PART TWO: CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FOUR

Groceries unpacked, I had rewarded myself with a Coke when the doorbell rang. Can in hand, I came face-to-face with my younger sister who had no reason not to be back in Illinois that I’d been aware of. Had she left Leroy? On-and-off-again relationships were common with my family but hopefully not dependable Mary Ann. She being nearest my age and my level of shared trust of all my siblings, any decision about sharing my stash of legal documents with family suddenly became more immediate.
“Come on in to my messy house. You’ve got some explaining to do.” My usual short and to-the-point sister greeting. “I’ll put some coffee on.”
“Guess what.” Allowing no time for any response, “We’re moving to North Dakota.” My reaction cut off in mid gasp, “Leroy bought a farm next to his Dad’s. One hundred and eighty acres.”
“That’s nice.” Since neither of us city girls had a clue of what an acre was, I assume she merely echoed Leroy’s enthusiasm.
“It’s a dairy farm.”
With an image from Dad’s nostalgic recounts about farm life in Wisconsin, I blurted, “Cows? Pigs? Chickens?” Replacing Dad with my sister in that picture didn’t fit.
“Just cows. And a bull. Leroy don’t believe in artificial whatever it’s called.” Spoken like a not quite yet farmer.
“With your kids?” A silly question, but I had trouble squeezing them into that developing scenario.
“Of course. They’re excited about being with their other grandparents.”
Our sons, born within days of each other, had strengthened our bond, but moving to Illinois soon after put some distance between us. North Dakota didn’t feel that much closer.
Details of their decision exhausted by a second cup of coffee—and Coke, I approached my subject of interest. “Do you ever look back on those years when Dad had all his problems with the court?”
“Not without getting mad at Hachey all over again.”
The importance of the research I eagerly pursued had suddenly dimmed, and might disappear entirely as far as family is concerned. It will have dead-ended with me; any of my siblings ever digging into the matter is unlikely. However, discussing the little our family knows, or think it knows, is still fair game.
“Dad’s starting to drink quite heavy.” Continuing to drink, but I needed a starting point for our conversation.
“He’s welcome to join us in North Dakota. It’s a big farm house and getting him away from St. Paul might be a good idea.” Touching a nerve, she added, “Leroy would be a good influence on Dad.”
My husband, Tim, until joining Alcoholics Anonymous, had an overwhelming influence over Dad, quite the opposite what Mary Ann suggested from her husband. I discouraged the idea. “Dad would never give up his job at Third Street Bar.”
“Ma said that’s temporary, just until he finds an automotive job.”
“You know Dad’s employment history. Always claimed to know more about the business than any of his bosses. He’d either walk away or get fired. After completing that course at Dunwoody Institute, he did have more knowledge about automatic transmissions than most.” I shook my head in frustration. “Still that superior attitude.”
“He did well with his beer and snacks route, until he stepped on some hoodlum’s toes.”
I left that false impression ride. The hoodlum was a local mafia boss who actually protected Dad’s venturing into Wisconsin. They were old buddies. He even wanted to hire Dad as a body guard after the war. Dad refused, probably his best decision ever, and they often played cribbage until Dad met Mother. “He quit that delivery job after an attempted robbery. Some colored fellow picked on the wrong guy for drug money. When cornered, Dad will protect himself.”
Mary Ann asked, “Is that when the NAACP got involved? I thought that was just one of Dad’s stories.”
“They defended Dad, even though one of their people got hurt pretty bad. Dad quit driving because he injured his back unloading beer barrels.”
“So, he takes a job at a bar and gets involved with a motorcycle gang.”
Away from St. Paul these past four years, my sister seemed well informed of family matters. My expression must have given away my surprise.
She explained, “Ma told me about some guy named Tiny and his motorcycle gang.”
“Gossip hardly worth the cost of a long-distance call.”
“No, not over the phone. Just yesterday, at home.”
“In St. Paul? At Conway?” Home should refer to husband and family, not back with Mommy and Daddy. Or, maybe I’m just envious of Mary Ann’s nostalgia for the place where we grew up.
“Yeah. Been back a week. I took Ma shopping and out to get her hair cut.”
“Back a week already?” Trying to make light of her slight, I chuckled. “Catering to Mother’s vanity.”
As a child, I longed to run my fingers through her hair. She wouldn’t allow me to get that close.
“What’s with the gun? Ma mentioned a revolver, but didn’t elaborate.”
“Belongs to the bar’s owner, keeps it hidden in a drawer near the cash register. A few weeks ago, Dad refused to serve one of Tiny’s buddies because he was drunk and obnoxious. The guy must have stewed a couple of days before rousing the gang to rough up Dad a bit.” A tidbit of information that should and did get my sister’s attention. “Tiny warned Dad ahead of time, and they hatched a plan. When a bunch of motorcycles pulled up in front of the bar and the gang tromped in, Dad greeted them holding the revolver like he was John Wayne. In a calm voice he said, ‘I’ll serve you, but I don’t want any trouble.’”
“Faking surprise, Tiny stepped forward and said, ‘Oh Hell, let’s just have a drink and let bygones be bygones.’ They all proceeded to get drunk.”
“Dad shouldn’t be messing with guns, especially at a bar.”
“I got on his case, too. He just sloughed me off. Claimed it wasn’t even loaded.”
“I’m surprised that Ma puts up with him anywhere near a gun, even if it’s not loaded. She sold his shotgun while he was…” Mary Ann paused as if trying to find the right word. “Gone.”
“Nearly gave it away, according to Dad. The guy took advantage of Mother because she didn’t understand its real value.” I accidently touched on Dad’s superior attitude toward his wife and most other women. With Mother, I agree he’s smarter, but she seems to have more common sense. Makes it all the more difficult for him to give up a good deal of control to her and his mother. I felt his defeat.
I changed the subject to another family trauma. “Do you remember the fire?”
Eyes lit up. “That kid could have gotten all of us burned to death. And what was his mother thinking? Shutting the closet door and leaving their apartment like nothing happened.”
“The kid was a pyromaniac and she covered for him.”
Mary Ann asked, “Were you home when it happened?”
A fair question. I was in junior high school and seldom hung around the apartment during the day, or even after dark, for that matter. “All eight of us kids were. Don’t you remember?”
“I was only ten. But I can still picture Ma walking us to Aunt Rita’s small apartment like a bunch of chicks following Mother Hen. Lucky Ma was there when the fire broke out.” Mary Ann peered into her coffee cup. “Seems like she’d been gone a lot. Was she working?” Her attention focused on Mother rather than Dad.
“The job at Whirlpool came later, after Hasting put Dad on out-patient status. At the time of the fire, she kept herself busy trying to get Dad transferred out of St. Peter.”
“And taking care of us kids.” Mary Ann reminisced. “I remember moving to the Projects quite clearly. Less crowded than at Aunt Rita’s, but the boys got the bigger bedroom, and four of us girls squeezed into the smaller one.”
“We had lived there years earlier.”
“I must have been a baby. How did we…?
I paused but Mary Ann failed to complete her question.
“When I got hepatitis from that filthy back yard and passed it on to our parents, Dad moved us back to the apartment on Seventh Street where we used to live with Grandma Leslie.” Thinking about that place conjured many unhappy memories as a toddler. Grandma fighting with my mother and forced out of her own apartment. Mother leaving me unattended and I fell off the second story porch. My being sent back to my Wisconsin grandmother because Mother was pregnant with Mary Ann. I can still feel Grandma’s swats across my butt with a willow switch.
“When did we move to the apartment on Ostego where that kid nearly burned the place down?”
“After a year or so on Simms Avenue.”
Mary Ann’s mood turned somber. “I remember moving often.” She brightened. “Well, once Dad got out of the hospital, it didn’t take him long to get us moved out of the Projects to our own house on Conway.”
“Thanks to being put back on one hundred percent disability. He made the down payment with the three years back pay he received.” The moment seemed right. “After nine months of lock-up at St. Peter, do you think Hastings’ psychiatrists should have allowed Dad that much freedom so soon? He was barely there a month.”
“No thanks to Hachey!”
“I suspect the judge made his decision and couldn’t change his mind without looking weak.” A deep plunge. “Dad could have gone haywire again and done something worse. Maybe even killed someone.”
“Dad would never do that.” Mary Ann voiced the opinion I’d shared until I read the newspaper accounts.
“That’s what we thought that back then.”
A childhood vision flashed of Dad asleep on the couch yelling and firing a make believe rifle into the air. Ma shooed us off to our rooms, said Dad was having a nightmare. Little did we know how his nightmare would become ours.
Mary Ann’s opinion remained firm. “Well, he’s a different man now.” She reflected, “That part of my life is cloudy. I was still in elementary school. All I remember is crying myself back to sleep ‘cause Dad wasn’t there to tuck me in.”
“You had Mother,” a direction I hadn’t intended for this conversation.
“Ma wasn’t as affectionate as Dad.”
“She let you brush her hair.” There, it was out, my only childhood envy of any of my siblings. Mother had long soft hair but, like touching a hot stove, a second attempt didn’t happen.
“Fixing her hair was my chore. We all had our jobs to do.”
“I never thought of it that way.” My leadership role in our family, belated but glaringly necessary, to stand up for my father as a counter to siblings who side in with our mother, or don’t give a damn about either. Mute though it must be, I will maintain my opinion about our father’s too casual treatment by his psychiatrist, a feeling I had resisted until researching the facts. He shot two men with little or no provocation. Location of the entry wounds indicted an intent to kill rather than just wound. Within inches, just one of the bullets would have changed Dad’s charge from attempted murder to first or second degree, or an insanity plea that would have been taken more seriously.
My head tells me Judge Hachey’s opinion was correct, and my heart sides in with those who diminished Dad’s crime. Why hadn’t I left the matter rest with family lore rather than dig into the facts? Consider the entire coverage of Dad’s criminal act buried permanently, along with the curiosity of one snoopy daughter.
The conversation with my sister steered back to Dad spending time in North Dakota. I agreed to work toward that goal, if I can’t get him to help himself without having to leave home.

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Full Novel to Follow New Chapter Posted Monthly

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE

Roger Storkamp

Pvt. Richard Leslie

Copyright 2017 by Roger Storkamp

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without written permission of the author.

