The Morrow Family Saga, Book Three: Laughing, Chapter Twenty-Four

Natalia and Shasta returned to school with adventures they could tell their friends. Their nights on Broadway, their exploration of both New York City and Washington, DC, and the celebrities they had met.They would both be the envies of their class. For at least half the coming school year, they would be local celebrities.

This played right into Natalia’s hands, since she saw herself as Des Moines’ answer to Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth put together. She would play this celebrity thing until it was of no more use. Maybe then, she would have something else to keep her in the limelight. Still, she loved being one of the hippest kids in school.

Shasta was different. The celebrity status would only be cool for a few days. After that, she hoped it would fade and she could go on living in obscurity. She wasn’t out to be popular.

But, then, she was the sensible one. She wanted an education before she sought anything else. A career was worth having before thinking of a relationship. Someone had to grow up and take the reins of Morrow Mill Works when daddy got too old to run it and Nattie wasn’t going to do it. That left her.

Shasta hoped her sister would stop being so immature someday. It made the family look bad. Her aversion to learning. Her aversion to reading.

All Nattie seemed to want to be was an actress in a movie. Or on TV. Or on stage. She never seemed to want to be a part of the family.

It was sad. She had so many who loved her. Yet she ignored them. Perhaps it was because no one understood her. But she didn’t make it easy to understand her.

***

Michael sat in his office, reading performance reports. Merv had done well. Even for a two week cycle, production had been at an all time high. He was proud of his second in command. He had done well.

With profits soaring, he could afford to raise wages. Hell. He could also afford to buy new machinery as well. God knew they needed some new machines.

At this rate, He would possibly be able to expand his business. So many Iowa towns could use the help from a company such as his and he had a few in mind. Expansion was a good thing. He looked forward to it.

But, first, he had to call a meeting of the board. He never made a move without everyone being in agreement. It was just good business. It was called being honest.

He smiled. If they agreed, he would have to pick staff from his current workforce to manage them. It was the only way. The right way.

He picked up the phone. “Yes. Miss Hattie? Give me Joshua Pratt in accounting. Yes. Thank you.” He waited for Joshua to pick up. “Josh? It’s Mike. Just letting you know that I am calling a board meeting. Yes. Yes. The memo will go out in about an hour. Yes, you too.” He hung up, then picked the receiver back up. “Miss Hattie? Would you please come into my office? Thank you. Bring your pencil and notepad. Yes. Thank you.” He hung it back up and waited.

Miss Hattie Tennison entered the room. She was all of twenty, a tall blonde who held herself with a regal air. Michael liked that she was no nonsense. She was his secretary, nothing else. And he treated her with respect.

He knew about her fiance. she had told him about her relationship with the young man, Joseph Marple, when she first met the youth and Michael had let her know he was happy for them. He wished them the best.

She sat down in the chair across from him. “You needed me?”

Michael smiled at her. “Yes. I need you to take a memo.”

***

Valeria set about fixing  the family’s evening meal. She’d visited the butcher shop and had gotten some stew meat just before stopping at the farmer’s market to pick up some fresh vegetables. Soon, the farmer’s market would close for the year and she would have to rely on canned goods from the super market. Until then, she would enjoy her trips to the farmer’s market.

She had bought potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onions, beets, and celery. They would make a great stew. She smiled. Michael loved her stew. So did the girls.

She set about peeling the carrots and potatoes after she started browning the meat. As she peeled, she cut each potato and carrot into a Dutch oven. After the carrots and potatoes, she cut the onions, followed by the cabbage, beets and celery. To these, she added tomato juice and beef broth. She topped it all with a dash of salt and pepper, then added the meat.

Turning down the heat, she went to do laundry. She would return every so often to stir and make sure that it didn’t scorch.  As she passed the time, waiting for the stew to cook completely, she busied herself doing other tasks around the house. Vacuuming. Dishes. Dusting.

The wonderful smell of cooking stew filled the house in time for the girls to return from school. As always, they shared the task of setting the table. Tonight, it would be bowls, not plates. No forks or knives were not needed. But napkins would be.

