A Mann's World

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

Listening

The phone rang twice before Albert picked it up after breakfast on Friday morning. "Yes, it's Albert. Bobby's right here," Albert said, handing Robert the phone.

There was a tight feeling in Robert's chest and his stomach churned unmercifully as he placed the phone to his ear. "Pop! How are you?"Who's Bobby?" Came the harsh voice he immediately recognized though he'd never heard it on a phone.

"It's what they call me."

"I don't like it, Robert. That's not your name."

"I know, Pop. How are you?"

"I want you to listen!"

"I'm listening."

"Robert you need to listen."

"I am listening."

"Not to me… to you, son. Whatever the danger is, you need to listen. The answer isn't outside."

"I don't understand."

"Listen, Robert. You know who you are. Listen."

"How's your hip, Pop?"

"It'll be fine. I'm not the worry."

"You take care of yourself."

"Are you coming home soon?"

"Yeah, Pop, I think I am. I think I want to see you. I think it's time."

"I do too, son. Thank Albert. I'm glad you found such a good friend. Tell him your name is Robert. I don't like that other. I don't like talking on this thing. We'll talk when you come home."

"Yeah, Pop. That'll be fine."

"Goodbye, Robert. I'll be here." The phone went silent and he handed it back to Albert when he heard the click on the other end.

"What did he say?"

"Listen!"

"Listen to what?"

"Listen. He said I should know. I don't know." Robert tried to relate to how his father thought. What did he mean? What did he need to listen to?

" I need to make a call." Robert dialed the phone and Mike Connell picked it up. "It's Friday. Can I come out of hiding?"

"Yeah, the warrant went away. There's no sign of it, so you should be okay."

"Thank heavens. I need to move around a little."

"Good! Go back to what you were doing. You've got my numbers. It's been quiet. The Strangler hasn't been heard from since the two last week. You sound different."

"Different?"

"You sound almost happy. You usually don't sound too happy."

"Yeah, I guess I am happy. I'll be in touch."

"It's the weekend. Unless something comes up call me Monday."

"Okay, Monday. I'll call you then." Robert set the phone down. "I'm going back to work. Everything's quiet. No one's heard from him since the last two," Robert told Albert.

"Well then, you must stay tonight and you can talk to Tobias."

"I should be out there for at least awhile this evening. I feel like I need to do some work."

"Fine! Take the car. It needs more than a trip to the market. That was just a little tantalizer for you."

"Yeah, that would be totally cool. I can't imagine roaming the streets in a Vette. Even for an evening is sweet. Thanks Albert. For everything."

"Bobby, you're the one doing things for me. You don't need to thank me. What else did your father say?

" He said listen… and he said I knew who I was. What did he mean? He doesn't know who I am now."

" So, you have another puzzle to solve?"

" I'll develop those pictures once you've gone. It'll give me something to do. I don't have another trip until spring. I might start thinking of getting my Indian gear back to the rightful owners. It's been on my mind the past few days."

"They'd be grateful," Robert said, feeling delighted when he thought about the history of the things he'd been exposed to.


"Commander, I've got Julia Patton to see you."

"Post?"

"Yes, sir."

"Send her back after you frisk her for weapons."

"Frisk me?" The petite woman shifted from one red shoe to the other as the big voice boomed out of the box.

"Just a joke. Here, let me take you. Don't worry, I've fed him. You should be safe if you don't get him riled up."

"He sounds… he sounds…."

"Don't worry. His bark is worse than his bite. Just don't let him rattle you."

Commander Brown stood and her little hand was lost in his as he held it politely and smiled while indicating she should take the seat in front of the desk.

"Where's Woodfield and Burnside?"

"Pardon?"

"You know, the Watergate Guys. Woodward & Bernstein."

"They do big stories."

"Oh, I'm just small potatoes," Brown stated, reaching his arms out and looking very large to Ms. Patton. "And I get you."

"I'm just here to do an interview."