Books and Birch, Publisher
www.RogerStorkamp.com
3016 Haddon Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89135

Dedicated to the 503rd
Airborne Combat Regiment
“General Douglas McArthur’s secret weapon”

Last Men Standing

Friendships of the 503rd Airborne Combat Regiment billowed and blossomed like the parachutes that landed them on Japanese-held islands in the Pacific sixty five years ago. A few men short of a platoon gathered in Arizona, where they, as did the mythical bird of Phoenix, rose from near ashes to restore their comrades’ achievements lost to the dusty pages of history.
While my father-in-law, Richard Leslie, registered us at Grace Inn, Laurie and I gazed at the wall-to-ceiling poster proclaiming that General Jones and his 3000 thieves had landed. Her father’s stories about the antics of the 503rd regiment had been confirmed, and I eagerly awaited meeting his octogenarian buddies.
Although war stories were available on demand, most conversations dealt with the bonding of the men, their wives, and families, and, of course, honoring fellow members who have mustered out since last year’s meeting.
The five day conference mostly centered around hospitality and sight-seeing in the Phoenix area, culminating with business meetings and banquets. In addition to tweaking the nuts-and-bolts of the organization, the members endorsed an official web site, www.Corregidor.org. Their web master, Paul Whitman organized eyewitness accounts and pictures, official from government photographers and candid like those Chester Nycum confiscated from Japanese cameras. They give a face to the heroism as well as the human toll on the rock remembered as Corregidor.
Like the call of the Alamo, the theme of the meeting was Remember us who took Corregidor. The 503rd, cobbled together from remnants of the 502nd and ultimately sandwiched into the 101st, suffers from the middle child syndrome. The association sadly endorsed a last-man-standing bases for termination of the 503rd as an active Association, relegated to the history books and web sites.
In the course of five short days, Laurie and I gained insights into the horror of war, its affect on the men who fought and the human bonding that resulted. We have a deeper understanding and respect for torment that plagued her father most of his life. Our greatest generation must not be forgotten.

“Sir, I present you Fortress Corregidor.”

Col. Jones to General McArthur, March 2, 1945

A MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR

My father-in-law, Richard Leslie, served in the Army Airborne under General Douglas MacArthur throughout the Philippine Islands Campaign during WWII. He made three combat jumps, most notably to retake the island of Corregidor from the Japanese. Enlisting at age seventeen, Richard’s education had been interrupted until age 59 when he earned his GED, an achievement he considered only second to his military honors.
His story offers an honest view of courage, fear, and self preservation strategies. Atrocities committed on both sides created an emotional toll that plagued him throughout his eighteen months of combat and continued to haunt him throughout his life.

He asked that publication of PVT. RICHARD LESLIE be withheld until his ashes “dusted the breeze.”

He passed away on Good Friday, 2013.

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Chapter One

CHAPTER ONE

“Let’s talk about Australia.” A voice oiled with chicken fat, it seemed to Richard, attempted another prime-the-pump strategy to break loose his patient’s painful and locked-in combat experiences. Richard glanced at the wall clock and counted—actually mouthed—the tic tocks. Gotta be here, don’t have to talk.
“Surely those memories shouldn’t be that difficult to discuss.” Lieutenant Colonel Renford, uniform void of any combat ribbons, brushed an imaginary speck of dust off each epaulet.
Richard ignored the psychiatrist’s wide-eyed gaze and fought back recurring images: Geronimo—Kilroy—Jenkins—Heidt—Reed—Jennings.
****
The Japanese soldier writhing a few yards from the still smoking fifty-caliber machine gun possibly experienced flashes from his boyhood days back in Tokyo, but his buddy missing half a head instantly sacrificed his life to Japan’s emperor, bonsai his final testament.

Innocence of childhood masked the devastation his weapon had caused.

An arm around his midsection, butt planted firmly against the hip of his nine-year-old sister, bounding across railroad tracks near their home, down the well-worn path to town’s center; Pvt. Richard Leslie’s earliest memory. Fourth of July parade down Main Street, Melrose, Minnesota, 1929, details beyond a four-year-old boy’s comprehension, except from Margaret’s retelling their story many times at family gatherings. Cherished details: plopped down curbside, cheering and waving as vintage automobiles chugged and belched fumes with an occasional blast from a Model T Ford’s Klaxon.

“Cigarette?”
The single Lucky protruded from its pack like a pistol barrel, but Pvt. Richard Leslie, hands locked on the rifle’s grips, eyes glued to his fresh kill, responded, “Margaret.”
Geronimo’s glance shifted from his gunner to the white package in his grip, its red eyeball glaring back—Lucky Strike Green had gone to war—and raised it to his lips. He shook the last five from the pack and passed them around; Kilroy, Jenkins, Heidt, Reed, and Jennings. Guts-to-go Kilroy shielded a flame, touched it to his cigarette, and ditched the match; no predawn target for a sniper to zero in on.
Geronimo crushed and tossed the empty pack, its cellophane wrinkling and smoldering atop a pile of spent cartridges, and reached for Kilroy’s lighted cigarette passed between the squad. “Margaret?” A cloud billowed through flared nostrils.
Richard shrugged, his stare unbroken.
Geronimo peeled the seal from a fresh pack with his teeth, stamped out a clump of cigarettes, and shoved it in Richard’s face. “Have one. Get the taste of cordite out of your mouth.”
Richard considered cigarette smoke no less harsh than that from spent ammo, but pinched one from the cluster and pressed it to a smoldering butt passed forward.
“Margaret?” Geronimo repeated his question. “Doesn’t matter.” Its tip a glowing cherry, he snuffed the cigarette, wrapped a field jacket around the barrel of the Fifty Caliber, and, muscles bulging, hoisted the weapon with tripod still attached.
“Better get our asses out of here.” He dipped his head toward Richard and remarked to the guys shouldering carbines and lugging ammunition. “Gotta take care of the little guy.”
Richard knew who would carry his lifeless body to field headquarters if a sniper got lucky and scored a gunner.
He shook off the image of his bullet riddled body and reconstructed—piece-by-piece—the picture of his father sloshing water across the kitchen floor. Giggling on top the kitchen table with his legs dangling, Daddy lifted the mop as if to scrub the table clean of his youngest child. Done in jest, at least then. Beyond a few such incidents, Richard would never get to know the father who abandoned him and his family prior to the birth of his younger sister, Rita.
With her five children decked out in store-bought clothes, Richard’s mother, six-months pregnant, boarded the same train whose company dispatch had frequently denied her husband their bed, requiring layovers at distant hotels—and shady ladies.
The last straw, one of these strumpets at her doorstep, baby in arms. “I would like to present another of your husband’s handiwork. I’ll just leave it here with his home-made bunch, one more won’t make a difference.”
“Morgan Leslie doesn’t live here,” and she slammed the door. She should have said, “Morgan’s family no longer lives here.”
Leaving an empty house and a huge debt at the local mercantile, she resettled her family in St. Paul, Minnesota, sharing an apartment with her married daughter, Edna. Margaret remained Richard’s beacon until she eloped and hitchhiked to California about the same time he graduated from juvenile court to the adult system and was forced to make a choice, prison or Army.
****
Lt. Col. Renford glanced up from his clipboard. “You and your buddies caught a ride to Sidney. Perhaps you got tickets to an opera at the Town Hall. I know you listen to classical music.”
“Yeah I do. No I didn’t go.” Richard’s gaze dropped and his head began to sway.
“Don’t leave me.”
“I ain’t going no place. We’ve got another half an hour together.”
“You know what I mean when I call you to attention, Private Leslie.”
“I’m not a private. Haven’t been since the war with the Japs ended and mine began. Maybe you meant private citizen.”
“Sorry, I misspoke.”
Richard braced himself for the colonel’s silent treatment, no more questions, no sound but the clock; their entire previous session a wall of quiet between them, his head loaded with World War Two unchecked.
Today’s session, he had allowed his psychiatrist to resurrect the carnage buried beneath weeks of drinking, carousing, screwing, and fast cars. He can’t allow that to happen again.
Australia seemed a safe place to dwell, but not to share.
****
“A beer please.”
“Sorry, Mate. Don’t know what that is.” The barmaid swiped a damp cloth and rearranged the dust into a swirl in front of Pvt. Leslie.
“Yeah, beer. That foamy stuff you got pictured out front, comes in those round kegs and piped to that spigot.” Richard anticipated the butt-end joke about his youthful appearance, a beardless one-hundred-thirty-five-pound nineteen-year-old rascal, and his tone intended to aggravate the surly barmaid. He assessed his situation: one grungy looking fellow a few stools to his left downing what appeared to be beer, Geronimo and the rest of his squad out buying trinkets to send stateside.
“Ain’t no beer for you makes its way through them pipes.” A curl of a sneer as the barmaid gestured with her head toward the mysterious figure, beckoning him forward.
The surge of anger pulsating through Richard’s temples erased the metallic taste of fear in his saliva, a rage not felt since he challenged his drill instructor to a no-holds-barred fight under the rules of combat. When the sergeant smirked and turned away, Richard threatened to hunt him down off base and kill him.
The sergeant’s response, “That ain’t gonna happen, Soldier, ’cause you’re shipping out tomorrow. Besides, the day will come when you will thank me.”
Had that day arrived even before actual combat? He clustered the fingers of his right hand for the deadly plunge into the throat as the man approached, Akruba slouch hat, brim sides curled and tacked, eyes shaded.
“I think this young pup wants more than just beer.” He forced his left arm around Richard’s neck and, with his right hand, tapped the tripod of fingers poised to attack. “No need for this, Mate.” Richard’s hand surrendered to the Aussie’s firm grip. “Give us a couple o’ pints of ale. That’s what Yank here craves.” One last shake and a firm hand squeeze, eyes penetrating, “Mate?”
“Mate!” Richard’s enthusiastic response transcended three years and resounded in a psychiatrist’s office at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota.
****
“Aha! Something interesting occurred in Australia.” The psychiatrist shifted his bulky bottom that filled the space between arm rests. “Remember what I told you. That shit can swirl around in your head, but like a bowel movement, it has to come out.”
A nail hit squarely on the head. The colonel’s smug expression brought a curl to Richard’s lips. Two wrong hits—his determination not to cooperate, and misjudging this soldier’s use of slang. Richard never succumbed to the vernacular that many people associate with combat veterans. A part of him still clung to an English heritage through his mother’s side, but he harbored a reserve of his Scotch father’s intensity when threatened.
Richard struggled to retrieve his interrupted memory, R & R in Australia that he had yet to earn through combat.
****
“What’s your unit, Yank? Trousers tucked inside your boots tells me something I might want to know about.”
“We’re not allowed to divulge that information.”
“Your secret is safe here. We’re on your side.”
Richard eyed his companion and succumbed. “The 503rd Parachute Regiment.”
“That explains the missing insignia.” He rubbed his chin stubble. “General MacArthur’s secret weapon.” He tipped his hat revealing a deeply etched face, testimony to years in the Outback. “What Company? A, B, C, D?”
“None. We’re Battery. We drop alongside whichever company requires artillery.”
“Just what I wanted to hear.” He grabbed both pints from the bar handing one to Richard. “We gotta clang glasses and chug-a-lug over that good bit of information.” Mugs crashed and ale splashed. The Aussie gulped. “I don’t cotton to jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.”
Richard took a long sip but drank little. “You a paratrooper?”
“Was ‘til now that you guys got here. Your crazy colonel commandeered our artillery unit, jammed us into C47’s, and shoved us out the door over Markham Valley. Not many of us ever even been up in a plane.”
Richard shook his head. “Crazy.” He understood how tough a jump would be without proper training.
“Yep, crazy ‘cause that colonel shot himself after a victory celebration with his officers.”
Richard acknowledged that fact with a nod. The news of the 503rd commanding officer’s suicide had reached his squad even before they disembarked. He respected the regiment’s replacement, Lt. Colonel Jones.
Banging his empty glass on the bar, the Aussie flashed two fingers toward the barmaid. “A couple of our guys got busted up on the jump, but the action on the ground was hardly worth our while.”
Not the account Richard’s tent mates back at base had described, but that had been their first taste of combat.
“You guys come in on the USS Young America?” Richard nodded. “Supposed to be the fastest ship afloat. What took you so long?”
Twenty eight days aboard ship, forced to sleep below deck even crossing the equator, and confined aboard ship during repair work at Pearl Harbor, none of which he wanted dwell on, especially the tangle of half sunken ships still blocking much of the harbor.
****
“A lot of sheep in Australia.” Lt. Col. Renford’s musing edged out the image of the Aussie soldier.
The scene at the pub interrupted, Richard grimaced and tried to refocus. Just a few minutes left on the clock, and he wants to talk about sheep!
He released a calculated amount of anger. “I didn’t attend an opera, and I didn’t encounter any sheep the few weeks my outfit spent in Australia.” A flash of memory broke through his rant at the colonel. “Montana’s where I learned to herd sheep.”
Richard checked himself. Whoever breaks the silence loses. He had mastered that sales strategy as a preteen selling magazines door-to-door. At the critical moment, stop the pitch, look the customer in the eye, and hand him the pen and order form.
Richard locked eyes with the colonel, a dangerous maneuver if still in uniform.
Lt. Col. Renford returned the glare, consuming minutes that had suddenly become precious.
Richard blurted, “I was fifteen, didn’t turn sixteen until September of that year.” The urge to talk about his Montana experience overwhelmed his desire to be coy. “Summer of 1940 and again in ‘41.”
He had broken silence but didn’t care. “Me and my brother Edward, he’s…was…two years older.” He shook off a painful memory. “Me and Edward hitched rides west with no destination in mind. Just an adventure with my older brother. We joined a bunch of bums riding an empty boxcar out of Williston, North Dakota, and got kicked off by the railroad bulls. Just to be mean, they waited ’til we were ten miles out of town and had to walk back.
That’s where we split up. Edward was fond of this girl back in St. Paul. Got lonesome, horny I teased, and headed home. I kept going. Had to prove I could make it on my own. Bumming food was easier than peddling magazines. I’d offer to chop wood, but no mother would make a starving boy work for food, and sometimes they would offer a little cash on the side.”
Richard anticipated a reaction, but the psychiatrist remained stone faced.
“I never took money unless offered.” He glanced at the clock. “Got as far as Billings. Stopped at a ranch where two big dogs met me at the gate. I always loved animals, and they seemed to take a shining to me. I impressed the owner, a guy with a ruddy face and a hearty laugh.”
“‘Them’s sheep dogs. Do you understand sheep?’”
“I told him I’d worked with sheep and cows and hogs. And that I rode horses to tend my trap line. I didn’t tell him I was a city kid ordered by juvenile court to a Wisconsin farm for attitude adjustment, and that I was still in grade school at the time.”
“He said, ‘Come with me while you’re resting,’ as if hitchhiking was hard work. We piled into an old International pickup, two dogs and a bunch of supplies in the back. I expected a short drive, but we rode that rattling old truck most of the afternoon.
Up in the mountains on a sloping grassy plateau, the field off in the distance appeared white.”
“‘Six thousand sheep,’ his voice bursting with pride. ‘Just one man and half a dozen dogs.’ His eyes locked onto mine. ‘Think you can handle it? I try to deliver supplies every week, but the cabin’s stock could last twice that long.’”
“I told him all he needed was to show me what to do.”
“‘My herder walked off the job yesterday. Couldn’t stand the isolation. I was planning to do the job myself, ‘til you come along. I can stay with you a few days ‘til you get the hang of it, and for the dogs to accept you as their master. I saw you work with the two sheep herders we brought with us—they’ll join the others until we bring the flock back this fall. Pay ain’t too good, but no place to spend money up here anyhow.’”

