what is in this report."
"I don’t need you to repeat the report. I may be slow, but I’m not the illiterate ‘Rebel’ my enemies paint. I can and will read the report. I want to know what has happened in the six days since you agreed to take on this task. I need to know very quickly if you have dug up something that stinks or if you are crazy or worse. Tell me what you’ve done! Start with your leaving here Friday."
"Certainly, Sir. As you can imagine, I went to my hotel room and read their reports. They had dug up some new stuff, but one thing hit me particularly hard.
"Saturday morning I went to talk to some of my friends at the FBI labs. I was able to confirm most of what the kids had found. Then I found the son of a bitch who had analyzed the evidence on which the whole case hinged, the blood with Kenworth’s rare anomaly taken from Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford’s dress. The report I had received and his testimony at trial had shown that there was less than one chance in 339,588 that this was not Kenworth’s blood spattered on her dress. I had found the tiny spots on the red dress she acknowledged she wore the night Kenworth was killed. Too small to be easily seen without assistance, around chest height where they would have splattered if she had somehow managed to surprise him and lift him into that damned Swiss stainless steel monster, kicking and screaming as he would have been. He weighed nearly thirty pounds more than she. I figured she must have been in some kind of adrenaline rush and he initially relaxed, taken completely by surprise. It seemed likely she’d seduced him again and that his clothes were mostly off, possibly hindering his movements. The lab report and testimony verified it was Kenworth’s blood and that it was associated with other bodily tissues.
"It all fit. But the lab notes these kids had gotten access to under freedom of information contained more specific information the technician had failed to tell me -- or the jury. I was so furious, I demanded to know why. He said he didn’t see how it mattered. ‘We got the bad guy.’"
"Didn’t we, Ray?"
"You already know my answer, Sir. I went through all the reports now looking from a different angle. I went to that ditch where the head was found, apparently ripped from the body by some ghoul as the machine finished chewing up the boy’s neck. It had been pulled off by the hair and thrown in that ditch as if to brag of the crime. Most of the tissue had gone into the huge vats of their famous Alamo ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ brand veal and pork sausages. Since they were sold fresh, most had been consumed in the weeks before we began to look for his remains in there. It wasn’t an easy search, Sir, since the damn machine does catch workers’ fingers and whatever occasionally so it was not enough to find human flesh, we had to prove it was his."
"Good God, Ray! I don’t need to hear about that! Our victory party is to be a big fundraising barbecue out at the ranch. How do expect me to eat that shit, now!?"
"Sorry, Sir, but you want to see the complete picture.
"I knew that Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford had been to the place where the head was found. She had admitted that she stopped at that specific spot the night Kenworth was killed. She claimed it was to fix a flat after getting an offer for twenty-five hundred dollars to spend the night at a nearby cabin she never found. At the time it seemed ridiculous beyond taking seriously. ‘What an amazing coincidence! Wow!’ Now I found what old pictures showed: that there was a tractor trail behind the trees on the other side of that ditch. It would have been easy for someone to lay in wait and throw those remains into the ditch right opposite where they had stopped her with the tire rippers they used to keep people out of the ranch."
"’Someone could have’ doesn’t prove someone did, Ray."
"No, Sir, but it meant that I had work to do.
"Sunday I spent down there near the Ranch. I talked to the coroner more and found that Mary O’s kids had gotten a court order and had sent samples from the head and the spots on the dress to several independent labs using a grant they’d gotten from a foundation. They’ve also talked to just about everyone. They knew from the trial that the first meeting between the two had been the night before Kenworth Kaiser is believed to have been killed, and that he returned home alive from that encounter. I learned that the kids had confirmed this with the motel she took him to, which showed them the page missing from the sign-in book that had been taken as evidence, and the proprietor also told them and me of some rumors she’d heard since the famous trial.
"I went to see the family attorney who confirmed the rumors that Kenworth had sent a note instructing him to draw up a new will naming ‘Miss Kitty,’ as the attorney referred to her, as co-owner of all the family’s properties with himself, pending their marriage. He had told the kids that if it had been sent, he’d never received it, but he showed it to me and was certain the handwriting was Kenworth’s; I’ve had it checked and it is. Attorney Kleinmann had saved it, but kept it secret, feeling it his duty to protect the family name from being besmirched by an unfortunate peccadillo. He told me now that the night of the murder he had been working late and read Kenworth’s letter about seven PM. He had then called the ranch; Barbara answered and he had told her about the letter.
"You can see why I had never even dreamed of such a thing, Sir. Who would guess that a powerful young man had never had a girl friend, had been entirely captivated by his family responsibilities for the previous five years, and would fall head over heals for a prostitute who had seduced and robbed him. She clearly had no idea, either, or she would have used it in her defense. When I was originally investigating, several girls told me that Kenworth intended to marry them and I had the impression he was some sort of Lothario. They were dreamers. It didn’t seem important then, so I didn’t follow up. After all, I was working for his mother and she sure wouldn’t want to hear that. Now I’ve checked out all their claims. From what I’ve found now, he may well have been the state’s oldest virgin prior to that encounter. One of ‘Kitty’s’ attractions to him may have been that they both led youth groups in their very strict Baptist church. God, what a hypocrite she must have been, Sir!
"I spent the week, then, following leads to people now willing to tell me more, virtually all believing that Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford had murdered Kenworth, possibly when he lured her back there with a promise of marriage and then perhaps did try to pay her for the evening, possibly with the $2,500 she claimed to have been lured with."
"That would seem plausible."
"Yes, Sir, but when I crossed the line, it was different. A Mexican now working as a foreman in the packing plant with a green card from the amnesty, told me of a young girl who had fled a village near his hometown. He’d helped to hide her in the packing plant that very night. She fled home in terror the next morning. He never found out why. I flew down there and found that she now lived in California where I caught up with her, now married to a vineyard manager at a small winery.
"I now had a claimed eye witness, Sir. She had been hiding in the deboning hall that night and was awakened, afraid of being discovered, when Kenworth came in to inspect it. She had no idea who he was, but picked out his picture for me with no hesitation. She had seen him attacked by a man and a woman and had no trouble identifying them from pictures I had also inserted in a mug shot book. Her description even before that had left little doubt. She had been 14 at the time and crossed the border illegally. She was traumatized by the horror she saw and ran back home where she was thought insane, hallucinatory, and was eventually sent by a Catholic charity for therapy up here. She’s now a US citizen, and has lived in California where I found her, and would have been unlikely to have ever had contact with anyone connected to this mess since that night."
"Interesting, Ray, but we all know how unreliable eyewitness testimony is, especially after nearly 20 years! How could she possibly remember accurately after so long. Anyway she was certifiably crazy and could have been motivated by those peoples’ greedy resentment of anyone who’s achieved anything."
"I understand, Sir, but you understand that the case against Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford was weakening.
"Yesterday morning I spent at the prison. She didn’t know who she was being brought to see until she saw me. When she recognized me she was outraged. ‘Why are you here? Haven’t you hurt me enough? I had nothing to do with that murder. You framed me! Without a miracle from God, they are going to murder me. Are you such a ghoul that you’ve come to gloat? Anyway, I can’t talk to you without my attorney.’"
"I told her, ‘Look, woman, think the worst of me, but I couldn’t do you any more harm if I wanted to. Your attorney will be here in a moment at my request and that of your law school kids.
"I’ve followed some leads your friends have given me, some things they’ve found that I hadn’t known of at the time of your trial. That hasn’t happened to me often, and if you can retell me the story of that night in very fine detail we’ll all know if I can help you with the governor or not.’
"Her attorneys came in and asked her to retell every detail starting with the phone call inviting her to the cabin. They made the standard stipulation that they would stop the proceedings if they had any objections, but they never interrupted at all.
"Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford began and I asked her details about her car -- what scratches and dents it had, how much gas, where she turned corners and so on, even what she saw along the road, to check the accuracy of her memory. Most of it was good, though checking with the old documents there was the expected confusion of some events, especially of sequence. She got to the point where she described getting the flat.
"I had learned that she apparently did get a flat there, by the way, though we had denied that at her trial, and even her attorneys had to admit that none of the castings or photos of the scene showed any sign of a flat. I went through the evidence locker, and a casting I was never shown before does match the impression her front right tire would have made when flat. It came from a space between the photographs I’d been given -- and which were shown the jury -- and the point that wheel first moved off the pavement onto the shoulder. Interestingly, the tripod shape of a type of device for puncturing tires – sold in some self-proclaimed ‘law enforcement’ catalogs -- can be discerned. Preston Kaiser has told people, whom he suspected of hunting on the ranch, that he has spread those on remote unused roads. As you know, with over a hundred square miles at the home place alone, they have problems with trespassers.
"She described for me in excruciating detail getting the spare out and struggling to get the lugs loose while swatting flies and mosquitoes. She recalled having swatted flies and mosquitoes on her upper torso. She remembered because, in her frenzy with the flies and her fear that she would be late and lose a $2,500 ‘date’ and wreck her outfit to boot, she bruised her left breast. You’ll see that bruise described in the medical examination she was given upon arrest. It had no significance to me at the time. She was a prostitute and I knew it would not be unusual for her to have been hit by a John she was caught stealing from or from one of the other girls in a turf conflict. Now I realize the peculiar inverted ‘L’ shaped bruise below her collar bone matched the lug wrench!
"The blood spots were on her upper torso because she was squatted down to work on the tire. She spoke of getting bit on the back, but the dress, chosen to be as seductive as possible, had no back.
"The full lab report of the blood spots shows that in addition to Kenworth’s blood, which new tests, by the way, show to have been splattered some hours after death, not immediately, shows that the other tissue materials include not only those from Kenworth, but from flies and mosquitoes, as well as a bit of dirty automotive grease. Kenworth’s blood was always mixed with the entrails of the insects. I wish I had seen that full report, which was only in the working notes and not in the typed report presented to me. The girl hadn’t mentioned the bugs in early interviews because she didn’t think it had to do with anything. Her attorneys hit at the reliability of the blood test, not realizing that the important question was how the blood got there. Their client, after all, was indignantly claiming that there was no way Kenworth’s blood could have gotten on her clothes. She publicly claimed to the media that if there was Kenworth’s blood on that frock, I must have put it there. That infuriated me, Sir, and I am afraid distracted me from objective investigation.
“I’m afraid there’s more. The kids told me that they were offered ‘something important’ for $100,000, by Robert Robberts, the retired Security Director, at the estate. He wouldn’t budge on the price and they were desperate to learn what he had, told me where to find him. I did.
“What he had was an old reel of video tape. It was from a Hitachi reel-to-reel time-lapse machine and could only be played back on the same kind of machine. It had never been played, but should have recorded whatever went on in that deboning hall that night. He had taken it as ‘insurance’.
“Sir, it was only because there are a lot of people in the agency who owe me that I was able to get a friend to fly in last night with one of the few surviving machines of that type. We reviewed the tape, then he left for ‘a safe place’, but said he was willing to return to testify.
“Sir, the picture is blurry, black and white and full of ‘snow’, but the Mexican girl can be seen entering the hall when she said she did, and the two people who are shown attacking Kenworth are clearly Barbara and Preston. They can be seen to grab him suddenly, shaking him until his head hits the metal rail, then arguing among themselves – there’s no sound, so it in no way indicates what was said. Then they strip the limp body and start the machine . . . it’s really too disgusting to tell. Later two older women, whom I’ve yet to identify, can be seen cleaning up.
“While Robberts wouldn’t part with the original except for a few hours for my associate to make a VHS copy, the copy’s with the report and my friend still has that reel-to-reel copy and the Hitachi machine.
“Unfortunately, the body of the old man found castrated and disemboweled this morning next to the capitol, was Robberts, the retired security guard. A warning, I suppose. Don’t trust to these people’s friendship, Sir!
"Sir, this new information exactly matches Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford’s account, and in fact exonerates her!
"The lab tech swears he showed all his notes to the DA, but I don’t know. The attorney who prosecuted the case died of cancer four years ago."
"Read the whole report, Sir. There no longer is a case against Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford for anything more than morphine addiction and prostitution, both of which would have been probated at the time. Nothing that would result in 18 years on death row. The kids will have the same evidence in three days, but not in time to save their friend ‘Kitty’ without your granting a delay. Do you want to go ahead with the execution with what you know now? Imagine the flak you’ll face on the weekend news reports world wide just before voters go to the polls! ‘An embarrassment to the state!’"
"Well, Ray, you’re suggesting rational greed led a brother and a mother to do this?"
"Sir, the evidence is suggesting, not me."
"I don’t know, Ray. What conceivable reason could they have?
Why save out the head and throw it in that ditch?"
"I think they confronted Kenworth after the lawyer called and told them about the letter. It just happened that they found him in the deboning hall. They got in the furious argument we see in the tape, and killed him in a rage.
"Why? Go back five years. The father, dying from cancer, learned that Barbara planned to marry her young ‘trainer’, and that Preston encouraged her in this. To prevent that, he left everything to Kenworth on behalf of the family. Kenworth’s will, held by the family attorney, still left everything to his mother and brother should he die first; not an unusual arrangement. In fact there were rumors about Barbara and young Lyndon for years before her husband’s death; they married two months after Kenworth’s death."
"Of course. I had heard the rumors, too. Tabloid stuff."
"The motive was perceived betrayal, and greed. But they had acted in a rage. It was not a planned act. Now, how could they explain Kenworth’s sudden disappearance?
"I don’t think they thought about the flies and mosquitoes, Sir. Too obscure. I think Preston called the girl and enticed her there with the offer of a $2,500 ‘date,’ threw the tripods on the road and waited for her to stop to fix the flat, then threw the head in the ditch below so that when the head was found her tire tracks would be found nearby. The girl had mentioned a small animal or something falling into the bit of water at the bottom of the ditch and that she was afraid it might be rabid and bite her. Perhaps that was when they threw the head in. Preston has a pickup with a magnet to pick up the tripods when he needs to again use a road. He must have gone over the road before the girl returned from her search for the nonexistent cabin.’"
“Look, if all this were true, why didn’t you or the locals find Kenworth’s clothes, which must have been full of blood?”
“I should have, Sir! I found that Kenworth kept precise records on everything, even including his wardrobe. It was a piece I never was able to fit into the puzzle, but I was able to account for every piece of his clothing, all neat and clean in his closets. I didn’t know what to make of that. Now I do. Barbara must have had everything cleaned, knowing that no one would do any deep study of apparently clean clothes in a victim’s own closet.”
"God, I can’t cross the Kaisers! Ray, they can still destroy us!" Ray noticed the governor’s grimace and his hand subconsciously moving as if to protect his crotch.
"That’s why I suggested the ‘delay of execution’ routine, followed after the elections by negotiations that get her parole and a cash settlement in return for a standard signed agreement holding everybody involved harmless and an agreement not to discuss the case as long as it is open. You can assign it to me. She and her supporters will trust me now, and I will sit on it until it is long forgotten. It may even be possible to get a court order prohibiting discussion by any of the participants or potential witnesses."
Ray awaits comments from the governor, then quietly continues.
"Uhh, . . . . Sir, I should probably note that not only will the kids have all this figured out shortly, but that my full report is now in the hands of several foreign journalists who will open it only if I were to die, disappear or be arrested. You may rest assured that so long as my loved ones and I are unhindered, nothing I or they will do will interfere with your policies in this case, providing only that you do something immediately to call a halt to this thing. If you don’t, you know already that you are going to lose this election. What is worse, I can assure you that we all will be testifying under oath before some very unfriendly folks in Congressional committees – and perhaps it may even get messy in the state legislature as everybody seeks someone else to take the heat. There are, of course people who can pay a king’s ransom, if you will, to make sure we are unable to give such testimony."
"But the Kaisers will know I know, Ray."
"Sir, that you have had me examining this affair this past week cannot be unknown to them. Robberts’ fate was certainly not an accident.
They know you for whom you are, Sir. You might just tell them that new evidence that must be sealed because the case is again considered open, totally clears Andrea ‘Kitty’ Ford, and that you have a secret elite team investigating, but that your investigators tell you that, unfortunately, as long as the two people who pushed Kenworth into that machine and turned it on, don’t do anything to stir up the dust, there will never be sufficient evidence to bring charges."
"I don’t know, Ray. I’m afraid. Grandfather, even Dad might not have been, but this scares me shitless. Just knowing there’s no one I can depend on. Just get the hell out of here. I mean it. Keep your damn trap shut. Have your dinner at Mom and Dad’s, then get far away and stay!"
"You are welcome, Sir. I will leave my expense report with Missy. You can probably recover the $100,000 for the State from the Colonel’s hoard if you ask him in the right way. They are the bundle of new bills at the right rear of the middle shelf. With courage and your family’s aid, you may survive this. Good luck to you, Sir!"
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CAESAR AYALA?
With unwanted notoriety that resulted from the ‘Kitty Case,’ Ray was inundated with requests for his skills, now reputed by some admirers to be endowed with some near magical qualities despite all Ray’s horrified denials. Ray refused all these projects, but when family asked, what could he do.
Ray’s favorite grandson, called Young Ray by the family, was to marry a beautiful daughter of one of the founding families of the City of Angels. Ray initially wasn’t too happy, but on learning that young Ray wouldn’t have to convert, -- and pressed to do so by his wife, Dilly, whose level-headedness he respected -- he accepted an opportunity to take the young lovers to dinner.
Ray had come a long way from the 1930s of his childhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, which he always considered home. There, he had sat and listened to his immigrant grandfather read to him from his German language newspaper. The paper was a Catholic organ and his Grossvater was a bitterly anti-papist Lutheran, but he read it because he was more comfortable reading German and because of its politics. When Pope Pius XI saved the Hitler regime by coercing the Catholic Center Party to vote in the Reichstag for the enabling act that gave Hitler dictatorial power, Grossvater was almost ready to forgive the Pope. Even as a child, Ray had never quite known for what Pope Pius XI needed Grossvater’s forgiveness. Grossvater had been briefly a civilian employee of the training regiment Adolph Hitler had been in as a young man in WWI and had met him on a few occasions. He had been very impressed with the young man. When Pius XII became Pope and Grossvater learned that he had been one of Hitler’s early financial contributors, the reconciliation seemed even closer, but shortly afterwards Grossvater died at 91, and with the war Ray learned that Hitler and Germans were evil incarnate and the enemy of all that was good.
Ray wasn’t into being ‘politically correct’ but he had seen enough of the results of racism as an occupation MP serving as a translator to reject it intellectually. He revered his Grossvater, but realized that his bitter hatred of non-Germans was a reaction to the Napoleonic French treatment of Germans as lesser humans. Chauvinism had become a bad word to Ray, though one he didn’t speak. Still, the idea of accepting a brown skinned girl into his family as a member rather than a servant ‘treated like a member of the family.’ was another matter emotionally.
The dinner meeting changed all that. Finding this young dental student so charming and beautiful, so intelligent and Republican, Ray was enthralled and asked the young couple what he could get them for their wedding. Gloria smiled and asked only that he and Dilly agree to come to dinner once they had moved into their new apartment. Young Ray, however, said that there was a very big gift he might be able to give.
Young Ray took Ray to meet Gloria’s family. Gloria’s mother was the proprietress of a crowded little shop, Bodega Ayala y Sepulveda, in an even more crowded barrio. To Ray, the walled in slum cried out in itself, despite its cleanliness and bright colors. Gloria’s mother was proud of her accomplishments, having built a tight but neat little concrete block house for her family a block from her store, having seen six of her seven children through school with many honors, and having become the acknowledged head of her family. She was still uncomfortable in English a century and a half after the discovery of gold had lead to foreign invasion and loss of this city her family had helped to found over two hundred years ago. She was very proud of her copies of the letters of patent from the Spanish crown granting her ancestors, in 1776, rights to land on which nearly a tenth of Los Angeles stands. She asked her children and young Ray, who had become fluent in LA Spanish, to explain her anguish.
Sixteen years before she had sent her first-born, her Caesar, then eleven years old, the short distance to the bodega to pick up some laundry soap. He never returned. All these years the family had searched. All they knew was that the same evening three other boys Caesar’s age from the barrio had disappeared. Ray had noticed that while there were pictures of all seven children, there were pictures of one small boy on all the walls, and what appeared to be a small shrine in front of one in a silver frame with flowers and ribbons.
Gloria now began to cry. She said that she knew it was too much to ask, and was ashamed that young Ray had asked, but that if Ray could find anything about the fate of her big brother and the other boys, it would ease her mother’s grief, even if the news were bad. They had immediately reported Caesar missing, but the police said Mexican boys frequently ran away from their abusive families, often with fellow gang members. Gloria didn’t think they ever really investigated, though they had claimed to. None of the families ever learned what happened to their sons.
Well, you know Ray, he couldn't say no.
“I can’t imagine that I’ll find anything no one else did after all these years. One of my old friends has the assignment of reviewing cold cases here and I can ask some questions, but I’m afraid that after all these years, it’s nearly impossible. It is possible the boys did something they were afraid of being punished for and ran, though in such cases it would be unusual that none of the four had contacted family members in all these years. I’m afraid that if they were kidnapped, the likelihood of my finding good news is even smaller than the possibility of my finding something.
Looking at young Ray, “You know, grandsons sometimes think their grandpas can do more than they really can. Still, I’ll ask around and let you know if I find anything.”
“Oh, thank you so much!” came from each of those present.
Gloria added, “Grandpa Ray, we know that only God can do miracles, but if you turn up anything, even bad news, it will help us all and especially Mom. If you learn that Caesar ran away and that he doesn’t want to see us, it will hurt but at least we will know, and he will know that he will be welcomed with love if he ever wants to come back. If he’s been in jail, we’ll help him. If . . . . if he . . . . if he’s dead, at least we’ll know where to bring our prayers for him. Thank you for whatever you find! Thank you for agreeing to try! That really is the best present anyone could give us! In truth, it is the gift no one else could give us!” The last words were accompanied by a warm embrace with young Ray.
Ray’s friend couldn’t find an open file on the disappearance of the four boys. He thought that a little odd since the ages of the kids and the fact that four disappeared at once was unusual. He checked with a friend who was retired from the LAPD. That friend led them to a retired sergeant who was at the desk and remembered the hysterical Mexican mothers who for years had hounded him and made his life miserable. He wasn’t very friendly, but thought if those hoodlums were out on the streets and his help might keep them from causing more problems, he could tell Ray where to find the precinct’s records for that period. It was before the records were computerized, but he knew that when they were seven years old they’d been stored away and was able to give the warehouse address and bin number.
Ray thanked his friend, wondered at the old sergeant’s remarks about the kids. Maybe he was looking for some kind of gangsters? At 76 he had no taste for mixing it up with some Mexican drug gang who would now be in their mid-twenties and probably not eager to have their business looked into by some old cop, even at their family’s request. They’d probably see him as simply disposable; he wasn’t even carrying anymore.
The records showed him only that the mother was right, that only the most cursory inquiries had been made. Then he noticed a notation that indicated that an independent gang unit had been in the area that evening, but, it was noted, the area was quiet so they probably didn’t stay long.
Some inquiries brought him to a former member of that gang unit, now branch manager of a national security company. Frank Hess had been a Newark cop who took the first chance to come to Golden California to get away from the winters. Ray recognized the accent before Frank told him.
He had little interest in the whole thing, but Ray warmed him up a bit by speculating on the similarity of their names and the possibility that they might be related. After looking at the picture and copies of the records that showed his unit had been in the area that evening, he said that he had no reason to remember that night as different from any other, but that it was entirely possible that they might have encountered the boys at the entrance to the barrio where the bodega was located. They routinely ran into hoodlums loitering on the corners and you couldn’t tell what age they were and how dangerous they were.
“If you want to live to retire, as you know well, you have to assume the worst. You’re not going to get a chance to get the second shot. Hell, look at these Indian faces. They’re small. Not much brain, but they’re small even when they’re old, so you can’t tell. That’s why all they’re good for is picking lettuce. The ones in the city are just too lazy for that. Rather collect welfare, sell their sisters and deal drugs to buy their gold-wheeled neon Cadillacs. Lots of times we’d pick up gangs like that. Mostly couldn’t even really speak English. . . . You know, those could have been a bunch we picked up that tried to say they were real Americans. Claimed to go to the Jared Torrance School there, but they couldn’t even pronounce it right. Their backs must have still been soaking wet. We generally called INS to come get them out of our faces!”
To Ray’s surprise an INS agent very quickly found the boys listed under their own names, with correct ages and home addresses listed
“Yeah, here. This them? They had claimed to be US citizens, but that their families didn’t have phones. They had no acceptable identification. They sure were dumb if they were born here, cause they could barely speak the language. The one boy who claimed to be named Caesar said there was a phone in his mother’s bo-day-go. The number he gave just rang and rang. He said he’d been sent to buy some soap, but he had no soap and no money. The fool showed us some keys, but they were made in Mexico!
“The officer in charge had just noted that they were real cool about the whole thing, obviously been through it before. When he asked about the keys, the boy named Caesar just smirked and said “They’re keys to the store. That’s why I don’t need money.” They assume everybody steals, since that’s their way of life. We put them on the next shipment back to Tijuana. We leave them off by a pay phone with a few pesos so’s they can call their tias to come get them.”
“Would they have had enough to call families up here?”
“Oh, yeah, if they wanted to try it again. They could call family in San Diego. Wouldn’t have been enough, probably to call up to LA.”
“Don’t your agents try to contact families of young kids like that?”
“Oh, of course. That’s standard routine. But so many of them, like these, play games, won’t give us names of relatives in Mexico. The agents tried repeatedly to call the one phone number they gave us that night, but got no answer. It was a pay phone. Obviously a phony. Probably where they made their drug connections from. I’m sure you know. All the bleeding hearts out there think we don’t care, but we‘ve got families. We try, but we’re not magicians. If they won’t help themselves, there’s not much we can do. If we let them stay, they’d all be on welfare bleeding us dry and speaking Spanish to boot! Do you know what the burden of these criminals costs California taxpayers?
“Look, if you’re trying to find this bunch, this note shows that they stayed on the bus until it got to the end of its run taking a bad guy back to Monterey. The officers had to put them off there. They wouldn’t even get off on their own. Started crying and the whole bit. Some toughs started to gather yelling about ‘Gringos’. Our guys were lucky to get out of there alive! It’s dangerous work! People don’t understand the kind of garbage we have to deal with, -- and then they want us to be ever so polite and politically correct. You’ve been through it.”
“Yeah, I have. Monterey’s pretty big. Any idea where they were put off?”
“That’s easy. They were bringing back a bad guy the Federales were looking for. They’d have stopped in front of the main police station. The bad guy was some kind of anarchist trying to stir up trouble in an auto plant there. Says here his name was Francisco Ramirez. Still in prison there. Our UAW friends who’ve done such wonders for the auto industry up here think he’s a hero. I guess they wouldn’t mind forcing the guys down there to pay them dues, too.”
Ray caught a flight to Monterey hoping against all odds to be able to bring good news, and maybe even bring the young men to the wedding as his ‘gift’. Ray knew that finding people in a city of a couple of million was going to take a near miracle. He’d had update pictures prepared by an Agency artist, and an old Mexico City contact from his Agency days had agreed to meet him there.
They really did luck out. Ramirez remembered the crying kids and had given them taxi fare and the name of a man in his union movement. The man was now dead, but his wife remembered the kids.
“Lazaro helped hundreds of them, but I remember this one, Caesar, because he talked so beautifully. When they first came they didn’t really speak Spanish ---more like a mixture of Spanish and English. Lazaro helped the boys get work in a market. The stands were constantly changing, but maybe someone would remember. The boys only wanted to earn enough money to get home, but I told them that that was unlikely. They could hope to earn enough to eat and then sleep in the stand. I saw them there for many months, maybe a year or more, but that was years ago. They were always smiling and would come out and hug me. Sometimes when Lazaro was blacklisted for his union activities, they’d give me a few onions or a kilo of corn. I gave them some clothes my son had outgrown.
“One day I came and the owner of the stand was mad. He said after he had paid them, they quit; said they were going home. They disappeared with his fifteen year old daughter who told her friends that she was going to Texas to make enough money so that her folks could buy a real store.”
Ray turned to his friend who was translating, “Does she know how they went? Bus?”
“She says a smuggler was to take them over the border for a price. He was going to get two boys home, then release the other two when the families sent his fee. She knows where the girl’s parents are.”
The parents were able to direct them to the smuggler.
It turns out that the smuggler was a trucker who has a hidden compartment in his produce truck. He would stop for inspection, cross into Laredo, Texas and drop off his load. He was popular at the border. Always had his papers in order. Always had little gifts for the families of the agents on both sides. As scheduled, he would spend the night at a local truck stop. A US associate would come with a police van and take the half-dozen or so migrants to a warehouse where they would get into US licensed semis and be brought to the locations they’d contracted for. Migrants were billed about $2000 each.
In this case, two boys were to stay behind in the home of the cop – real or impostor – until the families paid the bill according to the instructions to be carried by the two who were to be sent home. The girl had paid a bit in advance with the money her parents had saved up toward buying the place they dreamed of. She had fought to avoid paying the rest of what the trucker wanted, but was no match for him.
Unfortunately, in this case something had gone wrong. The smuggler had turned the illegal migrants over to his policeman friend -- yes, he was sure he was a policeman – and has never seen him since. He knew only that the girl and the four boys had not been turned over at the warehouse as scheduled. He had read some months later of a sheriff’s car that had been found. It had rolled down an embankment and burned. No body was found, but it seemed unlikely anyone could have survived it and there had been a subsequent flood so that the sheriff thought they were swept away.
Ray learned which sheriff’s department had lost a deputy in that way, and went to examine the scene. The car itself had long since been crushed for scrap. There was nothing to be seen. What could he expect after over a decade. Still, he probed around.
He learned that the deputy had been having an affair and that his wife had been threatening to divorce him and get half his salary to support their two teenagers. The girl friend, though had disappeared at the same time. Ray didn’t like that. The wife had quickly remarried.
A visit to the deputy’s wife brought a quick confession that the husband’s disappearance had been arranged to allow him to go off with his girl friend and leave his in-service death benefits to go to her. Best thing he’d ever done for her. She had no idea where he’d gone, hoped that he was in trouble; hoped that she wasn’t. Would it be possible to keep it out of the papers so the kids – now both parents, themselves -- wouldn’t know that their Dad hadn’t died a hero in the line of duty. Yes, she knew the girlfriend’s name and family and would be glad to give the information.
Interestingly the girlfriend’s family knew the man only as their policeman son-in-law. They knew the young couple had first gone to New Jersey for a job interview, but that had fallen through for some reason, and they now lived in Nevada where he was the law in a tiny town, which they just loved as the perfect place to raise their four youngsters. The proud grandparents were delighted to have an audience for their pictures of their handsome son-in-law and their grandkids. No, they’d never seen any of the missing boys or the missing girl.
It was no easy thing to get from rural Texas to a townlet in east central Nevada, but Ray drove up from Vegas, and pointed out to the ‘dead’ deputy that hiding out in a uniform works only in operettas. Having found that Ray was not interested in informing his former department of his current whereabouts, he was willing to tell Ray what he knew.
He had sold two of the boys to an agent he’d regularly used, who had sold them to a farm couple in Minnesota for stoop labor. Pious elders of their fundamentalist church, they told neighbors that they had taken them in to save them from a terrible fate in Mexico. He’d sold a Polish boy to them a year before.
The money from his previous ‘importing business’ had allowed his wife and he to buy a hobby ranch outside of town and begin their new life here in some comfort. He now lived rigidly inside the law and expressed righteous fury at ‘bad guys’ who transgressed.
