In the Silence

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CHAPTER TWELVE

The brilliance of the early morning sun rays striking the side of David's tent woke him. He laid there somewhat stiff — with a few more aches and pains then he would admit — telling himself he wasn't too old to travel cross country on a cycle. He had put on over 400 miles Sunday and planned to make it into Reno, Nevada by dusk Monday, in time to get a motel room for a shower and sleep in a bed for a good night's rest. He broke down his small orange tent and was on the road before nine. The sun was seasonably warm for fall and penetrated through his black leather jacket into his back. The 1340-CC shovel-head engine purred without missing a beat, carrying David west on Highway 50 toward Reno. The outright pleasure and solitude of carving along the winding mountain road was pure freedom and David's mind harmonized in the moment. He felt almost as if new blood flowed through him or a new spirit dwelt within him. Whatever it was, David was on top of the world.

While, David was focusing on changing his records so that he could buy Bill's business and then ask Marcea to marry him, he did not know the further he traveled from Castle Rock, the closer Kirk got to discovering and then destroying the computer infiltrator. The hunt was on.

Kirk stood up from his chair and paced while looking at the clues he had written on the chalk board. If someone had been freezing, it makes sense they'd misspell words. But then why a half hour later are all the words spelled correctly and this guy now changes his name to Paul? Kirk prided himself on his cleverness, but he was at a dead end. He checked phone books for all the David McClintocks but the few he found led to no where. He needed Mr. Henderson to get one of his politician friends to get him a Social Security listing of all the David McClintocks. He decided to do that after lunch.

Lunch meant a hangout where girls danced . . . and other things if the money was right. He hated it when he had to pay for sex. If he had his way, all women would be at his beck and call. Besides he was growing tired of the two women he was blackmailing that worked in the building above the Department. They unwilling took care of his needs, but it had become too easy. He had his eye on Scott's wife, Sue, as his next conquest.

Returning after a two-hour lunch, Kirk reached over and opened the glove box. Pulling out a state map of Colorado, he unfolded and scrutinized it. After a few minutes he found what he was looking for. About sixty miles west of Pueblo, was a 14,000 foot mountain peak named Mt. Antero. Kirk refolded the map and hurried toward the building. As the glass doors parted, the security guard stood and greeted Kirk. "Good afternoon, Mr. Smith. How are things going with that Scott, the guy you beat up in the parking lot last week? I noticed he still is coming to work."

Kirk did not have time to chat. "We seemed to have gotten him straightened out. But if you keep your eye on him, I'll remember you."

The security guard anxiously replied, "Sure, Mr. Smith. Anything to help you."

Kirk stopped and looked at the guard's name tag. "Henry, that's right. You were the one who helped me apprehend Scott in the parking lot."

"Yes sir, that was me. I just wanted to let you know I'm on your side. If a promotion comes up, you said you'd remember me."

Kirk liked Henry's subservience. "I might need someone for a special assignment, Henry. Would you be interested?"

Henry stood and actually saluted. "Yes sir!" To become a real cop was his one and only dream. He had been the door monitor for eight years at the Public Document Distribution Center and, like everyone else on the upper eleven stories, he was not sure what really went on below ground. But he wanted to put his six weeks of training at Security Guard School to use — maybe finally draw his gun. Even better, maybe he would get a shoulder harness with a nickel plated nine millimeter revolver just like the one Kirk wore.

"If I give you an assignment, it will be top secret and you will answer to no one but me. Do you think you can handle that?" asked Kirk.

"Yes sir," answered Henry, still standing at attention.

Kirk knew he could use Henry and would not even have to blackmail him. He turned and started across the marble floor, slapping the Colorado map in his hand. At the elevator he passed his security card through the slot and the door opened to go down. Once again at his computer monitors, he pulled up some information. The second ground floor contained all the information that D.O.S. had compiled for over a decade. All the true statistics were stored there along with voluminous data on hundreds of people. Almost every politician or important person had a file in the huge data base. Kirk pulled the file up for Scott Thomas. While reading it off the screen, he picked up the phone and dialed the extension for the front security station. "Henry, this is Kirk. I have a special assignment for you already."

"I'm ready, sir."

"Remember that guy you helped me apprehend in the parking lot last Monday? Well, it's not really him that we're after; it's his wife. The Department thinks she might be a spy."

"Wow!" said Henry. The palms of his hands started to sweat and he moved the phone to his other ear.

"Henry, I'll need you to do this job on your off hours and no one is to know about this special assignment. Do you want to help? You know, if we find her out, there could be one big promotion. I already put in your file how you helped with the apprehension last week," Kirk lied.

"Yes, I want the special assignment," he said nervously.

