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Getting Along

Just trying to get along

If there's interest in this story I will make it a series

Jack jumped around, holding one hand with the other while swearing under his breath, “Son of a bitch, that hurts!”

He had just hit his hand with a hammer while working on the old car he'd recently bought, the only one he could afford. The reason for his meager circumstances was the fact he had just lately been discharged from the Marine Corps and hadn't been able to find full time employment.

He had been extremely fortunate to find this place to rent. After looking at place after place, and finding them out his price range, he had called the on a small ad in a free weekly shopper he'd picked up. It didn't look encouraging but he was at the end of his rope. It read;

Small efficiency apartment

call 555-643-1212

He had called to see if he could afford it, and was told he would have to apply in person to find out. He didn't have anything else to do so he got the address and made an appointment.

As he approached the address his hopes fell. How would he be able to afford anything in this area of large estates? The homes and spacious lawns he could glimpse through the landscaping must go for a million bucks or more. But, he figured, he was here and would only be polite to make his appointment.

When he drove between the brick pillars, with the ornate wrought iron gates standing open, he saw a older man standing in front of a huge building. He assumed this would be called the carriage house as it had many garage doors and carports along its front. He pulled off onto the apron and parked, got out, and approached the man. He saw a slightly portly, possibly sixtyish, short man with a full head of white hair.

He introduced himself, “I'm Jack Slate, I called on the ad. I'm glad to meet you”

The man said nothing, just stood there, expressionless, as he studied Jack. He saw a tall, a few inches over six feet, broad, extremely fit looking and well muscled, sandy haired young man with a broad smile.

Then he spoke in a quiet voice, “I'm Carl Messina, and extended his hand that Jack shook. “Tell me about yourself, Jack. I'd like to know something about you before I rent to anyone.”

Jack answered, “There's not too much to tell, Mr. Messina. I just got out of the Marines and am looking to start over, I guess you could say. I'm looking for full time work, but I'm making enough to be able to pay rent if you're worried about that.”

Mr. Messina just grunted and said, “Does it look like I'm worried about that? This might work pretty good for you. There's some chores that go with this rental and that would count for part of the rent. Come with me and I'll show you what I mean.” He turned and entered a service door and Jack followed.

As they walked through the cavernous garage area with its beautiful large cars and limousines Mr. Messina gestured at them and said, “You'll be responsible for changing the oil and greasing these vehicles and, if you're qualified, doing tune ups on them. I have a limo business and these come in from the business location when they need it. There's only a few each month. Can you do that?”

“Yes sir, I've worked on cars since I was a kid, I can even do some body work if its not too extensive.”

Messina just answered with a grunt again and then asked, “Why'd you leave the Corps and what did you do there.”

“I was released for medical reasons for some wounds I got, but it wouldn't interfere with this work. As for what I did, I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to talk about that.”

He received a sharp glance and another grunt for that. They then proceeded through the boiler room with its huge plant and out another door into a large green house. Messina spread his arms and exclaimed, “This is where we start all the plants for my florist business. It's all pretty automatic until we harvest, but it'll be up to you to see that everything is running alright, just checking the gauges and thermostats.”

They then returned to the front and to another door that led to a small foyer and up-leading stairs, which they climbed. This led to what must have been, in the past, the chauffeur's quarters. It was quite spacious, with one bedroom, bath, large living room, small but efficient kitchen, and a jalousie windowed porch, overlooking the greenhouse.

Jack liked it immediately, with its sloping ceilings starting about six feet up the walls and its large windows. It was completely furnished, down to the towels and wash cloths. Messina quoted a very reasonable rent, reminding Jack that the chores would lessen it considerably. Jack said he would like to take it, but Messina hesitated.

“There's one other thing, Jack. See that button on the wall? When you're here late at night, if you see anything suspicious, you hit that button. It sounds a small alarm in the house and some men will be here in a hurry. You're right at the entrance to the estate and would be the first to notice anything, do you understand?”

“Yes sir, I'm sure I do, and I learned in the service to sleep very lightly. It's so peaceful here I'm sure I'd hear any disturbance.”

Another grunt was followed by, “I think you'll do very well, Jack.” and they shook hands on it.

