"Jake, I know you have retired but 'The Gomer’ is looking for you,” the voice on the phone informed me.
"Now why would the Gomer be looking for me?" I asked.
"He wants to buy Stingers," The voice answered.
"Like I said, why would the Gomer be looking for me? I sure as hell don't have a source for Stingers. Besides what would the Gomer want with Stingers?"
"I don't know what he wants with them. I just know he wants a dozen."
"What the hell would the Gomer want with a dozen?" I asked more of myself than Eddie.
"You are repeating yourself. I already told you I have no idea."
"Well Eddie, don't tell him where I am. I am out of the gun running business," I stated it emphatically.
"I surely hope you can retire from this business," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the Gomer said he was going to find you, even if I wouldn't help. Man, if you can't get out, there is no hope for me."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you aren't nearly as greedy as me. I always want one more deal. If I was you, I would be looking for some place to buy those missiles."
"You know, I didn't exactly retire because I had too much money. I retired because I have a bad pump. If I didn't get out, you would still be looking for a new partner. You would have just had to bury me first." I thought a long moment then said, "Just tell the Gomer that I can't help him."
"I told him that but he ain't buying it."
"Eddie, he is going to have to buy it. Like you said, I don't know where to buy Stingers, and I wouldn't even if I could."
"Okay, I'll tell him. So how is retirement?"
"Could be better," I admitted.
'Edna wasn't thrilled to see you, I assume?"
"She definitely wasn't. She has become set in her ways over the last fifteen years. She seemed to resent me coming home."
"I expect she did. You did explain that you own the house in which she lives?"
"I explained it but she wasn't impressed. Somehow she doesn't understand that when her dad lost it, I bought it. In her mind it is the old home place and therefore it belongs to her."
"Why don't you just sell it out from under her?" Eddie asked.
"Because Eddie, I would still have to buy another place. No, the way I have it figured she will have to take care of me for life. That is, if she wants the place when I die."
"Be careful Jake. She might just make that sooner than you think." He said it with a hardy laugh.
"I'll keep that in mind. In the meantime is there anything I can do for you?" I asked it as a way to end the conversation.
"Not unless you want to come back to work," he suggested.
"Then I guess there is nothing. You take care of yourself," I answered.
"You too. I'll try to keep the Gomer off your ass," Eddie said.
"It's the least you can do Eddie," I demanded.
Eddie's call had reminded me that Edna and I hadn't finished our conversation yet. When I tried to discuss it calmly with her, she ran out of the room in tears. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why it upset her so. She knew that I had made the payments on the house during our fifteenyear separation. She had to know that the place belonged to me. It wasn't even community property, since I bought it after our legal separation.
Edna had simply continued to live in the house along with our daughter Lucy. I have no idea why Edna thought the house was hers. I expect she just planned to continue living in the house rent free for life. She probably expected Lucy to get the house when I passed on. Either that or she was mad enough to think I would leave it to her.
I might have, if I hadn't lost half a million dollars on an arms deal with a Banana Republic revolutionary. The damned rebels refused to pay until the arms were on the ground inside their country. If the pilots, I had hired to deliver the two plane loads of arms, had been better flyers, or had more guts, I might have gotten the junk delivered. They bailed out at the first sign of government fighters. They left their cargo to explode on the side of a junglecovered mountain.
Just about everything I owned was riding on that plane. I knew, even then, that retirement was inevitable. That shipment was to be my pension fund. When it went down in flames, so did my retirement plan.
A week after the crash I sold my few assets and flew home. Home being a very small North Carolina town. The town was too small for an airport, so I made the last thirty miles as a passenger in the rear of a limo.
Things had changed drastically since my visit six months before. My last visit had been the first in over three years. I returned home to see Lucy graduate from college. I had acted like any other proud parent. I ran around shooting pictures of her doing any and everything. It was a pleasant experience. I fully expected her to still be searching for an executive position.
I rang the bell when I arrived at the house. Even though I had a key, I always rang the bell. Since nobody answered the bell I opened the door.
"Freeze," the female voice said.
I froze for a second then turned slowly to see Lucy holding a nasty looking pistol on me. "What the hell do you think you are doing?" I asked angrily.
"Sorry daddy." Lucy said.
"I should hope so. Now what the hell are you doing in that costume?' I was referring to the cop suit.
"It's not a costume, it's a police uniform," she said.
"I know what it is. What the hell are you doing in it?" My heart sank as I waited for the answer.
"I just got home from class," she informed me.
"Class, tell me you don't mean rookie school," I begged.
"Sorry," was her only comment as she turned to the kitchen.
"Just a damned minute," I shouted at her back.
"Don't shout at me," she demanded.
"I'll do any damned thing I want in my house," I replied.
"Fine, I've been waiting for an excuse to move out. This is as good as any."
"If you want to leave fine. If you stay, or if you come back to sleep, you are going to answer my questions. Now which is it to be?" I shouted.
"Ask your damned questions," she demanded.
"What does your mother say about you being a cop?"
"Nothing, she just cries a lot," Lucy said angrily.
"And I suppose you don't give a damn," I suggested.
"Don't pull that on me. If you gave a damn about Mom, you would still live here," she demanded.
"As of," I looked at my watch. "Thirty seconds ago, I do live here. Now answer my question."
"Of course I care. I just want to live my own life."
"When you figure out that being a cop ain't like on TV, I hope you still have one."
"Give me a break. Just because you couldn't cut it, don't mean I can't," she said spitefully.
"When did you become such a shit?" I asked with a smile.
"Just as soon as I figured out who my father was." Unlike me, she showed no humor on her face. I turned to walk into the kitchen.
“What? You got nothing to say about that?" she asked.
I opened the refrigerator door. "What do you want me to say? Do you have a specific charge that goes with that bullshit, or are you just trashing me in general?"
"Oh hell, it is impossible to talk to you."
"That my dear, is an absolute truth," I replied.
"You are such a smart ass. I hate you," she declared as she turned to leave the room.
"And that, my dear, does not make you special."
Ten minutes later the phone began to ring. I almost decided to ignore it, but I was pretty sure Lucy had called her mother at work.
"Hello," I said into the phone.
"What the hell are you doing home and what did you say to Lucy? She is in tears."
'Nice to talk to you too," I replied. "If you want to ask those one at a time, when you get home, I'll be happy to answer them for you. In the meantime where the hell is the iced tea."
