“Justice without Mercy” Chapter 6

Kelly picked up on the first ring. When Kathy mentioned she was a close friend of her JWM SerializationAunt Anita, Kelly agreed to see them for dinner. Kathy explained that Anita’s friend and boss would be with her. She asked Kelly to pick a nearby restaurant where they could talk. Kelly said she would be at Joe Mama’s restaurant on the corner of Oakland Avenue and Forbes at seven o’clock. Kathy said they would be there and, if Kelly got there first, to get a booth or table where they could talk. A private room would be perfect.

Kathy looked over at Jack and he said, “Perfect. We don’t have time to check into a hotel, so Shadow will have to stay in the car. He’ll be okay as long as he gets a walk and something to eat. I’ll pull off on the first country road. We can stretch our legs and Shadow can do his thing. Break out his kibble and water bowl.”

Ten minutes later Jack turned off onto a secondary road that led to the small town of Delmont. A few minutes later they parked off the road under a large maple tree on the edge of a corn field. Shadow was glad to get out and bounced around like the puppy he still could be.

Jack knew Oakland well and had eaten several times in the restaurant Kelly picked. He pulled into the small parking lot just after seven, cracked the windows for Shadow who settled down in his first class compartment in the back of the SRX. Kathy looked at her watch and told Jack she bet Kelly was already here.

“We’ll soon find out,” he said as he opened the door for Kathy. Kelly saw the couple getting out of a Cadillac from her seat in a booth and was sure they must be the people her Aunt knew. She moved toward the front door to meet them. Just inside the door, Kathy hesitated and stopped, staring at the young woman coming toward.

“My God, Jack, she’s a good bit taller but is the very image of Anita.”

Jack said, “She has to be Anita’s daughter. Add 20 years and she would be Anita. I can’t believe the likeness.”

Kathy, with tears running down her face, hugged Kelly and said, “I may never let you go.”

Jack joined them and kissed Kelly on the cheek. Kathy laughed, still hugging Kelly, “He really doesn’t do that much. His middle name is stoic, no emotion here. Kelly, you look so much like Anita. Let’s get out of the center of the floor. I want to sit down and hear all about you.”

“Okay. But you must start by telling me about Anita. I still cry when I think of her. I loved her, more like a mother or older sister than an aunt. We had a special bond and I’ll miss her forever.”

On the way to their booth, Kelly said, “I hope you like this place. The food is very good. The service, a little less so.”

Jack said, “Don’t worry, we’re here to see you and I have eaten here several times in a former life with the Pittsburgh Police Bureau.”

“No kidding! You were a cop here?”

“Yes, and I lived less than five minutes from here. I graduated from Pitt. So we have some things in common besides Anita.”

“I can’t believe this. Here comes our waiter. Let’s order drinks before he gets away.”

The waiter came up to the table and started his spiel. Jack interrupted him and said, “Carlo, never mind the speech. Bring us three Rolling Rocks.”

Carlo looked at Jack and said, “What a rotten night. God’s gift to the homicide squad is here. How the hell are you, Detective? I’ll take personal care of your order. Cash only. No credit.”

“Be careful and you’ll get the same big tip.”

“Some things never change. Three beers coming up.”

Kelly said, “I guess you really do know this place. Carlo has been a fixture here. Kathy, Anita told me about you. I know very little about her work except that she avoided my questions.”

“You know that Anita was an army major in the Special Forces. She was wounded in Iraq before she retired from the army and joined the CIA. She couldn’t tell anyone about her work there. I worked with Anita in the counter-terrorism group. She was very good. She wasn’t an analyst or a desk jockey. She was an active field operations officer and a very talented shooter. I don’t think I ever knew anyone who was better in a real shooting situation. Anita and my friend here were taking down a room full of al Qaeda terrorists when Anita was killed saving Jack’s life. She died in Jack’s arms. Her last words were about you.”

Kathy saw that Kelly was struggling to hold back the tears and changed seats to sit beside her. With Kathy’s arm around her, Kelly let the tears flow. When she got under control, she excused herself to fix her face.

When she was gone, Jack said, “How can we not tell her that Anita is her mother? Who will that hurt? Marie has already written her off. As long as some money arrives, I don’t think Marie will cause any problem.”