After making arrangements for his moving in and paying his first months rent Jack went to his cheap hotel room and packed the few possessions he had there. Then he went to a storage business and gathered the rest. It took him little time to return to the estate and move in.

He had settled in for a few days and was working on his car, and that's when he hit his hand. While doing his little pain dance he noticed another man walking toward him from the main house.

This fellow, looking a few years older than Jack's late twenty's years, was well dressed and frowning as he asked, “Are you alright? Can I do something to help you.”

Jack grimaced and said, “Naw, it'll wear off in a minute, but thanks for asking.”

The man grinned and said, “It's a good thing it's your left hand you hit, you can still shake hands. I'm Carl junior and you must be Jack,” as he stuck his hand out for Jack to shake. “Are you settled in alright? Need anything?” At Jack's head shake he continued, “Good to meet you Jack, I guess I'll get going.” He opened one of the garage doors to reveal a light classic old MG sports car in immaculate shape.

He backed out, stopped and got out swearing, “Damn it, a flat.” and pulled out a jack and started to raise the car and started swearing again, “Shit, the jack broke, now what can go wrong!”

Jack walked over and consoled Carl, “I think I can help you,” took a lug wrench and took off all but two nuts and loosened them. “Get your spare ready by the flat,” which Carl did.

“Okay,” Jack said, “Let's make this fast, when I lift the car take those lug nuts off and get the spare on.”

He took a good grip on the side bottom of the car and heaved it high enough for Carl to quickly spin off the two nuts and slip the spare onto the axle. He then lifted it to the balance point to take the weight off his bulging muscles, while Carl spun the nuts on.

“Alright Carl, back away, I'm going to drop it.” and did so, with it bouncing for a moment.

Carl stood there wide eyed and asserted, “I guess I know why your folks named you Jack. I know that's a light car but that was incredible. Remind me of what you did if I ever get drunk and try to slap you, I don't want to end up in a tree or something.”

“Don't worry about that Carl, I've seen enough violence to not start any more if I can help it.”

Carl silently watched Jack for a few moments and then asked, “Jack, do you know who my dad is?”

With a slight smile Jack replied, “I read the papers, Carl, I recognized him right away when I first saw him, although he's better looking than the pictures they put in the papers. Why do you ask?”

“Dad told me you were probably in some pretty rough service if you can't talk about it. I work for him and sometimes have to carry large amounts of money. I'd like to hire you to accompany me when I do, it'll pay well and it's short hours.”

Jack leaned back on the car, crossed his arms, and thought for a while, then said, “If you're looking for a bodyguard I have no objection, but I will not instigate any violence unless someone tries it on us, and I'll be protecting you, not the money. If they can get the money from you without violence, good for them. I will not do anything illegal or allow you to while I'm there. If that's agreeable to you, I accept.”

“Will you carry a gun? I can arrange for you to get a permit.”

“Carl, I'd be pretty stupid to take this on and not realize I might need a gun sometime, but I'll get the permit. I don't want anyone looking into how I got it if things go nasty. I'm sure that in this state I can get one with my background, probably even a national one. It shouldn't take any longer than if you did.”

The next day, as he was under a car changing the oil , he saw some feet coming across the floor and slid out from under and stood. The senior Messina stood there, smiling. “Jack, that was the best thing you could have told Junior. He's my son and heir and I don't want to lose him in some gun battle. I could have sent someone else with him, but they think they're tough guys and would start something at the first sign of any dissension. Money I can replace, my son I can't, thank you. I hope you're as good as you talk.”

Every couple days, averaging about twice a week, Jack would escort Carl to either pick up or deliver packages he assumed were money. He didn't think that Carl senior would allow Junior anywhere near any incriminating objects of any kind. Things went well for some weeks. He made more than he would have with a full time job.

Then, one day as they were leaving a tavern where there was a suspected sports betting parlor, they met two men just about to enter. One was approaching middle aged, short and quite stout, the other was a hulking brute with a with a low forehead and a dull look in his eyes.

The short one ordered Carl, “Gimme the bag, Carl. This is no longer your dad's place, it's ours.” and grabbed Carl and tried to pry the package from under his arm.

Jack just said a sharp, “NO” and put his arm between the the man and Carl, but applied no force to either. The short man turned his head and looked At Jack with his piglike eyes and shouted, “Who the hell are you, kid, butt out or get hurt.”