"Yes, and how's Ben these days?"

"Mr. Bradley? He's just fine."

"Did he have any words of advice for you before throwing you in the lions den?"

"He mentioned a few things. I really wanted to speak about the progress you're making on the gay killer."

"What did he mention? I'm curious," Brown said, leaning forward on his forearms and smiling from ear to ear, sensing he had the woman on the run and the interview was going to be a brief one.

"Well, he said,… ah, you'd probably speak about your big black arse…, only he used a more colorful description. He said I shouldn't be shocked if you called yourself a nigger, or if you tried to make me feel guilty about you losing your job because of this and that."

Brown's laughter filled the room as Ms. Patton stared and wondered if she had already lost control. "What I really want to know is if you're making any progress and what steps you are taking to protect the gay men who seem to be the target of this killer?"

"Ben stole all my thunder. Now I guess I've got to answer your questions. I don't have anything left to divert your attention with if I can't make you feel sorry for me."

"Well, we are making progress, Ms. Patton."

"You can call me, Julie. I'm here to do a story not to give you a hard time."

"Well, Julie, we are working on some things I can't talk about. That's how we're trying to protect potential victims. It's gone better than we thought but you just don't know until the big break comes. We're confident we're doing everything we can at this juncture and we're getting closer."

"So you have things the press isn't aware of?"

"Oh, yes, we don't tell you guys anything we want to keep to ourselves. No disrespect, but reporters have a propensity to get in our way at times."

"How does a case like this impact a man like you? You're a high ranking officer but if this goes bad for you, couldn't it damage your career?"

"Since I can't complain about my career, I'll just say no. My career is the least of my worries when people are dying. If I can't get the job done then someone has to do it that can get it done. I'm hired to do a job and I'm doing the best job I know how to do. If in the end that job will be good enough to crack a difficult case like this, I can't answer that. It will remain for others to make that judgment."

"You've been around a long time, Commander. You've seen a lot of things. Who better to head an investigation like this?"

"I like you, Julie. Would you like some coffee? We got us a Bunn. It brews the most incredible damn coffee you ever sucked down."

"It's getting a little late in the day for coffee, but since you put it that way, yes, why not. I think I can use a cup. I do have quite a few questions for you. I would like to have a better understanding of how you handle an investigation of this magnitude."

"Mike, bring two cups of coffee back if you don't mind."

"Yes, sir. You didn't run her off?"

"Run her off? We're old friends. What time is it?"

"It's now six forty-six."

"You can go home after you get us the coffee. We might be a while."

"That's okay, John. I've got some work on my desk I need to get done."


The man walked passed the car with a piece of paper in his hand. He looked up at the entryway of the house beside where Jim Bland had parked his car. Bland noticed the man in the wrinkled gray coat and the old fashioned horn rimed glasses. The man looked up at the house and back at the paper before walking back the way he came from. Bland continued observing him in the side mirror. The man seemed disoriented or looped. It was Friday evening.

The man stopped at the next house and then wheeled around to look at the house he was just in front of. He held his head back as though he might be having trouble seeing the addresses, but then he started walking further down the street and Bland lost interest. He'd been late getting back to Georgetown and now he was waiting to see what Robert Mann was up to. He suspected he wouldn't be staying in on a Friday night.

The knock on the window startled Bland. "What!" he growled at the man who held out a piece of paper. The stranger seemed disoriented.

"I'm sorry to… Oh, I'm lost," he said, clutching the front of his old coat with it's huge gray buttons. "I can't catch my breath. I get this way when I get confused."

Yeah, Jim Bland thought, looking at the address written on the paper in the man's hand. I can believe it. You look confused. "This is "O" Street. You want the next block over. You're on the wrong block is all."

"Oh, thank you. Ahhhh! I thought I was losing my mind. I've been here before but it all looks different. My daughter lives here but I don't get by very often."

"Yeah, just go over to the corner and down a block and you'll be almost in front of this address. It might look more familiar to you there."

