You know that feeling you get when you are at a point in your life where you don’t know what’s next. But you know it makes you feel sick to think about it. That tight knot in the pit of your stomach the metallic taste you get in the back of your throat knowing that you’re going to throw up no matter how hard you fight it. This is that point in life for Thomas, he knows whatever happens next, whatever decisions he makes now in his life will determine the path that he will be on until it’s end.
He stepped off the ship and onto the dock, his time as a marine was over, he had enlisted straight out of high school. Went through basic and was shipped straight into the Battle of Peleliu, during November of 1944.
It was now October of 1945 and PFC Thomas Moore had been sent home with an honorable discharge, along with a positive TB test and a diagnosis of six months to live. He gathered his duffle bag and headed into the city that he would now call home.
His first piece of business was to find a place to stay and where is the best place to start looking, a bar. He entered a rundown bar called Charlie’s out on the corner of 1st and River Dr. North a few blocks up from the docks. Charlie’s was dimly lit, smelled of cigarettes, booze and a faint hint of floral perfume. Thomas took a seat, ordered a beer and surveyed the bar.
There were booths around the edge, a pool table in the backroom along with the restrooms and a bulletin board. He took his beer and walked towards the back, he glanced at the bulletin board, flyers for help needed and rooms for rent were pinned scattered to the board.
One caught his eye, written on a light blue piece of note paper: Boarding House one room available, call or come by 172 West Riverside Dr. Ask for Mrs. Rachel Darling. He took the note down, folded it and placed it in his front breast pocket. He finished his beer and headed out to find the boarding house.
Thomas stood in front of 172 West Riverside Dr. taking in the two story house with a large porch and white railings. There was a yard with an apple tree, an apricot tree and some rose bushes. He walked up the driveway to the porch and knocked on the door.
Mrs. Rachel Darling sat in front of her typewriter working on her next column for The Daily Star, the local newspaper for the area. Her column Ask Edna had recipes, gardening advice and household tips and tricks. Rachel also covered the up coming community event section.
She enjoyed her job as a freelance writer. She still used the Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter her parents had given her when she decided to take up writing as a career.
Now that the war over and food rationing had laxed a bit she could use some of her favorite recipes. She pulled out a handmade book that had a picture of a girl running through a field of wildflowers. It was a recipe book she had put together with her mom a lifetime ago. Rachel thumbed through it, soups & salads, main dishes and desserts.
This week’s recipes from Edna’s kitchen, Three Bean Salad, Stuffed Green Bell Peppers and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Rachel typed away.
Rachel had though about putting together her own cookbook, she entitled it Recipes from Edna’s Kitchen. She thought it was cute.
With the beginning of fall just around the corner your Victory Garden needs tending to. She typed writing up the gardening advice for this week.
Rachel Darling had been married to Jim Darling for sixteen years until his untimely death three years ago. Jim was a banker a nine to five guy, everyday in a suit and tie, Monday through Friday at the office, he had passed away of a heart attack. There daughter Susan was away attending nursing school.
As Rachel was finishing up her column there was a knock on the door.
The door opened and Thomas was greeted by a lovely lady in her late 30’s wearing a long dark skirt and a light blue buttoned up blouse, her dark brunette hair was pulled up into a loose bun and there was a pencil poking out of the side of the bun.
“Yes can I help you?” she asked, Thomas smiled.
“Mrs. Darling?” she nodded.
“Do you still have the room available?”
“Yes, are you able to afford it? It’s 10 dollars a week,”
Rachel looked him over, he was dressed in dark blue jeans and a denim shirt. He was good looking, a little over 6 feet tall, wearing the standard military issue haircut, not too bulky but definitely muscular. Thomas had his last months salary from the marines, a whole 180 dollars. He smiled at her.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
Rachel let him in and gave him a tour of the house, downstairs there was an entryway, the living room and kitchen. She led him upstairs, where there were three bedrooms and a bathroom.
