Lt. Col. Renford filled three teacups and sat across from Richard and Mrs. Leslie. “I’m sorry Rita couldn’t attend our session today. I’ll make a note to schedule our next family meeting after school lets out.” He moved the sugar and creamer closer to Richard’s mother. “She’s a senior this year, I believe.”
“Yes, and I wish Richard would go back to finish high school.” Mrs. Leslie lifted her cup and breathed in the aroma. “He had so little left.”
“Three years, Ma. They’d make me retake the entire tenth grade.”
“You could do it in less than three years.” She faced Renford. “The principal let him skip ninth grade.”
“That was because my country school in Wisconsin already covered all that stuff.” Not ready to rehash this family argument, Richard shot a quick glance at the colonel behind a veil of steam from his raised cup.
Renford acknowledged by interjecting, “It’s edifying that some rural schools excelled. We hear so much about others less accountable.”
Back on a comfortable track, Richard said, “Mrs. Munson, the lady where I lived during my seventh and eighth grades, taught at the one room school house half a mile down the road. She helped with my homework after I finished my chores. She stressed reading for comprehension. Everything I want to know, I get from books.” He caught the colonel’s glance and then lowered his gaze. “Even the Army’s manual for paratroopers.”
“Required reading, no doubt, when in training.” Renford blundered right into Richard’s trap.
An opportunity to shock. “Apparently my drill instructor hadn’t read it. He reneged when I challenged him to a duel under the rules of combat.”
Renford raised his hand palm out. “Perhaps something we can discuss at a future session. I doubt your mother cares to hear those kinds of details.”
A pseudo-benign smile. “Tell us, Richard, what’s been going on in your life lately?”
Richard nearly blurted horseback riding with a New York model, his most recent secret kept from Ma. More fun and much healthier than useless and painful sessions with Renford.
Renford glanced from Richard to his mother. Not getting a response, he answered his own question. “Between dance lessons and employment at that freight company, Richard’s been too busy to meet every week.”
Richard anticipated Renford leaking this bit of information, and braced himself against Ma’s reaction.
She faced the colonel. “His life of wine, women, and song, has become wine, women, and dancing. An improvement, but his staggering into the house night after night concerns me.”
Not the response Richard feared. He expected Ma’s demanding where he went on those days he’d ask for cab fare to get to Ft. Snelling.
“Ma, I’m twenty two years old. I don’t need a curfew.” Now he’d endure another lecture. Living at home you follow house rules.
Renford took a different approach. “Perhaps, when you save enough money you can rent your own place, or even buy one through the GI Bill.”
The suggestion caught Richard off guard. He had no interest in going out on his own, but Renford wouldn’t get off the topic.
“My gosh, you’ve lived away from home much of your young life, totally independent on that sheep ranch in Montana when just a teenager.”
Richard blurted, “And jumping into combat when twenty.” After all, he had been wounded and needed a safe place to heal.
“I’ve agreed to skirt issues involving combat, and I don’t think we should begin today in front of your mother.”
“I work and I dance. Maybe have a few drinks. You asked what’s happening, and that’s about it.”
His mother scowled. “The freight company calls you whenever they got something to unload at the warehouse. It’s not steady work.”
“I shuttle trucks around the yard and sometimes make deliveries. George, my boss, likes how I handle their pre-war Reo with the chain drive. I told him I would drive it all the way to California and back, if their other trucks couldn’t keep up with freight orders.”
Renford interrupted. “That might not be wise for a number of reasons.”
Not for discussion. He stared into the clock while the voices of mother and psychiatrist continued their lopsided conversation. His mind delivered him to different place.

Richard spurred ahead of Mary Lou’s mare, and they rode single file through the narrow streets of Swede Hollow. He pulled up alongside her when they crossed the gully and stopped near the mouth of a cave He dismounted and lashed his reins to a branch. “The horses will stay put while we explore.”
He held her mare’s halter, and when he reached to take the reins, Mary Lou kicked at him, foot still in the stirrup. “Are you suggesting we crawl into that hole in the ground like a couple of Neanderthals?”
“You were excited about the adventure last night at the ballroom.”
“While you swung me around the floor, yes, but out here astride a ton of horse flesh presents quite a different perspective.” She flashed a flirtatious smile. “Now if I were straddling a man one tenth as heavy, that would be my kind of adventure.”
“Two hundred pounds.”
“One tenth of a ton would be 200 pounds.”
“You did the math. Good for you Einstein.” She gazed down at him. “Don’t be so literal. I meant it as a joke.”
Not sure why, he felt let down.
“If I get off, how will I get back on without that little stool we used at the stable?”
“I can boost you back up.”
Her silent stare felt interminable. He intended to expand their activities beyond dancing, but wondered if horseback riding had been such a good idea.
“Okay, I’ll be a sport. Stand back, I’m coming down, but not into the cave.” Her gaze traveled between Richard, the ground, and each foot still clamped tight against the horse’s sides. She froze in the saddle.
“You dismount the exact reverse of how you got up there.” He tugged on her right pant leg. “Slide this foot loose and swing it behind the saddle.”
A couple of her knee slaps against the belly of the horse and Richard struggled to keep it from plodding forward. He released her shoe stuck in the stirrup and guided her leg across the horses’ back. With one foot still in the stirrup and the other on the ground she whispered, “Help?”
Richard released her foot and lashed the reins. He made a broad gesture.
“This area’s still called Swede Hollow, but a bunch of Mexicans have pretty well taken over.” He pointed north. “You get a good view of Schmidt Brewery and the Hamm Mansion from down here.”
“That’s the second time you said Mexicans with that certain inflection.” She brushed the dust from her slacks. “You don’t like them, do you.”
Richard had never considered if he liked or disliked the residents of Swede Hollow. “They just happen to be the latest group to settle there. The Irish were here before them, came after the Swedes left.” He reached for her hand. “If there are any Americans I dislike, it would be the Irish. My Ma’s English.” As if that settled the matter.
She accepted his hand and followed his lead. “All good and well, but keep me away from that cave.” She peered into the abyss. “Who knows what creatures lurk down there.”
“Bugs, snakes, crickets, and one giant lizard.” He squeezed her hand. “Let’s go.”
“If I get bitten, I’m holding you responsible.” The cave darkened and, as they progressed, its only source of light source grew smaller and smaller. “That’s it. No more daylight, and I’m out of here.”
“Wait.” Richard stepped into a niche and pawed the ledge until he found the candle in its holder.
A flash of light and an unstable and oversized shadow jiggled on the adjacent wall.
“Richard!” Her shriek awakened a flutter of wings, their shadows attacked the wall monster. “Richard, that’s not funny.”
As if leading a funeral dirge, he approached, the candle flickering in front of him giving his face a ghostly appearance.
“Now, cut that out.” Anger had replaced fear in her voice.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to give you a heart attack.”
She began to pound his chest until hot wax splattered. “Damn you.”
“Hey, it was only a joke.”
She stifled a giggle. “I peed.”
“Right here, in my pants, I pissed.” She grabbed his arm and turned him toward the entrance. “I want you to ride like the wind and get me clean clothes.”
He faced her. “I…I don’t know…” His mind reeled. “I can…you can have my underwear.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She took off her slacks and stepped out of her panties. “You can keep these as a reminder of our last time together.” She fitted them onto his head, and broke out laughing. “Serves you right for frightening me.”
Richard peeled the silk garment from his face, then pressed it to his cheek. “You didn’t wet yourself.”
“No, but the expression on your face was precious. I would have peed if I had thought of it in time, just to teach you a lesson.” She unbuttoned her blouse. “As long as I’m half undressed anyhow…”
Panties in one hand and a flickering candle in the other, Richard cowered. As with dancing, the female shouldn’t take the lead. He hadn’t brought her to the cave for sex.
She unsnapped her bra and grabbed her panties back. “At least have the decency to drop your pants.” She opened his belt buckle. “And my butt isn’t the one that will touch the cold floor.”
Why not oblige? With his pants caught at knee level and trigger finger stuck through the loop on the candle holder, he beckoned with his head.
“Follow me to a place where neither of us has to lay on the ground.” He shuffled into the darkness, a dancing glow from the flame reflecting off moist walls.
She laughed. “Okay, Little Jack Horner. Where’s your corner?”
He didn’t like the image. “Just a few more steps.”
“If that candle goes out, you better be ready with a match. My Ronson’s still in the saddle bag.”
Around the bend under a narrow shaft of light sat an army cot. Richard set the candle on a ledge amid beer bottles and fast food wrappers and let his pants drop to his shoes. “Me and Virgil—you’re gonna have to meet him soon—created that skylight. We noticed water dripping when it rained, so we bored a shaft through the overhead limestone.”
“I’m obviously not your first sexual conquest in this horrid little love nest.”
“That’s not why we did it.” Suddenly the area felt contaminated. We want to get a permit to grow mushrooms down here. Problem is, nobody actually owns property in Swede Hollow. In the gully near the creek some Mexicans…” He decided not to state a disclaimer. “…created a community garden, and they respect each other’s produce. I’m not sure how the honor system would work inside the cave. Could be some vandalism.”
Mary Lou shook her clothes loose from the ball she’d been carrying and started to dress. Sarcasm in her voice, “You turn a girl off as easily as you turn one on. I loved you on the dance floor. I’m starting to hate you down here.”
Standing in his shorts, an image of a dead Jap flashed through his mind. “I’ll take you back to the stable.” The kill—her kill—had aroused the female officer who accompanied him into the jungle for sex, but left him feeling as wretched then as he felt now.
Riding side-by-side out of Swede Hollow, Richard said, “Are we still on for tonight? We don’t need much practice, but we have to be absolutely sure of ourselves next week at the contest.”
Mary Lou nudged her mare ahead, and Richard allowed her to lead all the way back to the stable. Either she hadn’t heard him, or she avoided his question. Richard signed for use of the horses—he’d be shoveling shit for a month to cover the rental.
As he held her car door open, he again asked about dance practice, dreading her response.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you for the contest.” She slid behind the wheel staring into the windshield.
Richard clung to the open door dumbfounded.
“Come inside and sit down so I can explain.”
“I can hear you from out here.” He kept an escape available.
“My dance partner, José Mendez, is coming in from Guadalajara, and I paid the entry fee in his and my name.” She thumped the steering wheel with her palms. “I’m sorry, Richard, but José and I made this commitment a long time ago.”
“You never told me about José.”
“And I never asked about your girlfriends. We just hit it off on the dance floor and had some sex.”
“Let me guess: Your Mexican friend is over six feet tall and weighs about one tenth that horse you rode today.” He gave the door a slight shove and pressed it until the latch clicked. He turned and walked away.



