Conrad Shore became lost in the enormity and horrors of a war he never understood. He had put his life on the line for his country and his comrades more times than he could count, and his selfless acts of bravery had earned him a great deal of respect. Now, home after two tours of duty-he's lost. The ribbons and medals he earned are painful reminders of a place and time he'd sooner forget. That was a different time, and he is now a different man.
After the war, he left his wife, Hannah, and their infant daughter, Dana, behind. For years, he's wandered the country in search of a stability he can't accurately define. Drawn back to rejoin the family he never stopped loving, Conrad must now face the many wounds to body and soul his warrior past burned into him. With Hannah's help, he hopes he can start a new life.
He's always been good with his hands, so he starts a thriving construction business. But even that dream slips through his calloused hands, as the economy crushes his prospects. Conrad fights for optimism and a reason to keep fighting for his future.
It is during this dark time that he crosses paths with Manuel Estrada, a greed-driven killer who would stop at nothing to keep what he feels belongs to him. The unremitting greed of these two different men generates a caustic and unrelenting war that threatens to destroy all within its path.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.48(d)|
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Ravages of Greed
By R. W. Doyen
iUniverseCopyright © 2015 R. W. Doyen
All rights reserved.
The week went by faster than father or daughter had wished. They began the week carefully, each taking great pains to avoid stirring up past memories and hostilities. They walked a narrow line of tolerance and insight, each doing their best to mend the torn fences of battles long past. For both it had been a difficult journey of exploration, understanding and silent forgiveness. With each passing day, as they became more comfortable with one another, they broached the touchy subjects that had held them apart, treading into a minefield of aggrieved feelings, misunderstandings, and selfish motives.
"I realize that words like, 'I'm sorry,' will never be enough to erase the harm that I inflicted on you. The war damaged so many young men and so many families on many levels; husbands hurt wives, fathers hurt daughters. Even the world of politics was torn apart—not amended to this day."
Dana watched the sad facial expressions of her father as his disjointed explanation of how a war, lost a generation ago, had exacted such a terrible toll on his psyche and her family.
Harsh judgments by each had slowly yielded to compassion and mutual respect. The war, the drugs, the promiscuity and the feelings of abandonment that reigned throughout the lost years played a large part in their mutual distrust and animosity. He fought with distinction in a war that she came to scorn. The wall that rose between them would not topple over; it had to be dismantled brick by bloody brick. Difficult issues to face and resolve were taken on in a respectful, tolerant soul-bearing catharsis. It was a good start on a long, arduous, heart-breaking journey of understanding. Because his daughter initiated the reconciliation by coming to him and asking for his help, he knew she had made the new beginning possible. His guilt had made it impossible for him to make the first move. He was able to cross the divide that separated them but only because of the hand she extended. It was not an easy gesture for her, and he knew it.
"We don't need to talk about it anymore, Dad. I'm coming to understand how awful war is and what it can do to a soldier's mind. I don't blame you for anything."
In this new-found harmony Conrad and his daughter walked side by side toward the dented, faded pickup. They smiled over light banter, as she poked fun at the beat-up truck.
"Do you think this old wreck will get you all the way back home in one piece?"
"This old wreck, as you call it, is probably in better shape than I am," he grinned in reply.
A random, jagged hairline crack wound its way diagonally across the windshield and complemented the dents in the fenders. The vehicle displayed as many defects as the face of its owner. Signs of casual misuse and unintentional abuse were present on both the truck and its owner
"That's not saying much. Seriously if you have car trouble on the road, please call. We'll come get you."
"Don't worry about me," he replied. "I'll be all right."
His "road kill" face reflected the many facets of a full, hard life. A history of careless living was etched into every angle and contour of his rugged features. From the Mekong Delta to the smoke-filled barrooms of small Texas towns, from cheap bourbon to the even cheaper women, each chapter of his pilgrimage had gouged deep, jagged furrows of sadness above his eyes, along his brow and deep into his jaw line.
Conrad put his life on the line many times for his country and for his comrades in arms. His selfless acts of bravery were recognized by his men and his country. The ribbons and medals that had once graced his dress uniform now were thoughtlessness discarded in the recesses of some dark bureau drawer. To look at the brass and patriotic colors was like looking into his past, a place he didn't care to revisit. They were testimony to a different time, a different man.
Although life had handed him many disappointments he still maintained an optimistic dream. Standing beside the battered pickup, Conrad reached into his vest pocket and withdrew one of several lottery tickets he always seemed to have on hand.
"Here, honey. Maybe this is the lucky one."
"I don't believe in that kind of luck," she replied.
"I don't either," Conrad agreed, "but it seems I've exhausted the 'hard work' kind of luck or the 'keeping my eye on the ball kind,' a long time ago. Maybe this," he said fingering the ticket, "is the only kind I've got left."
"Pop, you're too young to be giving up on your dreams."
For most of Conrad's life, except for the lost years, he had harbored a dream that vast wealth was somewhere within his grasp. He nearly achieved it once, only to lose it in an economic recession.
"Had I been smart and kept my eyes on what was going on around me, I would have seen it coming. I could have saved myself."
