Iron City Chapter One


Iron City, the latest novel by DSM, is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

 

CHAPTER ONE

It felt like rain. The sky was leaden, the air thick and damp. The cab ride in from the airport seemed interminable. The air conditioning was not working. His suit had soaked through with perspiration. He felt tired and sticky and uncomfortable. Since I’ve been gone, he was thinking, I’ve lost my tolerance for humidity,

The road in from Pittsburgh International was ragged with new construction. There were pot holes and wooden barriers and great chunks of asphalt torn up. A thick tangle of trees rose in a fierce angle to one side of the road, locust and sumac, oak, buckeye, and tamarack. Mount Washington, with its serpentine cobblestones streets and clapboard homes loomed before him, a steep escarpment, cascading with green. He noticed drizzle leaching from the tree leaves, the ground dark, wet loam. The air had a musty, smell thick as syrup.

He had been living in the desert west so long, he had forgotten how lush and green this part of the country was.

They drove through a long tunnel, “The Tubes” Pittsburghers called them, and came out on Liberty Avenue. Downtown rose before them, crisp and clean even under a dark, cloudy sky. He was surprised how pristine the city was now, how brilliant, rich with color. His memories of growing up here were suffused in gray. His childhood was gray with grit and soot. Of course, he thought. All the heavy industry had died, the steel mills, the Bessemer converters, the blast furnaces.

They crossed a river, the Monongahela. All along it, the steel mills, which had once bloomed with such furious energy, were either dead or gone. Only a few rusting and blackened skeletons of mills remained. The river banks which at one time had throbbed with power, blast furnaces spewing fire and smoke high into the sky, were now eerily placid.

A terrible fatigue came over him, as though the loss of the city’s energy had drained him also. He was feeling uneasy. For years now uneasiness had been his steady companion. Today it was more intense than usual.

“Business here?” the cabbie said.

“Reunion.”

“Oh, yeah. Been bringing them in all weekend. Never been to one. What for? So everyone can see what a failure I am?”

“I don’t know about that…”

“Let me tell you. I was forced to give up one of them good steel union mill jobs. Hey, working in the mills– in them days, hourly was anywheres from fifteen to twenty bucks, you had your quarterly profit sharing based on earnings per ton.”

“Earnings per ton—”

“Not to mention cost-of-living protection, your health and safety provisions, pension—”

“Pension? Right.”

“– hospital care if you’re a retiree. That’s what I call a job, that’s a union job.”

“Sure.”

“Sure it is.” He lit a Marsh Wheeling, a local stogie, guinea stinkers they used to call them, and Kalinyak felt he might throw up. “Thirty-years, steel. Jones & Laughlin, The Japs wrecked that market. We beat ‘em in the war and they beat us in the peace. What kind of work do you do?”

“Retired.”

“Army?”

“Well—”

“Cop? Am I right?”

“Well …”

“You look like a cop.” They pulled up to the hotel. He paid the cabbie. “Yeah,” the cabbie said, “you sure look like a cop.”

Kalinyak took his suitcase, and entered. It was an old hotel in the heart of the downtown section. At one time, it had been the luxury hotel of the city. Still nice, it had a wide marble lobby, thick red carpeting, ornate brass balustrades. A hotel chain had bought it and made it accessible to the middle-classes. He remembered when you wouldn’t be caught dead in the lobby without a suit and tie and now everyone there was dressed casually. There were even some middle-aged people in blue jeans and t-shirts.

There was a sign in the lobby: “Saturday, August 30, 7:00 PM. Taylor Allderdice Class of 1966. Thirty Year Reunion.” He looked around to see if he could recognize anyone from his class. The desk clerk was young, blonde, and attractive. Her name tag said, “Lorraine.”

“Reservation. Kalinyak.”

“Francis?”

“That’s it.” He smiled. She looked away. That’s the trouble when you’re middle-aged, he was thinking: where once women found you charming, they now look at you and they don’t see you at all and they can’t wait till you’re gone. They look at you like you’re an asshole.

He carried his own bag up to the room. It was spacious and modern with a great, large king-size bed. The hotel chain had obviously renovated all the rooms. He sat on the edge of the bed. He felt heavy. Everything about him felt heavy. He gazed at himself in the mirrored sliding closet door. He had gained weight in recent years. Too much sitting around staring at the wall or television, too much fast food and pizza.

