The Relentless American

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Part I – Daniel

Chapter 1

 “Hell no, we won’t go,” the young men chanted. It was June, 1970. The television news cameras focused on unnamed faces. I held my peace sign poster high and walked east on New York City’s 57th Street in front in New York City in the lead of a crowd of protestors against the war in Vietnam. I glanced at the handsome New York Police Department  keeping the peace, keeping us away from our two senators about to arrive for dinner at Park Avenue’s landmark Plaza Hotel. We were sure their agenda focused on Vietnam and we wanted to influence them to stop the bombings.

“Will we make a difference today?” I said to my friend, Daniel, but I was looking at Officer Sal Mendoza. I caught his eye and he stared into mine. He was definitely one good-looking cop. “Do you know that officer, Daniel?”

“I spoke to him at the last protest. Be careful, with your attention, Hannah. He’s married.”

Vietnam, a divided country, had split the United States into splinters. The civil war divided families, friends, and classmates on its own tiny peninsula in Southeast Asia as well as in North America. It affected more than the military men and women who were there. It took a toll on their mothers, fathers, spouses, and lovers. Vietnam was a mammoth frightening ogre. It had engaged most Americans, be they in favor or opposed. The ogre did not threaten the U.S. mainland or any of its territories. It did threaten U.S. lives in otherways.

Things were copasetic at the protest that night until someone bumped me and I fell onto my knees. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sal Mendoza watching me. Daniel MacIntyre reached to help me stand. Mendoza intervened after a girl tripped over Daniel and smashed a bottle of red thick liquid on the pavement. She shouted, “No more U.S. blood in Vietnam.” Other voices joined her. Soon the chant reverberated throughout the circular drive in front of the Plaza. “No more blood. No more blood.”

A scuffle broke out as the police arrested her. One man tried to pull her away from an officer. Another officer grabbed the man’s arm and both slipped on the red wet pavement. I tried to help him, but someone stopped me. I turned and looked into the black pearl eyes of  Officer Mendoza. He marched me to the police van parked on the other side of the barricade. Another officer had Daniel .

“They think I planned this, Daniel. Say something,” I called out.

“Me? How about you? Go on. Speak up for yourself.”

“You’re the guy who has connections at the precinct.”

”Later.” he said as Mendoza led me into the van and Daniel followed.

Daniel followed and sat close to me. His knee touched mine. So did his shoulder. I knew Daniel well. I knew his political views. He favored the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He definitely did not belong here in a protest. I did. I had earned the badge of a peacenik. I favored withdrawing our troops immediately. He, on the other hand, he favored sending  more troops—Americans to crush the enemy.

“Daniel, the real enemy should stand up. It may be us—as in U.S.”

Although miles apart on pros and cons of the war, Daniel and I were friends. We had know each other since high school. We had our faith in common, but not much else.Financially we were as far apart as our views. He had earned a couple of million dollars selling his formula for natural baby soaps and lotions. I was a poor college senior. He was a Hawk. I was a Dove. I was a peacenik.—.  . a quiet peacenik.— nothing very radical. I adored the Berrigan brothers, but I was not courageous enough to burn draft records as they had. Daniel was …what? A guy who thought the war was justified. A man who kept watch over me. A man who had connections with the NYPD. A date for the Sophmore Tea Dance or the Senior Trip.

The wretched odors of sweaty bodies, dried blood, and plain old bad breath in the van shocked me back to reality. I held my hand over my nose and mouth. I looked around the van. I didn’t  recognize anyone except Daniel. Not a single familiar face. Where had my other friends all gone? Why weren’t they in the van too? Had they fled at the first sign of trouble? More and more protestors came to the rallies as the body count from the war rose every day. The dirty van windows block my view of the street, but I could hear the chanting resume.

“So, what are you doing here?” I asked Daniel through my fingers.

“Watching you. Hoping you don’t become a statistic of injured agitators.”

“Right,” I said rolling my eyes. Oh, for goodness sakes, I could barely do what I wanted without him next to me every time I left campus? I think Mother must have hired him as my personal bodyguard. She really likes Daniel. She likes him for me ….for my husband.

Daniel continued talking, “Yeah, like the song, give peace a chance?” he said and grimaced as if he had swallowed vinegar. “I say bomb the damn communists,” he said and then bumped his head against the metal wall of the van. He wanted to end the war with bombs and yet he sounded as sad as a child losing a pet. I felt more and more hopeless about ending U.S. involvement. My heart whimpered like an infant for our military personnel and their families.