Dana slipped her arm around her father's waist. "Don't give up your dreams Dad. Sometimes they are all that we have left."
Conrad carried a great deal of baggage around with him. Much of it was the bulky, heavy burden of regret. From a very early age he was the tough guy, in the school and on the street. He never let a slight go unanswered. The problem with being the tough guy, he found, was the constant need to prove it. In his ultimate act of toughness, he altered his birth certificate and joined the military. Conrad went to war at seventeen and he regretted that most of all. Terrible maiming and killing occurred on both sides of an issue he didn't understand. The wounds he suffered were not bloody like those sustained by his "brothers in war." Unlike torn muscle and broken bone, his wounds remained unseen and unhealed for years. The hurt he carried was not visible, not easy to diagnose, and not easy to treat.
Conrad's son-in-law, Phil, called his goodbyes from the porch landing. Conrad returned the gesture and barked a good natured command. "You be good to her, Phil. She's carrying my grandson."
Dana let the remark pass without acknowledgement other than a tolerant smile.
Conrad turned to his daughter who had insisted on carrying his black canvas travel bag, in spite of her swollen belly.
"Just throw that up in back, close to the cab. It'll ride all right," he instructed her.
"Jeeze, Pop, why don't you clean the junk out of the back of this truck?" she grinned as she eyed the bed of the pickup with its tangle of tools, cords, nuts, bolts, nails and more.
"What do you mean junk, this is all good stuff." They were the discards of many construction jobs, all too good to be tossed in the trash.
"I will as soon as I can find the time," he continued halfheartedly. They both knew that time wouldn't be soon.
"You'd probably get better gas mileage, if you did."
"And then I wouldn't know where anything was." He gently embraced his daughter and kissed her lightly on the cheek. As he broke away from their hug he lightly patted her expanding midriff and in his husky voice said, "Take good care of yourself, and that grandson of mine."
"It's a boy" he said. A tone of enlightened discernment was evident in his voice, and in the gentle nod of his head. Conrad paused to pull a faded red handkerchief from his pocket to wipe away the thick, dry splatter of mud that obscured the logo on his door panel. C. Shore Construction. He grabbed the door handle, and was about to enter the cab when he spotted his son-in-law's figure retreating into the house.
"Take good care of him too; he's a keeper."
Dana disregarded her father's comment. "Tell Mom I love her. I wish she had come with you."
"I will," replied Conrad. "I wanted her to come with me, but she couldn't take the time off work right now. The bank is having some problems with a new system they just installed."
The engine sprang to life, at the touch of the key. The quiet, tight hum of the engine contrasted with the truck's beat-up body. With a final toss of his head, he eased the truck out of the drive and down the sun-splotched, tree-lined avenue. His daughter and her home receded in the rear view mirror and out of his sight. He was glad to be headed home to Pennsylvania, anxious to see his wife. For the past week, with his daughter's and his son-in-law's help, he had converted an antiquated, upstairs storage room into a nursery in expectation of the new arrival. It was the last of the rooms to be modernized in the one hundred fifty year old New Hampshire farmhouse. The project brought estranged father and daughter closer to one another.
In retrospect, Conrad mused, it was those old letters that had allowed her to see a side of him that she had never seen before, and to glimpse situations that she could not otherwise imagine.
As the hollow walls of the old room had been torn away, a cache of old letters and an old journal had been found. Yellowed by age and stagnant air, the pages revealed the thoughts of a boy at war – the Civil War. The ribbon binder that had secured the poignant, rhythmic, verse-like prose had long ago fragmented to dust. The loosened bundle had cascaded down into the wall from the attic above. Collecting dust and undisturbed for nearly a century and a half, the letters came to light to help a father and his daughter reconcile some of their differences. Conrad read with insight the lamentations of the boy from so long ago.
I dread what the morrow shall bring
So many of my dear comrades have
Gone on, and I fear to join them soon.
The faded words on brittle paper voiced a universal fear of all soldiers, and like a gentle probing finger, the words extended across the decades and touched Conrad's soul. They revived memories long forgotten. Conrad too, had lamented "the morrow" and his fate, while lying in grease-like mud, ignoring mosquitoes and night sounds in a foreign, unfriendly land.
I hope that boy survived his tour of duty, Conrad mused that evening, but I doubt it.
They had sat before the flickering, open-hearth fireplace and talked of such things, loosely. Conrad's sad memories were elaborated on and broadened with the help of undiluted bourbon.
Fear of imminent death was a state of mind that Conrad's daughter had never faced. Each of the old letters was addressed to the boy's mother. His father was never mentioned.
Why, Conrad wondered, had the urge to write to his mother been so strong, the night before a battle, when the prospect of his death was so near? Why wasn't the thought of death accompanied by the fear of death, or have I forgotten?" Conrad paused to ponder the questions.
Why hadn't he run away? What is it about leadership, or a group of men, in arms, under orders, that compels them to put aside the primal urge to survive? He didn't know the answer any more than that boy a hundred and fifty odd years ago.