“I agree but first let’s probe Kelly’s feelings about her mother. Also, while there is nothing wrong with the name Kowalski, I’m having a hard time attaching it to Kelly who is really a Marino. Kelly Marino has the right sound.”

Kelly came back just as Carlo was setting three Rolling Rocks on the booth table. Jack took her hand and said, “Why don’t you order for us? It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been here.”

Kelly handed the menus back to Carlo and said, “Bring us an order of eggplant Parmesan with linguini and one of garlic crusted chicken. We’ll start with a plate of crispy calamari.”

“Hey, Jack, my friend, this lady ain’t no cheap date.”

“No problem, Carlo, I’ve invested my cop salary very wisely.”

Kathy said, “We’ll answer any questions you have, the best we can. Now will you tell us about Kelly? Her plans, dreams and hopes.”

“Right now I’m sort of adrift. Anita was my only anchor. It’s because of her I’m in school. She sent me money directly to help with my education with the understanding that I wouldn’t tell Marie. I could have gone to any school in Pennsylvania but I wanted to follow Anita to Pitt. I want to do athletics but I just don’t have time with my part-time jobs and class work. I’m not happy with my grade level but I’m dropping one job to bring my grades up. During the few times she came to visit when I was grown, we would go to the local high school track and compete. I could take her in the 100 meters but anything longer and she just ran away. I couldn’t believe it. She was old enough to be my mother. Nobody that old should embarrass me on the track.”

After Carlos delivered the calamari, Kathy laughed and said, “Anita was special. She could run away from both Jack and me. She was awesome in the water. Come to think of it, she could outshoot both of us. And this big guy here served in Iraq with the Marines as a sniper. So don’t be embarrassed. Anita was better than most of the world.”

Jack nodded his head and said, “Anita was a true warrior. We can’t tell you everything but I want you to know that Anita died in my arms after saving my life. We both owe her.”

“Did she say anything when you were holding her?”

Jack looked at Kathy and nodded. Kathy said, “I’m going to tell you something you should keep to yourself for now. Don’t even tell Marie. Can you do that?”

“Yes, I can. Especially with her. She’s like a newspaper. Whatever she knows, she tells.”

“This will be hard for you. Anita asked Jack to take care of her sister’s daughter, since she was her daughter. Jack and I believe she was giving us a clear message that you are her daughter and her sister raised you as her child.”

Kelly put her hand up to her face and said, “Oh! I knew it! When I got older, I looked so much like my aunt that people were always commenting. And Marie’s husband, Harvey, made it clear I wasn’t his kid. Why didn’t she tell me? I’ll never get to tell her how much I loved her and wished she were my mother? Is there a grave site anywhere?”

“No, there was an intense fire following the firefight, and no bodies were recovered. Maybe someday Kathy and I will take you to the place where she was killed. That’s the best we can do. Know that she always loved you and did what she thought was best for you. I believe she would’ve told you the truth when she could be available to you full time.”

Kathy said, “How are you going to deal with Marie?”

“That’s easy. She has written me off. She doesn’t want me to finish my education. When we heard Anita was dead, she said, ‘What good did her fancy education do for her or us? Don’t you see people like us have to live in the real world? Get a job, find a husband, have kids and grab what little else you can.’

“I hated her for saying that. Only the thought of Anita kept me going. So, for Marie and me, nothing will change. Except I’ve never felt comfortable with the name ‘Kowalski,’ so I’ll start the legal process to change it to Marino after my grandfather. Kelly Marino sounds good to me.”

Jack raised his glass and said, “From now on, you are Kelly Marino.”

Over the eggplant and chicken, Jack and Kathy outlined some changes Kelly could make in her life. Kathy started by saying, “We can help with the name change. That will be easy. Jack has a very good attorney. I think Jack has some other possibilities he wants to discuss with you.”

“If you agree with my proposal, you will have no more money problems. You can quit your jobs and work full time on being a student. Starting now you are an employee of the same organization Anita worked with. Your salary will be $250,000 per year with benefits. After graduation, if you decide to continue working with us, your salary will double. If not, you will get a lump sum payment large enough to carry you until you get work elsewhere. In return for the backing, we will require you to keep us informed of your progress, including your selection of university courses and a successful completion of some other training we assign. As you successfully complete both aspects of your training, we will be able to tell you more about your mother’s career. Also, this arrangement must be kept secret from everyone, unless we tell you otherwise. Any questions?”

