Month: May 2017

Retiring

“Here’s to you, Mark. You were a hell of a judge! Enjoy the well-earned retirement.” Teddy Warner toasted as he tapped his bottle of Yuengling against Mark’s scotch. Teddy was the last friend that had come out for Mark’s retirement party. It wasn’t a big event or anything, just a small gathering with some of the cops and lawyers he’d known as well as a fishing buddy or two. Big events weren’t Mark’s style.

“Thanks Teddy. Are you gonna be OK going home?” Mark asked, taking a sip of scotch. Teddy chuckled as he put his FOP baseball cap on his bald boulder of a head and slid on his coat.

“I’ll be fine. Carol’s waiting outside with the car. Are you gonna be OK getting home?”

“You bet. Thanks for coming out.” Mark wished his friend a safe trip home after they set a time to meet for lunch. With Teddy’s departure, Mark was back to being on his own. Just another patron in a bar that had long since changed from the first time he’d been there. The old bartenders were gone along with most of the patrons he’d known. Now it was a mix of young people in a bar with one foot caught in the past. Photos of old timers and local celebrities still hung on the walls but were slowly being pushed aside for flatscreen TVs showing the game. Mark sighed and took another sip of his drink, enjoying the calm.

“Excuse me? Mr. Reynold?” a man’s voice broke Mark out of his contemplation. He turned to see a man looking right at him.

“Yes? Do I know you?” Mark asked, unable to place the face smiling so intently at him.

“Oh sorry, the name’s Roman. I’m sorry to interrupt you but I overheard your friend before he left. You’re Judge Reynold, yes?” The man asked, his voice awash with serendipitous excitement.

“Former judge, yes. Have we met before?” Mark asked, still confused as to who this stranger was.

“Not in person but you lectured at Temple once. Mr. Reynold forgive me but you’re something of a local legend in my neighborhood.  You were the judge on the Aronov case in ’96 yes?”

Mark was caught flat-footed. The Aronov case felt like a lifetime ago. Some Russian jew from the Northeast part of the city who’d been running some gambling racket out of his barbershop. It was a straightforward enough case, hardly worth taking any great note of.

“Yes, I was the judge for that.” Mark said slowly. The man smiled at him again and extended his hand. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you, sir.” The two shook hands and Mark smiled as he studied the fellow. He was young and wiry with dark blue eyes set deep in his angular face. His jet black hair was close cut and his face shaved. His hands were gloved and his overcoat hung open, dampness from melted snow still visible on the shoulders. Despite his friendly demeanor, there was something off about him. His movements were as if a current of electricity was pulsing underneath his skin, a static energy that Mark couldn’t quite place.

“What brings you here?” Mark asked Roman.

“Oh I just stopped in here for a drink on my way home from class. I’m glad I did though. Can I buy you a drink sir?” Roman asked.

Nice to have a fan Mark thought.

“I’ll take another scotch on the rocks. And you can call me Mark, kid.” Roman gave him a smile and turned towards the bar. With his new acquaintance gone, Mark finished his drink. He wouldn’t say no to someone buying a round for him. He’d have preferred his first twenty-something fan to be a girl but a drink was a drink. He just hoped this kid wasn’t trying to fuck him.

In a short order, Roman rematerialized with a glass of scotch in one hand and vodka in the other.

“Cheers.” Mark said as he toasted his new friend. “So you know the Aronov case?”

Roman threw back his drink before speaking. “Everybody in my neighborhood knew the Aronov case.”

“It wasn’t such a big case. God, what was his first name again?” Mark struggled through the cobwebs in his mind to recall the name. Like a weathered photo, he could vaguely remember the man, standing in the courtroom looking forlorn and defeated on the day he sentenced him.

“Oh in my neighborhood, even little news was big if it was local. I think it was something with a J-“

“Julius! That’s it” Mark plucked the name from the dark as the memory came closer to the surface.

“Right that was it. Anyway the whole event was all anybody talked about.” Roman said, trying to pull up the memories himself.

“That must have been a little before your time wouldn’t it?” Mark asked, trying to figure out what was behind this kid’s interest.