The cave incident unfolded without conscious thought. Alone with Renford—his mother refused further invitations—Richard’s shield had evaporated, didn’t protect his ego like during past sessions. He felt naked as if his pants were again around his ankles.
“How did that make you feel?”
For the first time after three years of on-and-off-again counseling, Lt. Col. Renford’s question often asked just to annoy, Richard surmised, suddenly seemed sincere. Being jilted by a dance partner felt shitty, but he couldn’t admit it. He merely shrugged, as if such a response was obvious.
Renford continued, “What did you do with those unpleasant feelings?”
“I wanted to shoot the Mexican Hat Dancer.”
“But you didn’t.” An extended pause. “What held you back?”
“Well, he wasn’t with us at the time, and I didn’t have a gun. Two pieces of luck for him.”
“Maybe you had a chance to cool down. Some time to think about consequences?”
“I doubt it.” Renford hadn’t a clue as to his deepest, darkest secret, or—Richard’s mind swirled—had the psychiatrist led him to this self discovery and was now suggesting a solution? No matter; the strength of his Scottish roots could control whatever situation arose. He’d avoid the issue until the questioning took a different tack.
“What kept you from taking drastic measures?”
Richard had already lost count of the clock’s ticking before Renford accepted the challenge and changed the subject.
“Did you go to the Prom Ballroom the night of the contest?”

“Richard, I…I.”
Mary Lou uncrossed her legs, but before she could stand Richard put his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t bother to get up.” Across from her, a man with olive-tone skin, red silk shirt bloused and opened to his waist, got up from his chair, Adam’s apple eye level, Richard assessed the situation. Nothing he couldn’t handle. He lowered his gaze to an astonished and still-seated vixen, Virgil’s term for Richard’s New York model. “I just wanted to wish you and—he shot a glance at the Mexican daring him to make a fuss—your dance partner good luck.”
Mary Lou scanned his military dress uniform. “Did you reenlist?”
He faked a confused expression. “No.” He turned his back to her. “I just couldn’t find anything colorful enough, so I went drab.” His adversary avoided eye contact, but Richard faced him long enough for Mary Lou to react to the contest number pinned to the back of his shirt.
“I see you decided to join the contest after all. I’m happy for you.”
“Made the decision at the last minute.” Mexican José Mendez safely seated, Richard faced his ex and unfaithful dance partner. “Got lucky. Number eighteen, exactly the number of months I spent in the South Pacific. Not a record but a good average.”
“Where’s…who’s your partner?”
“I haven’t decided yet. According to the lead judge, first time anyone ever signed up without a partner.” Richard scanned the room as if looking for one.
“His son was a paratrooper. Not my unit, but men who jump out of airplanes form a kind of bond.” His gaze settled on the two girls who, no doubt, came to watch their friend show off. “Didn’t even charge me the entry fee.”
Mary Lou, her composure restored, beckoned to her dance partner who moved closer to her side. “I would like you to meet José Mendez. He came all the way from Guadalajara, Mexico, to participate in this contest.”
José offered a slight bow and Richard stood at attention.
“I see your girlfriends came to show support. I never did get to slow-dance with Trish like you suggested. I think I’ll go over and make it up to her.”

When the psychiatrist removed his glasses and set them on the desk, Richard worried his account of the evening might not be believable. Was he being dismissed?
“First prize!” Renford slapped his desktop as if at a neighborhood bar and someone told a lusty joke. “And the two of you never even danced together before. That’s unbelievable.”
His self image restored, Richard filled in the details. “I tole Trish that I felt bad never asking her for a dance. My timing was perfect. An announcement over the loudspeaker explaining the change of order; I would start the contest, assuming I could find a partner.”
Lt. Col. Renford’s face no longer resembled that of his psychiatrist.
“I had noticed her style while she danced with the other girl who was the better dancer, but Trish was a perfect follower. I had an instructor like that who could anticipate even my beginner’s bad moves.”
“Are you and Trish going to continue dancing?”
“Nah. The entire bunch left town. Wherever Tommy or Jimmy Dorsey’s bands are performing, they show up and collect trophies. Trish and the other friend just tag along on Mary Lou’s tab.”
“You don’t sound disappointed.”
“Good riddance.” He squirmed as if his shorts had bunched. “Frankie introduced me to this nice quiet girl who sometimes shows up with her sister.”
“Yeah, the female half of Frankie and Johnnies.
“I didn’t realize they were real people who owned the tavern. Tell me about this girl. What’s her name?”
“Norma. I’m not sure of her last name.”
“Just on a first name basis?”
“She’s getting divorced and hasn’t decided about a name change.”
“She a good dancer?”

“You don’t like to dance, and you nursed that same beer all evening. What do you like?”
A wry smile. “I like White Castle hamburgers.”
Richard beckoned Virgil to their table. “Let’s move the party to the cave in Swede’s Hollow. You and whoever else is interested commandeer some beer from Frankie, while me and Norma grab a bag of White Castles.”
Norma tugged Richard’s arm, and whispered, “I’ll have to leave pretty soon. My sister, Gladys, is coming to get me. Besides, I need to say goodnight to my kids before they get tucked in.
He faced Virgil. “Forget it. Go back to your dart game.” He turned to Norma. “Kids? You got kids? How many?”
“Two, a boy and a girl.”
“I like kids. Got a bunch of nieces and nephews.” He downed his beer and set the mug on the bar. “Tell you what. Instead of beer at Swede’s Hollow, you, me, and Gladys will grab some White Castles and find an empty bench at Phalen Park. You got that much time.” Her continued grip on his arm, an answer to all his unasked questions. “I want to meet your kids. Not tonight but maybe some time during the day, when they’re not napping.”

Lt. Col. Renford’s glanced at his watch and grimaced. “Have you taken Norma to meet your mother?”
“That might be a bit touchy. A divorcee with kids. I’m going to wait for a while. Ma doesn’t even know Mary Lou left town.”
“She aware you two won the contest?”
Richard curled his lip into a smirk. “I gave Trish our trophy to rub in Mary Lou’s nose. Never told Ma anything about it, just that I’d won a contest.”
“Maybe you should keep her more informed about what’s going on in your life.”
“She’ll ask questions that I can’t answer. I’ll just wait and see what happens.”
After a moment of silence, Richard stood and walked out of Renford’s office.



Brakes screeched, gears ground, and forty thousand pounds of trailer forced the semi an additional football field before the ’39 International shuddered to a stop. With his hand fisting the knob on the shift lever, Richard willed his heart rate lowered to at least to match the rhythm of the chugging engine. Eight hundred feet of bridge, the guy pumping gas at Kingman had told him, six hundred of them suspended over the gorge.
He’d crossed that bridge once before with a different rig, that load turned into a disaster. Still shaken after the accident, the dispatcher back in St. Paul advised Richard, “If you don’t get behind the wheel immediately, you’ll never have the courage to haul freight cross country.” Richard agreed and vowed to never pull another load.
But with no word from Norma since she disappeared months ago, he broke down and signed on to the load now paused at the bridge he hesitated to cross. The pay had tempted him, and the constant up and down shifting to keep an even tachometer reading took his mind off losing the woman he hoped to marry.
He made135 parachute jumps earning him chronic back pain, fell from a bridge construction in Minnesota developing vertigo, and tumbled from an out-of-control semi roaring down the mountainside; a trio of events that should have cautioned him against trucking through the mountainous western states.
His truck idled at the approach to bridge, California in sight.
“Are you sure you want to drive a rig all the way to California?” Virgil’s bowling ball hugged the edge of the alley two-thirds of the way down and curved back. He
yelled, “Strike.”
Richard, ball in hand on the adjacent lane, said, “I just gotta get out of town for a while.” So far in the game he’d matched strike-for-strike. The head pin hit square, seven and ten pins wiggled but didn’t fall. Missing his spare, he plopped down on a chair and grabbed his beer.
Virgil held up his bottle of Hamms. “Here’s to the first long haul of your new trucking career. That’s trucking with a ‘t’ not an ‘f’.” He chuckled. “May you never drive your rig off the edge of the earth.”
As Richard clicked bottles, a surge of exhilaration tinged with fear swept over him, reminiscent of sharing a quick butt just prior to jumping into combat.
Virgil held bottle to bottle until Richard pulled his back and then chugged. “What’s your mother say about your decision?”
Richard rubbed the rim and took a swig. “She doesn’t like my being away, but it would be steady work.”
“You got disability. What the hell. You don’t need full time work.”
Richard peeled off the LAND OF SKY BLUE WATERS label. “If I want a wife and kids, I need steady work.” He stared at the naked brown bottle.
“You haven’t heard from Norma?” Virgil stepped to the ball return.
Richard positioned himself and aimed his ball. “Going on four months. I got no idea what went wrong.” He released the ball, pins scattered, but his voice barely registered, “strike.” He stared at the fallen pins. “I hinted that she and the kids should join Ma and Rita and me for Thanksgiving, but she stopped coming to Frankie and Johnnies before I had a chance to ask.”
“She’s got family.” Virgil toed the line. “You have no idea where they live?”
“Clammed up every time I asked. Told me she lives with her sister, Gladys. Her brother still comes to the bar once in a while, but he doesn’t know where she went, or, I suspect, won’t tell.”
“Strange family.” Virgil rolled his ball and grimaced. “I think the mystery is what attracts you to her.

Cars honked and a few trucks blew their horns as they swerved around Richard’s stalled rig blocking the suspension bridge. He barely noticed.

“Glad you could get away from the shop for a few minutes.” Richard accepted the Hamm’s Beer Virgil handed him and broke the cap loose against the wall of the cave. “I needed to talk to you before I went home to Ma.”
Virgil took a second bottle from the bag. “When did you get back from your California trip?”
A long gulp, his first taste of beer since two weeks ago at the bowling alley where they toasted his new job. “Just got off the train and came here.”
“Train? Where’s your truck?”
“Bottom of a mountain pass, or it was until they towed it away.” Richard stared into the half empty bottle. “Lost the brakes. Had to jump and let it go.”
“At least you’re still in one piece. What did your boss say?”
“Haven’t gone to see him yet, but by our third telephone conversation he’d calmed down. The Las Angeles County Sherriff convinced him the runaway wasn’t my fault. Even threatened to cite him for faulty equipment, would have charged him with manslaughter if I’d been killed.”
“Guess you weren’t cut out for that line of work.”
“My boss instructed Dispatch to schedule me with another load soon as I got back.”
“Crazy.” Virgil shoved the empty bottles into the bag. “I gotta get back to work. See you tonight at Frankie and Johnnies.”
He hadn’t thought to ask Virgil about Norma. Had he betrayed her, needed his friend and beer more than he wanted her?
That evening, Frankie huffed, “You had your fling and she ran off. Get over it.”
He got drunk but didn’t get over it. With Norma it was more than just sex. He loved her and wanted to be a father to her children. Had she thought otherwise, fearful of abuse, like from that louse she married? Maybe it’s best this way, he lied to himself. If it was meant to be, she will return, his Ma’s opinion he’d scoffed at but tried to accept. He might change his mind and attempt another trip out west to help him forget.
He left the bar early and went home to his empty bed but couldn’t sleep.