Jack just repeated, “NO,” and stood there, unmoving.

The short man shouted over his shoulder, “Get this punk off me, Jimbo!” upon which the big man reached for Jack with his huge hands. In seemingly no time at all Jimbo was lying on the walk, dazed, with a little trickle of blood leaking from his nose.

The short man let go of Carl and reached under his lapel. As his hand started coming out his wrist was captured by Jack's hand, who pulled it out to see a gun in the hand. Jack slowly bent the arm until the gun was pointing straight up. The man jerked his arm and swore but it might as well have been welded in that position.

Jack reached with his other hand and pried the gun loose from the white fingers. He then gestured to the man to help his companion to his feet and leave, which he grudgingly did, swearing all the while.

Carl stood there, sweat on his forehead and visibly trembling, then managed to say, “Do you know who that was, Jack? He's supposed to be the top gun in Gino's gang, and you made him look like a fool. You better sleep with one eye open from now on.”

“Carl, let's just say the people I've been dealing with make those two look like the Bobbsey Twins. Let's go home.”

The next day as Jack was making his lunch in his kitchen, there was a knock on the door at the top of the stairs. Answering it, he found Messina senior who asked, “May I come in for a moment, Jack?”

Jack grinned and retorted, “Sure, just treat my home as if it's yours.” which got an answering smile.

Messina told Jack, “You handled that perfectly yesterday if what Junior told me is right, and the bartender heard it all and verifies it. Here's a little bonus, keep up the good work, you've relieved my mind a lot.” and handed Jack an envelope.

Thanks Mr. Messina. I really like Carl and don't want to see him get hurt. Uh, can I ask you something you may feel is being too prying. If it is, just tell me.”

Messina just studied Jack for a moment and then said, “You can certainly ask, you may not get an answer. If I think it's too nosy, I'll tell you.”

“I don't think Carl is going to be able to take over from you when the time comes. He's too mild to make tough decisions and he'll be hurt bad or killed, sooner or later. Have you taken that into account?”

Messina turned from Jack and paced the room, obviously deep in thought for some minutes, then said “That's pretty close to the line, Jack, but I'll answer it. This is between you and me, no one else, if I hear of it from somewhere else you'll be in trouble. I don't want to threaten you, but I have to, understand?”

Jack replied, “I knew that before I asked you, sir, and I knew there was risk.”

“Alright, I don't want Junior in my business, I know he's not cut out for it. That's why, for years, I've been shifting my assets into legitimate businesses. When I'm ready to retire Carl will have a completely legal bunch of businesses to take over. I've made sure that he was educated to do that. But for now I have to hide what I've been doing or the jackals would be fighting over what's left. I want them to think he'll be taking over, that's why I have him moving money around.”

Jack said, “From what I've been able to observe I've suspected something like that, but I don't think anyone else has, they're not close enough to Carl. I think what you're doing is pretty shrewd.”

Messina sarcastically replied, “Oh goody, I've been wanting your seal of approval. Seriously, Jack, I want you to keep him safe now and after I retire, will you do that? I'll pay you well.”

“I would anyway, I told you I like Carl, but I'll sure take the money. I'll need more access to him, and that will mean I can't do everything here that I've been doing.”

Messina chuckled an answer, “You must have figured out that you're really not needed to do these chores, I've been looking for someone like you for a long time. This was just your trial period and you've passed. Do you want to move to the house?”

“No, it'll be better if everyone thinks of me as just another flunky, but I'll have to get a better car than that beater I have, something not flashy but plenty gutsy, like a police cruiser.”

Messina agreed, “You got it, Jack, I'll get it and it'll look like it's mine for you to use.” then turned and left.

Jack was moving up in the world, more money, free rent, little work, and a new car, sedate looking, but outfitted as a police cruiser would be. It had heavy suspension, and a more powerful motor. He was quite content, until he met Sam.

He was in the corner grocery, picking up a couple frozen pizzas, when he was seen by another man, about the same age as Jack. He was dressed in work clothes, the type a construction worker might wear. He walked up to jack and asked, “Aren't you Jack Slate, I thought I recognized you? Remember me, Sam, Sam Walsh? We were in boot camp together, remember?

“Ah, no, I don't think so, what company were you in?”