Valeria had just turned the burner off under the stew when Michael got home. The girls greeted their father as they always had, with a sudden rush into his arms, then leading him to the dinner table. They helped their mother dish up the stew, then enjoyed a family meal. They discussed the day’s events as they ate and joked with each other.

After the meal, the girls went to their rooms to finish their homework. Michael and Valeria went into the family room and watched the evening news as they waited for the girls. When the girls appeared, the shows began. Michael sat back in his recliner. It was nice to share this time as a family.

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The Morrow Family Saga, Book Three: Laughing, Chapter Twenty-Three

Tom had arrived at headquarters to find that Ken had asked to be released from the case. It was ironic, really. Tom had also requested to be released. He’d had his fill of the sordid case. It was too much. Too evil. Too dark.

It had kept him from getting a good night’s sleep since the very beginning, the lack growing as he had dived deeper into the files. Both he and Ken had suffered extremely dark nightmares that had affected their relationships. Even having put a face to the evil had not helped either. It had only made the nightmares worse.

The only solution was to quit the case. It would take Tom years of therapy to get rid of the nightmares. Kendrick wouldn’t be so lucky. He wouldn’t ever be rid of it. It would destroy his marriage, then his life.

Now, both men stood before Eddy. They could tell that he wasn’t at all pleased. “So you both want to leave the case, eh? Too much for ya? Bah. You ain’t men, you’re mice. Fine. But you also have to find work.

“I can’t have women masquerading as men on my team. I shoulda known you both were weak. Get outta my sight.”

Ken opened his mouth to say something, but Tom stopped him. Grabbing his friend’s arm, Tom gently tugged at him to get him to follow. Once out of Eddy’s office, He looked at Ken. “It wouldn’t have done much good, what you had to say. He would have found any excuse to have you arrested for libel or some other charge.”

Ken turned to him. “What now? I mean, this job was my life.”

Tom smiled sadly. “There’s always the CIA. I hear they need some new recruits.”

Ken seemed to perk up. “Yeah. Like they’ll really take us. Eddy has probably smeared our names to every possible employer in the region.”

Tom chuckled. “Eddy doesn’t have that kind of power, Ken. At least, not at the moment. Besides. The director of the CIA can’t stand Eddy.”

Ken shrugged. “The the CIA it is.”

Tom nodded. “Yep. But first, we clean out our desks and our lockers.”

Ken smiled. “Indeed.”

***

J. Edgar Hoover was fuming. He’d had such high hopes for those two, but they had been revealed as spineless cowards. Damn. It was so hard to find good agents. So many seemed to peter out on cases, such as this, where there was an exceptional amount of evidence to pick through. They weren’t like him, they couldn’t push themselves beyond their limits and still bounce back. they couldn’t seem to be able to separate the work they had been given from their lives.

He hated weaklings. They were no better than women in his eyes. Hell. They were women. Women with balls.

He frowned. Now he had to find two more agents to take over the case his top agents had just vacated. He was sure that the weakening of American men was a commie plot to take the country over. Damn commies.

They had created the homosexual community to drain the country of strong men. Eddy loved strong men. He was drawn to them. He loved them.

He shook himself. He had no need to dwell on his personal problems. He had to assign new agents to the French case. He just hoped he could find a couple of strong agents who could handle it. He needed to find a couple of single agents to handle it. That way, they wouldn’t have family to worry about.

He needed to make a rule that limited the eligibility of prospective agents to single men.  Women had already been given a reluctant entrance, though he was not thrilled with the idea. He hated women. They were too much bother.

***

Tom and Ken arrived at CIA headquarters a mere three hours after getting fired by Eddy. Neither had believed they would ever be here in a million years. But here they were. Director Allen Dulles had agreed to speak with them and it all sounded so promising.

They were ushered quickly to Dulles’ office, where they waited for him to return from a meeting. After about ten minutes, he reappeared. He smiled at them. “I take it Eddy kicked you out for having to quit the case you were on?”

Tom nodded, perplexed. “Yes, but how did you know?”

Dulles’ eyes twinkled. “You’re not the first to show up here after being…expelled. You are the youngest, though. No matter. His loss is our gain.”