"Oh, thank you, I'm sorry to be a bother. Ohhhhh! I can't catch my breath. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm really sorry. I'm just a…."

The man clutched the front of the rumpled coat and looked like he might pass out.

Bland was more than a little annoyed at being distracted. It was about time for Mann to be on the move. He'd have to get rid of this guy. He wasn't about to lose Mann again. "Here, don't croak on me. Just sit on the back seat for a minute. Catch your breath. Do you want me to call you some help?"

"No! Oh No! I get this way. Blood pressure you know. I'll just sit for a second and I'll be fine. I didn't mean to be a bother." The man sat on the seat with his feet on the curb and his head bent down between his knees as he struggled to get his breath.

Bland shook his head thinking, where do they come from? He focused on the garage door while listening to the man wheeze and considered his options.


Julie Patton sat laughing at one of Commander Brown's witticisms as the two enjoyed their conversation. Both were left feeling better by their meeting, when the intercom interrupted the conversation.

"Commander, we've got to go."

"Go? It's what, eight thirty Friday evening, the Mrs. is in Baltimore, and I'm talking with a lovely lady. Where have I got to go?" Brown's voice was full of charm and pleasantness.

"Ten's up. They just found him over on "O" Street here in Georgetown."

"I don't have some detectives covering this case? I'm impressing this lady with stories of how I've got everything under control and suddenly I'm getting the impression I don't."

"They want you. That's all I know. I'm just the guy behind the desk. It was Chief Henry who called. He sounded agitated."

"What's new? Okay, Connell." He sighed. "Sorry, I guess the interview is over. Do you have everything you need?"

"Yes, I think it will be a nice article. I appreciate all the time you've given me. Has he struck again? The Strangler?"

"That's my understanding."

"You're going to the scene?"

"Yes, I usually let my men do it but duty calls."

"Let me go with you? Let me see you in action? It'll add a nice touch to the story and it might make me points with Mr. Bradley so I can get something other than the mundane."

Commander Brown led the way out of the office and indicated to Mike that the reporter could ride along but that she should stay in the car.

In five minutes they were in the middle of eight cars with lights flashing and more cops than either of them had seen in one place since the last parade.

Connell parked the car in the middle of the street. Brown walked passed the chief's car and approached him as he stood in the middle of six uniforms. "What's up, Chief Henry?"

"He's one of yours. Nice bow tie. When did this guy move to cops?"

Commander Brown looked in the window at the discolored face of Jim Bland who's head was leaned back on the seat. The gray clothesline, the signature of the DC Strangler, was drawn tight around his neck.

"What's he doing here, Brown? This isn't the Strangler's stalking ground."

"He's a loose cannon. His partner and him were splitting up. I don't know why he's here. I'll check with my aide. See if he knows anything."

"You check with someone and get me some answers," Chief Henry commanded. "I want to know why he's here. I'm tired of you guys chasing your tails," he continued without any sympathy in his voice.

Mike Connell stood leaning on the driver's door of the car as Brown approached. "It's Bland. He's killed Jim Bland. Same guy. Same rope."

"Better tell her not to use the rope, Commander."

"That's the least of our worries," Brown said, turning to look back toward the activities.

"His shield and gun are gone," Connell said.

"Where'd you hear that?"

"Just came across on the radio. No gun, no badge."

"Okay, we've been wondering how he's getting them to go with him. Run a check on every department on the East Coast and then do the West if it doesn't pan out. See how many dead cops lost their shield and their gun. See if maybe someone went down about the time of the first killing."

"Yes, sir, what about the reporter? She's getting an earful."

"Yeah, get her back to her car. Remind her the rope is off limits. I better go hold Henry's hand. He's like a caged panther, looking to chew some ass."

Commander Brown started back toward the activity. His car eased up beside him and slowed to a stop.

"Commander, that's Mann."

"Where?"

