“Shades of Justice” Chapter Twenty-nine

When Jack got back to the hotel, Kathy had the bags and the Bouviers ready to be loaded into the Suburban. All Jack had to do was put the bags in, get in the car, and say hello to Shadow and a scrambling Gideon, who was trying his best to get in the front seat with Jack. After a few blocks of being ignored, Gideon curled up beside Shadow and went to sleep. Jack asked Kathy to go through Wilkinsburg and out to Route 30, which went through a number of small towns before reaching the turn north outside of Latrobe at the Kingston Dam crossing of the Loyalhanna Creek and the back road to the hidden cabin Jack’s father built some 25 years ago.

As Kathy drove, Jack allowed himself to reminisce a little bit. His father, Peter Brandon, started life as a highly trained KGB officer who escaped from KGB control when he was sent to Canada and infiltrated into the United States to oversee a network of illegal Russian agents who had long ago established themselves as American citizens. Their mission was to cause havoc in the U.S. if the Soviet Union and the United States got into a shooting war. Peter hated the totalitarian rule of the Communist Party and had vowed to escape at the first opportunity. Temporarily free of KGB control after he established residency in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, Peter took his KGB-provided wife and two young children and stole all the money the KGB had positioned for his use in several American cities. Using this money, Peter Brandon, over the decades, built his stolen cash into a fortune he bequeathed to his only surviving child. Since then, Jack’s prudent management of his wealth increased the fortune that was now nearly a billion dollars. Peter Brandon’s escape from KGB teams sent to track him down was not a complete success. One of these teams led by an old KGB friend found where Peter was living and killed Peter’s wife and baby daughter while Peter and Jack were out grocery shopping.

As they were passing under the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Irwin, Pennsylvania, Jack suddenly said, “Kathy, slow down. I want you to make a left turn in a few miles. There is a town, Jeannette, I want to show you. You debutantes from UNC need to occasionally see what built this nation. When I was going to Pitt, a friend often invited me to visit with him on holidays. He was the other cornerback on Pitt’s team. If the truth be known, he was a little better than me. We made a great team. We knew exactly what each other would do on every offensive play our opponents made. Or, at least, it seemed like that. We had a good team that year. It was the last year I played. Tore up my left knee in the following spring practice. Ray lived in a row house on the wrong side of the tracks and wanted me to see another side of life.

“There’s the turn, at the red light. Slow down. A steep hill with sharp curves is just ahead.”

When the road leveled out, Jack pointed to the right and said, “Lesson number one. See that stadium? That’s where Ray played on the high school team. In a town of 16 or 17 thousand people, eight thousand would be in that little stadium on Friday nights. People here took their football seriously. I grew up in a different football culture where there was a population of several hundred thousand and we were lucky to have five or six hundred at our regular season games.

“After coming here several times, I got interested in the town and Ray’s younger sister and decided to write a paper on the town for the sociology course I was taking. There is Sixth Avenue just ahead to your right. Turn in there and pull over to the curb when I give you the word.”

When Kathy pulled over and parked, Jack said, “It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been here. Bear with me. What I’m going to say won’t be very organized. I want you to know what I learned here and what roles towns like this played in our national development.

“The American part of the Industrial Revolution took place in hundreds, even thousands of small towns like this one. Foundries, coal mines, steel mills, oil wells, natural gas wells, glass manufacturing, tire making, metal fabricating, and tool making were all here, surrounded by farmland, dairies, and all the service industries people need. Churches were only outnumbered by the neighborhood bars. Both had a cadre of regular patrons. It was a hard place to live but a good place. Work was available and everyone worked. Churches and neighborhoods took care of those who couldn’t work. Friday and Saturday nights were playtime. Small merchants provided the consumer needs. Streetcars provided transportation between towns. I’ll bet there were no streetcars in Chapel Hill, especially in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

“Everything was a town or community effort. These small towns were the villages of industrial America. Everyone knew everybody in town. There were no strangers. Kids played outdoors all day long, stopping only for mandatory meals. When America went to war, the towns went to war. Scrap iron piled up in the schoolyards. Kids picked milkweed pods for life jackets. Meat and gas was rationed. Yet everyone had enough to eat. Every man, boy, and some women put on the uniform and went to war in strange lands. Gold stars hung in windows where a son or husband was lost. America was together. Tough boys and men from towns like this from north, south, east, and west threw back the invaders in Europe, Africa, and the islands of the Pacific.

“The immense changes that followed World War II in living style, technology, shopping malls, transportation, and centralization destroyed many of these towns. The old factories closed. There were no jobs to keep the young home. The opportunity to go to college drew off some of the best. If there were few jobs for high school graduates, there were even fewer for college graduates. What you’ll see in this town is the result of a hard struggle ever since the war ended.”

