Posts : 461
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 101
Location : Chicago, Illinois, USA
|Subject: Re: Thanks for Nuthin'. Thu Nov 19, 2020 5:35 pm|| |
I took the prompt and spelled it properly. I hope that's acceptable.
Special Agent Harry Briscoe was tired. Weeks of organizing, and finally, executing his plan to destroy the Devil’s Hole Gang, were over. Although he hadn’t achieved his original goal – the missed opportunity to send Heyes and Curry to the Wyoming Territorial Prison was a bitter regret – he’d exposed the corruption within his own agency, destroyed another gang of thieves, and protected a valuable shipment. Now that the debriefings in Wyoming had concluded, he was on his way home at last. He felt himself nodding off to sleep as the Union Pacific train carried him the last few miles to his home base in Denver. As the train pulled into Union Station, the whistle screeched, and he jerked awake from dreams of whiskey and Gatling guns and blonde women with sweet smiles and lying tongues.
Around him, passengers were picking up bags, settling children, and lining up to exit the crowded passenger car. He caught himself looking intently at one stout woman in bonnet and shawl, wondering if she was really a disguised man. She noticed his stare and almost harumphed at him. Embarrassed, he tipped his hat. She frowned. Turning his attention to the frosted window, he saw that snow was falling. He looked up when he heard someone clearing his throat.
The conductor stood next to his seat. “We’ve arrived Union Station, sir. End of the line.”
Briscoe stood up, yawning. “Yes, thanks.” He reached for the carpetbag and bulging briefcase in the overhead rack and pulled them down, then followed the conductor to the exit. He hardly noticed the interior of the new train station as he walked through, concentrating only on finding the cab stand in the dark street and getting back to the boarding house where his comfortable bed and a hidden bottle of Kentucky bourbon waited to welcome him. When he arrived at his boarding house, he was surprised to find his landlady standing just inside the threshold.
“Mr. Briscoe! Thank heavens you’re alright! I read all about you in the newspapers, and I was so proud, but so worried, too.” She clasped both hands to her chest, in a pose that reminded him of the religious statues standing mute guard on her front lawn. He put down his bags and stamped his feet on the entrance mat, shaking off snow and slush.
“That’s extremely kind of you, Mrs. Clark, but there’s no need to worry about me. I’m a Bannerman man, after all. We’re professionals. We know how to take care of ourselves.” He seemed to stand a little straighter, chest out, chin up.
“Of course, you do, but still . . . all those awful people that you arrested! I think that train robbers are the worst of the worst.”
“Not necessarily, but it’s true, they aren’t the sort of people you’ll see at your Sunday Mass.”
“I certainly hope not!” She huffed, then reconsidered. “Although, mind you, sinners like them would benefit by hearing the Gospel.”
“Amen to that, Mrs. Clark. Amen to that.”
Her smile lip up her broad face. “And you are a hero, Mr. Briscoe. No, no,” she told him, “no false modesty. I read what you said in the newspapers, and I had Willy get all of them so the residents would know all the wonderful things you did, and I saved the newspapers for you, too. I only hope Mr. Bannerman rewards you for your bravery. I mean, to catch all those criminals in the act, and some of them Bannerman agents themselves – Why, I never!”
“Ah, yes yes,” he interrupted. “That’s as may be. I admit to being a little tired after all those weeks in Wyoming, and ---”
“Silly me! You must be exhausted, and hungry, too, I’m sure. Why don’t I make you a nice roast beef sandwich? Willy can bring it upstairs for you.”
The thought of his landlady’s fine food, with a tall glass of the contraband bourbon, almost revived him. “I’d appreciate that, ma’am, more than I could say. In all my travels, I haven’t found anyone who knows her way around a kitchen better than you.”
Nothing pleased Mrs. Clark more than praise of her cooking. “Bless you, Mr. Briscoe, it’s the least I can do for you, seeing as you risk your life for the greater good of society.”
