An Excerpt from Cabal: Two Old Men
Lay this unto your breast: Old friends, like old swords, still are trusted best
Martin Summers sat down in a corner booth of the Waffle House in Fredericksburg and waited on his friend. He and Mason Finch had met years before at Our Lady of Good Counsel when both men were struggling to raise good children in an increasingly complicated world. When they met, neither man had known what life might bring them and felt the invincibility of ignorance and youth. But over the years, they had supported one another in loss, victory, and frustration.
Mason had been his confidante when Martin’s daughter, Sarah, found herself pregnant at age seventeen. When many had whispered unkind things and stole glances at him, Mason’s support never wavered. Martin consoled Mason when his wife, Elaine, fought and lost her desperate battle with depression. When she finally gave up the struggle by gulping a dozen sleeping pills washed down by a bottle of Smirnoff, Martin wept with his friend.
Now, each man bent and gray, drank coffee once a week at the Waffle House in the same booth from which some wayward occupant would be quickly shooed by any one of the staff of the little temple, where coffee, toasts and eggs were the offerings. The booth had become their confessional, a holy spot amidst an odd assortment of clientele that could only be found in such a place; there were blue collar men in steel toed boots trying to fuel themselves before a day’s labor; there were stoners with red eyes and ravenous appetites who smelled of the sweet acrid residue of their drug of choice; and there were lonely old men straining to read the newspaper through cataract clouded eyes. Amidst them all, Martin and and Mason sorted out life and baseball.
“I’m not sure how to help him, Mason. I just know he’s in danger. He’s uncovered something I think he wishes he hadn’t. All I know is that he wrote some article about a man named Grant Larkin. A big shot in Chicago. One minute he was on cloud nine; he was back on track professionally. The next minute he was desperate. Afraid for his life. Now he’s just gone.”
Mason’s transition from consoling confidante to quiet investigator had been subtle. Though he had long since retired from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, his mind was still sharp, honed from years of sorting fact from illusion. Mason still did contract work for both the FBI and ATF, and that, Martin hoped, might give the man some insight into how to help his son.
“Mmm? If it’s a comfort, Larkin’s not really a bad actor. Not that I know of. He’s not quite as folksy and good humored as he seems to be publicly, but he’s not likely a man that would cause Chase any problems. Though the company he’s kept over the years might be. Anything else you can tell me?”
“Just that the FBI came to see me. They are trying to locate Chase. They wanted to know if I knew his whereabouts—if I had heard from him. Of course, they told me he wasn’t in any trouble, but that he might have information regarding an investigation they are conducting. I know that’s just bullshit.”
Although Martin had always guarded his language, his trust in Mason’s knowledge of his own convictions, what he stood for wouldn’t be diminished by his occasional use of profanity. The man knew everything about him as he did about Mason. Here in the confessional, how and what they spoke of here was sacred—inviolate.
“I’ll poke around and see what I can find out. Pretty sure I can at least figure out what he’s gotten himself into. Not sure I can help get him out of it. I’ll try, of course. You and I both know there are rules for most of us that don’t apply to certain people. If he’s mixed himself up with those people—well—you know.
“One more thing. Did you tell him to call me? Maybe to reach out?”
“I did. But he wasn’t interested.”
“Okay. Look, Chase is a resourceful guy, Martin. Let’s don’t worry until we have to. The kid has always been pretty resilient. Little guy was a pain in the ass growing up, I know. But he’s not stupid. And he knows a lot of people. Working at The Post for a decade, he made some friends while making a few enemies. Give me a couple of days. I’ll see what I can do.”
The two men finished their coffee and breakfast addressing the most pressing topic of the day wondering why in the name of all that was holy the Redskins had not drafted another quarterback and if the Nationals could sweep their three game series with the Braves. Their dreams of a pennant and maybe even a World Series were always the topic over their final cup of coffee. Sometimes there was even a small wager placed on a particular game. And for years each man would claim the other owed some great fortune that was only payable in friendship.
As Mason climbed into his 2007 Tacoma PreRunner and turned the ignition he heard his friend call to him.
“Martin, be careful. But please, help him if you can.”
Mason just nodded, slamming the door to the ancient truck. He had always been a practical man. The truck, with more than 150,000 miles was “just getting broken in,” he told people. And the flip phone he dialed worked fine. It was just a telephone. No need for something smarter. Or more expensive. If he wanted to use a computer, he could do that when he was sitting at his desk. The man exuded the calm of a Buddhist monk, disguising a keen intellect and capacity for decisive, and sometimes violent, action.
“Hey Rick,” he said, pulling onto the highway. “Mason Finch here. Yeah. Good to talk to you too. Yeah. You’re right. Ben too long. No. You’re right. Not just a social call. Trying to help an old friend. I need one of your analyst to give me a little history on a fellow Grant Larkin. Guy in Chicago. Standard stuff. Known associates. How he makes his money. Stuff we usually wonder about.”
The man on the other end of the phone was glad to help he said. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, while you’re at it, let me know what you can give me on a reporter named Chase Summers. Used to work for the Post. There may be some people in his background I need to talk to. No. That’s it. Hey, I owe you. You need something, you just call, okay.”
Mason Finch snapped the phone shut and began to feel the same feeling he always felt when he started working a case for ATF. When he looked in the mirror now, it pissed him off. He wondered who the old man was staring back at him. He still felt thirty years old. Not in his body, but in his mind. He remembered reading something about how the neurons in the brain pretty much don’t die off and replace themselves like other cells in the body and why that was probably you could still feel like a young man trapped in an old man’s body. It didn’t matter, he thought. His mind had always been his greatest asset, his best weapon. Leave the guns and hand to hand to the young bucks. That was fine. He would just enjoy the game while he could still play it.