“I’m afraid I have to call time.”
Richard’s story had been interrupted, and he resented the slight, until he glanced at the clock. He had talked half way through the next patient’s appointment time.

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Chapter Two

CHAPTER TWO

Flat on his stomach, hands covering his head, Richard quivered and then began to sob.
“Are you okay?” Rita’s voice accompanied a wedge of daylight that shot across the floor of his darkened bedroom.
“Don’t come in!” one hand swiped tears from his eyes, the other grabbed the sheet off the bed to cover himself.
Rita ignored her brother’s command, as he should have expected from a teenaged sister who reported everything to Ma.
“What happened? All I did was knock, and then the ruckus. Did you fall out of bed?”
Richard clamped his forehead as if it were a pimple about to burst. “Nah, I slept this way last night,” he lied. “Cooler than in bed.” Mind cleared of haze but not the pain, he had yet to control or even understand his violent reaction to unexpected loud noises.
She seldom gave much attention to her brother’s strange behavior, an issue his family tiptoed around, literally, something guys at the bar found funny when they’d sneak up and clap their hands behind his back. He’d get over it, no thanks to the psychiatrist he’d been forced to see every week, or lose his disability pay. After a few beers, loud noise didn’t bother, and the guys would lose interest in trying to startle him. His bigger concern, the nightmares, screams that brought his mother running to his room. He denied his single overwhelming fear, even to himself.
“What do you want?”
“There are two soldiers at the door waiting to talk to you.”
Richard jumped to his feet, sheet dropping to the floor. Rita turned away as he covered the slit in his boxer shorts with his saluting hand; eyes fixed on his sister’s back as he stepped into his pants. “What do they want?” An unnecessary question since he skipped yesterday’s appointment. He’d only stopped at Frankie and Johnnies for a quick beer, and one thing led to another.
“Are they MP’s?”
“How should I know? They just said I should get you up.”
“You told them I was still in bed?” He glanced around for the clock, but last week he’d smashed it against the wall because the ticking annoyed him. “What time is it?”
“Two o’clock.” She slowly turned to face him. “I was going to get you up anyway, because you promised we could go to Sears & Roebuck to order Ma her new washing machine.”
“That might have to wait.” He tossed the sheet back onto the bed. “Tell them I’m sick.”
Rita stepped out into the hall.
“No, wait. I’ll go, but give me a minute.”
She stuck her head back into the room. “I’ll tell them you’re on your way, but hurry. They’re scary.”

