For thirty years, the cries of dying men and the searing agony of guilt have haunted John Travers—all because he made a decision in a Vietnamese jungle that resulted in the deaths of nine good soldiers. Now, after suffering through decades of self-hatred and bitterness, Travers has finally come to the conclusion that life is good.
And then Philip Mackey shows up. Travers—the owner of a private investigation firm with his business partner, Wally Karpinski—does not know much about Mackey except that he was a reasonably competent soldier who once saved his life. But it is not long before Mackey’s appearance and his revelations force Travers to confront his demons and question long-held truths. With the help of Karpinski and an eclectic group of associates, Travers embarks on a journey into the past where he must delve into humanity at its worst.
In this fast-paced thriller, the excruciating consequences of war erupt after thirty years, bringing violence, vengeance, and redemption to a Vietnam vet who must fight through the pain in order to find the inner peace he so desperately needs.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.89(d)|
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A Travers and Karpinski Novel
By C. Carl Roberts
Abbott PressCopyright © 2013 C. Carl Roberts
All rights reserved.
Life is good. It took me almost three decades to realize that. Oh, it was good when I was young, of course, but I was too stupid or too naïve to know it at the time. I was always focused on whatever I thought would make it good, like money, girls, parties, pizza, alcohol, and cars. In those days I was not mature or wise enough to understand the things that truly were important. The things that really made life good, like friendship, love, tolerance, patience, or peace of mind.
Vietnam was the emotional roadblock that disrupted my ability to recognize the good things that were possible. Because Vietnam scrambled my perception of reality. It took the handholds I used to navigate through life, immature and poorly developed as they were at the time, and mangled them into a knot of pain, misery, guilt and recrimination. I was transformed from a callow, wide-eyed innocent into an angry, hateful person who had no faith, no serenity and no hope.
It happened one horrific day in 1972; August 27th, to be precise. I made a mistake that led to the death of nine good men. Men who I was leading. Men who I respected. Men who depended on me to make good decisions. Men who died because I made a bad decision. I left that rainy, muddy, terrible place in a Medivac chopper, while my men left in heavy plastic bags. Twelve of us went in that day, and only one came out physically unscathed. I was not that man, because I left my blood and tissue and part of my soul there in the jungle.
Having said all this, you might be wondering what great insight I had that suddenly changed me, and why, after thirty years of self-hatred and bitterness, I am able to come to the conclusion that life is good. It was not a bright light accompanied by singing angels and loud trumpets. It was not an epiphany that drove me to the nearest church to praise the Almighty. That would be too much to ask for, and even though I am more comfortable looking at life through those rhetorical rose-colored glasses, it has nothing to do with religion or my acceptance of God's heavenly grace. I still have some major issues with God and how He dealt with me some thirty years ago.
I guess I just woke up after a thirty-year stupor. Maybe it would be more accurate to say I was jostled awake by people who saw some redeeming qualities in me. It was like they grabbed me by the ears and shook me, until I opened my eyes. That and a few close scrapes seemed to move things into better alignment; highlighted some issues and priorities. While I lost a number of good years wandering around in the swamp of self-pity, in retrospect maybe that experience made my new life all that much better. Because I am aware of what I lost, and am better able to cherish what I now have. So yes, life is good—at last.
My name is John Travers. Most people call me JT. I prefer the short version, because whenever somebody calls me John I'm often reminded by my friend and business partner, Wally Karpinski, that john also refers to a toilet. The more you are around Wally, the more you stay away from terms or words with which he can torment you.
I am well through my fifties, although physically and mentally I would like to think I am younger. But aches and pains, the demonstrable forces of gravity, and higher health care costs remind me of where I am in the grand scheme of things. I live in Alexandria, Virginia, with my new wife and adopted son, and work across the river in Washington D.C., where I have a private investigation business. Since Wally and I have been together, some seven years now, we have built up a pretty good enterprise, although I have to say there was some very rough sledding for the first six of those years. But lately things are booming, thanks in part to our successful completion of a couple of high-profile cases that put our names in the paper and led directly to a lot of new, and very good, business. In fact, the upswing allowed us to move into a new office where the electricity and the running water in the washroom are dependable, twenty-four seven.
Most of our work over the years consisted of putting in sophisticated home security systems, following unfaithful spouses, dragging deadbeat fathers into court to make them pay child support, or ferreting out embarrassing revelations that could be used to pull someone back into line. But with our recent notoriety, we now are being paid to do other things, like digging up information for well-placed and highly paid individuals, shadowing the off spring of those same people, or looking into suspicious activities or behaviors of people whose position makes them particularly vulnerable to the corrosive forces of power or money. Because of our successes we have to behave in a civilized and mature manner, and even wear coats and ties now and then. Thank God, it's only now and then.