"Good, Henry. Later today I will bring up her sheet: where they live, where she takes her kids to school, and all that stuff. What I need you to do, is to follow her and log when she is alone. Find a time and place so that I can pick her up to interrogate her."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Smith. I will be ready to start stalking this traitor woman as soon as you give me the word. Is that all, sir?"

"Yes, for right now. And remember, this is top secret." Kirk hung up.

Henry sat at his security station excited, his adrenaline rushing. He was finally a real cop. Even better, he would be working undercover.

Kirk sat at his desk aroused, the blood rushing toward his manhood. He would soon have control over Sue. Then he would show her — how inferior she was. The thought of her screaming was a sick titillation that Kirk had to play out — it made him feel powerful, like a real man.

Mr. Henderson sat impatiently at his desk one floor below. He had to find out who tapped into the Department's computer. If the public found him out before he reached the pinnacle of his great plan, his dream would be destroyed. He had worked too hard and was so close to let anybody get in the way. Like many men in power, he could decide who should die to build his ideological world. Getting out from his chair with a grunt, he left the office, determined to get answers from Kirk.

The elevator startled Kirk when he heard it stopping on the second basement floor. No one was allowed on his floor. He started to move his hand to the gun in his shoulder harness. Mr. Henderson emerged and walked toward the command center of security monitors and keyboards. "What have you got on that guy that busted into our computer?" he yelled over the hum of all the open reel computer systems.

Kirk unfolded the map and laid it out over all the switches and controls at his command center. He had resolved another clue and hoped he could appease Mr. Henderson with the new information. "Look here," said Kirk while he pointed at the center of the map. "Look at this. About sixty miles west of here is a peak in the Rocky Mountains called Mt. Antero. What's also interesting is that it's within the two hundred mile radius of the computer hacker's calling zone."

"So what! No computer hacker lives on a mountain in the Rocky's. The guy is just stringing you on."

"I don't think so. One of our microwave sites, where we download the changed information onto the wire service, is on that mountain."

"Kirk, I don't care about all this computer microwave download stuff. What are you trying to tell me?"

"I think somehow somebody tapped into our computer at this microwave site up on Mt. Antero. I don't know how or what anybody would be doing up there, but I'm going to go up there first thing tomorrow morning and look around."

"Why don't you get up there right now?"

"It'll be dark up there in a few hours and I could get lost or stuck up there." Mr. Henderson accepted his excuse for not going right then. What he didn't know was Kirk still had Scott's wife on his mind and wanted to get Henry, his new confidant, on her trail.

Mr. Henderson looked at the chalk board where Kirk had written down all the times and clues about the infiltrator, then back at the map. He was fairly confident that Kirk would soon have his man, or kid, so he headed back down to his office without saying another word. It was too bad that some innocent person had to die, but Mr. Henderson told himself that a great leader has to push on and tune that part out.

Tuesday morning, Kirk started out early for Mt. Antero. He had almost forgotten that years ago an engineer had taken him up there to finalize the installation of the microwave transceiver for the Department. Ahead he spotted the weather-beaten sign: MT. ANTERO 3 MILES. He turned onto the gravel road within a short distance the road leading up became a forty-degree incline. The white, government-issued sedan spun its tires. Kirk tried several times but finally had to back down.

Back in the nearest town, he tried unsuccessfully to rent a four-wheel drive. Then he returned to Pueblo where he checked one out from the motor pool. It was past two before Kirk was back on the gravel road, moving slowly up the grade in low gear. He parked the truck, crawled under the gate and walked toward the concrete radio building. About ten feet in front of the steel door of the building Kirk saw the remains of a small fire. He then went to the concrete bunker, but could not get in because of the padlock on the door. Snooping around the site a little more, he noticed how pallets had been broken and burned and a big cable spool pushed up, probably to reflect the fire toward the bunker. He picked through some of the burnt charcoal and put some pieces in a plastic Ziplock bag. Now looking up at the three antenna towers, he realized one was aimed toward the Public Documents Distribution building in Pueblo. Everything seemed intact, but Kirk wanted to look inside the bunker for more clues.

Returning to the truck to find something to pry off the lock, Kirk found a tire iron. Back at the door he tried to break open the padlock but was not strong enough. Frustrated by his weak physical strength, he pulled the gun from his shoulder harness and shot the lock off. He opened the door and looked around. Nothing seemed abnormal — except for a torn blood-covered piece of cloth on the floor. Picking up the hunk of blood-covered material, he examined it and determined that it was a torn up man's undershirt. Now Kirk had another clue and he dropped the piece of material into the Ziplock bag that held the pieces of burnt wood.

Kirk just barely made it to the FBI lab in Denver before they closed for the day. He wanted them to test the charred wood to determine when it had been burnt and insisted that they do DNA testing on the blood on the piece of cloth. They needed authorization and Kirk tried to contact Mr. Henderson, but it was too late. Kirk left the Ziplock bag there, knowing one phone call from Mr. Henderson in the morning would have the whole FBI lab testing the evidence.