He and his wife had sold the girl to an all-too-well-known ‘gentleman rancher’ who was putting together a parcel for a ‘bunny hunt.’ The other two boys had escaped while he and his new wife were negotiating that sale. He pointed at pictures of Caesar and another boy. After promising that the rancher would not be told the officer’s new name and location, Ray was given the names and locations, and set off.
Another exhausting drive to Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport, trudging miles through the embarrassingly gaudy and cacophonous casino-terminal, and a flight to Albuquerque. Ray would tell you himself that he was no prude, but in truth the open corruption of this American Gomorra really did disgust him.
Another long drive to the ranch. An interview with Security, then a phone conversation with the Big Man. The Man had heard of Ray, would gladly be of any help he could. A long drive led from the guardhouse at the gate to the main house.
Of course the gentleman never had heard of ‘bunny hunts’. If they took place on his property he’d certainly have Security put a stop to it.
“That’s a pretty big Vicon switch for a den!” Ray picks up the video remote and ‘clicks’ to a closed circuit television camera. It provides a very high quality view of a young guest, a niece of his current wife’s, in the shower on a 25 foot screen. Another ‘click’ provides a very unappetizing view of an elderly CEO on the toilet in another bathroom.
“You can’t win ‘em all!” the embarrassed ‘rancher’ smirks.
Some specifics of the bunny hunts are supplied and assurance that Ray only is interested in learning the fate of the persons pictured. Confidentiality is assured. Ray is no fool; he knows a stone wall when he sees it.
“Well, what you’re calling bunny hunts do happen. It’s just a more mature, adult version of 'hide and seek.' No, there’s no way to remember a particular girl.
“We’ve got to be so discrete. Everything’s so PC these days. The people who really do all the arduous hard work that builds this country have a right to some relaxation, too, you know! No one really gets hurt, so what’s the harm? You know that some of us have to work our butts off to pay the taxes that support all these whining slobs so they can pretend to work while we pay them ten times what they’re worth!
“Look, my recreation manager hires the talent. Talk to him.”
“Yeah, I do remember that girl. She got really hysterical. Spoils all the fun for the guests. I got one of our wetback ranch hands to translate. Said some American kids she’s come up from Monterey with had escaped from some creep who’d brought her here. Said they were left tied up naked out in the desert.
“Claimed she’d been raped and sold to me. I can tell you that’s an absolute lie! I just gave the guy a commission for recruiting her when I hired her. She works for one of the boss’s frequent guests now as a housekeeper at his cabin in the mountains up by the Colorado line. . . . Look, if she’s telling lies about me! . . . I know who you are. You’re smart enough to know she has to be lying!”
“I’ve never talked to her. I’m just trying to take her back to Monterey where she’s wanted. I’ve no interest in causing you any problem, and certainly don’t want to cause your boss any.
“Have you seen either of these boys?”
“I don’t recognize either one of them, why?”
“I need to find them, too. I think they are probably the two Gringos the girl referred to.”
“They look more like wetbacks.”
“The girl is probably my key. Where do I find her?”
“I don’t think the boss would want me to give out a guest’s private information.”
“If I don’t find her, much less polite people will come looking. They might well cause problems. You can trust me to be discrete.”
“Look, ask the boss. If he gives you the information, I’m off the hook.”
Armed with a detailed map of how to get to the cabin, Ray is off to find the girl.
I don’t know how the old man does it. He’d already been going for two days straight since leaving Laredo, and now he was really putting the hairpins behind him in the mountains. He was running on black coffee.
He found the place. It was no cabin, but a magnificent mini-palace. Marble and gold all over the place. Indoor and outdoor pools. Spas. Central air, of course. Landscaped like Versailles! Lots of toys. A small jet sat outside the hangar on the two-mile long private strip. Several million at least; probably tens of millions!
The ‘girl’ was now 30 and had two sons and a daughter by her ‘employer.’ She was very anxious to leave the gilded cage in which she was chambermaid as well as concubine. The ‘staff’ wasn’t locked in. It was only the miles of mountains that imprisoned them. The boss, despite the decade she had served him, refused to let her and the kids go unless he was paid back the $7,500 he’d originally paid the ‘Recreation Manager’ for her. Ray was able to arrange an electronic funds transfer, and despite his rage, concluded that it was cheap under the circumstances if it would allow them to leave safely. He let three girls who ran up to the rental van as he was driving away get in. A county deputy stopped him about fifteen miles down the road and they settled on another $10K for the extra three. Hard to surprise, Ray was amazed when the sheriff served as relay for the negotiations with no attempt to disguise what was going on. Ray dropped the three off in Albuquerque after getting them reconnected to their families. Two were from a Hopi pueblo and the pregnant thirteen-year-old was from Estonia.
Back at the Ranch, Rosa tried to retrace her steps of over a decade before. She had been attacked by a ‘guest’ who’d lassoed her. The two boys had escaped from their two captors, but stayed to attempt to rescue her. The guest had fought the boys off when they tried to get him off her. He had succeeded in tying them together, stripped them to slow them down, and left them there.
She had been crying and screaming and told a man at the ranch who seemed to be organizing the ‘hunt’. They had gone to look for the boys when she told them that they were North Americans, US citizens. They couldn’t find them. They found the rope, but no sign of the boys.
Rosa had no idea where they went.
Ray had to cope not only with the inherent dangers from nature and the ranch staff and his own rage, but also with Rosa’s. She wanted to kill everyone involved. She was a devoted and loving mother, but had to deal with her children being the children of her years of slavery, beatings, humiliation and rape. Ray had to watch her carefully. He wanted, at least to get her and her kids out of there alive, and that wouldn’t happen if she took any revenge. These people had clout and only she would face the law.
Ray hired a team with horses and dogs. It took only three days to find the mangled, dehydrated bodies under a small rock outcropping where they’d apparently hidden from the sun. The mummified bodies would have to be formally identified by a pathologist, but Ray had no doubt. One of the pictures Gloria had given him showed a birthmark on the back of Caesar’s upper left thigh. It was there on one of the shrunken little corpses.
He would not be bringing the wedding gift he hoped for, but at least the family would have their son’s body to bury.
Ray did find the other two ‘boys’ in Minnesota, where the farm couple who’d enslaved them were arrested and forced to pay them and two other forced laborers over a decade of back wages as part of their penalty on conviction. The court and the neighbors were appalled. They didn’t believe such things could go on in their advanced state. Ray was reminded of three monkeys.
Mourners filled the church for the funeral, reported in the Spanish language papers and broadcast live on pirate radio. The barrio was poor, but the old church was huge and elaborate. The families were huge, too. Ray had lots of experience judging crowds, he estimated twelve to fifteen hundred mourners. Tears were shed of anguish and rage. Details of what had happened were reported fully in the local Spanish language press, but Ray was unable to find a single word in the LA Times, or the New York Times, which brags that it prints all the news that’s fit to print. Ray and Dilly had come to pay their respects and to express their remorse. He was embarrassed that instead he was welcomed as a hero, asked by the young priest to sit in the front with his wife.
Bringing the two boys’ bodies home may have been the hardest thing Ray had ever done. He had always looked so young for his age, but now the spring was gone. He even seemed a little bent at times.
The two young men returned to their families. They used the proceeds of the sale of the Minnesota family’s farm to start a small truck farm of their own supplying Bodega Ayala y Sepulveda, among others. Rosa and her children settled in the barrio under the wing of Gloria’s mother and her family.
Ray’s contacts helped get a private bill through Congress that expedited citizenship for Rosa. The reparations helped a bit with the costs of the therapy they all required, and with tutors to help them pick up on schooling they had been denied.. It helped some, I guess, though Gloria tells Ray that one of the young men tried to commit suicide and will apparently be permanently on antidepressants. Rosa eventually got a small settlement that allowed her to help her family in Monterey buy a home and a small store. They also bought stones for the two dead boys. Rosa’s enslaver plead to misdemeanor charges of violation of wage and hour laws and paid nearly a million dollars into funds for education and medical care for his ex-slaves and his children. Ray threatened to raise a stink, and the court added a requirement that the estate be open to investigation of abuse of employees at any time. Ray was to show up himself for several years without announcement to see that it was being enforced.
Otherwise, life continued as before. That seemed strange to Ray, now.
I think I saw a bit of the old Ray return, though, as he danced with the bride and later with her mother at the wedding.
Ray Story #3:
(Ray, now 75 years old, is induced by family to look for missing Sister Sharon Mussolini, who is forecast by some to be beatified soon after her death, and who has been a bearer of balm to the poor and afflicted of near mythical proportions as well as a spur in the sides of the establishment. She has mysteriously disappeared and the family, the church and the President all prevail on Ray to find her. v.1.03 11September., ’04 Copyright by author: Zev Aelony, Minneapolis, MN 2003)
Well, you know the family was right when they warned Ray that if he came out of retirement once, it would never end. About a year after the wedding the priest asked Ray to come see him. Thinking the request was pastoral, Ray protested that he was not Catholic, but the young man, whom he felt silly addressing as ‘Father,’ simply replied that that was fine. A time was agreed on, and Ray came to the church office, feeling a little uncomfortable.
When the young priest ushered Ray into his conference room, he was surprised to see, engaged in tense discussion, first, an old man in a Cardinal’s cap; an Assistant Secretary of State, Norm Kline, whom he recognized from his agency days; a rabbi with a huge white beard and a skullcap; the Nicaraguan Consul, -- a former Sandinista diplomat with a withered arm from Ray’s agency’s botched assassination attempt of some years back, -- Mary O sitting next to a young woman in what appeared to be a flour sack dress and a little scarf such as some religious orders wear; the newlyweds, Young Ray and Gloria; a burly youngish man with a big untrained black beard and another stranger who turned out to be from the North Korean mission to the UN in New York.
Ray mused to himself that this proved that his powers were not as great as some imagined. He had expected some uncomfortable discussion about the religious education of his brand new great grandchildren, or some such. Oh, did you know that Young Ray and Gloria had twins, a boy and a girl, just short of a year after their wedding? Ray had no idea what could have brought this unlikely stew together.
“Ray, I’m so glad you are willing to meet us. Please have a seat here. May we all introduce ourselves? Cardinal Giovanini has just arrived from Rome for this meeting and I will sit next to him to translate, Ray. Rabbi Yadidi, would you start and then we’ll go around the circle.”
Ray didn’t feel it would be appropriate to take notes, and he didn’t catch all the names, but nothing hinted to him what to expect.
The young priest nodded to Mary O and asked if she would brief Ray on the situation.
“Ray, we’ve met only very briefly on a very different occasion, but I have been impressed with both your skills and your personal integrity. We have a person missing under extremely suspicious circumstances whom we hope you can discretely find unharmed. Some of us,” Mary looked around the room, “if you’ll excuse me, are here as her friends, others out of concern that rumors are beginning to circulate implicating them in her mysterious disappearance.
“Have you heard of Sister Sharon Mussolini, founder of the Mary and Joseph’s Sisters of Divine Compassion?”
“Yes. She’s the controversial nun who goes around the world pressuring warring parties to cease fire and organizing the poor to work together to survive. I don’t know anything about her except that I see her on the news every couple of years or so. She’s quite young, a strikingly beautiful black woman with her hair done like they used to do thirty years ago. I think some people are claiming that she’s performed miracles and will probably become a saint?”
The Cardinal spoke to the priest who relayed, “Cardinal Giovanini wishes you to know that that is a very sensitive matter; that the church has said nothing to encourage this, but that it has no control about what the gossips in the profane press may be saying. Very careful study must be done by scholars during several stages of investigation before the church would make such an assertion. Many people claim miracles – even from Pol Pot. The church is very scientific and bases its decisions on careful investigation. Sister Sharon, by the way, has stated that she is horrified by these stories.”
Mary O continued, “As you know, Sister Sharon has been working hard on issues involving the status of women and minorities in Afghanistan, on Irish and Israel/Palestine conflicts, on attempts to reunite the Yugoslavs after the failure of the policy of breaking them up into warring statelets, on oppression of the Roma throughout Europe,on issues of reparations for American genocide against the Native Americans and slavery of African Americans and others. She has been working to open discussions within the church regarding the question of the church speaking out on behalf of the poor, as all Christians must, while maintaining autocratic princes in palaces like the Roman Patricians; she has been quoted as saying that this was precisely what the Lord Jesus, in rags and uncut hair, preached against. She puts her translation of Acts II, 42-26 in all her art works.
“Father, please tell Cardinal Giovanini that I understand that the Holy See contests this, but that I am only filling Ray in on what people are saying that has caused a special concern that the church might be falsely accused in her disappearance.
"Ray, Sister Sharon has been out of contact during especially delicate talks, but concern began when she failed to appear to receive a pledge of reconciliation among Nicaraguans, with her order sponsoring a major distribution of ‘loaves and fishes’ in the form of farm land and businesses to redress past thefts which made a few so wealthy at the expense of many others. This was something she had long committed to and which her friends had known she looked forward to with great excitement. It was completely unlike her to not get word out if something came up so urgent that she could not honor this promise.
“Now rumors are beginning to spread. Soon they will reach the major media. The Nicaraguans are afraid that their fragile reconciliation will fall apart if, without this future saint – as many of them believe – many of the wealthy who have agreed to participate will back out, and that some of their victims will demand more than has been agreed upon. The Holy See is concerned with rumors falsely, they believe, implicating the church. Non-Governmental Organizations such as mine are concerned both for her safety and for her mission. Muslims and particularly the Afghan government are concerned with loose talk by a member of the US administration hinting that her disappearance may have resulted from a plot by a well-known ‘Arab Terrorist’ and hints at massive military retaliation. They deny any involvement and the false charge infuriates them. They note that Sister Sharon was always welcome as one of the few Westerners who came to help and not to seek converts. Israeli, Palestinian and US officials have similar concerns. Ambassador Choi from North Korea is here as a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr. Kline is here as Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, to assure us that no US agency at any level is involved, and to offer us, and you, the full cooperation of all branches of the US government.
“Ray, we want you to find Sister Sharon, hopefully uninjured, and solve the mystery of her disappearance. It must be done very discretely since there is the possibility that she is engaged in negotiations so sensitive that she is deliberately hiding. We are all committed to provide all information that we have relevant to her disappearance.
“I am apparently one of the last to have seen her. I met with her in my home in Florida on April 18, some ten weeks ago. My husband and I, and a daughter who was visiting, took her to dinner at a favorite restaurant in Ybor City. She was very excited about the Nicaraguan breakthrough and told us that talks with government and indigenous leaders were proceeding in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. She was going to engage in discussions with Dakota and Anishenabe elders in Minnesota and the Dakotas on questions of the return of land and other properties stolen from them long ago, and to visit friends and family before flying down to Managua and riding a local bus to Leon where the ceremony was to take place in Nicaragua. She was to catch a plane up to the Twin Cities from Orlando, so we drove her to the airport there and said good-bye. On the long drive she was able to tell us of so many projects of her sisters and of others, which so excited her. There was no indication that anything unusual was wrong. She always refused all armed protection but when in particular danger she was accompanied by other members of her order, and she was alone this time.”
“What airline did she take?”
“Oh, Ray, I don’t know. Oh, yes, she did ask to be let out near Northwest!”
“Good. I should be able to find out from them if she got on the plane. She’s well enough known that it would be hard to find a stand-in, but that’s possible. Do you have pictures for me?”
Now the Assistant Secretary broke in, “Ray, she’s been under surveillance for years, so we and others have both still and video pictures sufficient to recognize her even in disguise. I promise you that we had nothing to do with this. We may not have always appreciated her, and you know we’ve made mistakes at times, but we’re not dumb enough to disappear a saint. You recall how we handled Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King with great care despite all our concerns.”
“We’re off to a bad start if you lie to me! I was in the agency then!”
“You know then, that we may have spread some unfortunate stories but we never kidnapped them. You will have our entire cooperation and, I assure you, nothing will be hidden. You will have full security clearance and restrictions on publication of anything you deem relevant to your findings are explicitly forgone. We want no grounds for suspicion of a cover up. I assure you that if you find anyone – or any agency – connected to the US Government, which is involved in any way in this disappearance, there will be immediate arrests and prosecution with full support of the President and the cabinet. All agencies are under Presidential order to give you full access. Ray, you know that there can always be idiots where they shouldn’t be, but none of us wants any of this odor on him!
“Oh, you should know that we’ve been very discretely but very actively looking into this for some weeks.”
The North Korean diplomat broke in, “Your discretion is such that it was reported in the New York Times.”
“We are a free and open society, unlike some others! Anyway it was only in a small note near the end of a long article and without a headline. The White House saw to it that it was done in a way that protects their claim to print all the news and assures that no one, who wasn’t aware of the crisis already, would pay attention to it.
“We do not believe that she is engaged in negotiations with any known party. We believe she got off that plane in Minneapolis, borrowed a car from a supporter, whom she told she was on her way to a meeting in Ball Club and we’ve been unable to find a single lead to her since. We’ve searched all the roadsides both from the ground and the air and don’t think there was an accident or car problem. We’ve questioned every service shop, dealer, even junkyards. We don’t think she got beyond the roughly 300-mile range of that one tank of gas purchased about five miles from the airport. We’ve questioned every gas station within that range. In the Twin Cities she might not have been noticed, but in northern Minnesota, what chance is there that no one would remember seeing a six foot Black woman with an Afro and that – ahhhh -- unusual little scarf that her order wears?
“There’s been some Klan activity, but they’re under surveillance and we are fairly sure that none of their members is involved, but who knows whom they may have influenced?
“We really need help, Ray. In this folder you will find letters from the President, majority and minority leaders of both houses, and the Attorney General, asking for your assistance in this matter, and documents authorizing you to acquire whatever you’ll need from all branches of the Federal Government.”
The young priest now continued, “Cardinal Giovanini says that the Holy Father views Sister Sharon as a daughter of The Church and that he personally prays for her safety. We have been unable to find any connection between her disappearance and anyone connected to the church, but our extensive records of our search have been brought here for you to study; also two of our lead investigators have accompanied me to answer any questions and to assist you in any way they can. Both can translate documents into English for you.
“Sister Sony, here, is from the same order as Sister Sharon and had often accompanied her on her missions. She is here to offer her and her sisters’ assistance.”
“Ray, we have always had a special way to receive reassurances from Sharon that she was okay. We have had no communication from her, either, for the past ten weeks, since she picked up that car. The car came from the parents of one of our sisters. It was old, but they had prepared it meticulously for Sister after she refused to take their newer family car. They are old friends, active in the support of the Christian Brothers’ school on an island in the Mississippi up there.
Ray smiled, “DeLaSalle? The principal there was very helpful to us in taking boys under his wing who needed guidance.”
“Yes, that’s the one. That Brother has been known for his fidelity for decades.
“Ray, I’ve passed through Ball Club. It isn’t even a wide spot in the road, just a curve. The elders Sharon was to meet there know if anyone from the outside is around. They are certain that Sharon never got there.”
They seemed to be going around the circle and the Rabbi spoke next, “I appreciate the offers Cardinal Giovanini and the State Department are making. I don’t represent any powerful organization and can only offer my prayers and good wishes. I have been involved in peace talks among Israelis and Palestinians; left and right, religious and Secular; Jews, Moslems, Druse, Christians, Bahais, Samaritans and Karaites; armed and pacifist; all the beautiful shapes and colors of the mosaic. I have stood up against violence from my own government and its army as well as from those who would supplant it. I have a scar on my shoulder and in my heart from a bullet fired, probably just because of my Israeli license plate, by a Palestinian youth, while I was on my way to meet Palestinian Intefadists to arrange for observant Jews to join in demonstrations demanding return of fields stolen from their village. My daughter was beaten brutally by our own government’s police and her elbow was then broken by a teen-age Israeli soldier, the grandnephew of a close friend, for taking part in that same peaceful demonstration.
“Sister Sharon came closer to the ideals of Judaism than many who claim to be observant Jews, but she also was warmly cherished even by those on all sides who did resort to violence. I am convinced that no one I know of has any involvement in the disappearance of this young lady who has been so kind to us all. She was viewed by all as a friend, an ecumenicist who sought to bring out the best in each of us rather than to just collect membership vows. Rather, like Hillel with the Roman soldier, she tried to be a link for each of us to the best lives we can live.
“I have brought statements and schedules our people have given me in hopes that something there will lead you to her. You will see, I’m afraid, that she expressed to many people, concern for her safety at the hands of her own government, and complained of the surveillance of which our colleague here has spoken. She especially complained of body searches and other indignities at airports.”
The young man with the black beard fidgeted uncomfortably. “I am here under the protection on the Secretary General and of Cardinal Giovanini. I represent the only true government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. I have no specific materials to add, but assure you that neither my government, our guest whom your government recruited and now so cavalierly accuses, nor any faction among our people had anything to do with this crime. Our investigations have been most thorough and professional. We follow sharia law and as such we protect all the people of the book among us, as God has commanded through his prophet, Mohammed. We have a deep love for Sister Sharon and her associates. We only fear that you will find her buried under a dam in Mississippi or that she will never be found as is the tradition in your country for builders of the House of Peace, for your labor leaders and other dissenters too popular to publicly put to sleep like unwanted kittens.
“I am sorry that we can not help further. Unlike your country we do not fly spy planes and satellites over you. Deep in the frigid wastes of Minnesota, we have no way of knowing what goes on and fear what we shall learn. Our only hope is in the Compassion of God.”
“I’m sorry! I came here to help, not to be abused by one after another!” The Assistant to the Assistant Secretary had been gradually turning redder. “You certainly all recognize that I represent the only decent, truly democratic institution here, and the leader of the Free World.” There was a momentary pause as he was distracted by the Nicaraguan adjusting his injured arm. Seeming to have lost his diplomatic control he continued in an apparent fury, “I assure you, Sir, that I have been in places in Afghanistan as cold and barren as Minnesota must be. I assure you all that my government has had nothing whatsoever to do with causing this disappearance! If we had, you two who criticize us would know, since your forces have carried out such acts under contract!”
“Mr. Secretary, I know you are angry to be accused, but it is critical at this juncture that all be allowed to speak frankly. I hope that each of us, however will be careful of the feelings of others.” The young priest’s voice trailed off as he looked around, fearful that the meeting would break down. “Regardless of our differences elsewhere, we are here for a common purpose.”
Ray turned to Mr. Choi, “Mr. Ambassador, I think you are the only one who has not spoken. I had not heard of any involvement of Sister Sharon in Korea.”
“Mr. Ray, she has been kind enough to host meetings between ourselves and our brothers and sisters to the south. Our presence in this country, however, is so minimal that I think we may be the only ones not fearing being suspect. I am here only to represent the United Nations and to offer whatever assistance the Secretary General, the UN Agencies and in particular of the High Commissioner for Human Rights can give. Beyond that I bring only my personal concern for the well being of a friend, and of our joint enterprise of bringing our people back together.”
Ray now looked at his grandson, “Ray and Gloria, how are you involved in this? Are you also somehow suspect in the disappearance of Sister Sharon?”
“Oh, no! The investigative journalism group I work with has assisted Mary O’s law students in some of their work. When she explained the situation, I helped her and Father Estephan on the arrangements for this meeting. I knew you have the skills and connections, and that you would accept the mission. If my fellow students and I can be of any assistance, we will of course be at your service, Grandpa, but given the need for secrecy, we will understand if you will prefer to work alone.”
Ray shook his head. “If you ask me, you’ve bet on the wrong horse, a seventy-five year old horse. I will do my best, but if you’ve all been looking and found nothing, adding one more investigator is unlikely to mean much. You must surely have realized that if an answer is found by anyone at this point, it will probably not be a pleasant one.”
The priest nodded. “Whatever the outcome, we thank you. We have gathered all the materials we have jointly gathered in the old library in the basement. The President has put a car and a private jet at your service, cash and credit cards. There are various contributions from others.
“We have all agreed that the only restriction on your findings is that if you reveal anything that is not published to any of us, it must be revealed to all, and with the same restrictions on use to each of us.”
“Anything else?” Without waiting too long for someone to think of something, Ray continued, “Ray and Gloria, Sister Sony, Mary, Rabbi, Father Estephan and the church investigators, I’ll need your help sorting materials downstairs. I’d like you to volunteer to stay here incommunicado for the next several days.”
“I’d like to ask that no one discuss this meeting with anyone other than the immediate superiors of those of you who are official. Mary will communicate the status of the investigation to each of you from time to time. Please supply her with your means of secure communications. Please be very careful to keep everything completely confidential until and unless we agree that it is time to release information.”
“Gloria, could you call your mother and Rosa? See if your sisters can watch the kids and the store for a few days. We’ll need their help. Don’t say more than that there is an urgent need for their help at the church, and to see Father Estephan.”
Young Ray pulled out a cell phone and dialed. A muffled buzzing was heard from inside the Assistant Secretary’s attaché case. Cardinal Giovanini turned angrily to the red faced official and now spoke in highly accented English, “What a strange coincidence!”
“It’s supposed to be off. It was just to sweep the room to make sure it’s secure prior to our meeting. Trust me!”
Ray shook his head, “You’ve just made that a lot harder, Norman.”
“Ray, here are your credentials, letters requesting and authorizing your investigation from the Secretary, the President, the Attorney General and the leadership of each house of Congress. Here are keys to the government car in the carport, and instructions for use of the official jet.”
“Will we use the device in your case to ‘sweep’ the car and plane?” Rabbi Yadidi asked.
“May I assure you all that I will have all equipment inspected with equipment and by people whom I trust morally and technically.
“Now, let me give my assistants their initial assignments downstairs. If anyone has further information for me, please wait here and I will be up as soon as I can. Okay?”
Ray spent the next four hours hearing those afraid of being cast under a cloud of suspicion defend their innocence. He felt that it was most likely waste of valuable time, but took careful notes since at this stage he really had little certainty as to what might turn out to be vital evidence. He was particularly interested in the Assistant Secretary’s aggressively asserted certainty that none of the suspects present or their associates was involved. He tapped a friend, a recently retired agent whom he had trained and trusted, to organize keeping track of Norman and look into US government questions, as well as keeping track of the other participants.
The day and night in the basement was long and the coffee was losing its effect. Ray was scanning documents that his assistants were finding for him. The more he viewed the intensity of the surveillance, the attempts at implicating the Sister in crimes, infiltration of her order, and even direct acts of sabotage, the more concerned he was that someone in his own government, possibly even old friends whom he found having written malicious personal comments in their surveillance notes – she was code-named ‘Queen Kong’ -- might be culpable in Sister Sharon’s disappearance. The documents cast a different light on the Assistant Secretary’s certainty; was it possible that he knew or suspected that officers or partisans of his administration were involved?
Ray had Gloria’s brothers, who brought food and coffee over from the bodega bring a message to have Rosa’s eldest son, who lived several miles away and was scheduled to get off work shortly before the shop closed for the night at 11 PM, stop at a pay phone near the bus stop and purchase tickets in his name for a morning flight to Rochester, Minnesota. Arrangements were made for the government jet to fly to St. Paul’s downtown Holman Field, a small airport on an island in the Mississippi as it meanders south, north, east and then back south through the center of the city. Young Ray and Gloria would board it and take a government car up to Ball Club.
Ray caught an uncomfortable bit of sleep on the planes, took a bus to a car dealership, bought a used silver Subaru Forester and headed north then meandered as if lost. From a gas station near Dodge Center he called the couple who’d lent their car to Sister Sharon and agreed to meet them for a little lunch at Denny’s. This was where Sister, as they referred to her, had insisted on buying them coffee and pie before they parted.
The drive up there was uneventful. Crossing this flat part of his home state, Ray thought he could see the corn and soybeans growing. As he raised the windows and turned up the air conditioning against the steamy heat, Ray mused on the remarks by the State Department and Afghan participants in yesterday’s meeting who assumed that Minnesota was some barren land of ice and snow.
Not much was said at lunch, but as Ray got into his car, the couple both leaned in the window and asked if it was okay to talk there. Ray said he thought it was. The wife then blurted out that her daughter had told her to tell Ray everything. She said that the two ‘strange men in suits’ who had sat nearby had been there when they had eaten with Sister. They had met Sister at the airport -- Ray was amused that they still referred to it as Wold-Chamberlain showing that they were of his own generation – and insisted on stopping here at the SuperAmerica so that they could make sure she had a full tank of gas. That was why she had insisted on buying them coffee before she set off. “Well, those two men not only sat at the next table, but left when we did, and when we filled the tank, they had stopped at the pump next to Sister’s and filled the tank on their big white Ford Crown Victoria. I noticed that it only took $2.38 worth of gas, less than 2 gallons. Don’t you think that strange?”
“Did they follow when she drove off?”
“Yes. I tried to tell her to turn around and go out the exit over there, by Denny’s, but I guess she misunderstood and went out over there. You see, the center divider meant that she had to go west rather than back toward the freeway. Well, see how the road bears left? She had gotten in the left lane and we thought the white car was following her, but Sister saw that she would be forced to go the wrong way and suddenly darted past a huge SUV and got back on the road there across the railroad tracks. Do you see?”
Ray saw that the main four lane divided road curved sharply to the south, but a city street did continue due west across some tracks between what appeared to be two areas of light industrial and commercial strip buildings.
The husband pointed, “She turned down that street up there, see? We waited here a while figuring she’d turn around and come back since all those streets dead end in a few blocks, but she didn’t so we figured she’d gone way down there to Penn. She could’a got back to the freeways from Penn.”
“Did the two men follow her?”
“The white Crown Vic? No, see, that’s the thing. We thought they were following her, but they went on down that way. Nobody followed her that we could see. The big bald guy in that SUV, though, he was real mad. Honked and honked cause Sister had pulled a bit close in front of him. Had her blinkers going, but I don’t suppose the SUV could even see ‘em from way up there. Big black Lincoln Navigator, I think. I don’t mean to comment on somebody’s appearance, but you know that guy’s head turned red then purple like in a kiddy cartoon.”
“Could the Lincoln have blocked the white car from following Sister?”
“Yeah, it sure could have. Those guys did come back here from down the Old Shakopee Road about fifteen minutes later, went over to that pay phone and made a call, then headed back toward the freeway.”
Ray was a little relieved. If she’d shaken her tail, it reduced the chance that he would be implicating friends, but it still didn’t leave him much to go on. He showed the couple the picture of the car from the file he’d been given, and they told him that was exactly how it looked when Sister drove off in it.
“Our daughter told us about you. Please find Sister. I would far rather The Lord take me! . . . . Thank you.” She kissed Ray on the cheek. Not a native Minnesotan, Ray thought.
Ray headed down the street indicated. It did indeed end in a ‘T’ in a few blocks and Ray turned left several blocks. He was, indeed able to get Penn Avenue that way. He drove back and forth through the area over and over and saw nothing that looked useful to him. There were commercial buildings, even a private security company, but nothing that rang a bell. He noticed a communications tower of some kind with several trucks and several workmen near a little shack at its base. Ray was sparing in asking questions aware that his assignment was specifically to raise as little dust as possible, but the tower technicians seemed worth approaching. Some were high up where they might have seen things over a wide area, and he knew that they had been there for months since they had appeared in the agency’s reports.
He parked and approached a man coming down off the tower.
“Sorry, this is a hard hat area. If you want to watch, you gotta stand outside the fence.”
“I just need a word with you.”
Ray flashed his newly minted badge.
“Let’s step outside the fence.” The voice was a woman’s. Ray thought her bulky clothes and her hair tucked under her hard-hat deliberately hid that. She moved like a hard-hat until she took the helmet off and shook out her hair. She was clearly a woman, clearly Native American, probably in her thirties.
“Okay.” Ray opened a folder and showed pictures of the Sister and some other black women. “Have you seen any of these women? Would have been about dusk back in April.”
“I haven’t seen ‘em all together, I’m sure, but I know I had our foreman talk to this one. She got out of one of those tinny little Chevy Prizms – dark red, I think. Struck me as pretty funny. Don’t know how she fit into that little toy car. “That’s mine,” she pointed at a big red Dodge pick-up, “V-10, a real truck.
