The Guilty Party

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Opening to "Boomerang"

Hi there. This isn't a usual blog post, it is the opening to Boomerang. I have been participating on the Authonomy website these past few months and have been fortunate to see Boomerang make it to the top five on what is called the Editors' Desk. Unfortunately I haven't been able to make any updates lately and so this is just a way of getting the freshest material out there.

Usual blog business will resume as life allows. Cheers to all and thanks for stopping by.

Alan








Boomerang
by
Alan Hutcheson




PROLOGUE


On a bright May morning, in the year 1972, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was found dead, sprawled across the bedroom carpet in his handsome two-story colonial brick house in Washington DC. One of the most powerful men in the history of the United States of America, or any other country for that matter, was discovered by his gardener, James Crawford.

Crawford was not in the habit of violating the Boss’s private sanctum, but it was well past the time when Mr. Hoover usually started his day. Annie, his housekeeper, was anxious concerning Hoover's tardiness to the breakfast table, but she was not about to check on him herself. While it was common knowledge in the Hoover household that the Boss possessed a wardrobe rich with variety, Annie preferred to limit her personal exposure to at least some of it to laundry days.

Crawford knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response. He put his mouth close to the door and called.p

“Mr. Hoover? It's Crawford.”

Still no answer. The gardener eased the door open a couple of inches. “Annie’s got a nice breakfast set out. You know how she is if you let her cooking get cold.”

Crawford heard something, or at least thought he did. He opened the door wider and poked his head into the room.

“Hello? Boss?”

In the thin wedge of light coming through the door, by the corner of the bed, Crawford saw a bare arm stretched out on the floor.

“Oh my lord! Boss!”

Crawford rushed into the room and knelt beside his employer. He lifted Hoover's smooth hand in his rough and calloused one. The Boss's hand wasn’t cold, but it was limp and unresponsive. Crawford knew what to do.

As he ran back to the landing Crawford recited Hoover's instructions in case of just such an emergency. Call Mr. Wilson. Nobody else. Just Mr. Wilson. He leaned over the railing. “Annie! It's the Boss! Call Mr. Wilson!”

If you read the biographies and ask the historians, that was that. J. Edgar Hoover was dead. Conrad Wilson, Hoover’s longtime confidant and effectively his second in command at the Bureau, was notified, and the world was shaken.

What the biographies and history books don't tell us is that James Crawford had taken a course in CPR at the YMCA just a couple of months earlier. Working on a plastic and fabric dummy was a world away from trying to pump life into the Father of the FBI, but what had that training been for if not situations just like this?

Crawford hurried back into the room and once more knelt next to Hoover. He took in two deep breaths to steady his nerves, leaned in close, and was just about to pinch the great man's nose when Hoover began to sing. Softly, so softly that if the two men had not been almost lip to lip Crawford might not have heard.

“A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” Hoover sang the school house rhyme to the tune of “Twinkle-Twinkle, Little Star”.

“You're alive!” exclaimed Crawford.

Hoover’s right arm swung up and grabbed the gardener by the back of the neck.

“Listen,” said Hoover.

“I called Mr. Wilson, Boss. Just like you told me."

“Wilson?”

“Yes sir. He'll be here before you know it.”

The grip tightened on Crawford's neck.

“Guh,” Hoover breathed. “After.....g.”

Crawford nodded as best he could with the death grip around his neck. “You bet, Boss,” he said.

“After.....” Hoover’s voice was fading into near vapor. “After......g.”

“After g,” Crawford repeated, hoping this would comfort Hoover. Maybe he would let go of his neck.

Hoover’s eyelids blinked in what seemed to be the only response he could muster.

And then it came to Crawford. Of course. After G.

“H, Boss” he said. “H comes after g.”

The grip tightened fiercely around Crawford’s neck, then released, and it was then that J. Edgar Hoover lay truly dead.

Conrad Wilson arrived within minutes of receiving the call. A tall and still lean man of something past seventy years, he took two steps at a time up to the second floor landing. Crawford and Annie were standing just outside Hoover's bedroom. Annie was weeping softly. Crawford had his arm around the housekeeper’s shoulders.

Wilson nodded but did not pause as he went past them into Hoover's bedroom. He drew aside the comforter Crawford had draped respectfully over Hoover’s body and placed a finger against his neck. Then he took a silver business card case from his jacket and held it in front of Hoover's mouth and nose. Finally Conrad Wilson replaced the comforter and went back out to the hallway.

“Which of you found him?”

“I did, Mr. Wilson,” said Crawford. “He was just lying there, stretched out on the floor. It was terrible.”

“I’m sure it was James,” said Conrad Wilson. “I’m sure it was. But I must ask you something and it is very important that you answer me accurately.”

“Yes, Mr. Wilson.” Crawford nodded solemnly.

“Was Mr. Hoover dead when you found him?”

“Well sir, not exactly.”