"He just turned the corner and was staring up this way. The light lit up his face. It's Mann in the Corvette."

"What the hell? Why didn't he stop?"

"He can't stop without blowing his cover."

"Shit! What in the hell is going on? I don't like this. We've got to talk to him. I gotta bad feeling about this."

Commander Brown ran faster than he thought he could around the car. He was closing the door as Connell stepped on the gas in pursuit of the Corvette.

Chief Henry bellowed as the car drove past. "Brown get back here. I'm not finished with you yet."


Seeing all that police activity a little more than a block from Albert's made Robert anxious. As he drove toward the house he looked up at the windows. It was pitch black inside. Albert always left lights on. Always. A feeling of foreboding ran through him. As the garage door opened and he started his turn the headlights lit up a figure lying on the stairs. Jamming on the emergency brake made the tires chirp. Robert leaped from the car.

"Oh, Jesus, Albert! He stooped by the bloodied face and cradled his head in his arms. Oh, Albert, not you."

There was a slight cough and the eyes blinked open. There was more coughing. "Toby! He's up there with Toby." Instantly, Robert let go, and threw himself up the stairs.

Connell braked by the Corvette. Commander Brown thrust himself out of the car as he saw the body on the stairs and he too charged into the house with Mike Connell only a couple of steps behind. The big man's shoulders rubbed the side of the stairwell as he forced himself upward.

Robert ran through the opening and into the darkened living room. "Toby!" he yelled and grabbed at the sudden surge of pain at his temple. A gun barked three distinct times. He was only aware of the first bullet whizzing over his head as he ducked and moved to one side before the searing white hot pain took his breath away and knocked him back toward the front door.

Commander John Washington Brown lurched out of the confinement of the small staircase as the third shot was fired, emptying his gun towards the muzzle flash. The dark house fell silent. Mike Connell ran into the Commander, feeling the blocky form sag down to his big knees.

"He's right there in front of you. I don't know if I hit him."

"You hit, John?" Mike whispered, easing him back so he wouldn't present such a large target.

"A little... I think Mann's down by the front door." The Commander was now flat on the floor. He felt the blood warming his chest.

At that second the lights came on. Connell jerked his gun up towards where Commander Brown had indicated. A man in a wrinkled gray coat with wide gray buttons was lying on the floor with his legs folded back under his body. A gun was clutched in the hand up behind his head but the figure remained motionless.

Connell held his gun on prone figure, moving forward to kick the attacker's weapon well away from the hand. The quantity of blood on the guy's chest told Connell that he was badly wounded if not already dead.

"How'd you know where the lights were?" Mike asked Julie as she knelt beside the silent Commander that she'd just gotten to like.

"I used to be a real estate agent. I just reached out from inside the doorway where I would expect them to be."

"Thanks. I've got to call for help."

"Will he be all right?" Julie asked, looking at Brown.


The sirens and the activity lit up the night in front of Albert's house. One ambulance after another took away the remnants of the carnage that had taken place.

The headlines of the Post the following morning read:

JOHN BROWN GETS HIS MAN

Mike Connell laid the paper across his boss's chest once he had awakened after three hours of surgery and a night in the recovery room.

"You think you'll keep your job, sir?"

"Oh, I'm sir, again. I'll have thirty in after next year. I reckon I'll hang around for that. How's Mann?"

"He's going to be okay. The older dude has some broken bones. He fell down the steps. He wasn't shot or anything."

"The perp?"

Connell shook his head from side to side. "He took four in the chest. Never knew what hit him. You're deadly, sir. You did miss with one shot. Found that in the hall."

"We sure its him? We got the right guy?"

"He had two pieces of clothesline in his pocket that match perfectly with Bland's necktie. There was a kid in the house wearing a section that matched. That's apparently who he was there for."

"A kid?"

"Yeah, someone that came with Mann, according to the owner of the house."

"What's the guy's story. We know yet?"

