Leo Haggerty walks the long wall of the Vietnam War Memorial, his girlfriend, Samantha, and his best friend, Arnie, at his sides. Arnie wanders away and meets a young boy whose mother asks if the veteran could lift her son up high enough to read the name of his uncle, his namesake. Some men might break down at the sight of the wall, but Arnie is stone-faced. Since he returned from ’Nam, nothing moves him at all. That night, a newsbreak: There’s been a bombing at the memorial. Nineteen are dead, including the child.
The FBI pursues the case doggedly, but they get nowhere, and it falls to Haggerty to prove that a man found dead in a motel room, suicide note by his side, did not, in fact, kill himself. As the case points him toward the bombers whose rampage has struck fear into the heart of Washington, DC, Haggerty will find out there’s a dark side to patriotism.
A Tax in Blood is the 3rd book in the Leo Haggerty Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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A Tax in Blood
A Leo Haggerty Mystery
By Benjamin M. Schutz
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1987 Benjamin M. Schutz
All rights reserved.
The black wall is something to see. It appears before you, unexpected but no accident, like Stonehenge does on the green English fields. To get to the wall you pass a statue of three fighting men. Like Cerberus, they guard their dead comrades. Though there are other ways to the wall, if you don't pass by their fierce gaze you are sneaking in.
Arnie, Samantha and I stopped in front of them and silently requested permission to pass. To my eyes their gaze was an accusatory one of equal parts anger, hurt and disbelief. "You sent us there. This is what happened to us. Did you get what you wanted? Was it worth it?" The questions tolled off in my mind like cathedral bells signalling noon. I had no answers on my tongue, just a thickening in my throat.
Samantha laced her fingers in mine, and we went down to the wall. Arnie had moved slowly away from us. He was casually dressed except for the blue and white ribbon around his neck and the medal that hung from it. Mirrored sunglasses kept the world at bay.
As we approached the wall I began to read the names of the dead men. We descended below ground, and the names began to pile up. Soon I could read only one name on each line of a panel. Then only one name on one line of a panel. It was too much. There were too many names and they multiplied faster than I could count them. I looked up. Ahead, it was a long way to the bottom. Each panel was larger than the one we'd passed. I turned to go back the way we'd come in and was surprised at how far in we were. There was no way out except past the dead: the ones behind us or the ones ahead.
Further on Arnie had stopped. He stood at attention and snapped off a salute. He'd found a friend. Nearby a small boy stood looking up at him. The boy backed away and without taking his eyes off Arnie reached up for his mother's hand.
As we marched up the incline, I fought off the impulse to look away. Each name fought to make a personal claim, but the numbers undid that. It was simply too much. I looked down at the base of the wall. Here and there small flags were stuck in the dirt, along with flowers and pictures. I squatted down to look at a photo. Here's your daughter Tammy Sue. She's real proud of you was scrawled underneath a school portrait. I shook my head. Though Samantha had walked along with me the entire way, I felt utterly alone.
Another veteran in a wheelchair passed us. He looked about my age. I felt vaguely embarrassed that I was not maimed. His arms were folded uselessly in his lap and an older, white-haired woman was pushing him along. Though his head lolled unsteadily as he rolled past, above his red beard his gaze was piercing and clear.
The woman with the small boy who had been standing next to Arnie reached up to touch the wall. Slowly, fingers touching stone, she traced a name like a blind person does the face of a loved one. Tears streamed down her face, and for a moment she staggered and pressed her head against the cool stone.
I went up to Arnie and put a hand on his shoulder. He did not stiffen nor did he acknowledge it.
With his arm around his mother's leg the boy continued to stare up at Arnie.
"That's my uncle's name up there. He was a hero in the war. Were you a hero?" the boy asked.
"No, son. I was just lucky."
The boy's mother straightened up, wiped at her tears and reached down to stroke her son's head. She sniffed back a tear and said, "It's my brother he's talking about. Jimmy's a little heavy to pick up that high. I wonder if you could lift him up so he can see his uncle's name and touch it. I named him after my brother. Keep the family name alive and all that." Her voice had a slight Southern drawl.
Arnie reached down and picked the little boy up under the arms. He held him aloft like an offering to a silent god.
"What's his uncle's name, ma'am?" he asked.
"James Tucker Calhoun."
"Just like me. That's my name, too," the boy crowed.
Arnie scanned the wall for a moment and found the name. "Here it is, Jimmy. Your uncle's name. Reach out and touch it. Pay your respects." The little boy reached out and traced it just as his mother had done. When he was finished he snapped off a small salute, like he'd seen Arnie do.
Arnie gave him back to his mother. She thanked him and let her eyes wander over him, searching for a mark perhaps or anything that would explain why this man had come back and her brother hadn't. Arnie turned away after a clipped wave to little Jimmy and we three trudged up from the depths of the wall.
