The Attacks began. The President was in danger. The Presidents Club. Chapter 1
January 6, 2013
Louie the bartender had a sawed off shotgun under the bar. His finger was on the trigger as he spoke to the man at the end of the bar. “We’ve heard enough of your foul mouth and we’re sick of your dirty jokes. It’s time for you to pay and go.”
The patron with the ugly laugh stood and looked at each person in the bar like a feral cat appraising a cornered mouse. Then, his eyes shot daggers at Louie, he threw a ten-dollar bill on the bar, and said, “Don’t go home alone.” The crude guy with dirty teeth, greasy hair and filthy fingernails waddled out of the Louisville Tavern dragging his feet on the tile floor.
When he returned to his duties, Louie noticed Simon Franklin’s glass was near empty. “Want another draft, my friend?”
“I’ll just finish this one and head on home.”
Louie remembered what Simon had said earlier and asked, “You seen Dean Rusk or Colin Powell lately?”
“No. Rusk died years ago and Powell’s staying under the radar making public appearances.”
“How long were you at the State Department?” asked the bartender.
“Too damned long,” sighed Simon Franklin as he stood to leave. He slipped his hand into his pocket and Louie took a few quick steps and waved off his customer’s intention to pay. “Simon, you’ve only had one. Tonight, it’s on the house.”
“Thanks, Louie. I appreciate it. I’m gonna walk on down to the bus stop, y’all have a good evening.”
“Watch your step,” Louie called out to him, “it’s awfully dark tonight.” Simon was almost through the swinging doors into the foyer on his way home.
Louie quickly moved back to the far end of the bar to answer a question that had been shouted out by one of his regular customers, Woodrow Risk. “I don’t know much about him, Woody. Tonight was the fourth night in a row he’s been in, had one beer, and left.”
Risk returned to a game of dominoes with three friends and Louie resumed polishing shot glasses and beer mugs.
Out on the street, Simon Franklin paused for a moment to let his seventy-four-year-old eyes adjust to the street light — or what there was of it. Louie had been correct. The light on the utility pole was out, making the street around him much darker than on previous nights. He could hardly see the edge of the sidewalk and the gutter. Two more steps and he would see better. Store signs, traffic lights and a few cars passing helped light his way to the next corner. A right turn and a two-block walk to the bus stop, and he would be home free.
A voice called out down a nearby alley. Simon stopped. His heart rate quickened. He couldn’t understand what had been said. The sound of boots hitting the pavement faded as the runner got further away. It was darker than he had anticipated. He breathed a sigh of relief as he consciously worked on calming his body’s response.
His respite was short-lived as the sound of footsteps approaching from behind got his attention. A drunken, evil laugh broke the silence on the path ahead. The darkness seemed to tighten around him as he stood alone near the opening of an alley.
“Who’s there?” he called out. His voice broke like that of an adolescent when he entered puberty.
The ugly laugh became a low growl and demanded, “Get on your knees, old man.”
Simon felt fingers grasp the collars of both his jacket and shirt and push him. An unsure step forward left him standing but unstable. The fist was keeping its victim from falling.
“I said get on your knees,” the voice growled again in a more menacing tone.
“I can’t,” Simon managed to say between tearful sobs, “I got bad arthritis.” He was crying and trembled like a dying leaf trying to cling to a branch in a gusting wind.
A second attacker struck. A short quick swing, almost like a bunt or a check-swing with a baseball bat, across the back of both knees crumpled the victim as the fist released its grasp.
Barely conscious, Simon listened to what he feared might be the last words he would ever hear, “Tell your presidential friends they’re next. One at a time.” The dark night drew tighter still. Simon Franklin lost consciousness.
“Is he still alive?”
The fist that moments before held the victim with such callous disregard now tenderly touched the neck and felt a pulse. “Yeah. If he don’t stroke out on us or go into cardiac arrest, he’ll live to deliver our message.”
“Grab his foot, I’ll get the other one, and let’s drag him down close to the bus stop on Franklin Road.”
“Naw. The coast is clear.”
A tall slim man whose eyes missed no detail waited while an EMS crew pushed their way through the open double doors to the Kenestone Hospital emergency department. He adjusted his tie and took several deliberate, confident strides towards the check-in desk.
He exhibited the self-assured demeanor of a hospital administrator.
Few people in the busy emergency room noticed him.
The ones that did thought he was a lawyer.
He was neither.
Those waiting were self-absorbed in their own dilemmas. Stabbings. Auto accidents. Gunshot victims. Hand to hand combat in a bar room.
The regular crowd had shuffled in.
A twenty-something black male was in line ahead of the sharp dressed man. When asked, the patient told the receptionist, “I’ve been shot.”
“Again?” It was obvious she was annoyed. “Where?”
He pointed to a small cut in the hairline just above his forehead. He turned and she could see where the slug had skimmed between his skull and outer layer of skin and lodged in the back of his head.
She directed him to an empty chair and said, “Sit over there for a few minutes and we’ll bring you a Band-Aid.” Then she looked at the man in the business suit with hope in her eyes.
“I’m Detective Falconer with the Marietta Police Department. You called about a mugging victim?”
“Thanks for coming down so quickly, detective,” said the front desk lady. She opened the door and took him to the triage nurse. Nurse Reilly led him to one of the curtained-off treatment areas and said, “He may not live through the night and we thought you might want to talk to him.”
Falconer asked for confirmation, “He was awake when the ambulance brought him in?”
“Yes, barely. We got him stabilized and then he mumbled a few words and passed out.”
“What exactly was it he said before he lost consciousness?”
“What he said, is why we called you.” Reilly flipped a page on the chart and read, “Tell the President he’s next.”
Chapters of the serial are published on Saturday, and Sunday.
You can learn more about FCEtier’s novel, The Tourist Killer, on Amazon.