Through the cab’s side mirror, Richard caught a glimpse of a truck closing in from behind, brakes smoking, but no attempt to steer around his rig. The driver pulled up close and got out. A good Samaritan wanting to help or a tough guy hot to chew his ass? Richard rolled down the window. If he stepped down, a second driver might not be capable of crossing that bridge.
“You got engine trouble?”
“Just cooling the brakes after coming off that steep hill.”
“They ain’t smoking, just smelling a bit. Should be good to go.” The guy pulled out a pack of Luck Strikes, shook two cigarettes loose, and handed one to Richard.
“I’ll block traffic from this side so no damn fool tries to pass you on the bridge. It feels a bit narrow out there.” Richard took the cigarette and accepted a light from a stick match.
Gears jammed into low range, eyes focused on the broken white line, Richard popped the clutch with a full open throttle. The truck crawled forward, and the tachometer red lined. He gritted his teeth. Determination, his only reliable tool, brought him to the California side of the bridge. Still in granny gear, the rpm’s dropped as the International climbed the switchback of curves to the rim of the gorge. He made it across.
A glance back at the truck leading a string of cars, and he caught a glimpse into the abyss. He wanted to escape, jump out like on his last California trip, but his truck wasn’t moving. Cars shot past him followed by the trucker who pulled over and slowed. Richard waved him on, not wanting to explain his actions.
Next challenge, the pass where he had lost his last load. He doubted the desert had repaired the gash at the base of the mountain where his truck had veered off the roadway. He wouldn’t stop until he’d reached his destination, unloaded, and located a place to sleep.

“No!” Richard shouted from inside the motor inn room. “For the last time, I don’t want company.”
The same sweet voice or a new one, he couldn’t distinguish from outside the paint-blistered door. Red toenails fitted through the gap at the threshold, and strong scent of vanilla permeated. The two-dollar-a-night roadside inn offered amenities he hadn’t negotiated. Two days and still no return freight back to Minnesota.
Come morning, he’d call his boss. This company truck would be coming home empty, empty like his life had become without Norma.

“You’re shivering. Here, take my shirt.” The cave at Swede’s hollow kept out the October wind, but not the damp air.
“Come home with me. Ma wants to meet you and your kids. She’d be the perfect grandma for them.”
“I can’t let my husband know that you and I—you know—are having sex. He’ll get the judge to award him my kids.”
“Tell me who he is and I’ll take care of it.”
“I don’t want that. He agreed to a divorce, and the judge told me not to give him any excuse to change his mind. We both know what he meant by any excuse.”
“We meet at Frankie and Johnnies, we spend an hour or two at Phalen park, and Gladys or your brother takes you away. It’s driving me crazy. At least tell me where you and Gladys live. I don’t even know if you have more family than just two kids and a sister and a brother.
“I really like you, feel safe when I’m with you.” She grabbed and kissed his hand. “When my divorce and other issues get settled, I promise to meet your mother and sister.”

Lack of sleep, lack of booze—Richard had agreed to stay sober throughout the trip if the dispatcher guaranteed a turnaround of two days or less—he’d doze and wake up. Other issues? Child support? he assumed, but now the unknown loomed in his mind. Mental health issues? He certainly could understand what that meant, but what in her life could have caused enough stress drive her crazy? She’s not depressed as his mother suggested, just too shy to come to the house.
Old nightmares flared; falling, not out of an airplane but off of bridges, off ledges of tall buildings, from trees, just falling, never hitting the ground. Three combat jumps, his only fear, getting shot on the way down. One slip on wet steel, dangling from the bridge by a safety tether, awaiting the ladder truck from the fire department, and he developed a fear of heights.
“Get right back up there,” the foreman ordered, “or you’ll be afraid of heights forever.” Vertigo, his psychiatrist diagnosed, solution in agreement with the foreman. Another job to walk away from.
And another, if the dispatcher hadn’t found a return load by morning.



Hot and wet and slippery, shiny gallon cans of sliced carrots exited the steam oven, received tin lids crimped around the edges, and clustered at the end of the conveyor. With gloves already sopping, Richard slid four sealed cans off the platform into an opened box, folded the tabs, and loaded it onto a waiting forklift. He raised his voice above the idling engine. “If you lower the fork a couple inches, I can just slide the box over, won’t have to lift each one.”
A cross between a sneer and a jeer appeared on the operator’s face, and she continued to make his job more difficult.
“Hey, I asked nice,” as he hoisted and slammed the box into place.
“What’s the matter? Boxes too heavy? Must weigh all of thirty pounds.”
If only she were a man. “There’s no reason to make our jobs more difficult. I would do the same for you.”
“But I’ve already have an easy job. You can’t make it better.” She peered around the stack growing taller on the lift.
“I could share my lunch with you.” After I spit on the peanut butter.
She backed away and yelled. “Show me what you got.”
Richard ignored her, pleased that George, who pulled his fork lift into her spot, cooperated. His dribble of tobacco juice would blend nicely with the peanut butter he offered to share. In similar circumstances, George would be satisfied with just a fresh chew.
Load completed, Susie—he doubted it was her real name—returned and raised the fork half a foot above the
platform. Richard restrained his anger and hoisted each box without comment.
Chin settled on the knuckles of both hands, she said, “I asked what you got in your lunch box.”
“Spinach. Like Popeye, I need strength because someone is on my ass.”
“You compare me to Brutus? How awful.”
“You’re certainly not Olive Oyl. She looked out for her man.” Another box filled and hoisted.
“I hate spinach.” She reduced the gap by a couple of inches. “But I would accept dinner tonight.”
“Okay.” The lift lowered, Richard slid the last box on top the load, and she backed away. George, brown liquid dripping off an unshaved chin, eyes trained on Susie, nearly slammed into the platform.
When Susie returned Richard said, “I just talked to George, and he agreed to take you out to dinner.” The lift rose a full foot above the platform. “Just kidding.” It dropped a few inches. “George turned you down.”

Skirt hemmed to the knees, gum snapping, the blond teen skated up to the Ford’s window on the driver’s side. “Whacha gonna have?”
Susie reached across and tugged on Richard’s sleeve. “George would have bought me a chocolate shake and fries.”
Richard rolled his eyes and faced the waitress. “You heard the lady.”
“And you?”
“Huh? You crazy?”
Susie slithered around the shift lever that jutted up from the floorboards and settled her chin on Richard’s shoulder. “You don’t got spinach?”
She nibbled on his earlobe. “Just fill a dog dish with lettuce. He can munch on that.”
“We got hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. Don’t got no lettuce, for sure no spinach.”
Richard swatted Susie away from his ear. “I’ll have a hot dog and fries.”
Two quick snaps. “Anything to drink?”
“Got what I need in the trunk.”
Susie sat up straight. “Cancel my shake.”

Two Ft. Snelling security guards escorted Richard, his private’s uniform bloody and tattered, into Lt. Col. Renford’s office. “Fresh from the drunk tank. Thought we’d dry him out a bit before delivering him as requested.” They plopped him onto the chair and departed.
Richard glanced up, caught Renford’s glare, and clamped his hands to his head with a vise-like grip.
Renford stood. “What are you doing in that uniform?”
Unsure who asked, his situation still blurred, Richard threw the officer a salute from his chair.
“Soldier, you are to stand when in the presence of a superior officer until put at ease.”
“Yes, Sir.” Richard staggered to his feet and repeated his salute.
Renford held Richard at attention almost to the point of collapse, then sat and said, “At ease.”
“Thank you, Sir.” He peered down at the chair gauging its placement and, with both hands grasping the arms, dropped onto the seat. He refused to grimace at the jolt of pain when his body made contact.
“Now that we completed that little performance, tell me what this is all about.”
Richard chased cobwebs. “I don’t know. Guess I thought I was back in the Army.” Fog cleared the way for throbbing pain. “Ma tried to stop me, but Rita said, ‘Go ahead and make a fool out of yourself.’”
Renford pulled a file, thicker Richard noticed, and began to read. “Mother’s frantic calls reported at local police station and at this office. Son recently returned from a seasonal job in Wisconsin acting erratic.” He glanced up. “No apparent alcohol abuse at this point.” He placed the file between them. “When did you begin to binge?”
“Not until a few days after I hitchhiked home.” He wished he were someplace else.
“No car. No job.” Renford stood and intercepted Richard’s view of the clock. “Things are starting to look quite bad.” He sat back down. “You got fired?”
“Worse, kicked out of Wisconsin forever.” His eyes glossed over. “Didn’t know they could do that.”
“Well, they can’t, but they can make it miserable if you ever cross the state line. What did you do?”
“Remember how I threatened I might kill someone just to prove something.”
“Go on.”
Richard made eye contact and quickly dropped his gaze. “It wasn’t intentional, just an accident.”
“With your car?”
Richard buried his face in his hands and his body heaved. He nodded between sobs.
“Another car involved?”
Richard shook his head. “She was riding with me.”
“Were you drunk?”
“Maybe a little. We met at the canning factory in Barron, Wisconsin. Vegetables destined for the Army.”
Bright shiny cans dulled to military brown mimicked the last couple of weeks of his life. Deep sobs and Renford shoved a box of tissues across the table. Richard blew his nose.
“She came on to me my first day on the job. I took her to a drive-in, the kind where gals scoot out to your car on roller skates.”
Tanks and jeeps and C47 airplanes emerged and faded in the recesses of his mind. He stood, yelled “halt,” and aimed an imaginary M1 rifle at a car that ignored his command.
Lt. Col. Renford barked, “Now’s not the time to relive the war.”
“You’re mimicking a rifle, thankfully not aimed at me.”
Richard focused on his outstretched arms and then at his target, a German POW he had killed in the line of duty back at Camp Pendelton. He willed his arms to relax, but his hands continued to clutch his rifle.
“Please sit down. Now let me get this straight. The girl who died was not the one with children that we talked about.”
“What happened to that relationship?”
“She ran away.”
Renford did a drum roll with his fingers on the desk. “From what I gather, you didn’t kill anyone. However you’re probably responsible for the death of a young lady and you’ll definitely face certain consequences.”
“Like getting kicked out of Wisconsin.” He sat. “I can handle that.”
“True, but her death is something you will need to face the rest of your life.”
“I didn’t do it intentionally.”
“You put yourself in a situation that bears the responsibility. Did she have a family?”
“She lived with her mother, but we didn’t get along very well.”
“What happened to cause friction?”
“She complained about losing her job at the ammunition plant when the war ended. I told her what I thought about that.” Richard paused for a reaction. “Then she complained about returning veterans taking all the good jobs.” Still no expression of understanding Richard expected from a fellow soldier.
“I don’t suppose you are in communication with her.”
“I told her I was sorry for her loss at the police station, but we haven’t talked since then.”
“You’ll need to do more.”
“I can’t change what happened or make her feel better about it.”
“She’ll grieve and remain angry, even if you express your concern and admit to your part in the girl’s death. You can’t do much to change that. But it might help you get over your guilt.”
“What should I do? Invite her to lunch at my mother’s house? I can’t visit her in Wisconsin.”
“A letter describing the positive aspects of your relationship with her daughter might help each of you.”
“It’ll make her mad and make me sad.”
“That would be a good start toward acknowledging your repentance.”
“I’m already beating myself up over it.”
“Then possibly as a positive action toward improving your emotional health.”
“I gave up driving. From now on, public transportation or return favors with friends who own cars. Like Virgil, for instance.”
“You might want to reduce your alcohol consumption, or even cut it out all together.”
“I already cut back.” Wide opened eyes met his gaze. “I mean before my relapse yesterday.”
“Records indicate you stayed drunk for at least three days, and your face and bloodied uniform suggest a brawl or two.”
“All right, it was a serious break down, and I’m paying the price with this splitting headache. And having to face you is no easy matter either.”
“I may be the least of your problems, and just maybe our times together might bring some light back into your life. However, I am committing you to the hospital for observation, at least for the next forty eight hours. I sincerely hope you won’t fight with me on that, because we’re running out of security guards who are willing to restrain you without using excessive force. You probably have an idea of what that means.”
“My mother…”
“I’ll call her as soon as we are done here and arrange transport for her to visit you in the morning.”
“Tell her to bring something for me to wear. Civilian clothes. I want to burn these.”



