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First Novel in the Series
by Bill Ellingsen
BoonieRats by Bill Ellingsen
Published by Bill Ellingsen at Smashwords
Copyright © 2010 Bill Ellingsen
All rights reserved
Cover design by Daniel Cosgrove
Copyright © 2010 Bill Ellingsen
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, places, and events portrayed are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part by any means without permission.
The BoonieRats Motorcycle Club in this story is fictitious, but boonierats were real. They were the infantrymen who scoured the wilderness to engage the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Soldiers humping through the bush, before and since, have been called different things, but they’re still boonierats. With the utmost respect I offer this toast to all of them: May the “Wind of Hate” never touch you again, and may your dreams be pleasant ones.
To understand the “Wind of Hate” and its devastating psychological effects, read the excellent non-fiction book On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.
Chapter 1 – 1975
When attorney Jake Olson was sitting across from potential client Jerry Mears in the jailhouse consultation room, the big-time scrap dealer confessed having a cash flow problem. After Jake explained that he’s not in the credit business, Mears begrudgingly offered his vacation home as collateral for his services, provided his hourly rates aren’t too high and he posts his bail. What a guy. He’s facing two counts of first-degree homicide and you’d think he’s trying to coerce a low bid from a painting contractor.
Jake had never seen his second home but knew of his scrap yard and warehouse down by the river, and their approximate values, because he too has industrial property adjoining the shipping channels. He shot him his best deal. Best for him since he’s only in this game for two things, neither having to do with truth and justice nor protecting the innocent from wrongful prosecution. Money and the sport of it are his motivators, which sets him apart from most lawyers since he doesn’t really need the money and that’s all they’re after. But the green stuff seems to be a good way of keeping score in life and he doesn’t work for free, at least not for dirt-bags like Mears he won’t.
Jake told him he’ll take the job if he transfers ownership of the vacation home to him, and if he wants out of jail before and during the trial he’ll hold the deed to his scrap yard as security. When he told him an acquittal would mean forking over the warehouse, Mears glared at him with soulless eyes. He got up from the steel table Mears was handcuffed to and walked. But before he made it to the door, Mears called him back. If he wasn’t in such trouble, and Jake wasn’t such a good criminal defense attorney, a hard-nose like Mears would have told him to take a flying leap.
But Mears was in serious trouble, and Jake is very good at what he does. Ever since starting this racket he’s kept track of his acquittal ratio the way baseball players do their batting averages. Over the past two years roughly eighty-five percent of his clients were acquitted, or had the charges dropped due to improper police procedures that he and his investigator uncovered. That’s like batting .850 in the major leagues and he’s quite proud of it since he estimates about ninety-five percent of them are actually guilty. It’s a legitimate business, though, and the money is clean—at least what he earns through his law firm.
At times Jake wished his achievements came from good efforts alone. But that’s probably even vainer than crediting his natural charisma and Christ-like appearance, assets that have served him well in swaying juries and picking up women. Another quality he inherited is his emotional detachment from practically everything. It sounds bad but actually works out for the best since masking the truth is his job, plus it forced him to hone his ability to fake it so he does put on a good show in court. However, that skill doesn’t seem to cut it with long-term relationships. He’s been called a passionless lover who will never experience true happiness. In his defense, he’s the type that doesn’t always appear happy. At a young age he discovered his natural smile was also his own little secret. Compared to him, the Mona Lisa is the portrait of a grinning idiot.
Mears was accused of murdering his cheating wife Isabel and her boyfriend. The bodies were found in her Cadillac near the crusher at Jerry’s scrap yard, and Jake thought he seemed quite upset about the whole thing. Well maybe not the whole thing, but definitely about being arrested. Concerning the Cadillac, he thought it was despicable to ruin such a nice car by putting dead bodies in it, and he was appalled someone would consider crushing the beautiful machine. His fingerprints were found in the car’s interior, but so what? He gave the impression that he loved that car more than he loved his wife. Jake could almost picture him fondling the dashboard.
Jake is high-priced but not greedy, something Mears seemed to comprehend since he nodded frequently as he explained his performance-based fee. Of course, no matter what, his vacation home is Jake’s. But if he fails getting him off, and he doesn’t jump bail, he’ll still own his warehouse and scrap yard. Jake didn’t bother pointing out that he’d also be locked up for life and the rest of his property wouldn’t do him any good, because some things don’t need saying.