Kathy sat quietly for a moment then said, “I thought I was the scholar in this family. Jack, your talk was very moving. Show me a little more of Jeannette then feed me and walk the dogs. We have a way to go yet. And I want to hear about Ray’s younger sister.”

Jack took the wheel and said, “I’m going to give you the tour. Notice how the town is built in the midst of steep hills. In your part of North Carolina these hills are called mountains. Learning to drive in this town before every car was equipped with an automatic transmission was a real challenge. At least Ray told me that’s where he learned hand and foot coordination.” Jack turned right off Sixth Street onto Clay Avenue and continued in his tour lecture.

“Clay Avenue is the main street in town. Before the malls came in, this was the business center. The family’s complete need could be found along this avenue. There was at least one bar for every block and three pool halls within four or five blocks. Plenty of churches. Four lines of the Pennsylvania Railroad divide the town. Two bridges over the tracks handle traffic from one side to the other. Hard to tell which is the best side of the tracks. To a certain extent the town settled into clusters of ethnic groups. Jeannette was known as the glass city. Even had a bank called the Glass City Bank. For many reasons, industry moved out and has never been replaced. Cheaper labor in the South was probably the biggest motivation. By the way I got an A on my paper. Okay, you can drive now. See if you can get us back to Route 30.”

“You have to be kidding. You know I have a GPS in my head. I can actually visualize map segments.”

After reconnecting with Route 30 in Greensburg, Kathy probed, “Okay, husband, I patiently looked at all the places you showed me from your past in Jeannette, now about Ray’s younger sister. Fess up.”

“Not much to tell. She was very attractive, smart, a very good athlete, and a generally good person.” Jack shot Kathy a sideways glance. “I know, I’m avoiding the basic question. Was she hot?”

“Well, do I have to hear about past loves on our honeymoon?”

“Only if you want to know.”

“Of course I do. Let’s get on with the story.”

“When you’re a junior in college, nearly all females are hot. Now Sheila was especially hot. Ouch, that hurt,” Jack winced as Kathy punched his arm.

“Anymore of that talk and I’ll stop the car.”

“Nothing serious happened. I was Ray’s friend and though his sister and I had a mutual interest in each other, there were many obstacles. The Browns were very religious and saw the world through their religious prism. I could never be accepted. And, too, there was the race issue. I don’t think the Browns were interested in having a white son-in-law. Anyway, Ray got drafted by the Raiders his senior year and moved the whole family to Oakland. Last I heard they were all doing well.”

“You’re still holding back. Come clean!”

“Yes. The main reason I wanted to come through here is to see if a town like this might be a place for us to hide out for a while.”

“I could live in a place like this but not for forever. Strangers stick out in small towns. Our cover story would have to be very good. Our identities and support documentation need to be excellent to stay in a small town. I think either someplace remote or a mid-sized to large city would be safer places to hide out. We need a good vet, medical support, and maybe schools. I’m thinking about stopping the birth control pills. I’m not getting any younger and I do want kids, but not as long as we are involved in so much violence.”

“Kathy, kids would be good. We need to put down some roots somewhere. You know my father was a Russian KGB officer, yet he and his KGB-provided wife had kids while engaged in some very dangerous activity.”

“Yeah! The rest of the story is the KGB found them and killed your mother and infant sister. You want to risk a similar ending? No, thank you.”

“Take the pills a little longer. We can’t have you getting pregnant now. We need a guaranteed safe haven. My instincts tell me not to wait. The time is now. We can look at some remote places later this week. I want to show the sketch we have of the sniper to a couple of old contacts who run shooting camps in Colorado and Montana. No one shoots as good as this sniper without training. I’m nearly certain he wasn’t trained in the Marine Corps or Army. His choice of weapons, the selection of a shooting site, and the escape route don’t fit into the protocol taught by either service. Both Kelly and Sally could use a few days in either of these shooting schools.”

“Okay. Let’s change the subject. We’re almost at the turnoff to the cabin. The burger you fed me at the fast strip along Route 30 at Latrobe is gone. I’m hungry. We need to stop at a grocery store. No more restaurant food. I want to arrive there with the attitude and demeanor of a hungry bride who, after being fed, can focus on several nights of outstanding sex and cuddling. Next week, what’s left of you can plan our trip to shooting camps. Now I want your focus on me and our new puppy who needs to get out of this truck soon. Can you let Gideon out with Shadow without a leash?”

“Yes. Shadow will keep track of him and bring him back. Bouviers are not known to wander away from their pack very much. They’re herding dogs with the DNA hardwired into them. We are their responsibility and they will not go far or leave us very long.”

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Filed under Action thrillers, Barry Kelly, Books, Spy novels

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