“You’re lucky I had an opening this late in the day. I wouldn’t want to report you AWOL.” Lt. Col. Renford gestured for Richard to sit in the usual client’s chair across the desk from him.
“I told you, I’m not a soldier anymore.”
“Yes, but under care of the US Army, and drawing compensation.”
“A small token for eighteen continuous months of combat, and the explosion during mop-up that earned me a ticket home aboard a hospital ship. What I do now is my business.”
“Your business is to let go of what happened in the South Pacific, and my job is to help you. Both our paychecks depend on the effort we put toward this goal.”
“What do I have to do to show what combat did to my head? Go out in the street and kill someone?”
“What I want is for you to stop killing yourself a little bit at a time. But for now, I want to hear about your life before the war.”
“Hasn’t the government got access to my court record? It kept me from going to jail, which I’m sure I’d be out of by now without this dark cloud over my head.”
“Dark cloud. A good analogy. Why don’t you release thunder and lightning and let loose the downpour locked up in there.”
Richard repeated the only statement that usually got a rise out of the Colonel. “Would it please you if I went out onto the street and shot someone?” He half stood and plopped back onto the chair. “That’s what they trained me to do.”
“Just the enemy, and right now we have no enemies.”
“You haven’t been in my shoes, lately.”
“No, but I would like you to step out of them, take a chance and go barefoot for a while. Let down your guard.” He glanced at the closed folder on his desk. “Last week we talked about Montana. I gather that was a bright time in your young life.”
“Sheep don’t mess with your head.”
“Touche’ Soldier.”
Fists clinched, “Stop calling me soldier.”
Gazes locked, “Then stop acting like one, just itching for a fight.”
Richard blinked, refocused his stare into empty space, and, biding time, willed his anger to recede. A rustle of papers from the menacing manila folder perched strategically at the middle of the desk, Renford, no doubt, searching for an incident that would break into his safe place. It didn’t take long.
“Would you really have killed that farmer with a pitchfork? You were only what, twelve years old at the time?”
The puppeteer had jerked the correct string, and Richard relinquished his defense. “He slugged me first, and not with an open hand like Ma had to do sometimes.”
“You gave your mother cause to resort to corporal punishment?”
Safe for the moment, but the pitchfork incident would come up again and bite his backsides. “She had to because Pa wasn’t there to punish us. He left us when I was only five years old. Rita wasn’t even born, yet.”
“What did you do that made her mad?”
“Skip school mostly. One time in the fifth grade the principal called her to a meeting in his office.”
“Why did you hate school?”
“I liked school, but I had other responsibilities. If I left my shoeshine spot for more than a few hours, I’d have to fight to get it back. Ma needed that money for food.”
“So, you were the man in the house?”
“Edward was older, but he was sent away.” Talking felt okay, almost good. “He got me started shining shoes.” Richard glanced at his boots, still military as were his dominant characteristics. Damned if he’d go barefoot just to make a point.
“I had the best spot between 3M and the pub where the higher-ups went for lunch. I’d get them shined so they could flirt with the waitresses or when they decided to shape up and return after an extended lunch. Late afternoon I’d get a few, but if I wanted to score big, I’d have to hide from the curfew cops until some half drunk guy would leave the bar after dark. They were my biggest tippers.”
“What happened when you got caught?”
“I was forced to join the Army.”
“When still in grade school?”
“No, but that’s what it finally came to? Cops dragged me home. My mother…”
A trap! A quick glance at the clock and back to the pair of eyes penetrating his…soul?
“Your mother…?”
Richard’s vision blurred. He mumbled, “Crossed the line.”
“Who?” Stare intensified.
“I…she said…” Cotton filled his mouth. A flash of light and a presence in the doorway.
“Bring Richard a glass of water.”
Eyes glued to the door, Richard conjured the St. Paul cop bursting open the door to his mother’s apartment, her vagrant nine-year-old son in tow. Grip on Richard’s collar relaxed, and a fatherly hand settled on the misguided kid’s shoulder. “Your boy should not be out roaming the streets after dark.” A not too gentle shove into the kitchen. “Your son was accosting business men outside the St. Paul Hotel. If you recall, last week it was outside the Landmark Post Office.”
“I got a business to take care of and that’s where I find my best customers,” Policeman number two held the shoe shine kit with both hands. “You better give that back. Ma needs all the money I can earn.”
Rita, buried her face in Ma’s apron.
“Is there a Mr. Leslie?” Cop number one overstepped, crossed the line.
“He’s dead! I will take care of this matter.”
Cops gone, door slammed. “My dad is not dead,”
“He is to us. Next time, don’t stay out on the street so late.”
Richard glared at the Renford’s secretary too eager to make him drink. “I couldn’t abandon my hard fought-for spot unattended before cocktail hour ended at the hotel” He grabbed the glass, gulped a single swallow and set it down. Pleading eyes sought Renford’s attention and then affixed to the door until the secretary left the room.
“I’d drop to my knees in front of a guy waiting for the valet to bring his car around and snap the polishing cloth across the toe of his shoe. If he didn’t jerked his foot back or push me away, I’d won, probably cheated the valet out of his tip.”
A nine-year-old Richard demonstrated his shoeshine story to a rapt audience of one. “I’d grab a tin of brown or black polish and say, ‘These scuff marks will need a little extra work.’ When the guys car arrived, I’d hold out my hand and say, “Thank you, Sir” even if the loose change had been intended for the valet.
Occasionally, a hand would pull out an empty pocket lining, but that didn’t deter me. Disappointment etched on my face, I’d keep an extended hand until he either got into his car or pulled out his wallet for paper money.”
Embarrassed by his nostalgic outburst, Richard focused on the water in front of him but didn’t drink.
“Are you saying your mother condoned your violating curfew?”
“She knew the score. ‘Fight your own battles,’ she’d tell me.” Her voice resonated in his. “‘Run away from a fight with a bloody nose, don’t come home crying for sympathy. I’ll just bloody it some more.’”
“How did that make you feel?”
Richard sat up. “Like a man, in front of my sisters. In that small town where we used to live—when my dad was still around—kids down the street from our house used to beat me up. I was only four or five. My sisters told me to go to their house, throw rocks at them playing in the back yard, and then run like hell. They chased me, and the girls ambushed them. They didn’t bother me after that. By the time we moved to St. Paul, my sisters got too old for such shenanigans, and I had to fend for myself.”
“What was it like, living in a house with all those women?”
“Isabel and Hazel got married and moved, Margaret eloped and ran off to California, and Edna died in a car accident. Only me and Rita lived with Ma. Edward too, but he wasn’t home much.”
“Were you assigned household chores?”
“I did some cooking and baking. Ma said I’d make a good chef some day. I did most of the shopping. The butcher down the street had eyes on Ma, so she avoided going to his shop. She’d send me there to buy a dime’s worth of hamburger, partly to show how poor we were. Then, I’d ask for bones about to be thrown to the dogs. He’d pull a hock out from the cooler and trim off maybe half the meat. ‘Tell your Ma to make some soup.’”
“It galled me to have him think Ma only made soup, like Tiny Tim’s family in Dicken’s Christmas story.” Richard noticed the pen in Renford’s hand scratch a few words onto his note pad.
“Ma was a good cook and so were the older girls. That’s how they got their husbands interested, to my way of thinking.”
He avoided eye contact. “Ma is a proud English woman—parents immigrated just before the Great War; that’s what they called the World War One. She set a fine table, even when food supply ran short near the end of the month. Table cloth and place mats, all washed by hand.”
He remembered his promise to Rita. “I’m supposed to be buying a washing machine instead of rattling away here.” Out of the corner of his eye, he checked for the Colonel’s attention. “See, I do some good with the Government’s money. Don’t just piss it all away.”
His mind returned to his mother’s table; knives, forks, and spoons all in their proper positions alongside the plates, water glass, and tea cup on either side.
He leaned forward and peered into the officer’s cup on the desk, its milky residue puke yellow. “Ma taught us to drink tea, but the army insists on coffee, makes fun of the Limeys with their tea time. I remember once on Negros Island, I was battling the head-high and razor-sharp Kunai grass, but you wouldn’t know about that.”
He took in a satisfying breath. “I heard voices, not Japs, I could smell them a mile away. A squad of Limey’s had trampled an area to take their tea. I took a break from my hunt—I used to track down Japs like game back in Wisconsin—and we had a spot of tea together.”
A quick glance to check if his slip of the tongue about a war-related incident might have found its way to the note pad only to reappear in the form of a question later. The pitchfork incident would be easier to discuss.
“You made reference to Dickens.” The pen scratched out words. “Did you read a lot when you were young?”
“Not until after Juvenile Court sent me to Wisconsin. It cost me my shoeshine operation, but I did learn to read in the process.”
“Yet you wanted to harm the farmer who took you in.”
That guy didn’t take me in. He negotiated with the court for a slave to work on his farm for free.” Richard shifted his weight. “Mr. Munson….” His frown relaxed. “Mr. Munson and his wife, Bertha, took me in after the court declared my former placement too dangerous.”
Richard checked for Renford’s silent go ahead expression. “They didn’t treat me like a hired hand, and I worked hard; got up for chores at five, back in the house for a hot breakfast at seven, and then off on my horse to the country school in time for the bell at nine. After school I’d jump back on my horse and tend my trap line.”
Renford’s expression resembled that of a cat about to pounce on a field mouse, but Richard continued. “Got five dollars for skunk fur, but skinning one was a bit of a problem. Bertha made me undress outside before letting me into the house.”
Renford’s mouse seems to have escaped the cat. “At night after chores, Bertha would help me with my home work. She taught me to read for comprehension, not just sounding out the words. By the time I returned to St. Paul, I had read Dickens, knew my geography, and tested high enough in math to skip the ninth grade. Country school ended at the eighth grade.”
“Why did you leave the Munson’s?”
“To dodge the draft.”
“At age twelve?”
“Not me but his twenty-year-old son. If I had stayed on, Munson couldn’t claim hardship to operate the farm. My mother didn’t have that option when I got drafted.”
“It says here …” he pointed to the file folder, “you enlisted. Had to make an exception because you were still a minor.”
“Read further. The Army wasn’t the only institution on my case.”
“Your mother didn’t try to intercede?”
“With only one teenager left at home, she had no grounds to claim hardship.” Muscles in his face tightened. “When Edward got killed in Italy, she requested her only son be returned to civilian life, but the government claimed they had too much invested in my training.” He glanced at his hands. “I must have signed off on that right when I joined the paratroopers after basic training.” His spirits brightened. “Got an extra fifty bucks a month on top of combat pay. More money than any foot soldier of my rank, and even a few officers.”
“Yes, of course.” A shuffling of papers, a pause followed by a glare. “You mustered out of the Army less than a year ago with thousands of dollars back pay, and God only knows for what else. What did you do with all that money?”
He had penetrated the colonel’s shield. “Raw whiskey, wild women, and fast cars. I don’t know, the rest just sort of got pissed away.”
Face blotchy. “But your mother will get her washing machine.”
“Yeah, and a Frigidaire, too.” He will have to borrow some of Rita’s babysitting money. “Let’s get on with what you called me in here for. I gotta see a man about a horse.” Sixty of them, all crammed under the hood of a Thirty nine Ford.
“That’s it. We’ve used up the time. Next week be here pronto.” He placed the folder into his brief case. “You’re dismissed…” A grin slid across his face. “Soldier.”

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Chapter Three

CHAPTER THREE

Richard drew in a deep breath; cathedral time, his favorite part of the day. The hospital’s shadow sliced through the mauve tinged sunlight, crept across the sidewalk onto the freshly mowed boulevard fronting the streetcar tracks, and wrapped itself around anything in its path. The session had gone better than expected, considering the circumstances.
The MP’s, so eager to deliver him earlier, were nowhere in sight; apparently their door-to-door escort service operated only one way. Rather than wait for the last streetcar, he’d called his friend, Virgil, who owned Trumel’s Automotive Repair with his father. A customer’s car might need to be road tested, burn out the carbon on the stretch of road out to Fort Snelling and back.
A few more months until the third anniversary of his induction into the Army, physical taken in the medical building he just exited. Virgil never got drafted; forming a partnership with his father kept that from happening. Now he’s a pain in the old man’s ass, or, as Virgil thinks, the other way around. Richard pondered a relationship with his father, probably not possible after the way he abandoned his mother and sisters. Margaret, who returned from California with two kids and no husband, talked to their dad who’d been reassigned to the railroad out west. She refused to give Ma his address, but mentioned that he fathered two more daughters.
Girls. With Edward gone, women—mother, sister, and girl friends—complicated his life. How did Milton Morgan Leslie deal with mother, wife, and daughters?
Having step sisters made him uneasy, the grandmother they shared made him angry.
The streetcar pulled to a stop, and the other riders who’d been waiting filed on board. Richard couldn’t break free of the stare he’d locked into.
“Hey, you.” The driver yelled from inside the streetcar. “The last chance to catch a ride. No more units out this far until tomorrow.” He stepped out of the car, his grizzled face directly in line with Richard’s stare. “I know you guys got problems, but it’s my ass if I leave one of you crazies stranded at the funny farm.” He peered into Richard’s eyes and turned back toward the car repeating, “Last chance.” Hand on the lever, “I got a schedule to meet.”
Freed from his stare, Richard’s gaze locked onto the retreating conductor, but his body remained rigid. If he released one tensed muscle, he’d lose control and the consequences frightened him. He didn’t relax until the streetcar screeched and disappeared down the track. He had overcome an impulse, what psychiatrists told him couldn’t be done by will power alone. They understood his problem, but only he had the solution. He was engaged in a different kind of war where concentration, not action, was the main strategy. His deepest fear, it might not always work.
He’d keep calm. Virgil agreed to come to get him if he missed the last streetcar. Buddies got him through the war, and buddies like Virgil will help him adjust to the peace. He’d allow himself to doze.
Tell him I don’t have a grandson. A crone’s voice crackled from inside the house. Only two granddaughters.
Uniform cleaned and pressed with leggings tucked into polished boots, Richard stood at the door facing the maid who offered a sympathetic smile; no need to repeat the response from a grandmother he will never get to see.
Only two granddaughters, echoed on the train ride all the way back to the infirmary at Fort Ord, California, and again stranded at the Veteran’s hospital at Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