Tom blinked. “You mean?…”

Dulles nodded. “Welcome aboard.” He turned away for a moment to take a message from an agent who’d stopped at the door, then turned back. “Besides. I know all about the French case. I don’t blame you for crawling out from under it. It would have dragged you down with it if you had stayed. Eddy knew this.” He handed them each an application that looked more like an exclusivity contract. “Don’t worry. I already have your files. I demanded Eddy release them to me.”

Tom nodded. “So once I fill this out…”

Dulles put his hand up. “Just a formality. You are already agents. You report for training tomorrow.” He smiled. “I can see that it’ll work out great. Now go get some rest. You need it.”

Kendrick was all grins as they left CIA headquarters. Tom, now thoroughly stunned, stared off into the distance blankly. It had moved so quickly. They had transitioned so smoothly.

A little too quickly. Still, a job was a job. At least they had been able to remain a part of the government. Still, it would take a little time for the realization to sink in.

Moments later, Ken dropped Tom off outside his home. Ken looked at his friend. “Pick you up tomorrow?”

Tom nodded. “Sure. Same time, same station. Maybe by then, I might awaken from this dream.”

Ken grinned. “Sure thing, boss.”

Tom watched his friend drive off. Looking down at his watch, he noticed that he was four hours earlier than usual. He was sure that Sandy would ask him hundreds of questions, but he didn’t care. He would answer them all.

The Morrow Family Saga, Book Three: Laughing,Chapter Twenty-Two

Toffer sat in the holding cell at the thirteenth precinct. He hoped Joey would bring the bail. If not, they were without their figurehead for at least thirty days or until the trial was set. He had been booked at five that morning and it was now noon. Where was his not-so-benevolent benefactor?

As usual, Joey was fashionably late. He seemed to always wait until the very last minute before bailing anyone out and the wait felt like an eternity. Like always, there was a sadistic gleam in his eye and a malicious smile on his lips as he waited for the bailiff to open the cell and let Toffer out. Toffer knew he was in for some hell.

Joey gazed at him. “Come along, jail bird. let’s get you home. Guess we’ll have to put some guards near your door so we know ya won’t flee, won’t we?”

Toffer smiled sadly and shook his head. “No. I ain’t going anywhere. I don’t have anywhere I can go.”

Joey sneered. “I hafta give ya a hard time, ya know. Johnny wants to see ya. He comin’ ta town in a couple days and wants ta talk business.”

Toffer shrunk in defeat. Gianni was coming to talk to him. Gianni making a personal appearance anywhere was never a good thing. “I’m lookin’ forward to it.” His words sounded empty. Almost tinny.

Joey slapped him on the back. “Good. He’ll be happy ta hear that.”

The Italian ushered him out of the police department and into a waiting sedan. He sunk down in the seat, hoping to make himself as invisible as possible. It never worked, but he didn’t care. It made him feel better.

***

Michael got his family home safely. New York had been just the ideal thing where the girls were concerned. But the girls seemed to enjoy the sights in DC as well, which had surprised him. He hadn’t expected Natalia to like the museums and monuments. Still, there had been theaters as well. And Nattie loved theaters.

They had arrived at Des Moines at five o’clock in the evening, and they had caught a meal at Mustard’s Restaurant before finally returning home. It had been a fine end to a long adventure. Now, the girls were tired. Hell. He was tired.

DC had worn him out. He was glad it was over and done. It marked an end to his part in the scandal. Now, he and his company could move forward with no more obstacles.

He felt bad for Toffer, though. Even though old man French deserved to be brought to justice, he didn’t deserve what he was about to go through. But, then, Michael was more compassionate than most. More forgiving.

He knew once the papers and television got hold of the story, Toffer would suffer a fate worse than death. Not that the media was bad. They gave the news as it was. They did have, however, a tendency to make it grander or darker than it really was. Still, the backlash would be horrendous for Toffer.

It was sure to destroy French Industries. Or, at least, what was left of the company’s reputation. But just how much of the company did Toffer still own? Did he own any of it?