“It was gettin’ dark. We’d worked late. I was just throwin’ my stuff in the back, ready to call it a day.” She stepped a little way away and signaled to a man who looked annoyed, but came over. “This here’s Stan Nelson. Stan, this cop is lookin for that big black gal got out of that tiny Jap car couple of months back. Remember we thought she must be with the Lynx or something.” Turning to Ray, “Show him the pictures.”
“How do I know you’re a cop?”
Ray again showed his badge, and this time also the letter requesting everyone to assist him from the Attorney General.
“Yeah, I think that’s the one. Wanted directions how to get onto the freeway north. Hell, you can hear two of them from here. I started to tell her, when the boss came. She looked like she might have thought she knew him. Anyway, he said to follow him and he’d show her a short cut. He’s the CEO of the company, but he lives out this way, went to school here, and knows about every little road there is. He got in his Merc and she followed. Beary, here’s so proud of her V-10. The boss’s Benz’s got a V-12. Guess you’ll have to catch up, eh?”
“Ever see her again?”
“No. You, Beary?”
“No. Couldn’t miss seeing her if she stood up.”
“Your boss say anything?”
“Well, not to me, but you understand we hardly ever see him. He just takes pride in stopping by job sites. Surprise! S’posed to keep us on our toes, I guess. I haven’t seen him since. You know he’s been pretty sick, so I don’t know how much of that stuff he can still do.”
“Where can I find him?”
“Call the office. Number’s on the trucks there.”
“Where’s he live?”
“You gonna get us in trouble?”
“Nobody needs to know who gave me directions. People don’t know we work to get information, think it all comes by magic.”
The two gave Ray detailed directions. They sent him back to Penn, through Hyland, over Purgatory and way past Flying Cloud.
Ray stopped at a gas station to make a scheduled call back to a pay phone in the church. Rosa reported on several searches he’d requested. He was surprised to find that so far they’d found at least six US agencies that had Sister Sharon under surveillance in addition to four foreign agencies and Interpol. Ray wondered what Commerce and Labor were looking for.
He followed twists and turns into a little wooded area, down a dirt road, in an open gate past an empty guardhouse and up a circle to the front door of a large, unusual round stone house overlooking a small lake. It had clearly been professionally landscaped, but looked a bit neglected now.
Ray felt the tingle that came when his gut feared being hit hard with something unexpected. He felt very alone, but went to the front door and rang the bell.
Ray almost didn’t expect the door to open, but it did.
The door wasn’t opened by a servant as one might have thought, nor by the owner. Ray was faced by an entirely unexpected scene.
Ray was used to many people being taller than himself, but now he was like a small boy looking at shoulder height.
As he looked up, he recognized the tall, smiling face of Sister Sharon, looking very much in charge, but tired, tense, and clearly under pressure. Ray lost his composure for a moment, not knowing if he’d walked into a trap, some super secret negotiations -- or had he exposed a future saint in a tryst?
“May I help you?”
“You already have. Please, . . . you are Sister Sharon Mussolini, are you not?” He showed his credentials.
“I am, why am I of interest to a police officer?”
“Don’t you know? Your order hasn’t heard from you for over two months. The whole world is concerned. Everybody has been afraid something has happened to you.”
“I’m touched, but I hadn’t realized that my communicator wasn’t getting through. Come in, please. The situation here is very complicated, but I don’t think there is any danger.
“Do you have a means of informing my sisters that I am okay and will be in contact with them in the next few days? Please don’t reveal anything else until I inform you of what has transpired. Can I trust you?”
Ray showed her the letters and explained his involvement and gave her his word that he would reveal only that she is alive and uninjured, but that he and Sister Sony are obliged to inform all the other parties to the search of that much, also. Ray contacted Sony as they had arranged and relayed the information in front of Sister Sharon. He kept the call to about ten seconds, hoping to make it difficult to trace.
“Officer, I . . . .”
“Please just call me Ray. I’ve been retired for many years and ‘officer’ now sounds strange.”
“qI apologize for any inconvenience my communications error has caused. One of our sisters is a radio communications engineer and devised a device that alters polarity on specific FM signals to inform my sisters without supplying intelligence to anyone who may wish to harm parties I may be negotiating with discretely.”
Ray knew that sister to be an agency mole, yet there was no mention of the communicator in any of the documents. Did someone not trust him with the information? Or had the planted agent ‘turned’?
“We tested it in tunnels and it always worked. Come, I’ll show you where it is. Apparently the signal couldn’t get out.” They walked down two flights of stairs to a drive-in garage from the rear, downhill side of the house. From there Sharon pushed in a code and a three-foot thick concrete-filled steel door opened. Inside was an inner garage housing a Rolls Royce with body work Ray didn’t recognize, but it was looong and immaculate. Next to it was the six-year-old Chevrolet Prizm Sharon had been driving, along with various Astons, Alfas, Bugattis, a Morgan, a Cunningham and other cars in whose company it didn’t seem to belong. She had hidden the communications device behind the plastic grill of the Prizm.
“Do you want to tell me what is going on here? I don’t want to endanger any work you’re doing.”
“No, right now I need someone in your position whom I can trust. Is that you?”
“Well, yes, of course, if I can help.”
“I will ask you to promise God.”
“You can trust me. I am Lutheran, not Catholic, so if there are specific rules that you wish me to follow in this trusting, tell me.”
“I have been told some things in a confidence of confession that require telling some things to some people to reduce their suffering, but with an absolute prohibition – even at the threat of death or worse – from disclosing anything told in confidence, including even where and from whom you got the information.”
“Like a journalist?”
“We report to a higher authority. The stakes are much higher.”
“I do understand and agree. I have been specifically authorized to keep confidences with the caveat that whatever I do tell must be told to all who have commissioned my search. If there is something that you want to tell me and to tell no one else, you can be certain that the knowledge will die with me. I’m far to old to betray your confidence for any reason.”
“I’d better begin by telling you how I got here.”
“I know that you followed the owner of this house from a construction site on April 18.”
“That’s right. When he interrupted a fellow who was telling me how to get to the freeway, I thought he looked like someone who’d attacked me when I was 13 and he must have been about 30. I really didn’t know, though. It was a quarter century ago -- and in Chicago.”
“Is he the person who attacked you?”
Well, he was. Now he’s dying. He’s asleep upstairs now. He’s at a point that he may or may not wake up.”
“Do you want to tell me what’s happened and why you’ve stayed with him here?”
“Yes. Under strict understanding of confidentiality. Your allegiance to your oath to God on this must be greater than to any human law or institution. May I count on that?”
“Initially he led me here with a line about showing me a shortcut that would save me an hour and forty minutes on my drive up to Ball Park, . . .”
“Ball Club?” Ray asked.
“Yes, Ball Club, and when he drove in here and stopped, he came back to my car as if he were going to give me instructions how to continue from here. When I rolled down the window, he stuck this big gun in my face. He ordered me out of the car, handcuffed me, forced me to walk in the house, then taped my arms and legs to a chair with duct tape. I felt pretty silly to have allowed myself to fall into that, but I have to confess that mostly I was terrified.”
“What was that first incident twenty years ago?”
“Well, my family had just come over from Italy. We’re from Napoli.”
“Really? You are Italian? I wondered about the name Mussolini. But the Sharon didn’t fit, so I thought maybe it was just something the church gave you.”
“No, the church, I think, would just as soon forget its powerful links to that name. . . . My grandpapa was an illegitimate son of Il Duce, also named Benito. His semi-proud but secret papa had him made an officer. He became a major, was captured and shipped as a prisoner to Georgia where he was ‘allowed’ to volunteer for farm work for 10 cents a day and lunch. He needed the food. He did heavy work and probably looked pretty good. My grandmama worked alongside him for only a little more. Slavery was far from dead in Baker County. Still, she could see that he had no idea what he was supposed to do and began to show him. She was 16, a bit old to be unmarried there and then, but all the boys were away. Soon the 23-year-old POW and the 16-year old-farm laborer were secret lovers. Then she helped him escape with her to Chicago where she had family who hid them, got them an ‘Italian Marriage License’ printed up by a sympathetic printer, and they settled down. Grandmama converted and they were married in the church. The eldest of their three sons and four daughters was my papa.
“Grandpapa worked and taught Latin in a local parochial school. He earned a doctorate and eventually taught at the University of Chicago. They lived fairly well. Grandpapa remained a supporter of Mussolini and Fascism all his life, but their friends were Communists and Socialists and the like because more conservative people at the time would have nothing to do with ‘miscegenation’. They’re retired now and live in a little farm village south of Napoli.”
“I can understand. My own grandfather was a staunch admirer of Hitler. I don’t know that he would have continued to admire the man after the war, but like many Germans and others, it was the losers who were rejected, not the way they thought.”
“Well, you understand, then. Papa grew up in this in-between world, and when the civil rights movement began he jumped right in. As a 17-year-old freshman at Morehouse in 1960, he became a SNCC worker and by summer was a full time freedom worker. My grandparents were scared out of their wits, more so with every report of a civil rights worker killed. He was also moving in a more Africanist direction and began dating my mother, Bibiana, then a 22-year old student from the Congo, one of a few high school graduates invited to study here as it became clear that there needed to be educated Congolese to run the country and the US didn’t want them all trained in the East. They married in the church, though Mother has confessed to me that I was already on the way. She just says “That’s the way it was in ‘The Movement’ then.” Many of the boys just disappeared when they learned the girl was pregnant, but Papa wasn’t that kind. I think he was a natural born father.”
“Your father was an exception. We didn’t have much respect for most of them in the agency. Bunch of college kids out to break things up. Destroyers. I had heard of your parents back then, by the way, but didn’t know them or have contact with them. You seem to have taken a more constructive direction.”
“I don’t know. I always thought I was continuing the work they had been doing. . . .
“Anyway, when they both had graduated, they went to the Congo but things were really bad. The CIA and US military had murdered the elected leaders and set up the military dictatorship with Mobutu that was to terrorize and loot the country for the next 30 years. They took an offer to attend graduate school in Rome. When I was about two, they returned to Chicago for three years, but then went back to Rome for Papa to finish his doctorate. We spent eight years in Italy, mostly near Napoli; very good years. We lived in Grandpapa’s home village. Italy is known for racists like my great grandfather who even wrote racist poetry, but it was very different than living in the US. I had no concept until we returned to Chicago that our family was ‘mixed’ or that I was different other than that I was taught that I had something special in that I had three countries to be proud of.”
“Really? I would have thought it would have been the opposite.”
“Don’t feel alone, so would most Americans – and most Italians.
“Anyway, when we came back to Chicago, I could barely speak English, so my folks arranged for me to attend a summer session school for immigrant kids at the downtown YMCA.
“The ‘Y’ at that time rented little five foot by 9 foot closets for young men who just needed a place to stay until they found an apartment or a room. I think they went for about $2 a night. There was just a cot, a desk with a lamp, shelves to store their suitcases on, a door and a window. That was it. One day in mid-August I was walking up the stairs on my way to class. Everybody else took the elevator but I was too impatient. The stairway was always empty. This man – I now realize he was really more a boy except in age – was there and started to talk to me as we climbed the stairs. I didn’t think anything of it. I guess I came from a pretty safe environment and had no fears.
“He started to tell me that he’d just gotten out of the Marines, that he was going to go to the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, and that he was pretty disgusted with the way people like himself were received when they had risked their lives and everything for their country. You understand there was no war I had heard of going on at the time, so I kind of wondered what he was talking about. I’d heard similar silly pitches from other guys – but those were to older girls, not to kids like me. I still thought of myself as a child, though I didn’t want to be. I was already pretty tall and I suppose he may have thought I was older.
“Then he invited me to his room. I couldn’t believe it. I just told him that I was late for class; that I had to pass this English class in order to enter school. He said I was cute and that he hoped that I didn’t loose my cute accent. He asked if I were Haitian. I told him I was Italian and he said he was, too. It seemed to make him angry that I spoke Italian and that he only knew a few phrases. We were at my floor and I started to walk over to the door. He grabbed me from behind and started to put his hand up under my T-shirt and I screamed. He laughed and said no one could hear me there. He put his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t scream anymore and started to drag me back to the stairs. He kept repeating ‘Now you’re dead meat!’ I really was still a kid and I started to cry. He looked down at his hand, I think because it had gotten wet, looked surprised. Then he looked at my face and saw how I was crying, and then ran up the stairs.
“He stopped a floor up and yelled down at me, ‘Don’t you go telling any lies about me! Nobody will believe you, and I promise you, then you really will be dead meat!’
“I ran out the door and didn’t tell anyone. I took the test early and never went back there. I didn’t know if it was somehow my fault, or what, but I also thought that if he was a lonely boy who started to do something wrong, probably he’d never do that again. After all when I cried, he let me go, even though he must have known that there was nothing I could do to stop him.”
“I see. And now he is the head of a large company he founded and is dying – of what? He must be still quite young. Did you feel that you had to help him because he once attacked you? Was it that you had to prove that as a Sister of Mercy you would not only turn the other cheek, but also give succor even to ‘the least of them?’ I guess I don’t understand.”
“Ray, it’s even more complicated than that. I’ve dealt with enough belligerent tough guys in my life to know that my instinct as a child was more often than not correct. This man’s life and mine were more likely to turn worse after a fight in the courts and a probable long jail sentence for this boy. However, in this case it turned out very badly.
“Ray, you recall your oath that you can never repeat any of this. Not to your wife, not to your confessor?”
“Yes, of course. I guess my wife is my only confessor. I will repeat nothing unless you say I can. I trust you never to require me to tell a misleading part of the truth and forbid telling the whole truth.”
“Thank you. Ray, he forced me into this house at gunpoint and then bound me. He was angry, thought I’d come after him for some reason. He’d seen me on television and had recognized me years ago. I can’t for the life of me understand why he thought I would suddenly try to come after him after 25 years.
“But after he realized that our meeting was accidental, he asked me if he could confess to me. I explained that I’m not a priest, but he said that he didn’t think God would care about the difference. What he wanted was that I would swear to not tell things he didn’t want told.
“I asked him if he were going to tell me of crimes or acts of meanness against other persons that he was planning on carrying out. He said no. He wanted to tell me of sins he’d committed. He said that he was dying and that he wanted to confess some things that would relieve the minds and lives of others. He said that he wanted to absolve himself as much as possible of his crimes, but that he didn’t want his family to suffer for what he alone had done, so that he needed a trusted intermediary to do whatever could be done to ameliorate those wrongs.
“I told him that I would do what I could, but that there were other things I also had to do. He told me that he would tell me things of great importance to the lives and freedom of others if I would promise God not to violate the rules he’d stated; but that to protect those he loved, he’d have to kill me if I would not put aside all else until his death, which he guessed would mean about three months. I asked if he would agree to my letting my sisters know secretly that I was OK. About four weeks ago as he became weaker and really needed constant help, he let me go with an oath to help him as long as he lived. He agreed to my contacting my order provided it wouldn’t allow anyone to locate me as would happen if I used a phone or cell phone. He even offered to mail a letter for me from another city if I wished. Unfortunately I was so sure of our system that I turned him down on that.
“After I promised to God not to leave him until making certain arrangements after his death, he told me some horrible things. When I still was committed to abide by my promise he untied me, but left me morally bound to this house for the moment.”
“Do you want to tell me what these horrible things were?”
“Yes. You’d better sit down. You don’t need to take notes, it’s all in my laptop here in excruciating detail. Ray, he’s murdered thirty-seven girls and four young boys over the years, in addition to some thefts when he was young. There may be more, but these are all that he remembers. One person has been killed judicially, ‘executed’ by the state of California for one of the murders, five have served sentences but are listed as sex offenders, four are still on death row for murders he committed and five others remain in prison. Thirty-nine of the murders were committed after his wife took the kids and moved out on him twelve years ago.
“The murders weren’t linked by police because he killed while on business trips in remote areas he didn’t expect to revisit. He was careful not to follow a pattern. Often, he’d pack the body on his jet, then move it to a sport plane he kept at Torrance airport, fly out over the Pacific and dump it.
“He began hiring call girls and attributes getting AIDS to one of them, but he has no idea which one. He has kept a list of prostitutes he frequented since learning he was HIV positive, but since he wasn’t tested until he became symptomatic, there may well be more. He had a lot of money and a voracious appetite for vengeance. The murders, mostly, from his own description, of women who were kind to him, were part of that vengeance. If he were to live, a psychoanalyst could make that his or her life’s work.
“Ironically his wealth hasn’t helped save his life. He is one of those for whom the ‘cocktail’ for some reason doesn’t seem to work. . . .
“Ray, he also was a cop for a while. He lost his license after an incident many years ago. Before he came to The Circle, he had worked for his dad at his locksmith company in his hometown down on the river. He had worked there as a teenager, and he was good at it. He hated being there, though because no matter how well he did, it was never good enough for his dad. Now, with his honorable discharge and two years toward a pre-law major, he was recruited into the local police force. He was happy and successful as the lone night duty cop in the small town.
“When private agencies began to sell closed circuit television systems and record their pictures on time-lapse VCRs, he was caught taking money from a store along his beat. He was aware of the systems, but thought he knew where they were installed and missed this one, discretely installed in a false ceiling with a pinhole lens peeping through a tiny hole. He had opened the safe, which he had sold years earlier, and taken enough to pay some debts he was being pressed on.
“Using a rule that allowed an officer two days before he could be interrogated, he got a lawyer. The lawyer let the department and the prosecutors’ office know that he would accept a quiet deal, but that pressing the issue would raise embarrassing questions about persons currently in prison for more than a dozen past thefts. The lawsuits alone might bankrupt the small town and the county, as the town was self-insured for misbehavior by its police. That would also be a threat to the pensions of the rest of the officers, prosecutors and judges, among others.
“He had to accept termination from the department and loss of his license.”
“Fuck, I know this son-of-a-bitch! . . . .
"Oh, my, I apologize, Sister. . . . You couldn’t know, but I was consulted on the possibilities of prosecution by state’s AG at the time. It’s the town where I first served as a police officer, too! I’m still furious that they wouldn’t pursue it and that I was ordered off that case! My Lord! If we’d put this monster away back then, we might have saved all those people!”
“You’ll meet a very sick human being upstairs. He did monstrous things, but the crimes and the belief in ‘punishment’ that spawned them are the monsters, not the boy.” Ray started to disagree, then decided that this wasn’t the best time.
“Well, Ray, he then was hired by a firm that got into cellular communications a little too early, and paid him in stock when they were short of cash. He ended up owning it after the suicide of his boss – which he swears he had nothing to do with. His ex-wife was that boss’s daughter. He still loves her and his children, though. Ray, I don’t know if he is telling the truth about the suicide or not, since he wants so much for his wife and kids to mourn him, but I make it a condition that neither of us support any suspicion of this in any way. If asked, we are sure it was a suicide or we don’t answer.
“Ray, he wants us to help free the people in jail for crimes he committed, to compensate them and the families of his other victims from a fund he has set up through his corporate lawyer. He wants them paid $50,000 a year for years in jail. Survivors of his murder victims, including the one murdered by the State of California, were to get one million for each victim to be added to her (or his) estate. He also wants us to fund AIDS treatment for those infected as a result of his actions. He has split his estate. Half goes to the family, half has already been transferred to the foundation, worth $618 million as of yesterday.
“Ray, one thing. I am committed to be responsible for a great deal of work, which I know my sisters will assist me in. We can do it most effectively with your assistance.”
“I will help all I can, but you know, Sister, this whole thing stinks!”
“I know. Still, I’m not going to stand by and see people continue to suffer injustices, and there was no way to get the information without the strictest oaths of confidentiality. Do you know a better way out from here?”
“No. I had hoped you would.”
“If I were a saint who could make miracles, I would, but I can only work with my sisters and our friends such as yourself to do good works.”
They had been walking back through the house. They walked through a huge central atrium, which housed a tropical garden. A circular stairway wound up one side to the next floor. In a large bedroom with floor to ceiling windows, Sister Sharon pulled open the drapes. The man on the bed had stopped breathing. Sister closed his eyes.
The funeral was arranged for precisely as Sister Sharon had promised.
She and Ray met with the man’s lawyers and innitiated the work. It was not easy reversing convictions without disclosing critical information, but the money provided for a powerful enough legal staff, and, armed with the detailed information on the nature of the crime, they managed to get all but two released in only another year and a half.
“Ray was furious with some of his former colleagues who fought viciously against release of some long-term prisoners who were clearly totally uninvolved in crimes they’d been charged with. It seemed to him that the more hasty and incompetent the original police work, the worse the prosecutorial misconduct, the harder they fought to keep their errors from being exposed – to themselves and their families more than to the legal system. He also learned to appreciate several young investigators he hadn’t previously gotten to know well, whose dedication to justice was greater than their fear of embarrassment.
A permanent organization had to be set up to trace and arrange treatment for the AIDS victims. The medications, which had been unable to stanch the infection in their abuser, did extend the lives of most of them.
Sister rescheduled her meeting with the elders, taped an apology with an explanation -- limited by confidentiality -- to the Nicaraguans and others, and set off again in the Prizm for Ball Club. She was later surprised to find herself heir to the exotic car collection, and had it auctioned off for her order. It had brought in $3.7 million, which was used for a few of the most urgent needs.
Ray wrote a sufficient report to those who had met to recruit him, and a press release that all agreed to. It was agreed that, along with a letter from the President certifying that the exonerated had been thoroughly investigated and had had nothing to do with the crime charged, it would be given wide enough distribution to ensure that the released prisoners would have at least that little assistance in being accepted back among family and friends. While news of their total exoneration generally at most made small notice on back pages, it gave them something to show prospective neighbors or employers.
It was hardest to get the president to sign off on the letter regarding the prisoner electrocuted in California, as he had been governor at the time and insisted on the victim’s guilt and the need to kill him without further hearings. The real killer had called him minutes before the 'execution' but the governor's secretary in her panic had dialed the same number several times, and by the time she got through it was too late. The governor had sworn everyone who knew to silence. That turned out to be a death sentence for at least four more young women.
Ray was happy to have found Sister alive, but felt trapped into something that would never end. He was relieved when the foundation set up to handle the arrangements agreed to give him emeritus status and to accept the recently retired Mary O, Young Ray and Gloria in his stead. There remained some things he felt he personally had to do.
Ray Story #4
(Ray returns to town where he first was a cop half a century ago; Follow on to #3. v.1.01 5Oct.’03)
Ray had long intended to return to his first police assignment in this pretty little town along the river, known for its quiet residential districts rising up the cliffs so that many residents had a spectacular ‘front row’ view. There was also the good beer. Now he felt, sadly, that he had to return. He had followed an order years ago, as he always had; now he regretted that one act of obedience which he knew was to an illegal order. It had been automatic, habit. It had been cowardice.
Ray’s first stop was to see an old friend from his first days in the Marines, who now ran the town’s large downtown department store. Such a store would be an anomaly in most towns, but Kap was a creative businessman who’d kept this store prosperous by doing all the ‘wrong’ things. He’d made it a place people came to from the cities on weekends. The usual chains built big stores on the fringes of Traverse and faded away. Kap’s store had everything the big chains didn’t, and just enough of what they did have with just enough of a difference to overcome some small price differences. Ray hadn’t come with Dilly just to shop, however.
“Kap, what happened? I told you that if you kept working such long hours your hair would go grey!”
“Who, . . . Ray, is that you? Where you been?” He wipes his hand through Ray’s brown hair, “How much you payin’ for that stuff? I bet we got a better price on it!”
“You’ve got me, Kap. Can I buy you a cup of coffee? I used to know the guy who owns the bar in this place.”
“You still do, though the kids and grandkids really run it now. We’re an employee-owned company, but over half are family.
“Old Man, who is that young chic with you. Don’t you know we’ve got laws against robbing the cradle here?”
“Come, now! You remember Dilly!”
“Of course! Do I still merit a hug?”
Dilly, laughing, “Of course! But not under the ‘Packers’ sign.”
The three of them spent over an hour at the coffee bar going over old times until the young waitress came over and told Kap, “Grampa, your either going to have to buy something more for your friends or take them and a pot of coffee up to your office. You can’t hold down three seats at lunch time nursing the same cup of coffee forever!”
“Okay, okay! Now when was I ever that strict with you?”
The waitress gave Kap a peck on the cheek, handed him a fresh pot of coffee and sent them off. Dilly told her “They always were trouble!” She gave Ray a small hug and told him, “You guys go on up to Kap’s office. I’ve had more than enough and it’s been a long time since I had a chance to do some serious shopping here.”
“Kap, I’ve been intending to visit for years, but something’s been bothering me. Now it brought me back.”
“Have anything to do with a very short obit in The Brewer a couple of months back? When I saw it I thought I might be seeing you. I didn’t shed a lot of tears, by the way.”
“I can’t tell you even one percent of it, but you know enough to know there’s some things we have to do. You remember the kid you went to kindergarten with?”
“Jerry? He’s still selling security systems, but he and two of his sons are partners, now. He saved this business.”
“What do you remember of that?”
“Well, I sure remember going to Jerry to tell him that I knew Karl Ostermann was stealing me blind. I had been so sure.
“When I took over the store from Dad, I had hired Karl as our bookkeeper. I had trusted him. We’d gone to school together since preschool at Incarnation. We were in the same classes until I went to Notre Dame and he went to Eau Claire. When I came back from Harvard with my shiny new MBA, Karl had organized a party, and induced Dad and Granddad to announce that I was to take over as President and COO of the company.
“Then the shortages started; Jerry called them ‘shrinkage’.
“I had told Frank Johnson, your old partner who’d stayed here and become Chief of Police. I knew it was Karl because he did the cash count every night and I opened the safe every morning and money was sometimes missing --sometimes a lot of money, too much to be a mistake; too much for me to stay in business! There were never any signs of a break-in.
“Frank told me that without corroborating evidence it would just be my word against Karl’s. Frank said that he believed me, but that no prosecutor would want to take such a weak case. So I went to see Jerry.
“Jerry showed me this new kind of recorder that could record TV pictures on tape. He had one of the very first ones shipped for his rental program. We agreed on a weekly price and took the thing to the store after Karl closed up that night. Jerry mounted the thing up in the drop ceiling – it must have weighed 50 pounds, I worried it would fall through. Then he drilled a small hole through one of the ceiling tiles and pushed a pinhole lens through with a big black and white closed circuit TV camera like they used to have back then. When he was finished you couldn’t tell it was there.
“When he told me to come in every morning and stand to the side of the safe, open it facing the camera and count everything in full view of the camera and compare it with the account. If there was a discrepancy, I was to back up about ten feet to where there was a wall phone and call Jerry, being careful to keep the safe contents in full view of the camera at all times. It was less than a week later that there was a shortage of over $700 and I called Jerry as he’d said. He told me to not move a muscle ‘till he got here, and I didn’t. He called Frank and they were here in about five minutes.
We hauled the whole kit over to the station and half the department stood around to see this new thing. Most of us weren’t too happy because Karl had a lot of friends.
“We knew that all we had to do was to watch the tape fast forward – Jerry had told us that we’d have to watch for 32 minutes to verify that no one else had had access to the safe. We began by watching Karl put the money and the statement into the safe, and then sat chatting, knowing nothing was going to happen for a half hour. I’d brought coffee and donuts, so we just sat there. The date and time were written right on the picture, and we just watched the seconds speed by until it showed 1:12 AM, then we could see something at the back door. Frank said: “That’s Junior checking the alley right on schedule.”
Then Junior came in and turned on his flashlight, carefully closed the door behind him. Frank turned to me and asked, “Did you find the door open this morning? Sarge, see what Junior’s report shows.” We saw reflections of Junior’s flashlight as we figured he was looking for a possible intruder and I thought he should have called for backup especially at that time of night. Then we saw him walk over to the safe, put on a glove, open the safe, and take money out. Frank almost barked, “Jerry can you make it go over that?” Everybody else was dead silent. We must have gone over it half a dozen times before we knew that it wasn’t going to change.
One of the other cops then spoke up, “Didn’t Junior used to work for his dad’s lock shop?”
“’Yeah, I bought that safe from him – and had him re-key the locks two years ago after I had to fire an employee who Junior warned me was an ex-con.’ I couldn’t believe it. It was a good thing Junior wasn’t there, because I think they would have killed him.”
“Kap, it might have been better if they had. . . . I’ll deny saying that; I shouldn’t have.”
“Ray, it got worse. Other officers started remembering all kinds of people who were in jail because Junior had been so good at finding people who had broken into businesses at night. The little towns around even borrowed him to help. The guys must’ve mentioned about a dozen men and boys they now wondered about.”
“Kap, that’s when I got called in. I was assigned to the St. Paul office, then, but was sent down because I was familiar with Traverse. Your state AG wanted to know about use of the new technology as primary evidence. I was able to get him some rulings from the first prosecution using it, from Vegas as I recall. Do you remember what happened then?”
“Well, I don’t know why, but they made him give my $700 back, but then they just let him leave town. Actually, he was hired as chief at Corinth, up the road. They had a two-man department. They all thought he was falsely accused. So many people thought he was a great cop; he’d arrested so may people and had the highest rate of convictions in the whole department.
“Then they did take away his license and he disappeared. I never heard anything more of him again until the obit. That’s all I know.”
“Kap, did anyone say what was to be done with the people who were in jail?”
“Well, the only thing I was told was that they were a bunch of losers who were probably better off there.”
“Kap, I had gotten wind of that. I started to investigate. Two of those guys were in for a third time, each charge based on Junior’s testimony alone. One was the father of the other. Between them they had two prior arrests for public drunkenness and the father had an arrest for insufficient funds – he’d been required to make good on it, pay court costs and was given a 90-day sentence suspended if he kept out of trouble with the law for a year. He’s been in over 20 years now as a career criminal based solely on the charges Junior brought.
“I’ve recently had an investigator check his parole hearing records. The major reason he’s never been considered is that he shows no remorse; continues claiming he was framed.
“At the time of the investigation of Junior’s activities, I had started to build a case for his release, among about 20 others whose convictions were now dubious. When I went to talk to the county attorney, he got really upset. He accused me of trying to bankrupt the county. He said that I would let over a score of ne’er-do-wells out and they’d all find greedy shylocks who’d sue the county for millions of dollars each. The county was self-insured for such contingencies, a fund that then had some $50,000. He said I’d be giving everything including the police and fire pensions – and the judges own – to a bunch of petty crooks. ‘Hell, your gonna leave the crooks owning the courthouse and the jail!’
“I told him to calmly think it over; that I was certain he didn’t want to see people in prison for things they had nothing to do with.
“Well, Kap, I was apparently wrong. When I got back to the office that afternoon, I was told that I was reassigned and that I was not to return to Traverse. I was so used to doing what I was told, that I just handed over my files and went on to the next assignment I was given and was told I was to be sent for some special training I’d applied for over a year before.”
“I didn’t know any of that, except that you had said that you were going to buy me lunch and never came back. I had heard some grumbling at the club that you had shown yourself to be incompetent and had endangered critical cases against some career criminals. I knew that couldn’t be true, but didn’t know what had happened.
“Jimmy and I asked Frank about it and he said not to believe it, but that he wasn’t at liberty to say more. I wish he were here to hear your side of it, now, but you know those cancer sticks got him about fifteen years back. He’d take a last drag on one while he tapped the next one out of the pack.”
“I’m luckier. Dilly made me quit. About seven times, actually, but the last time, about 40 years ago, she said she wouldn’t let the kids be around an old man who stank of stale tobacco – and I knew she meant it. . . .
