Monday, December 10, 2012

Freedy Filkins, International Jewel Thief, 45.

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It wasn't a dream.  She was still in his arms in the morning.  They were both clothed and she was snoring in a very unladylike way, but it felt like heaven.  He just stayed in the position for what seemed hours as his arm went to sleep, and pressure to go to the bathroom grew and grew.

Finally, there was knock on the door and Sheila stirred and looked up at him and smiled.

Another, louder knock, and she said, "You going to get that?"

"Do I have to?"

He got up and there at the door was Garland, smiling.

"Sorry to wake you two lovebirds, but there is a community meeting in an hour.  You ought to be there."

Freedy felt so relieved to see the old hippie that he almost hugged him.  Garland backed away, holding up his hand. "Wow, there Freedy.  Glad to see you, too."

He walked away, laughing.

They took turns showering.  Someone had left some clothes on the chairs by the door.  From the looks of it, Freedy was wearing something that Billy or Bob would wear.  He realized that sometime during the trip, his little pot belly had disappeared.  He went to the mirror and saw a man he didn't recognize.  Not a boy, a man.  Chiseled cheeks, not plumb ones.  A serious look to the eyes, instead of a perpetually puzzled one.  When had that happened?

He put on the Levi's and the green stripped flannel shirt and suspenders with a feeling of belonging.

Sheila wore a peasant blouse and a denim skirt, and she looked anything but the tough F.B.I. agent.  She was still a little shy about dressing in front of him, and he'd gone off the breakfast room to grab some bagels.

"You ever been here before?" he asked, when he came back.

"As a matter of fact, I have," she said.  "This is probably the most volatile union versus anti-union territory in the country.  Darrell Horn has done just about everything he can to stamp down on unions, while the unions have responded by being a little more aggressive than usual.  It's almost like the bad old days."

"How does he keep the unions from coming in?" Freedy asked.

"By every means necessary," she said.  "Legal or illegal.  But he's been extraordinarily sneaky in his union busting activities.  So far, he's winning.  Somehow he's managed to keep the coal mine with the worst safety record in the industry a non-union mine.  When Charlie and the boys showed up here trying to recruit miners for their gold mine, Horn somehow, well, hornswaggled the mineral rights away from them.  They didn't respond well.  Did some sabotage to the equipment Horn sent to Lorn Mountain."

"So you knew about Charlie and the Lorn Mountain situation before we met you?" 

"I'm sympathetic to Charlie and the boys," she said.  "But the law is on the side of Darrell Horn Mining.  Which reminds me, I need to check in."

She pulled the Barbie phone from her previous day's clothes and turned her back to him.  She put her finger to her ear and walked over to the corner.  She talked for about five minutes.  When she turned back with a smile, she saw the look on his face.

"Oh, Freedy!  Don't worry, I didn't say anything about what's happened.  As far as I'm concerned, we've broken no laws -- well, besides a little shoplifting and I left an extra twenty at the counter."

He relaxed, and she came over and gave him a hug.

"Amazingly, I'm still assigned to you guys.  I don't understand it."

So the Key was at least keeping Its word about that, Freedy thought.

They wandered out the door, and saw some of the others making their way to the conference room.  They followed.

The room was packed.  It looked like the whole town might have been there. Hundreds of people.

Charlie was sitting on the dias with half a dozen other tough looking men.  Miners, Freedy presumed.  It was a company town and the company was coal mining.  Garland was sitting at the end of the dias, both part of the group and somehow giving off the feeling that he was not part of it.

 Freedy and Sheila stood at the back, not quite feeling part of the crowd.

A big man rose to the lectern.  He was broad in the chest with heavy features.  He looked like a coal miner, Freedy thought.  If you looked up coal miner in the dictionary, this is the picture you'd get.

"That's Jerry Brant," Sheila whispered.   "He's the foreman of the mine.  If this place functions at all, it's because of him.  He's against unions for reasons no one quite understands.  But he's a fair and honorable man, and if his men voted to unionize, he'd go along.  Unfortunately, they like him so much, they follow his wishes."

"I call this meeting to order," Brant said.  "Charlie Emmit has returned with some news and I thought we should hear him out."

Charlie got up, looking small next to the giant foreman, but still seeming as formidable.

"As you know, we lost our mineral rights to the Lorn Mountain mine after we tried to hire some of you away.  We've gained them back, so we'd like to repeat the offer."

"Do you own the deed to the land?" someone shouted out.  "We've heard you don't even own it."

As Freedy had learned, Charlie was incapable of lying.  He flushed a bright red.  "My family has lived on that mountain for a hundred years.  We've always owned it.  We'll prove it soon enough."

Brant stood up again.  "If you'd like to join up with Charlie and his boys, they'll be waiting in the back.  It's a union operation, I'm warning you."