“That's probably why not, Jack. You were in B company, I was in C. But everyone knew you when you made Honor Man. You got a few minutes? Let's go next door and have a beer, maybe you'll remember.”

Jack, being sociable and in no hurry, agreed, and they went to the tavern, got some brews, and went to a back booth. After they sat, Sam took a wallet from his back pocket and laid it on the table and said, “I was in the Corp, Jack. But I went to boot in Parris Island while you went to San Diego. No, don't get up.” He flipped open the wallet to expose his ID, it read FBI.

Jack examined it and said, “Okay, you're a feebie, what do you want with me? I haven't broken any laws that I know of. I know you keep track of me because of my service but I don't see why else you'd approach me.”

Sam made some rings on the table with the wet bottle and told Jack, “We're not looking to do anything to you, we're interested in Messina, we want you to get information for us.”

After some thought Jack responded, “Look, I only rent from him and do some odd jobs from time to time, what makes you think I know anything you'd want to know? Besides, he's treated me pretty good and I don't want to get him in the soup.”

“Come on Jack, don't give me that. You probably know what brand underwear he uses, and you didn't get that new car for doing chores. We're not after him, we know he's getting out of the rackets, we're after his rivals. When he quits there's going to be a hell of a war over what he left, and a lot of people could get hurt. We want to prevent that.”

“Look Sam, or whatever you're name is, thats not my car, he lets me use it for running errands, and why do you think I could get any information for you?”

“You're really a buddy of Junior, and he has to know plenty, just put on the old Slate charm and I bet you'll get plenty of information. We've seen you making drops and pickups with Junior, he has to be involved quite a bit.”

Jack hesitated, “I don't know, he might know something. I have to think about this, how do I get back to you?'

Sam told Jack a telephone number and made sure he had it memorized before he said, “Don't write it down somewhere, keep it in your head. If we don't hear from you in the next week you'll see me again.”

Jack did a lot of thinking that night, and in the morning walked up to the main house and pushed the bell button. It was answered by one of the men Jack had seen patrolling the grounds. He told him he'd like to see Mr. Messina. Th man told him to wait and closed the door.

It was opened by Messina who asked, “What is it Jack. I'm a little busy right now?”

“There's something you should see, Mr. Messina, in the green house, but it will wait for a while.”

Messina stared at jack for a moment, grunted, and said, “I think I'll come now.” He turned and shouted he'd be back soon and walked with Jack towards the carriage house. After a few yards he said, “Alright, I know you didn't call me away for a dead plant, what's up?”

Jack told him, “I was contacted by the Feds,” and related the conversation he'd had with Sam.

“Wait until we're in the greenhouse before we talk more about this, we can see if anyone's around to listen in.” They soon reached the greenhouse and entered.

Messina grunted and asked, “Why are you telling me this, Jack. You could have kept quiet, I know you don't want to get mixed in my business. I expected them to find out I was quitting, I'm surprised it took them so long. What's in this for you?”

Jack replied, “They think Carl's in it a lot deeper than he is. There's no reason he should be hurt by this, but they don't know you're just using him as a delivery boy. I wouldn't want the sins of the father visited on his son, would you?”

Messina glared at Jack and growled, “You're getting a little mouthy, Jack. Maybe you should watch it.”

Jack countered, “Don't threaten me, I don't scare worth a damn. I think if we work together we can get Carl off free, but without both of us he'll be going down. Do you agree?”

Messina was taken aback a bit by Jack's aggressiveness but growled, “What do you have in mind? It will have to be airtight to convince the feds.”

Jack leaned against a bench, crossed his arms and said, “Here's my plan, I convince them that you've taken me into your inner circle, which in fact you'll do. I'll record all the meetings and you'll talk about all the things those other gangs are doing, that's what they want. They'll set up counter operations so that when those gangs start the trouble they'll have enough to shut them down.”

“What the hell are you saying? You must be nuts if you think I'll let you give recordings of my meetings to them. They'll hang me after they shoot me. What kind of a stupid plan is that?”

Jack stood straight and leaning over stared into Messina's eyes, “Hold your horses a minute, that's not the whole plan, that's just the start. I give them the information they want and tell them I heard it from you. Some where in the conversations you stress that Carl has nothing to do with the business. They won't know about the recordings unless they try to hang Carl. That's when we produce the recordings showing that you were the one who gave the information and Carl didn't know anything.”

