Richard e Hill - a Writer's Journal

NOVELS - Umbrellas Part II - The Library (Epiphany)

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The Fall of the Temple

 

 

Change.  Often sought, yet more often resisted.  Its eventuality or perpetuity lends to its acceptance and reconciliation.   The neighborhood buildings and homes, which were under constant repair both defied and supported this hypothesis.  The inhabitants too sought and resisted change.  That could be worse attitude was rational and prophetic on this Summer day.  For this was the day that the Library would be razed.  This structure in a sense was a reflection of the hopes of the entire community.  It needed government support, reconstruction, or rehabilitation in order to be saved from ultimate ruin and destruction.  As did many of the socially or economically challenged populace.

The decision to destroy this old edifice was made days before the State was going to approve funding for renovation or reconstruction; whichever was acceptable to the local political body.  But fate as it had done to so many of the downtrodden, dealt one more losing hand.   That was the day that 12-year-old Melissa Caruthers was dragged into the vacant structure by a drug-crazed sex maniac who attempted to assault and sodomize her.  The building at that juncture, served as a social center at night for prostitutes, drug addicts, the evicted, the afflicted, a hideout for the convicted, or anyone looking for transient relief.  As he dragged her to his lair in the basement, he tripped and fell down the stairs into a pack of rats that were dining on garbage and discarded sex and drug paraphernalia.  The enraged rodents attacked in full force sending him screaming from the building and falling down the four concrete stairs at its entrance, breaking a leg in the process.  The child emerged in torn clothing, crying and pointing an accusing finger at his writhing pained body.  She would require a year of psychiatric care before she would be able to enter a brick building again.  A crowd quickly assembled and street justice despite his painful cries for forgiveness was delivered with baseball bats, bricks and tire irons.  The severely battered assailant was taken back into the building and thrown down the same basement stairs to a reception committee of red-eyed rodents who welcomed him back with renewed violent vigor.  The official cause of his death was listed as a heart attack and possible drug overdose.  Two days later the City Council voted to destroy the Kennelly Library.  That was two months ago.  Today that verdict was going to be executed.

The death sentence began when the thunderous crash of a wrecking ball punctuated the chattering bird-filled sounds of summer as it continuously swung from a construction crane and rained strategic salvos on the decaying building.  Soon the only cultural link to the past would be the old oak trees filled with dwindling numbers of nesting songbirds.  They eventually would find better times and other places long before many of the people in this poverty ravished self-disenfranchised area.

Two men, one on each side of the structure trained fire-hoses set to a showery mist on the ancient edifice.  This was intended to minimize the dust but also generated a cool breeze, which afforded some relief to the stifling heat.  Harry, the crew chief sat at a table beneath a large beach umbrella, leaning and swaying with each strike of the wrecking ball gazed at the rainbow the mist had created.  Wiping his brow with a large red bandana, he yelled, “What’s holding that old barn up?  Jeez, you must have hit it ten thousand times already!” He took a Coca-Cola from a bucket on the table, rubbed the chilled bottle across his forehead.

Crash, the crane operator acknowledged the chief’s query with a hunching of his shoulders and a shaking of his head.  Removing his helmet and his Chicago Cubs baseball cap, he took an extended drink from a canteen before resuming the onslaught.  The remainder of the crew leaned against their bulldozers, trucks and a jeep to let their eyes drift from the work in progress to the car parked on the adjacent playground’s basketball court.  The Morretti brothers; Angelo, the accountant and Phil, the enforcer/assassin, known as Nighttime and Daytime were the objects of the crew’s and a dozen onlookers attention.  Angelo after obtaining a signature on a form from the crew chief sat in the black Pontiac four-door sedan with his legs extended from the open right side door.  All eyes were on Phil, a.k.a. Nighttime.  The nicknames were given to them by the hours that they usually worked.  Each looked younger than the 30 years which they were and had the scholarly look and attire of business school graduate students.  In Angelo’s case the appearance was appropriate because he added numbers.  Deadly Phil was just the opposite because his business was subtracting numbers, as in eliminating lives.  Today, he was only killing rats.  The rodents had three choices if they hadn’t eaten the poison that had been planted inside --- to be crushed by the collapsing structure, to drown in their rapidly flooding lairs or to evacuate to the yard in the rear.  Those who chose the latter had to encounter Phil sitting on the hood of the car with his custom made Austrian CO2 powered target pistol, as he adroitly shot the rodents as they scampered from the shaking and crumbling building.  A smattering of applause followed each shot and kill.  Nighttime with his legendary marksmanship never missed his target.  A hush fell over the gathering as two rats ran directly towards the car.  When they were within ten feet, he tossed a couple of empty beer cans at the pair of fleeing vermin.  “Too easy!” a yawning Phil mumbled.  Quickly turning the twosome now dashed towards the decaying back fence that was partially covered with weeds.  As the rodents were 50 to 60 feet away and about three feet from safety, two sharp whistling sounding shots came from the pistol.  In a ballet-like spinning motion they leaped into the air and crumpled to the ground, dead from wounds to the head.  The gallery was first awe stricken before spontaneously applauding appreciatively and wildly.  This was how legends grew.  Without acknowledging the applause, Phil quickly looked to his right and shot a large rat that was hastily evacuating the building.  Rolling and contorting, one final grotesque squeal signaled its demise.  A 10-year-old boy asked his equally wide-eyed 11-year-old companion, “How many does that make?”  The stuttering amazed reply was “Forty-nine or fifty!”