“Oh, sure. Then what? Leave whoever lives over there to their misery? Or pay them off as we did Germany and Japan?” I said folding my arms and slumping on the bench. “And what about our guys? What will happen to those who come home without arms or legs, sight or speech? Who will mop up the mess we have here, Daniel?” I stopped talking. What was the point? I had tried to convince him repeatedly, but I failed. It was no use talking to him. He was complicated. Why was he here?

“Did Mother send you?” I snapped and immediately felt ashamed. After all, Daniel and Mother only wanted my safety. Oh right, and me for his wife. As much as his thoughts on the war intrigued me, and he was a great date, I was not ready for marriage to Daniel or to anyone.

“Well, not quite. I wanted to come see you and she told me where you’d be. Hannah, the entire peace movement is volcanic. It’s spewing flames. It’s ready to explode. Don’t forget what happened at Kent State just a month ago,” he said with a dour note in his voice.

“What could you do if I were in danger? If you were standing next to me, you would be in danger too,” I asked handing the kid seating on my other side a wad of tissues for his bloody nose.

“Would you know beforehand if danger were eminent?”

“That, my love, is confidential,” he said with serious downturned eyes and mouth. He could be so serious. I imagined Daniel looked like Michael the Archangel with a flowing burgundy cape and a sword of fire casting into hell the evil communists. He stared at me. His auburn beard contrasted with his cobalt blue eyes and made him all the more alluring to most women. Daniel’s handsome features and stance projected self-confidence. I loved that he was all that. I could distance myself from him in my mind, but not in my heart. We were enemies in my mind and dear friends in my heart. His presumptive attitude grated on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. Sometimes he ignited my insides.  I loved him in some ways and sometimes.

I turned my head to look at him. His eyes were closed. His jaw clenched. I imagined he thought the situation serious.

My anger surged. “Damn it, Daniel.You shouldn’t have come. I hate you watching over me. You and my mother. For goodness sakes, I’m an adult and I like to think you are my friend, but what kind of friend follows the other?”

“A good one, I’d say.” He opened his eyes and held my gaze hesitating before he spoke. Then said, “You’re lovely, you know. Beautiful, actually. I enjoy following you. Damn, Hannah, even though you drive me crazy. What do you think about a kiss right here, right now?”

“I think you’re nuts. A kiss? Is that what you said, kiss me? Here in this stinking van?” I asked in a husky whisper like a panting puppy. “Are you crazy? I can barely breathe never mind kiss you.” I said. I licked my lips and tasted the vile air. Kissing was out of the question. Besides Officer Mendoza was watching us in his rear view mirror. Hannah, what do you care if Mendoza is watching?

A kiss from Daniel would be nice some other time, when he stopped coluding with my mother about marrying me.He attached the words like love and marriage to kisses. I’ll not have a gold band, yet. Maybe later, but not now, not before I gained some independence, live on my own, experience life after college.

“Kiss me,” he said again.

***

Hannah said, “Daniel, stop it. You’re depraved. We’re in a police van.  .  . not on the Pocono Honeymoon Express to Pennsylvania.”

I looked away from my childhood friend who had grown into a beautiful young woman. She was small, graceful and full of live. Her slim frame showed off the strength of a ballerina. She had her father’s dark walnut brown hair and eyes. Her dark eyebrows arched perfectly outlining her pale complexion.

Hannah and I had been friends since high school. Although she was three years younger, I couldn’t resist talking to her. We became friends in Drama Club when she played the Scarecrow and I the Tin Man in a production of the Wizard of Oz.

“Hannah?”

“ What?” she asked with a sharp tongue.

“Would you come with me on the Honeymoon Express?”

“Ha, you know the answer to that, Mr. MacIntyre?”

***

 

I turned away from Daniel and glanced at the other people in the van. Most wore jeans and T-shirts … some with peace symbols, one with a washed out slogan I couldn’t read. A girl had the word peace painted on her forehead. One fellow had a tattoo that said Draft Dodger and Proud of It on his muscular bicep. Another girl’s eyes bugged out of a skeleton face. No doubt high on PCP. The boy still held the tissues to his mouth. We jolted against each other. I winced when the kid bounced against my sore arm where a week ago a policeman’s grip had left an unsightly black and blue handprint.