Awakening from a deep sleep, Richard fought back the urge to flail his arms, only to realize they’d been restrained. Through the din of falsetto voices fussing about, he recognized Virgil’s harsh but hearty tone.
“What the hell happened to you?”
His head had cleared, but his situation remained confused. “I don’t know. I was sitting on a bench when things seemed to go crazy. I’m not sure but I think four or five guys jumped me. At least something happened to land me here. This is a hospital bed, isn’t it?”
“Yes, you are in the emergency room, and so are a couple of MP’s who tried to restrain you.” The guy in the white gown hooked the clipboard hung at the foot of the bed. “You’re under sedation, but we will remove the restraints if you assure us your outbursts are under control.” He glared at Richard. “Do we have your word?”
Virgil said, “He’s good.”
“I need to hear Richard say it.”
“Yeah, I’m okay. But I want to know what happened.”
“That’ll be explained tomorrow at nine hundred hours. It’s all in the report we sent to Colonel Renford at his home.” He cast Richard a doubtful glance. “Are you back in control? Yes or no.”
“Yes! Now can Virgil take me home?”
“Nine hundred hours. Do we need to send the M.P.’s? Again?”
Virgil said, “I’ll bring him.” His gaze followed the aides as they loosened the straps. “Hell, he can take one of Pa’s cars and drive himself. He’s a war hero. No need for a baby sitter.”
Richard thanked him with his eyes, rubbed his wrists, and sat up. “We better get going. Ma will be worried.”
“I’ll check your vital signs one more time, and then you’ll be free to leave with your buddy.” He shook his head. “I don’t think getting discharged at this time is a good idea, but the decision was made above my pay grade.”

Virgil tossed the keys to Richard as they approached the Ford. “You drive.”
“Are you sure you want to trust me behind the wheel? Especially this car? I just had some kind of relapse.”
“Gotta start sometime.” Virgil slid onto the passenger seat and remained quiet until they reached an open stretch on Minnehaha Boulevard. “Gun it!”
Using the passing lane, Richard breezed by a couple of slower cars and cut back in to shoot ahead of the traffic in the cruising lane.
After swerving in and out, and the needle hovering around eighty miles an hour, Virgil yelled, “Hey, enough.” The Ford’s speed dissipated. “When you get back from your session tomorrow—driving one of Dad’s street vehicles—we can open this one up on Stillwater Road.”
Richard double clutched to gear down, shot back up to cruising speed, and dropped into high gear. “Not bad for a sixty horsepower flathead.”
Virgil said, “Shaved those heads within a witch’s breath of blowing the bottom half the engine. It’ll be ready for the State Fair next week.” He chuckled. “If you can stay out of trouble that long.”
A rush traveled up and down Richard’s spine, assured he wouldn’t disappoint his pit-stop mechanic.
Virgil cracked the window an inch, shook loose a cigarette from its pack, and lit it. “Never guess who stopped by the shop today asking about you.”
Richard, who seldom smoked, held out an open hand. “Who?”
Virgil passed him the smoldering Chesterfield and lit another. “Frank Kelly.”
“Yeah?”
“Sounds like he’s been keeping an eye on you. I didn’t know you were buddy-buddy with the mob.”
“He and his associates pretty much controlled East Side back when I had my shoe shine location. I did his shoes once. Didn’t really need a shine. Probably every kid in a thirty block area earned his dime that afternoon.”
“He mentioned that episode. Said he’d like to talk to you.”
“When?”
“Didn’t say, but I’d seek him out real soon. You know he hangs out at the Rusty Scupper, probably owns the place, or, for sure, gets his cut.”
Richard crushed his cigarette into the ashtray and accelerated to a careless speed considering that section being heavily patrolled.

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Chapter Four

CHAPTER FOUR

Minutes, hours it seemed, ticked off as Richard fidgeted across from Lt. Col. Renford whose attention locked onto the report supposedly delivered to his home the previous evening. Why hadn’t he already read it?
“Excuse me for a minute.” Renford tucked the report into the file folder on his desk and left the room.
Richard eyed the ever expanding packet within arm’s reach. Was he being tested? He had no desire to read a collection of infractions he’d nearly erased from memory. However, waking last night restrained to a bed with no memory of how or why he got there felt very similar to his hospital ship experience shortly after the war had ended. Amount of time lost was the only difference, a few hours yesterday compared to two months under sedation after the explosion in a booby-trapped Japanese bunker.
He called upon last night’s conversation with Frank Kelley to blot out the emerging images of buddies who led him into that bunker but didn’t survive the blast. And to block out the temptation peek into his file.

“I noticed you and Virgil got a pretty hot car ready for the races at the Minnesota State Fair.” Frank Kelley sunk his teeth into the stub of a cigar gone cold, and, with his feet atop half an acre of mahogany, indicated the leather arm chair where Richard assumed he should sit.
“Yes, Sir. We done that.” The leather creaking might have been mistaken for an inappropriate release of gas, something Richard avoided even when drinking beer with the guys.
“You come a long way since your shoe-shine stand on East Seventh.”
Richard followed Kelley’s gaze to the shoes adorning the desk top, their 4-bit shine obvious.
“A few nickels and dimes to take back to Ma. Just a couple sisters left at home when you stopped for a shine.”
“Did I leave a good sized tip?”
“Yes, Sir. Silver dollar and a few pennies. Said that was all the change you had at the time.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t just the dollar? I seldom carried pennies.”
“Maybe I got it mixed in with my pocket change. Pennies back then could still buy a handful of candy.”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“Candy?”
Frank dropped his feet to the floor. “And pretzels and beer. I need someone to make delivers through the back doors in some pretty tough neighborhoods, not always during daylight hours.” He paused, as if assessing a piece of property he might want to buy. “I’m sure you can handle those problems, but how about kegs half your weight?”
“I used to deliver ice before the war, eighty pound cakes up to second and third story apartments.”
“Some time after your shoe shine operation, no doubt. I often wondered what happened to you until I heard you enlisted.”
“Had a few problems with school and the cops. I survived.”
“I’d ask if you can handle a truck, but I saw what you and Virgil did with automobiles. Any questions?”
“Just, when do I start?”
“Next week. I’ll have Tommy ride shotgun until you get the route established in your head.” He glanced down at the dead plug between his lips and tossed it into the waste basket.
“And point out the dangerous places.” His glaze remained fixed on the no longer visible cigar butt, as if it were an old friend. “I got just one more question.”
Richard squirmed as the mobster’s eyes penetrated.
“Do you play cards?”
Richard nodded, relieved.
“Me and some of the boys get together off-and-on for some cribbage and maybe a little poker. I’ll keep you in mind.”

Renford returned with another report that he placed on the desk. “Sorry for the wait.” He sat and held eye contact a few moments, as if Richard should initiate conversation. “What happened yesterday when you left our afternoon session?”
“You tell me. I didn’t get copies of the reports.”
“I want to know what caused the incident that generated those reports.” He tapped the folder as if seeking answers to every one of Richard’s mysteries. “Two MP’s and a security guard required medical attention, Mr. Hermendez released just minutes ago. What the hell got you so riled?”
Hermendez. Mexican Hermendez. Richard just stared.
“The streetcar driver from the afternoon run said you waved him away after the other guys got on board. Said he considered driving back with his personal car to check if you were still stranded. He’s the kind of guy who cares about his usual riders.”
Crazies at the funny farm. Richard tucked the insult into his private list of triggers that could cause loss of control. “I was waiting for my ride, not the streetcar.”
“That was confirmed by Trumel’s presence at the emergency room. We need to establish what caused you to attack the security guard who was concerned about your safety.”
“I fell asleep. That much I remember. Hermendez, if you can understand his accent, will have to fill in the details.”
“I believe he has.” Renford read from the report. “Security guard Hermendez noticed Mr. Leslie didn’t get on the streetcar, the last one for the day. Approximately forty-five minutes later—the end of Mr. Hermendez’s shift—Mr. Leslie appeared to be sleeping. Mr. Hermendez approached to offer a ride home since he, too, commuted from downtown St. Paul, but Mr. Leslie appeared to have died with his eyes open. Mr. Hermendez made the sign of the cross and attempted to close Mr. Leslie’s eyes. If two MPs hadn’t happened by, Mr. Hermendez felt sure Mr. Leslie would have choked him to death.”
Renford tucked the sheet of paper into the packet on his desk. I don’t think you need to hear the MP’s accounts of the struggle. Cracked ribs and a broken nose can add a negative tone if not an actual bias to any report.
Silence, an obvious strategy shift from your turn to speak to just think about it for a moment, and Richard resented the manipulation. He redirected the discussion. “I was offered a job last night after I got home from the hospital.”
“What kind of interview happens that late in the day? Bar tending? Or, considering your facial cuts and bruises, maybe a bouncer?”
“I got beat up here on government property last night, remember?”
A quick glance at the colonel’s deadpan reaction. “A business man called me to his downtown office. He never asked personal questions about my face.” Richard resisted touching his swollen eye that began to throb. “If anything, a few battle scars enhance rather than deter in this line of work. Next week I begin driving a delivery truck.”
“How do you see this job as a means of curbing your anger?”
“I won’t have to beg any more money from Ma.” Richard locked onto the psychiatrist’s glare. “I won’t be coming here anymore.”
“I won’t recommend disability pay.”
“I won’t need it.” Sarcasm topped.