Michael had heard that there had been a massive shakeup at French Industries, but not what it was. He’d heard that it had something to do with money owed by Toffer to a creditor, but he had no clue whether the creditor had taken over the company or not. Whatever it was, it’d had a profound effect upon the man. So profound that he had dropped over fifty pounds over just one year.

Whatever had been going on, it had quieted down Tobias as well. There had been fewer sexual assaults with the boy’s name attached to them, not to mention fewer robberies. The fights and small thefts remained a shadowy area of the boy’s life. Toby seemed inclined to cause  some sort of trouble, even when he was trying not to.

Whatever the case, he was just relieved that the boy’s crime spree had been slowed to a trickle. Perhaps the boy was worried that his father’s fate would also be his own. Or perhaps there were other reasons. It really didn’t matter at the moment.

Right now, only his girls mattered and Michael was a devoted father. Not to mention a devoted husband. He loved his family and they loved him. But, then, family had always been the most important thing in his life.

Morrow Mill Works was last of all on his list of priorities.   But, then, success had never been central to his being. Neither had wealth or power. Only being happily married, being a good father, and a good husband had ever been his desire. And he had succeeded.

He saw everything else as a reward for doing what he knew to be right. Diligence and hard work always paid off, as did being able to see need and fill it. Business didn’t matter. Being of a generous heart, kind soul, and unconditionally loving spirit did. Taking care of those around  him was his business.

These were the mores he tried to impart to his daughters. He hoped that at least one would listen and take up his path. He felt that it was the only path to peace, not that many of his fellow Americans shared that view. Still, he was a man of peace. A man of goodness.

He watched as his girls headed for their rooms once they were inside the house. He had given them their obligatory good night kisses and sent them on their way. There would be no bedtime story tonight, just sleep. And he knew that they bother were ready for that.

They would drift off to sleep without any problems. Valeria, his beloved wife, would probably do the same once the two of them were in bed as well. But he would not. He had too much worry. He was too keyed up. He would have a terrible time getting to sleep.

The Morrow Family Saga, Book Three: Laughing, Chapter Twenty-One

Toffer answered the door to find the sheriff. “Can I help you?”

Sheriff Hargrove looked at Toffer. “I’m here to take you in, Toff. You’re under arrest. don’t worry, we’ll release you if you promise not to be a flight risk and have enough for bail.”

Toffer turned around and placed his hands where they could be cuffed. “I’m not going to flee. No use. It’s too late for that now.” He paused. “Joey or Mikey will be in to deliver bail. I think.”

Hargrove snapped the cuffs on and led Toffer to the car. Toffer waited for the sheriff to open the back door to the cruiser. after the door was open, he allowed the sheriff to gently force him into the backseat. He looked out the window to see Toby peeking out of his bedroom window fearfully.

For the first time, it wasn’t Toby. Toffer bowed his head in shame. It was his own fault, after all.  He had brought this upon himself.

The sheriff pulled away from the manse. Toffer sunk down in the seat, ashamed. He didn’t want people to see him as he was taken in. He didn’t want to give them a spectacle. Not yet. That was for another time.

In a matter of minutes, they pulled up outside the sheriff’s department. He knew he would be booked here, then he would be transferred to the closest precinct to be held until he made bail. But would Mikey or Joey bail him out? That was the question.

***

Mikey was livid. Unlike his brother, he was not as easy to get along with. Brutish, his favorite way of taking care of problems was to take a baseball bat to them. He didn’t believe like his father or brother. He didn’t believe in throwing money at a problem. Especially one that had already drained enough money from the family. But he had to acquiesce to the desires of his brother and father.

He supposed that was why Joey had been put over this problem with Toffer French. His father needed the little toad alive so he could repay his debt. Mikey would rather kill the little toad. He knew that Toffer would likely not live long enough to repay it all back. Hell. At the moment, he wanted to kill Toffer’s kid.

That Toby French had been nothing but trouble. He had been lucky that Papa Johnny had sent Joey every time he’d ended up in a jail cell. Mikey would have killed him that second time and there wouldn’t be any need to bail the boy out from that point on.

But then, it was probably a good thing that Mikey had never married. He didn’t have the temperament for it. He was too violent. Too hard.