“You’re getting married?” Lt. Col. Renford stood outside the door to his office briefcase under arm.
A month since his last session, Richard enjoyed the shock his announcement caused. “I came early not knowing how complicated my change of status from single to married would be. You know the military, hurry up and wait.”
Renford unlocked his door, reached and turned on the light. “Either Norma returned or you gave up waiting. For your sake, I hope this isn’t a rebound relationship.”
“Norma came back to me.”
“There has to be some missing pieces you’re not sharing.”
“She had my baby.”
Renford checked his wrist watch. “I have some open time before our scheduled appointment. Come in.”
Richard hesitated. “Ma and Norma are having tea at the café.”
“They’ll be fine for a few minutes.” He motioned for Richard to sit while he hung his coat behind the door. Shuffling a few loose papers on his disk, he said, “She hid her pregnancy from you. Why would she do that?”
“Norma didn’t want anyone but her family to know she’d given birth.” Richard flashed a glance at the clock and then focused on his folded hands.

Emil scarcely raised his voice above a whisper.
“Norma had your baby.”
Richard released his neck-hold, and the patrons at Frankie and Johnnie’s shifted their attention back to conversations before the altercation between Richard and his girlfriend’s brother.
“My baby?” After two children, she should have known how to avoid getting pregnant. It’s the woman’s responsibility. “When?”
“Last January. Toward the end of the month.”
Richard’s mind struggled with the numbers until his mother’s comment interrupted his calculations. I want to meet this girl who you tell me doesn’t dance. Bring her to our house for Thanksgiving dinner.” He couldn’t admit he hadn’t seen her for what? Three or four weeks. Norma had struggled through the second half her pregnancy without his support. He’d need to make it up to her somehow. “I want to see her.”
Emil took a cautious step back. “Listen, if she wanted you back in her life, she’d say so.”
“What kind of baby?” Emil’s grin almost broke their truce. “I mean a boy or girl?”
“Ma named her Lorraine, you figure out the kind.”
Richard felt the crowd staring, but a quick glance across his shoulder indicated no one cared enough to stop their usual chatter. “Her ma named her?” Something not right about that. “I have to talk to Norma.”
“It’s not what she wants.”
I got the right to see my own child. Talk to her mother.” He raised a fist, but Lorraine had melted his impulse to threaten her uncle. “Emil, I need you to help me to make things right. I wanted to marry your sister before she got pregnant. She agreed, but asked me to wait until her divorce came through.”
“I’ll tell her what you said, but she’ll be mad at me for even talking to you.”

Richard could sense Renford’s piercing gaze but continued to study his hands. He gave his practiced response. “Norma didn’t want her former husband aware she’d had an affair before their divorce finalized.”
“Obviously, her divorce became final, if you’re planning to marry.” Renford paused but Richard continued to avoid eye contact. “She must have realized the child couldn’t be hidden forever.”
“She left the baby girl at the hospital for adoption.” He raised his hand to his face and brushed away a tear.

“Where’s our baby?” Richard stood in the doorway and scanned Norma’s small apartment. “Your other two children?”
Norma averted his gaze. “I told Emil that our meeting here was a bad idea. He could have given me a ride to Frankie and Johnnies.”
“Too many busy bodies. We need to discuss this matter in private.” He struggled to remain calm. “Where are all your children?”
“They don’t live with me.” Norma clutched the back of her kitchen chair but didn’t suggest they sit.
“You lost custody?”
“They’re in Wisconsin with my parents.”
“They haven’t been with you since your divorce?”
“Not since I left my husband and moved in with Gladys. My divorce came through before I had the baby.
“Didn’t you want your children with you?” He took a step forward.
Norma shrugged. “Not enough room here for kids, and no one to watch them. We both have day jobs.”
“I want to marry you and bring our family together.” A wide gesture and he moved in closer.
Norma cowered. “You don’t need those problems. I don’t need them either.” She turned away. “I left the baby at the hospital for adoption.”
“You gave up our baby?” He clasped her shoulders as if to force the truth out of her.
She shook her head. “When Ma found out I had a baby, she made me stop the adoption process and told me to bring the baby to Wisconsin.” She faced him but averted eye contact. “Said she raised eleven of her own and could handle another one.”
“I want to marry you.”
“Pa yelled. ‘You will bring my grandchild here. She belongs with family.’”
“Marry me and we will be a family.” He dropped his arms to his side and searched for yet failed to meet her gaze. “We talked about marriage, even set a date—sort of.” He held out his hand “I agreed to wait until your divorce was settled.”
Their eyes met long enough to for Richard to sense fear and sadness. “I want to take care of you.”
Norma lowered her head and began to teeter.
He moved close and put his arm around her. A childhood image of him sitting on his shoeshine box, defending his location on Seventh Avenue from bigger kids trying to take it from him. “You will marry me!” He’d lock horns with her father about the baby. “And we will take Lorraine home with us.”
She nodded but kept her gaze lowered.
“And your other two.” He put his arm around her waist as her body went limp. “We are a family.”

Renford broke the silence. “I’m so sorry to hear Norma didn’t want the baby.”
Eager to explain, Richard’s voice reached an unnatural pitch. “Norma’s mother insisted she claim her child just before the six week waiting period expired. She offered to help raise the baby girl. Named her Lorraine.”
He paused and took a deep breath. “I asked Norma to marry me and she consented.” His attempt to smile failed. “We’ll have to live with my mother until I find work.” Shamed, he lowered head.

Back in the car, Emil asked, “Return to Frankie and Johnnies?”
“Take me home.” Richard thanked his future brother-in-law and whistled along the walk and up the stairs to report his good news to his mother.
She glanced up from her knitting. “You’re home early. Did the health department finally close down that pub?”
“No, Ma, it’s still open.” He remained standing. “I decided to get married.”
“That’s nice. Did anyone agree to marry you? I hope that model from New York didn’t come back.”
“Norma agreed to marry me.” He refused to react to his mother’s sarcasm. “She’s the gal I told you about last summer. The one you wanted to meet but never got the chance.”
“Did she run off to New York, too?”
“No, she went into hiding to have my baby.” He needed to control the conversation.
“She had a baby! Your baby?”
He nodded, allowing the information to sink in.
“A girl from the bar disappears for nine months and returns with a baby, claiming it’s yours.”
“Ma, the baby girl is my child. We would already be married, but Norma had to wait until her divorce was finalized.”
“Then why did she run away?”
“She got scared, Ma. Thought I wouldn’t want her with another child.”
“Another child?”
“She has a son and a daughter from her previous marriage.”
His ma clapped her hands. “I have another grandchild. My only son has given me a granddaughter.” She set down the needles and reached out.
“A ready-made family.”
Richard lifted her from the rocking chair and pulled her into his arms.
“You love this woman?”
“Very much.”
“Well she loves you, too. I know this. She came back to you. It was meant to be.”
“Ma, she makes me happy.”
“When can I see my granddaughter?”
“Lorraine, our daughter, is staying with her other grandparents, along with Norma’s other two children.” His voice lowered. “Norma put our baby up for adoption, but her parents in Wisconsin agreed to raise the child.”
“Sounds like they’re raising all three children. I want my granddaughter here with me, with you and Norma. They can keep the other two.” Her eyes pierced. “Richard, make that happen.”

“All three of you plan to move in with your mother?” The inflection in Renford’s voice didn’t betray approval or disapproval.
“Ma wants me and Norma and our daughter to live with her. Norma feels we should include her other two children, actually made it a condition for our getting married.”
He’d have to deal with his mother on that issue when he brings all three to her upstairs duplex. “I, we’ll move to our own place when I find a permanent job.”
“Your second chance after the accident with the trucking job didn’t pan out?”
“They fired me because I drove back without a load.” His resentment began to rise. “I had to fight to get paid.” A flash of anger returned and he shouted, “They violated the terms of our agreement.”
Renford studied some papers on his desk.
“Dunwoody Technical Institute in Minneapolis has an opening in automobile automatic transmission repair. If you’re interested I can sign you up through the GI Bill.”
Richard brightened. “Virgil said automatic transmissions are the coming thing. General Motors introduced it with their Oldsmobile even before the war.”
“I can assume you are interested?”
“I know where Dunwoody is. The cross town street car line goes right by it.”
I can help you change your status to married, but first I would like to meet Norma. And the children if they are with her.”
Renford went to his filing cabinet. “I’ll locate the information from Dunwoody while you go and get them.”
Richard stopped at the PX to buy cigarettes before telling his mother and fiancée that his psychiatrist wanted to see them. Norma didn’t even know the extent of his dealings with Renford, only that he approved the monthly disability checks. Explaining that the money would stop once he found full time work had been truthful, but he doubted he could ever hold down a regular job. Five years since he returned, he hadn’t kept a job longer than a few months.
Learning a skill at Dunwoody and the responsibility of a family could change all that. However he fought back the urge to run away, or at least return home without introducing Norma to Renford. He told the cashier at the PX to keep her filthy cigarettes. He didn’t need them.
“Colonel Renford, this is my fiancée, Norma Thompson.” Richard respected Norma’s wish not to use her married name. All would change that afternoon.
“Pleased to meet you, Norma, and hello again, Mrs. Leslie.” Renford indicated Richard’s mother take the center chair of the three clustered in front of his desk.
Had the conference room been occupied, or had Renford intended to squeeze them together, or… Richard wondered…separate him from Norma?
“First, I want to congratulate the future bride and groom on their decision. When is this happy occasion taking place?”
Richard glanced at the clock but held his focus on their discussion. “This afternoon, so we don’t have much…”
I instructed Lieutenant Jansen to prepare the paperwork for changing your marital status and to assign you a slot at Dunwoody as a GI.” He glanced from Richard to Norma. “I’m sorry. You haven’t heard the good news. Richard, fill them in.”
“I said I’d look into it.”
“That’s wonderful, an answer to a mother’s prayers.” She patted Richard’s knee.
A lot of changes in a short time span, but all of them appear to be positive.” Renford singled out Norma. “Richard tells me you have three children, one of them his. I assume they will live with the two of you.”
Richard squirmed when Norma didn’t respond. “Was that a question, Sir?”
“Yes, I suppose it was.”
“When we’re done with the J.P this afternoon, Norma and I are driving to Wisconsin to discuss the children with her parents.”
Direct at Norma. “Oh, they don’t live with you now?”
Richard blurted, “Her parents are looking after them until we…” He had blundered into the trap set for Norma.
“What will be your living arrangements after the wedding?”
Renford’s question tossed out like a pop fly to the infield for anyone to catch. Richard sensed his mother’s resentment toward Norma’s older children but hoped she’d keep her feelings to herself.
Mrs. Leslie’s voice filled the silence. “Richard, Norma, and the baby can move in with me. The older ones would be better off out in the country with their grandparents.”
“Norma, how do you envision the situation after you’re married?”
Richard glanced at the clock with no intention of fading from the conversation; he needed to glimpse Norma’s expression. Fear? Anger? Hurt?
Almost pleading, Norma whispered, “I want my son and daughter back with me.”
“You gave them up.”
An argument he had hoped his mother would never express in front of the woman he intended to marry. “Ma, Norma never intended to leave them with her parents.”
“Just until she got pregnant and snared a husband.”
A tap on the door and Lt. Jansen entered, pre arranged, no doubt. “I have the paper work ready for signatures, if I can steal Richard away for a few minutes.”
Richard remained glued to his chair. Without his presence, Renford will have control over his mother and wife.
“Lieutenant Jansen needs your signature, Richard.” On impulse Richard jumped to his feet as if Renford had called him Soldier.
“Yes sir.” He glanced back but realized the hopelessness of his situation.