Briscoe was stumbling with fatigue by the time he unlocked his door. He dropped his bags next to the wardrobe and lit an oil lamp. He pulled out the bourbon from its hiding place underneath his socks in the bureau drawer and, settling into the overstuffed Queen Anne chair, took a long, satisfying drink out of the bottle, and allowed himself to feel good. Even with the unexpected turn of events– dishonest agents, those two men who posed at agents and turned out to be fine fellows, and even getting accurate descriptions of Heyes and Curry with details sure to identify them – everything had worked out. The job would be a feather in his cap. Tomorrow, he’d debrief with his superiors at headquarters, accept their congratulations, and move on to his next assignment, maybe with a nice, fat bonus.
A knock at the door interrupted his reverie. “Mr. Briscoe, I got your sandwich.” Quickly, Briscoe hid the bottle behind the chair cushions.
“Door’s open, Willie.” The boy entered, carrying a tray with a sandwich piled high with roast beef and peppers. Briscoe’s stomach growled. He’d sleep well tonight, stomach full, feet warm, and ready to face life as a hero.
When Briscoe woke the next morning, the sun was high in the sky. He looked at his watch on the bed table and made a face. He overslept. That meant no breakfast, since only the army had a more rigid attachment to schedules and rules than Mrs. Clark. He’d have to buy breakfast today, an expense that he tried to avoid. A Bannerman man was expected to be the best of the best in law enforcement and investigation, he reflected, while earning a salary barely higher than the lowest beat cop.
Mrs. Clark met him at the base of the stairs.
“Mr. Briscoe, are you going out without your breakfast? That’s not like you.”
He blinked in confusion. Suddenly, he noticed wonderful smells wafting out from the dining room.
“Aren’t I too late? You always tell the residents to be on time for meals if they expect to eat, and I overslept.”
“Oh Mr. Briscoe! You are so sweet! I can always count on you to follow the rules, can’t I? But this time, I want to make an exception. I thought you’d need to sleep late, after your hard journey. Go to the dining room, and I’ll lay out a full plate for you. Just don’t tell the other residents”
He bent down to whisper in her ear. “Your secret is safe with me.”
Briscoe lingered over his meal, savoring the fine cooking. Between the delicious food and the hot, sweet coffee, he felt his energy return. By the time he put his overcoat on, picked up his briefcase and stepped outside, he felt as good as he had for weeks. The sun shone brightly, melting the snow and making a slushy mess on the wooden sidewalks. He decided to splurge and take a taxi to the Bannerman offices for his meeting.
The new headquarters office of the Bannerman Agency dominated the block of buildings it stood on. Briscoe felt proud he worked for such a prestigious organization. Sometimes it seemed like the criminals were winning the hearts and minds of the public. Whenever he saw a dime novel glorifying Hannibal Heyes or Kid Curry some other miscreants who fascinated a gullible public, he felt a surge of anger that only made him more determined to do his job well.
He checked his pocket watch – right on time. Punctuality was an important asset as a Bannerman, he always said. You had to be dependable.
Mr. Worthington’s secretary was seated at his desk when Briscoe entered.
“Morning, Steven. Mr. Worthington is expecting me.”
“He’ll be a few minutes yet. Why don’t you take a seat? I’m sure he won’t be long.”
Briscoe hung his hat on a rack and sat on a comfortable chair, straightening his suit as he did so.
“Oh,” Steven said, as if he’d just remembered, “Mr. Phineas Bannerman will be joining the meeting. I hope that’s not a problem for you.”
“Not at all. The more the merrier.” The thought of meeting with George Bannerman’s uncle and right-hand man, as well as the head of the Denver bureau, was surprising and not surprising. It could only mean that the rewards he anticipated would be even more generous. He tried to push down his rising excitement and maintain a calm, professional demeanor.
It was only a few minutes till the door opened and Clive Worthington appeared. “Come on in, Briscoe. We’re ready for you.”
Inside the lavish office, a coffee service was set on the round conference table, along with folders and newspapers.
“You remember Mr. Phineas Bannerman, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir, I do. It’s an honor and a pleasure to see you again.” Briscoe shook hands with the elderly gentleman and, sitting down, put his briefcase next to him on the floor.