“And just exactly what do you mean by ‘not exactly’?” Conrad Wilson’s tone was almost sharp, almost inquisitorial. If Crawford had not been so distracted by the circumstances he might have noticed a slight tic appear in the corner of Wilson’s right eye. Or he might not. Crawford was not in the habit of looking powerful men in the eye.

“Well sir, I thought he was, but then when I got real close, you know, right next to him, he wasn’t. Dead, I mean.”

“How did you know? Did he move?” For the briefest of moments it almost looked as if Wilson was contemplating grabbing the gardener by the shoulders and shaking an answer out of him. If he was harboring that intention a quick glance at the silent Annie redirected his concentration. “Did Mr. Hoover say anything? Anything at all?”

Crawford was caught in a dilemma. He was devoted to the Boss, believed him to be the finest American ever. Mr. Hoover had been the Guardian of Democracy without whose firm guidance the entire country would undoubtedly have fallen into wretched anarchy many times over. Was it right that it should be known that the last utterance from such a Great American was a child’s alphabet rhyme?

Crawford tried desperately to come up with a memorable phrase, the right combination of words, a worthy final breath that should by all rights have issued from a dying J. Edgar Hoover.

“It is a far, far better thing...”. No, that was out of a book or a movie or something. Everybody would know it wasn’t original.

“Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.” Wouldn’t do at all. The Boss wasn't much of a comedy fan.

“I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Or was it “one life to give to my country”? At least one of those was taken, anyway.

Crawford was stumped. But he couldn’t tell Mr. Wilson that the Boss had died singing the alphabet. And even worse, that he got stuck on the letter G? It just wasn’t right.

“He didn’t say anything, Mr. Wilson. He just kind of reached out to me and then he closed his eyes and he was gone.”

An almost, but not quite imperceptible look of relief passed across Conrad Wilson’s face.

“That‘s fine then,” he said. “I mean, you were right to call me first.“ He turned to the housekeeper. “Annie, if you would please call Mrs. Gandy. I will contact Mr. Mohr and the Attorney General. I suppose we will have to tell the President.”

“It’s the end of an era, sir,” said Crawford. “The Boss is gone and there won’t ever be another like him.”

Annie nodded.

Wilson gave the gardener and housekeeper a paternal smile of comfort. “Mr. Hoover was indeed one of a kind, James. But remember, nobody ever really leaves us, especially not a person like Mr. Hoover.”

“My grandma used to say we all make ripples,” said Crawford. Like a pebble thrown in a pond. The pebble may sink, but the ripples go on and on.”

Wilson nodded. “Your grandma was a wise woman. And I think we can safely say that Mr. Hoover made lots of ripples in some pretty big ponds.”

“But what happens,” said Annie, “when the ripples hit the edge of the pond?” She caught a tear with a trembling finger. “Do they come back to the middle?”

“Well, I suppose they could, Annie,” said Conrad Wilson. “I have never thought about it that way, but yes, I suppose they could.”



Chapter One


San Francisco
April 12th
The present

"Hey, Ted. Marci wants to see you."

“Tell her I'll be there in a minute, okay?" said Ted. "I'm almost done here.”

Ted Hogwood was sitting on the floor of the aisle marked “Poetry Collections” in the Literary Lighthouse Bookstore in the North Beach district of San Francisco. It had been a effort to ease his six-foot eight, three hundred and twenty pound frame down far enough so he could stock the bottom two shelves and he did not want to have to repeat the process if he didn‘t have to.

“Marci said now.”

Ted looked up at the twenty-something girl hovering over him. She was rocking slowly back and forth on the balls of her feet and seemed to be taking inventory of the silver studs in her left ear with her right hand.

"What's does she want?"

"How should I know?" The girl switched her attention to her right ear. "You're probably fired or something."

"Nice."

She shrugged and drifted back to her post at the register.

Ted pushed himself off the floor. Predictably, his left knee reminded him of the excess weight he made it bear with a crack and a stab of pain. He muttered a resigned and well practiced profanity, then gave himself a moment to get his legs truly under him before heading to the back of the store. The door to the office was slightly open so he knocked on the door frame.

"Come in," said Marci.

Ted stepped into the store manager's office, a small space furnished with an old metal desk dominated by a computer. There were two secretary chairs with beaten down padding and tired frames. The walls were covered with plain but sturdy shelves packed with books and binders, with just enough space left for a small stereo. Marci had eclectic musical tastes, so Ted never knew what she would have playing either in the store or her office. Now he nodded appreciatively at the sound of a jazz trio: guitar, bass, and drums. Just his style.

"'Sounds good'," Ted said. He held up a big paw and lowered his head as he listened. Eight bars passed. Paw down, head up. "‘It Could Happen To You’. Barney Kessel on guitar with Ray Brown bass and Shelley Manne drums."