Richard raised his voice above the clacking of the street car heading back to St. Paul. “What did you two discuss with Colonel Renford after I got pulled out of the room?”
“As long as you continue the auto repair program, I will allow Norma’s two children into our home. He agreed to increase your disability to cover a family of five.”
Richard touched his bride’s arm and she pulled it back. “When I complete the program and find a job, we will move to a place of our own.”
“Colonel Renford suggested…”
“Ma, Colonels don’t suggest. They give orders.”
“So be it. Until you earn your own money, Norma and I will handle your finances.”
“So, what’s new?”
“Everything is new. Whatever you’ve been accustomed to will be different.”
“I wasn’t pleased with my life anyhow. I welcome the change.” He faced his fiancée and wondered, will she? Norma accepted his outstretched hand.



“Make yourself comfortable. Colonel Renford will be here in a minute.” A young and cute and civilian secretary directed Richard to sit on the leather sofa, a new piece of furniture since his last visit. Lt. Col. Renford’s unoccupied chair and the polished mahogany desktop glaringly void of his usual jam-packed file unnerved him. Why had he been seated before his psychiatrist arrived?
“Would you like coffee?” She faced Richard and brushed her hand across the pleats in her skirt.
“I quit because Ma always said coffee would stunt my growth.”
“Maybe you should have given it up sooner.” She blushed, but held her ground.
Richard liked her spunk. “I’m taller than you.” A memory clicked like a hunger pain. “Do you dance?”
“Hold on. Let’s settle the business at hand first. Since you are no longer a growing boy, would you like coffee?”
“Are you going to have a cup with me?”
“Drinking with the client is hardly part of my job description.”
Richard wanted to ask what time she got off work but said, “No, to the coffee. But when the lieutenant colonel gets done with me, I may change my mind.”
“Now a full-bird colonel. Colonel Renford’s been promoted.”
A rising resentment he couldn’t understand. “I’m not required to salute anymore.” He tugged on the collar of his bowling shirt. “See? No uniform.”
“I’ll be right outside this door, if you change your mind while you’re waiting.”
Richard detected a slight puckering of her lips and followed her shapely pair of legs leaving the room.
Expecting to be chided for a year or more of missed meetings, he felt mildly aroused. Sex with Norma after they married hadn’t blossomed as he had hoped.
Colonel Renford entered and approached Richard, his hand extended. Dumbfounded, Richard accepted the handshake and attempted to stand, but a firm hand on his shoulder convinced him otherwise. “Stay seated.”
Renford sat alongside Richard rather than across the desk. “We haven’t had a chance to talk for, oh gosh, over a year. Not since your marriage to….” He glanced toward the desk where Richard’s file normally sat. “Norma.” He crossed his legs. “I assume things are going quite well, since you hadn’t taken advantage of the Army’s mental health program.”
Richard drew a deep breath. “Well…”
“The reason I called you in….” Another glance toward the desktop. “We have some business to wrap up.” He uncrossed his legs. “I’m sorry to say, I won’t be available to you after today.”
“You mean I’ve broken free from the Army’s hook?” Richard’s gaze roved between the empty chair behind the desk and the full colonel seated next to him. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.” The connection he’d avoided for the past year made him feel insecure.
“Oh, you’ll have access to professional help, if you decide you need it. Just not with me.”
“How come…? But, who…?” Wasted breath, considering Richard’s experience with the military’s usual withholding information. “Yes, Sir,” an impulsive response.
“We’ve come a long way together over these past six years, and I can attest that you’ve been successfully rehabilitated and integrated into civilian life.”
He made eye contact. “Perhaps I should ask about your employment success before I state such a claim.”
“I’ve been fired twice and walked off the job once.” An admission Richard had intended to keep from the colonel, but his world had just gone topsy turvy.
“What went wrong?”
Another victim of this chaotic world? “I suffered through job interview after job interview, thanks to the employment service’s need to feel helpful, landed a couple of jobs any monkey could have done, and… .”
There was no other and except that he got fired or walked off each job within weeks. “The foreman on a construction job could have gotten all of us killed the way he handled explosives. I tried to tell him—.
“In the Army you acted on orders that could have gotten you killed, but in civilian life you resent being told what to do.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ve thought about that.”
“And what conclusion about making a living have you arrived at?”
“I have taken on two part time jobs, both on my terms. I’m the short order cook at a breakfast café, the only other employee a waitress/cashier. I also drive taxis a few afternoons and evenings. With both jobs, I don’t have to answer to a boss who uses me as his ego boost.”
“Apparently, my job assessment still stands. How is home life going?”
“Norma’s pregnant again and Lorraine’s been shipped off to Wisconsin because she got on her mother’s nerves. Ma can’t get along with my wife, so she moved to my sister’s duplex. I have two jobs and we can’t make the rent.”
“I’ll make a note of these problems and have the V.A. mental health department get in touch with you.”
“With Ma gone and Norma not working, I’m more concerned about my disability status lowered to fifty percent.”
“I’ll see to it.”
“Might I ask why you are no longer assigned to my case?”
“A fair question. As you probably know, since Ft. Snelling had been decommissioned, we function as a veteran’s administration, and we maintain the Military Intelligence Service Language School. Because of our involvement with the United Nation’s police action in Asia, my multi-linguistic skills are needed overseas.”
“The Koreans?” The war he’d be fighting if the army had allowed him to reenlist. Maybe his life would have been better.
“Our allies, the Japanese.”
From out of nowhere, a wave of Japs wielding bayonets and yelling bonzai began their attack. Richard screamed, “Incoming!” and wedged himself between cushion and arm rest. He awoke restrained to a hospital bed, on either side Ma and pregnant wife, but no baby daughter.
A voice with no discernable face. “I perused Richard’s medical file and reviewed Dr. Renford’s recommendations. We’ll start our sessions by working on what triggers Richard’s outbursts.” Clip board pressed to his chest, and a hand clasping his patient’s shoulder, the voice continued. In about twenty four hours you’ll be released to go home.”
Triggers? Richard had no intentions of ever returning to Ft. Snelling.



Richard experienced a moment of euphoria feeling Norma’s approval, even her encouragement. The woman in the long red gown had asked him to dance claiming she, too, had been a contestant here at The Prom Ballroom, when Richard and a stranger from New York won the trophy.
“You certainly haven’t lost your touch,” came her breathless voice as her face brushed past his.
“You aren’t doing so bad yourself.”
“Why haven’t I seen you here since the contest?”
A twirl, his hand secure against her arched back. “Busy, I guess,”
They promenaded booth-side and parted, she yelling, “I’ll be back after the next set. Got that one promised.”
“You sure you don’t mind me cutting a rug with other women?” Richard asked his wife. Not expecting or getting an answer, he sat alongside her, across the table from her sister, Gladys, and her husband. “That gal is trophy material.”
Gladys nodded and her husband’s attention remained glued to Richard’s disappearing dance partner.
Richard made the decision to treat Norma to an evening out, not just drinks and dancing to the juke box at Frankie and Johnnies. Bringing Gladys and her husband along was Norma’s idea. He agreed, knowing they would sit with her if he had an opportunity to dance. She rarely danced and since her recent pregnancy, their third since he met her, she stopped altogether.
Back in bed sometime after midnight, “Why not? You can’t get pregnant if you already are.”
“I just don’t feel up to it.”
Richard never insisted on having sex, but usually his wife cooperated. A terrible waste, not having to worry about making a baby.
“Are you ready for another child?” Norma asked.
She didn’t say another mouth to feed and he was grateful. “As many as you want.”
“I don’t do this on my own, you know.”
“You’re supposed to tell me when it’s a bad time.”
She drew a deep breath as if preparing for an argument. “You come home from the bar all hyped up, and I feel it’s my responsibility to calm you down, to help you sleep.”
“If you got pregnant every time I can’t sleep, we’re heading for one mighty big family.”
“You tell me drinking helps. I wish there was some other way.”
The perfect opportunity to tell her about his recent invitation. He began, “You know how much I like riding horses.”
“Whenever you spend an afternoon riding, you and your buddies celebrate ‘til the bars close and then continue drinking and eating White Castle hamburgers in Phalen Park until wee hours in the morning. That doesn’t help you sleep.”
“This will be different. It will take a month of planning.” He pushed himself against the headboard to a sitting position. “At least a month. I’ve been asked to join the Jesse James gang as they reenact the Northfield bank robbery.”
His voice nearly falsetto, “I get to play Bill Chadwell who lived here and suggested the gang pull off a robbery in Minnesota. Bill gets shot and falls off his horse. That’s why they want me. I know how to fall without hurting myself.”
He slid down onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “I’ll have to save up money, but the reenactment won’t happen until September seventh, the eightieth anniversary of the shooting. Two weeks before my birthday.” A detail that might shake a few bucks loose from the two women in his life who controlled the purse strings. “The whole town of Northfield is getting ready. They budgeted twenty thousand dollars.”
Richard faced his wife, she sound asleep. He rolled over and began the raid. He never made it beyond Bill Chadwell, Clell Miller, and Bill Pitts shooting their way across the bridge into Town Square.