We walked across the gardens, past the kiosk and pool towards our cars. In the distance a group carrying placards was marching in a circle. When we got closer, I read the messages: ONCE WAS TOO MUCH, NO MORE VIETNAMS, LEAVE CENTRAL AMERICA NOW, CIA ADVISORS TEACH DEATH. A fifteen-year-old case of paranoia made me visually sweep the area looking for FBI crew-cuts taking pictures, compiling dossiers. Original sin runs deep, and even studying history doesn't seem to help us.
We crossed Constitution Avenue to our cars. Arnie stopped at his, turned his back to us and put his key in the door lock. Samantha reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. When he turned back she said, "Arnie, I can't believe you can come here and just walk away like this. I mean, I've been trying not to cry the whole time and I wasn't even there. I know you have feelings. Don't keep them all to yourself. We're your friends. Let us ..."
Arnie just stared at her. "You don't know what you're talking about. What you see is what you get." He turned away, opened the old Nova's door, slid in and closed us out. When the motor turned over he rolled down the window and said, "Thanks for coming down here with me. That's what I needed, nothing else. If and when I need more I know who to ask and how to ask. See you at the dojo tomorrow, Leo." With that he pulled away.
I slid an arm around Samantha's shoulder. "You all right?" I asked.
She looked up and smiled weakly. "Yeah, a little stung is all. Why is he like that? He's so damned cold. He's like a machine."
"He's a samurai."
"I know. I know, that's what you say about him all the time, but what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"When I say Arnie's a samurai, that's not quite true. He can't be. This isn't feudal Japan and he wasn't raised from the cradle to be a warrior. Underneath that shell there's still twenty years of corn-fed American dreamer. What he's added on is the Japanese idea of giri or debts of obligation. All relationships in Japan are based on them. They must be discharged to maintain your honor. For the samurai, or warrior, that means a commitment to death before dishonor."
"But why hold on to that code now? The war is over. He acts like he's still at war with everyone. Doesn't he know how to make peace?"
"Not until he makes peace with himself. I think that the samurai code was a piece of field surgery he did on himself over there. Maybe he's afraid of what will happen if he shucks that armor now. I don't know."
Samantha shivered as a gust of wind blew up. "Can we continue this discussion in the car?"
I let Samantha in and walked around the car. She reached across and unlocked my door from the inside. I slid in and turned the engine on.
"What did you mean when you said 'field surgery'?" she asked.
"Field surgery just keeps a guy alive, or in one piece until he can be medevacked to a real hospital where they try to repair the damage. Adopting the samurai code makes a lot of sense when you think about the war."
"The samurai pursues something the Japanese call makoto or purity of spirit. This purity of spirit means acting totally on impulses from the core of your being, unpolluted by calculating reason. Right or wrong is not as important as a pure heart. To risk death on a quest that cannot succeed is the perfect task for a samurai as a test of his makoto. If that isn't a thumbnail sketch of the Vietnam War I don't know what is. I think adopting that code gave Arnie a way to salvage some meaning out of a situation that for lots of people had deteriorated into absurdity. He wove that code pretty deeply into the fabric of his being; he had to. I'm not sure he can put it aside now."
She sat for a while, thinking. "Okay, I understand all that, but you know sometimes I'm not sure if he's looking for a way to live or a way to die."
"I'm not sure he sees a difference. In his dojo there's a sign that says 'Practice dying every day. You get only one chance to do it right.'"
"God, what a way to live." She shook her head.
We crossed the Memorial Bridge into Virginia and took I-395 South through Arlington to the Duke Street exit and Samantha's apartment. As we pulled up in front of her building I tried one last time to talk her into being irresponsible and having dinner with me.
"Leo, I can't and you know it," she said. "This manuscript is due in New York by Tuesday and I have a ton of work left to do on it. I shouldn't have come out today but it was important. Now I need to hole up with this and get it done. Please let me finish my work. I'll be a lot more fun to be around when it's off my mind."
I nodded in resignation. "Okay. Call me when it's done." The giveaway that I had no chance was when she said please. It's her way of asking me not to make her say no. She'd do it if she had to but she'd rather not. We kissed good-bye and I drove home.CHAPTER 2
As soon as I got in I went over to the television and turned it on. The Dallas game would be starting soon. My stock with Samantha had gone up appreciably when she found out that I had a share in season tickets to the Redskins games. Unfortunately I'd lost the toss to my brother. He and his latest honey were at the game. Twenty-five years ago when my father first got them, you couldn't give away Redskins tickets. Now the waiting list for them is measured in eons. Holding a pair of them can boost your social standing tremendously. They exempt you from the required years of breeding and wads of money. At least from September to January they do.
I went into the kitchen as they announced the one-hundred-and-forty-something consecutive sellout of the stadium. Fifty-five thousand screaming fanatics created such an adrenaline contact high that playing at home was worth damn near a touchdown to the Redskins. I put some leftover pizza in the microwave and opened an Anchor Steam beer. As I watched the camera pan around the stadium at the fifty-five thousand cheering faces, I was jolted by the image of a skull in every seat. That's how many names were on that wall: a sellout at RFK. What a waste. We don't kill people anymore, we "waste" them. Just ask any punk on the street.