The State Fair cancellation that year due to the polio outbreak disappointed Richard, but the delivery job pleased him and others; mother, sister, psychiatrist. Until an incident in the alley behind Fitz’s Tavern.
“He’ll never be able to talk again,” the court appointed attorney’s plea for leniency, his client at his side shrinking into his oversized suit jacket.
“On the bright side, he’ll never rat on his buddies,” whispered Frank Kelley into the ear of his employee he’d been summoned to vouch for. No need for an attorney, because Richard hadn’t been charged, although attempted manslaughter could have been a possibility.
Up Near Frog Town during a pre dawn delivery, Richard returned to his truck and found three guys rummaging through the van assessing whatever they could run off with. He yelled and all but one disappeared down the alley and jumped a fence, creating the slight annoyance Richard had come to expect. The remaining assailant, courage backed up with a knife, slashed a gash in Richard’s jacket, a costly miss.
“I don’t wan’ no trouble, jus’ hand over the keys.” Richard had exaggerated the black man’s dialect at the police station, the culprit no longer able to speak for himself.
That unfortunate phrase raised the charge from robbery to hijacking, but Richard cared little about such details; three fingers to the throat and the knife dropped to the street, followed by the hijacker onto his knees gagging blood. “I only wanted him to drop his weapon. If I wanted him dead, he wouldn’t be on trial today.”
Richard whispered back to Kelley, “What are the MP’s doing here? This is a civilian matter.”
Frank Kelly, Richard’s play-acting attorney, said, “I’ll deal with it.” He faced the judge. “Your Honor, I can only assume the uniformed men at the door are here to show respect for a former soldier—war hero—performing his civic duty.”
“The court will deal with that matter when the docket is cleared. The defendant has pled guilty and expressed remorse. Bail denied, until sentence is pronounced at a later date. Case dismissed.”
Bailiffs escorted the prisoner down the aisle and out the door still flanked by two military police officers, his attorney trailing.
The judge continued. “The Army has no jurisdiction in this court, but have been granted permission to speak in defense of their former soldier.” He acknowledged Frank Kelley with a nod almost as a boss to an employee.
“Mr. Kelley.” Frank stiffened as if some ordinary roles had suddenly reversed. “You placed your employee in a dangerous situation without any kind of support, relying on his special skills that could render him vulnerable in a court such as this.”
Frank gnawed at an absent cigar as the judge continued. “This did show bad judgment on your part, but certainly within the law, and I can only assume you will carry on as usual now that this issue is settled. You are excused, but Mr. Leslie, if it please the court, remain at your seat.”
“Hey, I did nothing wrong. You can’t charge me with anything.”
“This is true. However another jurisdiction holds sway over your behavior, and has been invited to assist this court with what it deems necessary.”
“Your Honor.” Frank, two fingers readied to remove the non existent cigar, returned his hand to his pocket. “I’m staying. I’m not an attorney, but you can’t leave this man with no representation.”
“Suit yourself.” The Judge continued, “The St Paul Police Department, in conjunction with outlying law enforcement departments, has has made a request of this court, and The Department of Veteran Affairs has concurred. We just witnessed what this man is capable of in hand-to-hand street fighting, and have been informed of various other lethal hand maneuvers he may be able to perform.”
“You can’t cut off a man’s hands for what he might do with them,” Frank Kelley, who probably doled out such punishment, stated defiantly. “As a matter of fact…”
“Yes, yes. We are not some primitive desert society where such an act could be condoned. Quite the contrary. Our actions are to preempt possible harm to an officer should he find cause to approach Mr. Leslie unaware of the weapons he possesses.”
Kelley smirked. “If Mr. Leslie promises to use his hands solely for gainful employment and to wipe his ass, will the court be satisfied?”
“Mr. Kelley, that would cost you a contempt if court were in session.” The judge stepped down from the bench, and the MP’s moved forward. “What we are asking of Mr. Leslie is to register his hands with the St. Paul Police as lethal weapons. These officers are prepared to present the military’s rational for such an act as spelled out by one Lieutenant Colonel Renford.”

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Chapter Five

CHAPTER FIVE

“Ma, sit down.” Richard pulled the chair back from the table. “Rita, make Ma sit. The colonel might walk through that door any minute.”
“Can’t wait to get home and tack this etching up on the wall.” Richard’s mother unwound the scroll, a gravestone-sized sheet of white paper she had bummed from the butcher on East Seventh Street.” She glanced at her teenage daughter. “Which room do you think?”
Richard shoved the chair back against the table, not wanting the colonel to make any assumptions about his relationship with his mother to bring up at a future session. Meeting at least once a month for a year pretty well used up all topics he agreed to discuss. “Keep it out of my bedroom. I got enough stuff bugging me without opening my eyes every morning to a sketch of my brother’s grave stone.”
“Come, help me keep this from rolling back up so I can read his epitaph”
Richard caught Rita’s attention and motioned for her to hold the paper open for Ma. He sat across from where his psychiatrist would probably sit. He wished they could meet in his office, but his secretary thought it would be crowded.
With her finger, his mother traced the shaded etchings, the scrapings of charcoal from pens she purchased at Woolworths where she insisted Richard stop on their way to Fort Snelling. She read in a soft voice, “Edward A. Leslie, Minnesota, Private, 363 Infantry, World War Two, born May fifteenth, nineteen hundred and twenty one.” She brushed back a tear and whispered, “Died October thirteenth, nineteen hundred and forty four.”
Richard grimaced. The darn fool went in as a medic but volunteered, actually argued his way into the infantry. Caught a bullet the first day at Monte Casino, his wife from one week’s leave claimed the ten thousand dollar Army insurance policy that his Ma would have been entitled to.
“Oh, my Edward! I knew he was dead the moment it happened.” She gave Richard a teary-eyed glance, but he pretended not to notice. “Got the telegram a week later, but I felt his dying in my sleep—his crying out to a mother who couldn’t comfort him. When I awoke, he was gone.”
Yeah, and tracking her remaining son in the Philippines, letter demanding revenge. No matter that a German shot Edward. Enemy is enemy. As if the number of dead Japs hadn’t already evened the score. A hundred more she demanded and wanted proof. What? Ears? Noses? penises? From my mother? I chalked it off as grief, yet I couldn’t help myself. I began hunting and counting and…
His mother dropped her edge of the paper and shook her finger at Richard. “I fought for you.” She paused until he made eye contact. “Wrote I don’t remember how many letters. Came out here at Snelling to state my case, no sole surviving son should remain in harm’s way. I got the attention of the base commander, General Something or Another. He couldn’t protect you because you volunteered—were warned but no, you wanted adventure, glory.”
Rita remained guardian to her brother’s headstone.
Richard mumbled, “And fifty dollars a month jump pay, and fifty more combat pay.”
“And what good does that money do now. I got a Maytag and a Frigidaire and a son who has to borrow money from his widowed mother to carouse the streets every night.”
“Pa ain’t dead, Ma.” Richard returned his gaze to the table.
“To me he is. To his children he is.”
The door swung open and, on impulse, Richard stood. “Colonel, this is my mother and my sister, Rita.” Embarrassed and defeated, he sat, locked into an empty stare.
Lt. Col. Renford stood at attention acknowledging the older woman and then her daughter, each with a nod. “Mrs. Leslie. Rita.” He stepped closer and extended his hand toward the sketch. “I see you’ve visited Richard’s brother’s grave.” He shook his head. “A terrible sacrifice for any mother to have to make for her country. You have my deepest sympathy.”
From the corner of his eye, Richard caught the familiar quiver of his mother’s chin, forewarning a beating when he was a child, but just frustration since he moved back home. Recently, being slapped would have felt better.
Rita rolled the paper, took her mother’s arm, and seated her at the table, placing the scroll on her lap.
“One year ago this week Richard mustered out of the army, returning to your home a war hero. As in most cases, this comes with a price. Time to adjust to civilian life varies depending on the amount of time a soldier had been involved in combat. The 503rd, Richard’s regiment, experienced continuous combat for eighteen consecutive months.”
Richard’s mother interrupted. “How many men?” She had yet to extend eye contact to the colonel since they sat down.
“Pardon?” Renford’s startled response.
“How many were in Richard’s regiment?”
“Richard, I believe you could give your mother a better estimate than I could.”
Richard resented being drawn into a conversation that smelled like a trap. “About three thousand, Ma. You knew the size of my outfit.”
Mrs. Leslie shot her son a grimace and then glared at the colonel. “Are all of them meeting with psychiatrists since the war ended?”
“Any of them who came home on a hospital ship sedated are probably under psychiatric care.” He glanced at Richard. “At least those lucky enough to have survived their wounds.”
“I don’t need to be reminded of a son who never came home.” She grabbed her scrolled headstone and shook it at the colonel like a pointer.
“Mrs. Leslie. You may not believe this, but I can understand…feel your grief.”
Richard selected a more comfortable situation, but his mind refused to be transported out of the room.
Renford’s voice cracked. “I, too, had a son who didn’t come home. His ship was torpedoed, all hands lost.”
Mrs. Leslie lowered her pointer and put it back on her lap. “No grave marker?”
“Yes, there is a stone, but he’s not under it.” He paused, probably for effect. “A sailor accepts that possibility just like a paratrooper accepts the double if not triple danger he may encounter.”
She shook her head. “Why can’t we settle our differences without sending young men to fight?” Her chin didn’t quiver but tensed with recognizable determination. “Why’d you require me and my daughter to come today?”
“I hope invite was the word I used.” His sudden glance pulled Richard out of his race car and brought him back to the table. “This week Richard celebrates his first anniversary home from the war. I thought a gathering of those who love him would be appropriate.” His expression, one of victory. “That you do love him is evident by your presence here, by your accepting him back into your family.”
“Of course he belongs at home. At least until he finds a wife to take with him to his own place. Sometimes I worry that might not happen.”
“There aren’t women in his circle of friends?”
“Many. He hangs out in bars and drinks and dances and God only knows what else, but never brings a girl home to meet his mother.”
Renford didn’t respond before Richard acknowledged her glare. “Ma, I’m not ready to settle down. There’s too much stuff going on. I can’t even keep a job.”
“You aren’t making delivers for Mr. Kelley any longer,” the first break in the colonel’s countenance. “I thought the matter got settled at the trial.”
“He quit that job weeks ago,” a wave of her hand, flippancy in her tone.
Richard had never seen an expression of success dissolve so quickly as on Lt. Col. Renford’s face. “We talked about the problem I had after the incident in the back alley. I nearly killed that guy.”
“But you’re still on good terms with your old boss?”
“Yeah, we play cribbage at The Rusty Scupper a couple times each week. He set me up with a couple of construction jobs but they fell through.”
“Why haven’t you mentioned this before?”
“I never thought of the Army as an employment agency?”
“I’ll look into the GI Bill for some vocational training options. In the meantime, let’s celebrate your successes.”
“I ain’t dead and I haven’t killed anyone. Yeah, let’s celebrate.”
“Rita, we’ve been doing what adults seem to do best, blabber on and neglect the young people. How different is your life since your brother came home?”
“I had to give up my bedroom because Richard needed the one with two windows.”
“That’s not the reason, at least not the entire reason I sleep in the attic.” Richard regretted not accepting Rita’s two-window explanation, but all attention zoomed in on him. “Sometimes I have nightmares and wake up…”
“He screams, but he doesn’t like it to have his mother come to comfort him. I don’t mind, but he wants privacy.” She gave the psychiatrist a wistful glance. “Isn’t there something you can give him for bad dreams?”
“Have you been taking your medication, Richard?”
“Usually, but I forget sometimes.”
“He doesn’t forget. He comes home drunk and hardly makes it to his room.” Nearly in tears, Rita continued. “I’m sorry, Richard, but I want you to get some help.”
“I can see we still have some unresolved issues. I’d like you to start coming here every week like when we first started these sessions. Since you are between jobs right now, I’ll see if we can boost your disability back to at least fifty percent.”
Richard squirmed. “How about meeting every other week? That way I can spend more time looking for work. Frank can help me.” He brightened. “As a matter of fact, he offered me another full time job just last week.”
“And you first mention it now? I’d been home praying you’d find something since your disability got cut back.”
“You’d be praying a whole lot more if I took that job.” A brief rush of pride. “Frank wants me to be his body guard. He’s earned a few enemies in his business, and he thinks my size would confuse anyone who might attack him.”
“He’d use you for bait?”
“They would be less tempted to shoot him, but move in close because they would think I’d be easy to overcome.”
“I don’t want my son part of the mob.”
“You didn’t want me to be part of the Army either, but here I am.”
“You were wise to refuse the job, and not just because of the danger. It would set your treatment back to when the war ended. I want to see you a week from today to work through some of these issues. I will check into the GI Bill.”
“And don’t forget to raise his disability pay. He doesn’t make enough to cover his share of the rent.”
Renford stood at attention. “Mrs. Leslie, I will do everything I can for your son, but he has to cooperate. I would like to see you—and his sister—on a regular basis, maybe once every month. We will work as a team to bring this son back to you minus the damage the war has caused.”