Because it was almost evening, Kirk decided not to go back to the Department. Besides, it was a good excuse to go check out a couple of kiddy porn shops he knew about in Denver.

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Reno had turned out to be too tempting for David. He had gone out gambling and drinking into the late hours Monday, getting only five hours sleep before leaving there Tuesday morning. Tired and somewhat hung over, David spent all day ridding to the central part of Oregon. Ten hours on a bike was too much for even a diehard biker. David found a motel for a much needed good night rest in the small town of Bend.

After checking in, David walked across the street to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. As he ate by himself, he kept thinking about what to say to Paul's father. Mr. Miller and David never did get along and David empathized with Paul because David's own parents had distanced themselves from him when he started living with Marcea. But the difference was, David had a whole life ahead to patch things up.

The waiter brought over the check and asked, "Was everything okay?"

"Yes, just fine." Then David started thinking about how important families were. A big family reunion at a wedding bringing everyone together would be great. Everyone there will be happy. Paul will be my Best Man, or maybe he could perform the ceremony since he's a priest. We would invite Paul's parents and they would be so proud of their son. Hopefully, Paul's father will listen to what I say tomorrow and be strong enough to forgive so that he can truly see the man Paul is. Marcea's mother would be there, happy that we are no longer living together unmarried. Even my family would be happy about that. It won't be a big wedding, but the ceremony would be wonderful because everyone would be there celebrating in love.

David finished his dinner, paid the check and walked back to the motel. Inside the room he went right to the phone and called directory assistance to get the phone number of Paul's parents in Portland. The phone rang five times before someone picked it up. "Hello," a pleasant voice said.

"Is Mr. Miller there?"

"Yes. This is Mrs. Miller. May I tell him who is calling?"

"This is David. I'm an old friend of Paul."

Now the voice on the other end of the phone was excited. "Is this David McIntosh?"

"Yes, it is."

"It is so good to hear your voice. It's been over twenty years since we talked. Paul just sent me a letter telling me that he visited you. He sure thinks a lot of you. He told me about the beautiful girlfriend that you have, the wonderful dinner he had with you, and her children, and how his weekend ended with his baptizing her son Danny. He said it was one of the best things about being a priest. I'm so proud of him. Anyway, I will go get Mr. Miller. Otherwise, I might go on forever."

There was a long pause before Paul's father picked up the phone. "Hello, this is Dean Miller."

"Mr. Miller, this is David McIntosh. Do you remember me?" David asked nervously.

"Yes, I remember you. You were a friend of Paul's. What do you want with me?"

"I would like to come and talk to you about Paul. I'm in Central Oregon now and plan to be in Portland tomorrow."

"Whatever you have to tell me about Paul, I'm not interested. I hardly even consider him my son these days. Don't waste your time coming to see me."

"I am sorry you feel that way. Maybe if you give me a chance to explain things, you might feel differently. I can come to your business or home, whichever you prefer."

"Don't be coming to my home!" warned Mr. Miller.

"Okay, then I will come to your business. Do you still own Ace Electrical and Plumbing Wholesales?"

"Yes! But don't bother coming by there either. I will be too busy!" Mr. Miller screamed into the phone and then hung up on David.

David was mad and dialed back only to get a busy signal. He tried several more times and finally called the motel manager to see if he had a Portland phone book. The manager did and was able to give David the address of Ace Electrical and Plumbing Wholesales. David was on the road early Wednesday, determined to get to Mr. Miller's business before closing time.

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As David was traveling to Portland, Kirk was having Mr. Henderson call the FBI lab to get them started testing the charcoal and blood. The fire and bloody piece of shirt had to be final pieces to the puzzle. Once the FBI determined blood type and did DNA testing, he would be that much closer. Kirk informed Mr. Henderson that he was almost positive that the fire was fresh and most likely had been built that Friday night.

Returning to the second floor, Kirk went to the chalkboard and added two new clues to the information all ready written:

1. Friday night message: MY NANE DDAVID MCLINTOCK PLESSE HELP I''M TRAPD ON MTANTREO. EMERGECY.

2. Message one hour later: NEED HELP! MAN IS FREEZING. MY NAME IS PAUL. I NEED HELP IMMEDIATELY!

3. Message Monday afternoon: IS MR. HENDERSON THERE?

4. Thursday went to Lowry Air Base: Airman Green admits to selling Clipper Chip to someone in a white truck with a business name on door.