A limousine with US Congressional license plates was parked near the corner 50 yards away and was being approached by a stunning, attractive woman walking to an opening door.  It was Michelle Dumas, the former librarian, now the wife of debonair congressman, Ellington Roger Atwater IV, who was considered to be the best looking man in Congress.  Sitting down, adjusting her white silk with linen suit and crossing her long shapely legs, she removed her straw, petasos-styled hat, lit a cigarette and gazed at the doomed structure.  It was a bittersweet occasion for Michelle as she watched the proud building stubbornly defy destruction.  This was where she began her apprenticeship to become the head of WHY, the respected international relief agency, which was then under the stewardship of her socialite aunt, Antoinette “Toni Champagne” Wadsworth.  Her father, the wealthy politically cloaked investment banker and financier had arranged a position wherein she would use the Library for a pilot project to include more historically and consequentially more politically correct books and educational literature.  This system with its attention to the inclusion of minority achievement, if proven successful would expand into a citywide project before becoming national in scope and further establish Hamilton Dumas as a visionary and a king-maker.  His other child and son, Hamilton Dumas Jr., the king-in-waiting would then launch a career in the US Senate or the Governor’s Mansion in Louisiana.  Yes, Hamilton Dumas Sr. always appeared to be years ahead of everyone.

“Ready to go, Love?” asked her gray-temple husband as he impatiently squeezed her curvaceous left thigh as the scent of her perfumed jet-black hair tantalized his senses.

“Let me finish my cigarette, please!” she replied while patting his fondling hand.  “You’re always in a hurry!”

Quickly removing his hand and adjusting his black horn-rimmed glasses, he resumed rifling through the papers in his briefcase, bristling at the obvious double reference of her remark.

“In a bit of a snout, now are we?” she teased as she leaned back, inhaled, and exposed even more of her inviting legs.

“Long, busy days make for short nights!” snapped Atwater Four, as he was called.

 





Her dark eyes gleaming coyly she smiled and then looked away saying, “I don’t think that you should say anything else that has references to length!”  Their marriage and careers were at that confluence where paths converge and continue as one or cross and undertake a tangential course.  There they sat, exchanging pointed pointless barbs while she slowly smoked and he stared out the rear window.  This was their only form of verbal communication, although the message was clearly goodbye.

“Well now, it looks as though we’re going to be shanghaied into the Army” Atwater Four sarcastically sneered noting a sedan with military markings making a U-turn to park several yards to the rear.

“You want me to check it out, Sir?” asked Barnes, the barrel-chested chauffeur, as he rolled down the glass partition separating the front seat from the passenger seats.

“No, thank you Barnes” assured Atwater Four.  “Hut one, two, three, four” he added in a mocking cadence.

“Maybe you should get the leader to drill you!” retorted Michelle stepping from the car leaving her smoldering cigarette to return to her position under a nearby shady tree.

“The horny bitch wants all of that young cock for herself” Atwater IV muttered half aloud but wholly serious.

Barnes, knowing the bi-sexual tendencies of his employers, laughed to himself as he closed the privacy window.  The “match made in heaven’’ was being “played in hell.”  The merger of two wealthy social issues oriented families was falling apart and crumbling faster than the Library.