“Will you have coffee, Briscoe?” Worthington asked.
“I will if you gentlemen will.” Worthington poured coffee for each man, added sugar and, once they had all taken a sip, sat back and folded his hands over his expansive chest.
“The purpose of this meeting is to discuss your recent – ah, shall we say, adventure – in Wyoming. We’ve read your interviews in the newspaper and copies of the reports filed by the other agents. Since this was your job, Briscoe, from the outset, we want to hear the story of what happened once that train left the station. Never mind what you told the newspapers. Give it to us straight.”
Thus encouraged, Briscoe spoke. The nods and occasional smiles he received from the other men increased his relaxation and confidence. Their only interruptions were occasional questions and observations, none of which disturbed his narrative flow.
“Well, well, well,” Bannerman said. “Very interesting. Of course, we already had a lot of information from the interviews you gave to the newspapers. We do have some concerns that we need to address.”
“Of course. A lot happened.”
“Truer words were never spoken. First – what prompted you to discuss Bannerman business with newspapers before you reported to me here in Denver? Why did you speak to newspapers at all, when you were not authorized to speak for the Bannerman Agency?”
The sudden change in Worthington’ tone made Briscoe sit up straight, mouth slightly open in surprise. The other men stared at him until he recovered himself enough to stammer.
“I, I . . .”
“You, you. You shared all the details of a job in a public forum before reporting to me. Nor did you have permission to represent the Agency as you did.”
Briscoe tried to defend himself, but he couldn’t find the words.
“Well?” demanded Worthington. “Have you anything to say for yourself? You certainly weren’t short of words when talking to reporters.”
“My aim was to correct the inaccuracies that the press was printing, sir. I felt that the Agency’s reputation might suffer otherwise.”
“Are you sure you weren’t more interested in promoting yourself than protecting the Agency?” Bannerman asked.
At this implied insult, Briscoe’s spine stiffened. “I’m a Bannerman man, sir, to the very core of my being. I know I’m a representative of all the hard-working men through this entire country. My only desire was to ensure the Agency’s good reputation. If it came across as self-promotion, I’m sorry, but that was never my intention.”
“Haven’t you ever heard the saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Detective?”
“Yes, sir, I have.” Briscoe felt sweat break out on his forehead.
“Did you think you were protecting the Agency’s reputation when you told the world that the criminals involved in this case were Bannerman agents?” Worthington said.
“How do you think the Agency’s good reputation is protected now that, thanks to you, our detectives are shown to be criminals? How many companies will hire this Agency, knowing that we cannot guarantee that our own people won’t conspire to rob them?” Bannerman said, quietly. “Do you know what’s being said about us now? The Pinkertons are soliciting our clients, saying that their agents are vetted and investigated, while our hiring practices are so lax as to promote and hire the very people we’re supposed to protect our clients against. They’ve gone so far as to say Bannerman’s slogan is ‘We like to think there’s a little bad in everyone.’ All because you decided to ‘protect the Agency’ by talking to the newspapers.”
Briscoe was stunned. He could only stammer. “No, sir, I didn’t know that.”
“Let’s move on to another topic. From what the other agents – the honest, competent agents you managed to bring aboard – tell us, you accepted Sara Blaine’s lie without question. She told you that you’d bagged Kid Curry, when it turned out to be some petty thief named Henry Louis Jenkins. And the only reason you discovered her lie was the presence of two grifters who successfully imitated agents, who, through intervention of what must have been the angels, identified this Jenkins. Meanwhile, the agents under your supervision and control were getting drunk. You had to fill those agents with coffee, trying to sober them up, when these two strangers, Smith and Jones, demonstrated that Daly and Blaine were liars. Is that a fair and accurate representation of the events?”
“Well, if you put it that way, I guess – “
“And these two grifters, Smith and Jones,” Bannerman went on, relentlessly, “supposedly knew Heyes and Curry so well, they could provide you with accurate descriptions.”
Briscoe took out his handkerchief and wiped his sweaty face. “Yes, sir, they did.”
“Which they did after they warned off the Devil’s Hole Gang.”