I closed my eyes and imagined the gloom of the van quite transform to bright light. The walls expanded, the roof rose high above our heads letting in the golden sunlight and bright blue sky. A cool breeze refreshed my hope the cops would release me as soon as we arrived at the station. I hadn’t done anything illegal. I smiled as Sal Mendoza, the officer who had rushed me into the van, reached over and touched my arm. He said, “Don’t worry. We’re just keeping you safe.”

I blinked and looked at the grey walls of the van and the low ceiling. Why imagine Sal Mendoza would help me? He hadn’t said anything to me to make me think so. I was just another protestor to him. Weird that I imagined him touching me. The reality was he had not said much to me at all. He just looked at me with his black opal eyes.

The putrid air in the van invaded my lungs and must have played tricks on my mind. My nerves chewed at my brain. I should have been used to an arrest. Still my guts wrenched. One never knew who would be a cell mate. I passed my eighteenth birthday four years ago; the police would not call Mother. I would have to get out of this myself.

* * *

After we pounded through potholes and the evening crowds in the City’s Midtown North Precinct on 54th Street. I sat on the stained bunk mattress with my knees to my chest and leaned against the damp cold wall. The cell atmosphere was a step from the van. Somewhere an air conditioner sent in cool air. I spent the long hours of the night with eyes open, chewing bubble gum, and listening to my cell mate enlighten me on cock rings and lubricants. She definitely knew her business. “If you want, I’ll talk to Albert. He is always looking for new pretty girls. You’re pretty enough. You know how to fuck, right?”

“Umm, thanks for the offer, but no thanks. But nice of you to think of me.”

“Don’t you like men? You know, we sometimes, come ‘cross women wanting women. Know what I mean? Me, myself, I enjoy men.”

“You enjoy strange men? Are you saying you enjoy sex with strange men?”

“Not all are strangers. I have many returning gentlemen. They like what I do. Sometimes they are fun. You know, crazy fun. Yeah…sometimes.”

“Aren’t you afraid some guy will rip your guts out for fun?”

“Well, Albert is always outside the door to help. He listens and looks through the key hole. He’s my protection.”

“Oh, right,” Unbelievable. Her name was Dolly. She looked my age. Her skin was the color of cream. Her curly blond hair …clean. Her make-up was Fifth Avenue. A middle class escort for middle class men . A dubious and dangerous profession.

I heard a male voice call, “Hannah O’Brian.” I stood when Mendoza unlocked the cell. “Your bail’s been posted, honey. You are free to leave. Sign your papers at the front desk. Officer Stevens here will escort you,” he said and smiled at me. He was a handsome dude. Small hips, tight abs and a perfectly proportioned chest for his stature.

“Thanks, Mendoza,” I said. I grabbed my sweater from the bunk. I stood in front of him for one long moment. Something about him caught my imagination.

Mendoza had delightful black eyes with flecks of silver. Needless to say, he attracted the looks of more than one woman, but the gold band on his left hand halted most of us. Except Dolly. She asked him if he wanted her number.

“Dolly, Dolly, Dolly. Won’t you ever stop asking?”

“But Sal baby, I am in love with you,” Dolly purred at Mendoza. He ignored her.

“Listen, sweetie,” he said to me, “stay out of trouble. This is what? The third time you’re here? The judge won’t like that, you know. She won’t be nice. Charges of disorderly conduct have been dropped.”

“Thanks. Is my mother outside? ” I asked as I put on my sweater.

“Not that I know. I did not see a mom out there.”

“Do you think she’d see my picture on the news. Was I on the news?” God I hope not. Ho would my future employer take that?

“No. Why? You don’t want to be on the news…bad for your career or something?” he said and looked at his clipboard. “Daniel MacIntyre is here for you, sweetie. Okay, now go. I have work to do and I don’t want see your ugly face here again,” he said while he stared at me. I held my breath. His eyes bore into me and I looked away. His black hair curled around his ears like Cupid’s. His sideburns emphasized his beautiful cheek bones. His is wedding band shone in the dim light.

 He’s married.

I smiled at Mendoza and walk out the door following Officer Stevens.

Daniel waited for me talking to the desk sergeant. I spotted him before he saw me. His hair reached his collar and he wore a clean shirt, jeans, and a sport jacket. I guess he hadn’t stayed in jail overnight. His friends in the precinct must have helped him.

“Thanks for leaving me in jail, Daniel,” I said weakly. I had only a split second to see him grimace before he took may arm and moved me outside into the sunshine.

