This arti­cle is part 1 of 10 in the series The Chicago/Watseka Payback

This Michael Tate sto­ry, like its pre­de­ces­sors and suc­ces­sors, takes place in loca­tions that have either been vis­it­ed by or researched by the author. Names of cities, streets, hotels, restau­rants, etc. are real.  Even the menus of restau­rants where Tate dines are tak­en from Googled sources.  In most instances, Google Earth is used to find loca­tions and the pedes­tri­an view of that app pro­vides accu­rate descrip­tions of the places where some events occur.

My trip to Hawaii had been most inter­est­ing, to say the least.

I had ful­filled one assign­ment, near­ly been killed in a freak aero­nau­ti­cal acci­dent, almost killed an inno­cent man, and got­ten to see a good deal of two beau­ti­ful trop­i­cal islands, all in the space of about two weeks.

But it was good to be home after a long flight and see the farm again, know­ing that I would not have to aban­don it and lead a life in hid­ing for hav­ing killed a gov­ern­ment operative.

I had come dan­ger­ous­ly close to dis­patch­ing Lionel Trane — an alias — think­ing that he had attempt­ed to assas­si­nate me, only to find out at the last moment that what I believed was not true.

L.T. — as I had come to refer to him — accom­pa­nied me on the trip home from Hawaii and we had part­ed com­pa­ny in Los Angeles, me to fly on to Chicago and then to Lexington and he depart­ing to I don’t know where.

L.T. is sort of like a bad pen­ny.  He just pops up on the most unex­pect­ed occa­sions.  I ful­ly expect­ed to hear from him again in the future.

I had tried to dis­as­so­ci­ate myself from the assas­si­na­tion busi­ness but after a long con­ver­sa­tion with L.T., I had become con­vinced that my ser­vices would still be use­ful.  I had made the point, how­ev­er, that I expect­ed all future assign­ments to be thor­ough­ly vet­ted. I was going to be high­ly selec­tive about which ones I might accept. And I reserved the right to turn down any I chose.

And bar­ring unfore­seen events, L.T. would now be my sole con­tact for assign­ments unless, of course, I should decide to take on a pri­vate contract.

I thought the farm had nev­er looked so good.  I could­n’t help won­der­ing if my feel­ings of con­tent­ment might be some­thing like those expe­ri­enced by sol­diers com­ing home from war.  I did­n’t kneel down and kiss the earth as some have done, but the sur­round­ing com­fort and qui­etude of the place were momen­tar­i­ly overwhelming.

Nelson had, as usu­al, seen to the upkeep of the farm, and every­thing was in order as I parked the Lexus, retrieved my bag of new­ly acquired wardrobe (which I was forced to pur­chase because my bags had been on the plane that went down over the Pacific), and entered the house. 

The famil­iar untidi­ness and smells of the rooms wel­comed me to a place of rel­a­tive secu­ri­ty. I set the bag down in the first con­ve­nient place and plopped myself into the old com­fort­able lounge chair by the win­dow.  I must have sat there with­out mov­ing for a half hour or longer, just star­ing out at the sky and fields beyond.

Some six weeks had passed since my return to the home­stead and I had quick­ly set­tled back into my rou­tine, meet­ing with Nelson to dis­cuss the oper­a­tion of the farm, occa­sion­al­ly being at the road­side mail­box when LeAnn made her deliv­ery, and hav­ing idle chats with John Nash or just wav­ing at him as he drove past.  Everything seemed back to normal.

I dis­cov­ered that LeAnn was being “kicked upstairs,” tak­ing on anoth­er job in the post office which would keep her off the road.  I’m sure she nev­er liked some of the win­ter deliv­er­ies she had to make, con­sid­er­ing that win­ters in cen­tral Kentucky vary wide­ly from year to year — and some can be pret­ty bru­tal.  I can only recall one instance when mail was not deliv­ered because of the bad weath­er and that was fol­low­ing an ice storm that felled trees and made roads into ice rinks. I guess “..nei­ther rain nor snow” does­n’t always apply.

I have not yet met our new mail car­ri­er but I know that I’ll miss LeAnn as I missed Mary before her.

Oh well, change is the only thing that stays the same.

I guess all this infor­ma­tion about my mail car­ri­ers has come about due to the fact that, about this time, the new car­ri­er came on the scene.

It was­n’t because I just hap­pened to be at the mail­box the day we met.  He had stopped his mail truck in front of the house and walked up the dri­ve­way to deliv­er a pack­age too large to fit into the mailbox.

I was read­ing and hav­ing cof­fee in the den when the door­bell rang.  The front door was open and only the screen door sep­a­rat­ed the foy­er from the out­side.  As I approached, I could see through the screen door a youngish — maybe thir­ty — fel­low, dressed in every­day cloth­ing that did­n’t dis­tin­guish him as a postal ser­vice employ­ee except for the small eagle emblem on the left breast of his shirt.  These days, the USPS does­n’t require its employ­ees to wear uni­forms except in cer­tain situations.

“Good after­noon, sir,” was the friend­ly greet­ing as I neared the door.  “Mr. Tate, I presume,”

“Yes, and you are?”

“Jim Saxon, sir.  I’m the new car­ri­er on this route.  Glad to final­ly meet you.”

“Thanks, Jim.  Glad to meet you.  But if we’re going to get along, you’re going to have to call me Michael.  I’m not used to all this ‘sir’ stuff.”

“Sorry, si… Michael.  I guess old habits are hard to break.  I haven’t been out of the corps long enough to have shed the habit of refer­ring to all my elders as ‘sir’.”

Ouch!  That hurt.  I had nev­er been referred to as an elder before.  That fel­low who greet­ed me in the mir­ror this morn­ing did­n’t look so much old­er than the one there yes­ter­day.  Is forty-two real­ly old?

“Anyway, Michael, I just want­ed to deliv­er this pack­age.  It’s too large for the box and I can’t leave it on the side of the road.  Oh, and here’s the rest of your mail.”

“Thanks, Jim.  Can I offer you a cup of cof­fee or a soft drink?”

“Oh, no thanks. I’m run­ning a bit late today and I have some duties once I get back to the post office.  Maybe a rain check?”

“Sure.  Anytime,” I said as I opened the screen door and accept­ed the pack­age and loose mail from him.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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