The Freezer (Genesis Endeavor Book 1) (2 page)

BOOK: The Freezer (Genesis Endeavor Book 1)
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He finished the beer and tossed it in the bin with the other
bottles he would return to the grocery store for deposit then set about
cleaning the interior of the mustang. Anything to keep his mind off that phone
call. He reflected on other unfortunate circumstances that brought the various
good fortunes in his life. His first broken nose resulted in his first
girlfriend. His opportunity to become an officer came from one very inept
colonel calling in mortar fire on his position. The list went on and on, if he
looked at things in the right light. In fact, the only bad thing that never
seemed to bring about good fortune had been his wife and daughter’s passing. In
fact, he couldn’t think of a single good thing that had happened in his life
since that tragic day. He had to admit though, he hadn’t been very open to
enjoying life either, so perhaps he was just using that as an excuse to
withdraw from the world and avoid anything that could lead to something good. Regardless,
he hoped that whatever the bad news was this time, it would bring about
something good in his life. He figured he was due.

Once the car was spotless, he started the engine and let it
warm up. Just before putting the car in gear for his ritualistic post cleaning
drive, he changed his mind and shut the engine off again. He had hoped that
keeping busy would be a nice distraction, but it was no use. Every thought
seemed to either lead back to the conversation with Bill or to his dead wife
and daughter, and he couldn’t get away from the feeling that Monday would once
again bring bad news.

              
Chapter 2

Jack snapped out of his reverie and looked at the gauges. Everything
looked good, so he put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway. Bill’s
office was not far, and morning traffic in the small city of Great Falls,
Montana was pretty much nonexistent. He didn’t bother to turn on the radio.
They’ll
probably just be playing more of that hippie music,
he thought as he turned
into the parking lot. He pulled up next to the doctor’s car, a 1959 Chevy Bel
Air, four door with sea-foam green and white paint. It was very similar to the
one he had traded in the year before. There was only one other car in the small
lot, a 1963 Dodge Polara that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a month. That
was Bill’s secretary.
The secretary
. “Dammit Bill, what the hell are you
thinking” he mumbled to himself. If his own problems weren’t enough, it seemed
the rest of the world was going to hell in a hand basket. If the Commies didn’t
attack, the hippies would end up turning this country into a socialist mess
anyway. Even though he knew from experience that war was not a good thing, he
couldn’t help but think that maybe if some of these “new age” hippie type kids
got a taste of the real world, they might see how great of a country we have,
and stop trying so hard to change it. Pushing the thought from his mind, he
opened the door to the small office building.

Music was playing softly in the background, but rather than
the typical music one would hear in a waiting room, it was rock and roll. Not
real rock and roll like Elvis or Buddy Holly, but more of this new stuff the
hippies liked. It sounded like something from the Doors.
Figures,
he thought.

“Good morning Jack.” The secretary stood up when he walked
in, a nervous looking smile on her face. She was around twenty five years old,
busty, blond, and, remembering the last time he was here, had a pretty nice ass
too. Her dress was a yellow and orange flower print that was cut just low
enough to show about two inches of cleavage and just high enough to expose a
few inches of her thighs. Her bouffant hair was done up to perfection and her
attractive face didn’t need makeup, although like most girls her age she was
wearing lipstick and a little too much eye shadow.

“Good morning.” He put a fake smile on his face to match her
nervous one. What he wanted to say was, “How are Bill’s wife and kids?” That
would be rude, though, and it really wasn’t his business.

“I’ll tell Bi... er... Dr. Callun that you’re here.” She
blushed a little as she turned around. Jack watched her sway down the hall and
thought to himself,
I can see the temptation, but damn, you’ve got three
kids you stupid asshole.

Jack loved his wife dearly, but she had been gone for almost
two years now. Little things constantly reminded him of her, and every thought
brought a little pain along with it. But the pain got a little less each day,
and sometimes the memories contained joy instead of anxiety. For the past
couple months he had been thinking it was time to get his life back on track. He
figured the first step was finding a nice girl, preferably one he could settle
down with. He was young and healthy, made damn good money, and was, as he had
recalled that morning in front of the mirror, ruggedly handsome.
What’s not
to like?

“Jack, you can go in now.” He snapped back to reality, and
when he regained focus, his eyes were pointing directly at her cleavage making
it look like he was ogling her. He quickly looked away, probably making him
appear even guiltier than he felt. Now it was his turn to blush. He stepped
away from her without another word.