I said. “You left me overnight, Daniel. Were you teaching me a lesson?” I said and pulled away from his grip. He smiled, but what he said next, belied his features. Which told the truth, his smile or his words?

“Why would I leave you? Hannah, I did the best I could. You’re out now aren’t you. That’s what I always do, isn’t it?” he said and squeezed my arm. “I’m getting tired of it, Hannah. Aren’t you?” he said like a man who knew the answer. A scowl marred his face. He squinted against the sunlight, turned the corner and ushered me towards his car.

“No, not tired. Frustrated yes, but not tired,” I sighed. A band of sadness wrapped around my heart and twisted. I wished Daniel would think more as I did. I felt alone, isolated and as separate from him as heaven from hell. Could ideas separate two people as much as physical distance?

He stopped and turned towards me. Whenever he looked at me that way, a piece of the ice surrounding my heart melted and trickled straight to my center. I had never felt it with any other man except Mendoza with the gold band. Daniel had a big heart for me. I loved that about him, but I didn’t dare tell him. He would hear wedding bells, but I had some things I wanted to do walking down the aisle. I wanted to be independent. Did I love him—love him enough? I did not have to decide today.

“Hey, are you alright?” Daniel said.

“Yes, of course I am,” I said looking away from him at the city traffic. “What could be wrong?”

“Come on, then, let’s go. You still have to get to graduation.”

* * *

“Hannah O’Brien, Bachelor of Science, Clothing Design, Academic honors,” the president of Holy Rosary College announced. I walked across the stage of the Greek Theater to receive my degree. The hot May sun beat on the black mortarboards. I was glad I wore shorts and a tank top under the academic gown.  I wore a black armband …another protest against the war. The ceremony was going to be a short one to honor the Kent State victims.

“Hannah, what are you thinking?” Brenda said as we stepped in the line of black mortarboards to our seats. “Daniel or Vee?” She sat to my left. Sunlight glistened off the perspiration on her tawny skin. Her beautiful full lips covered her perfect white teeth. Her mortarboard perched on her Afro like a bird. Her cheek bones and jaw line  were perfectly angled. Brenda was five feet ten inches tall. I thought she should be a model. She would be a journalist. She had been my roommate for four years and I loved her like a sister. I would miss her.

“I am thinking Daniel is here today with my mother making wedding plans. I’m nauseous thinking about Daniel and Mother together. All they think about is getting me married. Don’t they know it was 1970. Women don’t marry right after graduation anymore.”

“I thought you liked Daniel?” Brenda said. “You’ve known him long enough. You see him often. Damn, you sleep with him. Marriage is the next logical step, you know.”

“No, not for me. I like Daniel. He is a good friend. I am not ready to marry anyone. Maybe someday, but now? No, I can’t marry Daniel. Something is telling me not to. Call it intuition.”

“Right,” she said dismissing me. “Hannah, Daniel loves you. He is rich …career rich, owns an apartment. You have zero money, a rented room in St. Agnes’ Women’s Home where he can visit you in the common living room. What’s not to marry?”

“Maybe I should just move in with him? That is, if he moves to the city. I want to live in the Big Apple.”

“Oh, I’m sure. Mrs. O would love that,” she said. Mrs. O being my mother. M traditional, old fashion mother.

“He is relentless. I should be flattered, but moving me into his apartment at the east tip of Long Island and getting a priest is not what I have in mind,” I whispered under the voice of the President of the College on the loud speaker.

“Hannah, I completely do not understand your point,” Brenda whispered. “I’d be happy with Daniel if I were you.”

“Really, you would get married now? You of all women! There is no shortage of men for you.” I took a long thoughtful breath before saying, “Okay, take him,” I sighed. “He’s all yours. Keep him.”

“Sorry. I asked him. He’s not interested.”

“What?”

“I’m teasing,” she said amused at herself. She wiped her neck and throat with a hankie.

The heat in the well of the amphitheater overwhelmed two graduates who had to be helped out. The little white clouds floating in the face of the sun did not provide enough relief.

“I’m happy with my career beginnings in New York City and I have a place to live.”

“I hope I get a job,” she said. “I need to quit waitressing. The long nights wear me out. It’s difficult to think the next day.”

“Faith, girlfriend. You’re good at scooping out new leads and reporting. There’s a lot going on in the world that needs telling. You know, you should interview Daniel. I can just see the headline: Army Reservist in Favor of War. Maybe you could gather info together for a story of young men who support the war. That would be a new angle.”

