Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fiction: Unwanted President. Chapter 6

How Cold Is Too Cold?

By Ed Rogers

Tom caught a plane out of Atlanta into Seattle. From Seattle, he flew over the North Pole to Helsinki, Finland. It was the long way to Finland, but the only other flights going out of Atlanta to Finland stopped in New York. He wasn’t sure how they had found him in the little town of Milton. He had no doubt the New York airports would be covered – his friends in the SUV would be all over New York looking for him.
    Finland is a nice little Scandinavian country, nestled between Sweden and Russia. The airplane dropped out of the cold night sky and punched its way out of the clouds. Below, Tom saw they were flying over a large body of water and in the distance were the bright lights of a city ringing its shoreline. Finland was not on the map as a hotbed of breaking news stories, and this was Tom’s first visit – for a hotshot reporter like Tom Warring it was too far off the beaten path.
    The airplane landed easily on the snow-covered runway and blew snow high into the night sky as it slowed and turned into the dock to unload its cargo and passengers. Tom worked his way through the baggage pick-up and customs and stepped out into the busy streets of Helsinki.
    The wind was blowing the crystallized snow and sending it swirling around the streets and buildings. The lights were producing a sparkling effect that looked like a world of floating diamonds. The light snow that covered the ground made a crunching sound as Tom walked along the sidewalk. Large cities all seemed to have the same look no matter where you were in the world. He did think the weather would be colder here, but it seemed to be about the same as in New York.
    Tom was pleasantly surprised at how friendly the people were to him. Everyone seemed to speak English, or at least everyone he had communicated with spoke perfect English. Funny thing about the French, they were still mad because not everybody could speak French. They still hoped it would become the world language. They should have known people always speak the language of money, and right then that was the language of the US of A.
    Tom pulled the fax from his pocket that Mary had sent, along with instructions on what to do upon his arrival. Stepping into a telephone booth, he called the number on the fax. There was no answer, and Tom left a message on the machine and waved down a cab. He handed the cabby the address and then settled back in the seat and began to enjoy the ride.
    What a beautiful country Finland was! The mountains poking right through the clouds, everything encased in fresh white snow!
    It took about an hour to get to the address Mary had given him. They drove through little villages with narrow cobblestone streets. The homes that lined the street cast warm, glowing lights onto the snow. The smoke from their chimneys fought its way through the crystal night sky. The land was like one big Christmas card. He had forgotten how pleasant the feeling of being at peace with the world could make him feel. It was a very relaxing hour for him. It was the first time since leaving Professor Hofer’s house that he was not looking over his shoulder. He would’ve been happy to drive around all night.
    Gazing out the window of the taxi at the open countryside, he saw what looked like a country airport in the vacant field behind a house. There was one small hangar, and a runway of what had to be grass – “airport” was stretching it a little. The taxi stopped at the gated white fence that surrounded the front yard, and the cabby turned around and said, “You paying in American money or Euros?”
    “American,” Tom said. “Will that be all right?”
    “Hundred twenty-five dollars,” said the cabby.
    Tom counted out $125 and handed it to the driver. “You know, in New York the cab drivers stick it to out-of-towners too. Do you people belong to some international union?”
    The cabby took the money and pushed a button under the dash. The trunk opened, and the cabby said, “Make sure you close it after you get your bag out.”
    Tom got his backpack and closed the trunk. The driver sped off, throwing snow back on him. Instead of being mad, Tom smiled – it made him feel rather as though he were home. God, he wished he had never left Washington!
    Tom looked up at the old house, with its big crisscross beams and stucco exterior, and thought another, Christmas Card. As he walked toward the house, its front door flew open, and a big redheaded man filled the entranceway.
    For a second Tom thought about dropping his bag and running. Then came a warm voice saying, “Welcome, welcome, Mr. Warring. I am Carl Gustaf. Please come in out of the cold. Let me take your bag. You go sit by the fire, and get warm.” With that, Carl closed the door and went upstairs with Tom’s bag.
    Tom looked around the big room. It had open log beams and hardwood walls. Off to the right was the only other door, presumably leading to the kitchen. The light of the fire gave a warm feeling to the room. A musty, mildew smell brought up old memories of snow skiing as a young man. The old ski lodges they had stayed in smelled the same way. To confirm Tom’s feeling of being in a ski lodge, a couple of pairs of skies leaned against the wall in the corner.
    Tom could tell that Carl Gustaf lived alone. The house was all man; there was not a sign of a woman’s hand in the room. On each side of the fireplace Carl had mounted boar’s heads, and against one wall was a cabinet with six or seven guns. A large elk’s head hung from the other wall. Between the two chairs, facing the fireplace, was a large brown bear rug. No doubt shot by Mr. Gustaf. Over the fireplace was a large picture of a great battle being fought somewhere in history.
    Tom took his coat off and moved close to the fire. He was standing there when Carl returned. Carl walked over to a small table with a bottle of some kind of liquor and asked, “Mr. Warring, may I pour you a drink?”
    “No, thank you, I don’t drink anymore, but you go right ahead.” After his near death experience, Tom had decided that maybe Ted was right.
    Carl poured himself a drink and came and sat in front of the fire. Tom sat down in the other chair. Neither man spoke for a long time. Then Carl said, “So, you want to go to Russia, do you?”
    “Yes,” said Tom, “but I’m supposed to meet someone else here. Do you know anything about that?”
    “Only that I have been paid to take two people in, and bring two people out,” said Carl. “We will leave as soon as the other party shows up. In the meantime, make yourself at home.”
    “Thank you.” That was the longest conversation the two of them would have.

