June 3, 1976

Bright sun and hot air flooded into the stale smoky Hawker’s interior. He pulled his bag from its overhead stowage and moved toward the open porthole. He donned his dark glasses as he moved, his head was lowered as to not hit it on the fuselage interior. He ducked again lower to clear the doorway, his left hand came up to shield his eyes from the sun and its reflection off the desert tarmac.

His hair was light, almost straw colored, not long but not cut short. His skin was tan and smooth. He was not a terrifically tall man, just even at six feet in the shoes he had on he was still taller than most. To the people who notice things he was obviously fit. His posture was confident but inviting, and his movements were casual and active at the same time.

He made his way down the stairs and for the first time in just over two and a half years stepped onto American soil. Gary Cannon had spent the previous three years of his life almost full time in Western Europe and the four before that in and out of Southeast Asia.

As much as he had missed his home, stepping off this aircraft in San Diego felt no different to him than it had touching down in some of the foreign cities he had passed through in the past months and years.

Gary’s return to the United States was happening much as his last departure had, on a hot runway and no one knowing who he was or appearing to care. The high in the sky sun looked just the same as it had half a world away, but it felt different. His omens of time spent working in the States weighed on him.

This trip home was so different than the others, his other trips had been short and for his own relaxation. Time for him to try and forget his pain, and his work, and to put pieces of a life in an order that made sense to him.

All the same memories and pain lived here in his home and the time he had spent abroad thinking of home, and thinking of returning were quickly now outweighed by the feeling of knowing he was home. The deep down feeling of knowing just how difficult his job could be here.

At the bottom stairs he lightly adjusted the Combat Commander wedged inside the waistband on his right hip and stepped forward onto the sticky asphalt. Gary’s walk was as carefree as a man walking on a peaceful beach, he was alert, and relaxed at the same time. However he had the look of a coiled spring that could be tripped at any moment.

He gave a smooth glance over his right shoulder looking back at the cockpit, the pilot was clearing the plane to take off and even as he walked he could hear the engines spooling up again to power the jet skyward.

He moved forward small duffel hanging from his left hand; he checked the Speedmaster on his right wrist, 15:25, still hours until he had to catch his bus.

Gary reached the shade of the concourse, he stopped and casually looked back across the airfield, and the thin sliver of shade was not affording him much relief from the mid afternoon sun and the southern California heat.

He reached into his breast pocket of the manila colored shirt he wore and pulled a butt from his pack of Lucky’s, lit it and near one of the supports, and glanced forward into the glass of the building. Lucky’s were not the brand he was used to and even though he had been burning them up the last couple of days the taste of them tore at his throat.

Through the glass he noted nothing that made him uneasy, another scan of the tarmac and a member of the ground crew who was preparing to greet another flight yelled, “Hey…hey asshole, you can’t smoke there, the jet fuel! Hey, read the sign!”

Gary noted the sign as he had walked to the shade of the concourse. Gary was not a heavy smoker and he often could go for days and never light one up, he had just had a smoke on the plane as it was on approach. What he needed was just a few more minutes to stand and look, and to just do it like a guy having a puff before he went inside and pushed through the bustle of the airport.

But Mr. Overcautious out on the tarmac cut this opportunity short for him. Gary took one more drag, dropped the cigarette to the ground, crushed it with his heel and gave a wave and a smile to the ground crew, nodded his head to them and walked through the glass door.

 

***

 

The bus station was hot and dimly lit. The taxi ride from the airport had been longer than Gary expected it to take but he was still more than early for the bus that was going to take him east.

Gary entered from the side, and moved along the wall, slowly calmly taking note of everything in the large open room but looking at nothing. There was a young man in a Navy uniform sitting in one of the hard wooden chairs in the lobby, and the other chairs were empty.

Gary was acutely aware of the booming his steps made as he made his way across the wooden floor. He stepped to the ticket window and purchased a ticket, the bus for Omaha would be leaving at 17:20, he had a while to wait still and he picked a seat with a view of the entrances, checked his watch and waited.

 

***

 

Gary stepped onto the hot dirty bus. Two passengers loaded in with Gary, the young man in the Navy uniform from the station and a young woman in a sundress.

Gary started looking through the rest of his fellow passengers, working his way from the front. No one was drawing any real attention from him. He did make small mental notes of how they were acting, how and where they were seated.

In his mind Gary evaluated each of them for the possibility that they had followed him. He looked at their faces, tried to picture if they were faces he knew. As he looked at each face he searched his memory for ones he had seen before, or ones he had seen from intelligence passed his way.

Beyond the faces there always seemed to be a certain posture to look for one he never found a way to describe, one he just knew.

