Ark City Confidential
Baron Witherspoon, a disfigured WWI vet, now a beat cop in a small Kansas burg, is on a collision course with Jake Hickey, a volatile Chicago gangster. While Baron wants merely to provide residents with a safe place to live and escape the memory of the horrors of war, Jake is looking to recapture the glory of Prohibition. Forced to hide out in Arkansas City, Baron’s town, Jake’s impatient nature drives him to put together his own gang. The local crime outfit is wary of Jake’s dealings and lack of cooperation. Baron has his own suspicions but can’t prove anything. A mutual acquaintance from the past, a dead war hero, holds a secret that raises the stakes even higher. Baron has too much to lose, but the town’s future is in the balance.
It was supposed to be my day off but George McAllister had been sick. Chances are he was hung-over. Rogelio Lopez wasn’t the only person in town to go a little crazy on a Friday night after getting paid. Chief Taylor preferred to have a minimum number of men on patrol to prevent any lapse where trouble might spring up so we could be prepared. Seems he always called on me to fill in seeing how I didn’t mind. It was something to do to pass the empty hours.
George often acted like a young version of me, except without the war experience. Too bored to work on a farm all his life and wanting to do something a little more exciting. He had built up his body so he didn’t look like a pipsqueak, but he had no concept of death, certainly not the way I witnessed it in the trenches. It was dark and muddy, devoid of dignity, and stank of decay. He probably never thought about getting killed trying to stop a robber. Worse than that would be getting into the middle of a fight between a couple where the husband was madder than a hornet. He didn’t think this wasn’t a charmed life and he’d have to work every day just to take another breath.
Might have been different if he knew about war like I did. I don’t know why they called it the Great War because dirty socks and underwear that didn’t get changed often, if at all, and food so far from your mom’s home cooking, had nothing great about them. I actually saw the effects of Yperite—what they called mustard gas—on a group of English soldiers: the bulging eyes of the dead staring straight into hell with faces covered with blisters. I can’t forget the reddish rust of dried blood on brownish-green uniforms or the caked-on black bile from guts torn open and spilled by bayonets. There was nothing else in the world like it. Maybe it was a world all its own.
I never heard the shell that exploded some fifty yards behind me, never felt a part of my skull chipped away. I could only see a mass of barbed wire coming straight for my face as I fell and wondered if those tiny pieces of metal actually could completely pluck out my eye. A soldier who witnessed the event told me I was like a wild beast caught in a trap, twisting and gyrating so fervently I actually caused more pieces of my face to be ripped away from the bone. Strange thing was I was trying to get away. Maybe I was always trying to get away. Fortunately for him, George McAllister never knew the tortures of the damned. If he was lucky, he never would. I hoped it wouldn’t take something tragic for him to learn.
I remember when Charlie Noble got himself an Indian and had the honor of being Arkansas City’s first motorcycle cop. They offered me a chance to ride one but I declined. I preferred walking my beat, which is probably why my feet were always bothering me. I liked being around the people I was protecting and keep a watchful eye over them. It was important to look at them and see their faces, look into their eyes, look into their hearts. They thought they could see into mine but they were usually wrong. Most of them were respectful when they looked at me, trying to see beyond the scars and remember the boy that grew up in their midst. I was grateful for that. It made it easier for me because I didn’t always remember as well.