"I don't make tea every day, at least not for the last fifteen years," She replied just before she slammed the phone down in my ear. I did hear her mumble, "Prick" before the line went dead.
"Bitch," I answered as I returned to my search of the refrigerator. I was checking for anything to eat or drink. I wasn't at all surprised to find it almost empty. Edna didn't cook often. When she did, it was usually just enough for the one meal. I did find a container of cold pizza. Obviously, Lucy ordered out when she got hungry. Even though the pizza without a doubt belonged to Lucy, I carried it to the table.
I poured myself a diet cola before I sat down. I had already finished one of the three pieces of rock hard pizza when I heard Lucy shout. "I'm going out."
"So when can I expect to see you again?" I asked when I arrived in the living room.
"You," she said shortly. "Can expect me when you see me."
"You sure don't seem to have a cop's attitude," I said turning back to the kitchen.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she asked.
"Nothing, just go and do whatever it is that rookie cops do." I said it turning back toward the kitchen.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she asked.
"Nothing, just go on. I don't need your attitude."
"You never needed me," she said that as she walked out the door slamming it behind her.
"You keep that up and you are going to find out how cold and cruel the world really is," I mumbled under my breath.
During the afternoon I took a nap. It was something I had been doing for the last three weeks. The napping began in the hospital and continued after my release.
Edna awoke me when she returned home from her job. Edna had been a legal secretary for years. She made plenty of money. I hoped she still had some of it. Hell , she should. I paid almost all the household bills. Whatever she and Lucy couldn't spend should have been in a bank somewhere.
"I hope now you will tell me just what the hell is going on?" She demanded, while standing in the doorway to one of the three guest rooms.
"Nice to see you too," I replied groggily.
"Don't try to be a smart ass, you don't have the ass for it," Edna sneered at me. "So how long are you home for this time?"
"One month to five years," I replied.
"What exactly does that mean?" she asked.
"It means dear that I came home to die," I replied.
"I don't believe it," Edna said. She was far from confident in her statement.
"I've had two heart attacks. The doc seems to think another one is likely within the next year or so. I may have a couple of small ones before the big one. The big one will do me in for sure." Edna looked a little concerned. She didn't seem to know what to say. I wanted to help her, but I didn't want to broach a subject likely to upset us both.
"If what you say is true, why didn't you stay in Atlanta with your whore?" she asked.
"I don't have any idea what you are talking about," I admitted.
"Come on Jake, I know you. You wouldn't be without a woman more than a week. Why didn't you get the current love of your life to wait on you? Why did you save that honor for me." She almost spat the words at me.
"I came home, because this is my house. It is also the only thing I have left. Edna, I am broke. I expect I will have to sell this place to live out my remaining years. I sure as hell can't get a job. Not only am I sick, I don't have a single skill."
"Why didn't you just stay with the business?” She asked.
"I had to sell the business to pay off a couple of debts. The incident that triggered the heart attack also left me broke and in debt. I sold the business to cover the debt."
"Why didn't you just refuse to pay your debt? If you could have stalled them long enough, you wouldn’t have had to worry about it."
"The people I owed the money to would have collected somehow. These are very bad people," I admitted.
Edna didn't even bat an eye. “So, you are clear with them?" she asked.
"Clear," I agreed.
"Then let me understand this. You are broke and you intend to stay here?" I nodded my agreement. "So how do you plan to pay the utilities and buy food?"
"Like I said, I could always sell the house."
"You have to know that I would never allow that," she suggested.
"And you should know that I don't need your permission to sell. I own this house outright and in my own name. You have no legal rights at all."
"I am your wife," she demanded.
"We had a legal separation long before your father lost this place," I informed her.
"I was born here, that must count for something?"
"Not in the eyes of a judge."
"Surely we can work out something," she suggested in a much softer voice.
"I don't know how? You surely don't have the time or money to take care of me and God knows I don't."
"Will me the house and I'll take care of you," she suggested.
"You need to think about that some. Tell you what, you give it a couple of days thought. If you are still have a mind to do that, I will agree. I have no one else to whom I wish to leave the house."
"Done, so what can you have for dinner?" she asked.
"Almost anything," I replied.
"Bull, do you have a diet or do I need to get one from my doctor?" she asked.
"I tell you, I can eat anything I want. It isn't like it is going to make any difference." I explained.
"I know better than that Jake. Lots of my friends have husbands with heart disease. I can call Doctor Everett's office tomorrow. In the meantime I will fix you the last regular meal you are likely to get. How about steak?" she asked warmly.
Edna could blow hot and cold in the same sentence let alone a complete conversation. "Sure why not," I replied non-committal.
After dinner Edna took to her room with the telephone. I had no idea who or how many people she was confiding in, and I didn't really care. I watched TV for a while then took to my bed. I found that I was sleeping an awful lot after the heart attack. My energy level was quite low.
At breakfast the next morning Edna reported, "I'm taking the day off to do some shopping. I am going to the grocery store. Is there anything you want?" she asked.
"Not really," I replied. I was determined not to be any trouble. Besides I never knew what I wanted until I sat down at the table in a restaurant.
"Good, then you won't be disappointed by what I buy. I have a call in to the Doctor. I am going to stop by on the way to the store. According to my friends, cooking for you is going to be challenging and fun."
"That diet must be from the inquisition, if you are going to enjoy cooking for me," I replied with a broad smile.
"Why would you say a thing like that before you even give me a chance," she said with a certain amount of pain in her voice.
"Hey, I was just kidding."
"No, you weren't. I guess you have a right to feel that way. We have had our misunderstandings," she suggested.
"No offense honey, but compared to our fights, Vietnam was a misunderstanding." She did smile at that.
"We did have some great shouting matches," she replied. "Too bad they are over."
"I'm sure we will be raising our voices again," I replied.
"I hope not. It isn't good for a heart patient to get too excited."
"So I guess sex is out of the question?" I asked jokingly.
"I would think so for more than one reason," she replied evenly.
"Too bad, we did have some fun in the old days."
"No dear, you had all the fun," she waited a couple of long seconds then smiled.
"Right," I agreed. I did not remind her that in the early days our neighbors had complained to the apartment manager about the noise Edna made.
While she was occupied with her shopping, the truck with my belongings arrived. I probably would have rented a truck for the move had I not been restricted in the amount I could lift. With the fifty-pound limit I could do no more than watch as the movers unloaded the heavy cardboard boxes. Since Edna was a neat freak, there was plenty of room in the garage for my belongings.