In the business Gary was in he was at the top of the pyramid, there were maybe six people in the world at his level. If he was being hunted it would either be one of those other five, or it would be a team.

None of the faces on the bus were ones he recognized, there was no way an entire team would be on the bus with him, he just needed to watch out for one member that could be shadowing him.

All of the windows were open, and the hot southern California breeze cut through the bus in random eddies and seemed to suck the water from his body.

The smell of the bus reminded him of every bus he had ever been on, and the isle he walked down had just enough tackiness that his shoes lightly stuck to it as he stepped. Gary picked an aisle seat at the back, stowed his duffel under the seat. After sitting adjusted the .45 in his waistband the hammer of which was digging sharply into his side.

The bus, nearly empty lumbered forward, its old loud engine protesting the driver’s command to move the heavy piece of iron down the road. The bus was moving through the city streets making its way to the open road.

 

***

 

September 6, 1965

 

As a boy in High School Gary knew, girls were a mystery to him, school came easy, and being outdoors was heaven.

His life was comfortable he rarely wanted or needed for much of anything, but he could see the people around him and knew that his family was not a wealthy one.

School had just restarted for the year. Gary was still thinking of his summer vacation as Mr. Bee talked about the importance of Sherman’s march to the sea, but Gary remembered all about it from what he had read a few years ago. That seemed to be the case with almost everything, it seemed Gary actually had to try not to remember things. Everything he saw, read or did, just stuck.

Out the window the rain pounded down on the small western Missouri town. Rain, heavy at times had been falling most of the day that day, Gary was thinking of how he hoped the fish would be biting on the river because of the storm. In his mind he was already on the river wetting his lines.

Lost in his daydream Gary failed to notice Sheriff Metzler had come to the classroom door. Watching the rain dance with the setting puddles in the street he was hypnotized. Metzler talked with Mr. Bee and Bee called for Gary, “Gary…Gary Cannon,” Gary looked up.

“Gary, Sheriff Metzler needs to speak with you in the hall.”

There was a bustle of heckles and calls from the room behind, Bee shot them a look and the room fell silent.

Gary rose from his desk and walked to the door, well aware of the eyes watching him as he walked. He was searching his mind for what he might have done, or where he slipped up and got caught.

The Sheriff and Mr. Bee followed Gary in to the hall. Mr. Bee shut the door behind them.

There in the long empty hallway, Gary stood opposite the Sheriff and Mr. Bee, the high sheen on the tile reflected the light spilling in from the gray afternoon, Metzler spoke, “Gary, I have something to tell you, this morning your parents were on their way to the City, and did you know they were going that way?”

“Yes Sir, I think Dad wanted to look at the new Fords.”

“Well, son…” he paused, looked at Bee, “Gary, their car lost control and slid off the road…it over turned into a full fast moving stream. By the time anyone came upon the car, they were gone Gary. There was nothing that could be done.”

Gary looked up at these men in front of him, he felt himself moving away from his body moving upward and looking down on himself and the two men. The dark corridor echoed with his heartbeat, he could hear his breathing, see the sweat beading on his neck. He took a breath and he was in his head again, hands and feet numb, eyes darting from side to side, desperately looking for something to pull his mind and attention from what this uniformed man had just told him.

Gary found nothing that could turn it off. He looked back to Metzler and Bee, “Okay.”

Mr. Bee, looked at Sheriff Metzler, confused, Mr. Bee back and Gary, “Son, do you understand what Mr. Metzler just told you?”

“Yes sir, my folks were on their way to the City, and they slid into a ditch and drown.” His voice was plan and unwavering.

 

***

 

September 10, 1965

 

It had been his first brush with death. His parents had been snatched away from him in a fail swoop. Gary had never been to a funeral, he had never known anyone who had died. He had never known his grandparents. To further his anguish he had no uncles, or aunts, and no cousins. The only family he had ever known was gone.

The time between that day in the school corridor and the day he watched his parents lowered into the ground had passed and he had barely noticed, the services were impersonal and brought him little comfort.

Gary had been in a pew for family, he sat there with his neighbor, a widow, Mrs. Hunter. There was no family to share that pew with him. Likewise, there were no brothers no nephews to carry the caskets. Men from the church had filled in Gary was introduced to them but he did not remember their names, Gary was alone.

Tomorrow he would turn sixteen, he would be alone for that as well. In his mind all he could see was birthdays to come each of them filled with loneliness.

Gary had stared at the wooden boxes holding the bodies of his mother and father, sitting in his hard wooden seat next to an old woman who smelled of mothballs, he cried no tears.