Wally and I were sitting together in my office reviewing cases one morning in May. Our friendship had evolved to such an extent that we were so comfortable together we did not need to make a lot of small talk; kind of like how an old pair of shoes is comfortable. He was reading something and his brow was wrinkled, as if he were confused. I was still getting used to my new blended trifocal spectacles, and was moving my head up and down like a teeter-totter to find that little sweet spot in the lens that allowed me to read what was printed on the page.
"You know those stupid little bobblehead toys all those dim bulbs get at baseball or football games?" Wally asked, looking up. His penetrating stare almost hurt. "Or those hula dancer girls you put on your dashboard that jiggle around when you hit speed a bump or something? The ones with the little grass skirts?"
I leaned my head back to find that intermediate range in my lenses that would allow me to focus on him. I nodded and noticed his face had taken on a distressed character.
"Well, that's what you look like wearing those stupid goddamned glasses. Keep your head steady, for Christ's sake, before I get seasick and barf on the desk."
I laughed out loud and purposely moved my head around erratically. Wally is wonderfully critical and opinionated about virtually everything there is. He also sensitive, witty, impatient and loud. It seems like one of his main interests is to study the eccentricities of people, and if given the opportunity, to use them to his advantage, for fun or profit. He laughs at himself as well as others, and I have to say, he is the best friend a man could possibly have.
I smiled at him and reached out to grab the container of yogurt to my right. I put a spoonful in my mouth while I went back to studying the paper on my desk. I heard a grunt and looked up. Wally's upper lip was drawn up over his front teeth and his mouth was slightly open. I could not help but think about my cat's expression when he smelled something particularly offensive on the bottom of my shoe. Wally did not join me as I chuckled.
"How can you eat that shit?" he barked. "Christ almighty, it's made out of spoiled milk. If I want to eat spoiled milk I'll go down to Chinatown and drink out of the gutter."
"Thanks for that."
"Have some bacon and eggs for Christ's sake. Goddamn it, JT! All yogurt is good for is ant bait."
"I didn't realize you felt so strongly about milk products. Have you ever tried yogurt, or are you doing as you usually do, making definitive statements based wholly on ignorance?"
"Well, kiss my ass, Mister Holier-Than-Th ou. And yes, I've tried it. To lose weight one time."
"It didn't work, I assume?" I sat up and craned my neck to look at his belly. It was pretty firm, all considered, because he was a solid and low-fat kind of guy. But I was making a point.
"Oh, it worked all right. Just not the way it was advertised. I lost some weight, but only because it gave me a bad case of the green apple quickstep."
"The green apple quickstep. The scours. The shits. You really are uninformed, JT."
The green apple quickstep. Again Wally mystified me with his unique use of the English language.
"I see." I began laughing and could not seem to stop. Wally had more stupid, inane idioms and the most unique perspective than anyone I had ever known in my life. It was a constant source of entertainment and enlightenment.
I kept eating the yogurt and did my best to make obnoxious slurping sounds as I did so. He just looked down and shook his head.
About that time I heard a knock on my door. It was a nice solid sound, and it pleased me. In our old place across town, a knock on the cheap hollow-core door sounded like somebody beating on an empty oil drum. Our new solid doors had the sound of quality, which added to the nice ambience of the place. Now we actually had three offices, a reception area and our own bathroom facility with reliable water and efficient flushing capabilities. Wally and I had rooms of about the same size and the third, and smaller office, accommodated our part time workers, Bill Ferguson and Chas Davenport. Bill was the resident head buster who was used when we needed to perform blue-collar negotiations, and Chas was our goofy but brilliant computer specialist. Both had worked with us in a previous case and were outstanding experts in their fields.
I looked up to see Andrea Jennings standing in the doorway, a troubled smile on her face. We met her a couple years previously during a case we were working, and she had been helping us out as a receptionist ever since. When we met her she was an emaciated young woman with a terrible past, a dismal present and a hopeless future, based in part on some decisions she made that did not quite work out. It only took some time, compassion, and an occasional hug to turn her life around. She was a wonderful addition to our business and her sunny disposition and child-like enthusiasm was a critical buffer between Wally and I when we would get into one of our relentless pissing contests. Recently she had fallen for our odd but likable computer man, and it was wonderful seeing their budding romance bloom before our eyes.
"You look nice today, Andrea," I said. "What's the occasion?"
"It's Tuesday, JT," Wally remarked. "Chas will be in later."
"Wally!" Andrea blurted, a blush rising on her cheeks. She nervously pulled on the long ponytail that was cascading over her left shoulder onto her chest.
I looked over and smiled with my partner and then turned my attention back to Andrea. "What's up?"
I noticed her face was strained, and she suddenly appeared uncomfortable. "There's a man here to see Wally."
The big guy looked up and shrugged. "Who is he?"
There was an acute pause before she answered. "He says he's your father."