At one time, he had been fast. Oh, yes, fast! Power thrills, but speed kills. In his days as a prize-fighter he had been known as “Hurricane.” Now he was, what? A tepid breeze. Molasses, that’s what he was. He could feel the heaviness in his legs, in his stomach, in his soul. To look at me, he was thinking, you would say there’s was a man of middle years in reasonably good shape, husky rather than fat, but he knew in the way he moved how far out of shape he was.

Age was gaining on him. No matter how fast he tried to run, the years pulled him back. The old great black baseball player, Satchel Paige, had said, Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you. All he ever seemed to do was look back.

His life was that road retreating in the rear-view mirror.

He studied himself in the sliding closet door mirror. He gazed at himself with what he felt was a certain objectivity. He was beginning to look like his father. That was the truth of it and it made him shudder inside.

His close-cropped hair was graying, but his moustache was dark. Interesting. Hair on top turning white, eyebrows, moustache black. Why? If you could figure out what caused it, you could make a million dollars, he was thinking. Get rid of all the hair dyes. You take a pill once a month—no more gray. Gray Away, he would call it.

He wondered how women saw him now. In his youth, he had done all right. Now? Obviously the desk clerk hadn’t been impressed. He stood up before the mirror, threw a few punches, bobbed, weaved.

He took off his suit coat and trousers and stood before the mirror in his underwear and shadow boxed. Outside the hotel, it had begun to rain. It hit the window glass in great, thick splats. He heard a loud crack of thunder. He stood at the window and watched the rain. Jagged shards of lightening cracked off the high building tops. It was pouring now and it felt fresh and good.

He unpacked and showered, shaved, brushed his teeth. He had four hours until the reunion. Who would be there, he wondered? Would he know them, would they know him?

Bobby Mack would be there and he looked forward to seeing him after all these years. Bobby Mack had located him: how he had done it, Kalinyak wasn’t sure. Bobby, who worked in the Pittsburgh D.A.’s office, had his sources, no doubt. He considered it. How much did Bobby know about him, about these last years?

Bobby had begged him to come. “Jack Dahlgren’s dead. Murdered.”

Their old friend, Jack Dahlgren, one of the original Mirror Street Huns, the Greenfield sandlot team they had all belonged to. It had happened a few weeks earlier, mid-august.

In hearing about it, Frank Kalinyak hadn’t been surprised. No, the surprise was that it hadn’t happened years before. It had been predictable from their youth. Had there been a category in their senior high school journal, “Most Likely To Be Murdered,” Jack Dahlgren would have won hands down.

“I learned you’re retired,” Bobby had said.

“They forced me out.”

“That’s what I heard. I may have a deal for you. Come to the reunion. Do you have the fare?”

“As long as the airlines take plastic.”

“We’ll reimburse you,” Bobby Mack had said. “Keep all your receipts.”

“We all have our fates to live out,” Frank Kalinyak now said aloud. He thought about Jack Dahlgren and the Huns and the old days and he was filled with despair, a dull ache, a deep, yawning ache, a tooth-ache of the soul..

He took out of his suitcase five framed photographs of a young girl. He set them about the room. He gazed at them and he fought not to weep. “You’re with me wherever I go,” he whispered. He kissed one of the framed photos, a picture of the girl in a garden. She stood sad-faced among the flowers.

She would come to him in dreams. It was this picture alive. He could smell the flowers. He tried to make her laugh. He could never succeed.

The phone rang, Bobby Mack: “Okay, good. You’re here. I was afraid maybe at the last minute…”

“I figured, why not? What else do I have to do?”

“Good. We have some things to talk about.”

“Yes.”

“I’m glad you came. I would have never gone to this thing, if I didn’t know you were going to be here.”

“I been thinking about Jack Dahlgren,” Frank said.

“You don’t know the half of it,” said Bobby Mack. “Look, my office is in walking distance. Why don’t I come by for a drink? I’ll fill you in.”

 

 

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Frank sat at the bar off the lobby sipping a diet coke. There was a silver dish of cocktail mix, peanuts and pretzels, and he struggled not to eat them. He was the only person in the bar. The bartender, who had asked for his order in a light Irish accent, busied himself cutting thin slices of lemon peel.

In the mirror behind the bar, Frank saw a very large man, heavy set, with a great shock of gray hair moving toward him. He was grinning broadly. “This is the reason I’m here!” Bobby Mack called out. They embraced. “I would have recognized you anywhere.”

“I thought you were your Dad,” Frank said. “You used to be skinny as a twig.”

“I don’t deprive myself. Why? What’s the sense? Hey, I’m buying. Give the good man another,” he called to the bartender.

“Diet coke.”