He was just really good at running businesses. Especially those the family had to take over to repay debts. He could take a virtual failure and turn it into a huge success. He was only a diplomat when he was in the boardroom, not out in the public.

Unfortunately, with an IRS case against Toffer, and all the company files missing, he wasn’t sure he could turn French Industries around. There were too many cards stacked against him and not enough time to turn things around. as it was, he could only be expected to get the company back  in the black. He just didn’t know whether he could pull it out of debt where the IRS was concerned.

His first order of business was to shift focus from substandard materials to the best he could afford without using all of the investment money his father had given him to turn things around. After that, he restructured the assembly lines so that there was a quality control officer on each line to see that only the best quality products were allowed to be put out for market sale.

Once he had corrected these two weak links, he began fixing worker morale through incentives. It paid to be involved in the unions. And he believed that French Industries was now the first union business in Iowa. It was a template. All other businesses were non-union.

To add to the morale, he raised employee wages. This helped boost productivity and quality. Higher productivity and quality boosted sales. These raised profits, which slowly began to pay off the back taxes.

He would have to talk to George Gill to see what could be done. He hated to see so many jobs vanish, but with current conditions and the back taxes, he wasn’t sure he would be able to save French Industries. George would have a better idea of what could be done.

If he didn’t, he would find out. He didn’t have to know that  Mikey was a member of the Mafia. All he needed to know was that he was a temporary CEO set up by a creditor who took possession of the company in order to liquidate a debt. Beyond that, the details didn’t matter.

***

George Gill had handed the Tax Commission’s findings in to the Iowa Department of Justice. His Commission’s part in the case against French Industries was over. They had found probable cause for a case and had voted for several cases of fraud and embezzlement against Toffer. The state Attorney General had indicted Toffer on multiple charges of murder, extortion, rape, racketeering, and corruption. Word had emerged that the federal government had also leveled just as many counts against the little man. The state could call for the death penalty. So could the Federal court.

Hell. why couldn’t they both combine their cases and just give one verdict? It wasn’t like they could both hang the man. Nor would Toffer be able to actually serve any more than maybe a good sixty years of multiple judgments.

He sighed. No matter how skillfully a crime was committed, no matter how well it had been hidden, it would be punished at some point. That was an undeniable fact. No matter who committed the crime, rich or poor, justice would prevail.

The Morrow Family Saga, Book Three: Laughing,Chapter Twenty

James McGranery sat back in his chair. His office was quiet, but haunted. His head pounded from the stress. Migraines brought on by stress, no doubt. He closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath.

Never before had he heard so many people say the same thing during a seemingly endless inquest from congress and the Department of Justice. He had expected even less from the man in question than he had received. He couldn’t believe that Toffer had admitted to everything. It was simply unheard of. Yet, the man had confessed.

They had their solid case. That meant that they would be able to begin pursuing their case. But they would hold off until the state of Iowa had finished with their case. By that time, they could get the tax fraud case added to the criminal case. It would be the first and only criminal case tried at a national level.

He opened his eyes and sat back up. It was time to get everything ready for the case. It was sad how this case had besmirched the reputation of the Midwest. He had always thought of Iowa as one of the most honest states in the union. Toffer had proven that it wasn’t as honest as believed. But, then, one couldn’t rightly judge an area based on the doings of a single family.

He took a deep breath. So much to do, so little time. the only reason the case was even being considered for national courts was the fact that Toffer and his company had taken government money in the past and had not delivered what had been promised. Toffer had even broken several federal laws or bent them for his own purposes.

His crimes needed to be addressed nationally. He had to serve as an example. No one else should be allowed to bend the law as he had.  They had to get a conviction for it all.

He rose from his chair. Time to go see Eddy. Hoover wouldn’t be happy seeing him, but he had to talk with the man. There wasn’t any way around it.

Few people in DC ever wanted to go talk with Eddy. He was just too abrasive. Too full of suspicion of everyone. Too quick to hunt people down for differing with him in belief.