“Oh I was about 10 or somewhere close to it. My mother would talk about it all day though. She talked about everything but this was a major event. Practically feels like a part of my life it was such a talked about thing.” Roman said, smiling to himself, no doubt recalling the memories.

“I didn’t think it was such a big deal.” Mark said, honestly at a loss the notoriety at the case. He’d been part of far larger and high profile ones in his time. What the hell was so special about this small time gangster from Bustleton?

“Maybe it wasn’t a big case but it got me interested in law. Kind of set me up on the career path you know?” Roman said. Then it all clicked in Mark’s head. This asshole was looking for a fast-track to employment out of law school. He gave a little chuckle and patted the kid on the back. He was smart pick a smaller profile case. Most of the other brown-nosers wanted to talk all about his work on the Philadelphia mob. The kid was clever…but not clever enough.

Mark entertained the kid’s questions about his career and about how he decided the sentence, all the usual subtle attempts to build a personal rapport. He enjoyed another scotch and led the kid on, content to let him think that he was making any sort of progress. The law school grads were usually out this time of year, searching for some way to get a leg up or find some special patron. Mark had little patience for them. Nobody had helped him when he was starting out.

“I gotta take a leak.” Mark announced, taking a break from Roman’s attention and feeling the scotch catching up with him. He stood on surprisingly uneasy legs and shambled towards the bathroom.

Heh. Caught up in the pageantry.

The bathroom was a small room with a single urinal and dirty white tiles on the floor. Years of drunken patrons had left the walls covered with graffiti and scribbles. The florescent light twitched and flickered to life as Mark stepped into the space and stumbled towards the urinal. He wondered if that last scotch had been a good idea as he relieved himself.

You only retire once, he comforted himself.

The door opened and Roman stepped in. Mark glanced over and breathed an unsubtle sigh of annoyance. Couldn’t he even piss in peace?

“Look can you give me a minute here, kid?” He said. Even with his senses dulled, he felt the kid crowding close behind him.

“Sorry, I’ve just got a quick message for you from my father, Julius.” Roman said, his tone cold and menacing. Mark paused as he tried to make sense of what the kid said when he felt a hand grab the tuft of hair on the back of his head and jerk his head back. Before Mark could even process what was happening, he felt a white hot slicing pain across his throat as bright hot blood spurted out onto the wall. In an instant the knife had run the course of his throat and he felt all the breath in his body escaping through the wound. Instinctively, he clutched his throat as more blood poured out between his fingers.

He slumped against the wall and tried to turn around. He saw Roman panting and holding a straight razor in his left hand. Mark could feel his pulse slowing against his fingers as he crumpled to the floor, his blood making the tiles slick. He looked up at the kid standing just far enough away to avoid any incidental spray and felt hatred pouring out his eyes. Roman stood there with a cruel and satisfied smile on his face like he’d just unloaded some great weight.

Mark’s head grew light and his vision greyed. The pain in his throat became more and more distant as his eyelids grew heavy.

Roman leaned down, his face close to Mark.

“Ваше оскорбление было возвращено”

Homecoming

Anthony walked down the boulevard as rain poured down the brim of his hat. He felt the water slowly soaking through his overcoat and dampening his shirt while the wind threatened to dislodge his hat. He cursed as he contemplated trying to light a cigarette. He was discouraged from the idea as he crossed through an intersection and a fresh gust of wind sent rain slapping across his cheek.

Javecs was a typical Bolthar city: medieval, damp and insular. From the winding streets built upon cow paths to the decrepit red castle in the city center, it was a place that wore modernity with great disdain. Rows of rust colored brick buildings lined the street, dimly lit by the street lights. They were a far cry from the brighter and neater buildings of the capital that Anthony had become so used to. Also lacking was any trace of Orcish architecture. Not one statue or stoic stone building was to be found in this castle city.

His meeting with the Bolthar regional council was as frustrating as to be expected. Why Viktor thought that Anthony’s presence might warm negotiations was a mystery. Anthony was a sundrii and the old roosters in the council would never forgive that. If there was anything they hated more than an aljaman it was a deserter, real or perceived.