“Kap, we’ve got some unfinished business. As near as I can see, we’ve still got two people in prison who wouldn’t have been there without Junior’s false charges and at least nine surviving people with false felony records. You know the lay of the land here, I don’t. I need your help. We can’t undo what was done long ago, but we can stop more harm from being done.”
“Ray, you’re right, of course, but, . . . is this going to send my taxes through the roof?! . . . . Wait. Don’t answer that! I am not a thief, and I won’t keep the proceeds of someone else’s misery!
“What do we have to do?”
“The good news is that I have funds from a foundation that will pay the prisoners and ex-prisoners enough in return for not suing that I feel sure none will sue the county. I personally would like to sue Judge Larson and County Attorney Buckman, though!”
“Ray, they’re both long dead. Larson was ready to retire back then!”
“I guess I couldn’t do it, anyway.
“I need to know who has access to the governor for those who need their records wiped clean, and we need to see a judge about getting the two in jail cleared and ordered released. The foundation’s legal staff has prepared appeals.”
“Ray, I didn’t know, but it’s not all on your shoulders. We all should have been asking questions. Frank kept talking about some things he couldn’t talk about that bothered him. Jerry and I thought we were being polite in not pressing him on it.
“It’s just starting to dawn on me what these guys must have gone through these last decades.
“If it were me, I could never forgive ass-holes who just stood by and did nothing; and I guess that’s all of us!”
“Kap, all we can do today is get them out and let the world know that they had nothing to do with the crimes they were charged with. Know anyone in the media willing to take the guff they’ll get from exposing these old wounds?”
“Yeah, Jerry’s got a nephew who’s started what he calls an ‘alternative weekly’. He’ll love this. A story like this will get picked up once it’s out. He won’t mind seeing his byline on the story, either.
“There’s people out there, mostly family members, who’ve been saying things all along that we’ve all sneered at as irresponsible. In a way they were irresponsible, because they only suspected what you and I know; but I guess that they at least tried to get at the truth.”
“Meanwhile, let’s get the girls and let Dilly and me take you out for lunch. Is that little Chinese restaurant across from the parking ramp still good?”
“Yeah, but it’s an Ethiopian restaurant now. You still like hot food?
“Let’s take Dilly and Janice there after we get these two out of prison, Ray. For now, my ‘50s Soda Fountain’ is still a lot better than anything they’ll be eating tonight.
“I’ve got to talk to my 74 partners, but I assure you that one way or another there’ll be a job here for each of them if they want it.”
(While in MN (#3), Ray is approached by the tech who had Assisted him to find Sister Sharon, to assist in finding a stone believed to be from some 8 centuries back. Inspired by people I’ve known and events I’ve heard of, by an entirely fictional tale. Copyright by author, Zev Aelony, Minneapolis, MN. 23Sept03 V.27)
Ray had long realized that every good deed will be avenged. Thus, he was far from surprised when, coming to a meeting of the non-sectarian charitable foundation set up by Sister Sharon Mussolini to reduce the effects of the crimes of its benefactor, he received a call in his hotel room asking for his assistance. The caller introduced herself as Beary, the head technician who had given him some assistance in finding Sister Sharon when she had been reported missing. She reminded Ray that she had lead him to the foreman who had told him where to find her, and together they’d drawn him a map of how to get there. Could she meet with Ray?
“Gee, Barry, I’m sorry, but I do have to catch a plane tomorrow morning at 10:42AM, which means I have to be there before 8:40. I’m just getting to bed now after a long meeting.”
“Ray, could I buy you breakfast? I’ll drive you to the airport afterwards and help you get your luggage checked and all. I can get to work late tomorrow morning cause it’s a voluntary Saturday and I’ve already got 49 hours in this week.”
“Well, I guess I couldn’t turn down such an offer. When do you want to meet?”
“Ray, there’s a coffee shop right in your hotel. Could I meet you there at 7?”
“You’re familiar with the Thunderbird, then?”
“Yeah. Can’t miss it if you want to. Seven okay?”
“Seven. I’ll be at a table having my morning coffee.” Ray wasn’t thrilled, but he could hardly turn her down when she was so insistent and was implying that Ray owed her.
Ray was a little surprised when his table was approached by a well-dressed couple, then vaguely recognized Beary. “I’m sorry. Guess I didn’t recognize you without the hardhat and tool belt. Please, have a seat.”
“Ray, this is my brother Jerry.” Ray realized he must have looked a little surprised at the similar name. “No, we’re not Jerry and Beary. When my husband died and left me with five pre-teen kids, I had to get a job that could support us all. There was a program to get women into electronics and I loved it, but on my first job I realized that being a woman with an Indian name, Running Bear, put me at great risk. I got thrown off that tower -- had things dropped on me, addressed as ‘squaw’ and worse, and then fired as ‘a disruption.’ The next job I got I came in a big bulky jacket and at a friendly mentor’s suggestion, called myself Beary – sounds like Barry.
“Ray, Jerry is a history instructor in our college. Apart from still having to put up with my youngest son and daughter who are in their first and second years there, he’s been doing some research and needs your help in finding a rock that may help put us in a better position.”
“A ‘rock’? As in diamond?”
“No, no!” Jerry laughed, “They’re a dime a dozen! The rock I’m looking for is a big filthy stone – with runes on it.”
“Oh, boy! The Kensington Rune Stone? That was proven a fraud before even I was born. Don’t waste your time. Anyway, it isn’t lost.”
“I do know all about the controversy, Ray. You may not know that recently there’s been some strong evidence to the contrary. Study of the crystal structure of that rock seems to show that it was carved hundreds of years before the 19th century. You are certainly correct, though, that it isn’t lost. Some other stones have also shown up. The one I’m interested in appears to have been found and discarded in the late 1890’s.”
“How do you know, Professor.”
“Jerry is fine. . . . Ray, the farmer, Ohman, who claimed to have discovered the Kensington stone in the roots of a tree he pulled up, left a collection of papers. When I was a graduate student at The University, a fellow student learned that while we are Anishenabe, I also knew several Dakota dialects as well as Cree. . . .”
Beary interrupted, “Ray, when we were little, our Great-great-grandmother was still alive and so was her brother. I played with parts of old cars and things. Jerry would sit for days on end listening to them tell old stories word for word in Anishenabe. Jerry can still tell those stories and he sounds and looks just like them when he does. We didn’t have a tribal college then, so he went away to a school up in Canada. He had a Cree girl friend there and learned to speak just like her.
“I know it’s not supposed to be this way, but, like when a girl friend and I were trying to get to meet some friends in Ball Club, . . . ”
“Yeah, you know Ball Club?”
“I guess, I just heard of it. I wasn’t sure if it was real.”
“Well, it is. Real tiny. But we were trying to get a ride there, -- we were about twelve, I suppose, so it was about 30 years ago -- and this old white guy in a shiny little black car stopped to give us a ride. He had a big white beard. We thought he was a minister, but it turned out he was a Jew and he was going around selling educational toys to stores all over. Anyway, when he left us off, he gave us this kit to make a radio. My girl friend didn’t want it and so I got to take it home and I built it and I’ve been hooked ever since. Jerry, he played with it for a while, found out that there was only white folks stuff on there and lost interest. All his life he’s been learning about our people and our history. He’s written books on it. In English and Anishenabe and he’s translated one on the history of the conflicts between us and the Lakota into Dakota also and it’s been used in some of their schools. He’s serious, man. He isn’t gonna waste your time!”
“I’m listening, but after breakfast I do have to head straight to the airport.”
A waitress approached them and asked them if they’d like to eat from the buffet. All agreed. The waitress poured coffee and they went to fill their plates.
“Ray, I want to tell you the background, so you know what I’ve got and what I haven’t got. When I was mostly engrossed in doing my thesis, another student had a picture of a tracing of some runes that was in that farmer’s collection of papers. Old Olaf apparently had traced another, larger stone, and concluded that it was gibberish and thrown it away, but kept the tracing, apparently folded it up and used it as a bookmark. My fellow student thought some words there looked like Cree. I was curious enough to keep a copy, but I hadn’t yet studied the runes and it was hard to know how they would have been pronounced.
“Ray, over the past nineteen years I’ve studied the runes, talked to old Swedes and Norwegians and Icelanders; and I’ve also studied texts of early Catholic priests which only recently were rediscovered in Vatican libraries. Ray, there are Cree words in this tracing and Dakota place names that I don’t think any European could have known in the 19th century. Some of these words and names were no longer in common use even among our people by that time. Nor is there any question that the original of this tracing was made in the 19th century.”
“That is interesting, but what does it have to do with me?”
“I want you to help us find that stone?”
“Why? You’ve got the tracing and proof of its history, what more do you need? And why do you care? If it’s true, it isn’t much of a part of your history; more of the Norsemen’s, isn’t it? Somebody came for a brief visit, probably were seen as invaders as they were armed; your ancestors killed a few of them, the rest fled. They’re forgotten for a few centuries, then their descendants came again and annihilated most of you. What will knowing that help, even if you can prove it is true?”
“Now you’ve really hurt my feelings; telling a historian that history is unimportant! I could offer you the old saw that ‘Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it!’ Worn out, but nevertheless true. More to the point, those who twist history and fail to verify what did and what did not happen are setting a trap for themselves.
“I know that you’re a practical man and a man who has spent much of his life catching crooks. Wouldn’t you like us to be able to settle the question of who owns the land under your grandparents’ cabin up near Angle Inlet, who owns the logs and stones from which it was built? Does it bother you that you may be lending stolen property to your children and their families when you send them to vacation on the island summers?”
“I thought that was settled in the law long before I was born, Jerry, and even before my grandfather came here. He bought that island fair and square from the county when it was tax forfeit, and as to the cabin and dock, he built it all with his own hands; felled the trees and dug the stones. Anyhow, how did you even know about our island?”
Beary smiled, “Well, actually your grandfather hired our great grandparents and some grand uncles and aunts to do the heavy work. They had to work for next to nothing to get cash to pay taxes to an invader regime that they never wanted, never recognized and never served them or us.”
“Beary, we can discuss these things with assertions rather than mutually verified facts all day. But that’s not what we’re here for, Ray. What we’re here for is to find the truth about a much earlier part of the picture, which I believe includes answers to how certain cultural artifacts are being found to have existed in ‘Pre-Columbian’ Europe and America, how certain treasures and technologies moved back and forth, and why certain others didn’t. This does also relate to questions of the nature of private, communal and universal ownership rights. Will you help us?”
“In the half hour ‘til I have to leave for the airport?”
“Jerry, give him the stuff you brought!”
“Ray, would you be willing to take a look at this proposal and the copies of various materials I’ve enclosed. It’s short. I kept it to what I thought would be about two hours of reading on the plane. My card and phone number are in there. I’d sure appreciate a call even if it’s just to say you’re not interested. I hope you will be, though. My archeologist friends and our students seem to have run up against a stone wall, if you’ll pardon the pun, and you seem to be good at finding lost people.”
“Actually, Jerry, I would enjoy reading what you’ve got. Save me the $4 for the in-flight movie. I promise that I’ll give you a call, but I don’t know after that. Please don’t tell all my admirers, but I lucked out in bumping into your sister, here. Otherwise I’m no better at finding lost people than anybody else, and probably not as good as many a younger, more scientifically trained investigator. What’s more my only previous experience looking for lost stones was in solving jewelry robberies.”
“Beary, we’d better help Ray get to the airport. If you bring the car around, I’ll bring out his bags. Ray, are you all checked out?”
They got everything into Jerry’s car and headed for the airport. Jerry added, “Oh, Ray, you’ll see from the tracing that the stone appears to have been broken up. I don’t know if that helps or hurts in finding it, or its parts”
Jerry jumped out and carried Ray’s bags over to a redcap. Not long ago, Ray would have been insulted, but now he appreciated it. He took his notebook and the packet of materials Jerry had given him, and headed for his plane.
Ray sat down to wait for the plane and opened the little case Jerry had given him. He did a mental inventory of what all was there, and then opened the copy of the rune stone tracing. It was a huge thing, about six feet high and almost half that wide. There were gaps, apparently because it had been broken up and then someone had reassembled it. There was also a cross shaped gap in the writing, presumably because some symbol of a cross, perhaps another stone, had been attached there.
Ray knew what the runes were, but, of course, they meant nothing to him. Jerry’s proposal, however, had both the original translation of the inscription and a translation of his own. He noted that the word that the museum brochures had translated as “savages,” Jerry translated as “foreigners.” Later he saw that Jerry was able to justify this by pointing to a runic inscription of the same era which referred to a respected Italian Cardinal with the same word. Perhaps this was similar to the Greek use of the word which became ‘barbarian’ in English and the Hebrew ‘goy’ which Ray had learned from a linguist consultant on a case in the distant past mean basically ‘non-Greek’ and ‘ethnos’ in their ancient usage.
Jerry thought that the stone had marked the division of the survivors of this band of Swedish and Norwegian traders as three had married local women – apparently they must have spent some time there as the stone celebrated the firstborn son of the first of these unions – and the rest were returning to their homes. Their homes were described as being far to the northeast where they were guests of another nation of foreigners.
The returning party had left iron tools and Christian amulets, and taken supplies of copper, furs, medicinal herbs, mahnomen and a cornucopia of other foods, beadwork clothing and a better way to build walls from trees. They had watched the wives of the three who stayed build a winter cabin. They also took precious gifts of a ceremonial pipe and tobacco, and a beaded vest as a gift for the leader of the Scandinavians to give his wife.
The stone also referred to a stone laid at the graves of those who had died and of a funeral celebrated by the entire community. Ray was familiar with the original translation of the Kensington stone that part of the Nordic party had been massacred by Indians. Jerry’s translation was that they were found to have died. Jerry quoted several authorities on the runic writings and the Scandinavian languages of the time who supported his translation, but Ray had no idea at the moment who these people were and how well founded their interpretations might be. He suspected they might be more ‘politically correct’ than accurate.
Lastly and most striking, was a reference to a bishop sent by the Pope and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire establishing mutual recognition and guarantees of territorial integrity by each party to the other. Ray sat back and read that over. He could understand the importance of this to Jerry and to all Native Americans. Was there a pre-Columbian treaty between the emperor of most of Europe and the Church, on the one hand, and the nations of North America on the other which recognized the property rights of the nations who lived here? Did that mean that there was a legal ground to challenge all the land seizures by our society from theirs? Could it be that the Native American nations still legally owned the 97% of this country never freely sold and fully paid for? He wondered if Jerry’s translation of this passage would be controversial. He also became much more interested in verifying the authenticity or fraudulence of this message.
Other papers included excerpts from various notes of Ohman’s, referring to the stone, where it was found and what had been done with it. It seems that it was found on a neighbor’s farm whom Ohman disliked, on the shore of a lake of some 800 or 900 acres, a few miles from where the Kensington Rune stone was found. It was found in pieces in the spillway of an old mill being disassembled. The owner’s grandson recognized the runes. He had brought it to Ohman secretly saying that his father wanted nothing to do with it, wanted to keep anyone from knowing about it having seen all the trouble the rune stone had caused Ohman. Ohman assembled the parts he had, then concluded that his nemesis was behind it, trying to cause him more problems with a forged stone, since a friendly scholar of runic writing told him that it had what appeared to be nonsense words on it. He later reported using the stones in a foundation for a structure which was as yet unfound despite several years of searching by Jerry’s students.
Ray did call Jerry the following week and asked him to send him all the materials he had. He emphasized that this was really outside his expertise and that he was retired, but that he’d look the materials over and see if it gave him any leads. He asked if Jerry’s students would still be available to do the digging, if needed. Jerry told him he’d do it personally if necessary.
Two weeks later several large boxes arrived and Ray settled down in his den with them. His wife wasn’t well and while they were at their winter home Young Ray and Gloria were the only family near by. They were busy with themselves, getting ready for the baby and their classes.
Until Dilly became ill, they had spent winters going out, eating at every
place their friends recommended, seeing movies and plays. They were doing all the things they dreamed of during the decades of raising kids and putting them through college. Now they went for a morning walk along the ocean and an evening walk after dinner at the day’s restaurant of choice. Most of the rest of the time Dilly slept. Her doctors told them that was what was needed. Rest, walks and good food would restore her, but it would take time. While Dilly napped, Ray straightened the place up a very little bit, then sat down to read Jerry’s materials. He discussed it all with Dilly, with Young Ray and Gloria, with everybody he knew on the net.
Ray had never been much for history. He’d been a D student in his high school history courses. He’d been bored through the histories taught in the agency academies where he’d imbibed histories, which were always presented as obvious and absolutely true and questioned only by the brainless and the malicious. This, however, fascinated him. Ray didn’t read runes, certainly felt no competence to judge what was proven by each of the highly technical papers he read. But he understood now the significance of this debate and wanted to learn as much as he could as to whose contentions reflected reality.
He learned that one of the problems was that one could read the runes in many ways. Rabbi Yedidi had explained to him over lunch once something similar with holy scriptures: that one had to understand the context, how words were used since a word in Hebrew or Aramaic might have made very different things in different contexts or different times. He’d also pointed out that early Hebrew, Greek and other writing systems often had no punctuation or spaces between words, spelling wasn’t always standardized, often there was no capitalization and even the direction of reading wasn’t always standard. All writing and conversation includes assumed knowledge unique to its time and place. Ray was intrigued by the radically diverse interpretation that the most solid, knowledgeable scholars gave to runes and their significance.
Scholars at the time of its discovery had laughed at the crude forger who had used the English word ‘dead’ instead of the old ‘dod,’ -- as Scandinavian-Americans were wont to do, -- mixing in common English words with their native Swedish or Norwegian. Now other scholars have pointed out that a 14th century Swedish queen spelled the same word precisely the same way in a carefully crafted runic letter written for her by a court scribe. Scholars on the other side pooh-poohed this as a lone error by the court scribe. A testing firm seemed to confirm the ‘eyeball’ conclusions of geologists of a century ago that the cutting of the symbols into the stone had not been done recently, that it had lain in that soil for at least decades, far longer than the Ohmans had farmed there. Those convinced that the stone was a forgery rejected this as preliminary and demanded more proof. Over and over what seemed to be proven was called into question, but without achieving a level of evidence Ray would consider sufficient if he were asked by a prosecutor ‘can you prove it to a jury?’ While there were a few scholars who seemed willing to go with the evidence, it struck him that most were intent on bending the evidence to suit their cause. Prosecutors like that often caused terrifying miscarriages of justice.
Ray prided himself that he was trained to look for physical evidence and that was what Jerry and Beary were asking him to do. He told Jerry that he would look when he returned in the spring, but in the mean time wanted reports on everywhere that the students had looked and what they’d found, as well as any information on interviews or other materials on what people in the area thought. Some of the comments were pretty funny and those he read to Dilly.
Ray went through Jerry’s records. The students had probed every place known to have had a structure in the past century on every farm in the neighborhood. They dug wherever they hit stones and found no foundations. Ray thought that over. There should have been some foundations. Then he looked over pictures of the area since aerial surveying had begun and began to think he might have an idea. He had Jerry send his students to copy county purchasing records for several years. When spring came he knew just where he wanted to go.
Ray arrived in the county seat and made a phone call. “Commissioner?”
“Who is this? I haven’t been a commissioner for over a decade.”
“I haven’t been here for longer than that. Could I buy you a cup of coffee at the Golden Griddle?”
“Well, okay. I’ve got to stop at the Wal-Mart this morning. What time do you want to get together?”
“I’ll grab us a booth. I’m eightyish, short brown hair, brown suit, dark tie.”
“Huh. See you there.”
After introductions and small talk, Ray indicated his interest in the period some forty years back when rural roads in the township had been graveled. He’d noticed that at first contracts were won by larger firms from outside the area, then there seemed to be a switch to local contractors. The old commissioner confirmed that the board had been concerned to see all this money drained out of the county and had discussed how to help the locals. Several of the local firms had gone together to buy a portable rock crusher and offered to combine the gravelling with contracts to remove abandoned stone foundations for farmers along the roads. The commissioner took Ray to the County Hall and showed him where the old Ohman farm had once been. He drew him a map of nearby roads and also gave him the name of the company that had had the contract to gravel that road.
The contracting firm, even smaller than it had been, still existed, run by a granddaughter of the owner of the time in question. She went back through some old records and explained that in the mean time the road had been oiled several times and recently all that mess had been scraped up and trucked to a dump prior to the road’s being paved. Because the oiled material was considered potentially environmentally dangerous, it had been hauled to a special controlled dump.
Ray visited the dump and found that some of the dumped material was still on the surface due to a dispute with neighbors over just how to encapsulate it. Ray immediately got on his cell phone and called Jerry to get his students busy if they hoped to find anything, and by the following morning Jerry arrived with seven car loads of students, mostly young men and women from the northern Minnesota reservations, but including two other faculty members from tribal colleges and three elders. One faculty member turned out to be an archaeologist and the other a geologist.
With permission from the manager of the dump, who clearly couldn’t care less, the students began pulling out stones and clearing enough tar off each to see if they could find any runes. Any stone that had a gash or any strange mark was shown to the archaeologist who shook his head sadly all day long.
The ‘dig’ lasted through the weekend ‘til the students were required to return to classes. There were successes, but not enough. The archaeologist and geologist returned to the college with thirteen chunks of rock with runes that precisely matched parts of the tracing, and seven more suspected of having partial runes. The geologist said that it was enough to run some tests to attempt to determine how long ago the runes had been carved and where and how long they had been in the ground.
Ray didn’t feel successful. His experience had simply lead him to see different things in the same documents Jerry had studied. He still had no idea if this were a forgery or a critical part of our history – or if Jerry’s translation conveyed the intent of the writer if it were genuine. Still, he was delighted to receive a copy of Jerry’s report in a prominent journal of American history along with peer reviews and critiques. The magazine was accompanied by a framed scroll of appreciation from the college awarding Ray ‘4 semester credits’ toward an honorary degree in American history!
Ray wrote back to Jerry thanking him and asking him to seriously inquire into whether his island retreat had indeed been properly paid for. If the county had sold something that didn’t belong to it, and Ray had now read enough to believe Running Bear’s account was basically true, was there some way to make amends – and to whom. He hoped that the elders he had met would propose some payment and perhaps terms of tribal sovereignty, but he had gradually come to feel that if it had to be returned, then justice should be done. He certainly did not want to be the possessor of stolen property, especially under these most disgusting of circumstances. He asked also for information on the actual ownership of the land under his family home in Shorewood, where he still spent much of the summers, and his winter apartment near Young Ray and Gloria in LA. He hoped to be able to assure that all were properly paid for in his lifetime and that the island in particular could remain the respite and a force for family unity after he was gone. Ray and Dilly rather enjoyed being the elders of their own growing tribe when they gathered with all the little ones splashing and squealing and bubbling over.
Ray was glad Beary had called.
Ray Story #6
Ray and Dilly spent a month at the tribal college as guests of Jerry and the Anishenabe combined curriculum faculty. In addition to formally receiving credit for his work on finding the few bits of the remains of the rune stone, elders offered their traditional knowledge to Dilly, and she did seem to be feeling stronger. Perhaps it was the herbs, the sweats, the Mahnomen; or perhaps it was just the wonderful spirit of the people. In any case, Ray was delighted to see her old spirit, her zest and cheerfulness return.
Then, Ray and Dilly headed for Grossvater’s Island where their grandson, Karl and his wife, Jan and their son were already waiting. A special treat was their first chance to see and hold their great-grandchild, Georgie, already three years old. Karl had insisted that they arrive first to prepare everything. Dilly complained that she and Ray should do their part. Ray was silently pleased to not have to do heavy chores that he once found a relaxing contrast to his work, but were now an excessive strain to both he and Dilly.
Ray was particularly excited to have met with the tribal elders and reached an agreement. The Hesses would keep the island under a 99 year lease, pay taxes, not recognized by the IRS, to the tribe, and agree to recognize tribal sovereignty and law as soon as the US government recognized their rights to this illegally seized part of their treaty-guaranteed lands.
They brought with them symbols to post indicating the Anishenabe name of the Island and some places in and around it. Ray thought that this would be important not only to the members of the band who come to visit. Ray valued the importance of their own language to the members of the band, and to the earth, but he especially valued the knowledge it would give his family of the importance of their stewardship of this place, of their debt to the band, and of their family ties. With the arrival of more of the grandchildren, Ray recruited a crew to post the signs. He explained the significance of each symbol as they put it up. The late November cold was overwhelming even in warm clothes, and each adventure ended with a return to the main cabin and hot chocolate. Dilly didn’t accompany them, but sat with them when they returned, sipping an herbal tea an elder had prepared for her.
In a few days, the signs were up, stories told, pictures and school projects reviewed, and the ice depth deemed eminently safe after the older grandchildren bored holes for fishing and found the ice to be generally a foot to a foot and a half thick.
On what was to be Ray and Dilly’s last full day on the island, Ray and the older kids took the younger ones out to plow off a skating rink. Karl, Jan, and Young Ray and Gloria, who’d arrived the day before, even made a bench of the snow shoveled off and put cushions on it. Ray sat back to watch the wild exuberance as cousins who played on the ice all winter showed off for those trying to stand up on borrowed skates for the first time.
After a while Dilly surprised them by appearing, all bundled up, on her decades old figure skates and carrying Ray’s long-unused speed skates. She and Ray danced around the lake, while their tribe sang and cheered.
Ray escorted Dilly back to the bench made of snow, and proceeded to show that he could still do figure eights. He carved two interlocked loops into the ice. Then he tried a jump. He was a bit awkward, but landed on his skates. Then there was a loud ‘kaaraak!’ and the ice gave way. Ray went through up to his hips!
The shock of the cold water showed on Ray’s face. Karl and Young Ray, who’d arrived the day before, grabbed him and carried him to sit in front of the fire in the cabin while Dilly rubbed his legs. Ray assured them that he was all right, and Gloria concurred after checking his ‘vital signs’, but he and Dilly were talked into staying in the cabin for several days to make sure.
Ray pronounced the experience an important warning to the younger kids to never trust the ice, since there could always be invisible thin spots. All agreed that they would never go out alone and would always have a long board available to reach anyone who went through.
Since the extended stay would include a Thanksgiving dinner with fresh-caught fish and Mahnomen, a gift from the tribe, it wasn’t going to be a big sacrifice.
The following day, Saturday, a small plane with skis landed and five men emerged who were business associates of Karl’s, and whom he’d invited to stop in to ice fish if they could arrange it. As they deplaned, each turned back to grab a parka to cover their dark business suits; they’d already incongruously changed their black business shoes for fur-lined boots, their pant legs neatly tucked in. The three men looked vaguely familiar to Ray, and as they were introduced, they reminded him that Ray had mentored them as neophyte agents, some two decades back. They looked uncomfortable at seeing him there, but acknowledged that he must have been a good guide as they were all now in senior positions around the country. Ray shared their discomfort. What had changed in the agency’s rules that allowed them to be in administrative positions in the agency and also in private business? Why had they seemed, well, actually shocked, when they walked into the main cabin and saw he and Dilly in front of the fire? Surely, with all their resources they had known that Karl was his grandson. Karl was a young man with a degree in Law Enforcement and a brand new MBA, but little knowledge of law and none of agency rules. What were these guys getting him into? Ray worried, but realized that this was a social occasion and not a time to ask too many questions. He was a welcoming and hospitable host, as he always was when his children brought friends to Grossvater’s Island; as Grossvater and Ray’s own father had been before him.
Several of the younger grandsons were transferred from one of the smaller cabins to bunk with the older ones. The new guests were then shown to the emptied cabin, after a quick clean up. Karl and Young Ray helped them bring in their bags from the plane and then moved it to a dock where it could be securely tied down; there was no hangar and it was the best protection they could offer from unexpected wind gusts. A fire was already going in the stove, a coffee pot put on and ice was put in the icebox. The cabin’s thick log walls, triple-paned windows and four-inch thick solid pine door kept it comfortable at all outside temperatures.
With so many people and so much going on, there was plenty of opportunity for Karl to take his guests out ice fishing. He laughed in telling Ray of their clumsiness and fear of the cold. Ray asked about their business, and Karl explained that he’d gone to a security conference shortly before receiving his MBA, looking for a job in the industry. He’d been sitting having a Coke and hot dog when these guys sat down at the same table. They introduced each other and Karl had mentioned that he was looking for a management opportunity in the industry. They were pleased, because they wanted an opportunity to use their knowledge and contacts to serve private industry and commerce. They needed to partner with someone with knowledge of private law enforcement and with management skills. After several meetings and discussions, they met with a lawyer the agents knew and executed a partnership agreement. Karl was the CEO of KH Associates, Inc., and another partner who was the sales manager, a retired agent, was chairman of the board.
“So, do you provide consulting services?” Ray asked.
“Well, yes, but mostly we acquire intelligence critical to business.”
“What sort of intelligence?”
“Well, of course, in each instance it’s confidential, but for instance, a corporation will be bidding on a very large contract, say hundreds of millions or billions, and they want to know everything they can about the opposition. Our people research it and give me a report, which I personally bring the client. We go beyond what they’d find from most research services, including any investigations that may affect them; factors that may limit their ability to produce or deliver on time; factors affecting their ability to offer particular pricing or terms.”
“And where does this information come from?”
“Well, that’s the great thing. Through my associates, we have access to investigators who can supply that information. I never meet any of them, but the feedback we get from our clients indicates that they have rarely had such an important source of critical information. I don’t understand a lot of it, but it even includes codes that allows them to access public web sites that would be hard to find just because if you go to Google or whatever you get millions of responses.”
“And do you understand and check out all these codes?”
“Naw, it’s important to the clients, but I have no idea what it’s about. These might be people bidding to build an office complex or oil refinery or a tanker or a fleet of jets or whatever. It would mean nothing to me. It’s mostly technical stuff. Some of it just looks like phone numbers or long lists of things.”
“Well, like lists of costs for thousands of items I know nothing about. Why would I read it? The important thing is that we provide a legitimate service to industry and the clients are happy to pay us enough to pay our contract researchers, pay ourselves high six-figure salaries I thought it would take me a decade to achieve, and still post nice profits for our stockholders. We are very careful, using a very conservative accounting firm that my partners have personally investigated and a leading Wall Street law firm. I’m really pleased to learn that you trained these guys in!”
“Well, your grandfather’s past is exposed. I’m glad it is something pleasing rather than an embarrassment.”
“Oh, yes! Now that they know that I’m your grandson, they have told me how much they admire you and how important you were to their careers!’
“Karl, another of my former trainees is in the area. I intended to meet him and his wife in St. Paul, but since we’ll be here a few more days, I’m inviting him up. I think he’ll probably be here tomorrow. You’ll find him impressive also, I think. Don’t mention it to your associates. They all know him and it’ll be a little surprise to them.”
Ray used the satellite phone, which he had been convinced to carry in case he or Dilly needed medical aid in such a remote place, to call his old partner and protégé, Carl Farmer. Carl was now second to the Director in the Agency, and rumored to be expected to succeed the Director upon his expected retirement in a year or two. When he asked Carl, who was at his desk in Washington, to come for a social visit to the island the following morning with his wife and prepare to stay for two days, Carl agreed immediately without asking any questions. In the decades since Ray left the agency, Ray had never made such a request and Carl immediately had arrangements made for an agency driver to pick up Corrina with clothes for a few days in the North Country, and for a flight to Duluth. From there a former agent, now surveillance director for a casino provided a lift to the island in a company helicopter.
Ray, Karl and other family members greeted the new arrivals and several of the younger generation grabbed their bags before the pilot closed the doors, revved up his engine, and took off. As they walked along Ray briefed Carl on his concerns, emphasizing that he was certain that his grandson, Karl, was a victim in the affair, deliberately ‘accidentally found’ to be their patsy. Karl looked confused as he caught a bit of the conversation. As they entered the main cabin, Karl’s guests saw the new arrivals and turned pale.