So now he owns another property that upon brief inspection looked pretty nice, easily converted into cash, and the deeds to his scrap yard and warehouse are being held in escrow until after the trial. Mears knew he was motivated to get him off, and Jake didn’t have to worry about trusting him to pay.
. . .
Testimony from the defense and prosecution forensic experts differed regarding times of the deaths, but Jake’s highly paid professional put on a much better dog and pony show for the jury—a masterful performance that set the stage for his last witness: John “Tiger” Vincente, his investigator. Without any help from Jerry, Tiger established reasonable doubt by proving that Jerry and his secretary, the wife of a former professional boxer, were in a motel room sixty miles away when the murders occurred. Mears was declared not guilty, therefore he got the deed to his scrap yard back, and the warehouse was Jake’s.
Jake and Tiger somehow missed a meal that day and were walking to a café about two blocks from the courthouse for a late lunch. They heard sirens that stopped a short distance away. Reflections of flashing red lights glimmered in store windows across the street. After rounding the corner, Jake saw they belonged to a fire truck and two police cars. Everyone was looking up at a man in a green army field jacket standing on the roof of a ten story building. When they got closer he asked, “Any idea who he is?”
A policeman turned and said, “Just some flipped out Vietnam vet.”
Ignoring the cop, Tiger said, “He’s called Dog Bear and he is a vet.”
“Is that some sort of Native American name?” Jake asked.
“No, I heard he was on a dog scout team in Nam, and his last name is Barrington. He’s a reporter.”
Looking up again, he recognized Doug Barrington from the Tribune. Jake didn’t even know he was a vet, and he’s the guy who interviewed him after the most important case of his career involving a dead priest and a boy: The Franklin Trial.
Jake signaled Tiger to cover him, a variation of what they did back in Nam. While he waved his arms around and yelled for the firefighters to get something to catch the man, Jake slipped off toward the side door of the building and ran up the stairs two at a time until reaching the top. His heart was pounding as he opened the door, stepped onto the roof, and came face-to-face with another cop.
“Hold it right there,” he challenged. “Who the hell are you and whaddaya think you’re doing here?”
Jake was out of breath but feigned calmness by pausing before answering, “I’m Mr. Barrington’s attorney, Jacob Olson.”
“An attorney? You’ve got to be kidding. That guy needs a padded cell, not a lawyer.”
“I think I should speak with him. What could it hurt?”
“Okay, but you tell that loony,” he scolded, sticking a chubby finger in Jake’s face, “to get away from the ledge so I can lock him up where he can’t hurt anybody.”
“I need to talk to Mr. Barrington in private. I’ll step a little closer to him if you’ll stay here, okay?”
“All right, but tell him to fish or cut bait. I’m freezing my ass off up here and don’t feel like working overtime.”
There was a brisk easterly wind coming off Lake Superior, but the fat cop’s remark struck Jake as even colder. “Mr. Barrington, as your attorney, I need to consult with you privately. May I step closer?”
Just then the horn from a ship bellowed, requesting passage under the Aerial Lift Bridge several blocks away. Dog Bear jumped, practically a foot, and stammered, “All right, but don’t get too close, okay? I don’t want to accidentally take you with me.”
The bridge operator answered the freighter, with a higher pitched but equally loud signal of his own, as he moved in focusing on Dog Bear, blanking out everything else. Dog Bear turned his body halfway to better watch Jake, which he took as a good sign, but one misstep or gust of wind could put him over the edge. When within ten feet he quietly said, “I don’t remember thanking you for the flattering remarks you made about me in your Franklin Trial story. I’m very sorry I was so thoughtless, Mr. Barrington.”
“I was just doing my job, Mr. Olson.”
“My ego must have been in overdrive. Being self-absorbed is my greatest fault. Will you forgive me?”
He looked perplexed but didn’t respond. Jake stepped closer and in a hushed tone said, “Please call me Jake. Look, I just told that cop I’m your attorney and I’d like to be. I won’t charge you a cent so you’ve nothing to lose.”
“I’m loosing everything! My wife’s divorcing me and said I’ll never see my daughter again because she thinks I’m crazy. She’s probably right!”
He was wild and except for being suicidal reminded Jake of his brother Cookie the day they met. If Dog Bear really was a dog scout handler in Nam he’d been a boonierat roaming the bush, engaging the enemy up close, so maybe cracking-up was inevitable. And everybody looses it in their own way, or so Jake has been told. He slowly inhaled and then said, “You’ll think I’m a real piece of work for asking, but I’d sure appreciate if you’d do a favor for me. Could you talk to a friend of mine? He’s a doctor doing continuing research on military veterans. I heard you were on a dog scout team in Nam, is that true?”