Marci smiled at the big man standing in the doorway. The first time she had seen him, what was it, just eight months earlier? she had been awed by his size and slightly intimidated by his scowling expression, which seemed to hover halfway between menace and melancholy. Balanced against Ted's appearance had been his job application. He filled it out with a fountain pen in a style that could have come directly out of a 14th century illuminated manuscript. It listed professional basketball player and jazz musician as his former and current occupations.

During the interview Ted said he had indeed been working-on and off for the past twenty years or more-as an itinerant jazz guitarist, supplementing his income with whatever other work he could find. None of the other jobs, he said, were of any real consequence. And yes, for five seasons he had played in the NBA, on seven different teams. A blown anterior cruciate ligament ended his career and so, the NBA not yet having evolved into the Every-Player-a-Millionaire-with-a-Guaranteed-Contract status it soon after grew into, he had been scrambling to make a living since. The one constant factor was his music, but more often than not it failed to provide a living wage.

A couple of weeks after she hired Ted, Marci chanced upon him in his moonlighting role as jazz guitarist at a nightclub called The Sassy Loaf. He was a picture of blissful concentration as he produced sure rhythm and sweet, warm solo lines. Ted had not noticed her, she doubted he noticed anything beyond his blond and gold instrument, and she never told him she had witnessed his other life.

“Right, as usual,” said Marci. "The first Poll Winners album.“ She pushed her wheeled chair the couple feet across to the stereo and switched it off. “Have a seat, Ted.”

Ted perched carefully on the other secretary chair, feet eighteen inches apart and flat on the floor, his massive hands resting on top of tree trunk thighs. The chair squealed and tilted and Ted had to adjust to keep his balance.

Marci drummed her fingers lightly on a stack of papers in front of the computer monitor. The top sheet was covered halfway with a bold, computer generated print underscored with a signature that consisted of nothing but gradually diminishing waves and troughs.

"Ted," she said, "it was just, Monday I believe, when we talked about proper customer interaction. Do you remember that conversation?"

"Yes, I do." Ted rolled his eyes. "The person who thought I was making fun of his purchase."

"Much the same comment we've had from all these folks." Marci indicated the pile of papers. "Thirty-four, at last count. Not including the customers who have spoken to me personally about your, shall we say, lack of professional detachment regarding their purchases."

“I try Marci, and I know you have to stock some of this crap. Sorry.” She nodded. “But you've got to admit, it's pretty tough to keep a straight face when somebody brings a copy of Everybody's Wrong But Me, or Your Liberal Neighbors, Abandoning God, Destroying America to the counter.”

“I understand, but when I get a letter like this,” Marci picked up the top sheet from the file folder, “less than a week after our last talk, I'm afraid I have to take some action.” She read from the letter. “‘You may not be familiar with the fact that rolling one's eyes and snorting is not considered proper behavior in a customer-service oriented business. The oversized, middle-aged troll'…“ Marci winced sympathetically, “…‘that you have working in your store obviously thinks he has license to make just such thinly veiled editorial comments concerning my choice of reading material. I have tolerated it in the past, but enough is enough. Please be informed that I have license to choose another bookstore and will not only do so, but will also persuade all of my friends and acquaintances to do the same.’”

“Wait, don't tell me.” Ted held up his Man Thinking hand again, slowly, so as not to throw off his balance on the gallant, inadequate chair. “This has got to be the moron who bought How To Be First in Line, EVERYTIME.”

Marci put the paper back on top of the pile and shook her head.

“Ted, this can't go on.”

“He also bought Feel, Think, Do and Work to Play/Play to Work,” Ted said, reinforcing his case.

“That’s not the point. The point is that he is a customer. What he chooses to buy doesn't matter. What matters is that I can't let this happen in my store. I've tried to make allowances, Ted, you know I have. You do bring some very positive qualities to the place. But I can't afford to spend so much of my time and energy putting out all the fires you ignite.”

“Point well taken.” Both hands went up in submission, again slowly, mindful of his perch. Then the left hand came down, the right staying up in pledge. “Promise. I will keep my opinions to myself. The last thing I want to do is make your life more difficult.”

“Ted,” Marci said. “You don't understand what it is I'm having to say here.”

“I completely understand, Marci. Business is business and I've just got to control myself no matter how stupid--”

”You're fired.”

Ted’s chair tilted forward and deposited him suddenly, and in a very undignified manner, on the floor.


That evening, when Ted and Sarah, his beloved Gibson L5-CES jazz guitar, reported to the Blue Raspberry Cafe for the low paying, two night a week gig his quarrelsome, unnamed quintet had had for the last three months, he was informed by the wife of the couple that owned the establishment that her husband had run off with Roscoe, the group’s fiftyish, tie-dye favoring drummer. At the moment she was feeling antipathetic towards the male of the species, jazz players in particular, and could not guarantee Ted's safety if he chose to remain on the premises. She seemed only marginally aware of the large, shiny cleaver in her hand. Ted felt it best to leave before she became fully alive to the fact.



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A Bit About Me

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.