The first bedroom was hers, the second one was her daughters. The third smallest room was the one for rent.
The room wasn’t anything special, it had a standard twin sized bed, a chest of drawers and a night stand with a brass lamp on it.
“Do you want it?” Rachel asked him.
“Yes, I will take it,” Thomas answered and handed her 20 dollars to cover the first two weeks.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” She said as she returned downstairs.
Thomas took his time finding a steady job, he did some day labor out at the docks when he felt like it. Most of his time during this first year was spent at Charlie’s smoking, drinking and playing pool.
He found that he had a natural talent for the game and for making a little cash on the side, hustling other drunk patrons. Buck the owner of Charlie’s let him for a percent of the take.
During this particular late night run of the tables, two guys were playing Thomas and they were up two games, best of five.
Thomas turned it on and started to take the third game when one of the guys decided that they were done being played and would take all of what Thomas had on him.
He walked behind Thomas as he was about to take a shot and swung the pool cue making contact with Thomas’s lower back, his knees buckled from the pain and he fell forward. The second guy grabbed his wrists and pinned them down to the pool table.
“We will be taking all that you have,” the guy behind him said as he emptied Thomas’s pockets.
Thomas didn’t like letting this happen, but since they were only walking away with the $10 he put up and their own $20 from the previous games there was really no loss.
Thomas had grown up with five older brothers, he learned early on that you don’t keep money in your wallet, you keep it in your sock or shoe. Better yet you don’t carry much at all. His stash of savings was nicely tucked away in an envelope on the underside of the bottom drawer of the dresser in his room.
“You ok?” A voice behind him asked. Thomas looked over and saw a lovely young looking woman, with long blonde hair, pulled back into a clip, looking concerned.
“Ya, I’ll live,”
“Want a drink?” Thomas nodded and sat down at one of the tables. She brought him over a cold beer and introduced herself.
“I am Sarah, Buck hired me to help out around here,”
Thomas smiled at her and took a long drink of the cold beer.
Thomas walked Sarah home.
Sarah lived in a small studio apartment above a deli, as they walked up the narrow staircase Thomas said.
“Is that roast beef?” Sarah smiled.
“It’s cheep and who doesn’t like the smell of fresh baked bread,”
She unlocked the door and they entered the room, it was simply decorated with a bed, loveseat and kitchen table.
“Would you like a drink?” She asked.
“Sure,” Sarah took two glasses from the cupboard and poured some whiskey in each.
They sat at the table, drinking and talking. After the conversation had died out Thomas stood up and took Sarah’s hand, raising her to her feet. He slid his hands around her waist and pulled her into him. He kissed her soft full lips, she kissed him back.
“That was nice,” she grinned. Thomas led her over to the bed.
“You know that they are looking for some full-time workers out at pier 36, you should go talk to David Henderson, something better than getting taken at pool,” Sarah said as they were getting dressed the next morning.
“I’ll look into it,” Thomas said giving her a kiss goodbye.
David Henderson was a big burly man that spoke with a tone of authority.
“Do you have any experience in shipping and receiving?” Henderson asked Thomas.
“Not really sir, but I am a quick learner,” Henderson looked him over.
“Well you look capable, show up on time and do what’s asked of you,”
“You can start Monday seven sharp, report to Mr. Andrews in warehouse C,”
“Yes sir, and thank you sir,”
Thomas awoke at 6am Monday morning to the aroma of frying bacon and fresh brewed coffee. He dressed and made his way downstairs, Rachel was in front of the stove.
“Hope you like your eggs scrambled,” she said fixing a plate.
“Yes, thank you,” he smiled at her.
Mr. James Andrews was a tall slender build man, with a clipboard in his hand and a pen in his mouth.
“You’re the new guy,” he thumbed through the sheets of paper on his clipboard,
“Ok, you can start unloading in bay two, the guys will show you what to do, just don’t drop anything,”
Thomas picked up the rhythm of unloading quickly. The work itself was tiring but it was a paycheck at the end of the week, for that Thomas was grateful. Thomas worked, hung out at Charlie’s and enjoyed getting to know Sarah over the next six months.