"When do we go back to work?" someone else shouted out.

"As you know, some irregularities have been reported in the equipment maintenance, and until that is cleared up, I'd like to ask your patience.  I'm not opening the mine until I'm sure it's safe."

"Wouldn't happen if we had a union!" someone shouted.

"And it's not happening now," Brant said.  "And it won't happen as long as I'm here."

That quieted down the crowd.  Sheila whispered to Freedy.  "Horn puts up with Brant's standards because he knows that if the big man ever became pro-union, it would happen overnight."

"I wonder how Horn keeps him in line..." Freedy mused.

"Oh, Brant would never stand for coercion," Sheila said, sounding surprised.  "No, it's some deep-seated belief that defies all rational explanation."

The meeting broke up and Garland made his way over to him.  "I'm sorry, Agent Moller," he said.  "I need to borrow Freedy for awhile."

"Sure!" she said.  "See you back in the hotel room, Freedy."  She walked away, and both men watched her with appreciation.

"Hell of a woman," Garland said.  "Now...Freedy.  We're going to have that talk."

As they walked to the diner, Freedy wondered what to say.

Once again, he wanted to keep the Key to himself.  He'd shown that he knew how to use it, after all.  He'd saved their bacon a couple of times now.  He was damned if he was just going to hand it over now.

Steve and Sam came roaring up on their Harleys and they waved cheerily as they passed.  Apparently, they'd returned the Price-Ceiling parking lot in the middle of the night retrieved their bikes.

Freedy and Garland sat in the diner, silent.  Staring at each other.

"O.K. Freedy, out with it."

"Out with what?" he asked.

"Whatever it is you're hiding.  Don't even try.  I'll know."

Freedy told the story of his encounter with the man under the data center, only he didn't name him.  He also soft-pedaled the flashdrive.  "It allows me to break passwords really fast," was all Freedy said.

Garland seemed to sense he was holding something back, but he was also obviously preoccupied.  "Well, it sounds like a nifty tool.  You'll need it."


"Why, Freedy. You still haven't done what we hired you to do.  In the morning, we are heading for New York City.  There you will break into the Horn Spire penthouse and steal the property deeds to Lorn Mountain."

"I will?"  Freedy was amazed that Garland thought he could do such a thing.  But at the same time, he felt the pressure of the Key against his leg.  Maybe, perhaps, it was just possible he could pull it off.

"After all the things Charlie has told me you've done on this trip," Garland said.  "I have complete confidence in you."

Freedy felt himself excited by the challenge.  What an odd reaction!  Who'd have ever thought it?

 The only reason he was less than thrilled was because he knew he'd have to leave Sheila behind, and he'd have to lie to her about why.

 Sheila was waiting for him back at the motel, and they spent the rest of the day together.  They wandered around the small town hand in hand, and everyone smiled at them.

The town was pretty evenly split between union and non-union activists, and there had been tension in the past, but for now the acrimony was simmering below the surface.  Besides, there was no difference in the universal appeal of the newly in love.  Everyone was friendly to them.

The town was very small, and after a lunch in the diner, they walked out toward the slag heaps on the edge of town.  A huge hole had been dug into a mountain, or what had once been a mountain and was now more a hill with it top lopped off.

The ugliness reminded Freedy of the clear cutting of forests back in his native Oregon, and how it had seemed a crime against nature.

"You can't judge them, Freedy.  It's how they make their living."

Freedy wasn't judging.  It all looked like it belonged, somehow.  Everything in the world was where it should be and how it should be.  Because the world had given him Sheila, though he didn't deserve it, though he hadn't been looking for it.

They walked out into the surrounding woods.  They could have gone back to the motel, Freedy thought.  It might have been more comfortable.  But there, under a huge tree that had somehow escaped being cut, they laid down and came together.

It was so natural, so comfortable, so pleasurable that Freedy knew he'd never be the same.  Whatever happened now, he had just had the peak experience of his life.  The waiting, the misunderstandings, the difficulties -- all were washed away in a wave of rightness.

Later, they walked back into town, and if anything the smiles on the passersby grew even broader.  It was as if everyone could tell, and both Sheila and Freedy looked away from their glances shyly.

The world was a different place.  Freedy wished he could just stay with Sheila, but he also knew that their coming together had only happened because of the chances he had taken on this trip.  If he'd stayed in the miserable comfort of Filk's End, he never would have met her.

He couldn't renege on his agreement with Garland and Charlie and the others.  If he did, he wasn't the man Sheila thought he was.

They went back to the motel for the night -- and yes, the beds were more comfortable and the union was just as pleasurable, but the memory of that huge tree towering over them would always be with him.

At about four o:clock in the morning, he disentangled himself gently and got dressed.

Garland was waiting by the Miata.  Freedy got in without a word and they drove out of town.

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