Ray spoke, “You all know each other, so we don’t need introductions. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with so many of those whom I mentored as young agents!”
Ed Stevenson, one of Karl’s business partners responded, “Carl, what a pleasure! And Corrina! We hadn’t known you’d be joining us! What a pleasure!”
“Corrina and I had expected to visit with Ray and Dilly in St. Paul, on their way back to San Diego, but since they’ve decided to stay here a few more days, we were delighted to accept their invitation to Thanksgiving dinner on the island. It’s been more than twenty years since we’ve enjoyed visiting here.”
Hot drinks, some soft, some not, were passed around, and conversations became social, if strained on the part of the agency guests. After a while Karl’s partners suggested they try ice fishing again. Carl allowed that he had heard Ray speak of the sport with great enthusiasm but couldn’t imagine sitting out on the ice with no protection from the wind as relaxing, so he’d like to come along to see what it was about. Ray, Karl and Young Ray, along with several other grandchildren, joined the party. As they walked out to where a gas-powered ice auger had been left, Ed spoke, “Karl, you should have told us Carl Farmer was coming! Do you know how important he is in the agency? There are issues of protocol.”
Carl laughed, “We are here on vacation. Worry about that wind, not protocol.”
Karl added, “I didn’t know of this, either, Ed. It was arranged because my grandfather fell through the ice while ice-skating the day before they were intending to leave, and we decided he and Grandma shouldn’t travel for a few days. I’m sure Mr. Farmer can’t hold against you any lapse of protocol when you couldn’t have known of this chance meeting.”
Carl agreed, the with a grin, “Besides, I couldn’t have expected to find any of you here, since you are listed on your calendars as being out of your offices on discreet Agency investigations. But I know you guys, so I know that this will show up as vacation time, right?”
They walked along in silence until Gloria’s brother, Cuatemoc, began cursing as he struggled to start the small engine on the auger. He finally got it going, “Wouldn’t it be easier to cut a hole with an axe than to start this thing? Can anyone tell me why anyone would live up here, anyway?”
The wind was wicked. The fish bit well, however, and they soon had all they needed for dinner. Carl seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the fishing, while the five agents seemed uncomfortable with his presence. They all were happy to head back to the warmth of the cabin.
There was so much to eat, it didn’t matter that Carl and Corrina didn’t care for the fish. Afterwards the agents asked Karl to come to their cabin to discuss business. While he was away, Ray and Carl sat alone and talked.
`“I realized that your invitation wasn’t one hundred percent social, Ray. I’m uncomfortable with what I see. What is your take on it?”
“Carl, am I wrong in surmising that your agents’ participation in whatever this is is unauthorized?”
“You are correct.”
“I think that your agents were looking for Karl when they met him at an International Security Convention and pretended that it was accidental. He had the credentials they needed and was too full of idolization of the Agency to ask too many questions. He even looks on it as a plus that they chose the law firm and accountants. That their offices had participated in official investigations into each of them means that they lacked the independence he should have known to demand with his MBA education.
“Carl, I don’t think there are any other investigators. I think that our friends are using Agency assets to get information, possibly not all legally obtained, to sell to their clients. Here’s Karl, now.
“Karl? What’s up?”
”I don’t know. My partners are upset about something. I couldn’t get out of them what the problem is. They want to leave in the morning.
“I’ve got some work I’ve got to prepare; to turn data into a report to deliver to a client.”
“May I see it?”
“Mr. Farmer, it’s confidential. That’s the only reason the clients pay us; to get information to them alone to gain a competitive advantage.”
“Did your partners tell you that it is a Federal crime for them to be engaging in private business without permission?”
“Oh, they are very careful. Our lawyers have taken care of all the legalities.”
“Karl, I’m sorry to tell you, but I’m the one who would have had to okay this and I haven’t. That is why they are upset and preparing to leave.”
“Karl, I’m afraid Carl is right. You have to show him the materials they gave you. I never would have suspected these men would do something like this, but they have betrayed the agency and used you to hide behind. Carl needs to see the raw materials you have for your report so as to determine what it is they are hiding. He can get a subpoena faxed to his laptop in five minutes with what he already knows, so there is no point in delaying.”
Ray and Carl followed Karl to the small room he was using as a temporary office. Karl looked, very worried, at Ray, then handed a file to Carl.
“What is this, Karl?”
“This is for one of our best clients. This is the fifth research project we’ve done for them. They are bidding on a Manhattan building complex somewhere in the quarter-billion dollar area. The crossed out materials are references to some of our sources which I won’t share since that is our proprietary property. The rest is long lists of costs, I guess to figure things they’d have to fix, so that they can take those things into account when they bid. It doesn’t take much on a project this size to make our $275,000 fee seem like a bargain! I’m sure we’ve saved them plenty or they wouldn’t keep coming back. They’ve paid us over a million over the past year or so. I prepare the report to answer the questions they’ve asked us to research.”
“Ray, do you see these codes and phone numbers crossed out?”
“These references are to judicial orders allowing wiretaps on the phone
numbers listed. The 128-bit codes are keys to an encryption system. By law, vendors of such systems are required to supply us with a ‘back door key’, which is to be used only for the most serious national security or organized crime investigations. I’m sure that these are unauthorized uses, but even if a judge has issued permission for them, it is a serious violation of Federal law to use the information for any other purpose.
“But worse, the five figures at the bottom of the five columns aren’t totals of what’s above them. What do you bet that we’ll find out at the bid opening that these are the bids of your client’s competitors? You said that this was expected to be a sale worth about a quarter billion and all these dollar figures are between two hundred twenty nine and two hundred thirty five million.”
“Oh, that can’t be! Our researchers were asked to find answers from public sources to questions about prospective rental prices and costs to be incurred to keep or recruit major tenants! Why would any researcher do something illegal, when it doesn’t get him anything? It doesn’t answer the client’s questions – they wouldn’t even know what to make of the figures!”
“Karl, do the clients contact you and give you the questions they want answered?”
“Well, no. Our major accounts sales manager calls on them and they discuss what they want to know and set a price – which I have to sign off on after determining our costs.”
“Let me guess: he is someone recruited by your partners?”
“Yeah. Don Jones is a retired agent who was Rob Bullock’s boss before he retired. He was instrumental in setting up the company.”
“I see. I know Don Jones. Did you know he was allowed to retire rather than face charges of misappropriation of funds? His involvement is interesting. He was allowed to just resign with full pension because he had used some of the funds to support a Columbian paramilitary group that has some friends in Congress and the administration. His activities were not authorized, however. Rob and your other partners here were not involved in that, as far as I know. Maybe we missed something.
“Ray, I want you to get one of your boys to drain the fuel from their plane. I’m afraid I have to call in a team on this.
“Karl, I’m convinced you had nothing to do with the illegal aspects of your company’s activities, but we will need your cooperation to prosecute those who have knowingly engaged in crime.
“What kind of gross income did your company have?”
“Our first year, last year was only eight months, and we did eight and a half million gross and, after office expense, salaries including principals and payments to contract researchers, we netted three million, eight hundred sixty four thousand, four hundred fifty four. It’s all on the corporate filing our accountants filled out. We should do more than four times that this year. We use a calendar year for our fiscal year, so it ends next month. I was pretty proud of that accomplishment until now.”
An airplane engine is heard. The three run out the front door in time to see Ed Stevenson jump into the plane and shut the door as the plane moved forward, picking up speed as it turned into the wind and raced across the ice, rose up and soared above the trees across the lake.
“Fools!” Carl made a call on his satellite phone. “A Cirrus just took off from here with five of our agents suspected of malfeasance including actions against US national security. I want them tracked. Get the air force to ensure that they don’t leave US air space. Tell the air command that they’d better be up there right now or they’ll have to face a very angry Director and an even angrier President! Then get the Director wherever he is and let him know I have an urgent report for him.”
“Karl, I’d be willing to bet that there were no researchers. How did you pay them?”
“Well, by check, so that there is an audit trail for the accountants.”
“Did you get the checks back or did they go straight to the accountants?”
“To the accountants so there would be no question of any mishandling of them.”
“I’d be willing to bet that when we get to them they’ll be signed with aliases by your ‘partners’. They were greedy.
“Karl, your grandfather asked me to check ownership on the ski plane. What I found was that it belongs to a corporation registered in Aruba. That corporation belongs mostly to a corporation registered in Liechtenstein. We’ll probably find that ultimately it belongs to one or more of your partners. More ominously, the Liechtenstein corporation and related corporations own ‘restored’ and fully functional military aircraft hangared in Columbia, Peru, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Rwanda and Nigeria. These are often shown off, including bombing and strafing practice at shows sponsored by a racist group that wants the Confederacy to rise again with slavery and all. Do you know anything about any of this?”
“Rob told me he owned the Cirrus, that it is a technical breakthrough in modern aeronautics, and that it its built here in Minnesota.”
“Didn’t you wonder how an Agent, even a senior Agent could afford a quarter million dollar airplane?”
“He told me his wife had a substantial inheritance – but our corporation also paid us each five hundred-seventy five thousand last year and will pay us each six-hundred thousand plus bonuses this year. I guess it seemed extravagant but not impossible. I guess I didn’t know just what it cost, anyway.”
After two more very difficult days, an Agency helicopter came to pick up Carl, Ray and Karl. Karl had searched his brain to answer as many of the questions Carl and several other investigators who came to join them asked. He was promised immunity for his cooperation. Bank accounts and corporation records had been searched around the world. Karl’s list of clients had allowed confirmation that Agency authorizations had been used to achieve wire taps and other data intercepts to gain private information, both to manipulate persons into colluding in the enterprise, and to allow its clients to consistently win large bids. The client whose file Karl had handed to Carl had won four bids totaling nearly a half-billion dollars by a total margin under fifty thousand! For this they’d paid KH Associates a total of some eight hundred thousand in fees. Another client had won a bid for development of a major oil field thought to potentially be worth upwards of twenty five billion dollars in a similarly rigged bid, paying KH over five million for its services. Like the other clients, their deal with the devil at the crossroads gave them everything they asked for; but now their souls belonged to KH. The agents had them all convinced that they need only turn over their signed agreements, claiming it had been a sting operation, and the clients would be finished and the agents come out as heroes.
The plane was never found. Cirrus informed the agency that the plane was a special one-of-a-kind, built, they believed, to an Agency order, with extra fuel tanks and they understood that afterwards some kind of special electronics had been installed. The press was informed that five Agency senior agents were lost on an experimental aircraft they were using to fly to a fishing trip, and that after a week’s search it was believed that the plane had run out of fuel and crashed into a part of Lake Superior that is nine hundred feet deep. KH’s accountants had filed a false report showing additional expenses and a net loss of $20,000. Six million or so was unaccounted for and had apparently been transferred out of the country as cash. Carl instituted further controls on taps and data intercepts, but Congress kept making them easier. How do you keep control when an agent can pull off an escapade like this and make in less than two years several times his expected lifetime earnings and live in opulence in some impoverished third world country?
Karl, chastened, found a new position with a creative local security integrator and resigned himself to going back to plan A of climbing the corporate ladder from the bottom up. His new associates attributed his nose for sniffing out official malfeasance to knowledge passed down from his grandfather. He enjoyed taking some of his new associates to holiday week-ends at Grossvater’s Island.
Ray Story # 7
(Early draft of entirely fictional story, inspired by events observed or read about, but entirely fictional. All resemblance to persons living, dead or yet to be is purely coincidental. Level .121 Copyright by author, Zev Aelony8September, 2001)
“Eh? Oh, come in, come in. I was just dozing off. Not much else to do on a quiet afternoon since we lost your grandmother.
“Gloria, remember to outlive Ray. We men don’t do well alone. Your Grandma was afraid I wouldn’t eat right or whatever, but it’s none of that. I’ll never be in her league, but I can cook and shop and do laundry and all after a fashion. I miss her. I just miss her.
“I’m not anxious to join her, though. I want every moment I can have with this little guy here. Ray-Ray, how old are you, now?”
“Fowa.” He held up three fingers.
“His birthday’s next week, Grandpa, and he wants it to come right away so he says he’s four already.”
“Well, Ray-Ray, I feel like it’s my birthday every time you come to visit me! You’re visits are the best present a grandpa could have!
“Gloria, can I get him some milk and a cookie? You know Ray’s Aunt Lee just came by and stuffed my fridge and cupboards with more than I can possibly eat. Would you two like coffee?”
“Thank you, Grandpa. We would. Please let me make it, Grandpa!”
“Ah, . . Grandpa Ray, . . ah, . . . Karl and Jan asked us to stop by to tell you about something with Georgie. He’s okay, but there’s a problem.”
“That doesn’t sound like a good start, Ray.”
“Grandpa, they took Georgie for a checkup Monday. The new pediatrician at the clinic asked them if they knew who his biological parents are. They were shocked, of course, and said that they were. The pediatrician looked perplexed and excused himself and said that he must have been given the wrong lab results. He went out and asked that Georgie play in the waiting room with a nurse. Then he explained that the genetic work-up which is now part of the standard physical for grade- schoolers was unequivocal: it was not possible that either one of them could be a biological parent of Georgie.”
‘That’s crazy. What would make him say that?”
“Grandpa Ray, I’m a dentist not a doctor, but I’ve worked with the new GT records. Once he was certain that it was Georgie’s blood that had been tested, he could be certain. He has emailed me the results from the parents’ files and from Georgie’s. I was amazed. I’ve always said that he is the spitting image of Jan and Karl with his wispy white hair and her eyes and Karl’s smile. It never would have occurred to me that there could be a question. What’s more, Jan was awake and alert when he was born and Karl cut his umbilical cord. But there is now no doubt that despite the resemblance, this is not the child Jan bore!” Gloria’s voice tapered off.
“I don’t know what to say. How could this happen?”
“We don’t really know, but it’s even more complicated than that.”
“How could it be, Ray?”
“Well, it seems that eight children were born in the Alliance birthing rooms that evening. Three were to couples at least one of whom was known to be blond and light-complected and both of whom were white. Another was Jewish; we know little about them except that they were students from Israel and have long since returned; an Israeli doctor at the hospital pointed out that with their Sephardi name they were unlikely to have been the parents of a very fair skinned blond boy. One was Hmong. At least one parent of the other three was African American or Native American.
“Of the other two likely candidates, one died within hours. The parents of that child were notified in the course of inquiring where he was buried so that genetic testing could be done. It turns out that they are members of a sect that does not permit taking blood or even transfusions. They will not permit their child’s body to be exhumed, but claim that since Georgie is not Karl and Jan’s child, and since the other blond couple did agree to genetic testing and are also proven to not be Georgie’s biological parents, he must be their son! They say that people faithful to the true word of God are persecuted by the Communists and their Orthodox and Uniate allies in the Ukraine and continue to be persecuted here and that Karl and Jan must have plotted with the doctors and nurses to take their child when their own child, born of their sinfulness, was mercifully taken by God.
They are suing for Georgie to be ‘returned’ to them, for Karl and Jan to pay for the rites to cleanse him in the eyes of God, and they want criminal charges brought against everybody involved. They point out that their child was named George and that Karl and Jan must have kept the name on his wrist band. They point out that no one in our family or Jan’s is named George.”
“My God! What are they going to do?”
“Grandpa, they are asking you to investigate, to find if the child Jan bore was the one who died, and who are the biological parents of Georgie. They need to know exactly what happened in that hospital that day.”
“Oh, my! It’s going to take a bit of time to absorb all this.
“But, does it really matter? We have been Georgie’s family all his life, for eight and a half years. This is all very strange and hard to digest, but does it really matter? Hasn’t he had all the love a large family has been able to give him? Hasn’t he thrived? Isn’t he happy? Bright? Doing well in school? Doesn’t he attend church and Sunday school? What do these genes matter? I don’t care! He’s our Georgie! No one can take my children from me! What kind of monsters are these?”
Young Ray cautioned, “Karl and Jan say they understand the Chernovsky’s grief, but after talking to them and visiting for a few minutes with them with their children, both they and Georgie are determined that Georgie may visit with them, but never alone and will never go to stay with them. Their sect believes that ‘to spare the rod is to spoil the child,’ and they noted that they hit three of their nine children, one twice, until they cried during a two-hour interview between the two families with the county social worker! They don’t believe in secular education and home school their children. They are taught that Lutherans and all others outside their faith are doomed to eternal punishment after death. Their children are never allowed to watch secular television or movies or even radio or books. Pictures are banned entirely. So is most medical care.
“They already are threatening Georgie with punishment for what they say are sins, if he obeys his parents.
“Grandpa Ray, I feel sorry for their children, but recognize that the Chernovsys are raising them out of what they believe is Christian love.”
Gloria added, “Grandpa, these are very fine and dedicated people, but Georgie would be destroyed if he were turned over to them. We can’t let that happen! Karl and Jan have hired a lawyer, but he says that since they are clearly not the biological parents, it is going to be difficult. He wants them to hire an investigator to find out exactly what happened in that nursery. Karl and Jan think you’re the only one who can really help.
“Ray, we’ll all help in any way we can, but we wouldn’t have any idea where to even start. I may be able to answer some medical questions.”
“Yes, of course. But you understand that I am 81 years old, with another birthday coming soon. I don’t even have an investigators license anymore. I’ll look into it, but we may still have to hire a professional investigator.”
“We would like to fly up to Minnesota with you tomorrow, if that’s okay. Ray and I have each arranged for a week of family leave. We want to at least offer our moral support and prayers to Jan and Karl, and to Georgie and his little sister. We don’t want Georgie to feel that he’s any less a member of our family. Ray-Ray will come with us to visit with Rosa who’s his age.”
Young Ray and Gloria and her family all pitched in to get everybody packed and ready, and at the gate in Minneapolis the scene as Ray-Ray and Rosa ran to embrace each other was post-card perfect. The feast Jan and Karl had laid out was attended by all these and a crowd of family, friends and neighbors, including their minister and several of Georgie’s teachers. It was only the next day that Ray began to meet with the lawyers, the current staff of the hospital and those who had been there the day of Georgie’s birth whom Ray was able to track down.
Ray used his old contacts to get all the tests repeated independently and the results were depressingly uniform. At the lawyer’s suggestion, they asked the Chernovsky’s lawyers for permission to test the dead baby since the Chernovskys were convinced now that he was not their child. The lawyer shrugged and said he didn’t see any reason not to but had to get his clients’ agreement.
They did not agree, expressed total disgust and outrage at the thought to doing that to any child. Ray saw that it was not going to happen and turned to other investigations.
Ray talked to the doctor, then a resident and now practicing in his home town of Minot, ND. He remembered Georgie’s birth because Jan had arrived expecting several hours of labor, as her obstetrician had explained to her was common in a first birth. Jan, who hates hospitals, had actually waited several hours until Karl came home from work, however, and when the nurse began to examine her, it was clear that the baby was about to be born. The resident was quickly called to assist as she was wheeled into the birthing room, and Karl, who’d been delayed by a requirement to fill out forms and put on sterile clothing, had come running just in time to see the resident lifting Georgie and clearing his mouth and nose so that he could begin to breath. Jan’s ob-gyn had come running right behind Karl. They watched Georgie’s color go from purplish to a healthy pink in a few seconds as he was examined, pronounced healthy, bathed and handed to Jan, who looked very tired, but held him too gently as first time parents often do.
“Did you see the name bracelet put on his wrist and sealed?”
“I’m sure I must have. It was a time when there had been some highly publicized cases of hospitals mixing up babies and of newborns being kidnapped, and we were being exceptionally careful. The hospital had just installed a security system that had some kind of radio system that read the ID card of anyone entering the nursery and a chip in the baby’s wrist band and if the adult didn’t have the right to remove that baby, an alarm sounded. I think that information was recorded. It’s probably still there.”
“Did anything else unusual happen that night?”
“Yes. You know, I didn’t actually see that baby’s wrist band fastened. I was called to an emergency. There was a birth in another room. The baby was in trouble and the attending physician called for help for the mother who was unconscious and bleeding. I assisted until they had the baby stabilized. Then had to leave to assist with a pregnant woman who was bleeding. That turned out to be minor, however.”
“Do you recall the name of the woman whom you were called to assist after birth?”
“No. I was just there for a few minutes. I couldn’t tell you her name anyway without a court order, as you must know.”
Well, that was a mixed bag for Ray, but he decided that the first thing to do was to examine that record of who had been in the nursery that night. He returned to Minneapolis and made an appointment with the hospital’s Director of Security. It turned out that that had to be okayed by the parent corporation’s legal staff and a representative of that department was present.
It was much ado about nothing. At the time of Georgie’s birth, such records were stored only two weeks to see if any question were raised. Then records were transferred to paper, but only if an alarm or other incident or trouble had occurred. Ray passed on to Karl and Jan’s lawyer that the hospital records did not show anything unusual, but realized that this was of little value.
In the course of trying to interview everyone connected, Ray did find a nurse who had attended the woman whose baby was in trouble. She indicated that she could not reveal who that was without a court order, but did recall sadly that the doctors had been certain that the little boy would be fine after an initial scare, but that that night they had discovered a potentially fatal birth defect. They wanted to operate, but the parents refused and brought in many members of their church to pray. The nurse was outraged because the surgery had over 80% success rate. She raged at parents who would do such a thing. The hospital administrator had been notified and the doctors had gone to court to get permission to operate, but the baby had died the following day.
Ray had enough from that to be sure that Georgie was not the Chernovsky’s child, that the dead child was indeed theirs, but then who were Georgie’s biological parents? And where was Karl and Jan’s biological son?
Ray was at his wit’s end when he found the name of the hospital chaplain who had been on duty that night. The hospital had been founded by a church and had had a beautiful chapel at that time. The chaplain had retired, but cheerfully invited Ray into his home. His wife dutifully served them sandwiches and fruit juice. She noted that they were a couple of old coots who would probably never really retire. The chaplain went over to a glass-doored built in book case, where Ray was pleased to see a gold inscribed leather bound diary and schedule for each year of his pastorate. He pulled out the correct book and looked up the date.
“I’m sorry, friend, but it seems that I had come down with a flu that day which I was too stingy to be willing to share. My friend, Rabbi Yourk, filled in for me. I reciprocated later, as I now recall, by leading his adult seminar in a discussion of Luther’s early advocacy of tolerance and his bitter intolerance of Jews in his old age. I have his phone number here. He is our age and has some holes in his memory, but you are welcome to use our phone to call him.”
Ray called, was introduced by the chaplain, and was invited to the rabbi’s home. It was in a newer western suburb and Ray had a bit of a time finding it, but it turned out to be worthwhile.
The rabbi recalled that he had thought God might have been the source of his friend’s flu, because he was asked to perform a circumcision the following week by an Israeli couple who had their first child in the hospital that night and who had no family here. They were speech therapists who had come to study here for six months and had been so busy that they had met almost no one outside their seminar. They were delighted to find a rabbi at the hospital.
The rabbi went on to recall that he had been surprised to find that they were naming the child Yitzhak George Baghdadi. Rabbi Yourk explained that this name was clearly Hebrew, the language of Israel, but that ‘George’ was a name of Greek origin, which could not even be spelled in Hebrew or pronounced correctly by most Jewish Israelis. The Baghdadis had explained that their favorite professor in their graduate seminar here had been named George, and that he had died in a scuba diving accident a few weeks past. In Jewish tradition a child is not named after a living person, but this was appropriate and touching. The baby was named Yitzhak after Avi’s grandfather. He recalled that the clerk who made up the wrist bands for the babies had no idea how to spell these names and had consulted the rabbi; she’d said that all she was sure of was ‘George’ and that she had made a temporary wrist band with that name only. It was sent up with another band for another baby, and changed later.
“Out of curiosity, do you recall what these people looked like? I imagine with a name like Baghdadi they were probably olive skinned with dark hair?”
“Oh, no. They were both from German Jewish families. Their grandparents had escaped the holocaust as children because they were blond and could be hidden among Christian German families. Avi’s grandfather had been brought to a kibbutz as a toddler. His family was never found and he was raised by an Iraqi Jewish family in the Kibbutz whose name was Baghdadi. Actually, as I recall they were both very fair skinned with blond hair and very blue eyes.”
For the first time Ray dared have some hope, though he also feared where this might lead.
“Do you have any idea where these people might be?”
“Well, they lived in Haifa. Her name was Orit. They said that they liked to walk to the Baha’I world center, which is an area of elaborate gardens. Still, I think it’s a city about the size of St. Paul. You know, they mentioned that they were opening their own speech therapy clinic.
“There probably wouldn’t be many people named Baghdadi who run such clinics. I suppose you could check with the Israeli Consulate in Chicago”
Ray thanked Rabbi Yourk and his wife and with both
hope and fear went to tell his family that he might have a lead. Ray had his passport, but none of the family present had a current passport and Ray wanted to fly immediately. He managed to get a first class ticket at great expense on Israel’s El Al airlines for the following day. He got current pictures of the family including making a DVD of them all together on Georgie’s IMac. With little baggage but lots of documents and an IBook to ensure that he could show the moving pictures captured on the DVD.
The combination of almost no baggage and a plastic
cased computer attracted the attention of the security people who invited him to turn on the computer and explain the purpose of his visit, then politely passed him by. He was a bit disturbed to see the somewhat harsher inspections given apparently Arab passengers. He talked with one and found him to be a businessman from the town of Hurfeish in the Galilee, who was hoping to expand his small export market in North America. He was not unaware of the difference in his treatment, but careful not to express it too forcefully to someone he didn’t know.
After a fifteen-hour flight, Ray was met by Joe
Wissotzky, whom he’d known as a New York cop. Joe’d retired to Jerusalem, and offered to serve as Ray’s guide. He brought a national phone book in an English edition, and Ray quickly found a listing for Avi and Orit Baghdadi with the notation, ‘Speech Therapy.’
Joe dialed the number on his cell phone and asked, “Avi Baghdadi? Ken? Ham’daber atah englit?” He handed the phone to Ray, “Here! It is Avi Baghdadi. He says he studied in America, and he speaks English with a thick accent, but I think you’ll understand each other.”
“Avi, my name is Ray Hesse. I am here visiting from Minnesota. Rabbi Yourk gave me your name. It seems that my great-grandson and your first born were born in the same hospital the same day and Rabbi Yourk happened to be filling in as chaplain that day for a sick friend. Would you mind if I stopped by to introduce myself?”
“With an introduction like that, why don’t I buy you lunch. How far away are you?”
“Just leaving the Ben Gurion Airport. My friend says we’ll drive up the coastal plain, and could be in Haifa a little before noon. Could I buy, since I’ve got a friend with me?”
“Sure. Your friend is Israeli? You’ve caught me in my Tel Aviv office. Ask him if he knows the Asian restaurant on the corner of Ben Yehuda and Rehov Frishman. It’s near my office.”
“Joe says there’s more than one.”
“Meet me on the corner at 11:30. We’ll decide which one looks good.”
“I’m 81, with short brown hair and a brown business suit.”
“It’s okay. I’ll find you.”
Joe took Ray to a Steinmetzky book store to get some phrase books and tapes and after great struggle, had him saying such crucial phrases as “Ani maveen rock englit.” (I understand only English.) As 11:30 approached they found a parking place not too far away and waited on the prescribed corner. They waited and waited, and finally as they were about to give up, Ray saw a slim young man with blond hair approaching wearing a white jacket. He smiled and walked up to him saying, “Avi Baghdadi, ani Ray Hesse mi St. Paul, v’zeh yedidi Joe Wissotzky mi New York.”
“Ah, lo omarta sheh atah maveen ivrit.” (Ah, you didn’t say that you understand Hebrew.) The mystified look on Ray’s face showed that he didn’t. They chose a Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant about half a block down because it was nearly empty and looked like a quiet place for a conversation.
After some brief introductions and after Avi placed an order with the waiter – the language choice was Hebrew or Mandarin, so Ray had no idea what he would be eating, – Ray asked, “May I show you some pictures of my family and my great grandson whom I mentioned?”
When Ray whipped out the IBook, Avi looked amused, “I expect that more from one of my generation, not from a couple of alte kakers.” Then he began to watch the pictures with increasing interest. At first with a great smile, “It is funny, your great grandson not only has the same name as one of our son’s names, but even looks more like Orit and I than our own son does!” Ray smiled.
Avi had pulled a picture out of his wallet. He and a lovely young woman, presumably Orit, were sitting behind two boys and two girls, their hands on the children’s shoulders. It was hard to deny that Georgie resembled the three younger children and the parents more than the oldest boy did; and Ray saw that the oldest boy looked even more like Karl and Jan than Georgie.
Avi saw the look of sadness, of concern, fall over the old man’s face and his own countenance faded, “This isn’t just a tourist junket, is it?”
“No, I’m afraid not. My grandson and his wife had Georgie in for a physical about ten days ago. They did the new standard genetic work up procedures. They proved that Georgie was not their genetic child. It appears that your son, Yitzhak, and our Georgie got switched in the confusion that Rabbi Yourk described in the hospital that night. For the children’s medical safety we need to confirm this with a genetic test, but beyond that . . . .”
Avi’s voice came from way down in his chest, “You can not take my son! He is an Israeli citizen. Israel does not extradite citizens.”
“I have no intention of doing that. But what do we do? You realize that we don’t even know which child is legally an Israeli citizen and which a US citizen. Or are they both?”
Avi pulled out his cell phone. “Hana, . . No, please speak English for a moment. Please get Orit to join us at the Chinese restaurant on Rehov Frishman we like to lunch at. Yeah, the one with the crazy sign that says the one next door has a Kashrut certification only from the Tel Aviv Kashrut council while theirs is from Jerusalem.
Hana, please come with. I’ll buy lunch. There is something important we have to discuss.” Avi explained that his wife thought more clearly than he in a crisis, and that his sister, Hana, was also coming. Hana was a medical doctor.
Orit began to cry. “I knew, but I thought you would blame me. The tests when he began school showed that he could not be our child, but I told the doctor not to even put it in his records because he was adopted in America, that it was a family secret. I didn’t know what to do. Avi, I loved him too much to see someone take him away, and I was afraid that you’d think that I had done something terrible!”
“It’s complicated, honey. You didn’t do anything wrong. But I can’t abandon our son and I feel suddenly now a tie to this other boy.”
Ray interjected, “Our family has the same response. Is it possible for each boy to grow up in the household he is in, but that we will send the boys to spend part of each summer together in the home of the other family?”
Orit replied slowly, thoughtfully, “Avi, let’s think about that. That sounds like it may be the best we can do. We can not give up our flesh and blood nor can they. It will mean our families will have to become, in a sense, united through these boys. Can we trust them?”
Hana put in, “Let me confirm the relationship. I have the genetic data on you two and on the kids in my files; I can arrange to exchange with the Americans’ physician by email. It can all be confirmed in an hour or so. Is that all right with you?” Hana asked, addressing Ray.
“Yes, I have the email address and an authorization code. Here.”
Hana went to complete the genetic match while the others watched Ray’s DVD over and over.
They went over and over whom to tell of what had occurred and concluded that they must first meet with the children together and go over it with them. It must be made clear to both that they are the children of their families, and that through them we are united as one family. They must know that the parents who have raised them, the community, the village they are part of will always remain theirs. Then the entire families must be told. For the families there is no choice: they have been united. It may have been by God, by Fate, by chance, in error, whatever, but we are now family.
It was decided that they must together do all they can to ensure Yitzhak’s place as a Jew in Israel, of Georgie’s role as an American and in his Lutheran Church. We could exchange the boys and tear them both apart or we can unite around them. They must also defend the rights of each child to dual citizenship during their childhoods.
Once the confirmation was made, the Chernovskys, satisfied that they were not abandoning a child of theirs to a sinful fate, withdrew their suit. They, too, became part of a circle of friends, as their loss was also recognized.