It was a slow Tuesday evening at Charlie’s when Buck, struck up a conversation with Thomas and Sarah.
“You see that?” he pointed to a picture hanging behind the bar.
“Yep, who is it?” Thomas asked.
“That is Charlie, I bought the bar from him when he retired,”
Thomas looked at the black and white photo of a man, in his early 30’s, wearing a tee-shirt and jeans, standing in front of the bar.
“When Charlie was almost done with school, he met a dame, named Georgiana, everyone just called her George. She was tall, slender and liked to party. Charlie lost his mind over her, to the point that he even proposed, had a ring and everything,” Buck handed Thomas another beer.
“But, right before Charlie was going to graduate from college, his momma died. She had been sick for a while but didn’t tell anyone. So poor Charlie was devastated, his momma was the world to him. His pappa had passed away when he was just a boy, it had been just him and momma,” Buck took a long drink of his beer.
“That poor man,” Sarah said.
“It gets better, durring the funeral, while they were lowering his dear momma into the ground, George decided that it was a good time to pick a fight with Charlie. I don’t know what she was all worked up over, but she made quite the scene. Topped of with taking off the engagement ring and throwing it into the hole with the coffen. Charlie was beside himself,”
“Well that’s quite the story,” Thomas said finishing off his beer.
“Charlie finished up school, took the little his momma had left and bought this place,” Buck said.
Mr. Andrew’s called Thomas over after his shift on a Friday in June, it was unseasonably warm and hadn’t rained in weeks.
“Yes, Mr. Andrews?” Thomas asked, wiping his dripping brow. Mr. Andrews put his arm around Thomas’s shoulder.
“Call me James,”
“Ok, James, what’s up?”
“We’re going to have some special shipments coming in next week, and I would like you to be responsible for their delivery, can you handle that?”
“I don’t see why not, sir,” Thomas answered not giving it much thought.
“Ok, good, we’ll see you on Monday, have a good weekend,” James said.
When Thomas arrived home he heard voices in the kitchen. Rachel was sitting at the table with a pretty young redhead.
“Hello,” Thomas said as he entered the kitchen.
“Thomas, good this is my daughter Susan,” Rachel said Thomas extended his hand.
“Nice to meet you,”
“Likewise,” Susan answered.
“Susan will be starting at the hospital as a nurse, on Monday,” Rachel said.
“Mom’s been telling me how much she has enjoyed your company,” she said, Thomas smiled at Rachel.
Thomas, Susan and Rachel enjoyed a lovely dinner of ham with pineapple, scalloped potatoes and salad. While they ate, Rachel told embarrassing stories about Susan’s childhood. Thomas found it cute that her cheeks turned as red as her short curly hair.
Thomas spent most of Saturday and Sunday shooting pool at Charlie’s and hanging out with Sarah.
By Monday the heat and humidity were almost unbearable. Thomas started his shift at 7am already drenched in sweat.
“Thomas, make sure to put all the crates marked ‘Import House’ into trailer 14, and give me a count at the end of your shift,” Mr. Andrews said.
Thomas took note of this and began unloading bay two as usual. On his fourth trip into bay two, he noticed the crate was stamped with the words ‘Import House’ he picked it up and took it to trailer 14.
“Ok, then,” he muttered to himself, there was nothing strange or different about the crate, just that it was stamped, other than that it looked just like all the other crates.
Thomas went about his day as usual, after lunch the sky had become dark and everyone was hoping it would rain already. Thomas was finishing with bay two, he went to retrieve a crate marked ‘Import House’ as he picked it up, his back spasmed and he dropped it.
“Dammit,” he said to himself. He took a moment to rub his lower back and recover.
He looked over the crate to check for any damage, there was a crack running along one side of the crate, a white substance resembling sugar was spilling onto the floor.