That wasn’t how a law man should be. They should be only interested in bringing real criminals, criminals like Toffer, to justice. Instead, Eddy wanted to persecute those who were different. Gays. Blacks. People believed to be “communists”. Anyone who didn’t hold Eddy’s belief or political view. People who were openly gay and mirrored Eddy’s privately held orientation.

Eddy’s sexual tendencies were an open secret. They were never mentioned, but were widely known. As was the fact that his second in command was his lover. And his tendencies to wear women’s clothing. Especially lingerie.

McGranary shivered. That was an image he really hadn’t wanted. Still, it was true. The man who persecuted others hid secrets of his own that made him a big hypocrite.

***

John Stephenson Graham had enough evidence to press charges against Toffer French for fraud. He was surprised that the man had confessed, though. Never, in his life had he witnessed such an easy confession. It almost seemed too easy.

He had appointed, mid case, to replace Dunlap. But with Eddy Hoover running the FBI, he wasn’t sure his stint with the IRS would last. He was the third person to have the directorship and everything was so unstable. No one seemed to have enough time to actually do what they started.

It was sad, really. If Eddy would just be reasonable, and amicable, everything could actually run smoothly. But Eddy had never been either of those. he had always been paranoid, abrasive, and hateful. What Eddy really wanted was to be President. He wanted to be in the ultimate seat of power so he could officiate his little witch hunt from the office of the Presidency. But he had not been able to run, so he had not been able to obtain the election. This, John supposed, added to Eddy’s bitterness and hate.

But then, Eddy was one of the most bigoted men John knew. And ignorant in many ways. He really had no clue what communism really was, nor did he know how to separate communism from socialism. to him, they were one and the same. They both led to the same results in his eyes. Too much power in the hands of the people.

Never mind that Democracy was about the rule of the people at the hands of the people, Eddy saw that kind of thing as dangerous. Destructive. Subversive. Equality was misguided and wrong. There shouldn’t be anything of the sort in the world’s greatest country.

In Eddy’s mind, the government was there to guide the people by telling them what they wanted. The masses shouldn’t be allowed to decide for themselves. That was a commie ideal. But John knew better. Democracy was about the people having a say.

Just as long as they paid their taxes, John didn’t begrudge them their freedoms or their right to choose the government. He respected that. He would want the same. He did want the same. Eddy wouldn’t take that away from him.

He took a deep breath. He had to go and pay the madman a visit. He had to hand in his portion of the case. It was ready for the indictment process. A trial was about to happen and he had contributed to the case. within his half, there were at least thirty counts of fraud and about the same number of counts of embezzlement. That, alone, would keep Toffer in prison for a few years.

He knew that the DOJ had at least ten counts of racketeering, thirty counts of extortion, fifteen counts of rape, and at least that in murder. The murders would either land him with a sentence of life without parole or it would warrant the death penalty. He was also sure that there had been the added counts of laundering as well to account for.

It was an open and shut case. Toffer would go down and go down hard. French Industries would be dissolved and the employees left without jobs. But that was the sad thing about cases like this. So many would be hurt simply by the closing of their livelihood.

The Morrow Family Saga, Book Three: Laughing,Chapter Nineteen

Toffer walked through the door to find a clean house. His eyebrows raised in surprise. The boy had learned something, after all.  As he toured the house, he was amazed to see that dishes had been washed and put back in their place, clothes had been washed, and nothing had been broken.

The boy was improving. Toffer could only hope that the boy could change other habits in the same way. But it would have to be soon. Before it was too late.

Still, learning how to clean up after himself was a major step, and Toffer was proud of him. He was glad the boy had learned now, before he lost all help to the inevitable. Toffer knew it was only a matter of time before he was found guilty of all crimes he’d been accused of and that many of those crimes carried a death penalty. He was willing to accept that.

He just hoped he could get Toby to own up to his crimes as well. He wasn’t holding his breath. The boy was too deep into his ways to hold out much hope for. It was sad, too.

But Toffer knew it could be done.  But would Toby do it? He doubted it. the boy enjoyed committing crime too much. But he knew himself to be to blame. After all, he had taught the boy that the laws didn’t apply to him.

He regretted that now. He regretted everything. Looking back, he had destroyed everything. At least everything that mattered.