“Okay, wise guy, is that before or after they shoot me and hang me?”

“Don't be dense, Messina, you and I, together, edit the recordings and erase anything that they can use against you. We probably will have to leave something on there to make them sound genuine, but it shouldn't get you more than a slap on the wrist. Is your son worth that?”

Messina turned and sauntered up and down the aisles of the greenhouse, smelling a flower here, pulling off a dead leaf there, deep in thought for a good ten minutes. He returned to Jack, looked up at him and said, “That's not a bad plan, Jack. You'd have made a good gang leader. Just one thing, I keep the recordings.”

Jack was adamant, “Nope, my plan, I keep them. It's the only way I have to prove I'm on the side of the angels if things go wrong. One of us has to trust the other and I'm far and away the most trustworthy, wouldn't you agree?

Messina stared at him for a little while and then, loudly laughing, agreed, “Yeah, I guess you've got me there. You keep them, but don't make the mistake that I'm a harmless old man.”

A few days later Jack called Sam, the FBI agent, and told him he had been promoted to one of the house guards and thought he could get some information but didn't know how much. He again stated that Carl was blameless and just a gopher for the rest.

After feeding Sam small items for a couple weeks, he told him he was an inside guard now and might be able to get more. He started sitting in on the meetings and recording them. Whenever he did Messina would meet with him a day or so later in Jack's little apartment and they would edit them.

What Messina didn't know was that Jack had copied them, just in case. He kept the copies in a safe deposit box with instructions that if he suddenly became deceased the contents went to the FBI. He figured, trust but cover your butt.

During this time there was another couple attempts to hijack Carl when he was carrying packages. Jack efficiently thwarted them, but Carl was getting increasingly nervous until one day Jack noticed a bulge under Carl's coat. Waiting until they were alone in an office Jack suddenly grabbed Carl by the lapels and slammed him into a wall, shouting, “What in God's name are you doing with a gun, give it to me.”

Carl gingerly took it from his shoulder holster while explaining, “I just wanted to be able to help you, Jack. If you were down there'd be no one else to help.”

Jack released Carl and put the gun in his belt, and said, “Don't you know why your dad wants me with you? It's so you don't have to carry a gun, he's trying to protect you from trouble. What do you think would happen if you started shooting and some kid got hit, you'd never get out. That's why he doesn't want you to know about his business except for the legit ones that you're already running.”

“I guess I didn't think about that. Thanks Jack, you're a good friend.”

“I try Carl, I try”

Jack met with Sam late one afternoon in the back of a small coffee house and told him, “That's it Sam, no more, they're getting suspicious of me. I'm not sticking my head in the lions mouth anymore. I've given you enough to shut the whole town down, and I quit.”

“I agree, Jack. You've given us enough that if they try anything they'll be cut off at the pass, so to speak. We have just about everything set up. Now we wait for Messina to hang it up and we'll grab everyone. We've even got a little on him, not as much as we'd like but he'll do some time.”

“In that case Sam, forget about me testifying on anything. You told me you weren't after him, you snookered me and I won't have it. I want written proof that you won't prosecute him or his son. He's been fair with me and I want to be fair back. Don't try arguing, that's bible, what I said.”

“We can subpoena you, Jack, and you'll spend time in the graybar hotel if you don't show up. We'd find you, you know that too, so don't get hard nosed. If you do testify you'll be the shining star of the state and wouldn't have to buy yourself a drink for years. Just think, the man behind the crime cleanup of the whole city. They'd probably make a movie about you.”

“Yeah sure Sam, that and a dollar bill won't get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. First threats and then glory. Oh, I'd show up alright, but with a very bad memory. Did Messina say that? I'm sorry, I don't remember that. What would that do to your case, hotshot. Don't try feeding me your pablum, I don't like baby food, I'm a big boy now.”

“Well, we wouldn't have much if you won't cooperate, so I guess it's win some, lose some. I'll talk to the higher-ups but they'll probably go along. What are you going to do after this is all over?”

“Ah, Sam, I know that look in your eye. Thanks, but no thanks, I think I'll be able to find something, don't you?”

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