“Yes, sir, that’s right.”
“Doesn’t it strike you as odd,” Worthington said, “that they warned off the gang and then betrayed the leaders by providing accurate descriptions, with details that no one else knew?”
‘I hadn’t thought of it that way, sir.”
“I mean, really, a gold tooth? A neck scar?” Worthington shook his head in mock sadness. “We don’t have accurate descriptions of Heyes and Curry because they are ordinary. If Heyes had visible scars and a gold tooth, we would’ve nabbed him years ago.”
Briscoe coughed into his handkerchief.
Worthington looked past Briscoe. “Do you have various reports in your briefcase?”
“Good. You’re going to spend the next week at your home. Write up a single, coherent report on all the events. Organize all the witness statements. If you want to use a typewriter at the Agency, one will be made available to you. When your report is complete, leave it with Steven. Then Mr. Phineas Bannerman and Mr. George Bannerman will decide what kind of future you have with the Agency, if any.”
“If any?” Briscoe’s voice rose. “But, I thought . . . “
“Thought what?” Worthington asked. “That you’d be welcomed as some sort of hero? That you’d receive rewards for what you did?” The two officers exchanged grim looks. “You sold this job to George Bannerman as a surefire way to destroy the Devil’s Hole Gang. That goal was not achieved. While the Wash Valley’s shipment was secured, it was only through a series of random events that had nothing to do with your management. In fact, only the appearance of Smith and Jones saved the shipment and, by extension, your job. And along the way, your propensity for self-promotion harmed the Bannerman Agency’s reputation and cost it business. We can only hope that clients, and the Pinkertons, will forget about this embarrassment as we achieve success in other ventures.” He leaned forward and folded his hands on the table. “So yes, let me say thanks, Detective Harry Briscoe. Thanks for nothing.”
Briscoe felt his face get hot. His stomach was turning flip-flops. He took a drink of the coffee. It was cold and bitter.
“Is there anything else you want to say?”
“No, sirs. I guess I best get started on my report.”
“Good thought. You’re dismissed until one week from today, same time. Keep the details of our discussion today private, if you can resist talking to your friends on the newspapers. So far, the press has focused on capturing train robbers instead of the Agency’s humiliation. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I will, sir. You can count on me.”
“Can I, Detective Briscoe? It’s going to take a long time before I can believe that.”
Outside, on the sidewalk, Briscoe had to lean against the building, trying to catch his breath. The briefcase was heavy in his hand. He wanted to throw it into the street and let some carriage run over it. Best to walk home, he thought. Sometimes it was easier to think if you were moving.
He didn’t see any of the residents or staff when he arrived, but he heard activity in the kitchen. He went upstairs to his room. After hanging his coat and hat, he sat down in the wing chair and pulled a file out of the heavy briefcase. He flipped through a few pages aimlessly, then threw it across the room and watched the pages flutter to the carpeted floor. He noticed, among all the papers, an envelope near the door. That hadn’t been in his file. He went to pick it up. It contained an elaborate card and was signed by what seemed to be all the other boarding house residents, as well as Mrs. Clark and Willy.
It read, “You have the thanks of a grateful city and country.” He sat down again and tapped the card against his knee, thinking hard. He hadn’t been outright fired. That was a good thing. The difference between the reality of his situation and his earlier expectations suddenly hit him hard, and he reached for the bottle of bourbon still concealed behind the cushions. He let the briefcase fall to the floor, unnoticed. He leaned back in the chair and just stared at the ceiling, occasionally lifting the bottle to his lips and drinking long. Bannerman’s “thanks for nothing” kept echoing in his head. The weeks of planning, coordinating, and finally, pulling all the threads together seamlessly and what was his reward? “Thanks for nothing.” And Pinkertons saying that he, and all his brother agents, were proof that “there’s a little bad in everyone?” That required another long drink. Suddenly, a new thought came to him; he blinked hard and sat up. What if the Pinkertons were right? What if there was a little bad in him, too? Being good brought him “thanks for nothing.” Maybe it was time to find out if there was a little bad in him as well.