“What’s that about? Glen Livet for me,” he told he bartender. “No ice.”

“It had me by the balls and I didn’t like the feeling. Been off the sauce six years now.”

“Jesus, what’s the use of living?” Bobby Mack took a pack of Camels from his suit jacket and offered one to Frank.

“Gave ‘em up, too,” Frank said.

“Really? I admire you for that. I’ve tried. Jesus knows how hard I’ve tried.”

“I lost my marriage behind the booze. Figure if I’m going to give up the booze may as well give up the smokes.”

“Lost your marriage over it? Me, too. Your wife was – I met her long time ago—”

“Rita.”

“That’s right. Not a Greenfield girl–”

“South Side.”

“Real blondish girl. Polack.”

“Hunky.Old man came here to work in the mills.”

“Didn’t they all.”

“So with the booze and all, we both blew it. She could put it away as good as the next guy.”

“That was after—”

“About a year.”

“I heard what happened. I don’t know how a person lives through that.”

“I’m not sure I did live through it,” Frank said with a wan smile. “Here’s a picture…”

He opened his wallet and displayed a picture of the young girl whose framed photos he had set about the hotel room. She was eight years old, standing in a flower bed, with a sad, lost smile. “Beautiful,” Bobby Mack said.

“She was everything to me.”

“Crying shame,” Bobby Mack said. “And they never found—?”

“Naw, didn’t have a clue. Oh, they looked, they looked high and low all right. After all, I was one of theirs. The department was on it morning, noon, and night, they just never quit. Could have been anybody.”

“How’d it happen?” Bobby Mack puffed on his cigarette, coughed. Frank Kalinyak did not speak for a while. “You don’t have to talk about it.”

“No, it’s good that I talk about it. It’s hard, but it’s good. She was in the backyard, playing. My wife was right inside the house. I was working. It was two in the afternoon on a Saturday. Someone came in the yard and just took her and drove her out into the desert and raped and killed her. Eight years old.”

“Mother of Jesus…”

“Not a clue. Nothing. This was before DNA, but even years later, the DNA brought up nothing. Could have been—anybody. Oh, they hauled in every pervert they could find. Nothing. It destroyed me, Bobby. I don’t want to burden you. It destroyed me. You remember me from the old days. I could take care of myself.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“But this–?”

“I understand.”

“I felt it was some kind of retribution…”

“For what?”

Kalinyak didn’t speak. He stared in the ice in his glass. “Well,” he said at last. “It had a great effect on me, Bobby.”

“I can understand.”

“I was always tough on rapists and child molesters, when I came across them. After this—well, I should have retired for my own good.”

“You busted some people up?”

“That’s what they said. They said, I busted a lot of people up. So tell me about you, about your job. You never became District Attorney?”

“Never wanted it. I’m happy just doing my work, hired hand. These days, I don’t even do much courtroom stuff. I’m more or less the man behind the scenes. I got twenty years in now. I could retire. I’m not about to do it. So they severed you?”

“Yeah. I was drinking heavily. Punched the living shit out of one guy too many. They gave me my walking papers.”

“You earning a living?”

“I work for some bail bonds guys. I do some PI work. I keep busy.”

“And women?”

“Since my divorce, I haven’t been doing much in that area.. It makes it tough when you don’t have money. Who’s going to go for a guy forty-eight years old and he’s scraping by? I have a fling every once in a while, but nothing to write home about.”

The dish of cocktail mix on the table which Frank had been fighting to resist at last won out: he took a handful of peanuts and pretzels and began nibbling on them. “And Dahlgren, how’d it come about?”

“Very complicated.”

“Business?”

Bobby Mack grimaced, shook his head. He drained his drink. He stood up. “There are things about him, none of us ever knew. I’ll see you tonight.”

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Back in his room, Frank Kalinyak lay on the bed. He stared at the pictures of his daughter. It was still raining outside, a soft, steady rain. There was an occasional low rumble of thunder. He fell asleep and dreamed of her as he always did.

He slept for an hour and woke feeling drained. He showered again and dressed.

He was thinking it had been a grave mistake coming back here. But what else did he have in his life these days?

It was still raining heavily outside. The rain lashed the window. He stared at his reflection in the glass. He turned to the pictures of his dead daughter. “I miss you,” he said aloud. “Nothing is worth anything without you.”

He was thinking, it was a good thing they had made him turn in his service revolver. Well, he couldn’t have brought it on the plane. He didn’t want it. He was certain that if he had it here, now, he would put a bullet in his brain.

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