A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 1

This story is dedicated to:

Woodrow Charles Cronkrite, 'Woody', died Con Thien, Vietnam, September 10, 1967.

Here's to you, Woody, and to those like you

God Bless those who stand guard on that wall.

And for my friend:

Mike Rummel

A lifetime isn't always enough.

t empire/


Prologue:

This story is untouched by human hands.

That means, it's unedited, and until I have an editor, it is destined to remain that way.

A rendering straight out of my mind, as straight as possible. The out of my mind part is another question.

Long Time Passing is a story about a writer, and it leaves no doubt, we are a strange breed, but I can only speak for moi.

© OLYMPIA50 2021 all rights reserved

Life Goes Round & Round

I worked myself up for it as the day grew near, but little could I have known that this meeting would lead me on a life-altering journey. In reality, it wasn't the meeting itself, but the events leading up to the meeting that would consume me, furnishing me with a link back to my own forgotten past. It was a past I thought I had gotten well clear of until that drizzly night when I circled the blocks, looking for a place to put my car for the two hours I'd be negotiating with my agent, Todd Sweeney.

I hated going into Baltimore. There was never any place to park. The restaurants were all crowded, not to mention noisy. Todd liked eating while meeting with me. I'm not sure what that's about. I always ended up with indigestion by the time it was all said and done, but it is one of those things a writer must endure if he wishes to sell his wares.

Adding injury to insult, it rained. It didn't rain enough for my windshield wipers to be of the slightest benefit to me, but I ran them for spite. It was the orderly person inside me that made me do things like that. It was raining and in the rain you used the wipers, and who gives a damn if my windshield is streaking and I can't see out of it.

The glare of the street lights made the visibility worse as the smeared glass forced me down in my seat at a grotesque angle. This allowed me a tiny clear spot that had yet to be subverted, giving me the minimum ability to see in my effort to keep my car in the street. I assume I succeeded in this because I don't recall hearing any glass breaking, or horns blowing, or any sudden and unexpected stops.

Little Italy is even worse than the rest of the city when it comes to parking. Perhaps it has something to do with everyone eating out Friday night because they're too damn lazy to cook. Probably the best restaurants in town were here, and they never failed to attract a large number of gluttons at any given time, but weekends were the worst. I knew I'd never find a parking place. I knew, if I did find a parking place, by the time I did I was sure to be late for the meeting. I hated being late as much as I hated rain when it wouldn't rain enough to make my windshield wipers any damn good.

I also suspected that I would never see my car again, forgetting where it was parked, by the time I managed to get to the restaurant and then going ten rounds with Todd Sweeney, agent extraordinary, according to his view anyway.

We'd first have coffee, share pleasantries. He'd ask me about my family; I'd ask him about his. It was all routine, boring, and predictable. We'd finish the main course before the real topic of interest would finally be broached. The lump would already be forming under my breastbone. The thought would pass through my mind that it was the heart attack I'd been waiting to have, but I knew I couldn't be that lucky to have it before the meeting was concluded. I'd probably have it on my drive home and I'd linger there and die before being found weeks later by a street sweeper who was pissed off at my inconsiderate parking habits.

These thoughts played through my mind, as they always did, when I was forced to leave my cocoon and go round and round, looking for the illusive empty parking space. I'd been around the same block for the third time, hoping for a space within walking distance of Anthony's. I was sure, if I got any further away than that particular block, I'd be in danger of starving to death before I got to our meeting place. I hated the city even more by that time, if that's possible.

I turned down the block for what would be my final pass before being forced to traverse even further out into the forbidden zone. That's when I saw the lights of a car relinquishing my spot, quite small though it was, since I still clung to my muscle car from my unfettered youth. At first my pride and joy, then the only thing I could afford, and finally emerging to become the classic I always knew it was. I could afford a new car now, and the expense of my 64 Galaxy had become monumental, but I could afford it and besides, I hated change as much as I hated Baltimore.

I had become addicted to the easy in, take your chances when you're backing out, mall parking. This night it became necessary for me to reconstruct what I was to do next. My parallel parking skills, being less than perfected, caused me to recall my high school instructor's wisdom on the subject. I had always closed my eyes as he talked me through the maneuver, and the driving test might well have been the last time I applied this particular science.