The military car contained four passengers; the occupants of the front seat were military policemen in crisp khaki uniforms.  The men in the back wore civilian clothes; one was eastern accented Captain Ben Campbell, who looked as though he was on his way to a polo match with his classic Brooks Brothers attire.  The other nattily dressed in a blue cord suit was the prodigal, Richard Hawkes; the scholar turned soldier trying to sort and to define his self-perceived confused existence.  He was returning to the old neighborhood for an overnight visit to attend the funeral of ‘a very special friend’.

“Sir, your Mother set quite a table for us” Sgt. E J Ducharme, the rugged Louisiana born MP non-driver acknowledged as he turned and extended his hand graciously.  He was referring to the snack of fresh lemonade, home made biscuits, fried chicken and potato salad the group had consumed at Richard’s new home in a middle class sector five miles away.  Ducharme was a well-versed gourmand in Black soul food since he was from a small racially tolerant town where everyone “just kind of got along”.  PFC Gus Atkins, the driver, was basically a loner from the Upper Peninsula who spent weeks at a time living off the land in the Upper Peninsula and Canada.  His interaction with people of any ethnicity was very limited.  The highlight of the day for him was when Sandy, the family pet, befriended him and engaged in a game of tug of war with a doggie pull-toy rope.  Trying to exhibit some social skills, he attempted to extend Ducharme’s compliment adding, “The meal was really great!  I just loved your dog; I bet he’d make a real good coon hound.”

Not resisting a chance for his penchant for irreverent humor, Richard rejoinder-ed, “Hell, he already belongs to coons!”

The group burst into laughter at the racially slurred double entendre with Ducharme laughing particularly hard.  “You have to watch what you say around Hawkes; he’s liable to say anything” said Campbell as he wiped his eyes which were beginning to tear because he was laughing so hard.

“Well, this is my stop” resumed Richard as he was preparing to leave.  After removing his jacket he retrieved a double shoulder holster, a slim automatic pistol, a silencer, two extra clips of ammunition and a money-clip containing $500.00 in twenty dollar bills from a gym bag.  Adjusting the holsters so the contents would hang just above the waistline in order to minimize any bulges, he handed the gym bag to Capt. Campbell saying, “Take care of my gear, Boss.”  “See you tomorrow at ten hundred,” the military designation for 10:00 AM.

“Sure you don’t want me to tag along and ride shotgun?” queried Campbell.

“No.  I’m cool.  Besides, ‘it’s a great day to die’!” using a sarcastic reference to the group leader, Colonel Ashton’s message at each briefing.  Hasta Sabado”, Spanish for ‘until Saturday’.  Stepping from the car he gave a perfect salute to Capt. Campbell.

Returning the salute Campbell reminded, “Take care, my man.  We need you for the mission.”

“Now that’s the coolest Black man I’ve ever seen,” said an admiring Ducharme, “I’d soldier with him any day, anywhere!”

“General Graham says that he’s the most natural leader that he’s ever seen in his thirty years in the Army.  Wants him to become a lifer; says he’d be a general someday!” added Campbell as the car pulled away. “Hey!  What kind of car is that?”  He added watching a gray sports car whiz by.

“That’s the new Ford Mustang,” Atkins said as he temporarily took his eyes off Richard to glance at the car “My uncle works in the plant where they make ‘em.  By the way Sir, who was that Rico guy Mr. Hawkes’ mother was raving about, saying he was the ‘world’s best looking White man?’

“That would be Rico C,” casually replied Campbell.

“You mean the big-time gangster BOSS?”  Atkins queried surprisingly as he sharply turned his head.

“The same,” Campbell repeated with the same nonchalance.

“You mean Mr. Hawkes knows HIM!” asked Atkins, astonished even more.

“Know him!  Hell; they’re best friends!”  Campbell laughed slightly.

“DAMN!  Hawkes must be one bad-ass dude!” said Atkins as he shook his head.

“That he is soldier… that he is…” Campbell’s voice trailed as he watched his comrade depart.

Richard was walking towards the demolition area when he heard a familiar voice, “Got any chewing gum GI?”  As he quickly advanced to the tree where Ms Dumas was standing he humorously answered, “Why are the heathens destroying the temple?”  Ignoring his outstretched hand, the former Ms Dumas, now Mrs. Atwater, threw her arms around his neck to deliver a warm passionate kiss knocking his straw hat off and sunglasses askew in the process.

 

 

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