He had made the two of them homeless. Penniless. Jobless. Hopeless.

He could think of a million words to describe the new low to which the family, he and the boy, had found themselves. None quite fit. But all pointed back to him. The boy was as he had allowed him to become. Taught him to be.

Sad, really. He had taught him to break the law for personal gain. He had taught him that there would be no penalty for doing so. In doing so, he had taught the boy a lie.

There was always a cost. Everything, every decision, had a cost. Sometimes, the deed wasn’t worth the cost. Especially when it meant breaking the law.

Toffer went to his office and sat down behind the desk. He inspected it. No one had attempted to find the secret compartment. Good.

He felt under the desk and found the button that unlocked the compartment. pushing it, he waited for the small hidden door to spring open. Pulling the drawer out, he removed the file there and began to read. It was his original reason for becoming he monster he had been.

Opening the main drawer, he pulled put a legal pad. Grabbing his pen, he began to write a confession. On each page, he detailed each stage of his plan. The murder of his father. The degradation of the company. The vampire-like way he drained a company, already deep in financial trouble, of all profits. How he ripped off his workers.

He held nothing back. Rape. Extortion. Murder. Theft.

He even bared his soul on how he raised his son. Bad behavior was rewarded, good was ignored. He admitted to allowing the boy to run wild and letting him do whatever he wanted. Nothing was ever punished.

Hell. He even admitted to being guilty of physically abusing his son. Hitting him for no reason. Verbally breaking him down and berating him for doing anything good.

He knew his days were numbered. He was assured of the death penalty for at least half the charges he would receive. He knew that. Or, at the very least, life without parole. Why not go on his own terms and with a clear conscience?

***

Joey Veraggio was the son of Gianni “Johnnie” Veraggio. Johnnie was the boss of the Veraggio syndicate, one of the few left from the old families. The Mafia had changed since the 20’s and 30’s. They no longer bootlegged. Extortion, blackmail, unions, and gambling were still hot items but they no longer killed unless there was no other recourse. At least, that was Gianni’s way.

Money wasn’t enough to make him want anyone dead. In pain, well, that was another matter altogether. But dead, no. A dead man could not repay a debt.

He wasn’t, however, against taking away someone’s livelihood. Just as he had done to Toffer French. Maybe he would recruit the boy for a few jobs. He seemed to hold promise. But not the old man. The old man could only help run the company.

Gianni was willing to allow the old man to go down. Hell. A little prison might do the man good. He sure as hell hadn’t been very good at the business he’d been left.

The elder Mafioso could remember Baltus French. Baltus, though cruel and crooked, hhad been half way decent as a man. His morals weren’t completely lacking. After all, Baltus would never stoop so low as to blackmail or to rape. And killing had been the last resort in any business proposition.

Nor would the elder French ever do business with the likes of Gianni Veraggio, unless it was selling his most quality products and installing them personally. He had been too proud to ask for money unless it was for a sale he’d made. A man worth respecting.

But Toffer would have, and had, shamed his father’s memory. yes, Baltus would be ashamed of his son…and his grandson.  They didn’t deserve to wear the French name. Nor did they deserve to have the company built by Toffer’s grandfather.

Gianni shook his head. It would take Toffer the rest of his life to repay the debt he owed. But the boy. Toby would be easy to turn. He would be easy to teach.

All he had to do was break Toby of a few really bad habits. If he couldn’t be broken, he would have to be dealt with in another way. But how? Being sent to war?

After all, there was another war brewing and by the time it was in full swing, Toby would be of age to be drafted. Perhaps, if the threat of being shipped out was held over his head, the boy would break all his bad habits. It was worth a try.

The Morrow Family Saga, Book Three: Laughing, Chapter Eighteen

Natalia found the monuments interesting. She pretended that she was in a movie where her character was touring Washington, DC. She loved the idea of learning as long as she didn’t have to be herself. At the moment, she was no longer Natalia Morrow. She was La La Marconi, tourist extraordinaire.