5. Tuesday 11 days from first contact: Found blood covered torn shirt and evidence of a fire on Mt. Antero.

Kirk put the chalk down and stepped back. Let's see. This guy gets hurt up on the mountain and can't get down. That explains the bloody shirt. It gets dark and cold and he starts to shake so he decides to tap into the computer line for help. He is shaking as he is typing on his keyboard. That explains all the misspelled words. Then he builds a fire, warms up, and tries to change his name to cover himself — especially since he owns the stolen Clipper Chip. This guy has to be a technician for the phone company. Who else would be up there and know how to tap into the equipment? This David McClintock is no match for me.

Walking back around his console of computers and security monitors, Kirk dug into a drawer and pulled out the phone book. He flipped open the front cover and called the number for Telephone Service. He asked if they had a David McClintock working for them but was told that employee names were not given out. After being transferred to several different Departments, the Personnel Manager said she would see if she could release the information and that she would call back after lunch.

The electric latch buzzed and Kirk opened the red steel door. Mr. Henderson was looking over some false information Scott had put into the Wednesday morning papers. He was pleased with how Scott was chipping away at Christian good works and influence's. The Department was so close. The new administration just approved a bill for the Super Information Highway that would make controlling information and statistics even simpler. Mr. Henderson was almost there. He felt in control. Nothing and nobody could stop him now.

Kirk strutted over and sat in the chair in front of Mr. Henderson's desk and proudly revealed his synopsis. "I should have the computer infiltrator soon. I think I know what the bloody piece of shirt and fire are all about. The blood is probably from a phone company technician who got hurt up there and couldn't drive down. Then when it got cold . . . I checked the weather report for that Friday and the freezing level was at 14,000 feet, the same elevation of Mt. Antero. That explains all the misspelled words. The guy said he was freezing and probably could not type. Then he built a fire and tried to use a different name because he knew if he got caught with the Clipper Chip he would be in big trouble. Then somebody came up and got him. I noticed two different tire patterns by the gate."

Mr. Henderson leaned back in his chair, pleased with what Kirk had pieced together. "Do you know where the technician lives?"

"No, not yet. I am waiting for a call back from somebody at the phone company for that information."

"I thought you told me you would have the guy soon!" yelled Mr. Henderson, upset that Kirk had not already eliminated the problem. "It's been over ten days. I've had enough of your excuses. What phone company maintains that equipment up there?"

"Midstate Bell."

Mr. Henderson picked up the phone and ordered his secretary to connect him with Midstate Phone Company. In less than ten minutes, having dropped a few key names, Mr. Henderson had the vice president of the company on the phone. After talking for about thirty minutes, Mr. Henderson gave him the name David McClintock and then hung up.

Kirk sat there the whole half hour not moving or saying a word, hoping that his hunch was correct and that this David did work for the phone company. But there was one piece of all the clues that just did not fit: How would a phone technician know about Mr. Henderson?

The phone rang. Kirk knew that it must be the vice president of the phone company calling back. Mr. Henderson picked up the phone. "Jack Henderson here."

"Mr. Henderson, I checked our personnel records and we don't have a David McClintock working for us."

"Did you check your old records to see if he was ever employed by you?"

"Yes, I did, and we have never had a David McClintock working for as far back as I could check the records. But one of our technicians who maintains that microwave site told me that there are some television translators there and the guy who repairs them is named David. That is all I know."

"Did your technician know this David's last name?"

"No, but he said he drives a white pickup with the name Bill's Electronic Service on it."

Mr. Henderson grabbed a pen and wrote down BILL'S ELECTRONIC SERVICE. He said, "Thank you," and then slid the paper across his desk to Kirk.

Kirk picked up the piece of paper and knew not to say much. "I will go check this out right now."

"You'd better hope that this David is the guy we're looking for. And take care of by him by noon or I will get somebody who can do the job. You sold me on all this high security computer equipment and it didn't work."

Taking the piece of paper, Kirk returned to the second floor. He dialed Directory Assistance and they had the phone number of a Bill's Electronic Service in Aurora, a small town south of Denver. Kirk hung up and then dialed the number. The phone rang three times. "Bill's Electronics. Bill here."

"Bill, I am looking for David McClintock. Is he there?" asked Kirk, holding his breath and hoping this lead panned out.

"No, he's not here right now. And his name is McIntosh, not McClintock. Can I help y'all?"

"No, I just needed to talk with David. That was McIntosh, right?"

"Yeah, right." Bill hung up the phone.

Kirk called Directory Assistance again, wrote down the phone number and address of a David McIntosh that lived in Castle Rock, then immediately left the building and headed north on Interstate 25. Turning off at the Castle Rock exit, he pulled into the abandoned gas station, got out of the car and went to the trunk. Across the road was a small store, but nobody was watching, no witnesses who would have to be eliminated. Kirk opened the trunk, pulled out a shotgun, and pumped a shell into the chamber. He threw the rifle onto the seat, got back into the car, and studied a map — prepared to meet his opponent face to face.