At the end of the block was a tavern with an appropriately self-glorifying title. The Freeman’s Pike was an ugly two story building with faded green paint and an iron sign swinging in the storm, its hinges squeaking and whining. Anthony stepped through the door, desperate to escape the rain.

Inside was a collection of locals, all clad in their oil-cloth coats and wet fur hats. The men sported the thick mustaches still fashionable up north and the few women present sat quietly, dressed in muted colors and rustically functional styles.

Anthony weaved through the patrons and found an open seat at the bar. He set himself down, removing his hat and running his hand through his damp hair to slick it back out of his face. The bartender was an ogre of a man with a sour face and a bald head atop broad heavy shoulders.

“Black gin” he ordered. The bartender studied him for a moment before turning to get the half-full bottle on the shelf. Within moments a tumbler of the bitter black liquor appeared before Anthony. He studied the other drinks available. The selection was limited to a few local beers and the strong red wines that every pub and roadhouse seemed to have at least one bottle of. He knew it would have been pointless to ask for Ten Crowns, his preferred bourbon.

He took a sip of his drink and the bitter liquid burnt his throat. He’d forgotten how strong and grim a drink it was. He remembered stealing a bottle of it and passing it around with the other serving boys one night in his youth. It was a hard drink then but he’d taken swig after swig that night. Age had not taken the bitterness out of it.

“You ain’t from Javecs are you?” the bartender asked, now made curious by Anthony’s familiarity with the customs.

“Korvolen” Anthony said, the town’s name rang like a curse. The bartender frowned and several patrons within earshot grumbled some.

“You don’t have a Korvolen accent.” The man sitting two stools to Anthony’s left tossed out as he shot back his own glass of black liquor, “You sound more like an aljaman.”

“I’ve been living down south, in Tybernia.” Anthony said slowly, now acutely aware of how rusty his Bolthar had become. Every man within earshot gave him a dirty look. Normally, he’d have kept the fact to himself but his contempt for their standoffishness overcame him.

Foreigners down south attracted company. Questions of home countries and of travels were the bread and butter of tavern conversation. Whether they had traveled themselves, the southerners had a craving for stories of lands outside their own sunny valleys and mountainsides. Perhaps it was simply a hunger for more tales of beauty and grandeur to match their own countryside. Perhaps his people in this rain-logged hole disdained interest in other lands because their own were so pitiful.

Rain continued to tap heavily against the fog-choked glass windows as Anthony took another sip of his drink. After years apart, he was back in that unwelcome land called home.

Occupied Dublin, 1955

Liam adjusted his cap as the rain poured down the brim. The streetlights shimmered in the rainfall and cast a glistening twinkle of yellow light on the wet pavement. At the end of the block, he could see the green lights and sign for the Wild Geese pub. The prospect of a pint and a warm place to enjoy it were extremely enticing. He shivered and contemplated what the hell he was even doing out in the cold.

The old pre-war postcard contained simple enough instructions:

I’m not dead.

Meet me Tuesday night at 8 on Grafton Street.

Connor.

Liam thought of every possibility for how a postcard from a dead man arrived in his flat a week ago and could come up with nothing. His first thought was maybe it was the police, but if the Nazis were interested in him, they’d have kicked his door down. Even the British auxiliaries were prone to overt and loud actions against enemies of the state. Nobody else would think to pull such a despicable prank like leave him a note signed by Connor days after his funeral. It had to come from the man himself.

A fresh gust of wind slapped more rain against his overcoat and he looked up the street. It remained deserted. Liam checked his wrist watch and saw the time was exactly 8 PM. He sighed and gave a thought to heading in for a drink.

Even amidst the static of rain falling in puddles and on rooftops, Liam made out the sound of footsteps in water. He turned to see a man in a soaked grey overcoat and hat reaching out a cigarette.

“Do you have a light?” the man asked. Liam couldn’t quite make out the face underneath the hat but he knew the voice. He felt a million questions suddenly charge to the front of his mind and didn’t know where to start.