Acting was so much fun. Especially when it was during a family vacation.She could make believe that she wasn’t a part of the family. She hadn’t felt like a part of it since Papa and Mama Venacek went away. Now, she just didn’t feel like she belonged.

Sure papa and mama tried their best to show her they loved her. But they pushed her to do things she didn’t want to do. School was one of those things. So was church. She hated them both.

Not mama or papa. No, she hated school and church. She hated to learn. No amount of learning would get her to Hollywood or onto Broadway. Only beauty and connections would get her there.

Still, she would play along until she was old enough to drop out. Then, she would leave everything behind. Who needed school, anyway? She didn’t.

Natalia continued to imagine herself as someone else for the rest of the outing. No one seemed to mind as long as she listened. They only hoped that she would wake from her dream before it was too late. The question that remained with them was: Would she?

****

Shasta had always found  history intriguing. How the country was built. How it went from colonies to states within 200 years. How slavery was ended by a war that tore the country apart. Even the Great War and World War II excited her. Ancient Greece. Ancient Rome.

History was what made her imagination run wild. And school fed that imagination. She excelled at math, English, history, science. But mostly history.

This trip had been like a trip to the mythical Elysian Fields for her. The theaters. The museums. The historic restaurants.

She was having the time of her life. Even though she knew that the trip had to end, she wished it wouldn’t. They had to return to Des Moines. Still, she would remember this trip for as long as she lived.

***

Jim Wallace had long discarded the thought of writing any part of this nightmare into his memoirs. No one would believe it if he did. Most of the people would claim that it was all fiction. Had he not sat through several months of depositions, he would have agreed with that thought, but he had heard it from more than one source. There was no denying this vile story.

He had observed changes in one of the FBI agents involved in the investigation. they were subtle at first, but became more pronounced over the months. The other had very ;little change. He couldn’t blame the one who’d changed. Even he had changed.

He no longer thought of the Midwest as the bastion of wholesome living. It seemed that it had joined the rest of the country in depravity. He smiled sadly. He was disappointed, really. He had hoped that the region had remained largely pristine and uncorrupted.

Unfortunately, reality was such that it often disappointed him. Not that he expected too much from it. He just hoped too deeply. he was always the hopeless romantic.

Hell. He was used to disappointment. His whole life had been full of them. What his life had become was a big one.

He had not set out to become DC’s secret keeper. He’d never asked for that curse. The only plus was that no one could touch him. His life was too precious to them all.

He pulled himself out of his thoughts and sat back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling of his office. Funny, he hadn’t noticed the spot above his chair before. Strange. He didn’t remember it being there.

Grabbing a step stool, he elevated himself enough to inspect it. A bug. Did the FBI believe him so daft as to discuss any of those secrets in his office? If so, they were fools.

He never talked while in his office. Not about those things. Hell. He never talked about it anywhere.

He hoped that the FBI was enjoying his mundane phone conversations. Eddy must really get off on listening to the calls. Especially those to himself. He smiled.

Eddy was a sadistic little prick. An odd egg. Perhaps the bug was placed there to ensure that he wouldn’t talk. He was tempted to talk just to see what they would do.

He smiled. Too tempting. Too dangerous. He preferred his freedom.

Eddy was just waiting for a reason to get rid of him. All the reason more to keep it all under wraps. He was ahead in a mental chess game. He didn’t want to blow everything on an impulse.

He carefully removed the small microphone from its little place of concealment. They weren’t going to be happy when it suddenly went dead, but he didn’t care.  He needed his privacy. Even from Eddy. That little creep didn’t need to know everything.

As he tossed the little intruder away, he hoped his hunch was correct. It it was, he would find a couple of Eddy’s men planting a new device tomorrow sometime. If he was wrong, He would find CIA agents waiting for him when he arrived back from the final depositions tomorrow.

He really hoped that he was correct. He didn’t particularly care to face down the CIA. They weren’t particularly nice when it came to someone finding their little presents. Despite their prime directive, they did happen to have their claws deep into domestic affairs as well.

One thing he had learned was that the CIA was paid to lie to other countries as well as the general public. Half of the time, he believed that they even lied to the President. He wouldn’t put it past them. Not that it really mattered at the moment.