Kirk drove by the brown and yellow mobile home. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the white pickup truck in front of the carport. He slowed to read the BILL'S ELECTRONIC SERVICE decal on the door of the truck. He drove up the road, turned around, then stopped where he could watch the house undetected. He needed to wait, to track, then kill his prey.

It was only a matter of half an hour before the door opened and Marcea bounced down the ramp to check the mail box. Wearing a leotard and a sport bra, her hair was pulled up on her head. She opened the box, grabbed the mail, and sorted through it while walking back toward the house.

Kirk waited ten more minutes but found no more activity at the house. He needed to do something, Mr. Henderson would not be pleased if he came back empty handed. The truck in the driveway was a good indication that David was there. Kirk got out of the car.

Marcea was reading and rereading the postcard David had sent. It was short and sweet and said how much he missed her. Marcea had just taken the postcard into the bedroom and put it with her special things when the door bell rang. Running down the hall to the door, almost expecting it to be David or a surprise, she open it. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm looking for David. Is he home?"

"No, he won't be home for a week or more."

"Is there any way that I can get in touch with him?" Kirk smiled wickedly, looking Marcea up and down. Her leotard accented her firm athletic body, her frazzled hair not distracting a bit from her natural beauty.

Marcea felt the unwelcome gaze, and realized she may have volunteered too much information. "That's all I know. Why don't you check back then?" she said and shut the door. Her heart raced; from her short dancing career she recognized that sick gaze all too well.

Standing on the porch, Kirk said," No bitch slams a door in my face." He was just about ready to kick in the door when a small yellow school bus stopped right in front of the house. The driver got off, looked at Kirk and then went to the back of the specially equipped bus. Kirk knew he had been seen so turned and left the porch.

After the driver lowered Danny on the lift gate, Danny unlocked his wheels, and started pushing himself down the walk toward Kirk. When the two met, Kirk put his foot out preventing Danny from going on. Kirk looked down at Danny and very loudly asked, "When is your daddy getting home?"

Danny knew the man's loud talking only showed his ignorance but he sensed evil as well. Danny let his head slump like he always did to anyone that talked loudly, slowly or would not bother bending down and at least make eye contact with him. Danny played his deaf-mute role for a while and then, when he raised up, he caught a glimpse of the gun through Kirk's opened jacket. Scared and worried for his mother, he rammed the footrest of his wheelchair into Kirk's ankle.

The chair tore some skin from Kirk's ankle, causing him to jump out of the way. "Stupid deaf mute can't even walk," Kirk yelled as he limped toward his car.

When Danny got to the porch, Marcea quickly opened the door, she was white with fear. Turning his chair, Danny memorized the license plate. "What did he want?" Danny asked.

"He was looking for David," Marcea said in a shaken voice. They went inside and Danny immediately went back to his bedroom to enter the license plate number into his computer. He also typed in a description of Kirk: FIVE FOOT TEN, ONE HUNDRED FORTY POUNDS, WHITE HAIR PULLED BACK INTO A PONYTAIL, ALSO HAS SILVER GUN IN SHOULDER HARNESS.

Kirk stopped back at the abandoned gas station to check his ankle. It had quit bleeding but was already bruised. He thought about going back, dumping Danny out of his chair and making him watch as he taught Marcea a lesson. But he remembered that the bus driver had gotten a good look at him, he changed his plan. Kirk looked at the map and decided to go check out Bill's Electronic Service for a possible clue.

He headed north on Interstate 25 to Aurora, a small town just south of Denver. The vision of Marcea bouncing out to the mailbox in her leotard excited Kirk as he drove. When the time is right, I'll show that broad to shut a door in my face. I'll show her. She will never have another man like me. She won't admit it, but she'll enjoy everything I do to her.

The sky-blue building with Bill's face under a big cowboy hat painted on the side was easy to spot. Kirk parked out front and went inside. Bill was at the counter. "Can I help y'all?"

"I called earlier about David McIntosh. I need to find him."

"I told you he's not here right now," said Bill. "Can't I help you?"

"I need to know where he is, or when he'll be back." Kirk demanded. "Well, I don't see that it's any of your business."

Kirk prided himself getting information from people. "Maybe you could help me out. Does David work on those television translators up on Mt. Antero?"

"Yes, we both do. We have a contract to keep them on the air. What is it to you?" Bill asked, getting somewhat perturbed with the questions.

"Hey, don't give me any guff, you big Texan ox. If I want answers, I will get them. You don't know who you're dealing with!"

All six foot four, two hundred fifty plus pounds of Bill came around the counter. Grabbing Kirk by his skinny little neck, he headed him for the door. Opening the door, and with one push, he shoved Kirk out of his shop. "Its you who doesn't know who you are dealing with!"