Darkness crept over Wally's features like an eclipse. I did not know too much about his father except that he ran away with another woman, breaking up the family when Wally was about eight years old. The big guy rarely talked about that time in his life except to say after his father left, his mother went quickly down hill.
I was unsure about what to say or do, so I just watched Wally as he sat up straight. His eyes narrowed and I could see his jaw muscles moving like he was trying to chew up a hard rubber ball.
"My father? He said that?"
"Yes. He's an older gentleman who kind of looks like you." Andrea lifted her hands, palms up, and shrugged her shoulders. Wally pulled himself out of the chair and looked at me.
"This is not good, JT. If that's my dad, I may have to kick the shit out of him. You best come along and make sure I don't end up in jail."
I threw my glasses on my desk and led the way into the reception area. The man standing there was tall, nearly Wally's height, but was rail thin. He was dressed in khakis and a blue Oxford cloth shirt that looked too big. He stood with a slumped posture and was rubbing his hands together like he was trying to rid them of something that itched. He had thin, gray hair, cut short, and I could see by looking at him where Wally got his striking blue eyes. The man had a pasty complexion and there were dark bags beneath his eyes. He gave us an edgy smile and I noticed his straight teeth were yellow and old looking.
I introduced myself and we shook hands. He had a solid grip, but only made eye contact with me for a few brief moments. He was most intent on gazing at Wally, who stood right behind me. He took a shaky step forward and offered his hand.
"Hello, Wallace. Son."
Wally ignored the handshake and stood there like a statue. "What do you want, Jacob? Why are you here?"
"It's been a long time, Wallace."
"Not nearly long enough."
I watched the old man's pained expression and noticed how his eyes passed from Wally to me to Andrea. I felt very uncomfortable, and suggested we go into my office and sit down. Wally shook his head.
"This is fine, JT. He won't be staying long."
"I read about you in the paper," Jacob said, putting on a friendly face. He was working his hands again. "I guess you are doing well."
"Well enough. If you came looking for money you're shit outta luck. Now what do you want?"
"Wallace, I'm sorry for—you know—for everything. I just wanted to see you again. Maybe make things better for us?"
Wally peered at his father, his laser-like stare unsettling. "That ain't happening. You just go back to your top-heavy girlfriend and forget about me. I'm doing just fine without you."
"She—Eleanor—died last June." I noticed a sadness descend over Jacob's face.
"And Wallace. I'm sick. I'm dying too."
"It happens to the best of us. Good luck, Jacob. I've got work to do. You can find your way out." With that Wally turned around and walked into his office. His door closed with a solid click.
I looked at the old man and saw his eyes fill with tears. He just shook his head and started to turn around.
"I'm sorry Mr. Karpinski," I said. "I think seeing you after all this time is a pretty big shock for Wally."
His eyes met mine. "He hates me. I suppose that's understandable. I wasn't a good father to him. I hurt him terribly. I wish I could undo it, but I can't. I was hoping he could find it in his heart to forgive me."
"Maybe he can. Give him some time."
Jacob gave me a tired smile. "I don't have much time. Besides, have you known Wallace very long, Mr. Travers? If so, you know when he makes his mind up, it stays made. Even as a boy he was hard-headed and as inflexible as an iron rod."
I knew that statement to be true. But I also was aware of Wally's sensitivity and good heart. He was an advocate for what other people sometimes referred to as the fringe population; the poor, going nowhere types you could find on any street corner in the city. He always had compassion for people who made bad decisions and were paying the consequences. But at that moment I had no clue if forgiveness was something Wally was capable of, at least with respect to his father. Jacob saved me from my discomfort by offering his hand, again.
"I'm staying at the YMCA downtown, if Wallace should want to talk to me." Then he nodded towards Andrea and let himself out. I turned and looked into her startled face.
"That was something, wasn't it?"
"Wally was so mean to him," she said. "That's not like him."
"There's some very ugly history there, Andrea. His father ran off with another woman when Wally was just a boy. His mother started drinking right afterwards and it progressed to such a point that she tried to kill herself with alcohol and sedatives. It left her pretty much debilitated and she ultimately died, alone and miserable in a nursing home. Fortunately, Wally had his maternal grandparents to raise him, or he probably would have ended up in a state run facility. He doesn't have any good feelings left for his dad. Believe it or not, I think he was relatively civil to the man given their history. But I have to say, it was uncomfortable. I think he's pretty upset right now. I better check on him."
I went over and knocked on the door. I did not hear anything, so I opened it and leaned in. Wally was sitting at his desk, with his head in his hands. I let myself in and sat down across from him.
"No." He looked up and his face was drawn. I could see the pain in his eyes. "Why did that asshole show up now? My life is great. I have a wonderful wife and a gorgeous little girl. Why now? Why dredge it all up?"
"He's dying, Wall. He wants some closure."
Excerpted from ABREACTION by C. Carl Roberts. Copyright © 2013 C. Carl Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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