"William Irving McNealy, 38, unemployed, single. He's lived in or around town all his life. At his residence, we found some pages of what looks like scripture verses about sodomites that were underlined. No one recalls him being particularly religious. Nobody recalls much about him at all. He wasn't anybody really. That's about all they've gotten, but it's early yet. We might find more when we finish going through his place. Oh yeah, you were right about the badge, a Baltimore City cop went down in a shoot out a month before the first DC Strangler victim turned up. We found the officer's badge in a blue coat in McNealy's apartment. It could easily be mistaken for a policeman's topcoat. That's the piece we were missing. That's how he got them to go with him."

"That's good. That makes it all fit," Commander Brown said weakly, drifting back to sleep as Connell sat near his bed.


Phil sat beside Robert's bed, holding his hand, when he opened his eyes.

"Am I dead?"

"Yeah, and I'm Gabriel. Welcome to heaven."

"Albert?"

"He's fine. Has some cracked ribs and a gash on his head but he'll be okay. He's not moving too well this morning. He's down the hall."

"Toby?"

"He'll be OK."

"Where'd all the flowers come from?" Robert's weak voice was amazed, as he noticed the colorful display around his bed.

"Oh, Jesus, the girls are delirious over their hero."

"They know I'm a cop?"

"Oh, yeah, if they can read they know. Your name is all over the Post this morning. You and that Commander. I guess he saved your life. The girls can't resist an opportunity like this. There are flowers all out in hall. This is just the tip of the florist shop."

"I didn't do anything."

"Yeah, well, we don't take much to get us going. You did your best and that's all that counts with fags. You got the guy and that's what's important."

"I'll still be welcome in the bars?"

"I'm sure. They might have a Bobby Mann float on gay pride day."

"Gay what?"

"Never mind. You'd have to be there."

The door opened and Fran came in with a bunch of flowers wrapped in green paper. "Hi, I guess you don't need these. Who sent all the flowers?"

"The girls in the band," Phil quipped.

"Oh! I just wanted to see if you were okay and tell you how sorry I was for acting the way I did. I knew you were a nice guy. I guess I've been with the other kind too much."

"How are you?" Robert was glad to see she wasn't still mad at him.

"Me? I'm okay. I'm going home to Boston. My mother isn't well. I told her I'd spend some time there. I didn't want to go without saying thanks."

"Yeah, any time. I think I'll be going back to North Dakota myself. Maybe when I come back I can look you up."

"Yeah, well, I'll let Phil know where I am. I'd like to see you. I'm glad you're going to be okay. I've got a train to catch and a cab waiting. I just stopped for a minute. You get well fast." Fran leaned over to hug Robert and he used his one good arm to hug back.

That afternoon an orderly swung open the door to Robert's room and rolled Albert in and parked him beside the bed. Robert woke up when he heard the disturbance. He was glad to see for himself that Albert hadn't been seriously damaged.

"How are you feeling?"

"A little sore. How about you?"

"The same. I wanted to talk to you. You saved my life you know?"

"Saved your life? I brought the damn guy to your house."

"You got him. That's all that's important. If you hadn't come back when you did we'd have all been dead. They say he had rope enough for all of us."

"Yeah, the gun was a surprise. I never got mine out of the holster. Some cop! All I was thinking about was saving Toby."

"What brought you back? You said after midnight. They say you came back before nine."

"Yeah, funny thing about that. I just knew I had to go back. I felt something, heard something. I don't know. Something just told me I had to get back."

"You listened?" Albert mused.

"Yeah! I suppose I did. I've been having a pain on the side of my head ever since that cop tried to brain me, it grabbed when I went through the door into the house, when I reached for the spot the first bullet went over my head. It grabs me at the damnedest times. If it hadn't grabbed right when it did, he'd have drilled me deader than a doornail."

"They say it was the sound of the garage door that saved Toby. He had the rope around his neck when he heard you come back."

"How is he really?"