Conrad finally put the letters aside. He became quiet and reflective when he discovered that the letters, so regularly posted, had stopped coming early in August of 1863. He suspected that it was not a coincidence that the battle of Gettysburg had commenced on the first day of July of that same year. Chances are he died during the terrible battle weeks before the letter was delivered.
Quicker than a moment, introspection returned again to "his" war.
"I loathed that goddamn war!" The echo of his outburst echoed throughout the empty room. In spite of the time that had passed, "his" war remained uppermost in reasons for all his failed ambitions. Conrad was adamant in his belief that his success, his peace of mind, and his prosperity had eluded him because of the war. I AM OWED became Conrad's mantra.
He felt all the same emotions, all the same uncertainties. Unmasking himself all these years later, to a daughter who couldn't know a soldier's anguish, reduced the wall between them from an impenetrable barrier to a difference of perspective. A channel of communications was established, and each was determined to use and expand upon it. With gentle, probing questions some of the buried penitence, the residue of war, both real and imagined, began to be set free. Images of smashed and distorted bodies began to surface. He talked long into the night explaining what those grotesque images did to him, how they changed him, how war had driven the boyhood and the exuberance of youth from his mind. In time, the hand of fear released its dogged grip on him as the ragged, savage struggle of war raged on. Before Conrad's first tour was complete he made up his mind to re-up. Thoughts of his imminent death became a narcotic that dulled his senses and relieved the pain of the sights he witnessed. He came to crave the destruction of children, old women, and worn out soldiers like a fix, and wondered if his bearing witness to the victims of war could somehow heal his soul.
Conrad related to his daughter the angry ghosts he wrestled with for a decade before he could once again function. It was a catharsis he lived through with his wife, and now, finally, with his daughter. He had hurt so many on his road to recovery. He tried to dismiss the painful memories, and concentrate on his driving.
He headed south, away from the New Hampshire countryside where his daughter and her growing family had settled. Conrad dreaded the four hundred mile ride home. The springs on his truck were good, but the seats were bad and his backside would be protesting its stresses before this trip was through. He hoped the discomfort of the seat would aid him in his struggle against the monotonous whine of the tires and the seductive beckoning of sleep.
Driving was tedious and after he took the south-bound ramp onto Interstate 93 he let his mind wander once again over his checkered life.
He joined the Army at seventeen and in spite of a naiveté that came with being brought up in a sheltered and nurturing home, he survived the rigors of boot camp at Fort Jackson. Twenty four months and sixteen days of Vietnam combat, witnessing the deaths of friends closer than family, had twisted and hardened something within him. At fifty years of age Conrad felt he was nearing the end of a disappointing life.
After he left the army and Vietnam those many years ago he drifted. He left his wife Hannah, and his baby daughter, Dana, behind. His aimless drifting frightened those who loved him. Finally after years of psychological pain and anguish, he returned home and rejoined the family he never stopped loving. He was not yet whole, but he had healed enough to function.
Known as "Connie" by his friends, he was an independent speculation builder, who had worn out the seat of his truck by simply dragging his backside across the fabric countless times. He loved construction and was good at it. Early on, he built garages, patios, and decks. By carefully saving and planning and never losing sight of his long range goals, he finally bought his first property, an old derelict building, smashed and abandoned.
Wrestling the property from the owner before it went to the wrecking ball; he poured all his savings and all his credit into its rejuvenation. Working nights and weekends, keeping his steady work during the weekdays, the building that Connie Shore placed his dreams in slowly came back to life. He refused to economize on shortcuts. Working alone, he assured himself that every step was done right. In twenty-two months the monumental project, a testimonial to one man's tenacity and talent, was completed.
Eight apartment units over spaces for three businesses, the building, when completed, sparked a renaissance for a whole section of the town. Tenants came with upscale shops and the apartments were in demand. Within a few short months the property was paying its own way. The earlier critics who labeled Connie "nuts" now applauded his wisdom and foresight. One great adventure, financed on a shoestring, sustained with an indomitable will, and seen through with dogged determination became the first of a whole series of projects.
Each venture became more imaginative and more costly than the one before. Apartment houses, stores, restaurants, and single family homes all came into being under the umbrella of Connie's ambition. Each carefully thought out plan seemed a natural, but there were risks. He and Hannah understood the chances they took. They talked about it often.
With each new imaginative step on his quest for the brass ring, the well of debt became deeper. The financial calamity facing them was clear if one misstep was taken. Like a house of cards, they built their little empire, on borrowed money, using one property as collateral for the next. Piggy-backing loans and cross collateralizing, they played a dangerous game, risking all against a great payoff down the road. In those heady days Conrad knew that he wasn't saving money but he was handling a lot of it, he was building equity, and he was having a ball.
In spite of the long, laborious hours spent away from home and family he reveled in the accomplishments, and watched his labors yield an asset he could borrow against. If he could work long enough and hard enough he hoped to get out from under the mountain of debt he owed. He just might achieve his dream. After the war, and after his recovery, it was the goal that he had set for himself: to be untouchable through wealth.
Excerpted from Ravages of Greed by R. W. Doyen. Copyright © 2015 R. W. Doyen. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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