Kathy thought, Jack is really testing her. He wants to know now if she has the stuff to be part of what we do. If so, that’s one course of action. If not, then he will see that she gets a good start on her new life.

“I’ve a few. But I don’t know enough now to ask all the right questions.”

“Not to worry. Ask the few you have. There are no wrong questions, only wrong answers. I won’t give you any of those, so go ahead. You have the floor. The first person to see Carlo, signal for three more beers.”

“May I call you Jack?”

“That’s an easy one. Yes, you may.”

“Okay, Jack, why are you offering so much money to a girl you don’t even know?”

“Ah, but I do know you. Kathy has known your mother for years and I trust her judgment. She doesn’t believe you have fallen very far from the tree. Secondly, Anita’s daughter is someone I would bet on sight unseen. Thirdly, I’m pretty good at judging people and I like what I see. And, lastly, I admire your discipline in sticking to your goals when Marie and, I suppose, others were telling you to forget your dream. I believe the money will be well spent and, incidentally, I can afford to invest the money. Next question.”

“I have one more year of study for my B.A. I’m majoring in history with a strong minor in criminology. My grade point average is about 3.3. Are you recommending any changes to my program?”

“What are your extracurricular activities?”

“Outside of the R.O.T.C. program, I’m not active in anything else.”

“Yes. I have some recommendations, but you don’t have to accept them. I want you to get on the track team and to start martial arts training in Hapkido. A friend of mine runs a good Dojang in Oakland, and I’ll give you a letter to him if you decide to accept my recommendations.”

“What do you want me to do on the track team?”

“That’s between you and the coaching staff. I want you in a good conditioning program, and the track coaches will lay it out for you. Don’t hesitate to tell them about your mother’s records at Pitt.”

“Why the kung fu stuff? Is it for real?”

Kathy said, “After your first week, you won’t be wondering whether it’s for real.”

Jack laughed and said, “Hapkido is a very tough and deadly martial arts, not a sport. You don’t spar seriously. It’s too dangerous. In the Dojang, no questions or tentative moves by the students are expected. Your instructor will be in total charge.”

Kathy added, “We aren’t fixated on GPA ratings. Our interest is in how well you can think, react and execute. At least half of what you have learned should be forgotten. The trick is knowing which half.”

“Okay. Kelly, do you have other questions? We’ll give you contact phone numbers for us. Call at any time. I have a check for you to deposit. Your tuition, board, books and some reasonable car are some of the things it will cover. Kathy will send you an iPhone that will be charged to our company. Do not let anyone else use it under any circumstances. The phone has some special capabilities Kathy will explain to you. Just so the record is straight, there are no second chances. Anita made that rule and it has served us well. This check is for $75,000. Deposit it and use it as necessary. There is nothing for you to sign, and we don’t need or want any receipts. The money is yours. It is not a loan. You are in charge.”

Kelly looked at the check and said, “I’ve never even seen a check for this much money. It is for real, isn’t it?”

Kathy said, “Yes, the check is real. Jack has money, but he doesn’t waste it or spend it on ostentatious items. We want to see how you handle these changes in your life. There will be more, if you and we get through a sort of probationary period. Remember you can opt out at any time and so can we.”

Jack said, “I’ve another point to make. If you get a phone call from us, email or text message asking you to go somewhere, just do it. Don’t think about it. All your expenses will be paid, including special tutors to make up for missed school. Your Hapkido instructor will understand. You need not explain yourself. For a while and only when necessary we’ll give you a reason you have to travel. If that happens, stick to the story. Have we frightened you?”

“No, but it makes me think I just might earn the money you’re paying me. When will I see you again?

“In a month or so. Jack or I may ask you to come to Washington or Charleston. You should receive a letter from our attorney within days on the issue of your name change and your employment situation. We all have to pay taxes.”

“Okay. We have to go now. Your training starts right now. You never saw us, and no one can know about our arrangement. Please stay at the table for five minutes after we leave. I’ll leave enough cash for the bill and tip. Kelly Marino, I’m very glad we met you, and I hope you will feel the same way before too long.”

Kathy hugged Kelly hard and whispered, “It will be okay.”

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