Connor repeated the question.

Liam dug his hand into his pants pocket until he found his lighter.

“Ahh grand. Best step out of this rain eh?” Connor said, motioning to the alley between the two brick buildings Liam had been using for shelter. The two stepped into the darkness. The neutral damp air of the street was replaced with a stale odor of mold and still water.

Connor checked down the alley and when he was satisfied, adjusted the brim of his hat, revealing his face. He reached out and took the lighter from Liam’s hand to light the damp cigarette still hanging between his fingers. With the illumination of the flame, Liam could see the Connor’s face clearer. The man looked older than his years with his baby face was now etched with a week old stubble and his cheeks thinner. His blue eyes sparked and flared with the lighter’s flame He exhaled a stream of smoke as he closed the lighter and with a smile tossed it back to Liam.

“Thanks” he said, his smile disappearing as he did.

“What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were dead!” Liam declared, trying to regain his wits and control his voice.

“Did you really think I’d kill myself?”  Liam thought for a moment. Connor was too vain for suicide.

“No.” Connor gave him a half smile at that. “You still lied to me. To everybody”

Connor’s smile vanished and remorse colored his face. “I know and I’m sorry for that. If there were a different way I’d have happily taken it.”

“So why the funeral?”

“Jackboots tried to arrest me last week. I had to disappear. Being dead seemed like an easy way to do it.” Connor answered.

“Who was in the coffin?”

“The German who tried to take me in. We switched wallets and gave him my time piece when we dumped my car in the river.”

That’s what the mourners at the funeral said; that it was a car driven into the water. They’d commented on such a dramatic way to end it all.

“Who’s ‘we’?” Liam asked, the picture still not clear. Connor glanced around before tossing his cigarette into a nearby puddle.

“The war’s not over Liam.” He felt anger twitching in his hands.

“You fake your death and all to start some damn trouble with the Germans?” Liam said, his voice sharp and his words aimed directly at Connor. “Why the hell did you reach out to me?!”

“Cause Jerry’s a bad landlord. Even you have to have noticed that.”

“Jerry took on the world and won.” Liam said, “He fought us, the Tommies, the reds and the yanks and he still won.” Liam shot out, his own frustration and depression heating his words. Right after the war, everybody spoke of resisting and of carrying on the fight. But one by one, the agitators disappeared or tempered down as the Reich settled in across Europe. The free radio stations and underground newspapers were shut down and fewer people showed up to protests. Soon the apartment raids and German troops became infrequent but the fervor of resistance was gone.

“Aye he won in ’45. But the Jerries are slipping now. Ten years of trying to tame the East, they’re relying more on the Brit fascists to govern now.”

“So what if they are? You cause trouble and we’ll have SS troops instead of blueshirts patrolling the street.” Liam countered.

“Didn’t our da’s say the something similar about Collins and the RIC.” Connor said with a half-smile. Liam grumbled but admitted that Connor had a point. Connor stepped forward, his weary but still energetic face coming into the light.

“We’re working with the boys up North, properly organizing this time. But we need volunteers for the Dublin station.” Liam could feel the invitation about to be extended. With it, he pictured his entire life of keeping his head down and scrapping together enough Reichmarks for his flat being uprooted.

“And I’m assuming you’re heading up that effort?” Liam asked. Connor nodded his head.

“Aye. It won’t be easy or pleasant. I’m sorry for what I did but I won’t apologize for asking you to join me.”

“Of course not. You must be the only Fenian to be unaffected by guilt.” Liam jabbed.

“Guilty about lying? Yes. But feeling guilty for making Dublin unwelcoming to these bastards? No.”

“I could use your help with the effort.” It was the same statement Connor had used whenever he was about to rope Liam into some foolish adventure or other. The warmth in his voice and the light in his eyes, visible even in the dark had been untouched by Nazi occupation. It was the same warmth and confidence Liam had seen in his friend before he slipped across the sea to join the RAF.

With a sigh, Liam put out his hand, ready to pick his head up and face the world.