When she returned, she parked inside the garage. In doing so she noticed the boxes. To her credit Edna said nothing about them at all.
"You need some help with the groceries?" I asked.
"Sure but only one bag at a time. I had a long talk with the doctor. You are going to have a much different life now."
I noted that she showed no reaction at all. I couldn't tell what she was feeling, but I knew something was going on inside her head. "Not all that much. I refuse to be treated any differently. Except maybe for the no stress part, I could use a more peaceful life," I admitted.
"It doesn't really matter what you want. You are stuck with what the doctor says. If I am going to take care of you ;
, then you are going to obey orders. It's about time you did that anyway," she said.
"As much as is reasonable," I replied as I lifted three of the plastic bags filled with groceries.
"You are so damned hard-headed," she said, turning her back on me.
I noticed that even though she raised hell about me carrying the groceries, she didn't return for a second load of bags. I have found over the years that women can somehow be consistent only in their inconsistency.
Edna was as good as her word. She put me on a routine of low fat foods and exercise. I hated them both but I went along. It was that or sell the house and live alone in a miserable little apartment somewhere. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I had come home to be with Edna and Lucy.
As for Lucy, I hardly saw her at all. When she was forced to spend anytime around me at all, we argued and raise hell at each other. Edna had decided that it was better that we stay apart as much as possible. Edna could be a God-awful bitch, but she was no dummy. She knew that the constant fighting couldn't be good for my heart.
Things kind fell into a routine after the first days. I would awake at eight, after Edna had gone to work. Lucy would either be at work or asleep when I began roaming the house. After a miserable breakfast of cold cereal, I would take my walk. Since the weather was warm, I walked around what was left of Edna's father's farm.
I say what was left because I bought only the house and ten acres. I couldn't afford the whole two hundred acres. Even if I could have afforded to buy it all, I wouldn't have. I never had any desire to be a farmer, not even a gentleman farmer.
That was what Edna's father had been. Edna's father had been in the banking business. At least that is what we all thought. He had been a banker for several years but toward the end of his life he gave it up without telling anyone. He would go to his new office every day. There he would play the stock market. He used the money his father had left him to gamble.
Mike Evers was as much a degenerate gambler as the worst horseplayer. He gambled on the market, but in his case it was gambling nonetheless. Like all gamblers he lost everything. I never did find out if he lost it before his wife died or if he got more reckless after her death. Either way , it took him until a year after her death to lose everything. Not only that, he was in debt up to his ass. Mike decided that he couldn't face the embarrassment of his failures. At least that is my theory as to why he removed most of his head with a twelve-gauge quail gun.
I bought the house from the bank that was ready to foreclose. I sold off the farm, since I didn't have enough money to pay for all of it. Edna was installed on the place until Lucy was grown. Since Lucy was grown and working, I was under no obligation to provide a place for them to live. Edna knew it. That was why she had agreed to care for me in my present state. She expected me to kick off in a reasonable amount of time. I actually hoped that I wouldn't put too big a cramp into Edna's life. I had always expected that she had an active social life. I fully expected her to continue seeing her 'friends', whoever they might be.
In the afternoons I would nap, then maybe walk again before Edna arrived home at five thirty. I usually sat at the kitchen table with a diet soda while she prepared dinner. I found that when she tried to avoid fighting with me, she could be pretty good company. As hard as I tried, I could never remember us having talked as much before. She really seemed to have changed a great deal over the fifteen years. I'm sure she would have said the same about me. It was amazing. I could never remember us having talked so long before without shouting.
Lucy avoided me like the plague. I expect it was because she lacked the maturity to avoid fighting with me. Someone, probably Edna, had no doubt told her to be nice to me. I expected her idea of being nice was to stay the hell away from me. It seemed at the time like a great plan.
Everything seemed to be working out pretty well. I was even thinking about explaining to Edna exactly how serious my heart attack had been. I decided against it, but still allowed the idea to roll around inside my head. I was pretty close to changing my mind when I went walking on that Saturday afternoon.
Edna was cleaning house, so I tried to disappear. It was in case she tried to enlist my help. I was gone only about half an hour. When I returned, in addition to Edna and Lucy's cars, I recognized the rental car in the drive. I knew it was a rental from the license plate. I should have been concerned but I didn't expect anyone. I figured it to be someone to see Edna or Lucy.
After opening the door, one look at the sofa warned me that something was amiss. On the sofa sat Lucy, Edna, and my former partner, Eddie. I instinctively scanned the room before I spoke. I tried to ask, "What the hell is going on?" I got out less than half my question before the room filled with three, rather nasty looking characters.
I recognized only the Gomer at first. After his identity sunk in, I recognized his second in command. Mitchell was a real nasty piece of work. He had been involved in God only knows what mischief. No matter what his experience, I would have been concerned about him. He had the dancing eyes of a psychopath. The third member of the little band was as thin as an aids patient. He held the only obvious firearm.
"Come on in Jake," The Gomer suggested.
"Why not, it's my house. So what brings you here?" I was looking at, and speaking to Eddie.
"Your friend here wants to buy some product. When I told him I couldn't get it, he insisted on seeing you," Eddie said it bravely. He was doing real well compared to how I felt.
I expected my voice to crack as I asked, "So how about you guys?' I was speaking to Edna and Lucy.
"They are fine. You should be concerned about me," The Gomer said. Fortunately for us all both Edna and Lucy nodded their agreement.
"Why did you come here? Eddie must have told you that I am retired?" I asked.
"He told me, but I don't care. I need the product and he can't get it for me. I figure that if anyone can, you can."
"Sorry, I'm not doing that anymore," I replied.
"That is the wrong answer. Mitchell explain to Jake how serious we are," The Gomer demanded.
Mitchell walked to Eddie, in one fluid move he pulled a small automatic from under his coat. He placed the pistol to
Eddie's head then splattered his brains onto Lucy who was seated beside him on the sofa. Lucy was so terrified that she began to gasp. Without warning she threw up onto the floor.
I felt about like Lucy, but successfully fought to hold it together. I was terrified, sick, and angry. "You do know that was a waste. I am out of the business because I have no cash. Without cash, I couldn't buy what you want even if they were available."
"Eddie explained all that. Mitchell give it to Jake," The Gomer said.