Thomas licked his pinky and dipped it into the spill, he tasted it.
“Definitely not sugar,” he said to himself. He cleaned up the spill and fixed the crate to the best of his abilities with some tape.
At the end of his shift he gave Mr. Andrews a slip of paper with the number of crates he had put in trailer 14.
“Any problems with today’s load?” he asked.
“Nope, it’s all where you wanted it to be,” Thomas answered.
There was a loud crack of thunder and a flash of lightning as the downpour began, Thomas walked up to Charlie’s to unwind and see Sarah.
As he sipped on his cold beer he thought about the marked crates. If there were eight crates and they were around two feet long and a foot wide. Thomas stared off doing the math in his head.
” You ok there?” Sarah intrupted his train of thought.
“Yeah, just hot and tired, long day,” he smiled at her, she kissed him on the cheek.
The unloading of marked crates into trailer 14 whent on for the next two weeks. Each morning trailer 14 was empty of the previous days shipment. Thomas did what he was asked, putting the marked crates in trailer 14 and giving Mr. Andrews a count at the end of every shift.
Thomas became curious as to where the marked crates were going. On a Friday after his shift he decided to wait and watch trailer 14.
He found himself a quiet spot not to far from the trailer. He watched and waited. Around 9pm three large men showed up in a pickup truck, along with Mr. Andrews. Thomas watched as they loaded the marked crates into the back of the truck.
After an enjoyable evening with Sarah, complete with a steak dinner and a bottle of Jack Daniels, Thomas told her about trailer 14, and the marked crates. Sarah listened politely.
“Interesting,” she said.
Thomas once again waited and watched trailer 14 after work on Monday. He waited and watched, then the pickup truck carrying the three large men and Mr. Andrews parked next to the trailer.
Then a second vehicle pulled in behind the pickup. David Henderson exited the vehicle along with Sarah.
“What the hell is Sarah doing here,” Thomas muttered to himself.
David Henderson exchanged some heated words with Mr. Andrews while the three large men started to unload trailer 14. Then something strange happened, blue and red lights, lit up the dock as four cop cars came screeching in, srounding trailer 14. The cops exited their vehicles with guns drawn. Orders of stop what you’re doing and put your hands up, were given.
Sarah moved towards David Henderson, as she was doing so, someone fired, the shot rang out through the air, Sarah fell to the ground. Thomas ran towards her without thinking, one of the large men pulled a switchblade and lunged at Thomas, catching him in the side with the switchblade.
“Everybody just stop,” Mr. Andrews yelled.
Thomas was on the ground next to Sarah, holding his side. He could see her face, she was gone.
David Henderson raised his hands, the three large men took his lead and got on their knees. The cops moved in arrestes were made.
Thomas didn’t want to leave Sarah, but he also didn’t want to be a part of the drug bust that was going down. He got up to leave, Mr. Andrews pulled him aside.
“I know you’re confused, quick version, I have been undercover working the drug smuggling case for almost a year now, we had to move on it, I am sorry about Sarah,” Mr. Andrews cleared his throat.
“Why was she even here?” Thomas asked.
“You don’t know, she’s David Henderson’s neice, she helped run the books,” Mr. Andrews answered.
Thomas sat at the kitchen table holding a dishtowel to his side.
“You ok?” Susan asked from the doorway of the kitchen.
“Not really,” Thomas answered showing her his sliced side.
“Just a minute,” she went to get the first aid kit.
Susan cleaned and stiched up Thomas side as he explained everything that had happened on the docks.
“If you want to get into another line of work, Uncle John owns a garage, and he’s always looking for help,”
“I may have to take you up on that,”
“There all done,” she started cleaning up. Thomas took her hand.
“Thank you,” he kissed her on the cheek, Susan blushed.
“I’ll invite Uncle John over for dinner on Friday,”
“Mom can make stroganoff, it’s his favorite,” Susan said as she headed up to bed.
Thomas continued to sit at the kitchen table thinking about what to do next.