Kirk was scared. He thought of pulling out and showing Bill his gun, but he had a better idea. He would be back with a fake search warrant and some help.

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It was ironic — just about a thousand miles away, David was also being kicked out of a business. David rode all morning across Mt. Hood and the Cascades to Mr. Miller's business. He found the big two-story warehouse in an industrial area of Portland. Inside the door a stairway led up to the offices. David was stopped by a secretary and she had David sit outside Mr. Miller's office door for over an hour. While David waited, he examined all Mr. Miller awards and pictures displayed on the wall. He had become a very prominent citizen. There was even a picture of the governor presenting him with the Business Man of the Year Award. As David sat back down and patiently waited, he watched over twenty salespersons busy on the phones taking and placing orders. It was a hectic place. Between a break in the secretary's calls, David got up and asked her to remind her boss that he wanted to talk to him. She did so reluctantly and then informed David that Mr. Miller was too busy and that if he did not leave she had instructions to call security.

That was it! David went back down the stairs, walked out to his Harley, swung his leg over and, while pulling on his helmet, told himself. At least I tried. Just as David was about to jump on the kick starter, he noticed the green phone company junction box next to him on the side of the warehouse. Without a second thought, David casually got back off his bike, bent down, and took out his tool-roll from the compartment under the seat. Then, armed with a pair of pliers, he twisted the phone company security seal off and opened the green metal door. Counting seventeen incoming pair of wires from the trunk line, he looked for some markings to identify which line went to Mr. Miller's office. David could not identify it because only a few were marked. What the hell! He started disconnecting one wire of each pair on every incoming line. In less than four minutes he closed the green metal door, went back inside and up the stairs of the warehouse. There was a pleasant stillness; not a single phone rung. Even the babble of sales conversation had ceased; the staff sat dazed. Mr. Miller busted out of his office door and yelled, "Someone get to a pay phone and call the phone company. I'm losing thousands of dollars." Two employees bolted from their desk and ran past David as he stood at the top of the stairs.

"Dean, could you spare me a few minutes?" David asked loudly across the order taking room. Twenty plus heads turned and looked at David. Who would dare call Mr. Miller by his first name?

"Can't you see I don't have the time? I've got a disaster here," Mr. Miller yelled.

"Yeah, and if your time wasn't so valuable, maybe your son wouldn't be facing a disaster himself."

Nobody even breathed. You could have heard a pin drop. Ever since Mr. Miller removed all Paul's trophies and medals from his office, the rumors had been circulating. And he never did display the recently commissioned painting from a photo of Paul being ordained a priest.

"We'll talk in my office." Mr. Miller motioned for David to come in. Closing the office door shut out all twenty plus pair of inquisitive eyes. Mr. Miller had become different since the last time Paul walked out of that office, after he had disowned his own son. The recent change in Mr. Miller made it even harder to work at Ace Electric and Plumbing. At least two employees had quit, due to the tension.

Mr. Miller stood behind his desk. Looking out into the parking lot, he saw David's Harley parked there with baggage lashed to it. Without even turning he said, "You never will grow up, David? I see you're still riding one of those damn motorcycles."

"It's a Harley," said David, walking across the large office to behind Mr. Miller's desk and then plopping down in the executive chair. Some things never change; they were already at each other. David leaned back and put his boots up on the desk. Mr. Miller still hardly acknowledged his presence. During the entire drive to Oregon, David had been rehearsing what he would say to Paul's father, but he still didn't have the words.

"Could you take your feet off my desk? And hurry up. My time is valuable — not like yours, driving all over the country. That's why you will never amount to anything. You're a nobody, just like my son."

David put his feet down, stood up and headed for the door. He could see he was wasting his time. With his hand on the door knob he looked back over his shoulder with a despicable glare. "You know, Dean, you never did like me. At one time I wanted to grow up and be a big success just like you. But now that I really see you, you're the one that's nothing." "What do you mean nothing? David, you will never have one tenth of what I got."

David boldly walked over and was now eye to eye with Mr. Miller. "You're wrong, Dean. I have something all your success and money can't buy. I have your son for a true brother. There might be blood between the two of you, but there is something more between us."

Mr. Miller thought that maybe David was Paul's lover. It all added up, and this made it easier to pin the blame someplace else. Deep down Mr. Miller needed to justify all the hours, over all the years, he spent at work away from the quality family time he let pass by. He needed a rationale, a trade off. Not wanting to accept fault, now pegged David as the root of all Paul's problems. "Go on, explain this great bond between yourself and Paul."