I didn't know if he intended to kill me, or what. I doubted it, but then I hadn't expected him to spread Eddie's brains all over my daughter either. What Mitchell did was to hand me a large aluminum attaché case. "Inside that case you will find two hundred thousand. That should be enough to purchase a dozen stingers. All you have to do it deliver them to my compound in less than two weeks."
"I suppose you have a plan to prevent me from just taking your money and running?" I wanted to get to the bottom line and get him out of my house.
"I'm going to take the two women with me," he suggested.
"No deal," I replied.
"Then I'll just kill you all right here," he continued.
"Up to you," I admitted.
"You are bluffing," he replied.
"If you have done your homework, you know that I have been divorced from that woman for fifteen years. I don't give a damn if you kill them both right now." The looks coming from Lucy and her mother could have killed me without The Gomer lifting a finger.
"If that is true, why are you living here?" he asked.
"Because this is my house. It is the only thing I have left."
"Then I have to kill them because they are witnesses."
"If you do that I am not going to help you, period. Let me explain. If those two wind up dead, I am going to the gas chamber. I am the only one with a motive. As for Eddie, hell he had as many enemies as me. So, if you harm the women, I am going to die anyway. I'll be damned if I will help you."
"So, what are you suggesting?" he asked anxiously.
"I need one of them to help me do the running around. I had a heart attack you know. I’ll get you the stingers for the money. Hell, if I don't you just come back and kill me."
"You know damned well that won't work. You can just run away with my money. I will give you one of the women to help you. I expect you would work as hard for one as for two." The Gomer gave them a hard look before he went on. "I don't have any kids, but I expect by the time they get to be her age they are a pain in the ass. You might be glad to be rid of her. I am going to take the old woman." He grinned at me after he finished his remarks.
"Look, why don't you just leave Mitchell with me. Edna will be more trouble than value. Believe me, I know what I am talking about." I admitted.
"Thanks for the concern, but I'll take my chances," he suggested.
"I'm not doing it for you. I don't want you to get pissed and kill her. Listen to me , she is going to be a lot of trouble."
"Don't worry, we will take good care of her. You just be at the compound in two weeks with my stingers." With that he pulled Edna to her feet. "Come on, we have a long way to go before dark."
"Take Eddie with you. If someone finds his body here, it could put a crimp in our ability to move around." I demanded.
The Gomer nodded. He pulled Edna out the door by the arm. The other two carried Eddie's bloody body out the door. I watched it all from the window. I watched until they loaded Eddie into the trunk and Edna into the rear seat with Mitchell.
I turned to the almost hysterical Lucy. I sat on the sofa beside her. "Lucy, are you all right?" I asked putting my arm around her.
Through here gasps she demanded, "I'll be okay. Call the cops."
"We can't do that honey. They will kill your mother at the first sign of cops. You know that the cops will demand that they surrender before they do anything else. At that point your mother will die. These guys are not your typical crooks."
"So what are you going to do, buy the missiles?" she asked.
"I might if I could. The only place to buy stingers right now is from the Afghans. They have a few left over from their war with the Russians."
"So call them," she demanded.
"I can't. If I call them, it will take a month to get the stingers here. Things aren't as easy as you and Gomer think. The missiles aren't like sending a letter."
"So what are we going to do?" she asked.
"You are going to pretend everything is just like before. If you have a date scheduled, then go on it. Work when you are supposed to work." I replied.
"So what are you going to do?" she asked.
"I am going to get your mother."
"Do you know where she is?" Lucy asked.
"I expect so, The Gomer has a compound in Mississippi. I expect he thinks she would be safest there."
"So what are you going to do?" Lucy asked in a stronger voice. It seemed that planning took her mind off the events of the last few minutes.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of everything."
"No Jake, I am not going to sit here while my mother is in danger. Besides you aren't up to doing anything much. You have a bad heart, remember?"
"I went to a lot of trouble to keep you out of this. You are going to stay out of it," I demanded.
"Either I go, or I call the FBI," she replied.
"If you do that, you are killing your mother," I demanded.
"You don't know that," she said.
"I sure as hell do know that. I'm telling you that the only way to get your mother back is to take her back."
"Then I'm going with you. Do we have time to sit around arguing about this?" she asked.
She had a point and she knew it. "Okay, but from this moment on, you do exactly as I say without any discussion or argument. Your mother's life, as well as your own, may depend on it."
"That won't do. You have to give me your word."
"I give you my word, I will do whatever you say. Now, let's get to doing something. I can't just stand around."
"Okay, bring the cordless phone and follow me." I led her from the house into the garage where the cardboard boxes from Atlanta sat. I moved several around until I found the one marked 'records'. I tore it open. After sorting through the contents I removed a black leather address book. I found the number I wanted after only a couple of seconds.
"Hello," I said to the voice on the other end of the line. I found out after a couple of seconds that the voice was a recording. I waited until the announcement ended. "Willie Lee, this is Jake, Eddie's friend. I need to talk to you about a job. If you can't call me within thirty minutes, I am going somewhere else."
"Hold on Jake," a new voice replied. After a couple of seconds the voice continued. "Jake, where was Eddie two years ago in August?"
"Come on Willie Lee, that is ridiculous. I have no earthly idea where the two of you were. I do know that he came back with Jungle Rot.'
"Okay Jake, what can I do for you?"
"I need to hire you to help me out." I replied.
"Is Eddie going to be with us?" the slightly effeminate voice asked.
"I hate to tell you this Willie Lee, but Eddie got waxed," I said.
"How?" It was Willie Lee's only response.
"The same men we are going to pay a visit." I waited for a response but got none. "So, are you interested?”
"If it's a stateside job, my charge is a grand a week," he replied. "Plus expenses."
"The job is one day and it pays ten grand," I admitted.
"What the hell are you getting me into?" he asked.
"Just a little walk in the woods," I replied.
"Where do you want me and when?"
"The Holiday inn closest to the airport in Greenville, Mississippi. I need you there in two days, can you do it?"
"What do you want me to bring?" he asked.
"Just your clothes, I'll bring the hardware."
"Two days will be fine," he replied.
"Do you want me to wire you an advance?" I asked.
"No, but I want my money before we begin. You are Eddie's friend and all, but still, business is business."
"Not a problem," I agreed, pushing the kill button on my phone. Next I looked up the number for Ronnie Evan's Flying Circus. I dialed the number I knew to be his cell phone.