When the pizza was hot I took it and my beer to the living room and tried to get lost in the game. The Redskins were eating up the yards and the clock. The ball was on the three yard line and everyone in Washington knew it was going to Rogers behind the Hogs. Knowing it and stopping it are worlds apart. Rogers took the ball and headed towards Grimm and Jacoby. Between them appeared a hole a yard wide. I leaned forward ready to cheer. Suddenly the picture disappeared. SPECIAL NEWS REPORT flashed on the screen. I was staring at the face of a local anchorman.
"We interrupt this broadcast of the Redskins-Cowboys football game to bring you this emergency report from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial." He touched the receiver in his ear. "Dick, are you ready? Okay, go with it."
The next picture was of a reporter standing on the grassy knoll opposite the wall. He was repeatedly running his hands through his hair and there was a stain on his shirt the camera couldn't avoid.
"Minutes ago, a bomb, apparently hidden in a picnic basket, exploded here at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The police have cordoned off the area and are holding everyone in the immediate area for questioning." The howl of an ambulance rose above his voice. Cries and wails could be heard over that. He went on. "We're going to try to get closer to the wall if we can. What you hear are the survivors." He began to walk down the path we had taken towards the wall. The minicam eye followed him. A police officer held up a hand and halted them. After a brief conversation, the reporter turned back. "We're not being allowed any closer. We're going to try to pan the scene from here."
I stared at the set, fascinated and horrified. Rubbernecking at a crash site. You missed me. You missed me. There but for the grace of God, go I. To feel the chill and still live. The camera zoomed in. The wall was pitted and scarred. Many of the names had been obliterated by the shrapnel. Whole panels were cracked in jagged lines. As the camera's merciless eye crossed the wall closer to the ground, you could see stains on the wall, pools in the dirt and then the slowly spinning wheel of an upended wheelchair. Paramedics with stretchers were crisscrossing the screen. Each body they carried was sheeted head to foot.
The camera moved back to the reporter's face. "The death toll at present is nineteen. Five others have been sent to Georgetown's Shock Trauma Center. That's all we know at this time. We will have updates whenever new developments emerge. We return you now to our regularly scheduled program."
I finally took a deep breath, got up out of my squat and went back to the phone. I called Arnie. The phone rang four times before he picked it up.
"Arnie, did you hear about the wall?"
"A bomb went off just after we left. It tore the place up. Nineteen dead, five more critical."
"Who did it?"
"Don't know yet."
"What about the kid and his mother?"
"No names have been released. They might not have been there either."
"Okay. Thanks for calling."
I tried Samantha. She wasn't answering her phone. Damn.
I finished eating and sat staring at the set. I had achieved the rare anti-Zen state of being both empty-headed and muddled. The countdown of the final seconds and the roar in the background brought me around. The Redskins had won and the hated Cowboys would have to skulk back to Dallas and lick their wounds. I couldn't have cared less.
Promptly at seven the news came on. Sitting next to the anchorman was a D.C. police officer introduced as Lieutenant Calvin Simmons. After the introduction and an open-ended question, Simmons began to flesh out the earlier report.
"The device was a large explosive charge wrapped in a casing of metal balls. It seems to be homemade, but the design is similar to the 'Bouncing Betty' mines that were used by U.S. forces in Vietnam. The size of the charge and its configuration allowed for a uniform saturation across the entire face of the wall. The choice of explosive, its placement and the timing of the detonation indicate that the intention was clearly to maim and kill those visiting the memorial, not to damage the structure itself. We believe the bomb was detonated by remote control, and are requesting that all photographs taken by people at the memorial today be brought to us for enhancement. Hopefully, someone will show up in the background either with the picnic basket or observing the wall from the hillside facing it."
The anchorman cut in. "Has anyone claimed credit for the bombing?"
"No, not yet. Because the site of the attack is federal property we are coordinating our efforts with the FBI. The last two attacks on federal property in the city were both bombings of the Capitol. In 1971, the Weathermen claimed responsibility for a bombing in protest of the strategic bombing of Laos. In 1983 a group calling itself the Armed Resistance Unit set off a bomb to protest our involvement in Lebanon and Grenada. However, in neither of those attacks was anyone killed. This kind of attack, launched without warning, signals a new level of terrorist activity in the city."
"Thank you, Lieutenant Simmons. We are switching now to our remote cameras at the Shock Trauma Unit. Come in, Dick."
The reporter I'd seen earlier came back on. He didn't look so hot.
"Uh, yes. We don't have much on the five people still in critical condition. Three are still in surgery. However, next of kin of the other victims have been reached and we can release those names now."
A roster of names began to roll across the screen. Two thirds of the way down the names of James Tucker Calhoun, age eight, and Melissa Anne Calhoun, twenty-seven, of Knoxville, Tennessee, rolled by. Rest in peace.
Excerpted from A Tax in Blood by Benjamin M. Schutz. Copyright © 1987 Benjamin M. Schutz. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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