Minutes, hours it seemed, ticked off as Richard fidgeted across from Lt. Col. Renford whose attention locked onto the report supposedly delivered to his home the previous evening. Why hadn’t he already read it?
“Excuse me for a minute.” Renford tucked the report into the file folder on his desk and left the room.
Richard eyed the ever expanding packet within arm’s reach. Was he being tested? He had no desire to read a collection of infractions he’d nearly erased from memory. However, waking last night restrained to a bed with no memory of how or why he got there felt very similar to his hospital ship experience shortly after the war had ended. Amount of time lost was the only difference, a few hours yesterday compared to two months under sedation after the explosion in a booby-trapped Japanese bunker.
He called upon last night’s conversation with Frank Kelley to blot out the emerging images of buddies who led him into that bunker but didn’t survive the blast. And to block out the temptation peek into his file.
“I noticed you and Virgil got a pretty hot car ready for the races at the Minnesota State Fair.” Frank Kelley sunk his teeth into the stub of a cigar gone cold, and, with his feet atop half an acre of mahogany, indicated the leather arm chair where Richard assumed he should sit.
“Yes, Sir. We done that.” The leather creaking might have been mistaken for an inappropriate release of gas, something Richard avoided even when drinking beer with the guys.
“You come a long way since your shoe-shine stand on East Seventh.”
Richard followed Kelley’s gaze to the shoes adorning the desk top, their 4-bit shine obvious.
“A few nickels and dimes to take back to Ma. Just a couple sisters left at home when you stopped for a shine.”
“Did I leave a good sized tip?”
“Yes, Sir. Silver dollar and a few pennies. Said that was all the change you had at the time.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t just the dollar? I seldom carried pennies.”
“Maybe I got it mixed in with my pocket change. Pennies back then could still buy a handful of candy.”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
Frank dropped his feet to the floor. “And pretzels and beer. I need someone to make delivers through the back doors in some pretty tough neighborhoods, not always during daylight hours.” He paused, as if assessing a piece of property he might want to buy. “I’m sure you can handle those problems, but how about kegs half your weight?”
“I used to deliver ice before the war, eighty pound cakes up to second and third story apartments.”
“Some time after your shoe shine operation, no doubt. I often wondered what happened to you until I heard you enlisted.”
“Had a few problems with school and the cops. I survived.”
“I’d ask if you can handle a truck, but I saw what you and Virgil did with automobiles. Any questions?”
“Just, when do I start?”
“Next week. I’ll have Tommy ride shotgun until you get the route established in your head.” He glanced down at the dead plug between his lips and tossed it into the waste basket.
“And point out the dangerous places.” His glaze remained fixed on the no longer visible cigar butt, as if it were an old friend. “I got just one more question.”
Richard squirmed as the mobster’s eyes penetrated.
“Do you play cards?”
Richard nodded, relieved.
“Me and some of the boys get together off-and-on for some cribbage and maybe a little poker. I’ll keep you in mind.”
Renford returned with another report that he placed on the desk. “Sorry for the wait.” He sat and held eye contact a few moments, as if Richard should initiate conversation. “What happened yesterday when you left our afternoon session?”
“You tell me. I didn’t get copies of the reports.”
“I want to know what caused the incident that generated those reports.” He tapped the folder as if seeking answers to every one of Richard’s mysteries. “Two MP’s and a security guard required medical attention, Mr. Hermendez released just minutes ago. What the hell got you so riled?”
Hermendez. Mexican Hermendez. Richard just stared.
“The streetcar driver from the afternoon run said you waved him away after the other guys got on board. Said he considered driving back with his personal car to check if you were still stranded. He’s the kind of guy who cares about his usual riders.”
Crazies at the funny farm. Richard tucked the insult into his private list of triggers that could cause loss of control. “I was waiting for my ride, not the streetcar.”
“That was confirmed by Trumel’s presence at the emergency room. We need to establish what caused you to attack the security guard who was concerned about your safety.”
“I fell asleep. That much I remember. Hermendez, if you can understand his accent, will have to fill in the details.”
“I believe he has.” Renford read from the report. “Security guard Hermendez noticed Mr. Leslie didn’t get on the streetcar, the last one for the day. Approximately forty-five minutes later—the end of Mr. Hermendez’s shift—Mr. Leslie appeared to be sleeping. Mr. Hermendez approached to offer a ride home since he, too, commuted from downtown St. Paul, but Mr. Leslie appeared to have died with his eyes open. Mr. Hermendez made the sign of the cross and attempted to close Mr. Leslie’s eyes. If two MPs hadn’t happened by, Mr. Hermendez felt sure Mr. Leslie would have choked him to death.”
Renford tucked the sheet of paper into the packet on his desk. I don’t think you need to hear the MP’s accounts of the struggle. Cracked ribs and a broken nose can add a negative tone if not an actual bias to any report.