"Evan's circus," the metallic voice answered.
"Ronnie, is that you?" I asked.
"Depends on who is on the line?" He answered with a question.
"It's Jake, the man who sold you all your junk," I replied.
"Did you get a new piece of equipment?" he asked vacantly.
"Ronnie, I'm having trouble understanding you," I admitted.
"That's because I'm in the plane. So Jake, what can I do for you?"
"I need some good photographs made." I replied.
"Where?" was his only response.
"Fifty miles north of Greenville, Mississippi there is a village called Titus. Six miles east of Titus there is a compound a mile or so to the south of county road 1100. Last time I saw it there was one building and a bunker."
"Is the place occupied?" he asked.
"It is and I don't want them to know you took their picture. I need shots every hour or so for the next two days."
"I'm in Virginia doing a survey for the power company up here," he replied. "I really can't get away for a week."
"I got ten grand for the two days," I replied.
"I can begin at first light tomorrow," he replied.
"Deliver the pictures to the Holiday Inn closest to the airport in Greenville in two days. If I'm not there when you finish I will be in a couple of hours."
"You had better be," he said shortly.
"I will be, but don't threaten me Ronnie. I got enough crap happening right now. I just might kill you on sight."
He laughed. You wouldn't do that. I'm one of your best customers."
"Don't bet your life on it. I have retired from the business," I replied.
"Have you gone into the Ops business? There has to be more money in gun running."
"Not really, I just have a little problem to take care of." I admitted.
"Since you talk so mean, I might not want the job," he replied.
"Sure you do, Ronnie. If you were as bad as you are talking, you would be flying Ops. If you did that, you would make a damned sight more than working for the Virginia power company. Besides you can't make ten grand in a month working for them."
"Okay, you got my sign, the dollar sign. I'll be there at first light," he admitted.
"Now Lucy, we have to pack your mother's car. Why don't you back it to the door, no sense lugging this crap any farther than necessary," I said.
Lucy looked terrible when she asked. "We are going to get her back aren't we?"
"You bet," I replied.
Lucy continued to look at me then added. "If we don't, I am going to kill you."
"Sounds reasonable," I replied pushing boxes around until I found one marked 'Dishes'. Now go get your mother's car."
When she opened the garage door from the outside I found that she had pulled the car nose first to the garage door. "Go out there and turn it around," I suggested in a flat voice. She looked as though she wanted to complain, but she didn't.
From the cardboard box marked 'Dishes' I removed three thirty-caliber carbines of Korean War vintage. I handed them to Lucy to place inside the trunk of Edna's Lincoln Town Car.
"From you, I would have expected M16s," Lucy said.
"Why would you expect anything from me?" I asked. As far as I knew, she thought I dealt in cop supplies.
"You sell to police departments don't you?" I nodded. "Well, I trained on the M16. It is pretty much standard issue."
"I'm sorry I don't have a license to sell machine guns. They are too expensive anyway. I can buy a case of these for the price of a single M16."
"I know but you don't have any fire power with these toys."
"If you don't know what you are talking about, I suggest to keep your moth shut," I declared. She almost made a wise assed remark but thought better of it.
Next I handed her two Remington 12 gauge automatic shotguns, which had been cut down to trench guns. After the trench guns I handed her a long flat fiberglass case. She gave me a curious look but I didn't explain the case.
"How many of those carbines do you have?" she asked as she looked at the several stacks of boxes.
"More than we are going to need. Come on and load these cans." As I spoke the words, I began handing her large silver cans marked 'Coffee'. After five of the large coffee cans, I handed her two equally large cans marked 'Green Beans'. The next three tin cans were marked 'Corn'. Then she loaded three cardboard boxes marked as Macaroni and Cheese diners. From a final box I removed three green fiberglass tubes.
"My god those are LAW rockets," Lucy said excitedly. "How come you got LAW rockets, but crappy old rifles?" she asked.
"Shut up Lucy, we got a lot to do," I replied walking back into the house. "Do you have any comfortable boots?" I asked.
"I’ve got some hiking shoes," she replied shortly.
"If they aren't high tops we are going to have to buy you some. Get them and some dark comfortable clothes. We are going to be walking in the woods." She came back with a police dark blue fatigue outfit. I guess it will be dark enough. She showed me her hiking shoes. They were much too low cut to be walking around in the dark.
'We will stop somewhere for you to get some boots. I don't want to carry you out of the woods because you twisted your ankle." I replied to her question before she asked it.
I removed a black half duffle bag from the box marked clothes. It contained my fatigues and boots. I never worn the fatigues, but I had worn the boots many times. I had once done a little hiking. The fatigues were from a shipment I had bought surplus from the Army. I had taken a several sets just to have something to wear while working on my car.
On the way out the door, I tossed three web sets into the trunk. We weren't going to be in the woods long enough to fill the pouches with food, but the plastic canteens might prove useful.
"You drive," I demanded as Lucy and I approached the car. "And for God's sake, be careful. I can explain all that crap in the truck, but it might take them a day or two to work it out. We can't afford the loss of time."
"Okay Jake, I'll be good, but don't you be telling me how to drive. As a matter of fact, I think you should take a nap."
"That sounds reasonable, just don't get this car searched." I tried to sleep but my mind kept returning to a question I had asked myself since before I made the first call. Could I make it through the woods and survive until we freed Edna? I would just have to survive, that was all there was to it. It seemed like a terrifically heroic way to go out but only if we succeeded in freeing Edna. As for Lucy, I had a plan to keep her out of the firefight.
Somehow, I managed to fall asleep for several hours. "Jake, I am getting tired. Are we going to stop for the night? If not can at least stop to eat?" Lucy asked.
I looked at my watch and found it to be eleven p.m. "I guess. Where are we anyway?"
"We just crossed into Alabama," Lucy replied.
"Then let's stop for the night."
"Any particular place?" she asked.
"Nope, you pick it," I replied.
Lucy stopped at a Motel 8 just off the interstate on highway 431. I don't remember much about the motel except that it had a coffee shop and a wake up service. The bed and those two features were the only ones I used or cared about.
Lucy and I began our drive the next day at eight. We arrived at the Greenville Holiday Inn at five p.m. When we checked in, I found two messages waiting for me. One was from Willie Lee. His message informed me that he was in room 406 of the same motel. Ronnie Evans left me a number to call.