It was also decided not to seek any compensation for the problems caused by the mix-up. The hospital corporation did agree to pay Ray’s expenses, and the costs of bringing the families together once a year until the boys reach adulthood, their attorneys and administrators greatly relieved that their costs would be thus limited.
Ray was amazed later that afternoon to meet Yitzhak. He could not imagine that he had not seen earlier that Georgie was not the biological child of his Karl and Jan. He loved the boy at first sight and was delighted when the Baghdadis decided that they and their family would accompany Ray back to Minnesota.
The reunion was truly a family reunion, joyous and boundless. Ray wished that Dilly had lived to see this: all their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren together.
At a backyard barbecue put on by Karl and Jan for the families and neighbors, there was raised a joyful noise!
As people began to filter away and it quieted down, Ray, Avi and Orit sat tired at a picnic table, stuffed and happy but almost falling asleep. Orit asked Avi, “could it have turned out this way if it were a Palestinian family with whom our child was exchanged?”
Ray looked very uncomfortable. “Maybe it’s more than that. You know that we are German Americans.”
“Does it matter?”
“My Grossvater was an admirer and supporter of Hitler, and he is still the most important figure in my childhood, though I fought in the American army in WWII.”
“Well, yes, but I guess it’s an exaggeration to say I fought in the army then. I was in Hawaii when the war ended and didn’t get to Europe until ’46, and then I was just a translator. I was in time only to collect medals, souvenirs and war stories.”
Orit mused, “Well, I’m glad you told us, but also that you told us after we got to know each other, to be friends, family.”
Avi asked, “I suppose it would be the same if it were a Palestinian family, wouldn’t it, dear?”
“I guess the difference is that we have so much we covet from each other, and that we have each done the other so much harm.”
“It is harder to forgive someone whom one has also grievously harmed, and we have each grievously harmed each other. It will be harder for all of us, but perhaps it will end up like this.”
“If you’ll pardon an old man’s viewpoint,” Ray mused, “as long as there are people it will not end. The union of our families, the struggle to deal with the fact that we are now one family but with very different cultures and loyalties will go on forever, through our generations. Our success will depend on our love for each other and a commitment to carrying out the hard work of keeping us ALL together.”
Ray stood up and clicked his spoon against his glass. Though visibly a bit stooped, he beamed, “You may not have been aware that you are all attending my 82nd birthday party. . . .” There was a round of laughter and enthusiastic applause. “I think that this is an appropriate time to announce my final and permanent retirement from the business of investigations. Nothing in the future could ever match this!”
Ray Story #8
Ray called upon by ‘Norm’ (See #3) to trace rogue efforts to embroil ME
“Ray, this is Norm Kline. I‘m passing through town and would like an opportunity to buy you breakfast or lunch tomorrow.”
“Is this a social call, Norm? You know I’m definitely fully retired.”
“Well. I’ve taken early retirement, myself. Could I pick you up around eleven?”
“You know where I am?”
“I may have retired to private industry, but my access code to the watch lists still works. I’ve found you on several. The funniest is an Islamic terrorist list. When did you convert, Ray? And whom have you so offended?”
“Yeah. Just stop in front and I’ll come out. What ya drivin’?”
“A metallic red RX-8. Can’t miss it.”
“The perks in industry are lot better than what Department can offer.”
“See, Ray, industry is smarter than government. You had no trouble spotting me, and this car doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb like a Crown Vic with ‘police interceptor’ or whatever on the trunk lid.”
“Actually, Norm, someone wanted to make sure we know our conversation last night was intercepted. Six identical metallic red RX-8s with attractive blond young women have stopped right in front here in the past quarter hour.”
“Well, then, they know it’s not a social lunch, but hopefully they’ll buy the line that I’ve retired. I’ve never known the department to spring for one of these before! Maybe as a gift to a visiting ‘asset’.”
“What do you want to bet some purchasing agent went to the head of Mazda USA and said ‘Give me a great price and we’ll use your sport sedan for a super secret mission that’s bound to be made into an Oscar-winning movie? Do you think it took ten minutes for that to get to every Mazda salesman in the country? Now that we know we’re working with clowns who’ve angered some very dangerous people, please tell me what you’ve gotten me involved in.”
‘Look, we’re trying to prevent a massive problem coming out of your side, not mine!”
“The Agency, not the Department.”
“I guess in my day we were naïve enough to think we were on the same side!”
“Now you’re not being frank, Ray.”
“This isn’t getting us anywhere. What is this about?”
“You know, I’m sure that there’s debate going on within the administration over Middle East Policy.”
“There has been at least since Jefferson was President.”
“Well, the Secretary and the Director have always had their differences, but they basically have agreed that we have humiliated our country enough by ill-thought out attempts to instantly change countries in the Middle East and South Asia according to one or another US ideology. The Department area specialists and the Agency’s analytical staff agree, but the Secretary and his colleagues and the Director are concerned that there is a core group in the action sections that may cause serious damage to the nation. We’re not properly speaking of rogues. As you know instructions to such operatives are given in somewhat vague terms to preserve deniability. We suspect that an amorphous collection of operatives, probably including some old associates of yours, have chosen to interpret those instructions in a particularly extreme and dangerous way, which could embroil the administration and the nation in unforeseeable, possibly nuclear, disaster. We don’t know if they are organized or are even in communication with each other, but they seem to be moving in the same direction. It may only be that they share basically a common ideology.”
“Norm, I haven’t been involved in this for decades. You’re going to have to be much more specific if you want me to understand what you’re talking about.”
“Well, actually you were involved, Ray. You remember that you invited the Deputy Director to your island a couple of years back? And that five senior agents, mostly bureau chiefs, fled in their plane?”
“Yeah, and when their plane crashed in the lake and they were all killed, rumors spread among the younger agents that I had some responsibility for their deaths. I get a lot of cold shoulders.”
“Ray, you must have at least suspected that their plane didn’t crash into the lake. They have friends. They are heroes to some of the younger agents who want to see instant results and to do dramatic things. We’ve never been able to catch them. But we think that if there is a central organization to this thing, they are at least close to it.”
“Norm, they were a bungling bunch of greedy thieves. They used their positions to become wealthy and live like millionaires.”
“Ray, you may not realize how much scams like the one they used your grandson as a front for brought in. They skimmed over a quarter billion from just one ‘Teacher’s Private Retirement Fund’ scheme; it made use of the political agitprop about how Social Security is a pyramid scheme that is about to go broke while investment in the stock market is a sure thing to rope them into a real scam. They did invest in the bubble market, then just as it was collapsing, they sold everything and closed the whole operation overnight, leaving a couple of front men to go to jail, and not a penny for the retirees! Over the years, they scored BILLIONS! They lived like princes, spread enough around to ensure a loyal crowd of idolizers, but they also put billions of dollars into something we have had only a little success in tracing. We know that they have funded both Israeli and Palestinian terrorist groups, various militias in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; they’ve also been traced to contacts with groups in Indonesia, China, Russia and the former Soviet states, and even the European Union. They may have gotten stupid in involving your grandson, but these guys knew how to pull a scam and hide their involvement!”
“You want me to do something. I’m eighty-three, in mourning. I don’t know if I can help you or even want to, but tell me what you want. These guys sound dangerous. I’m not carrying and won’t. I’d be a danger to everyone at this point.”
“ I buried my wife, Dilly two years ago. I see your research reports are as complete as always.”
“I’m sorry. Ray. I really didn’t know. The President, the Secretary and the Director jointly assigned us. Ray, the job is vital to the survival of the Republic and I know that like before, I’m just the Secretary’s pipeline to offer whatever aid he can. Otherwise, I’d break this off right now. Please forgive me, but I will fill you in and ask you to take this on.”
“It was thought we were closing in on these guys. We were monitoring an account with some $20 million, which we had learned was to be used to purchase fully machined U238 and components to make a small weapon we call Q-32. The sellers were deep under cover U.S., Russian and North Korean agents. They had spent years preparing this project. They were using an account to receive the money which we had allowed to be used to fund terrorist attacks on friendly states, as well as on ourselves, Ray. This was very serious and critically important. Well, we found the materials gone, the money gone, and all the agents strapped to gurneys and executed with the same sedatives used in several US state death chambers! The agency connections of each was on a slip attached, even the Koreans! You can see that everybody is suspect, so the decision to go with an unsullied outsider, yourself, was a necessity.”
“I didn’t suspect myself. In the Agency, as you have noted, there are those I have reason to trust my life with and those I don’t. I don’t recall any reasons to trust you. How do I know there isn’t one of those hypodermics in your pocket?”
“You can search me, but the main thing is there is nothing to be gained by recruiting you into something only to dispose of you. The Secretary and the Director obviously selected me because they had thoroughly vetted me, not for any special skills.
“Ray, we have reason to believe that these guys wouldn’t have done this just to tweak our noses. The risk to them is too high. We think they intend to use the thing very soon. It could be for a shakedown, but then why the need for a working unit? What is more, several foreign born scientists who were alienated by clumsy attempts to implicate them in treasonous acts some years back, and who were fired from the programs, have disappeared. Three similarly discharged technicians, who had ended up working at the same Fat Burger, worked on assembling the first production Q-32s. We figured they might bear a grudge from the rough interrogation methods that were necessary, since they repeatedly failed to give us the information we knew they had . . .”
“But which we now know they didn’t have?”
“Well, yes. As I say, mistakes were made.
“We’ve been following them, interviewing anyone seen talking to them. Checking every job application, every web site and every library visited. We have no idea how they disappeared, but if your friends have them, they can definitely assemble at least one Q-32. They won’t need a plane or a rocket. They could carry parts into a facility, put it together in a basement hideaway and set it off, say, with a timer.
“What is worse, from intercepts, we have an inkling as to where they may be intending to place it.”
“Forewarned is forearmed. Why is that bad.”
“Ray, these guys are pretty pissed at the disrespect White Americans get from those they call the Christ-Killers, which includes just about everyone except those committed to their special brand of Christianity.”
“I remember some of them inviting me to their prayer meetings and all that, sometimes being embarrassingly aggressive, and making nasty comments when Carl was appointed Assistant Director, they were evangelical, not vindictive. Heck, they were all big admirers of Israel, and we worried about all the unauthorized junkets sponsored by the Saudis and Kuwaitis.”
“Well, they now think that we’re in the end of the days, and that the ark is about full. They think that anyone not committed to Christ, as they see that, is doomed anyway. They think that the final battle has to begin at Armageddon, which they think is a mountain in Israel.”
“Don’t you know? I don’t know any geography, but I know that it’s a mispronunciation of the name of Mount Megiddo in the north of Israel. I've been there. I thought you guys had to take exams on things like that to work in the Department.”
“Well, it probably wasn’t known yet when I took the test twenty five years ago, but don’t even hint to these guys that something in The Bible might not be exactly right. In the mode they’re in now, they might just kill you for that and think you owe them thanks for saving you from the fires of Hell! By the way, they feel the same way about economics: they interpret ‘By their fruits you will know them,” to mean that the boys with the toys are the ones chosen by Jesus.”
“Okay, I guess that means they rate Jesus and all the apostles as not among the chosen. Well, neither of us agrees with their theology. That’s every American’s right, certainly including theirs.”
“Unless they intend to use a nuclear device to advance their beliefs.”
“How can that be in any way related?”
“We are not sure, but we think that they have been behind a spate of recent terrorist attacks that at first appeared to be by Palestinians on Israelis and by Israeli Settlers on Palestinians. The problem is that our moles in those groups are mystified, have no idea who these people are. We think that this was an attempt to force God’s hand, so to speak, to start the war leading to the battle at Armageddon. The attempt failed, but we think that they have secretly assembled the device they’ve purchased somewhere in the Israeli’s Dimona nuclear complex. They may have assembled another one in a Moslem nation, but we’re not sure. We don’t know if the Israelis suspect the same thing, but cooperation there has recently become pretty cold.
“Ray, we’ve been reminded that the Israelis’ ‘ace’ has been that they supposedly have some two hundred such small devices placed in cities and military sites around the world. We’ve been trying to track down any locations in our world, but so far they’ve always been ahead of us. If people they know are our agents destroy Israel and leave everything within two hundred miles of Dimona too radioactive to support human life, they will still have the power to do the same to us, and their leadership is probably fanatic enough to do so!
”Why did you recently travel to Israel?”
“Don’t you know?“
“Well, you have to fill out a form for the Agency whenever you travel abroad, and you gave a cockamamie story about your great grandkid that was obviously a cover. The Agency accepted it, so if it’s still company private, I won’t ask again, but I was just wondering if it might have brought you in touch with anyone who might be able and willing to help us.”
Ray broke out laughing, “Norm, you’re so used to lying, you can’t recognize the truth. My Great Grandson, Georgie Hesse, who is a precious delight to us was actually the biological son of an Israeli couple, the Baghdadis. My trip was able to confirm that and achieve a legal agreement that the boys remain with the families they have grown up so far with, but visit at the home of their birth parents for a month each summer. It took legislative action by our Congress and Israel’s Knesset to recognize their dual citizenship. I have no other official connections in Israel. Unless having met an Israeli Arab MK who empathized with our dilemma and authored the bill, can help us, I have no contacts there. The Baghdadis are medical people and seem to be largely apolitical. Besides we have no idea where to start except for a suspicion of some will-o-the-wisp agents who may have died in a plane crash and otherwise may be anywhere in the known universe, but haven’t been found despite intense search by at least two US agencies, Russians, North Koreans, and who else?”
“And we have to do it before they do whatever they intend to do; and we can’t trust anyone. Ray, if they are intending to set off a nuclear explosion and succeed in doing so, we will both be blamed. Someone’s heads will have to roll, and we will be well positioned. Why did you call the Arab who helped you an MK?”
“Member of the Knesset. It’s like being a Member of Congress.
“Norm, I’m in no mood for lunch. Are you? Then why don’t you drop me off at home for a nap and stop by to talk around five.”
Ray never got his nap. He was able to visit some old friends who confirmed that he could still trust Carl, but cautioned against contacting him. They weren’t sure about any of the other principles including Norm. Ray was able to confirm that no oil slick or other evidence of a crash of the agents’ plane had been found, and that critical radar reports had disappeared before agents could examine them. A friend who had been in on the investigation recalled that radar operators had paid little attention to a private plane that was not even required to file a flight report, and that the only recollections he could collect was that it might have been a private plane that had flown just on the US side of the US Canadian border, then out over the Atlantic. There had been a record of a Cirrus taking on an unusual fuel load at Keflavik, Iceland, before flying on, but it was a different color and had different registration numbers. Anyway, no one knew where it went.
Unfortunately the story of the nuclear sting gone wrong also checked out. The agents were dead. The U238 and the mechanical parts had disappeared despite what had appeared to be airtight controls.
Ray thought, this may be ‘an amorphous grouping’, but to carry out these highly planned actions there had to be at least one base somewhere. Since looking everywhere it might be hidden had produced no results, it must not be hidden but rather unexpected. Since these people were apparently always a step ahead of the agents pursuing them, their base was probably within the pursuing agencies. This last catastrophe had been an ultra hush-hush deep mole operation known only to the Director, his Russian and North Korean counterparts, and half-a-dozen very highly placed people on a need to know basis, including the President, but no one between the President and the Director.
There were many agents whose standard of living was not explained by their known sources of income. Ray received lists of agents whom his friends suspected based on excessive spending on luxuries combined with ideological and personal relationships with the missing agents. A discretely supplied note from Carl listed agents and others whom an internal investigation found ‘of interest’ and continued to warn that while the Secretary and the Director were in a panic to stop anyone from carrying out a plan to deliberately trigger an Armageddon, their position was a little ambiguous. They had personal and family ties as well as some ideological sympathies with the aims of the group, and, while they would supply all necessary assistance to the various efforts they had set up to stop the Armageddon plan, they would also do everything possible to protect their friends, protégés and clients; they also were not necessarily opposed to terrorism used on a smaller scale where they felt it aided administration goals.
Ray had been well aware of the ‘dirty tricks’ side of the Agency since his own days there, and had once gloried in its few successes as examples of Yankee ingenuity. It had really only been in the years of his retirement that he had really come to know people from a wider range of social milieus and had come to realize the horror of dehumanizing any group to the point where terrorizing them became acceptable if it were in some way useful, or even cathartic.
Ray understood the gravity of the situation and now understood why he was called upon, but felt at a loss. When Norm returned, he brought a key to a secure room where Ray could go to study the work of those who’d been working on the investigation. Ray spent the night and much of the next day there, taking only occasional naps.
After going over what he could, Ray told Norm that he was scheduled to fly with his son and daughter-in-law, Karl and Jan, and his great grandchildren to Israel to take Georgie for his annual visit. He said it would look suspicious if, having already purchased tickets, he didn’t go. He knew Norm would take that as an excuse, which was fine. As it happened, his having gone to DC to the secure room, caused them to take too long to find each other at JFK, and to miss their El Al flight. That turned out to be fortunate because that plane was hijacked to Syria. Ray was very curious at the coincidence that it was the flight which had listed him and his family as passengers that was the first El Al plane hijacked in decades – and that it was done by a very professional Arabic speaking squad armed with assault rifles. One possible error could be that Arabic-speaking Israelis, including an air marshal were mystified by the unfamiliar accent of the hijackers. The hijackers had undergone thorough Israeli security checks prior to boarding and the appearance of assault rifles was unexplained. Even more difficult to understand was that the hijackers, who had held passengers and crew at gunpoint until everyone was belted in for landing at Damascus, were nowhere to be found during a thorough search of the craft upon landing by Israeli, Syrian, US and Interpol personnel. The Israeli crew and security people on board were certain they hadn’t left the plane, but no sign of them or their weapons was to be found; only a note in a coffee cup that turned out to be a thank you for the ride in Basque.
Their tickets were all paid for by the president's VISA card. There were no Basque passengers and known Basque national organizations all denied any knowledge of the affairs. Anyway, why would they speak Arabic when speaking Euskara would give them greater likelihood of privacy?
Meanwhile the Hesses had caught another flight and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport unaware of the excitement. After the ecstatic greetings between Hesse and Baghdadi family members, Ray looked around and noted that security seemed to be raised even beyond the level he’d found intrusive on previous visits. Avi explained about the hijacking of the El Al flight to Damascus. Ray sat down, in a state of shock, as he listened to the full report. All known pro-Palestinian groups had denied connection to the affair, though a few small groups applauded it. Ray realized that in a century of Jewish-Arab strife in what is now Israel and Palestine, there was no action such as this by a Palestinian group. It was not only that they generally proclaimed their involvement, stating their grievances and demands, that they generally made demands before abandoning a hijacked plane or ship, but that the appearance and disappearance of very professional soldiers with assault rifles who disappeared totally within minutes struck Ray as having required preparation by the manufacturer of the brand new Boeing jet.
Almost immediately the embassy intelligence chief appeared with the secret head of Israel’s external security service. At the request of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel, Ray was invited into a special secure room. The Hesse and Baghdadi families were impressed. What impressed Ray was the clever lifting of any remaining veil of discretion he had left.
Ray was shown video and audio from the hijacked plane as well as data from its ‘black boxes’ proving that no external ports had opened during the landing process. One unique shipping container, however, which could be seen being unloaded, disappeared with no record despite intense surveillance by US, Israeli, Syrian and Interpol security agents. The Syrian cooperation was at a level that showed their near-hysterical fear of massive retaliation. However, the video showed four more US agents than there should have been, none of their faces shown. Ray thought he recognized one of them, seen walking away from the camera. He might be Rob Bullock, one of the agents who had recruited his grandson, Karl, into their scam. He appeared to be the right size and while his formerly blond hair was now black, he had the same way of occasionally shifting his hips energetically as if his underwear were rubbing him. Ray wondered if the US & Israeli officers had recognized him, also, but they were watching him for reactions and Ray kept his face as frozen as theirs. He wondered if they had a camera measuring his irises for reactions, and, he wondered, if his gave him away. Not knowing where each of them fit in this equation, he’d prefer that neither of them be aware.
The Syrians suspected the missing agents and container might be inside a truck that crossed into Jordan and was believed to have crossed to Saudi Arabia, but that was unconfirmed. Traffic in and out of the airport was so dense that it would take days to analyze the aerial and satellite data. By that time any help it could be would be gone.
The Baghdadis had prepared a feast for both extended families. They lived in a very nice middle class neighborhood on Mount Carmel in Israel’s northern port city of Haifa. While the feast was being prepared, Ari and Yitzhak George took Ray, Karl, Jan and Georgie on a walk down the mountain to the magnificent gardens of the Bahai’i World Center. Ari told how as a child he had wandered through these gardens and come across a young Bahai’i woman from Iran who asked if he had any questions. He told her he knew the center was there to convert the Jews. She laughed and explained that they were forbidden by their founder to seek converts in the Holy Land, but that he had told them to build beautiful things to share with all the children of the earth, and that this was one such place. It did also hold their world center because under the Turks their founder had been imprisoned in Acre across the bay. Ray was uplifted by the beauty of the place and wished Dilly could have been with him. It strengthened his resolve to prevent his former trainees or anyone else to destroy this place and its people using his own faith as an excuse!
When Ari received a call on his cell phone to return to begin the festivities, Ray was relieved that Ari lead them to a bus stop to take them back up hill. “Ray, this is in part an act of faith, but while bus bombings are an abomination, they are also rare here in Haifa. It should be safe.”
` The Baghdadis had apparently invited not only their large extended families, but also their entire neighborhoods. The neighborhood the Baghdadis lived in was among the few places where Arab professional and businesspeople lived among Jewish Israelis. While this had a historical basis going back a century, it also was a political statement. Yitzhak Georgie and his brothers and sisters attended one of only half-a-dozen schools in all of Israel where each class had a Jewish and an Arab teacher, and students, equal numbers of Jews and Arabs, studied in both languages. There were no such schools as yet in Palestine where powerful Israeli settlers and some Palestinian groups were ideologically opposed to such efforts at reconciliation.
The food and festivities were glorious enough to cause Ray to forget the world for a few hours, breaking bread and clicking glasses with so many people, surprised at how many spoke English and ashamed at his Hebrew vocabulary of a few hundred words learned in preparation for these trips, and his few dozen words of Arabic. He learned of the depth of the bond people felt resulting from this accidental family connection, of the myth of his accomplishments, which the boys had spread widely, of the events of daily life he learned from family and neighbors. Ray was struck once again at how much more Israelis knew of America than Americans know of Israel or other nations. Indeed, in some ways it seemed that at least this crowd knew more of American history and current events than he would expect at a comparable gathering at home.
As Ray was refilling his glass with orange juice, he was approached by an attractive young woman he hadn’t met before. Without any introduction she showed him her credentials and motioned sky ward with her head and eyes. “I want you to watch very carefully at about nine o’clock up north there, over the coast. Then I have a message for you to take back to those who sent you.” She spoke with a strong accent and anger that surprised Ray, but he followed her gaze as best he could. Looking back at her for a moment, he saw her following the second hand on her watch as it approached twelve. Suddenly, in the distance, he guessed a mile or so out to sea, he saw the trails of two rockets rise. At the same moment he became aware of a flock of rockets arising well north of them from Israel. He could see the trails of decoys and in less than a minute the Israeli rockets had downed the rockets that came from the sea. Ray, who had no idea what to make of this, looked back at the woman, now drawing heavily on a cigarette.
“Tell your Agency that if we have a complaint against Syria we will take our own action. You have broken a very fundamental trust in borrowing our rockets for a supposed training exercise, then firing two of them at Damascus from a position close to that of one of our patrol ships. You may tell them, also, that they should be prepared tomorrow to receive at Bitberg, the nuclear device that they had planted at Dimona. Your president's father and advisers should be able to explain to him the significance! Certain parts will be missing in the interests of preventing nuclear proliferation to terrorist states. Leaving parts of an Iraqi missile with Syrian markings for our people to find presumably in investigating what would have been a catastrophic destruction not only of the facility, but of the very Land of Israel and our neighbors, was not very clever. You control Iraq, and the Syrian markings only show that you are unaware of the way their military accounting system works. I trust that you will take your leave of your family immediately, and these documents will get you on an El Al flight to New York and a connection to Washington, D.C. Do you understand all that I say?” Ray nodded. “The black limo out front will make sure you are on the plane. It will wait only thirteen minutes for you. The 'friend' who met you at Ben Gurion upon your arrival has been informed of your travel arrangements, so presumably someone will be there to meet you.”
The Israeli agent then disappeared in a column of dust into the crowd. As Ray explained to Karl and Jan, and to Ari and Orit, that he had to return home immediately on urgent official business, one of their friends from the Kibbutz where Ari’s father grew up came over. He had spent his own youth as a slave laborer, cleaning small parts in a steel factory near Auschwitz that had belonged to prominent American families, a reward for their assistance in funding the Nazis' rise to power. He nodded in the direction of the departed Shabak agent, and, with a strong fake German accent proclaimed, “I like my vimen, vimen und my horses, horses!” There was a titter of uncomfortable laughter, the last Ray was to hear for a while.
As expected the embassy intelligence contingent was at Ben Gurion in force to meet Ray. He described what he had seen, and repeated word for word what he had been told. He mentioned the name on the Shabak agent’s credentials. The embassy station chief only whistled and proclaimed, “I’m glad it was you, not me!”
Leaving them, Ray called his friend Joe Wissotsky in Tel Aviv and asked him to call Carl and make sure that there would be people he could trust at the El Al gate in New York. Carl and several trusted agents accompanied him to DC. They had derailed the immediate threat, but still had no idea what to expect next. The president smiled, and proclaimed: "Once again our critics have been proven wrong, as we have defeated the Islamo-Fascists!" Everyone else in the room looked shocked.
As they walked out, Ray asked Carl, "Hasn't he even been briefed? He had no idea!"
"Ray, the heads of all the agencies spent two hours preparing him and his nine top advisers, his privy council so to speak, on the crisis we are in the midst of. The emphasis was on the precariousness of our position and the defeat we have just suffered in our relations with people we desperately need to trust us. He kept playing with his watch, looking out at the rose garden. He's been much more than briefed. Ray, it's not that he has no idea; it's that he and his close buddies have no interest!"
Ray again retired, finally and permanently, but with many questions left unanswered, and great concern for the world he would be leaving his children to fix. He feared their lives and his might end together all too unnaturally and far too soon. He felt despondent, helpless and enraged.
Ray Story # 9
Ray had just then decided that it was time to give up his driver’s license. He was driving to the Grossvater’s Cabin to spend the summer with the ‘kids,’ grandkids and great-grandkids. He had decided to take his granddaughter-in-law, Gloria and her two older children: Dilly who was eleven and Ray, Jr. who was nine, on a drive from Los Angeles across half the Continental United States. Ray’s grandson, Ray, was taking 5-year-old Caesar with him by plane as he was deemed far too fidgety for such a long car trip. Ray wanted his great grandchildren to have a better picture of their country when they returned to school in the Fall.
They stopped frequently. Ray had careened across the country in a hurry so many times, that there were many places he had wanted to stop and see and never had. Now, he promised, he would see them all and share that with Dilly and Ray, Jr.
Gloria actually did more of the driving than Ray did, but when he did drive, it was tiring, and it scared Ray when he realized that there were too many times that he didn’t see things as soon as he should. He recalled that his license would expire in January. He’d be 90. He decided that this time he simply wouldn’t renew it. If he gave up the expense of the car and its insurance, he could afford to call a cab or fly; anyway he could see more of the country from a Greyhound than he could staring straight down the road. When bought the car over a decade before, the dealer had told him that this was the last new Oldsmobile he’d ever buy – they had gone out of production. Can you believe that? Ray’s Grossvater had always driven an Olds! Well, maybe it was just time.
He was musing on that and his determination to be extra careful on the road as they approached a small Minnesota town, when, to his horror, he noticed something lying in the middle of the road. The road had been long and boring since climbing out of The ‘Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.’ In the twilight he noticed something odd about the road ahead and for a moment he had thought there was a lump of sod or something in the middle of the road. Then, as he got closer, Ray realized it was a body.
Ray yelled for everyone to brace themselves as he hit the brake peddle with all his might and swerved. Despite the ABS, the car swung around a bit and came to a halt right beside the still body. Ray put on his emergency flashers, jumped out and felt for a pulse. There was a reasonably strong one. This appeared to be a rather effeminate young man with highly styled shiny black hair, in a business suit, probably about mid twenties, about Ray’s height, and bloodied all over.
Ray yelled to Gloria, “Call 911!”
“I already have. They’ve got the sheriff and the town Life Support Unit on the way. It’ll be a while. There’s only one deputy on duty and he’s twenty miles away. The ambulance has to be gassed up. Here’s the flares and triangle from the emergency kit!” She pulled the kids to the other side of the ditch and told them to stay there and watch for cars.
Ray ran down the road a little way, -- that took a while -- set up the triangle and worked at getting the flares going and set up. When he got back Gloria was kneeling by the victim, who was now moaning.
“Is that your name?” No answer.
“Are you from this town, Mr. Henderson?”
“Where am I?”
“What town is that ahead, Gloria?” Ray asked.
“I’m not sure. I thought I saw a sign a bit back with mileage to Jordan. Oh, God, Ray, he’s stopped breathing! Ray, I had gotten him to move his hands and feet a bit, I think we can turn him over so that I can do CPR. Oh, God help us! Have you done it? I’ve only done it recently on practice dummies. We don’t get much practice at it in dentistry.”
“I don’t have the strength any more, Gloria. You have to do it!”
“The airway is clear!“ She checked his pulse, breathed into his lungs and he began to breath again, but was still out of it when the ambulance came some minutes later.
The volunteer EMT had just begun to examine the victim when a sheriff’s cruiser pulled up behind. “Did you hit this guy?”
“No, officer,” replied Ray, showing him his identification as a retired federal agent. “He was lying here face down when we found him. Says his name’s Henderson, but doesn’t seem to know where he is.”
The EMT interrupted, “He spoke to you?”
“He spoke to me, said his name is Excelsior Henderson, mumbled a few things, moved his hands and feet for me then stopped breathing. I turned him over and got him breathing again,” Gloria explained.
“Can you help us carefully get him onto the gurney. You, too, sheriff. You get over there. Easy, easy. . . . There. . . . I wish there were someplace closer, but the nearest ER is nearly half an hour from here, and this guy needs more than we can do for him.”
“I’m a dentist not a doctor, but I’ve had some emergency training.” She showed him her ID. “I was a paramedic briefly before I went back to school.”
“I would appreciate if you’d ride along. There’s just Sao, the driver and me and I may need an extra hand.”
“Of course. Ray, get the kids in the car and follow us.”
“I’ll need your names and statements!” the deputy insisted.
“Lead us to United in Shakopee, Sheriff, and take your statements there! Fast! Lights on. We’ll call if we need the siren!” Then to Gloria, as he pulls the door shut behind him, “Don’s the only deputy willing to volunteer for nights, holidays, any time the sheriff needs him. He means well, but he’s got no common sense.”
“And our patient has no fashion sense.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well, his suit appears to be almost brand new, but it looks like clothes my husband wore when we were dating. He looks too young for that. He’s married, though. Nice wedding band. Is it me or are they getting married much too young these days? No sign of a beard. . . .
“Pulse is strong and regular. Breathing regular. Blood pressure 132 over 71, color seems to be improving, irises respond to light, beginning to moan and move a little. 20:46.” The latter was being both radioed ahead and logged by the EMT.
“By the way, I’m Gloria Hesse. Those are my son and daughter with my husband’s grandfather back there. My husband, Ray, is named after him and we named our son Ray, Jr. They are very close. Ray was driving and his quick reactions saved our patient here from being hit again. Not bad for a man about to turn ninety!”