Silence, an obvious strategy shift from your turn to speak to just think about it for a moment, and Richard resented the manipulation. He redirected the discussion. “I was offered a job last night after I got home from the hospital.”
“What kind of interview happens that late in the day? Bar tending? Or, considering your facial cuts and bruises, maybe a bouncer?”
“I got beat up here on government property last night, remember?”
A quick glance at the colonel’s deadpan reaction. “A business man called me to his downtown office. He never asked personal questions about my face.” Richard resisted touching his swollen eye that began to throb. “If anything, a few battle scars enhance rather than deter in this line of work. Next week I begin driving a delivery truck.”
“How do you see this job as a means of curbing your anger?”
“I won’t have to beg any more money from Ma.” Richard locked onto the psychiatrist’s glare. “I won’t be coming here anymore.”
“I won’t recommend disability pay.”
“I won’t need it.” Sarcasm topped.
The State Fair cancellation that year due to the polio outbreak disappointed Richard, but the delivery job pleased him and others; mother, sister, psychiatrist. Until an incident in the alley behind Fitz’s Tavern.
“He’ll never be able to talk again,” the court appointed attorney’s plea for leniency, his client at his side shrinking into his oversized suit jacket.
“On the bright side, he’ll never rat on his buddies,” whispered Frank Kelley into the ear of his employee he’d been summoned to vouch for. No need for an attorney, because Richard hadn’t been charged, although attempted manslaughter could have been a possibility.
Up Near Frog Town during a pre dawn delivery, Richard returned to his truck and found three guys rummaging through the van assessing whatever they could run off with. He yelled and all but one disappeared down the alley and jumped a fence, creating the slight annoyance Richard had come to expect. The remaining assailant, courage backed up with a knife, slashed a gash in Richard’s jacket, a costly miss.
“I don’t wan’ no trouble, jus’ hand over the keys.” Richard had exaggerated the black man’s dialect at the police station, the culprit no longer able to speak for himself.
That unfortunate phrase raised the charge from robbery to hijacking, but Richard cared little about such details; three fingers to the throat and the knife dropped to the street, followed by the hijacker onto his knees gagging blood. “I only wanted him to drop his weapon. If I wanted him dead, he wouldn’t be on trial today.”
Richard whispered back to Kelley, “What are the MP’s doing here? This is a civilian matter.”
Frank Kelly, Richard’s play-acting attorney, said, “I’ll deal with it.” He faced the judge. “Your Honor, I can only assume the uniformed men at the door are here to show respect for a former soldier—war hero—performing his civic duty.”
“The court will deal with that matter when the docket is cleared. The defendant has pled guilty and expressed remorse. Bail denied, until sentence is pronounced at a later date. Case dismissed.”
Bailiffs escorted the prisoner down the aisle and out the door still flanked by two military police officers, his attorney trailing.
The judge continued. “The Army has no jurisdiction in this court, but have been granted permission to speak in defense of their former soldier.” He acknowledged Frank Kelley with a nod almost as a boss to an employee.
“Mr. Kelley.” Frank stiffened as if some ordinary roles had suddenly reversed. “You placed your employee in a dangerous situation without any kind of support, relying on his special skills that could render him vulnerable in a court such as this.”
Frank gnawed at an absent cigar as the judge continued. “This did show bad judgment on your part, but certainly within the law, and I can only assume you will carry on as usual now that this issue is settled. You are excused, but Mr. Leslie, if it please the court, remain at your seat.”
“Hey, I did nothing wrong. You can’t charge me with anything.”
“This is true. However another jurisdiction holds sway over your behavior, and has been invited to assist this court with what it deems necessary.”
“Your Honor.” Frank, two fingers readied to remove the non existent cigar, returned his hand to his pocket. “I’m staying. I’m not an attorney, but you can’t leave this man with no representation.”
“Suit yourself.” The Judge continued, “The St Paul Police Department, in conjunction with outlying law enforcement departments, has has made a request of this court, and The Department of Veteran Affairs has concurred. We just witnessed what this man is capable of in hand-to-hand street fighting, and have been informed of various other lethal hand maneuvers he may be able to perform.”
“You can’t cut off a man’s hands for what he might do with them,” Frank Kelley, who probably doled out such punishment, stated defiantly. “As a matter of fact…”
“Yes, yes. We are not some primitive desert society where such an act could be condoned. Quite the contrary. Our actions are to preempt possible harm to an officer should he find cause to approach Mr. Leslie unaware of the weapons he possesses.”
Kelley smirked. “If Mr. Leslie promises to use his hands solely for gainful employment and to wipe his ass, will the court be satisfied?”
“Mr. Kelley, that would cost you a contempt if court were in session.” The judge stepped down from the bench, and the MP’s moved forward. “What we are asking of Mr. Leslie is to register his hands with the St. Paul Police as lethal weapons. These officers are prepared to present the military’s rational for such an act as spelled out by one Lieutenant Colonel Renford.”