In my room I called Willie Lee first; he came immediately. "Good to see you again Jake," he said as he pushed his way past me. "So what happened to Eddie?"
I noticed again, as I had in Atlanta, that on first glimpse Willie Lee appeared gay. In his case appearances were not deceiving. Eddie told me that Willie Lee was indeed gay. According to Eddie, he was also ruthless and smart as hell. Willie Lee was also black. He had a lot of reasons to become tough.
"Eddie got himself iced by a Gomer," I replied.
"How the hell did that happen?" Willie Lee asked.
"I don't know how they actually took him, but they brought him to my house to wax. They wanted me to know that they were serious." I said it looking hard at Willie Lee. If he was going to blame me for Eddie's death, I wanted to know it from the start.
"So, if you don't know how, do you know why?"
"They wanted him to buy something for them. Eddie couldn't get it. They thought I could. I can't either." I said it in short sentences as I watched Eddie’s eyes for any sign of trouble.
"So you are going to get even for Eddie?" There was surprise in his voice, not to mention disapproval.
"I ain't that stupid. They have my wife and sure as hell they will come back for me," I replied.
"You got a chunk of The Gomer's money don't you?" he asked.
"I do indeed." I stopped to let all of it sink in before I went on. "You and me are going into The Gomer's compound. We are going to shoot it up and walk out with my wife." I kept his eye locked with my own. I tried to judge his reaction.
"So, I get to kill this Gomer, and I get ten thousand for doing it. Hell man, this must be Christmas." Willie Lee had a dangerous smile. I figured he could just as easy kill me as The Gomer. "So Jake, where is my money?" he asked.
"I hand it to you in the car on the way to the hit," I replied. I watched as a cloud passed over Willie Lee's eyes.
"Don't you trust me?" he asked.
"Probably not," he agreed. "Okay, but if you don't have it in the car, I am going to kill you and take what you do have."
"Fair enough," I replied cautiously.
"Hey, if you two are though playing whose is bigger, how about answering a question for me?" Lucy demanded.
"What question is that sweetie?" Willie Lee asked, looking at me carefully.
"What is a Gomer?" Lucy asked it while ignoring the look.
"A Gomer is one of those militia types," Willie Lee informed her. "A better question is, who are you, and am I going to have to look after your ass?"
"My name is Lucy and nobody has to look after me," Lucy replied angrily.
Willie Lee nodded then asked. "Okay Jake, who is she?"
"My little girl. She is also a cop, so she should be able to take care of herself."
"And if she can't?" he asked.
"If she can't, we leave her where she falls," I replied.
"Sure," Willie Lee said. "I ought to run like hell, but I'll stay with it."
"I know it's your love for Eddie," I replied harshly.
"That and the ten grand, so how many do we have to kill?" he asked more seriously.
"I don't know. I am about to call our Intel officer," I replied reaching for the phone. I made the call. Then we all waited for Ronnie to arrive. The wait was long enough for things to become tense in the room. I sent Lucy for ice so that we could all have a drink. While she was gone Willie Lee and I had a little talk.
We had two drinks each before Ronnie showed. When he did it was with a large cardboard envelope. I waited while he unpacked the photographs. He placed them face down on the table until I handed him the envelope with the cash.
After he counted it he began, "There seem to be three trucks by the gate. I have seen either five or seven men around the place." As he spoke he pointed out shadows on the ground. I wish I could tell you where they are at any given time but I can't."
"Can you tell us where they are sleeping?" I asked.
"No, I just can't get a fix on them. I think they are running three guards per shift though. If you check all the photos, you will see three shadows at all times. At night, there are three infrared signals on the outside of the buildings. They are always inside the wire though. Naturally I can't tell about any alarms or mines."
"Do they still have only the one building?" I asked.
"Yeah, and one bunker beside it. The whole place is fenced with cyclone wire," Ronnie informed me.
"How the hell can you tell that?" Willie Lee asked.
'See this shadow; it was made by a small metal pole. See the bend here, that is barbed wire on top," Ronnie informed him. "Man, if I tell you there is wire, take your cutters."
"Seven against three is pretty long odds," Willie Lee suggested.
"If the odds were better the pay would be worse," I replied.
"Well if you get hit, I'm gonna split," Willie Lee admitted.
"Lucy, if you are alive when this man turns tail, shoot him in the back." I smiled up at Willie Lee who was standing by the window.
"My pleasure, Daddy," Lucy said smiling at Willie Lee.
"She's a cop Jake. She won't shoot me in the back."
"I was his daughter before I was a cop," Lucy replied with a wicked smile. I expect Willie Lee knew it was a bluff. I sure as hell did.
"Go get dressed Willie Lee, we are out of here in half an hour."
"What you mean man? I got to get some food and get ready for the trip."
"We will eat on the way. We leave here in half an hour."
"I didn't figure that Willie Lee would have time to sell me out in half an hour. The Gomer would have paid a pretty penny to know what I was up to. There was no way Willie Lee could find him in half an hour. Besides, the sooner I got to Edna the better. The Gomer would have less time to prepare for me. At least that is the way I hoped it would go. I also hoped that all the weekend Gomers had gone home. With a little luck a couple of the shadows had gone home.
After Willie Lee had gone Ronnie said, "You know there may be more than the seven. There could be some I never saw because they were sleeping from their guard shift. Instead of seven there could be ten or twelve."
"You are just full of sunshine," I replied smiling.
"You already figured that, didn't you?" he asked.
"Yeah, but I'd be just as happy, if you didn't tell my associate."
"I thought that might be the case. Well good luck Jake, I'm not going to ask you what this is all about."
"Good, just go on back to the power company and forget the last two days ever happened."
"That ain't gonna be no problem," he said as he walked from the room.
Lucy, who had gone to her own room to dress, returned first. "Jake, what kind of chance do we have?"
"If it wasn't a good chance, I would have hired more men," I suggested.
"Why didn't you?" she asked.
"The more men who know, the more chance for a leak. Not only that: more men mean more noise in the woods. We really do have to surprise them, or your mom is dead. The slightest warning is all it is going to take, so be careful in the woods."
"Are you going to be all right? I mean your heart attack and all?"
"I'm going to be fine but don't mention the heart attack to Willie Lee. I don't want to give him any excuse to rabbit."
"I don't trust him," Lucy said.