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Chapter Six

CHAPTER SIX

Richard chose the same seat at the table as the previous week, this time not flanked by mother and sister. The colonel’s office unavailable, his secretary vague about the reason—some urgent meeting or some remodeling project—an obvious spur-of-the-moment fabrication. Strangely, he felt comforted. With home life, social encounters, and job prospects on the decline, he needed a reminder of military camaraderie to raise his spirits. If he hadn’t been denied reenlistment, he could be serving in a building such as this. But, if another war should break out…
Lt. Col. Renford interrupted Richard’s WWIII followed by a female wearing an Army uniform. “Richard, I’d like you to meet Lieutenant Jansen.”
Richard stood at attention but redirected his salute to shake the woman’s outstretched hand. “Hi. Just call me Nancy.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Nancy,” she stressed and gestured for Richard to sit, taking the chair to his left. “I wouldn’t even be in uniform if I had known Ted wanted me to meet you.”
Lt. Col. Renford camouflaged a grimace with an exaggerated smile and remained standing. “I asked Lieutenant Jansen to attend our session because she has some suggestions that might be helpful.” He glanced at the female officer. “Go ahead…Nancy…and I’ll rejoin in a few minutes.” He walked out leaving the door open.
“Nancy?”
“Yes.”
“Are you and—Ted—always this informal, or just with the crazies who come here to get their heads screwed back on proper?”
“A good question. I did time in the field, European theater, and had my fill of pulling rank. Being a WAC officer in the combat zone, I felt the need for protocol. Here I prefer just being a woman and a psychologist. As for that other part of your question, I am honored to work with soldiers who were crazy enough to jump out of airplanes.”
Nancy could have told him to fly out of this third story window and he would have obliged.
“What I gathered from Dr. Renford’s notes, you are experiencing some very common post combat traumas; nightmares, restlessness, and occasional anxiety attacks. First off, I want to assure you this is quite common. Also, you feel rejection from having your reenlistment denied.”
Elbow on the table, she raised an open hand. “How am I doing so far?”
“You left out an angry mother and a sister who no longer respects her brother.”
“No, what I left out—what we’re going to work on—is your perception that you don’t quite fit in like you did before the war.”
“Things weren’t that rosy back then either. I joined the Army to escape problems.”
“That, too, is quite common. The difference being, back then you were just a teenager, but you’ve since become an adult. You now have tools to work with that are not usually available to young people. Some call this common sense.”
Lt. Col. Renford entered followed by an aid carrying a tray of teapot, cups, and containers with sugar and cream.
He said, “Your mother is an English lady who taught you to drink tea rather than coffee. I’ll need your approval of the Army’s brewing skills before we invite her and Rita back.”
The aid left, and Renford filled the three cups. “That Kenai grass you described doesn’t grow in Minnesota, but it’s too cold outside to sit on the lawn anyhow.”
Nancy asked, “You take sugar and cream?” Ignoring Richard’s indecisive nod and with the grace of his mother at half her age, she dipped a small mound of sugar into his tea and blended some cream with a single hand motion. “I often wondered why coffee became the drink of the military.” She repeated the process with her cup and lifted it to her lips. When she set it down, Richard’s gaze locked onto the red smudge on its rim.
Renford interrupted Richard’s stare. “Have you told Richard your, shall we say, suggestion?”
“No, we were just getting acquainted. But now might be the proper time.” She faced Richard. “I understand you like to dance.”

Richard rode the streetcar back from his session at Fort Snelling, his on-and-off-again car parked in back of Trumel’s Automotive, the voucher for dance lessons from Nancy and, he chuckled, Ted, in his coat pocket. He stepped off the streetcar at 354 Selby Avenue and paused in front of Arthur Murray Dance Studio and savored the wisp of a memory.
Eight years earlier, he’d recently returned home ending two years of court mandated country living at the Munson family farm, his second placement in Wisconsin. The first one nearly got him sent to Redwing, Minnesota’s version of Boy’s Town.
Instead of enrolling at Harding Junior High School as he had promised his mother that morning, he and the older sister of Rita’s best friend spent the afternoon peddling magazine subscriptions.
A cluster of adults lingered in front of the newly franchised Arthur Murray Dance Studio. He and Patsy swayed to the music piped out to the sidewalk. Two thirteen-year-old kids dancing, obviously a studio promotion, attracted attention. At just the right moment, they handed out magazine subscriptions, suggesting those endorsed by Arthur Murray himself. They had their best sales that day.
Two years later—he had just returned from sheep herding in Montana—Patsy told him about Glen Miller coming to St. Paul. They hopped onto the back of a University Avenue Streetcar and jumped off at Midway in front of the Prom Ballroom celebrating its grand opening. Only sixteen at the time, they were turned away at the door. No matter, they had but thirty cents between them. The remainder of the evening they sat on overturned trash cans near the ballroom’s back door listening to Glen Miller’s band.
Whatever happened to Patsy since the war? He hadn’t thought to ask Rita.
Richard studied the Army’s voucher, unbelieving his good fortune. He briefly envisioned swirling Lt. Nancy around the dance floor, but thought better of it. Maybe Patsy would take dance lessons with him. If she couldn’t afford Arthur Murray, he’d teach her the steps at Frankie and Johnnies. He could stop there on his way home and ask if she still lived in the area.
That evening Richard left the bar in time for dinner, and sat with his mother ‘til midnight listening to Big Band Sounds broadcast from Prom on the Midway. Tomorrow he’d sign up for dance lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studio, compliments of the U.S. Army. He would have to find another dance partner; Patsy had married and left town.