It had been two days since he had arrived at Carl’s house, but as nice as Carl was, they just didn’t have a thing in common. After a day of trying to find some topic they could talk about, they had both given up and just tried to stay out of each other’s way.
    The snow stopped shortly after Tom’s arrival, and the sun came out the next day. Tom took long walks in the woods around the airfield trying to piece together everything that had happened. The cold air cleared his mind somewhat, and he needed to get away from the aroma of Carl’s pipe. Mixed with the damp mildew smell of the house, it became overpowering sometimes. Walking through the snow, Tom was thinking everything had happened so fast. He wasn’t prepared for any of it. If he had had this much time to think about what was going on around him, he would have said the hell with it and gone home.
    It was then that he made up his mind. If Mary didn’t show up by noon the next day, he was going back to Washington. It might be a big story, but he couldn’t tell a story if he was dead. There hadn’t been anything so far that he could see worth dying for, and Finland had grown old fast. Tom had given it the old college try. Mary should have been more upfront about what he would be encountering – not that she had any idea. Still, he had to blame somebody. He had asked her to send him the journal; if she had done that, the story could have been written in his office.
    Tom wasn’t looking forward to going back to work. Once he was back at the New Daily, he was going to have one hell of a time explaining this mess to Ted, who just might take the whole thing very badly: getting the New Daily involved in a murder, wrecking a car, and leaving town with the police looking for him. Then there were the black-ops guys. God only knew where they fit into the picture.
    Tom looked around at the snow-covered mountains and back down the hill at the airfield and Carl’s house. Everything was white and as beautiful as it had been upon his arrival, but now it had become very depressing. Tom sat down in the snow and said aloud, “What am I doing in Finland?”
    He sat there for five or six minutes, savoring the absurdity and the feeling of rejection. He, at last, had faced the awful truth: it had been the little head doing the thinking for him. If Mary Cahill weren’t so damn beautiful, he would be back in DC right then. He wasn’t waiting for a story; he was waiting for her. He got up and headed back to the house. That was it, he was sick of all the bullshit, and now he felt like a fool. He was going to pack up and get the hell out of Dodge.
    Tom walked into the house, but before he could tell Carl he was leaving, Carl said, “There you are, Mr. Warring. I was looking for you. The other party called and will be here tonight. We will be taking off tomorrow at first light.”
    Carl walked past Tom and swiftly headed toward the hangar. All Tom could do was watch as Carl walked out across the snow. “Shit,” he said and headed upstairs to his room. He might as well get his things together for the trip.
    He knew he wouldn’t be able to take much in that small plane, but he didn’t have much to begin with and there was plenty of time, but Tom needed to keep busy. He wanted a drink badly, but at that point, it might not be a good idea. She would be there that night, and he wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not. He felt like a two-day drunk, more than just a sip of booze.

It was seven that night when they heard the cab pull up outside. It drove off, and Tom heard the crunch of feet in the snow coming up the walkway. Carl went to answer the door and reached for the handle by the first knock. His big frame filled the doorway and hid the new-arrival from Tom’s view. After helping Mary out of her coat, Carl turned to hang it up, and Tom got a look at Mary for the first time since she showed up at the New Daily.
    Tom had not been sure what he was expecting. Did he imagine her beauty? Maybe he had created an unrealistic image of her. Now, however, when she turned toward him, he saw that she was more beautiful than he could possibly have remembered. Her coal-black hair and her eyes so blue that if you fell into them, you would drown – this vision was worth the trip and the wait. When she walked toward him, he felt like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.
    Standing just a couple of feet away from him, with a voice that could melt butter, she said, “Hello, Tom, I’m glad you could make the trip.”
    After being with Carl for two days, seeing and hearing Mary was like music to Tom’s eyes and ears. The sight and smell of her filled the room, and even Carl seemed taken by her beauty.
    Tom was able to say, “Yes, Mary, it is good to see you again.” Quietly, he added, “I’ve been looking forward to reading the journal of John Cahill.”
    Mary smiled and opened her backpack. “I thought you might.”
    She handed the red-colored book to Tom and said quietly, “He had been keeping the journal for some time. The first part is about his wife and the death of his daughter and son.” She opened the journal at a marker she had placed in the book. “This is where he first speaks of General Wainwright.”
    She turned back toward Carl, who had her other bag and stood at the foot of the stairs. “If you will follow me, I’ll show you your room and then, if you want, I’ll make you a little something to eat or a drink by the fire.”
    Tom only vaguely heard them going up the stairs. He was into Cahill’s journal.