He had cried in the past days, the tears had come in private in an old bed in Mrs. Hunter’s house, his head covered by stale cold sheets.

Gary would not let himself cry in front of these strangers, not now, not when he had not a clue where he would go, or how he would live.

He felt he was in the boxes with them, there was a coldness in his life he had never known. The lack of direction, lack of knowing was tearing him apart.

 

***

 

Gary stayed with Mrs. Hunter for two days following the funeral, he was not happy there in fact, he was miserable.

Mrs. Hunter smoked like an old locomotive it was not the sweet smell of his father’s pipe, her cigarettes smelled like the dry grass that was burned with the spring pastures. Her food was bland she cooked with no salt and she had no sugar in the house.

Mrs. Hunter was nearly deaf, which meant whenever she was talking she was yelling, her voice was a hoarse scratchy thing heavy with twang, and her vocabulary, like her grammar was severely lacking.

There was a lonely parakeet in her living room that for as many times as Gary had been there looked like it was molting. The cage was in desperate need of cleaning and the putrid smell of bird droppings was an almost ever-present aroma. Ever-present unless Gary opened a closet, and then it was the mothballs.

A day before the funeral Gary had been visited by a man named Finch. Finch had showed up mid-morning that day at Mrs. Hunter’s, asked for Gary at the door and the old widow yelled back into the house for Gary.

Gary would remember Finch as the first man to shake his hand. Finch was a short skinny little man, salt and pepper hair and a plug of tobacco tucked into his left cheek. Finch asked Gary out to the porch, where they sat.

“Gary, I am sorry for your loss… I did not know your folks well, actually I never met your mother. Several years ago I was approached and hired by your father to write his will. He had some very specific instructions, he was one of the most meticulous men I have ever dealt with. The will has been in my keeping.”

Gary was more than a bit confused, his father, as long as he could remember had worked as a truck driver. James Cannon ran local deliveries mostly and was almost always home in the evening. He knew they were not a wealthy family. A will seemed to Gary like the document of a wealthy man. “A will?”

“It’s not an uncommon thing Gary, men about his age they think about things, about their life, and they make out a will, someday I ‘spect you’ll know.”

“You said there were special instructions?”

“I said specific instructions, ones which I will follow…” Finch stood and spat off the porch and into the yard that sat back down.

Finch continued, “Look son, after your momma and papa are laid to rest you and I need to set down so that we can read through your papa’s will. There are some important things that will need to be set straight so we can get you taken care of. Okay?”

Gary nodded, “Yes sir.” still confused, wondering what his father could have had that he would need to pass down to his son in a will.

Finch stood, “I will send a car for you on Friday.” He shook Gary’s hand again and walked his way back to his Oldsmobile. Gary watched his car as it disappeared down the street.

There were clouds to the west dark and ominous, Gary looked at them and felt he was looking into his heart. The wind picked up and pushed leaves around in the street. Gary could feel the coolness on the wind preceding the storm, at first it felt good, but then it made him shiver. Gary turned and with great reluctance went into the house.

 

***

September 12, 1965

 

As Gary had been told Finch sent a car for him, it was a Lincoln. The driver came to the door and walked with him to the car. The driver opened the car door and closed it for him. The driver was very polite but did not speak much as they drove north to the city.

Gary was nervous, his stomach was turning, and he had to keep reminding himself to breathe. As they drove Gary found himself watching the ditches, looking at the deep narrow ditches, staring at the water thinking only of his parents. He wondered if his parents were alive when they hit the water, were they conscious. He hoped they were not.

He too was drowning, but in his thoughts, he felt trapped, how could he continue, how would he be able to move forward? He was so scared, he was alone and he was in a car being chauffeured to a lawyer’s office to have his father’s will read to him.

He entered Finch’s office, it was quite a magnificent building, the chairs in the front room were wood and leather, the plump secretary in her green blazer was pleasant and Gary could tell that she felt sympathy for him and knew why he was in the office.

Gary only had to wait for a few minutes and a door to the left of the secretary opened and Finch motioned for him to come into the room. In the room, which looked to be a small library, there was a large wooden table. Eight wooden chairs around it. The walls were adorned with books, high back chairs in each of the corners. The ceilings were high and there was an ominous echo with even the slightest noise.

Gary did not notice at first but there was a man in one of the corner chairs. He was a very plain man, dressed nicely but plain, Gary felt as if the man were looking through him.

Gary and Finch sat at the large table. They sat opposite of each other near the middle. Finch opened an envelope and began to read the will of his father.