"Good for you," I replied.
When Willie Lee returned I sent them out to bring in the guns and the other supplies. After three trips they had everything lying on the spare bed in my room. I handed each of them a carbine and a trench gun. From his key ring Willie Lee produced a folding can opener. He used it to expertly open the tin cans of coffee and beans. From my black duffle bag I produced a stack of thirty round banana clips. From the five coffee cans Willie dumped the thirty-caliber ammunition. He and Lucy spent a long time loading the clips. I also produced two shotgun shell bandoleers. I watched as Willie Lee and Lucy filled them with buckshot and slugs alternately. I lay quietly on the bed while the two of them worked.
"When we get there, if you have to fire the carbine, be careful. It is a full automatic with no single shot capability. You hold that trigger down and it will empty all thirty rounds. If we have to get in close, I recommend the shotgun."
"Why don't you have one?" Lucy asked.
"I will be carrying this monster." I said it as I opened the fiberglass case. Inside the padded case lay the parts of my sniper rifle."
"I hope that pipe is a silencer,” Willie Lee suggested with a grin.
"It is and a damned good one, I might add,” I said it as I began assembling the Winchester .22 magnum rifle with the Russian night scope. The rifle also had a tripod for the barrel to rest upon.
"Are you any good with that thing?" Willie Lee asked.
"I'm staking all our lives on how good I am. I figure to shoot all the guards with this thing. If I can, then we should be able to walk into the camp and finish off the ones who are sleeping."
"You don't mean to murder them, do you?" Lucy asked.
"It's either that or go home right now," Willie Lee suggested. "If we leave anyone alive, then the cops will be able to put it all together. First the cops come for you, and then you give me up. If we don't kill everyone in the place, I have to kill you two. I ain't going to prison for a couple of Gomers."
"If you can't do it, stay home," I suggested.
"I'm going to make sure you don't get my mother killed,” she said angrily.
We sat around working on the plan until after ten. I gave each of them a thirteen-inch knife with a cutlass hilt. The handle was shaped like a pirate cutlass from the movies. I had bought them from a manufacturer in Lebanon. Willie Lee knew what to do with his. Lucy, I had my doubts about. The knife wasn't something the police academy taught.
It took me four hours to drive to the compound. Most of that time was spent searching for the dirt road. I was absolutely sure about the road when I found it. I recognized the cattle gate with the warning attached. There was a gate but the real fence was two miles farther down the road. We didn't take the road; instead we walked through the woods after having parked the car on the side of the road half a mile away. I left the car with a white cloth on the radio antenna. I hoped the hanky would keep the sheriff's deputies from hauling the car away.
My heart was pounding painfully in my chest even before I reached the woods. Willie Lee had been holding my equipment while I walked from the car to the gate. I didn't trust myself to speak so I just nodded for him to lead the way into the woods. After several minutes the pain in my chest subsided. It never really left me but it got easier to bear.
I walked sandwiched between Willie Lee in front and Lucy in the rear. I tried to move as quietly as possible even though I had a burning shortness of breath. That damned walk seemed to last forever. Finally Willie Lee slowed. I felt Willie Lee whisper into my ear. "I can see the wire a few feet ahead."
I nodded as I slipped past him with the sniper rifle. I moved quietly through the remainder of the trees. I didn't know how much noise I made, since I could hear nothing over the pounding in my chest and ears. I lay still for several minutes while the pounding eased then stopped. When I had recovered, I began looking for the guards. The Russian scope was only fair but it was much better than nothing.
Willie Lee moved to lie beside me. "How about it?" He asked in a whisper.
"I got two of them. I can't see the other one. I'm going to take out the one by the hut first, then the one on the gate. I expect there is a third one by the bunker. If I can't get a shot at him, we will just have to take him out when we get inside the compound." Willie Lee nodded. "Get Lucy for me."
When she was lying beside me I said, "I want you to stay here." Before she could object, I went on. "Willie Lee and I are going to search the shack for your mother. If anyone comes from that bunker, you kill him. I will leave you the sniper rifle."
"I want to go with you," she stated in a strong whisper.
"I need you to cover that bunker. I want Willie where I can see him and you are the only other one here." She finally nodded her understanding.
I aimed carefully then drew a deep breath. I held it even though it caused a pain in my chest. I released about half the air then squeezed the trigger. The guard behind the shack seemed to turn into rubber as he slipped to the ground.
I quickly lined up on the gate guard. The shot hit him above the ear. I watched as he pitched forward like in a movie. I waited for the third guard to show himself, but he never did. Finally I said to Lucy, "It's up to you. Don't let anyone out of that bunker."
Willie Lee quickly cut the wire creating an opening for us to crawl through. We went in near the shack. Within seconds we were inside the building. Even without night vision goggles I knew which of the three beds was occupied. I wasn't sure if any of the others were occupied but I knew the bed farthest from the door was. I could tell by the moans coming from it. I cupped my hand to Willie ear. "Stay here and watch the door." I felt, more than saw, him nod.
As I passed each of the other beds, I checked to be sure they were empty. I slipped to within a couple of feet of the bed. The moans coming from my wife covered my muffled steps. I took a deep breath then quickly blocked her to the floor. In the same motion I plunged the cutlass into Mitchell’s chest.
I almost had to stick my hand into Edna's mouth to shut her up. She was trying to say something or other, but I couldn't listen. I didn't have time.
"Jake, it's about to start," Willie Lee informed me.
I got back to the door about the time the shots began to come from the bunker. "How many men in there?” I asked the naked Edna.
"Five, maybe six," she said.
"Did Lucy get any of them?" I asked.
"I don't know. One of them came out, then fell back into the bunker." Willie Lee said. About that time the fire from the bunker began to concentrate on the shack. It did so mainly because someone tried to get out of the bunker. Since Willie Lee didn't feel confident in Lucy, he cut loose with a half clip from the carbine. The Gomer died, but the others knew where we were. We had already decided that we couldn't run so I took a moment before I handed the LAW rocket to Willie Lee. I watched as the rocket roared into the opening of the bunker. First the roof blew up, and then settled back onto the log walls.
I knew I wasn't in any shape to run across the compound so I said, "Go finish off anyone in there. I'll cover you."
Willie nodded and took off at the run. Fortunately it was as dark as original sin in the compound. I caught the muzzle flash before I heard the sound. The flash came from a spot behind the bunker and to the left. I quickly emptied a thirty round clip at the flash. I reloaded the carbine as I looked for either Willie or the shooter.