The alarm went off at 4:30 and Richard doggedly swung his legs over the edge of the bed, feet searching for his slippers. He had an hour to get ready and walk ten blocks to the Payne Avenue Café; a mere hole-in-the-wall breakfast-only eatery, but it held his future. Norma couldn’t appreciate his vision, especially since he gave up driving taxi to accept this low paying job.
“If business is bad and you don’t make expenses, you get nothing.”
“I know I can make the business profitable. Joe promised full partnership when that happens.” A bit of truth slipped through his defenses. “At least I don’t have to face that sneering dispatcher who doled out one-day cab leases when a regular driver didn’t show. To him, he was handing out candy to a bunch of low life street kids.”
His argument had fallen on her deaf ears, but his mother took a different view. “You always had a knack for cooking, more so than most of my girls. Maybe this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.”
Waiting was the operative word. Other than the beer route that ended in near disaster, he hadn’t managed to
stay with any job longer than a few months, none that he even considered as a career.
“Cooking is a skill, maybe even an art.” Richard, the only customer at the time, had encouraged Joe, the despondent fry cook. “A true chef performs for the customer even with his back turned. That can become an advantage, like the magician quietly setting the scene and then, presto, the magic happens and the audience is awed.”
“Maybe you can see it that way, but I can’t.” Richard had opened a door to an opportunity.
“Here’s the deal,” Joe began a few days later, while Richard swiped his toast across the plate to mop up the remaining egg yolk. “You just wasted another trip downtown only to find all the cabs had been taken for the day.”
He paused as if Richard needed to be reminded. “Right?” the final twist of the knife. The cook loosened the bow in back, lifted the apron’s loop over his head and handed it to Richard.
Richard said, “That’s the kind of thing I’ve been suggesting. Customers expect to be messed with.” He pushed his plate aside. “Now hang it over my head like a bib, set the pot in front of me, and tell me to refill your coffee cup for once. People love to be part of the action.”
“I wasn’t entertaining you. I was making a serious proposal.”
The deal was confirmed with a hand shake, details vague about compensation, a percentage of the take at the end of each week. To seal the pact, a verbal promise of full partnership if Richard could turn the business around.
The café became his domain. A businessman at the verge of bankruptcy would have to attribute the café’s turnaround to Richard’s culinary craft. Partnership would be inevitable.

Spatula in hand and Jesse James’ gang on his mind, Richard almost wished the flow of customers that morning would give him a break to fantasize the reenactment.
Twelve noon, on the dot, Virgil sauntered in and glanced up and down the empty row of stools. “Any of that mud left?”
“A bit strong. Just about to toss it out and clean the pot. Had to hide it until the last hanger-on took the hint that breakfast was over.” Richard filled two cups. “Flip the lock and switch off the neon. We’ve got something to discuss.”
“Can’t take too long. Pa only gives me a short noon break.” Virgil glanced at the glass enclosed case. “That a Bismarck left over.”
Richard handed it to him. “Use a napkin. I don’t want to dirty another plate.” He ducked through the narrow opening under the bar and sat alongside his friend. “I told Norma about the reenactment last night.”
“What did she say?”
“She didn’t say no. I think we got a deal. Tell the gang that I’m in, as long as it takes place on a Sunday. That way after I close at noon on Saturday, I’ll have the afternoon and evening to get ready.”
Virgil sipped and grimaced. “The only character left to fill is Bill Chadwell who falls off his horse. You sure you can handle that.”
“A horse is a lot closer to the ground than an airplane.” Richard didn’t mention the matter of a parachute. “I learned to roll as I hit the ground.”
“You were nineteen years old back then,”
“I’m still under thirty, at least until next month.” He expected that argument from Norma, not his best friend.”
“Come down to the shop at closing time, and we can head up to White Bear Lake to rehearse our parts. The rest of the guys are probably up there already.”

Richard awoke from his nap on the couch and approached Norma in the kitchen. “Where are the kids.”
“Outside or in their room. I felt you needed your sleep after last night.”
“Appreciated.” A quick glance at the oven. “I won’t be eating here this evening.” He tried to sound casual. “Virgil and I are heading up to White Bear after he gets off work.”
“What’s up there?”
“We’re practicing for the shoot out.”
“The OK Corral?”
“Very funny.”
“No, really. What are you two up to?”
“We’re part of the reenactment of the James gang robbing the bank down in Northfield. Remember, we talked about it last night.” He broke eye contact and peered at his wrist watch. “I gotta go. Should have told you to wake me, but Virgil won’t leave without me.” His kiss goodbye was intended more as a distraction than just a farewell.
“You need money?”
“Took an advance from the till. Having a good week. Joe will be pleased.” He grabbed his hat from the peg near the door. “Goodbye. Don’t wait up.”
Richard, portraying Bill Chadwell, calmed his horse at the entry to the bridge as planned. The mare whinnied and pawed the ground, sensing action, annoyed with having her ears plugged against gunshots. Clell Miller and Charlie Pitts —Virgil and a guy he worked with—didn’t take these precautions, but they didn’t have to
make a timed fall. He wanted no surprises.
Richard, his reenactment group, and the townspeople including visitors, knew the outcome, but not Bill Chadwell back on September 7, 1876. Richard tried to erase the entire twentieth century from his consciousness. Except for the falling off his horse. Norma, his mother, and his kids who could comprehend the danger pleaded with him not to proceed.
“Fall onto the horse’s neck and gallop out of town like Charlie Pitts did.” Norma, inadvertently using the original gang member’s name, brought a smile to Richard’s face. “If your body has to land on the ground for the townspeople to mull over, get off the horse like Clell Miller did.” She corrected, “Like Virgil Trumel, for God’s sake.”
“That’s not the way it happened.” Moments before the action, an improbable reenactment of Corregidor flashed through his mind. Would it be watered down to protect the sensitivities of the audience? A second flash, Norma might be right. But it was ten minutes past two and the shooting had begun, the cue that they were to begin their historic charge.
Clell Miller, Bill Chadwell (alias Bill Stiles) and Charlie Pitts (alias Sam Wells) thundered across the now-concrete bridge for the eightieth consecutive time, or as many times since the first reenactment. Reaching Town Square, struggling to control the agitated horses more startled by the shouts from crowd than gunshot they’d prepared for, Richard, according to the script, fired multiple shots into the air. No one is to be killed, Jesse’s directive during the planning stage might just go by the wayside.
Except for the shot that knocked Chadwell off the saddle, Richard, true to his character, had erased his mind

of the entire outcome other than the futility the attempted robbery. At the scene, two citizens killed and two of Jesse’s gang killed.
After the posse chase—reenactment only to the other side of the bridge—the rest of the gang either killed or jailed, except for Frank and Jesse. The biggest irony, a heist yielding a paltry twenty six dollars and thirty-one cents.
The conclusion of this escapade—something Richard attempted to selectively forget—something the original three gang members had no notion of or they might not have participated. Common sense suggested that by time the rear guard appeared, law enforcement could not have yet arrived. None of the robbers expected armed citizens, the element that thrilled the crowd gathered to watch the enactment.

The fatal shot, the fall; through the roped off area Richard glimpsed the frail frame of his wife running toward him. Go away. You’ll wreck the scene, but he couldn’t tell her because he was dead.
“Oh, Richard, I warned you.”
His head lifted, but he couldn’t move his eyes. Killed instantly the script read.
A man’s voice, “Ma’am, you’ll have to come back. Other actors are coming to retrieve the bodies.”
“He’s my husband, and you crazy people killed him.”
Richard felt the man’s foot nudge his back sides, and he struggled to remain dead.
“See, he’s only pretending to be dead. Now please go back behind the ropes.”
“Wait ‘til you get home,” produced an ever so slight twitch from the deceased bank robber.

Richard’s part in the Northfield incident buzzed among the breakfast crowd, as he allowed—even accentuated—his leg to drag as a result of the fall.
“What happened to you?” the perfect opening for a recounting of the reenactment, and he entertained the group.
Noon came too soon to Richard’s notion, although the single customer who occupied the same stool all morning continued to express interest in Richard’s retelling over and over to customers who came and went.
“That’s quite a knack you got.”
“Just a practiced ride. Not much skill.”
“No, I mean a knack to keep the place full all morning.”
“Joe, he’s the owner, and I got a deal going, and I’m working to a full partnership.”
“Joe never mentioned partnership when I purchased his café this weekend, but he practically guaranteed that you would continue as chef.”
“I don’t understand,” but the confusion was beginning to clear. His pulse quickened.
“Well, here’s the deal. You can continue with a percentage of the day’s gross, with a maximum take of say, twelve dollars. Not a bad take for a morning’s work.”
The new owner left his jaw vulnerable. “What say you?”
Richard untied the bow in back, slipped the loop over his head, and strung it over the new owner’s head. Had it been around Joe’s neck, Richard would have tightened it before he walked out.