“Damn good for anybody! I’m Courtney Brasil.
“I heard him tell the deputy that he’s a retired Fed. I guess they train them good.
”Let me loosen his tie and open his collar so he can breath better. I think he’s stable, but the doc asked me to get an EKG.
“Oh! . . . Oh! Our young man is a young woman. Do you want to wire her up?”
“I’m sure this is a man’s suit. It’s an expensive one. Well, that’s none of my business, I guess. It’s strange, though. I have patients who cross dress and they generally adjust their clothes to fit better. This isn’t. And there isn’t even a tissue or a key or anything in the pockets. Did someone put these clothes on her and toss her there? She said her name’s Excelsior; I guess that does sound more like a girl’s name. She looks Asian and it didn’t occur to me, . . .”
“Excelsior? That’s strange. You said she wasn’t from around here?”
“I asked and she just asked where she was. I don’t know. I wasn’t sure where we were, either.”
“Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
“Look, I don’t know anyone named Excelsior, but Before my time someone tried to start building motorcycles in our town. I think they only made a few hundred before going broke and leaving a lot of local folks in the lurch. They called them Excelsior-Hendersons.”
“That’s what she said her name is: Excelsior Henderson. Do you think someone named Henderson was so enthusiastic about their motorcycle to name their baby girl ‘Excelsior’? We had passed a turn-off a ways back there that read ‘Henderson’ – could there be families of that name there? Maybe someone there will know who she is.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know any Hendersons over there, but it’s not a place someone who wanted to dress like this would be likely to do so – not where they might be recognized. Not a place to be different.”
“EKG looks good.
“Looks like she’s moving more. Maybe she’ll be able to tell us, herself.” Gloria caresses the young woman’s face and asks loudly, “Excelsior, can you hear me? Excelsior?”
“Excelsior, can you open your eyes?”
“Looks like she’s trying. That’s a good sign. The hospital’s up ahead and she’ll get better care there.
“Dr. Jaye! Here’s my report. Can you get any further information you need from Dr. Hesse? . . .”
“I’m a dentist, not an MD, Doctor Jaye. Gloria Hesse.”
“She has Paramedic Certification and was kind enough to assist me. She also got our patient breathing again after she had stopped about ten minutes before we got there with the ambulance. Sao says we have another emergency call back in Belle Plaine; we’d like to leave right now if that’s okay.”
The deputy interrupted authoritatively, “I can get a statement from you back home, but these others can’t leave until I know what their role in all this is.”
“Donny, you know where to find me, and these people haven’t said anything about leaving. Now, Doctor, if you don’t need us, we’d better get back on the road right away.” With that she jumped into the vehicle and was gone.
“Doctor Jaye, other than what’s in the report, all we know is that we came upon her laying face down in the road unconscious. She revived to a semiconscious state momentarily and told me that her name is Excelsior Henderson. Other than that she only asked where she was.”
“Respiration, circulation seem strong. Many minor contusions.
“I want x-rays right away. We need to know why she’s still unconscious.”
“When I talked to her she seemed to respond a little.” Gloria raises her voice a little, “Excelsior, can you hear me? Can you open your eyes.”
There is some stirring, the eyelids flutter, but don’t fully open.
“Thank you, Dr. Hesse. Excelsior! Can you squeeze my hand? Good! I could feel that. I am Dr. Jaye and you are in the United Care Hospital in Shakopee, Minnesota. Can you understand me? Squeeze my hand if you hear me. Thank you. Squeeze my hand if your name is Excelsior. . . . “
“Very good, Excelsior. I couldn’t understand that, though. Is your name Excelsior?”
“Excelsior Henderson” Her body was becoming less limp, her movements less random. Her eyes fluttered more.
Her eyes opened.
“Excelsior, you were found in a lane of Highway 169 near Belle Plaine, Minnesota. Do you know how you got there?”
“How do you feel?”
“Hurt all over. Head hurts. Headache. Bad. Very bad headache. What happened? Where am I.”
“You are in the United Care Hospital in Shakopee, Minnesota. . . .”
“Excelsior, we are taking you to have a CT Scan and x-rays to try to find out how we can help you. Do you have any allergies?”
“To any medicines?”
“Milk. Mustard, aspirin. Make my skin break out. Skin hurts. So tired, need to sleep.”
“Try to stay awake, Excelsior. It’s very important! Who is your doctor?”
“Don’t remember. Lee? I don’t know. Maybe if I sleep, headache will go away.”
“Excelsior, you mentioned that you are allergic to milk, aspirin and mustard. Are you also allergic to any medications?”
“I don’t know. Please, I just need to go to sleep.”
“Dr. Hesse, she seems to respond to you. Can you keep her talking. I need her to stay awake for now.”
“Excelsior, do you live in the town of Henderson?”
“Is that where you live?”
“Where do I live?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m asking. Where do you live?”
“I’m sorry. I just need to go to sleep. I’m so tired, Mama. Please let me sleep with you.”
“Excelsior, please tell me your mama’s name.”
“Yes, Excelsior. What is your mama’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s okay, Excelsior. You’ll remember and tell us then. Is there someone you’d like us to call? Someone who might be worried where you are?”
“Worried? No. Just need to sleep.”
“Is that a wedding ring on your finger, Excelsior?”
“Finger? Don’t know. Bra?”
“Yes, Excelsior? What about a bra?”
“Why’d you take off my bra?”
“We didn’t, Excelsior. Is the suit you are wearing yours?”
“No suit. Jeans, T. Oh?”
Miss Jonasson will first run the CT Scan for you so that we can rule out hematomas that could be causing your headache . . . . .. . . . . . . .
On her return from the CT Scan, “Dr. Bernstein will take the x-rays we need to find out how to make your headache go away. I have to step back for a few moments while he takes your x-rays. Please lie very still.”
“Lie still is easy. Moving hurts.”
“All over. I’m thirsty.”
“Can you lie very still for just a few moments with your head just like this? There, now lie very still.” Nods to the x-ray technician who takes several shots.
“Do you want to see other areas?”
“Not now, Sam. We’d better see what these tell us right away.”
The deputy sheriff approaches Gloria, “May I get a statement from you, now.”
“Do you need me now, Doctor?”
“Can you make it quick, Sheriff. She’s helpful to us and we have nothing to go on here.” He addresses a nurse, a woman who appears to be in her fifties or so. “Katie, can you keep her talking, keep her awake until we get Dr. Hesse back? Let me know right away if she loses consciousness -- or if she becomes alert.”
“Now, if you’ll please come and sit down over there, Miss. I need your driver’s license and ….” The deputy got all his blanks filled to his satisfaction. He also got a phone call from the Sheriff confirming Ray’s identity and asking that he be invited to assist in the investigation.
“Do you mind if I record? Can you tell me exactly what occurred this evening, beginning just before the accident?”
“Accident? . . . Well, we were driving on our way from my home in Los Angeles to what we call the Grossvater’s Isle, an island in Rainy Lake with some cabins which have been in my husband’s family for over five generations. My husband’s grandfather, whom you’ve already talked to, wanted my kids to really see the country, so we drove this time rather than flying, and have stopped to see all the sights along the way. We’ve taken six days to get this far.
“Grandpa Ray was driving this stretch and saw this person laying in the road. Fortunately his reactions and perceptions are still faster than most and he managed to stop just short of hitting her – at the time, by the way, we assumed she was a young man. I immediately called 911 while Ray put out our emergency triangle and flares to keep any other cars from hitting her or us. I set out to see what her needs were and stabilize her until you and the ambulance arrived.
“I checked her pulse on her neck and found it fast but strong and the same for her respiration. I got her to talk to me for a few moments during which she identified herself as Excelsior Henderson and indicated that she didn’t know where she was. I asked her to move her fingers, arms, legs and feet and she did, slowly but apparently with as much control as one would expect for a semi-conscious person.
“I looked for identification, medical bracelets, etc., and found that while she wore what was a new-appearing and expensive men’s dress suit of an outdated cut, she appeared to have no identification whatsoever. The labels were in her coat – Dayton Hudson – and shirt – Hathaway.
“She suddenly stopped breathing and her pulse became erratic and weak. With Ray’s help I checked her airways and turned her over onto her back and checked her heart and got her breathing normally again. Shortly after that, the EMT and then you appeared.”
“Yes. The EMT report indicates that Courtney and Dr. Jaye believe that your quick resuscitation may have saved the girl’s life. Did she give any indication of how she got to be lying there in the middle of that highway?”
“No, sheriff. The doctor asked during a period of confused semi-consciousness as we wheeled her into the x-ray room. She had no idea. She also doesn’t know how she got into a suit of men’s clothes and complained that she doesn’t have her bra. I suggested Dr. Jaye get a rape kit after she’s stabilized, and he called for the nurse-social worker who handles such interviews.”
“I see. Did you see any signs of rape?”
“I don’t know, sheriff. Something weird seems to be going on, but I don’t know what to look for. We are required to report any suspicious signs of sexual abuse. In this case it is only that she was found with multiple abrasions, unconscious, unaware of where she was and in male clothes that she has no idea how she came to be wearing, and missing her bra. Oh, I did also note that her right canine has a small chip which appears to be brand new.”
“So I should treat it as a possible criminal probe?”
“I don’t know, but it seems likely. Grandpa Ray is a better source on that than I am.”
“So everyone tells me. Let’s go get him and the kids into the conversation.”
“I’d rather not discuss the possibility of rape and assault with the kids, but if you want to give them a chance to describe what they saw in case they noticed something the rest of us didn’t, that’s okay. Then I want to take them to get them something to eat and give them a chance to express their feelings to me.
”Hi, Ray, kids. I think you’ve met Sheriff Anderson, already?”
“Hi, call me Officer Don. Kids, I’ve heard from your mom and grandpa. Can you tell me what you remember. Even if it doesn’t seem important, it might help us. Start when you were driving along.”
“Well, mom was just telling us that we would soon be stopping at a casino that is famous for its buffet where you can eat all you want and stay as long as you want.”
“Yeah, and we were going to stay in their hotel tonight and go to St. Paul where Grampa grew up tomorrow. I’m starved, but I suppose the buffet is closed by now.”
“Good news, kids. I hope you’ll be through here in an hour or so, and, you know what, I’ve even eaten at that buffet at midnight after work, so I think you’ll still have time to really stuff yourselves! Did you know, the casino is only about ten minutes from here?
“Can you tell me what happened then?”
“Grampa Ray yelled something and hit the brakes. The car went crazy and Mom yelled, ‘Oh, My God, Ray!’”
“When we got out, I still didn’t know what was going on. I saw Grampa run down the road. I was scared because Mom had told us not to run around Grampa ‘cause he shouldn’t run. He’s 90 years old, you know.”
“Then Mom grabbed us. She’d been doing something in the road on the other side of the car. She grabbed us and took us across a ditch full of high, wet grass. She was in a hurry and I hit my leg on something, I think maybe an old car fender there.”
“Ray, that could be very important. Can you describe it? My church men’s club just went through there picking up litter and that ditch should be clean.”
“Well, I didn’t really see it, it just tripped me. See where my leg is scraped? I just saw something, all shiny and new looking, even though someone must have thrown it away there. It might have been, like a fender or something. I think it was black and with a gold stripe -- and maybe a part of a picture. I just remember that it was so shiny.”
“Can you remember anything else?”
“Well, it didn’t move, like maybe it was attached to something heavy, or stuck in the ground.
“Oh, yeah, the painting had a big fancy cross in it. Really shiny!”
“I’d better take a good look there in the morning.”
“Sheriff, if you don’t mind, I’d like to see if any of my old friends have a recent missing person that fits her description, or a Dr. Lee who has a missing patient.”
“Sure, Mr. Hesse. Thank you.”
Dr. Jaye and a nurse call the Sheriff aside. He returns to report, “The rape report is negative. Our victim is very young, probably late teens, appears to be of mixed Asian and Caucasian ancestry. At least she understood a few Hmong words one of our nurses who is Hmong tried on her, but only a very few. She’s checked; it’s a fairly tight community and no one she’s contacted has ever heard of anyone named Excelsior Henderson, and there are no reports in the community of a teen-ager who meets that description who is missing.
“The good news is that Dr. Jaye says that while she has a minor concussion and multiple abrasions which appear all to have come from the road, he’s found nothing she shouldn’t fully recover from. She’s already moving more easily, is having a glass of tea and speaking more freely, but still remembers nothing and has no idea how she ended up in those clothes or on that road. She doesn’t remember who she is or where she lives, but Dr. Jaye tells me that as the swelling in her brain is brought under control during the next few days, there is hope that her memory will recover.
“He does say that it would be very helpful if we can locate anyone who knows anything about her. The nurse noted that she speaks ‘Minnesotan’ and there are a lot of Hmong here and not many elsewhere in the country other than California.”
“Sheriff, we have reservations at Mystic Lake’s Hotel for the night. I’ll let you know whatever I find from my friends and would appreciate knowing what you find in that ditch. We won’t leave much before noon, I’m sure. Do you have a card?”
“Oh, sure. Here you are. Call the station before you go and they’ll get me on line. To me this is still possibly some kind of criminal investigation until we find out what got her into the middle of that road – and into clothes she knows nothing about, so don’t leave before we talk! . . . If we find evidence of an accident, that’s one thing, but how to explain a person lying there not in their own clothes? I mean, this isn’t Roswell!”
Ray laughed, “I don’t think anyplace is ‘Roswell,’ sheriff. Whether we find it or not, there’s an explanation that doesn’t involve little green men! . . . Talk with you in the morning.”
Actually, Ray was on the line to Deputy Sheriff Anderson within two hours. An old friend who’d received a copy of his request for help had reached him on his cell phone in Mystic Lake’s Casino’s sybaritic buffet. He immediately got Deputy Anderson on line: “Sheriff, I’ve got us an appointment in Harmony for as soon as you can get us there.”
“I . . . . What? What have you found?”
“You know Harmony? Down on the Iowa border? One of my friends retired from the agency and was sheriff there for about twenty years. They call him Big Cal. You know him?”
“Heard of him.”
“Cal’s been fighting something for a couple of years, so he’s not so big as he was, but he still knows everything going on down there.
“Cal tells me that the local motel asked him to go into a room. They hadn’t seen the occupant since this morning. She said she’d be checking out this evening. Her car and some kind of trailer are still there and clothes, including what appears to be a wedding dress. Also her purse with cash, credit cards, drivers license and all the things people don’t generally leave on purpose. Name on it is Lotus Sue. Description on the driver’s license sounds tantalizingly close to our Excelsior. No sign of disturbance, and the owner says he never saw her with anyone. Interested?”
“How soon can you be here?”
It was past one in the morning when they arrived, but Cal and the very sleepy motel manager met them. Everything was as described. The license was from California with a Berkley address. A student ID and a brand new diploma indicated that the girl at 20 had just graduated with honors in theoretical math. Pictures showed ‘Excelsior’ was really Lotus Sue – or was she? Another mystery. Nothing indicated a hometown or family. Ray and the sheriff each put out their feelers to Berkely, and returned to their beds after promising to meet at the girl’s bedside in the morning.
Ray was up early and took the kids to a play area. When Gloria arose, amazed to not be roused by the kids at 6 am, they returned to the buffet, which both the kids made full use of, while Ray and Gloria sipped their morning coffee and bagels. Ray had picked up a packet of faxes that a friend in Berkely had spent the night gathering for him, he and Gloria scanned through it while the kids burnt off their excess energy. Then they were off to the hospital.
Excelsior/Lotus was sitting up in bed and they were told that they could visit, though the kids were warned that she needed quiet.
“Good morning! I understand that you are my heroic rescuers, though I’m still not certain where or from what.”
“My, you’re a handsome young man! Won’t you stay here with me?”
Young Ray blushed and mumbled something about having to go up to his Grampa’s cabin. Old Ray laughed and allowed that “I think she was referring to me, JR. Weren’t you, Excelsior?”
“Of course, but I’d be willing to accept your buddy’s invitation to that cabin sometime, too. First, though I have to remember who I am and what I am doing here. I think that I have always spent a lot of time figuring out what I’m doing here, but I can’t remember any of it. Every once in a while things flash through my mind and I try to grab it and remember it, but it just disappears.”
“We might have found something? Do you know someone named Lotus? Maybe Lotus Sue?”
“Sue. It’s pronounced Sue!”
“Then you know her?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I said that.”
They talked a while, then the deputy and Dr. Jaye came in with another doctor. They asked if the Hesses had shown the picture.
“Not yet, doctor. May I show her something first? This is a paper she may be able to tell me about, sent to me last night by a professor at Berkely.”
Ray handed her the paper. It was an honors thesis by Lotus Sue. Excelsior/Lotus studied it: “This is very interesting. She has taken work done toward solving a classic problem in mathematics and used it to show that some thirty languages, apparently unrelated, can be described using a single algorithm. I have thought along the same lines, but she has worked it out and even shows that one can translate between the languages with correct syntax. She proposes that all human languages are structured by this logical system, and that it is a product of human brain structure. She suspects that other structures are possible that would allow thinking thoughts not possible within this structure. She suggests that communications of other animals should be studied to see if they follow the same or different structures. The argument seems sound. I hope that she follows up. She thinks that this study is required not only to preserve our knowledge of languages in danger of being lost, such as her father’s Hmong and her mother’s family’s Finnish, but to communicate with people from other systems if we sometime come in contact with any.
“It’s fascinating. I have done some work in this field myself, but I don’t think I got this far along. I hope she continues. It is so important!”
“You speak some Hmong, yourself, don’t you?”
“I don’t know. Do I?”
The Hmong nurse asks her how she enjoyed her breakfast, and she responds in Hmong. The other doctor asks her if her headache is any better in Finnish, and she answers, but in English.
“Well, I guess that answers that question,” Dr. Jaye concludes.
“The question of whether you speak Hmong. You just answered a question in Hmong and answered a Finnish question in English.”
“I did? I didn’t know.
“But, then, I did read those languages in this paper and understand them, didn’t I? I must know how to speak them. I just had forgotten that those were different languages.”
Gloria looked at the Finnish psychologist and after getting his approval, “We think that the reason you can do those things is that you are Lotus Sue and you did all that work, but that it will take a few days for you to remember. We have no idea, though, why you thought your name was Excelsior Henderson. It is strange because there was once a company of that name in the town you were found near. Perhaps you saw an old sign or a logo. Do you know?”
“No. The clearer my head feels, though, the stranger that name seemed. Familiar but not quite right for me. Who am I, then?”
Dr. Jaye assured her, “You are yourself. It is only we who need to learn what to call you.
“We think that you prepared this research paper to graduate with honors from the University of California at Berkley and have been admitted to the graduate program in theoretical mathematics at Princeton, with an appointment to the Advanced Studies Institute, something unheard of at your age. But we still don’t know how you got to here. Ray here has friends contacting people in Berkely and at Princeton to try to find what has happened to bring you here. We haven’t been able to locate any family members, but Ray has a lead on some of the students with whom you shared a co-op living arrangement. Do you remember Dai Nguyen, Sharon Cooperman or al Hajji Mahmud abu Bakr?”
“Hmm. No. I wish I did, but I don’t.”
“Don’t worry. In all likelihood all the blanks will fill in in the next few days. Do you know the girl in this picture?”
“No, but she is very pretty.”
“She is and you are. It is a copy of your graduation picture, emailed to me last night.”
“Are you sure?”
“Here, look in the mirror.”
“Oh, I am so ugly. I have bandages all over.”
“Something happened to you on the road last night, but our plastic surgeon tells us that all your injuries should heal without scars. In a few weeks you will again look as you did in this photo. Do you remember living in California?”
“No. I remember a house. I remember it was cold. There was snow outside. I think I was a little girl.”
“Good. See, slowly you are remembering more.”
“I remember talking with some one about that paper. He found errors in it and told me I had to rewrite some things. . . . That means I did write it, right?
Ray had been called out to the phone and returned. “I just talked with Moua Her. Do you remember her?”
“I’m not sure.”
“She is your aunt, your father’s sister. A friend found her name listed on your application to rent the apartment in Berkely with your friends. She knows you and is proud of your achievements. She said that she only rarely saw you after your father died and you and your mother moved to California when you were nine. She thinks she knows why you might have been in Belle Plain and dressed as you were.”
“Really? Tell me, please. There are pictures that flash through my head and I can’t quite reach them.”
“There are some others on their way who think they may know more, but your aunt says she thinks the wedding dress in the motel closet is your mother’s and that you are wearing the suit your father wore at their wedding. Right after your father’s funeral, your mother put those things and some other things in storage down in Omaha -- where they’d gone to live after Excelsior-Henderson went under -- and moved within a week to Sonoma. You were their only child. A younger brother had died in a breech birth and your mom was unable to have further children. You were their pride and joy and in particular your father’s princess. He had accepted motorcycle parts as partial payment of unpaid wages from Excelsior-Henderson and had built a magnificent custom bike that looked like it had been assembled by Rolls Royce. He would take you for very slow rides. At your mother’s insistence you wore leathers and a helmet. He doted on you and when he just didn’t wake up one morning, you took it very hard. Your aunt thinks that that was one reason your mother left so precipitately for California.
“Another reason was that no one in your mother’s family had spoken to her since a fight over her going out with your dad. Belle Plaine had been a pretty insular community and when your dad was one of a few ex-Harley workers recruited to help start up Excelsior-Henderson, he was given a lot of grief and couldn’t even find a place to rent in town. Your mother was an idealistic new high school graduate who got her first job helping in the stock room as Excelsior-Henderson was gearing up for its first pre-production run. It was a very good job for a kid, and she probably didn’t realize what she was risking when she saw that no one would even sit with your father at lunch. In school, she had been known for being one of the few of the popular girls who would make a point of being seen with girls others made fun of. Soon they were both isolated and that actually drew them together despite their differences in background and age. In six months she moved into the place he’d found to rent about 15 miles away, and two months after that they were married. You were born about eight months later, which added to the rumors.
“Your mother insisted that your father and aunt speak Hmong in front of you to make sure that you would have the advantages of that rich culture, even though your mom was never able to speak more than a bit. She also spoke the bit of Finnish she’d learned from her grandparents. She had always been sorry she couldn’t speak it fluently, and made sure that you heard Finnish music and saw tapes of Finnish TV. Despite her minimal income, she even took you to Finland when you were sixteen. You were also known for being able to speak English with various accurate regional accents.
“You were considered a bit of an outsider and fanatically studious at your schools in California and graduated a year early with a full scholarship to the University of California at Berkely; your aunt thinks that was a result of some national math contest.
“Is any of this starting to ring a bell?”
“I have pictures of riding along a river on a motorcycle holding on tight to . . . I guess to my father. Most of it sounds like an interesting story about someone else.”
Dr. Jaye spoke, “I have to prepare you that when your aunt and friends arrive you may or may not recognize them. Mr. Hesse has prepared them all for this. We cannot guarantee it, but in most cases of relatively minor concussions such as you suffered, memory returns over time. Your aunt was caring for an infant grandchild when Mr. Hesse reached her and cannot leave until the parents come home from work, but should be here sometime this evening.”
Not long after this, Ray appeared at the door with four smiling young people. “Excelsior, you have some visitors who came in on a red eye from San Francisco. May we come in?”
“Of course.” A smiling young man with a large bouquet led the others in. “Oh, those are beautiful! I . . . you look familiar. I can’t quite . . . please, I’m sorry, I don’t know. Your name keeps flashing and I lose it and don’t know anything.”
The young man continued to smile, but it became a bit forced, “Lotus, honey, I’m Jesus. We are engaged to get married. Do you remember? We took vows in the church because we won’t be able to be together to marry until we finish our studies. You are going to be at Princeton and I will work on my master’s in linguistics at Columbia this year and then we will have to decide how to get together and still be able to work on our doctorates. Don’t you remember at all? Do you remember talking about your work on your honors research? Do you remember studying together in the library?”
“Hey-sus. . . . I think I know. . . . Jesus Ibanez? Jesus, yes, Jesus. You three are starting to look familiar, too, but I don’t know who you are. I am sorry. Jesus, if what you say is true, why are we here and not in Princeton or Columbia – in New York City? How did I get here?”
“Lotus, I only know this much. You were hoping your mother would be able to come to our graduation. She was living with lung cancer. She was so proud of you and struggled against the pain to live to see you graduate. She had been a three-pack-a-day smoker and had lung cancer. She quit smoking even before the diagnosis so that she could be with you; she fought the cancer despite the pain. The last month she was in the hospital and we visited her and prayed with her every day, despite the pressure to finish up our work. Do you remember? The hospital room wasn’t much different than this, but full of things her friends sent over the weeks she was there. She lit up like a lamp as soon as she saw you come in. Do you remember? If she was lying flat she’d adjust the bed so that she was sitting up and ask us to sit by her and she’d just hold your hand and ask you about yourself. She didn’t allow us to talk about her at all. Do you remember?”
“Maybe a little. . . . She was very thin and was losing her hair. It was my mother?”
“Yes, she died two days before our graduation. We had come by the day before to show off our gowns that we’d just picked up. When we came the next day, she was gone. I’m sorry, but I’m sure you can remember. You cried and I held you. We went down to the chapel and the chaplain sat with us for a long time.”
“I remember stained glass windows and crying . . . was it you holding me?”
“Your mom told us something. I think it is why you were here. When your mom and dad were married, it was in a church up in St. Paul where they first had a Lutheran ceremony and then a traditional Hmong ceremony. Then they took a bike your dad had ‘borrowed’ from the factory and they rode down to Belle Plaine and through the town in their wedding clothes, your mom’s veil flying in the wind. Then they returned the bike to the factory where they’d left your dad’s old Datsun pick up, and drove home to begin their official married life.
“Do you remember her telling us that story?”
“Almost. I don’t remember, but as you talked, I knew what you were going to say next, like I could almost remember. It’s so hard to think.”
Dr. Jaye spoke up, “Don’t try too hard. It will come back over time. When you are too tired, tell us. We’ll just leave and come back after you rest.”
“Thank you, but I want Jesus to stay and tell me more. I would like you all to stay, if you don’t mind.
“Sharon, I remember you. We shared a room. We walked to campus together. We were a bunch of us, weren’t we? I remember one of us cooked dinner each night and then that one had to make the bag lunches for everybody for the next day. We had a big bash in the apartment! Dai and Mahmud, you were there, too! How could I not remember you! Jesus, please tell me more!”
“Lotus, after we graduated and buried your mom, you told me that you had to do something alone. You flew to Omaha. I bought you the tickets. You wouldn’t tell me exactly, but said that it was something you had to do for your Dad.”
“Yes, I remember, now! Dad had told me that one day we would ride through Belle Plaine on our bike and no one could look down on him. Mom reminded me of that one day, and then cried and cried. She missed him so. So many Hmong men had died mysteriously in their sleep, but she didn’t know that at the time of his death. When she woke up and he was still and cold she couldn’t believe it at first. Then she called 911 and when the doctors told her he was dead and that there was nothing they could do to revive him she called them names and yelled at them. She told me that a few weeks before she died. She said she wanted us, . . . she wanted me to drive Dad’s Excelsior-Henderson that had been in storage all those years; to drive it in Dad’s suit while she rode behind in her wedding dress, to drive through Belle Plaine. It seemed like the only thing left that I could do for her. She hoped to be strong enough for us to do that one last thing together. You see, I had to do it alone. I hadn’t even known she was paying rent for that garage all those years. I found the bike on its trailer and took it to a shop to have the oil changed and the bike checked out. Nothing else had to be done. It started right up. I pulled the trailer with Dad’s Datsun pickup, still just as shiny as a show car, like he always kept it. I stayed at a little motel just the Minnesota side of the Iowa border and unloaded the bike.
“I put on Dad’s suit. It almost fit. I’m taller than Dad, but it was close enough. I couldn’t button the shirt, though. I had to take my bra off. I chose a wide tie to hide where the shirt pulled apart. The shoes were high-tops and the right size, so that the pants being too short didn’t show. Then I started the bike and roared up the highway and through Belle Plaine. On the road up it was fun. Even passing manured fields smelled good – only one place were we passed a hog operation I thought I’d pass out from the stench. Like a leaky hydrogen sulfide generator in the chem lab once. At over 100 miles an hour that bike was rock solid and I wasn’t at all scared, and all those beautiful scenes spun by.
“I paraded slowly through Belle Plaine like a visiting queen, but with a big US flag flying behind the seat. I went around twice and was going to go through a third time before heading back to the motel to pack everything up. There was too much to ship, so I’d decided to call you, Jesus, and ask you to fly out and help me drive it all to Princeton.
“Some boys in a rusty old maroon Cadillac – one like I’d never seen before, small, actually, and with a gold grill -- began following me as I drove out of town the second time, and . . . you know, getting real close and then passing and then slowing down and all. Yelling ugly things. Really ugly! I remember deciding to pull off the highway and . . . don’t really remember anything after trying to control the bike when I realized the shoulder there was really soft and rough. I don’t remember any more. I remember feeling nauseous.”
Ray returned. “Deputy Sheriff Anderson has found what it was that JR skinned his shin on. It was your Excelsior-Henderson motorcycle. It seems that some local teenagers were ‘playing tag’ with you with their car when you tried to get away from them by making a fast U-turn through a cross over intended for emergency vehicles. They have told him you wiped out on the opposite shoulder and were thrown from the bike. They panicked and left. When they heard that Anderson was investigating a possible homicide, they went back and got the bike and hid it in a garage belonging to the family of one of the boys. His mother saw it this morning and got out of him what had happened. She called a lawyer who was a family friend and he informed Anderson of the location of the bike. The boys turned themselves in. They’ll face charges of reckless operation of a motor vehicle. You also have a right to sue if you wish. I’m assured that their insurance will take care of your direct expenses. The mother of the boy who was driving called to ask how you are doing and to tell us how shocked the families are at what their sons did!”
“Please, that’s all I want. I feel so sorry for her. I’d like to talk to the boys and to their families, but all I want is to get back to where I was, and to make sure that they won’t do something like this to anyone ever again. Then, can I get the charges against them dropped?”
Ray nodded, “I don’t know, but if the judge is convinced, the chances are something can be arranged, perhaps with some kind of probation. Don’t forget, though how close this came to being fatal. Without Gloria’s CPR, those kids’ mischief would have killed you!
“You and your friends are young and beautiful, some kind of flower children -- aren’t you? -- and it is beautiful that you want to help these perps, but beautiful flowers need to be protected against hoodlums who simply set out to destroy everything beautiful.”
“Thank you so much for all you’ve done. Perhaps I can help those boys to become beautiful flowers, too? Would that help to repay your kindness?”
Gloria beamed, “Sure would to me. Just be sure that you raise flowers, not weeds.”
“Doesn’t cultivation make the difference?”
Ray, Jr. and Dilly appeared and tugged on Ray and Gloria, reminding them of promised outings in St. Paul.
Arrangements were made for Lotus and Jesus and the former roommates to meet the Hesses in Black Duck as soon as the Excelsior-Henderson was repaired. Lotus promised to stick to the speed limits, and her friends would follow in the rented car they’d driven down from the airport. Dilly and Ray, Jr. were promised rides – at slow speed and wearing helmets and leathers at their mother’s insistence. After hugs and thanks and exchanges of addresses, the Hesses continued their trip toward Grossvater’s Island.
Ray didn’t need this kind of stress any more. It was one more reason to give up his driver’s license. Still, there was a good feeling. It was good to leave Lotus and her fiancee and their friends with so much hope for the future. It was exciting to have been exposed to their ideas and dreams and to know that he had played a role in getting them back together, perhaps in saving a life.
Being a hero in the eyes of Dilly and Ray, Jr. didn’t hurt either, though Ray didn’t want to acknowledge that. Showing them where he’d spent his youth in St. Paul and the new Science Museum and the Zoo and all, he felt like a kid of 60!