PVT. RICHARD LEE LESLIE Chapter Seven

CHAPTER SEVEN

“Would you care to dance?” Richard had assessed the crowd at the Prom-on-the-Midway, and he selected the less than beautiful but stately brunette sitting with two girlfriends. Throughout a full dance-set, they hadn’t left their table.
Blood-red fingernails freed a cigarette from its monogrammed compact. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Long slender fingers inserted it into an engraved cigarette holder.
“Come on. I just finished six months of lessons, and I’d like to try out some of these new Latin dance steps.”
She replaced the cigarette. “Okay, you asked for it.” Rising, her unfolded legs boosted her to over six feet tall, Richard gawking into her buxom bosom. “A Samba or Rumba, maybe even a polka, but I don’t think we should do any close dancing.”
“Okay with me.” His hand on her waist, Richard walked her out to an opening on the dance floor. After a few practice steps, he twirled and dipped, and they promenaded into the crowd. Two or three turns around the dance area and couples began to step aside, clapping and cheering. The trumpeter stepped from the bandstand and blasted his sound their way as they gyrated to his rhythm.
“Whew! I think I need a rest. Come to my table, and I’ll introduce you to my girl friends. I think Trish would love to do a slow waltz.” She led him by his hand. “I would too, but not with all these eyes fixed on us.” At the vacated table she said, “They must be out on the floor.”
“Yeah, I saw them.” He had noticed them dancing with each other.
“Maybe you’re not ready for a break. Don’t let me cramp your style.” She reached for her purse. “I’ll just wander off to powder my nose.”
“Your nose looks just fine.” He pulled her chair from the table. “I’ll sit with you for a while.”
“By the way, I’m Mary Lou.” She allowed Richard to seat her. “What’s your name?”
He pushed her friend’s drink aside and sat beside her. “Richard.”
“Friends call you Rich or Rick?”
“Not unless they want to piss me off.”
“Well, Richard it will be. Do you have a last name? I certainly wouldn’t want to get that one wrong.”
“Leslie.” He detected a smirk and added, “It’s a Scottish surname. My father was a direct descendant of the Crawford-Leslie family in Aberdeen shire.”
Mary Lou’s expression turned somber. “Your father was? Has he passed away?”
Richard blushed. “That’s a long story.” He forced his eyes out of the blank stare they so often locked into. “Listen.” He grabbed her hand. “They’re playing a slow one. Let’s do this set, and then I have to catch the streetcar back to East Seventh Street.”
Mary Lou snapped open her purse and inserted her cigarette compact. “Just this one, and then I will give you a ride to whatever is so important at East Seventh.”
Richard promenaded her, improvising moves that avoided his face squashed between her breasts. “Frankie and Johnnies.”
“What?” He twirled her.
Back face-to-face, “Where we’re heading after this dance. I want to show you off to my friends.”
“Just the ride.”
He twirled her twice more.
With her face to the ceiling and his hand flat against her back, she said in a husky voice, “I’m not ready for the friends part.”
He pulled her close and stopped in mid step. “Okay, then a quick stop at White Castle and a walk through Phalen Park. I have a story I’d like to share with you.”
“You do know how to capture a lady’s curiosity.”
****
From the stack of Jap bodies, some still writhing, a sharp staccato voice screaming its complaint to the Emperor or possibly a long since dead ancestor. Richard clamped his ears. He couldn’t look and didn’t want to hear.
“Richard.”
“I did it, Ma. For Edward.” The bodies slithered single file toward him like eels in slimy ooze. “I had to,” his explanation short of an apology. “It’s what I trained for.” He grabbed an arm and it broke loose from the body like off some strange sea creature. “You knew it was my duty.” One by one the bodies paused and stared, then parted to pass on either side of him. “Ma demanded it.” He yelled. “For my brother.” He tried to count as Ma had requested, but numbers kept dissolving into the slime. Name them—count later. “Geronimo. Jenkins. Edward.” Not names! Numbers! Ma only needs to know how many. Count backwards. “One hundred, ninety nine, maybe only twenty or thirty. I tried, Ma.”
“Richard, wake up.”
“I tried to keep track, Ma, but they keep coming too fast.”
“You’re having a nightmare.”
Richard opened his eyes, and he clawed at the layer of burned flesh that clung but wasn’t his. Streams of fire arc and splash into an enemy bunker, running and screaming, naked bodies turning black.
“Your sheets are sopping.”
“Get away from me. You’re not my mother. She wouldn’t, couldn’t.” He checked his swing in time.
Her hand covering her face, she hadn’t stepped back. “Richard, there’s a man here to see you.”
“Ma?”
“You were having a nightmare.”
Panic. “What did I say?”
“What I didn’t want to hear but you needed to remind me.” She removed her apron, peeled back the sheets clinging to his torso, and covered his heaving chest. “What have I done to you?”
He fought back sobs. “It’s not our fault, Ma. The war…” He rolled over and buried his face in the pillow, wishing he would suffocate.
“There’s a man downstairs waiting to talk to you, but first there is something I must tell you.”
He sat up and his body began to shake uncontrollably. He reached for the fallen quilt and wrapped it around his shoulders. “What does he want?” He stood, a corner of quilt draped on the floor. “Is he MP, Ma?”
“No, he’s civilian. I told him to come back later, but he insisted he would wait—allowed time to wash your face and get dressed.”
“I’ll make him go away. He should listen to you. This is your house.” He strode toward the door, his body rigid. “I’ll kick his butt out.”
“No, I want you to hear what he has to say. But first there’s something you need to know. About your father. Probably the reason this guy came all the way from Scotland.”
He considered the Scottish Highlanders he encountered in the islands, bagpipes and all. Part of a British regiment. “Was he in the war?”
“No, he’s a lawyer for the Leslie Clan. That’s all he would say until he could to talk to you.”
“What do I have to do with some law in Scotland?”
She sat on the bed and motioned with her hand. “Come, sit.” She breathed deep. “Your father…” Her jaw tightened and her chest heaved. “Your father claimed he belonged to the Crawford-Leslie family back in Scotland. Said they owned the Rothie House, a castle in Aberdeen shire. I never believed him, but now with that lawyer in my kitchen, I’m beginning to wonder.”
“Why me? Shouldn’t he be talking to my father.” I have no grandson raced through his mind. Facing his grandmother’s maid, the shrill voice from another room—he clamped hard on the image and returned to Ma and the incredible information she decided to lay on him while trying to recover from a nightmare, and a hangover.
Her voice broke. “I wonder…think maybe…he passed away. The family would have to contact you if he died.” Her body stiffened, “With your older brother…Edward… gone.” She took two deep breaths and swallowed. “You, Richard Lee Leslie, would be the next in line. At least in that branch of the family.”
“What would they want with me?”
“I have no idea, but I thought you should know these facts before talking to him.”
“Tell him I’m sick and can’t talk, or that I’ve gone crazy—that would be closer to the truth.”
“Stop talking like that. He won’t tell me anything, and he needs to catch a train to New York later today.”
“Tell him I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“I don’t want to talk to him unless you’re with me.”
“Okay, let’s go.” He pulled the quilt tight around his upper body.
Lifting the trailing edge his mother said, “Just like the King of Scotland.”
****
“You’re royalty!” Mary Lou tapped the cigarette pinched between thumb and finger throughout Richard’s narration and inserted it into its holder. “Don’t stop now. What did the guy come all the way from Scotland to tell you?” She glared. “The suspense is killing me.”
Richard hadn’t intended to tease or enhance by withholding details of his ancestry, not the reason he brought her to Phalen Park in the first place. That urge had subsided half way through the telling. He regretted sharing with his new friend the carefully selected parts of the encounter with his mother before confronting the clan lawyer. Mary Lou, a New York model, she admitted after beer and White Castle hamburgers, could never understand the situation between him and his mother. He lost interest in telling his own story.
“You can’t fill me up with these gut-bombs and not admit that you are royalty.”
Richard helped himself to one of her cigarettes and lit both from a book of matches. “Hardly royalty, just a family clan.”
“You tell me what the lawyer said, and I’ll make up my mind if you’re a blue blood or not.” She blew smoke into the star-lit sky.
“My father hadn’t died, and I couldn’t tell if my mother felt relieved or disappointed. He ran out on us when I was five, and never bothered to even meet my younger sister, Rita.”
“Then how did you get involved?” She ejected her cigarette from its holder onto the moist ground and let it smolder.
“My older brother got killed in Italy, and apparently our cousin, heir to the castle, died there too, about the same time. The cousin was the only child of my father’s brother, and his parents were desperate to continue the lineage. The Leslie Castle is located in Aberdeen shire, historical seat of Clan Leslie, located a few miles from Aberdeen. The core of the castle dates to the 14th century.”
“So when your father dies, you get the castle?”
Much too eager and missing the point of his sharing an intimate part of his past with a girl who danced well. “My father signed off as an heir and I did too.” He glanced up at the harvest moon veined by the naked branches of the Elm tree against their backs.
Her gaze moved between his cigarette and the one she tossed. “Was that a tough decision?”
“No. The Leslie clan had fallen on hard times, and they needed an American with cash. That certainly isn’t me.” He pointed to her Lincoln parked on the grass. “I have trouble finding streetcar fare to get where I want to go.” He stood. “The terms required my living in Scotland. I left St. Paul once and it turned out very bad. I don’t ever want to leave again.”
His cigarette sparked like a firefly as he tossed it. “It’s getting late and your friends will be worried about you.”
With a swipe of her arm she brushed aside empty beer cans and food wrappers, and reclined on the car blanket they’d spread out for their picnic. “I don’t want to go just yet.”
“I can’t leave you alone out here.” A quick glance back at the moon. For a moment he had returned to Montana and all that happened since then disappeared. He settled on his back alongside her.
She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. She whispered, “Being shorter than me has its advantages,” as she unbuttoned her blouse and removed her bra.

“Hey, you two.”
A face leered much too close, but pvt. Richard Leslie swatted at it and muttered. “Leave us alone. I waited a long time for this date, and me and the lieutenant plan to spend the night.”
“Is that you, Leslie?” All interrogation melted from the voice. “You and your lady friend can’t sleep out here, against park rules. And her car is parked illegally.”
Richard jolted awake and got to his feet.
A confused expression appeared on the boyish face of the officer. “I’ll tear up the ticket if you both leave now.” All authority evaporated. “I don’t want any trouble.” The young cop held out open palms. “I’m leaving now, but I’ll stop by later.” He backed away. “With support.” He paused at Mary Lou’s car, removed the ticket from the windshield, and drove off in the patrol car.
Like from a cocoon, Mary Lou peered out from the blanket Richard had wrapped around her naked shivering body after she fell asleep. Dressed, he intended to watch over her, but must have dozed off. Her husky voice, “What was that all about?”
“Cops think I’m a bad ass. Just the young ones. The older cops brought me home many times when I was a kid. They know I won’t use my weapon against them. Especially not a St. Paul beat cop.”
“What weapon? You aren’t carrying a gun, are you?”
“No. I hate guns. Had too much of them in the army.”
“You said weapon.”
“My hands are considered lethal.”
“That ain’t all of you that’s bad. Come here soldier.” Mary Lou unwrapped the blanket, her nakedness an invitation to enter.
He shrugged and stared off into the distance.
She scowled and snuggled back into her cocoon alone.
The silence felt oppressive. Why won’t she get dressed?
I a tone meant to tease. “Did you know that you talk in your sleep?”
A shiver of fear. “What did I say?”
“I couldn’t make out the most of it, but you called me Lieutenant, and I think your dream was quite pleasant. Who was she?
“Just a female officer I dated in the Islands,” and had sex with after she killed a Jap sniper when I had my back turned. “When you get dressed, I’ll walk you to your car.”
At the car she tossed her blanket, bra, and silk stockings into the back seat and said, “Want to know how you got my attention?” She attempted eye contact. “Your reaction when I stood at the Prom. That I was much taller than you didn’t faze you in the least.”
“I faced a Jap from the Imperial Marines. He was even taller than you.”
Her expression dumbfounded, “Surely not a dance partner.”
“Let’s just say, when the music stopped only one of us was left standing.”