"Sure, okay." David took a moment to gather his words. "I don't care for the lifestyle Paul had chosen to live before he became a priest. I can't hold it against him though, because, in a way, I'm still living that way. Anyway, what about that night we won the State Football Championship and he caught you with your secretary? Did he hold that against you? Hell no. All he did was love you. You were never there for Paul. Although it looked like you were the perfect family, the truth is you're just another defunct absent father. What's really twisted is that your son needs you now more then ever and all you can think about is yourself." It wasn't eloquent but David had said his piece.

The eminent and prominent Mr. Miller had never allowed anyone to talk to him like David had. But he was more stunned than angry. "You know about my having that affair? Did Paul tell you?"

David just shook his head side to side in disgust. Mr. Miller was petrified that someone was on to his not-so-spotless past. "Hey, don't worry about it. I knew you were cheating on your wife before Paul ever did. I use to see your car parked behind that motel on Burnside Street when I was a junior. That was my business, nobody else's."

Dean respected David for his silence over the years. All he could think to say was, " Thank you, David. I owe you for never bringing that out into the open. You could have destroyed my business and family. How can I pay you for your continued silence?"

"You see, Dean? You just said business before family. You've still got your priorities in the wrong order. But you're right. You do owe me," David said, responding to the offer.

Mr. Miller swallowed hard. "Just tell me how much I owe you."

Now David was in charge. This was the first time he ever had the upper hand on Mr. Miller. "The price I am going to ask is more than you will want to give. And if you are as big a man as you want people to think you are, you will pay it."

Being a business man, Mr. Miller figured he could barter if necessary. He sat down at his desk and David pulled up a chair in front of him. David needed a few questions answered first. "Did Paul ever tell you about his sexual experience with Judy, that girl that was tutoring him in math? Or did you know about how he almost date raped his Senior Prom date?"

"No. Sex was something Paul and I never talked about. I left that up to the school system."

"That's a great excuse Dean — blame everything on the teachers. And you're right, the school was teaching us all about sex, but that was all they could teach. They couldn't teach the moral side of it, or all the complications that came along with having sex too early. Those are the parents' responsibilities. Maybe you failed Paul by not talking with him. My father told me that if I got a girl pregnant he would kill me first, then make me do the right thing and marry her. Did you ever give any of that fatherly advice to Paul?"

"No, I never did! I just couldn't do that father/son talk thing, plus I was too busy." Dean stopped. This was the first he heard anything about Paul's sex life, except for when Paul told him about being HIV positive. "What has Paul told you? That the reason he is a fag is all my fault? Just because I didn't explain the facts of life to him?"

"The correct word is homosexual. And your answer is no, Paul is too big a man to blame anyone for his life. I think that you let Paul down; you were never there for him."

"What do you know about our relationship? I built this whole business for him; he could have taken it over if he wanted. I worked hard to get this, and plenty of sons would give their eye teeth to have what Paul could have had."

"All Paul wanted was for you to be there more of the time. I remember how we would run on the football field and he would search the stands for you. Building this business was important to you, not Paul."

Mr. Miller continued in his denial, "True, I may not have made it to many games, and maybe I should have spent sometime explaining sex and women with Paul. But we were close as any father son."

"Dean, you were never close. You were always too preoccupied with becoming somebody or something. You always thought you were so important, above everything, even God. I can't understand how the rest of your family has stood by your side all these years."

Mr. Miller had had enough. "Lets cut the small talk. Name your price!"

"I'll name my price when I finish. This is not another one of your business deals where you can buy out of your responsibility." David paused to get back on the subject. "You say you and Paul were so close. Did you ever talk with him about his tour in Vietnam?"

"No, I never had time." Mr. Miller's tone reflected his shame.

"You don't have the faintest idea about the ugly side of war that Paul lives with every day, about the enemy Paul shot and how while dragging him off the road, a picture of this man's family fell out. How would you like that image staring back at you, burning away at your conscience for over twenty years? Sure, he was decorated and he fought bravely for what he believed in, but he needed your support when he came back. Everyone turned their backs on us when we came back. Paul just needed to talk. Did you ever think maybe he needed you?"

Mr. Miller's guilt was surfacing. This war had been different. When the soldiers returned there were no parades, no honor from the others. Regrettably, some dastards blamed them for the war. Dean had remained neutral, but he knew there was no excuse for not even thanking his own son. Paul and David were part of the thousands who offered their lives so that people throughout the world could be free. It went beyond the war being right or wrong; it was about brave men who served and sacrificed.

Silence filled the office; enough had been said. Dean looked at David and could not deny that his small empire was only possible because of the soldiers in all wars who fought for freedom — just like his son, and even David. Mr. Miller felt selfish and empty inside. David was right: he was not half the man Paul was. Without another word, David got up and was at the door before Mr. Miller said, "You still haven't named your price. What do I owe you for your silence?"