As I guided my car back carefully, listening for breaking glass or a sudden lurch over the curb, I felt like I'd done the job required once my car was parallel to the curb. I felt that I had executed the maneuver quite adeptly, ending up no more than two feet from the curb, maybe three. I figured parking fit in there with horseshoes and hand grenades. Now I only needed to collect my manuscript and try to remember to look to see the name of the street where I'd parked so there was some chance I'd find it again.

I went into a panic, unable to remember if I'd remembered to bring the manuscript. I searched the seat for it, almost certain it was on my desk at home. That's when my passenger door swung open, leaving me horrified that I'd forgotten the cardinal rule my sainted mother taught me as a boy.

"Always keep your doors locked, stupid."

Perhaps sainted would be a stretch, and I was suddenly left to ponder the second most important rule mom espoused.

"Always wear clean underwear when you leave the house sos you don't make me look bad should you walk out in front of a bus while you're not paying any attention as usual."

Dear old mom!

I wasn't sure the rule even applied since I was starring death in the face and thought even clean underwear might suffer misfortunes should I be stabbed, shot, or bludgeoned to death. Mom never mentioned these as options. I did wonder, had I remembered to put on the clean pair after I showered…. Did I shower?

My wife now found herself in charge of making sure I didn't leave the house in soiled shorts, and I suppose it was this same lack of attention span that led me toward journalism as a career. I was always seeing things as they were, and wondering why they couldn't be different, mommy dearest for instance. My daydreaming and mind wanderings, which never failed to keep me in hot water at home, led me to writing science fiction stories while still in school, and that led me to expanding into other venue as time marched on.

The first few teachers who became aware of my talent for making things up advised me to turn that skill toward journalism as a career. While none doubted I was talented, they didn't think writing books was how you made a living. When I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer, she thought a second and said,

"Writer?"

Belly laugh while spilling the holy water that came in the Budweiser cans.

"You hang around Mr. Swartzmyer and learn about plumbering. That's where the money is. Stopped up toilets and dripping faucets."

Pearls of wisdom, but I hated shit, literally. I was too absent minded to become an electrician, and that was mom's other suggestion for my career choice. I suppose that fact she kept a large insurance policy on me at the time was a mere coincidence. I'm not saying that dear old mom wouldn't have gotten a big jolt out of being given a picture of me holding onto the ends of two live wires while I was blinking like the Goodyear blimp.

I can't prove dear old mom wouldn't have liked the idea of collecting on that insurance policy either. I was too slow and too absent minded to ever follow mom's career suggestions. She just knew I'd be a terrible disappointment, further disgracing the family name by joining my two uncles in prison or worse yet, joining the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Mom hated strangers knocking on the door and interrupting her soap operas, not to mention she hated sharing her Bud.

In keeping with the moral support mom gave me, I think my writing options were best put into perspective by my first journalism teacher, Mr. Brockword. When I made the mistake of approaching him to explain that I wasn't all that interested in reporting on current events, leaving him standing with his mouth open as I announced that what I really wanted to do was create worlds and events inside my head, selling them for profit. Mr. Brockword thoughtfully said, sounding an awful lot like my mother after his belly laugh:

"Goddamn writer don't make diddly squat, son, if he isn't a goddamn Hemingway, or Faulkner, or F. Scott Fitzgerald (This was before the time of King, Clancy, and Grisham). If you want to make money as a writer, stick to journalism. I've yet to sell my novel. I've been working on it for twenty years and I'm a hell of a lot smarter and more experienced than your lazy butt will ever be."

I wondered if he might have been mom's long lost brother. I waited to see if he'd mention my underwear, but he didn't.

There was nothing like a vote of confidence coming from the faculty. The one thing that made his opinion less influential to my way of thinking was one simple detail, if Mr. Brockword was so smart, why didn't he write another book and quit trying to sell one he couldn't sell after all those years?

Ah, the mysteries of life. "He who can, does, and he who can't, teaches."

The one thing he wasn't was talented. I was sure that delineated why he didn't sell and why I would. I did go into journalism though, and I had worked on several papers before making my way to the Baltimore Sun. It was the job I left when I finally decided I had to find out if I could successfully do the thing I loved, and not just survive doing what Mr. Brockword had done.