"Dying to get down here to make sure you're okay, but they've got him pretty drugged up. He won't be singing any arias for a while."

"Doesn't sound like anything he'll miss."

"No, no, I suspect not. I'll let you get some rest. I just wanted to tell you myself how much we all appreciate what you did. For a rookie you sure did bring home the bacon," Albert voice was soft and deeply southern.

"I listen to everyone talk about all the stuff that went on, and I wonder."

The orderly opened the door and pushed Albert back out as Robert dozed off.


Epilogue

The small hot room was filled with anxious reporters as Mike came through the only door and moved up behind a podium that had been set up at Sibley Memorial Hospital for just such occasions. "I'm Officer Michael Connell, aide to Commander Brown. I've been asked to brief you on the condition of the Commander as well as that of Officer Robert Mann."

"Who is Mann? I can't find him on the police roster," a reporter called out. "Chief Henry didn't know who he was."

"I'm here to brief you on what I've just said. Commander Brown is conscious and alert after undergoing three hours of surgery early this morning. His condition is serious but the prognosis is good. Officer Mann, on special assignment to the DC Strangler Taskforce, is in critical but stable condition and is in his room after six hours of surgery to remove two bullets from his body. You'll need to wait for the doctors if you want more specific information about the injuries. Now I'll answer your questions if I can."

The hands shot up and people yelled out their questions. Connell thought he knew how the president's press secretary must feel.

"Like I said, who is he?"

"Robert Mann came out of the police academy and immediately went undercover in the DC Strangler investigation."

"Why was that? Why was Henry in the dark?"

"When Commander Brown was put in charge of the taskforce he saw the lack of progress in the investigation and took appropriate steps to rectify the deficiency. Chief Henry had no need to know and the fewer people who knew made it easier for Mann to operate."

"Isn't that pretty unusual? Assigning a cadet to a murder investigation of this magnitude?"

"It wasn't this magnitude when that decision was made. In fact it was but a blip on your radar screens at the time. It was only because of Officer Robert Mann that the case was finally resolved, and he is a Metropolitan Police Officer, deserving of respect as such. Apprehending murderers requires unusual measures at times."

"Did the Chief approve the operation?"

"Commander Brown headed the operation and made all decisions concerning the case."

"So I gather that headquarters wasn't aware of what was going on?"

"You'll have to ask headquarters what they knew and when they knew it. I'm just an aide trying to give you some of the details."

"What happened? How did you guys get him? Weren't you there?"

"Yes, I was on the scene when Commander Brown took down the suspect."

"You do that a lot?"

"Do what?" Connell asked the flailing hand.

"Attend shootings. How have you been? You disappeared after you were shot last year."

"I'm fine. This isn't about me but thanks for your concern."

"I have a question."

"Yes, Ms. Patton!"

"Can you tell us the sequence of events that led to two DC Police Officers being wounded and the suspected murderer being killed?"

"I can do that, Ms. Patton. Thank you. Officer Robert Mann entered the dwelling on "O" Street where the shooting took place at approximately 8:47 p.m. last night. Albert Forestall III of that address was lying on the staircase just inside the garage door. Commander John Brown and I arrived on the scene less than a minute after Officer Mann, entering the dwelling at 8:48 p.m. Commander Brown led the way in. Three shots were fired at this time. Commander Brown entered the area where the shooting was taking place with his weapon drawn. There were several more shots fired. I'm not sure how many. There was another burst of gunfire as I entered the area I'd describe as the foyer. Commander Brown, Officer Mann, and the suspect as yet not positively identified, were all down from gunshot wounds. I immediately called for back up and rendered what assistance I could until they arrived."

"Who was the boy?"

"How's Forestall?"

"I don't know who the boy is. He's in serious condition from an attempted homicide. He remains sedated with no plans to operate. Albert Forestall III, owner of the dwelling, is in serious condition. He required no surgery and took seventeen stitches in his scalp. I'd say both of them were quite lucky that Robert Mann arrived on scene when he did."