With his hand on the doorknob, David turned halfway around and answered, "You don't owe me a thing. And, if you ever talk to Paul again, please don't tell him we had this conversation. If you can keep your silence, so can I." David left and as he walked across the sales office he could feel the gaze from the workers. He held his head high.

Mr. Miller sat numbly at his desk in the foreign stillness of the usual hectic office warehouse. Then one phone rang out, breaking the calm, then another, and another. He got up from his desk, walked to the window and saw David standing in front of the telephone equipment box. It took about ten minutes before David had all the lines hooked back up. When David shut the green phone equipment box, he glanced toward the warehouse and saw Mr. Miller watching him from the second story window. Dean gave one short wave just before David mounted his Harley and rode off.

Mr. Miller returned to his desk, buzzed for his secretary. Helen, plain-looking but very efficient, had been with him for twenty years. She had replaced Elaine years ago, after Elaine's affair with Mr. Miller ended. "Yes, Mr. Miller," Helen said, standing in front of his desk with a pad in pencil in hand.

"Helen, could you have the maintenance man bring up that box of my son's trophies and war medals that I had you store a couple of months ago?"

"Yes sir," she replied, hiding a smile. Mr. Miller had not been the same since he had her removed those things from his office.

"And that painting I had commissioned of my son being ordained as a priest, I want put out in the waiting area. Take down some of my pictures to make room. I want it right in the center."

"Yes sir," Helen replied again, bursting inside. "Is that all?"

"Yes, one last thing. Tell all the employees to take the rest of day off. I'd like them to spend some time with their families, or whatever."

Helen left the office with Mr. Miller's instructions. The phones were switched over to the answering service; the maintenance man brought up the box of Paul's items and hung the oil painting in the reception area. Fifteen minutes later everyone had left, happy to have afternoon off, yet confounded why, because this had never happened before.

Helen was the last employeel in the building and she knocked on Mr. Miller door, entered and said, "Paul's items are right out the door here. Would you like me to stay and help?"

When Mr. Miller stood up from his desk it was like an enormous weight had just slid off him. He walked over to Helen, put his arm around her, and together they walked out of his office and across the reception area to the top of the stairs. Mr. Miller thanked her and told her to go home. When he turned around, the oil painting of Paul's ordination was now hanging in the center of all his own achievements — where it was meant to be.

Helen looked back from the bottom of the stairs and saw Mr. Miller standing there, weeping like a child. The whole office warehouse was now silent and Helen quietly locked the door behind her. Mr. Miller took out each artifact he had of Paul's life and put them back on display, his soul being cleansed and purged. No matter what, Paul was his son and he was proud. After almost an hour of reminiscing and making sure every trophy was in its place, Dean went in to his office, over to his desk and picked up a pen.

Dear son,

I don't know where to start, but I can't go on with the hate that is taking over my life. I'm truly sorry for the way that I reacted the last time you were here, and I'm also sorry for not being there many of the important times in your life. While I was convincing myself that working all the time was for my family, the truth was that I was satisfying my own ego.

Paul, I was never the great athlete you were nor the war hero you became, but I was a good businessman. I had always hoped you would want to take over the business I had built. When you showed no interest, I was hurt. I then dove in further, building even a bigger empire that could have been your's by just asking.

When you told your mother and I that you were going to study to be a priest, I didn't say much because I was hurt. Instead of working to gain financial prominence, you chose to lead a simple life and dedicate your life to others. I remember, at your ordination, the glow that radiated from you. That day I was so proud of you, but at the same time I was jealous and envious. It is hard for me to admit but I think that I resented you for always being a better man than I.

I have to be honest. When you told me you were homosexual, I was let down. My disappointment overshadowed my grief over your testing HIV positive. Now I must live with how I responded. I have asked myself what kind of father I am. A man that can't even forgive his own flesh and blood. God knows, I've had plenty of indiscretions in my life and you never held them against me. It is time that I leave all the judging to God. I'm sure that He has forgiven you and so do I.

Paul, you have always had a special grace about yourself that made me proud so many times. I don't really know what it is. It wasn't necessarily the fact you were an all star athlete or a war hero. Maybe it was your feeling toward others. Whatever it is, I am still very proud to have you as my son.

There is so much I need to say and so much I should have done. The one thing I want you to know is, I am here for you now and will be later. Please forgive me for all that I have failed to do. I would very much like to see you soon.

Love,

Dad

Mr. Miller set the pen down, read over the letter, then called a florist and ordered flowers delivered to his wife. He then called and made dinner reservations. He felt like a whole man and wanted to celebrate his cleansing. Reaching for the pen he added a post script.

P.S. One more thing, Son. I have yet to tell your mother. I once read someplace that women will bear the pain of bringing children into the world and that men will live with the pain after that. Man to man, we should share this together. When the time comes, I would like to explain everything with her, in my words.

May God bless our family.

 

 

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