There were many people that thought leaving a job at the Baltimore Sun was not a very bright thing for a journalist to do. I do agree with that as a general rule, but it had come time for me to find out if I could write a book or not. I knew I couldn't write much of anything as long as I was working at steady job. My inspirations came in their own time, and I had to be available to write it all down.

On my way to presenting my latest manuscript to my agent, my mind was preoccupied with all kinds of random thoughts, plots, and outlines. That was until I faced the reality of someone trying to get into my car with me.

What could he want? I'd throw my wallet and keys onto the sidewalk as soon as I could find the damn things. That, I was told, was the proper response to highway robbery. I'd heard they always go toward the goods, hence, and that provided you with the time necessary to make your get away, hoping your assailant was well versed in the rules of robbery and mayhem.

Once I collected my self-control, I found I was face to face with some unknown assailant. I held the manuscript to my chest, having visions of losing my last years work to this… this… kid? I sat there thinking about the unthinkable thing this fiend had in mind for me. What was wrong with this picture? He didn't look all that threatening and he wasn't wielding a weapon, but I was still seeing my body in a pool of blood and the Baltimore Suns' headlines:

"Famous Writer Dies On Baltimore Street"

Well, writer anyway, and probably not to bright former journalist at that very publication.

"What do you want?" I squealed like he'd struck me.

"You passed me three times. You didn't see me wave? I waved at you."

He wasn't very old and his face wasn't exactly clean. His vivid blue eyes blinked at me as he was looking somewhat put out. We were both at a loss to figure out how we'd managed to get ourselves into the awkward circumstances. It was my car after all, and I thought I should be asking the questions.

"See you wave? What do you want?" I asked again.

"Look, I need ten bucks," he said. "I waved. You stopped. I'll do what you like. I'll go with you if you want."

"What?" I said, squealing louder, unable to think straight.

What did he want from me?

"Okay, five. Man, I need the bucks bad. We can stay right here if you want. Please," he pleaded. "It won't cost you no gas. The rain will make it cool. I waved at you. You stopped."

I'd lived in Baltimore as a boy and I knew boys that lived on the street. I was sure this was one of those. He was tall and handsome but being unkempt made him look sinister. There was a shock of dark hair pushing out from under the Orioles cap he wore. He looked straight out of the windshield, making no effort to leave me to my business. He was waiting for me to respond to him.

"I'm sorry. I'm going to a meeting," I said. "I'm late. I didn't see you wave. I'm just parking my car. I don't come down here."

"I can meet you after," he said. "Tell me what time. I need the cash. Ten okay? You won't be sorry."

"I won't do that. No! Absolutely not! You get out now," I said, finally getting control of myself and the situation.

"My mother's ill. I need ten to get the prescription she needs. You got to help me out here, mister," he said with desperation in his voice. "You kept passing me. I waved. You stopped. Please. I'll do what you want, okay. I'm cool."

"I want you to get out now," I said. "That's all I want. I'm late and you're making me later."

The boy's eyes were pleading but through it all they showed me he was taking the rejection with resignation, though he was hoping for a last second reprieve. He tried to smile but only managed to lift his top lip off his teeth before it failed him. He no longer seemed much of a threat. I felt sorry for him. I did have a meeting. He did need to get out.

He stood on the sidewalk before leaning back into the car toward me. His face came far too close for comfort. I wondered if he would bite off my nose or grab for something of value. I leaned back away from him and against my door, still holding the manuscript to my breast.

"You want I should lock the door, mister?" he asked. "You shouldn't leave it unlocked, you know. I did wave. You stopped. If I'm not what you like, it's okay."

"Yes, by all means lock it," I said, watching him withdrawing completely before I felt safe to move again.

He pushed down the button during his retreat, trying the door after he shut it to make sure it was locked.

He didn't try to steal anything. He looked at his feet as he turned to walk away, jamming his hands deep into his pockets as he moved along the sidewalk, shoulders rounded and slumped in defeat as he headed toward Eastern Avenue. I stood watching him as I searched my pockets for my keys before I locked my door. I found them in my ignition after I'd looked every other place that came to mind.

I noticed that the boy stopped at the corner, leaning his back against the glass of the storefront as he cast one quick glance in my direction before forgetting about our rendezvous. I turned away and went to the meeting, thankful he hadn't meant me any harm, wondering what he was doing out there looking so forlorn. He was gone and yet I kept picturing the image of him. What was there about him that seemed so familiar? Who was he?

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