“Yeah, and I wish I was on it now. At least I felt important. Now I’m nothing.”
He spoke with so much despair that Jake’s scalp tingled. He had to come up with something good, and fast. Conjuring his best messiah recruiting a disciple persona he said, “I promise tomorrow will be better than today if you follow me.” The wind changed direction and blew his wavy brown locks back, almost as if something divine was behind those words, and he quickly capitalized on the effect by adding, “All you have to do is let that cop pretend he’s arresting public enemy number one and I’ll fix it so you’ll be released this evening.”
“I have nowhere to go!” He turned his head and looked beyond the edge.
Staying in character Jake said, “I have a place for you.”
“Why do you care?” he sobbed, looking back at him.
“Because I’m a vet like you, and so are my friends. Come here, Mr. Barrington, and I’ll help you with everything.” He reached out a hand, palm up. Dog Bear stepped closer and took his hand as if to shake it, and he cupped his other one over it while maintaining eye contact.
“Okay, Jake,” he croaked, his eyes welling with tears.
“Officer,” he said, turning his head just enough so his voice would carry, “my client is surrendering and I’ll go with him to the patrol car.” He put an arm around Dog Bear’s shoulders and turned to walk with him. “I’ll be waiting for Mr. Barrington at the police station and arrangements will be made so I can take him to a friendly environment tonight.” All that rhetoric was for Dog Bear’s benefit. The cop had no say in the matter and wouldn’t care if he did.
“Way to go, Good Shepherd,” the brass buttoned public servant mocked. “Now let’s move it.”
Jake, Dog Bear, and the cop took the elevator down and went to a shiny new Plymouth Satellite squad car that Dog Bear was shoved into. Jake asked Tiger to call Judge McDonald and arrange for his release. Tiger said he’d also call Coach at the Vet Hooch so they’d be ready for their new guest.
The Vet Hooch was condemned when Jake acquired it. Nobody even wanted the once elegant dark-green Victorian mansion for back taxes, so the county offered it for a dollar to anyone who had a viable plan and the means to make good use of it. Another thing that attracted him was the elevator, a very useful item when housing the disabled in a multi-story building. He set up the Northern Lights Veterans Foundation as a non-profit and established the Vet Hooch to provide temporary housing for military veterans. Two BoonieRats cleaned the place up and did some of the repairs, he contracted out the big stuff, and now it was in better than new condition.
“Call Dr. Steinbeck, too, Tiger,” he said. “Ask him, beg him if necessary, to come to Duluth (Minnesota) ASAP. Tell him to spare no expense.”
“So, Hunter,” Tiger said, “you think this guy could be our twelfth man?”
Was that really a question or was his brother reading his mind? Either way, he didn’t dare say it out loud for fear of jinxing everything. Instead he shrugged, more by cocking his head to the side and lifting an eyebrow than using his shoulders, and said, “Spread the word for some of the guys to stop by the Hooch for an early breakfast tomorrow. And call Cookie and have him hustle back to take over the kitchen. We’ll have to rough it at the camp for awhile. Maybe Juice can take vacation time and fill in. He’s an okay cook. We’ll double up on duties so we can sort Dog Bear out fast.”
Everything went smoothly and Jake brought Dog Bear to the Hooch, introducing him to his gregarious BoonieRats brother Jack “Coach” Jamison, the manager. Coach, a former Marine of Scottish heritage, still has the build of an active Marine ten years his junior. He occasionally refers to Jake as “Our Scandinavian Savior,” and the embarrassing thing is he’s serious.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Barrington,” he said and left.
Dog Bear wasn’t the first seemingly normal combat veteran who contemplated offing himself just because his woman turned on him. He’d never been the guy to stop one before, but now knew he was way more qualified than that donut-eating son-of-a-bitch in blue that viewed the opportunity to save a life as an inconvenience. At least Jake has some heart.
Dog Bear’s dilemma reminded him what his brother Frank once confided: “We’re lucky we aren’t normal, Jake.” Of the eleven members in the BoonieRats Motorcycle Club they’re the only guys who aren’t. They’re also the only two that haven’t suffered ill after-effects from Nam. So much for normal. Some of their brothers had been just as screwed-up as Dog Bear. The more he thought about it the more convinced he was that, if they can straighten him out, he might be just what they need: An expert dog handler. Their clandestine venture required too many man-hours and guard dogs might give everybody a break.
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