Good thing, too, because in fact his retirement was to be interrupted again before they were ready to leave the island.
(Final Ray Story. Ray called in by Gov. in story #1. 10F.’02
Ray Pursues the Bent Bug
Ray is ushered into an the elaborate executive office, now marred with a weird spherical shell, its sole opening agape allowing him to see the two chairs and table within. Ray is irritated, stomping his cane on the ornate rug to ensure that everyone knows just how reluctant he is to be here. A familiar figure steps out of the white chamber and, with a forced enthusiastic smile reaches out to shake his hand.
“Look, Governor, I don’t know why you’ve summoned me here and I’m more than a little pissed to be hearing everywhere that I asked for this interview and you’ve granted the wish of a dying, senile old man. If your mother hadn’t asked, I would not be here. . . “
“Perhaps you’ve forgotten that I’ve been elected to higher office. . . “
“Well, if you want to start this interview off with another lie, you can call it elected if you wish.”
“Okay. Look, Ray, like my Dad always quoted Vince Lombardi, "Winning isn't the most important thing. It's the only thing." Politics and other forms of war are just more serious games; games that keep us civilized and some people are willing to die for that. . .
"It's been my life, but I've lost my taste for it. Call me Governor, if you wish.
“Ray, many people are well aware that neither of us has wanted to ever see the other again. You know that I wouldn’t have set this up if there weren’t something I couldn’t handle any other war - uh, way.”
“Ray, we’re both old soldiers, . . “
“Governor, I was a real soldier. Now please get down to it!”
“What happened to ‘Sir?’”
“Died with my last birthday, I guess.”
“As you like it." They step up into the sphere and The Governor closes the door behind them. He carefully checks to make sure the door is solidly closed and sealed.
“Ray, what if someone who may have a sufficient following --among those whom you call real soldiers -- to take over this world may have made a serious mistake that could kill off our entire army and reserves over the next few years?”
“I’d say that’s a crazy question.”
“Good. Then let’s get down to the real problem, which involves the family; specifically, my parents’ marriage. I had your friend Benny clean this room and he installed this weird sphere, which he said to the best of his knowledge no one would be able to penetrate. I can’t risk anyone else hearing of this. It’s a long story, but my mother has gotten so frustrated with my father’s senility that I’m afraid she’s abusing him in moments when she really doesn’t know what to do. You’re their old friend, so I want you to do some poking around, ostensibly to pay last visits to old friends.
“I recall that you are a fan of South Indian food. Lots of spices. I’ve got masalas here from three of your favorite restaurants, the Tandoor, Sahib’s and Udupi.”
The Governor flattens a pancake and begins writing on it: “Keep on talking as if this is what we’re really discussing and don’t show any response to what we write each other!” He then demonstrably ate the inscribed bread.
“Governor, are you okay? . . . . Why three restaurants for one meal?”
“Oh, my wife dropped one off when she heard you were coming, and my daughters brought back the second after lunching at the Udupi. Meanwhile, I’d sent one of my Secret Service girls to pick up lunch for us at the Tandoor. It’s close to my private office here. So we have a chance to do a consumer comparison test - just like Coke versus Pepsi.” Again he was writing on his masala as he wrote: “The surgeon general of the armed forces, General De Castro, brought me the report on the disc in this case. He tells me there isn’t yet technology to read the disc through the case, so it should be secure in there. Please read it only where you are confident no one else can intercept its information. It documents something he and only three of his most trusted researchers have been looking into. He brought it up during my scheduled physical because he considered the Republic to be in imminent danger.
"Ray, it has been in the papers that six Americans died recently of what is commonly known as ‘Mad Cow Disease.’ What caught the General’s attention was that all these men -- and a Canadian who died recently -- were among the first to get the vaccine to protect against a bacterial disease the military had been preparing as a possible siege weapon. The published story was that it was to protect our forces against biological attacks by terrorist states. Frankly since it provided protection against only a narrow range of variants of the disease, it was only useful to protect our people where we were going to use the organism to wipe out enemy populations and wanted our people to be able to safely go in and secure the arenas afterward.”
He put a sauce on the pancake and ate it, then took another and continued writing as the men talked sadly of ‘The Governor’s’ father’s deterioration and the negligence of his brothers. He wrote: “He had samples taken of the blood of some 300 senior officers who had been inoculated and 300 men of the same profiles outside the military who had not been inoculated and found the bent prions indicative of this horrific disease for which there is no cure, in every sample of an officer inoculated over 13 years ago. The only officer from that period without the symptom was one excused from the program due to an allergy. Not a single person showed this presence in their blood who had not been inoculated. What is more, a larger study showed that the prions begin showing up in the blood six to fifteen years after inoculation and that the prevalence of the prions was very roughly proportionate to the number of months beyond nine years from the inoculation. For some reason the disease takes longer to develop in some people than others, but the surgeon general warns me that there will eventually be a 100% fatality rate unless there is an unexpected breakthrough.”
“Unfortunately, the cuts we’ve made to balance the budget while stimulating the economy with further tax cuts and encouragements to the productive parts of our society, almost no research has been done in the area for years. There are 17 reported active cases of the syndrome now, but based on numbers inoculated at particular dates, he forcasts 100 deaths in the next two years, with the numbers doubling every year for the next fifteen years unless that unexpected breakthrough is made almost immediately! That’s over three million hideous deaths by then! That presumably includes both you and me and many of our family members whom we've arranged to have protected.” This message was also consumed with a potato and onion pate, and a fresh sheet begun: “As if that is not enough, he tells me that a number of officers as young as their late thirties are beginning to exhibit dangerous psychological abnormalities which he believes are symptoms of the onset of the disease! He warns that these people include a few in senior command positions whose stability is extremely questionable. He says they could ‘go off’ at any moment with unknown consequences. You can see why I need to know if this is real or if General De Castro is the crazy one. Show more relish for the masala dosa, in case anyone is watching!”
Aloud, ‘The Governor’ asks, “How do you like the masala? The one you’re eating is from Udupi.”
“I like it, but this is a little hotter than I usually ask for. I like mine medium hot, but your daughters seem to have brought us fire breathers!” Meanwhile he wrote: “Governor, I see the seriousness, but you need medical researchers. My last forensics class at the academy was half a century ago. I don’t think I ever heard of prions until the news stories lately.”
“Ray, some fifteen years back, I told the governor of the state whose government-owned laboratories had developed the vaccine, that it should be privatized; my father would be pleased enough to campaign for him if the vaccine project were given to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was about to retire and a group he headed. Some members of our family and other friends were investors. Unfortunately they were never able to get the process back to the standards the state-owned factory had, and it was never approved for general sale, but the project was kept alive by requiring every member of the military and certain contractors and foreign forces to be injected. We knew there were defects, but thought the risk theoretical. At least I was assured it was, and believed it was. General De Castro describes on the disc evidence that I was deliberately misled. He says the evidence that it was necessary to hide the facts from me encouraged him to confide in me.” He scoops a vegetable compote from a dish and eats the evidence.
“And that retired Chairman is my old wing mate and buddy, Marty King!” Ray writes on his own masala.
“That’s right. Now you see why you’re the only one I can send to have Marty show off his pride and joy to you, and to sit and chat about it. He’s been more of a public image for the company as Chairman Emeritus for a few years and the rumors I hear come from his gleeful telling tales after a few drinks. Will you do a few rounds of visits to old friends here, at the agency, and with Marty and tell me what you learn? I’ve set up several meetings for you.”
“I’m too old for this, but the suspicion you have is too serious for personal considerations. Of course I’ll do what you ask, but I don’t know if I can find anything discretely - and of course I won’t be indiscreet. I will describe our visit as about family matters regarding your parents and brothers.” Aloud, “Maybe I should be asking for this hot. With a Kingfisher it really goes down nicely.”
“Ray, you know that this is the last favor I’ll have to ask of you. Either way, my career is ended, and I know you want to spend what days you have left with those great grand kids.”
Ray left ‘The Governor’ in time to attend an open house for a protégé he’d mentored and who was now retiring himself as second to the Director. He’d been offered the top job and turned it down on the grounds that at his age he no longer had the required stamina. He had no interest in what could only be an interim appointment to ‘prove’ so belatedly that the agency could be headed by ‘a minority’. Ray was ushered in by a friendly young agent apparently assigned as protection for the family, and led back to the garden where aromas of barbecuing mixed with a whiff of chlorine from the large pool.
“Ray, you old dog! You don’t look a day older than you did twenty years ago!”
“Thanks, Carl, but I’m afraid I feel a lot older. The news that you’re soon to retire brings that home -- as does this cane.”
“Well, I’m glad to see, Ray, that you are looking a lot better than I’d been led to expect. Any advice on how to live the retired life?”
“Join AARP, stay close to your family and whatever you do, don’t ever accept another assignment even if they say the fate of the world rests on you. It doesn’t.”
“Then I wouldn’t be following your good example?”
“Carl, when I look back, nothing I did could not have been accomplished better by someone younger and actually looking for work. And the time it took from Dilly and the family can’t ever be replaced! Now that she’s gone, that’s even clearer than ever."
"Ray, you were there for her in her final days when she needed you. And your private work ensured that all your grandkids went to the top colleges."
"You know, those last few months were important, but they don't come close to making up for all the missed family outings and just being together at dinner. Even my private industry days could have been better spent with the family. The grandkids all proved adept on their own at getting better educated than I could have imagined! Now when I talk with them they rarely remember the funds for the school of their dreams and talk on and on about the times we spent together and their longing to be with us more.”
“Ray, then let’s get you a full plate and introduce the greatest influence on my professional life to my grandkids. Hopefully you’ll be as positive an influence on them as you were on me!
“Oh, I don’t know if you knew we’ve become Adventists. We don’t eat any animal products, but if an all veggie-barbie would not be satisfying, the agency was ‘kind’ enough to send over some steaks for our official guardians’ meals.”
“I suppose it’s never too late to eat healthy, eh? Actually vegans have infiltrated the Hesse household, also, and since some of them have proven to me to be marvelous cooks, I’m willing to go with whatever you’ve got!”
“Thanks! You know, we get accused of being ‘veggie terrorists’ for eating according to our beliefs, even though we never have pressed them on others. If people ask why we eat this way, we tell them, but otherwise why would we?”
“I wish my children and grandchildren shared that philosophy. When they get too evangelical and start telling me how much longer I’ll live on this diet or that, and it’s criminal to kill animals to eat them, I have to remind them that Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian.”
“Guilt by association? "
"No. Just self-defense where I'm not sure I'm on solid ground."
"Ray, it’s so good to see you, again. And still in the saddle! I hear you’re here on some special assignment?”
Ray laughs heartily, “Now where did you hear that nonsense?”
“Oh, it’s all over the agency. You came here from seeing the kid in private. No secretary, even. Very hush-hush,”
“So much for privacy in this city! Obviously, I can’t discuss that, but between you and me it’s very uninteresting. Just bringing a very sensitive message from his folks regarding certain effects of age on us elders. Anyway, I wanted a chance to say good-bye and patch up any bad feelings from previous events. Even my kids tell me I can be a little abrasive at times, and now that I have time to reflect, I see that it’s been all too true at times and I regret that.”
“Abrasive? Ray, you’ll have to come up with a better line than that!”
“May I pass that endorsement on to my kids?”
“Come on, let’s sit down over here away from the maddening crowd so we can chew over old times.”
“Ray, Carl, I don’t want to interrupt, but I had to at least come over and give Ray a hug.”
“Corrina, what a pleasure!”
“Did Carl tell you we’re going to celebrate his retirement with a cruise up the Alaska coast with two of our sons and their families? He’s even promised to leave his cell phone behind. Twenty days of nothing but family, sightseeing and guilt-free food at our beck and call 24 hours a day! There’s even a casino on board, and Carl’s given me a gaming allowance of $100 to found my fortune on.
“We’re just doing all the preparations. Carl will still have to get permission to leave our shores the rest of his life, and we have that. Most of the shopping’s done. We have tickets for everybody and, . . . Carl and I have a first class stateroom. This is the honeymoon we couldn’t afford 42 years ago. We’re just arguing over what shots the grandchildren should get.”
Ray felt a cold chill go up his spine. “Why would they need special shots for that? You won’t really be leaving the country - unless you go ashore in Canada, maybe. Shouldn’t be any need for any special shots.”
“Carl wants them to all get the special inoculations he got in the Agency. They’re eligible, but I don’t know. What do you think?”
“Carl, Corrie, I don’t want to interfere in a family matter, especially when I can plead ignorance and prove it. Having two granddaughters who are doctors, I just do what they advise, which is to never get shots unless there is a medically recognized need for it. They give me and the infants flu and pneumonia shots, for instance, but not the older kids and young adults. I think that’s the way it goes, but I just depend on medical advice.”
“Sounds like good advice to me. Well, I’ll leave you fellows to catch up on old times. Ray, can I freshen your drink?”
“Sure, but that means I have to admit to you that it’s a phony, alcohol free. I’m afraid that at my age a real mixed drink would just put me to sleep.”
“Ray, you may have just gotten me in a bit of trouble there.”
“Oops. What did I do?”
“Well, the medical guys at the Agency have been talking about the possibility of terrorists using certain biological warfare agents and have advised agents to have their families inoculated against them especially when they travel. It’s not mandatory, but it’s free and they’ve pointed out that if I opt out it will look bad to others. If my family travels and doesn’t get the shots, others who don’t have access to the reports I’ve read will think there was something negative in them. Actually, there wasn’t anything. Every legitimate scientist who has studied it says the shots are the safest that exist. The only questions have come from whiners who’d been fired for inability to follow instructions, failure to get along with colleagues, violating their contracts by selling incomplete results and such. Not a single even minor uncertainty from a competent scientist.”
“Carl, you have to make your own decisions. When I was in similar positions I found excuses. My family was not part of the employment deal, and Dilly certainly had more input in the treatment of our children than The Agency. I think I would point out that you’re barely going out of US waters and suggest that you’ll get the shots prior to a future longer excursion. But that’s me.”
“Ray, is there something you’re not telling me?”
“Carl, I haven’t even been involved in this program for decades. I’m going to get together with an old friend who has been involved in that program more recently, and if he advises against it, I’ll let you know.”
“I appreciate that, Ray.”
Ray was really worried. If the shots were stopped in the next few days, that should prevent Carl’s family from getting them. General De Castro had a hold on it for an alleged paper work error to prevent more people from being infected while his concerns were investigated. But why had Carl asked? No one at the Agency was supposed to know - if there was anything to know.
Carl could be right. Past critics of the program had been shown to be malcontents. Maybe De Castro had gone off half-cocked, but Ray had looked at a bit of the disc on the way over. One section showed shots of the last weeks of the dying Canadian officer and it was horrible beyond belief. Maybe it is unbelievable because it’s untrue? Could De Castro, who’d always been known as some kind of liberal, be up to something? Could he have a hidden interest in this the Agency knew about; or could he be crazy? Or, beyond Ray's ability to seriously accept, could there already be some threat to the country from his old friends and co-workers? Could it already be in motion? What danger were he and his family in. Why did Carl ask these questions? Did he ask Corrie in advance to raise the issue?
None of these questions received any useful answer, though Ray chatted with a dozen or more old Agency friends, and gave opportunity to raise the question. All seemed surprisingly stiff, but no hints were forthcoming. As guests began to head for the door he accepted another warm hug from Corrie who handed him his coat and whispered in his ear, “Thanks!” A polite peck on the cheek and she was turned to the next guest.
Ray called home from the hotel, spoke to his daughter, who was house sitting for him, of the nice Indian lunch The Governor had shared with him and of the pleasant visit with old friends Carl and Corrina. Nothing else. His room would, of course, be surveilled.
He spent a restless night, especially after a few hours going through the materials on the disc. If they were not forged, Marty King’s outfit had withheld data for nearly six years -- during which over 3 million more mostly young people had been dosed -- indicating a possible link between the prions and the vaccine.
There was a conflict within the research branch of the company because theoretically there could be no link; if there were, there was no possible explanation for what would appear to be a reaction in blood chemistry to take so many years to show any physical manifestation. Those who raised questions or wanted to report the results to the army were fired and maligned. Two researchers who had performed experiments that apparently confirmed that there was a connection committed suicide within two days of each other; their studies neither reported nor followed up on. DeCastro was suspicious because neither had shown any suicidal tendencies previously, and because the company had made unusually generous settlements to the families to forestall any suits which might lead to investigations.
It appeared that Marty had been informed but in highly technical terms that De Castro - and Ray - suspected he had not understood. Ray would certainly not have understood their significance without the explanation from DeCastro.
The night passed with no further crises, to Ray’s relief. He dressed and hurried off to his ‘goodbye visit’ to friends at the Agency labs. While no one said so directly, all the senior people had questions which indicated at least a suspicion of what Ray was about and in some cases Ray thought he detected considerable belligerence, but there was little concrete that he could put immediately in place. Ray was not a believer in hunches. He wanted solid evidence. He was able to determine that the labs had begun to study the vaccine independently but no indication that anyone there knew anything other than that there was a concern that some paperwork was not in order and a suspicion that there may be scandal that The Director had better not be surprised by.
Ray hoped that his meeting with his old buddy, Marty King, would be more productive. The Governor's secretary had set up the appointment and Marty had suggested that they meet at the airport where he kept his private corporate jet. He found Marty looking much the worse for age, but apparently very happy to see him, his old wing mate. He wanted to take Ray up for a ride.
The experimental plane belonged to Marty, but was registered to his corporation, which also supplied the crew: pilot, copilot and cabin attendant.
After take-off, the attendant supplied them with a meal served in Marty's office at the rear. The coffee was good and the meal was better than first class airline fare, but that was about all Ray was willing to give it. After clearing the dishes, the young woman retired from the room, closing the door behind her. Ray watched on his CCTV screen as she walked up to the cockpit and took the third chair there, buckling herself in.
Ray nodded toward the stereo, "It's a little loud."
"It's needed, Ray. Sophisticated pick-ups are woven into the upholstery and I want us to talk privately. Fortunately the designer of the system is an old friend and told me how to make it inoperative. The music has hidden frequencies that block it completely, overheat critical components to the point they blow out. By the time we land, the recorder should be shot.
"You know, Ray, how you complain about being called back to duty when you are too old? Well, I should have taken heed of that long ago. Things have gotten by me that shouldn't have and I need to ask your help. Can I depend on you?"
"Marty, you know you can ask me for more than anyone else in this world, now that Dilly is gone. You also know that I am still under oath to report any illegal activities. What sort of help do you need?"
"Ray, we're both too old to have any fear or concerns for ourselves. In my case, I know that my remaining days are severely limited. I am concerned that I may have been misled about something extremely dangerous, but find myself in the unfamiliar position of not even feeling fit to judge it. If something criminal is going on, I ask only that you tell me right away. I am not afraid of the truth, no matter how humiliating or incriminating. I am afraid for my country and for my children."
"What could conceivably be that threatening? Spies in your company?"
"Worse. Can I trust you? Will you look into something for me and keep me informed if you find anything. You know that what you tell me won't go beyond me without your permission."
"Marty, you know that I'll help you every way I can. You also know that I am still bound to report crimes; I’m not a priest."
"Ray, I’m after the truth. You must know, however, that reporting what I know even to some of our oldest friends could even lead to being murdered to hide what you know. Ray, I have been an old fool, and may even have killed my own family; both my sons and my grandchildren. Do you understand, this isn't like taking a kickback on a purchase."
"Marty, what is it about?"
"Ray, some years ago your close friend and our former commander offered me a terrific retirement position. I was elated. I had devoted my life to our country's defense. Everybody looked on me as very successful, but it didn't do much for my family. I don't mean the divorces. With an old man's wisdom, I now see that I was an ass. I mean that I had little to leave my children but debts. Now I was offered the opportunity to serve once again, but this time in a position as a corporate CEO with the promise of leaving an estate with a few million for each of them, enough to ensure that all the grandchildren would have what it takes to get a first class education, to get a decent house and start their families off right. Ray, you know that I am Chairman and former CEO of the Eireen Healthful Products Corporation.
"I had just been divorced by Teddy, and leapt into making this thing work. Putting in 20-hour days was a kind of penance. I knew nothing about vaccines, but I knew how to recruit people, how to organize an effective crew to accomplish highly technical projects of which I might have no understanding myself. I always thought I was an excellent judge of character and I guess that was because those I advanced in rank always told me so.
"No -- don't apologize for me. I've already done enough of that for myself! Besides there is very little time!"
"Time for what, Marty? What is it that has gone wrong?"
"Don't play dumb, Ray. Unless I've been lied to in ways I don't think, you know that the vaccine has horrific side effects that none of us even suspected! You do know about the prions, don't you?"
"I heard rumors, but is there anything to it?"
"Oh, God, yes, Ray!
"Ray, I always accepted as gospel that every responsible scientist who truly studied the serum vouched for its safety. Then the board asked me to use my influence again to quash yet another inquiry and at the same time a delegation of our top scientists expressed their concerns to me at a reception for the dedication of our new labs. They believe that the recent deaths of military men and active ‘mad cow disease’ in scores of others may be due to our products. None of them seemed to have an ulterior motive and my concerns increased when the two most outspoken men, neither of whom had shown any evidence of mental instability, both shot themselves under almost exactly the same circumstances within a week after talking to me. Each supposedly shot himself in a carefully locked room of his own home. Each left a note claiming an inability to face exposure of marital infidelities. Then one of your old friends confirmed something that had struck me: Dr. Lee was said to have fired a pistol into his forehead with his left hand. He is left-handed and the gun was in that hand, but he was found with his forefinger on the trigger. I knew that he had a severed tendon in that finger and couldn't use it.
"Shortly after that I began getting almost threatening demands for action to quash the investigations from certain board members. I don't respond well to bullies and that lead me to gather some people I could trust and go through our records thoroughly. Ray, a number of board members, including your old boss, have known for years that something may be terribly wrong. Your old friend told me outright that the lid just has to stay on until we can divest ourselves of most or our stock."
"Can you tell me in layman's terms what you found that so concerns you?"
"I think you already know, but in short for reasons that none of our scientists can explain, people who have had our vaccine more that about a decade ago ALL show signs of precursors of the mad cow disease, even vegetarians like your protege at the agency. Ray, everybody who has been in any branch of the military in the last thirteen years and some others are going to die -- to die horrible deaths! Ray, I am so sorry, but that includes you and I. More to the point it includes most of our children. "Ray, I didn't know. I was absolutely positive and I was absolutely wrong!"
"Marty, that has happened to me, too."
"Ray, I don't need consolation. Now at all costs we have got to put a stop to this! How do we do that? You talk to The Kid. Is there any chance he'll listen to you? His folks are both in this up to their eyeballs. I don't mean just 'his people'. His Dad and Mother, his brothers, his uncles and cousins. . . "
"I can try, Marty. I don't know if he will care and if he cares I doubt he has the backbone to stand up for the country. He's never stood up against the solid wall of his crowd and I doubt that there's any spine there to stiffen. He might very well just give us up to be a couple more suicides. Even if he wants to, I don't know if he has any idea of how to do anything on his own. He's always been a poseur. Still, IF you have really solid proof, he may be our best chance. Marty, if you really have proof, I'll be with you all the way.
"Marty, I don't know if the Governor arranged for me to visit you again because he hoped to find out if there is a real danger to the country; or if he wanted to find out if he has to get rid of you to keep things quiet for a few more months."
"Ray, I'll give you everything I have and when we tour the labs I'll invite the scientists I think can answer our questions to fly back with us. Then what?"
Three days later The Governor stands before the press corps hastily gathered by his press secretary. With him are the full cabinet, Ray and Marty, the leaders of the House, Senate and Supreme Court as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the assemblage begins heavy military units hand picked with Marty King's assistance surround the White House, Capital and major government buildings. The press has never seen such a show of tanks and armor in the streets of Washington. It is clear that everyone is very nervous. The President, visably sweating, steps forward.
"My fellow Americans, I have ordered this interruption of all your radio, television and web programs to inform you of the most threatening crisis to ever face our Republic. Some of you may doubt this because I have made such statements before when it wasn't true, but provided a distraction from the problems of my administration. Like Jesus' parable of the boy who cried wolf, I have to hope that you will hear me once again and that you will judge what I have to say tonight very carefully. This crisis is such that I expect that every official you see before you with me will have resigned within two months; many to face very serious charges. I am ashamed to inform you that I, my parents and several other family members, as well as many of my closest friends, will be included in the expected indictments for the most serious betrayal of your trust in our history. We have betrayed you to a power that is not even human, not an alien invader; I am told probably not even a life form.
"Since there is not a single senior official in the Justice Department to head the investigation of this betrayal, I have asked the Attorney General to appoint a Special Counsel; he has resigned rather than do so as have the next two in line, and we have Acting Attorney General Smith with us who will later introduce former Attorney General Masker who has agreed to head the investigation. He will have extraordinary powers and every official of your government is ordered to cooperate fully with him.
“As a first step, the Eireen Healthful Products Corporation and all its offices, its officers and facilities are seized, and most of its senior employees are under arrest on charges of mass murder and conspiracy to commit mass murder. Few of you will have heard of this corporation, but you will hear much more in months to come.
"Only a few members of Congress will remain and one of the last acts of this Congress and of my administration, will be to pass the necessary legislation to enable an interim administration. A special Presidential election will be added to the mid-term elections scheduled in three months. This Republic depends on every one of you to stand up and both work to make this arrangement stable and to refuse to accept any illegal interference with our Constitutional procedures. Remember that this republic belongs to you, the citizens; no soldier or policeman has any authority to displace you. In the past, disinformation and the deliberate instigation of chaos to frighten the general public has been used to impose illegal theft of the rights of Americans, as was exposed, for instance, in the investigations of the Cointelpro operations before most of you were born. I warn you that there are those in positions of some power in our country today who do not have the courage to face the consequences of their own actions as those of us standing before you now have vowed to do. Do not let them fool you! Study the candidates to replace me and our Congressmen very carefully to ensure that they will restore our republic to the standards of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence!
"There has been an attempt by criminal terrorists within the military and various other armed forces to take over your government to protect their criminal activities. I regret to tell you that my own parents and one of my brothers have been among those arrested and facing charges for this attempted coup.
"I am afraid that that is not even the worst of what I must tell you. I have, as have previous administrations, told you to have complete confidence in our government, our system of democracy based on our free enterprise economy and major industrial science, which leads the entire world. I have ridiculed those who have raised questions, which it is now unfortunately clear that I did not understand. I certainly did not understand their significance, and allowed myself to engage in self-delusion. Unfortunately, influenced by those who had deep personal interests in supporting these delusions, I have not only failed to support those in our administration who wanted to raise warning flags, but have silenced them and it is very likely that millions of you will suffer early deaths as a result; it is also likely that almost all of the members of our armed forces and the majority of our police forces are among those who will suffer the Eireen Vaccine Syndrome or EVS.
"Don't be surprised if you have never heard of EVS. I had not until earlier this month when Surgeon General of the Army, General Dr. Jesus DeCastro, brought me evidence of the medical crisis we now face. I immediately began a very discrete and very thorough investigation. What I have found is that a measure that I had been assured by competent people whom I trusted was not only necessary to our national defense, but also safe within all reasonable standards, mistrusted only by nuts and loonies or by people with some axe to grind, has a lethal flaw. A vaccine, which all members of our Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and a great many other persons in security related positions, as well as many of our allies who have used it at our urging, has a hidden side effect. This effect causes certain proteins in our bodies to be distorted. This has been hidden because it takes some years to show up. Unfortunately recent studies conducted by General DeCastro and his scientists shows that it does show up in all persons who receive the vaccine by about ten years after being inoculated. I, and every member of my cabinet have the signs of the onset of the disease. Fortunately none of us yet shows symptoms, but when we do they will include mental instability and this is why we are arranging a swift change of personnel by new elections. No one who has been exposed to the vaccine will be eligible to run for office.
"Leaders of both houses of Congress have agreed to legislation for a special election for President, and that all members of who have received the vaccine -- and there are only 27 out of 532 current members who have not -- will resign within ten days after their successors' elections are certified. I will also resign within forty days of my successor's election, allowing for time for organization of a new cabinet. I have asked all members of the current cabinet to remain other than Attorney General Grey whose resignation I have accepted and Treasury Secretary Player who has been arrested for participation in the military coup attempt. Special Counsel Masker has already begun his investigation and his team will be introduced to you at a news conference in this room tomorrow at 7am.
"An item of priority in Congress is that a special appropriation will be passed tomorrow and I will sign the legislation immediately, to fund research into aiding those suffering from the effects of this catastrophe. In addition a special agency will be established to assist our veterans through this crisis and to minimize the suffering to their families.
"Full reports of the nature of this disease are being made available to all media represented here at this time and I am sure that you will find all the details and lots of editorials with your morning papers. I only wish now that those same editorialists had heeded their own investigative journalists and printed their suspicions years ago.
“I have just been handed a note that these documents are available in plain English at www.bentprions/gen.gov.us and for the scientific community at www.bentprions/jargon.gov.us.
"Let me take a few more moments of your time to note that many people have questioned the loyalty of our military and police forces to our constitution. Let the answer of the vast majority of the members of our various armed forces who stood firm with the republic stand as a resounding answer!
"That does not let the rest of us off the hook, however. Admiral Jumhuru, who headed the counter coup operations, tells me that in many units the deciding factor was the conclusion that the American people would rise up against such a coup. I ask each and every one of you to confirm that conclusion first by flying a flag tomorrow, and secondly by actively participating in the coming election. And by marching in opposition if any unconstitutional actions do occur! It will take the full support of every American who loves his country to get us through this crisis; the full active support. Every one of us is the ultimate ruler of this republic and must stand up for it in his or her city hall, place of work, in the streets, if necessary! I have ordered under emergency powers the nationalization of all police and guard forces for no longer than six months, and am now reminding all commanders that they are under orders to protect your rights to peacefully assemble for such purposes. Any suppression of your rights in the name of authority is a felony and will be aggressively prosecuted.
"Officer, if you are not certain, refuse to act!
"Finally, I want to apologize from the depths of my heart, as do members of your government, of our industrial leaders who were involved and the previously mentioned members of my own family, to the American people. Please rest assured that what we did was not done out of malice, but out of ignorance. And, I fear, lately out of cowardice. Many of us did not want to face the consequences of our having cut what seemed at the time to be insignificant corners. I know we cannot expect forgiveness for such a horror, such a horrible error. That can come only from God. Since we all will suffer the medical consequences along with you, you know that we did not intend this to happen. When people I thought -- and had been reliably ensured -- were just nuts, began to question the deaths of a few old soldiers from mad cow disease, I publicly gave the shots to my own grandchildren to allay your fears, and I will have to live with that for whatever days remain to me. Please pray for us all!
"Further information will be available both on the medical situation and on the actions of your government over the course of tomorrow and the next several days.
"Thank you, good night."
"Questions!?" Many shouts.
"I must get back to the meeting now going on with the leaders of the Congress and the Supreme Court, but Ms. Harrison, Secretary Colson and the investigator who led the probe that blew this whole thing open, Ray Hesse, have agreed to stay for a few minutes to answer questions. General De Castro has also dispatched Major General Rav Aluf at the table behind you, to answer technical questions about the syndrome and its prognosis."
At the end of a long night, Ray knew that he really couldn't take it any longer. He accepted ‘The Governor's’ offer of a bed in the official mansion for the night and wondered if he would be able to go on, even if he would awaken.
In the morning he awoke to messages from family, friends, acquaintances and too many people who had watched the broadcast. They were thanking him, but it was the visit from Carl and Connie and their grandchildren who brought him thanks and breakfast that made him feel ready to complete his century and even for another.