The reading was very short. Somehow Gary’s father had left him three hundred thousand dollars in cash. This was a number that seemed impossible for the man that Gary remembered to have had stowed away. The money had been kept in a safe deposit box in a local bank in Kansas City, and Gary was given the key. He could see the outline of the key pressed into the small manila envelope that it was sealed into. Then there was a letter.

Finch said, “Gary, your father has a letter for you to read, when you have finished I will read the last of the will.”

Finch handed an envelope to Gary, he used a letter opener, unfolded the paper and he read his father’s words silently,

 

Gary,

 

Son, if you are reading this I am sorry, I am sorry that I will not be there for you that I won’t be there to see what you will do and what you will become.

Things I am going to tell you I have never told to anyone outside of the people who were with me, I have never spoken of these things with your mother, and had never intended to do so, if your mother is still alive I ask that you never reveal to her what you are about to read.

Gary, you don’t know this but I fought in the war, I was in France, Germany, England, Africa, Italy, and for a brief time in China. I signed up after the Japs hit Pearl, and was shipped to Africa; I was not there for long and I was approached by a man named Whaite, a man who would change the course of my life in ways I could never imagine. He was a strange man, bad posture, a terrible disposition, and he was generally unpleasant. However, the stories that he told, the promises he made…they were enough to overcome his abnormalities.

I guess first I should back up. I was born in Pennsylvania. I was not raised in Missouri. When I was born my parents were in their forties, to say I was unexpected I believe would be an understatement. I was in my mid-twenties when my parents passed. My father going only fourteen months after my mother. The depression had been hard on my folks, and when my mother fell ill and died in April of 1940 my father was too tired and too heartbroken to move on. After my father was gone I bounced around the country working when I could, stealing when I needed to, living on the fringe.

The attack on Pearl was just what I needed to snap out of my stupor, had those bastards done it any later I would likely have wound up in prison or dead in a ditch somewhere. But like so many of us on that day, the attack struck a chord and that saved my life.

The Army turned me inside out and pressed me straight. As it turned out I excelled in their world. They sent me to Africa in the infantry, where we joined the British chasing the Desert Fox.

That little man came about six months after we had arrived on the African continent. He gathered a few of us apparently asking for us by name.

Whaite knew a lot about me, things I didn’t think anyone knew. But he asked questions, made notes, and he studied me for a while. That of course was the studying that I knew of at the time, I found later that Whaite had been collecting information on me since shortly after I signed up.

I didn’t know initially what it was in me that flagged him but the foul little man liked something. I found out later he was looking for orphans, and he gave great priority to only children. Somehow my loss and pain brought that man to me and it would change my life more than I ever would have guessed.

One early morning we came across a small group of German armor, they were flanked by roughly a company of infantry. We were lucky that day and laid waste to those Germans losing very few men. My orders at the time were to scour the dead for intelligence.

Whaite found me there near the smoldering heap of German armor. He came to me, in his arms were a set of civilian clothes, he pointed to a smoldering disfigured body of an unfortunate German tanker and told me that man was about to become me.

Whaite told me I should undress and put my GI issues on the charred soldier, along with my personal effects and ID tags. I did as I was asked, and as I dressed in to the clothes he gave me Whaite doused the body in lighter fluid and with the strike of a match, set it ablaze. As I watched the clothes curl and blacken from the flame I realized how complete this charade was to be. That the Panzer soldier would become me, and be buried as such. I was to choose a new name.

So, I became James Cannon there in that desert as the sun sat on the African horizon. I did feel reborn, that man I was the man with another name on those dog tags really had died. I don’t even know where he was buried.

We trained for months, well they called it training, there wasn’t time for real training we had work to do. Most of the training was on the fly, assassinations, kidnappings, and intelligence gathering. At first in the presence of a senior operative, and then they turned us loose. At that point and really that whole time it was catch on or die.

We did our work in pairs mainly, sometimes in small teams but the work was all the same no matter how many of us were involved. I eventually made my way to planning the work. I never left the field though. Always lead from the front.

Then the war was over. They came to us and said to take our new identity and start a life, they had made us into killers and they wanted us to shut it off. Not long after that few of us got together and formed a company. We used the contacts we had in government and in the military to get the ball rolling.

We did work no one wanted or didn’t know they wanted, the work that a government couldn’t be seen to be involved in. It was post-war “peace” but there were still people who were dangerous and people who would pay for us to make those people go away.  We did that for them, and we were good at it.

And so Gary, I leave this with you, I leave you the money, and the bit of a legacy that I have, son, I have done things that have made the world safe for democracy, but I have done things that I will have to stand before God and be judged for.

I hope for you all the best, as you are the best of me.

Love, your father

James