“Sure would.”

“Shush.”

We bowed our heads for the benediction, stood a moment in silence to honor the victims of the Kent State shooting, and said farewells to our classmates. “Call you soon.” I kissed Brenda on the cheek. “Congratulations, girlfriend.”

“Same to you, Hannah. I am going to miss smoking on the fire escape with you,” she chuckled.

“Me too,” I said.

***

I spotted my Mother with Daniel. She was the most beautiful woman in the audience in her sleeveless pink scoop neck sheath. Pink set off her fair translucent skin and her strawberry blond hair. Pearls showed off her slim neck and her wide brimmed hat shaded her blush pink freckled face.

I handed Mother my degree and said, “This is yours too, Mom. You were the best cheerleader. Thank you. I would have left school a thousand times if you weren’t there with me all the way.” I hugged her. She planted a dark pink lipstick imprint on my cheek. Then she wiped her thumb across the stain.

“You too,Daniel. You helped me with those term papers. Hmm, I see you made a friend,” I said and nodded to the young dark haired woman standing next to him. He never moved without women eyeing him. Broad shouldered, small waisted, a butt most women would die to caress.

He glanced at her over his shoulder. “No, definitely not my type.”

“She must be available. She drooled over you a minute ago and her eyes wept silver tears when you responded,” I teased.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” he said and kissed me on the nose. “Congratulations, Hannah.”

He gave me a hug and whispered another congratulations in my ear.

Mother eyed him over the rim of her sun glasses and smiled before she opened her purse and took out a small pack of pink tissues to blot her tears. Wasn’t that just like Mother to make sure everything was color coordinated? She loved fashion with polish. She always had and my father had adored it. Now her baby girl, me, their only child, was all grown and leaving the nest. Of course, in my mind I had left four years ago for college, however, she did not think that way.

“Awh, easy Mom, don’t cry. You’ll ruin your mascara. Today’s a milestone .  .  . like pre-school . .  . high school .  .  . Just another step. This is what we’ve always wanted, right? This is why we worked so hard. You must be the proudest and best mother here.”

“Yes, baby,” she said. “You will be on your own next week. God bless you, Hannah. I love you, darling.” She hugged me again. Then she smoothed her dress. Nothing she could do about my shorts and tank top. I was child of the times. My entire wardrobe consisted of jeans and t-shirts and some shorts. I had one business suit I used for job interviews. I had to buy a skirt or two for work. That was true.

She reached into her Aigner purse. “Here’s something for you,” she said and handed me an envelope. “Cash to help start off until your first pay check. Next week you will have to feed yourself.”

“No, Mom, no. I can’t take this. You’ll need it. Please, save it for yourself. You have done enough. You don’t have much left after tuition and Daddy’s funeral expenses. Besides you paid my first month’s rent. I have money I saved some from my job.” I pushed the envelope back into her purse.

“Mrs. O. I have all we need,” Daniel insisted and winked at her with the tiniest bit of a smile.

I glared at him without a smile knitting my eyebrows together and squinting. What the hell? Suddenly he became a presumptive, confident bore. He has all we need? Humph, really? Well, good for him.

“What?” he mouthed back at me.

He never falls short of optimism, that’s for sure/ He mentioned marriage during the past year and I said “not yet. Didn’t he get it”? Besides, opposites like a war Hawk and a peace Dove did not make for a good marriage. Hawks eat Doves for breakfast.

Mother spoke to Daniel, “You are a sweetheart in capital letters, darling. Thank you. Come on, you two. Let’s get out of this blasted heat and go to York’s for lunch.”

I wrinkled my nose. “This is a celebration and York’s is the dreariest place on Long Island. Why not Sorrento’s? You know I love it there.” I whined. I was a selfish little thing. Mother and Daddy gave me everything I wanted. “Okay. I like York’s as well,” I said. I must be maturing.

“Come now, darling. I am starving, and besides I have a surprise there for you. Daniel, my love, lunch is my treat. No shenanigans about the bill, please.” I locked arms with Mom and we walked to her car. Daniel walked towards his.

Damn. Daniel talks as if we made plans together. No, definitely not. I certainly had not agreed to anything beyond dating. Had I lead him on? I would stop immediately, God, help me. Maybe I could have Sal Mendoza arrest him for a few months. Wasn’t there something we could charge him with?

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