"Jake, is everything all right?" Edna asked.
"Edna, I don't have time for you right now. Find some clothes before Lucy sees you like that." I was in a lot of pain, but I didn't dare let it be known. I expected Willie would put a bullet into each of us, if he suspected any weakness on my part. I didn't see any more muzzle flashes, but I heard Willie and the riot gun inside the bunker."
A few moments later I heard a whisper in the dark. "Jake, I'm coming in," he said.
"So, is everybody dead?" I asked.
"They are now," he replied.
"How about the shooter behind the bunker?" I asked.
"Either you or your little girl got him. When I got there, he was finished."
"How about the guards?" I asked.
"You got them both," he suggested.
"Where is The Gomer?" I asked Edna.
"Do you mean Simon?" she asked.
"Yeah, where is Simon?"
"He left the compound early in the afternoon. He is supposed to be back tonight."
"We need to get out of here fast," Willie said anxiously.
"Sounds reasonable, see if you can find the keys to either of those trucks," I suggested.
When we stepped outside, Lucy came running. She and her mother were both crying and hugging. It would have been a real tearjerker, if I hadn't seen her atop Mitchell, the murderer just five minutes before.
Willie came back with a set of keys. I have no idea which one it fits but lets go see. When we arrived at the truck park, Willie tried the keys. The second truck fired right up.
"Willie get out. Let Lucy drive and Edna ride up there. You and I will ride in the back just in case we meet The Gomer on the road. First though we need to take care of the evidence. Did you touch anything in the bunker?" I asked.
"Wouldn't make any difference the wall are logs with the bark still on them. Everything else is junk."
"I guess we need to burn the shack, just to make sure we get all Edna's prints." I suggested. Willie tossed the match into the puddle of kerosene from the lamps.
I checked my watch when our truck turned onto the blacktop. The complete firefight had taken only fifteen minutes including our escape. I noted the glow in the sky and knew we needed to hurry since the volunteer fire department might be on the way. That glow would be visible for miles.
The truck pulled to a stop beside Edna's Lincoln. I felt the touch of a metal object. I knew Willie had one of the weapons on me. "We got a problem Jake."
"I know. The Gomer knows it was me. I also have a large chunk of his money. If I don't get him tonight, he will be coming for me. You figure I will give you up, so to cover yourself you have to kill me."
"The others too," he agreed.
"Let's talk this over," I suggested. We talked for several minutes before we climbed into the Lincoln.
During the drive to the motel the fire in my chest turned to a pain. I tried turning every conceivable way but nothing helped. The nitro had no effect at all on the pain. I knew I was having a heart attack. I also knew I couldn't go into the hospital in the cams fatigues.
While changing in the motel room I rushed to the bathroom to toss my cookies. I knew for sure then that I was in for a really rough next few hours. Edna drove me to the hospital. I was allowed to wait until the nurse had a chance to assess my condition. When she arrived at me after a seeing a man with the flu, she immediately sent me into the emergency room.
From that point on it was stick Jake with needles in every conceivable place. Then see just how miserable you can make his last hour on earth. Too bad I survived their worst tortures. Not only did I survive, I felt pretty normal after the blockage in my artery was opened.
After I was unceremoniously dumped in the coronary care unit, I fell sound asleep. It was as much from the exhaustion as the drugs. I am sure the drugs probably helped some. From that point on, I have only a vague recollection, of seeing people for a while. When I finally got my wits about me, I told Edna to stay away and to keep Lucy away. After a five-minute argument I had to explain so that she wouldn't just camp outside my door.
I knew just as sure as hell that Willie Lee was going to sell me out to the Gomer. I knew it because it was what I would have done. I also knew the Gomer would be coming for me soon. I didn't want Edna or Lucy in the line of fire when it happened.
I went a whole day seeing no one but the nurse. She was a cute little thing, even if she did have the remnants of a punk haircut. I was hard to see her as a highly skilled nurse when her hair still had a pink tint and spikes fighting to rise from her heavily moussed hairstyle. She was a sweetheart though.
Sometime during the third day the Gomer came. I dozed lightly after the second day. The opening of the door woke me as it had for several hours. I saw him slip into the room.
"Hello Simon," I said greeting him just so that he wouldn't get any ideas about a pillow over the face. Not that I wouldn't have liked for him to try that. I had a big surprise for him if he got close.
"I see you are awake," he said disappointed.
"That’s right, so what brings you to see me. Surely you aren't here to wish me well." I said.
"Not hardly, I came to kill you." He said it while removing the 9mm from his pocket. I knew the weapon because I had sold it to him.
"I wouldn't fire that thing in here." I suggested, as I pointed to the oxygen sign.
"I guess it will have to be a more messy end for you," he stated replacing the pistol. He removed a five-inch Air Force survival knife. I had also sold that to him. It looked as though I was going to be killed with one of my own weapons, one way or another.
"Well Simon, you feel free to give that your best shot,” I said as I pulled the thirteen-inch cutlass from under my pillow. It was a good thing the nurse didn't know about it. I expect they would have tossed me out of the hospital. I noted with a great deal of satisfaction that The Gomer turned a little green. He wasn't nearly as brave as he thought.
"Okay, but you have to leave here someday. I'll get you outside or I'll come back when you are sleeping," he said
"You sound serious , but I doubt that you will. I'm just a temporary irritant. You will probably forget all about me," I replied.
"No chance Jake, I intend for you to spend a lot more time with Eddie." He actually smiled as he walked from the room.
I didn't see what happened next but I knew. Simon, The Gomer, walked out the room, and then waited for the elevator. I made a call on my cell phone. When Simon reached the lobby, a thin black man fell in behind him. The two men walked to the parking garage.
When Simon slipped into his armor-plated Limo the black man in the hospital scrub suit passed the open door. Simon might or might not have seen the grenade pass through the open door. One thing for sure, he couldn't get out of the car even if he had. Willie Lee held the door closed until the explosion. Since the armor plate and bullet proof glass held the force of the explosion inside the car, Willie Lee didn't get a scratch. I understand it took a couple of days for his hearing to return though. It was a small price to pay for the twenty-five grand.
I left the hospital after five days. I also left with orders from my doctor. He insisted that I not do anything more physical than manually tuning the TV.