"Who got the guy?"

"Commander Brown. Mann's weapon wasn't fired and I did not fire."

"What did this have to do with Detective Bland?"

"This investigation is ongoing. I really don't know the details. There are some things we might never know. We would have preferred to take the suspect alive but that simply wasn't possible."

"He never used a gun before. Why a gun now?"

"I suppose when the cops rush you, clothesline isn't much of a deterrent. He had apparently taken Detective Bland's weapon, after killing him. We aren't positive yet but that's where we think he got the gun."

"Why gay men?"

"That answer may have died with the DC Strangler. Whenever you set up a group of people to be hated, you may be creating an atmosphere for violence against those people. You must then accept responsibility for the consequences."

"Are you sure this is the guy? Is he the DC Strangler?"

"We are fairly certain he is. As I said, the investigation is ongoing. It's only been twelve hours since the shooting. It requires a little time to get all the details in order. I'm telling you from the best information I have at the moment."

"Will Commander Brown run for Mayor?"

Mike smiled and looked from side to side, remembering Commander Brown's thoughts on the subject. "I think Commander Brown already has a job."

"Then he will return to work?"

"Yes! He told me this morning he had a few good years left."

" Even though he's a black man, you think he might become chief now that everyone knows who he is?"

"That's not for me to say. He'd make a fine chief in my opinion. He's cracked one of the biggest cases in this city's history. If you're asking me if the color of his skin had anything to do with his ability to solve the case, I'd say no, but you should ask him."

"Will you run for Mayor, Mike?" Someone yelled.

"No, I work for a living," Mike chortled. "And I'm not old enough." The room roared and Officer Mike Connell slipped out before any more questions could be directed his way.


Albert stood behind the U-Haul trailer after placing another carefully wrapped package in on top of other similar packages. "I've put on the name of the man who this goes to. I guess I've told you everything you need to know a dozen times."

"Ten times over, Albert. I'll deliver them safe and sound."

"How long are you going to be gone?"

"I don't know. My father says Swift Deer is retiring this year. My original dream was to be the reservation deputy. I don't know if I'm cut out for big city police work."

"North Dakota, that's a long way, Bobby," Albert said, feeling the neck brace that sometimes irritated him. "Your shoulder okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine. It'll heal." The sling did make things awkward but Robert had worn slings before.

"So your first stop is Tulsa and you leave the items I have marked and then straight up to Topeka, Kansas and then Pine Ridge, and on to North Dakota."

"Albert, quit worrying. I'll be fine and I'll take the same care with these artifacts as you do."

"I know, Bobby. Ever the worrier, I am. I've wanted to get these back to their proper owners, since I started collecting them. Now that I'm finally doing it, well, they're like my children in a way."

"I won't nurse them but I will deliver them safe and sound," Robert said, walking around the trailer for one last inspection.

"Toby, you take care of him. Make sure he doesn't over do it. There are the sweet rolls you like in the bag and Bobby's favorite coffee in the Thermos," Albert said. "You come back to see me when you can. Albert loves you and he'll miss you." The hug was held for several long seconds. Both the boy and the man had tears in their eyes.

"Me too, Albert," Toby whispered, feeling his newly shortened hair. "Indians don't still scalp dudes do they? I told them to cut it extra short."

"No, Toby. What's left of your hair is safe. Besides, you are an Indian."

"Oh yeah! I keep forgettin'. They might not know that."

Robert returned Albert's tearful hug with his one good arm. He turned and got into the driver's seat. Albert stood in the street and waved as the car pulled away.

The black corvette looked odd towing the U-Haul, but Albert had arranged to have it equipped for the chore. He felt rather good that Brandon's beloved Vette was finally in the hands of someone who could appreciate it as much as its original owner had.

He watched the Vette slowly move up the street and then walked back into the garage as the garage door closed behind him.

The End

Talk about this story on our forum
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily. Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]