Thursday, June 4th: I met with General Wainwright, who had been my commander in Vietnam. He took command of our unit while we were in the Delta chasing Charlie all over hell’s half acre. Intel was hard to come by and the damn CIA wasn’t making it any easier. We were ordered to turn the Cong over to the spooks for questioning. The bastards had a little trick that they loved to play; it was where they would take two men up in a chopper and ask them to talk but if no one spoke up, they threw one out the door. The other then told them everything he knew. While this worked for the CIA it didn’t work for us. The word spread like fire as to what would happen if you let yourself be captured by the Americans. Wainwright went over the Captain’s head and spoke to CID, which is like the FBI or NCIS, only it is Army. The CIA moved on after that. Wainwright had saved a lot of our lives by his action. I only write this account of him because he was one of the good guys.
    The thing about Nam that I never could understand was why we were limited as to where we could fight. The Vietcong and Regulars out of the North moved freely across any border they wanted. While we were having lunch I asked Wainwright if after all these years he had any insight. He said, “It was as though Russia, who was backing the North, and the US, who was backing the South, were playing a chess game and each had rules. Russia’s war machine and the American war machine made a hell of a lot of money. If we had come in like a real war it would have been over in a couple months. Not much money to be made in a couple months.”
    I then asked him about the war in the Middle East. I told him about John Jr. dying in Iraq and I asked if the Russians and Americans were playing the same game.
    He said, “No, I don’t think the Russians were invited this time. This is a US show. We want that oil and it is as simple as that.”
    Then his shoulders shook and he began to cry. He composed himself quickly and said, “John, I have to tell someone and I think I can trust you.”
    I told him he could trust me and the story he told me was unbelievable.
    He got a call from the President’s chief of staff, who at a meeting offered him his 4th star if he would do the White House a favor. All he had to do was fly to Iraq and bring back two trunks of money. I noticed he had his fourth star on his shoulders. Now two senators had opened an investigation into the missing money. The problem was, the only person who signed for anything was Wainwright. I told him he should cut a deal if he could. But he said he wanted to see if maybe the President might not shut down the investigation. We finished lunch at the hotel, and I left, promising to start looking into the people Wainwright had dealt with. All of them including the chief of staff and the President had gone to Yale and were members of the Brotherhood of Bones.
    I had read a book by Albert Hofer, and in the book he told of the Brotherhood. My first thought was, if anyone knew how to fight them it would be Hofer.

Saturday, June 6th: Met with Hofer today. I told him about General Wainwright’s predicament. He seemed to think the money in Iraq was a payoff to the Brotherhood for letting the US take the oil fields but he was only guessing. However, if it was, they wouldn’t like somebody dipping into their cash. He gave me the name of an ex-KGB agent who had lived in New York City and he was friends with back during the cold war. The agent is retired and living in Russia. He said if anybody knows about the money it would be him.

Wednesday, June the 21st. I am flying out to Finland tomorrow. In case something goes wrong I am leaving the name and number in Russia. I’m not taking the journal; I’m afraid the Russians will take it from me. I will write more upon my return.
After that everything was just scribbled notations.
S.K. 495 123 4567

Back from Russia – met with Bo gave him an envelope – I got a call from White, he wants to meet in two days in DC.

Back from DC – I may not enter anything else. I’m sorry.
And that was it.
    Tom closed the journal and looked up to find Mary beside him in the other chair and Carl on a pillow thing that was a cross between a beanbag chair and a bed. They were each sipping a drink. Tom said, “Carl, I think I could use one of those drinks about now.”
    Carl smiled and said, “Sure thing,” and went to fix it.
    Tom handed Mary the book. “I will say this,” he said quietly, “something happened in Russia. Do you have any idea who the hell Bo and White are?”
    Mary shook her head. “I’ve never heard the names before.”
    Tom took the drink from Carl. “Thanks.”
    He had a sip and nodded appreciatively to Carl, who left to go into the kitchen.
    Tom told Mary, “It looked like your father-in-law intended to write more but after he met this White fellow, everything changed.
    “Hofer told me that if people found out about the journal they might try to kill us to get it back, but I’ll be damned if I see anything in it worth killing for. If we knew what was said and who Bo and White are that would be different, but we don’t.”
    It was almost a whisper from Mary: “But they don’t know that.”
    Carl walked into the room, and said, “It’s time we all go to bed. Snow will be coming in by noon tomorrow and it’s going to get very cold. Dress warmly for the trip, and take only one change of clothes. I’ll wake you one hour before sunrise. Mrs. Cahill, you know where your room is so I will say goodnight. Sleep well! I have some things to attend to before we leave.” The cold air blew in as he headed outside.
    Tom gave Mary a hand up, and said, “A good night’s sleep may be just what we need.”
    As Tom walked up the stairs after Mary, he couldn’t take his eyes off her rounded butt. Her movement up the stairs was like a fine wine – you try to make it last as long as possible.
    Mary could feel his eyes on her. She knew men looked at her all the time. Mostly she didn’t enjoy the looks, but this time it was different. It had been a long time since she felt that warm glow.
[Editor’s Note: The novel from which this excerpt is taken can be ordered from Amazon, as either a paperback or a Kindle book.]

Copyright © 2017 by Ed Rogers

No comments:

Post a Comment