O sole mio. Life was good.
“Bet you’re the only kindergartener who gets dropped off at the school in a fancy Yellow Cab.” Even in casual conversation, Richard would identify the taxi company that overlooked—or failed to check—his past driving record, for the second time. He had quit the company without notice in order to build Joe’s breakfast café into a successful eatery with a promise of earning full partnership. When the business flourished, the owner backed out of his commitment by selling the cafe.
Richard avoided meeting with the café’s former owner fearful of losing his temper, and Joe reciprocated most likely out of fear. The satisfaction gained from teaching him a lesson wouldn’t be worth going to prison, probably for a long stint.
Richard struggled to regain the dispatcher’s trust by checking in at the cab company every morning, hoping to secure an available cab for the day. Although always sober, sometimes he nursed a slight hangover from the evening before, but never indulging in the hair of the dog while cleaning and filling coolers early mornings at the Third Street Bar, his most recent part time job.
A decade of recovery from his war experience and a family—wife and five kids—Richard felt good reason to spout opera. Lorraine, the daughter who brought him and Norma to the altar, started kindergarten. Lorraine, the daughter that Norma rejected—he could find no milder term to describe the mother-daughter relationship—began her first away-from-home experience.
“O sole mio-o-o.” Sour notes descending down the “C” scale. Had his little girl noticed?
He reached across to pat her head; she glanced back and smiled unaware of the sadness that interrupted her father’s crooning.
Twice before he had shielded Lorraine from her mother’s rejection, once as an infant and again as a toddler, sent to her Wisconsin grandmother, the last time returning with welts across her backside.
“I was naughty so Grandma told me to fetch a willow branch.” She added as if more explanation was needed, “From out by the garden.” No trace of tattling but a statement of fact from a two year old.
Many times Lorraine would take mini breaks away from their home, the government housing project, to expand her play area beyond its immediate back yard. A child’s call to an adventure or an escape from… . Richard shook off what he considered his failure to help Lorraine blend into the family, again, the kindest word he could use to describe the rejection she certainly sensed from Norma and her two older children.
One of the child’s secret places, an unofficial landfill down the street from their apartment, probably caused her illness.
“Hepatitis can result from contact with rusty nails or decaying vegetation,” the doctor explained.
Richard sensed, Parents allowing their unattended children to play in the city dump, the doctor’s more honest interpretation.
Unaware that the disease was contagious, Richard allowed their daughter to sleep with him and Norma. Lorraine recovered, but they wound up hospitalized. For three weeks, their five children lived with Norma’s sister and husband.
“Hepatitis often hits adults harder than children,” that same doctor announced, his shaking head silently expressing, these people!
“You will also have a greater chance of recurring episodes, perhaps years from now.”
“Off you go.” Richard reached across his daughter’s lap and pushed open the passenger door. “Have a good day at school. You can walk home with your brother and sister.” His eyes traced the footsteps along the sidewalk until the brick building swallowed his little girl.
Seventy five dollars and a tank of gas interrupted an impulse to ditch the cab and return to the Third Street Bar and finish the cleaning tasks left undone that morning. A beer would taste good. Norma had given him the cash to lease the cab for that day, and she would expect it plus his profit back that afternoon. Some days he barely caught enough fares to refill the tank and give Norma back the money.
Only one jackpot in three years of on-and-off driving. A guy wearing a tweed suit, eyes hidden behind dark glasses, expressed an urgent need to get to Eau Clare, Wisconsin, to conduct business with another fellow who could have been his twin.
“Wait,” an order from the passenger seat, brief case clutched as if it contained battle plans.
“Hey, I gotta keep the clock running.”
The guy pulled a wallet from his suit jacket and peeled out a hundred dollar bill. “Will a ‘C’ note work for you?”
“If there’s another one when we get back.”
“Let’s see what the clock says.”
Nearly one hundred dollars left after expenses and giving Norma what would have been a better than average profit for the day; only half of that amount still in hand after an evening at The Third Street Bar drinking and playing pool, his skill with the cue adding to rather than subtracting from his pocket money. Two more

nights of drinking, all that remained of the trip to Wisconsin was the retelling.
Across the street from the St. Paul Hotel, Richard awaited his first fare for the day. Leaves floated onto the windshield while Richard relived the weightlessness following the snap of his chute breaking free fall. He erased the memory of the carnage below and relished in the nothingness of mid air suspension. He needn’t ever hit the ground running as his eyelids drooped, and the sleep he’d been shorted the past evening blended into his dangling mid air.
“You up for business?” The soundless leaves gave way to a hand-slap on the windshield.
“Yup.” Richard jerked awake as a man dressed in a black with a splash of red and a white collar continued to tap on the passenger’s side half open window. “You caught me in my morning meditation,” as he reached across to open the door. “You can sit up here, Father, if you like. No company rules against it.”
“I believe I will. Maybe I can help you reconnect to your higher power that I so rudely interrupted.”
“Me and God got an agreement. He takes the back seat if someone needs a ride.” Richard glanced over his shoulder about to explain his figure of speech, but then chose to let the priest believe he meant God actually sat back there. “Where to?”
“The Cathedral.”
“That makes sense.” Richard flipped the timer and shifted into gear.
“Am I that transparent?”
“N no,” Richard stammered, struggling with the image. Transparent? “I’m not Catholic, Father.”
“If so, might not there be a slight contradiction referring to me as Father.”
Richard still struggled with transparent as if his passenger were some sort of spirit, “I give rides to all clergy. If the pope got into my cab, I’d say, ‘Where to, Your Holiness?’”
“I doubt you will encounter Pious the Twelfth here in St. Paul, but possibly a bishop or two.”
The red sash! It must mean something. A bishop? Richard stifled an urge to salute. “How should I address you, being a bishop.”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t notice. Father will do nicely.”
“Well, I’m a military man. If I get the rank wrong, it’s goodbye weekend pass. ”
“A veteran of the World War Two, I imagine. Maybe Korea, or possibly both?”
“Just the big one. Got busted up and they wouldn’t let me reenlist.” Richard puffed his chest. “Five Hundred and Third Parachute Regiment. Three combat jumps in the Philippines.” Not the sort of information he openly shared with strangers, but, what the hell, some of that money from Sunday’s collection plate for a big tip would be nice.
“You have earned my respect, soldier.” The bishop’s turn to boast. “Marine captain, served as chaplain in Iwo Jima. We’ve seen some difficult times. But I was never forced to shoot anyone.”
“Toughest part, until you come to the conclusion Japs aren’t human beings.”
“Yes, that indoctrination did make the task somewhat easier. How are you coping now that we realize the Japanese are also children of God?”
“I try not to hate them, but I won’t go so far as God’s children. Not with what some of them did to American soldiers.”
Richard pulled up in front of the Cathedral, stepped out, and rushed to the passenger door finding himself face-to-face with the bishop.
“I’ll need a ride after my meeting in about an hour. I’m hoping you’ll be available.”
“I could wait. Not much business this time of the day anyway.”
“Yes, please wait, and keep the clock running. I think our bumping into each other was a kind of intervention.”
“You mean God put you into my cab?”
“I tried to avoid wording it that way, but yes. We might be very beneficial to one another.”
“Gave a bishop a ride today.” The urge to brag to Virgil at the Third Street Bar opened their conversation. “Nice Guy.” Richard deigned to pass judgment on a fellow soldier who achieved success after the war. “He blessed the marines and fed them communion before they faced the Japs on Iwo Jima.” Enemy, the bishop had suggested as a way to take focus off their nationality.
Maybe in his cab, but not in a bar with buddies. “Most of them got shot up anyway. You know the marines, glory seekers.” That shift of focus felt good, and he enjoyed his friend’s shocked expression at gruesome details of war.
Virgil raised his empty glass toward the bartender and gestured two more beers. “Bet he stiffed you on the tip.”
Richard motioned his intention to pay for both refills, and the bartender noted it on a slip of paper kept in the cash register. “No, the bishop had me wait an hour and paid clock time. Got a good tip, and he wants to meet with me again.”
“Where, behind the altar at the Cathedral?”
“In my cab. He wants me to pick him up tomorrow afternoon to take him someplace. Didn’t say where.”
“Mystery man.” Virgil reached into his pocket. “I’ll get the next one.”
“No more for me. I think I’ll head for home. It’s been a long day.”
Richard rushed through his early morning chores at the bar and grabbed a bus to the taxi dispatch downtown in time to see another driver take off with his intended cab.
“Sorry, all the regular drivers showed up this morning.” The dispatcher’s disdain oozed past his forced smile, and Richard fought the urge to knock that grin off his face. He hated wimpy men with big egos flashing their authority.
Neither returning home nor going to the bar appealed to him. He walked the downtown streets reflecting on his boyhood explorations, his money-earning schemes, and his ducking down alleys to avoid the cops. Irish, the most of them, his English mother lamented after they brought her wayward son back to their apartment long after curfew. So too, the Catholic priests. Was the bishop one of them? More than likely. Richard relished in the mutual respect he developed with the Irish cops and now with the bishop.
The dome of the Cathedral loomed. He hadn’t intended it as a destination, at least not until later that afternoon, but there it stood. Was his new found friend inside? Probably not because he was a visiting prelate. Richard chuckled at the title. Probably back at the hotel or touring some of the city’s Catholic churches. Or eating breakfast. He felt the wad of bills Norma had handed him as he left the house and decided he was hungry. He headed up Seventh Street toward Mickey’s Diner.
The diner, a converted Pullman railroad car, entertained its third breakfast shift since midnight, actually those same street people who had been pushed out by the breakfast regulars had filtered back to resume nursing cups of coffee and possibly a sweet roll. They would obediently leave but return during the afternoon lull. In winter especially, this pattern offered temporary reprieve from sub zero weather. Richard sat at the counter and ordered a full breakfast, after which he’d explore more of his city careful to avoid the numerous neighborhood bars.
“I didn’t get a cab today.” From the bench in front of the Cathedral, Richard met the prelate’s gaze that shifted toward the street. “I’m only a part time driver, whenever someone doesn’t show up for the morning shift.”
“A bit difficult to support a family without predictable income.”
“That’s another story.” Richard avoided addressing the man in black with any of his titles.
“We can sit right here, and I’ll explain what I intended for us this afternoon.” The bishop’s hand disappeared into the folds of his cassock and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes. “Would you like one?”
Richard declined but wished he hadn’t.
“A rare specimen, a GI who doesn’t smoke.” He pulled a deep drag and released a cloud. “How did you manage that?”
“Cigarettes were for trading, not for smoking. I used to smoke a little—still do when… .” He decided not to mention drinking. Here was his chance to portray the kind of family-man image that eluded him.
“Probably when you get together with army buddies over beers.”
The bishop’s guess was half right; he had barroom friends but he avoided fellow war veterans.
“I was hoping you could take me to Fort Snelling to browse through the cemetery. I knew some good men who reside there.”
“You can still flag a cab. Every driver I know would appreciate a fare that big.”
“No. If you’re free, I’d rather talk to a veteran who survived Dante’s Inferno.”
“I guess that’s a Catholic version of hell.” His hell at the moment was a need for a cigarette.
“Your faith condemns bad people to something different?” Polished black shoes ground the cigarette butt into the sidewalk.
“I never hung around churches much as a kid. But when I was sent to a farm in Wisconsin the lady of the house took me with her family to a Lutheran church. I suspect hell is hell no matter which denomination you belong to.”
“And war is war, and declaring a truce doesn’t always bring peace to the warrior.” Back into the cassock for the pack of Luckies, he shook a few loose and presented it to Richard. “How bad are the nightmares?”
Richard accepted the cigarette and the light, answered through a puff of smoke. “Bad.”
“I’d be surprised to hear otherwise. How do you cope?”
“I survived the army’s complete five year psychiatric package no worse for the wear.”
Richard regretted his flippant response. He had felt better during that time. Couldn’t hold a job but getting up in the morning to face the day didn’t feel so desperate. A mother and sister offered less stress than a wife and kids. “I thought it worked at the time. But now I’m not so sure.”
“Can I help?”
“You already have.” He glanced toward the church. “I won’t convert.”
“Last thing in the world I would expect.” A sly grin. “At least not the first thing. How can I help you cope?”
“With my nightmares?”
“Life in general.”
“I’d be happy just to be rid of the bad dreams.”
“Tell me about them.”
“Nothing to tell except that I wake up screaming, sometimes attacking my poor wife.” Richard’s tension relaxed. “Last week while napping on the couch Norma, she’s my wife, chased the kids to their rooms because I had been shooting a make believe pistol like some kid playing cops and robbers.”
“Were you back in the war?”
“That’s the scary part. I was shooting some strange guy right here in St. Paul. I guess he must have bugged me or something.”
“Maybe just the way he looked at you?”
“It was only a dream.”
“It’s called resentments. Might not even have a cause. Just a flare up at someone for no apparent reason.”
“That must be it. Norma woke me. She knows how to gently stroke my arm ready to pull away if I start to swing.” Tears blurred his vision but he continued. “I killed a guy in my sleep and it scared me stiff.” Richard appreciated the silence while the bishop, as in a game of chess, pondered his next move.
”I’m leaving for Baltimore in the morning. Perhaps I can schedule you to take me to the airport.”
“If I get to lease a cab. If not, I’ll have one of the regular guys pick you up. The St. Paul Hotel where you flagged me yesterday?”
“Awakened you, I believe. Are you up for a little walk?”
“That’s mostly how I get around these days.”
“Walk with me to my hotel. I have something I’d like you to have.”
The St Paul Hotel, its edifice quite familiar from downtown explorations as a kid, its austere lobby not so familiar or comfortable.
“I’ll have you wait here while I locate the item I’d like you to have.”
Richard’s five foot seven frame stretched, head lifted; he had entered the building having business with a bishop, not to clean the spittoons, assuming there ever were any in this building. He chuckled at his time warp, and returned to his present circumstance, left standing as an obstacle for elegantly dressed men and women to walk around.
His father’s image came to his rescue, last seen through the eyes of a five year old child. He’d dress for work—railroad conductor’s uniform, tie and all. Richard stood his ground even encouraging everyone’s attention. But the truth of his situation imposed, a taxi driver without a cab awaiting a bishop who took pity on him. He bolted toward the door.
“Can I help you?” One of the bedecked desk clerks abandoned his post and blocked Richard’s exit.
“Gotta check on my cab.” He glanced toward the elevators. “If the bishop comes down before I get back, send him out to me.”
Yeah sure expression evaporated as the robed cleric sashayed toward them. “Evening, Your Holiness. I believe your cab is awaiting you.”
“Thank you, but first Richard and I have business to attend to.” He gestured toward a couple or ornately carved chairs. “Here in your elegant lobby.” He touched Richard’s elbow and walked him away from the astounded hotel employee.
In the bishop’s hand, Richard eyed what resembled his certification to drive taxi prominently displayed in his cab. “If that’s the ten commandments, I can tell you right now that I broke every one of them.” This was not true. He never cheated on Norma, but decided not to interrupt the bad guy impression he’d given of himself. Lately, he wallowed in negativity.
“A different kind of commandments, not list of rules but behaviors that might assist in maintaining peace of mind, possibly an aid in keeping the commandments God passed down to us through Moses.”

The Serenity Prayer
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Reinhold Niebuhr

Richard tucked the card in his jacket pocket. “I have to go home and explain to Norma about not leasing a cab and not coming home either.”
“I hope to see you tomorrow about eight o’clock.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“God go with you.” The bishop’s hand crossed his face and Richard felt blessed.

Part Two: Chapter One

Fifteen years after the incident that nearly destroyed our family, I decided to check the details surrounding the crime my father committed back in July of 1962. That spring, I had completed my elementary grades, and I eagerly awaited starting a new school in fall. However, Richard Leslie wouldn’t be delivering his daughter in a yellow taxi on her first day of junior high as he had when I began kindergarten; as if he had kept that taxi job—or any job—throughout my elementary grades. Dad’s angry outburst early one Sunday morning changed all of our lives forever.
Married with a family of my own, I owed it to my two children to have facts about their grandfather’s mental breakdown separated from idle gossip. With my seven-year-old-daughter in tow, I headed to the public library to locate archived newspaper articles describing the incident.
My gaze settled on the first headline until my eyes watered and blurred my vision of the microfiche. Secrets that had been whispered when I was a teenager and became a taboo subject by the time I married were horrifyingly true. I snapped the off-button and the headline dissolved; no such switch could make the reality disappear.
I requested printed copies of the only two articles I could find concerning my father’s actions and hustled my daughter out to the car. My husband, babysitting our son at home, had to leave for his afternoon shift at the post office, and I needed time to absorb the details of the shooting and consider what effects the articles might have had on my father’s trial.
July 2, 1962
Man Runs Amuck in Loop
Wounds Two with Pistol
Victims in Fair Condition
By Donald Giese
Staff Writer
A gun wielding, 36-year-old man ran amuck in St. Paul’s Loop early Sunday and wounded two men in a wild shooting spree.
Richard L. Leslie, 36, of 664 Otsego St. who police said was positively identified as the gunman was subdued by passerby and police in front of the Greyhound Bus Depot Ninth and St. Peter Sts. after a violent struggle.
His victims, Robert Beck of 587 Summit Ave. and Charles Schoephoerster, 37, of 1077 De Soto St. are in Ancker hospital recovering from bullet wounds.
Both men were reported to be in fair condition Sunday night.
The first shooting occurred at about 1:10 a.m. in the Little Chef café, 443 Wabasha St. where Leslie, unemployed, was sitting at the counter eating a ham sandwich and drinking coffee.
A cook, Gerald Fuller, 36, of 106 N. Smith Ave. said Leslie had told him his wife had left him and that he was “going to hurt somebody real bad.”
“He kept saying that over and over,” Fuller said.
As Leslie sat at the counter, he was approached by Beck, an employee of Jackson Ambulance service who handed Leslie a card advertising his firm.
Leslie knocked the card to the floor. Beck picked it up and handed it again to Leslie.
Then, according to witnesses, Leslie got up, pulled a .22 caliber revolver from his pocket and fired point blank at Beck, wounding him in the chest.
“He was five feet away when he fired,” a witness said.
Leslie then “waved the gun wildly and ordered everyone to stand back,” according to one patron, and then ran out the door and went north on Wabasha St.
Schoephoerster, also a patron in the café crowded with customers at the time, followed Leslie out in the street.
He approached Leslie near the bus depot and told him to “take it easy.” Leslie pointed the gun at him and fired. Schoephoerster ducked before the gun discharged and was struck in the right shoulder.
Schoephoerster, staggered back to the café, where he was observed bleeding from the shoulder by Patrolman Ray Betts. He shouted to Betts, “My God. I’ve been shot. He went that way.”
Leslie then jumped in a Yellow cab driven by Leonard Currey, 45, of 892 Rondo Ave. and poked the gun in Curry’s ribs telling him to get going.
When the cab was blocked by another car Leslie jumped out of the car after a struggle with Curry.
Meanwhile Robert Warn, 32, a Radio Cab driver, had seen Schoephoerster shot and ran toward Leslie after he got out of the cab. The 250-pound Warn hit Leslie with a left and downed him.
Warn, 549 Topping St. and two other men then pounced on Leslie until Betts and Patrolman Joe Renteria came up and helped in the struggle.
Police Sgt. David Weida, supervising uniform officer on duty at the time, arrived and Leslie was placed in Weida’s squad car. It required six men to get Leslie in the car and four to restrain him during the trip to headquarters.
On the way, officers said, Leslie kept screaming “Everyone tries to push me around, I’ll kill some more, including you.”
He was placed in a maximum security cell where he continued to rave. At 3:15 a.m. Capt. Burton Pond, in charge of the station, decided to have Leslie examined.
“When we opened the door to his cell he came charging out making animal-like sounds.” Pond said. “It required five of us to hold him.”
Leslie had perhaps given a clue to his violent intentions earlier, police said, when he provoked an argument with George Throne, 18, of 1410 N. Snelling Ave, over a song Throne was playing on the jukebox in the Little Chef Café. Throne said Leslie challenged him to a fight and that throne told Leslie he’d meet him outside in 45 minutes, figuring he’d cool off by that time.
Detective Lt. George Barkley, head of the homicide division, said following the shooting Leslie could “easily have killed a half dozen people.”
Police found Leslie’s gun in front of the bus depot. In his pockets they found 63 cartridges. The revolver, a foreign-made weapon was fully loaded. From the cartridge cylinder they extracted one shell with a deep firing-pin imprint on it. The trigger had been pulled. The firing pin had been activated. The shell had not been fired.
“Somebody walking in the Loop last night had Old Lady Luck riding on his shoulder,” Barkley said.
Old Lady Luck applied to all the victims; the two left alive, some hypothetical person as the writer implied, and my father. The wounded men healed; those walking in the loop remained unaffected except for stories to relate to grandchildren, but Richard Leslie’s problems compounded.
By day two, the emphasis changed from victims to heroes, and, of course, a villainous monster. Mercifully, the public’s appetite for drama of this kind diminished, and a third installment couldn’t be found, however reprints of the articles appeared in outlying newspapers whose readers thrived on inner city crime.
July 3. 1962
2 Cab Drivers Assist
In Gunman’s Capture
by William Riemerma
Staff Writer
Two St. Paul cab drivers were key figures in Sunday morning’s capture of the gunman who had shot two strangers near the Greyhound bus depot.
Leonard Curry, a Yellow Cab driver, struggled with the armed man to prevent him from making a get-away in his cab. Robert Warn, a 250-pound Radio Cab driver, took over from there and flattened the gunman with a left hook.
After the shooting his second victim on the sidewalk, Richard Leslie, the 36-year-old gunman, got into the front seat of Curry’s cam band jabbed a gun into his ribs.”Hurry up and get going,” he told Curry. Curry, 45, of 892 Rondo Ave, had made up his mind he wouldn’t leave downtown if he could help it and got a break when a car in front blocked his path.
The nervous Leslie then started waving his gun out the cab window.
Meanwhile Warn, 32, of 549 Topping St. had seen the sidewalk shooting and had tried to cut off Curry’s cab.
Seeing Leslie jump out of the cab, Warn got out of his cab and ran to the scene of the struggle for the gun.
He planed a left on Leslie’s face and downed him. Leslie screamed, “Everyone is against me,” and tried to get up, but Warn and other bystanders pinned him to the ground until police arrived.
Warn said as soon as he saw the shooting he went after the gunman “before he could shoot someone else.”
“If I was going to get shot I wanted it to be downtown where help is quickly available,” Curry said.
“I didn’t want to be out in no-man’s land with that guy.
A chill traveled up and down my spine; the reality of what my father had done pulled one direction and my betrayal of Dad’s privacy another. Let sleeping dogs lie, my family’s view on the issue, but what if that monster inside my father were to reawaken—if his drinking could somehow nudge it back to life? Resentments, the sleeping dog in my father’s past, would snarl at the end of its restraining chain whenever he got drunk. Never fall-down drunk, just enough to quiet the chaos in his head and enable him to sleep. So he said, but he couldn’t deny a simmering anger and his lack of patience with anyone or anything that got in his way.
I felt compelled to dig deeper, as if answers might be found in the dusty archives at the Ramsey County Court House.