As he walked down the hall his mind went back to figuring
out where he could meet a decent woman. These days there were plenty of young,
loose women running around talking about ‘free love’, even here in the middle
of Montana, but Jack wasn’t interested in a roll in the hay with a hippie
chick.
Well, a roll in the hay with that receptionist wouldn’t be that bad,
he
thought
,
but immediately chastised himself over it and unconsciously
said a little word of apology to his wife who was probably listening in on his
thoughts from above.
It’s bad enough that Bill is diddling her.
His
shame at the thought was also a little comforting on some level… At least he
was still young enough to be attracted to the opposite sex. It had been two
years since he had been with a woman, and he was still a man with all the
natural urges a man has. The problem was, he seldom socialized, and he wasn’t
enough of a hypocrite to go to church
just
to try to meet a ‘nice girl’
either. He surmised it was probably a good thing he wasn’t in a position to
meet anyone, the guilt he felt for even thinking about it was still strong
enough to keep him from actively looking.

As he entered Bill’s office, his stomach gurgled again and
his bowels felt a little loose. Normally confident under the most stressful of
circumstances, he was facing the unknown, and courage wasn’t about not being
afraid, it was about taking the next step despite that fear. He recalled his
earlier thought about being healthy.
God I hope so.

Bill was sitting in his high backed office chair looking out
the window. He spun the chair toward Jack, and gestured to a seat opposite him,
across the desk. Before the doctor could get a word out, Jack, in the tone he
used to address enlisted men, said, “Okay, Bill, I’m here. Now tell me
why
.”

“Please Jack, have a seat, this is... not going to be easy.”
Jack’s stomach sank further, any hopes of this just being a visit that the doc
is using to pad his bill going out the window. His military discipline kept him
looking composed as he sat down. “I have the blood tests back from your last
visit, and the x-rays too.” Bill took out an x-ray and laid it in on the desk
in front of Jack. He pointed to the middle of the film and said, “You see this
white spot right here?” Jack looked down but was hesitant to focus on the dark
film lying on the desk. He just stared at Bill, waiting for the bad news. Bill looked
down at the file in front of him, then back up at Jack. “The indigestion isn’t...
well, I’m not going to bullshit you Jack, it looks like cancer.”

A wave of shock followed by numbness washed through him from
head to toe, leaving him feeling like he was in another room looking back at
himself from a distance. He’d faced death dozens of times in Korea and lived to
tell about it. He’d lost his wife and child, and survived long enough to try to
put his life back together. He was a tough man, but those words sent fear and
despair coursing through him. He was nearly paralyzed by the declaration, and
he wasn’t sure how long it was before he spoke. “Is it treatable?” he asked,
practically holding his breath.

The doctor hesitated as if trying to decide what to say. “There
are some things that Oncologists are trying with radiation and chemical therapy
in Minnesota, but...” Bill shrugged. “Jesus Jack, of all the people this should
happen to... Man, I am so sorry.”

Jack started to speak, stopped, then started again. This
time he couldn’t keep the emotion out of his voice. “How... Are you... Are you
sure this is cancer Bill?” The doctor just looked at him for a moment, then turned
away and looked back out the window.

“I’m not a cancer doctor, so I’m sending the x-rays to a
specialist in Rochester, Minnesota. The Mayo clinic has some good Oncologists. I’ll
know more in a few days.”

Anger flared in Jack, and the words came out a little louder
than he intended. “Come on Bill, you drag me in here to tell me in person and
you can’t even be sure it’s cancer?!” He knew it wasn’t the right response, but
he couldn’t help himself. He stood up and now he
was
yelling, “This is
bullshit doc! What the hell kind of crap are you pulling here?”

Bill leaned back a little in his chair almost flinching, but
it was obvious he expected Jack to get emotional and he held his composure. “Jack,
I know this is hard, please calm down.” His hands came up almost in a pleading
gesture. “Look, I will tell you what I can but you need to calm down! Please!”

Jack sat down heavily. His mind wasn’t working right. His
reaction to the fear was to fight, but there was no enemy here. His heart was
pounding and heat had flooded his face. Then all of a sudden, the numbness
slammed back into him and he withered in his chair.

“Aww shit! I’m... Geez I’m sorry doc... It’s just... SHIT!” He
was looking down at his hands as if some answer might be there. He could feel
the weight of depression and despair starting to push down on him again. He
opened his mouth, but nothing came out, so he just sat there, staring at his
hands.

“Look, Jack, I’ll tell you what I know, but we’ll have to
wait until I hear back from the Mayo Clinic before I can give you a definite
answer. I want to do a biopsy and send them a sample so we can be sure. Let’s
schedule it for Wednesday.” Bill jotted something on the calendar that lay flat
on his desk, then looked Jack in the eye. “Jack, if I wasn’t damn sure, I
wouldn’t have dragged you in here like this.” Jack studied Bill and something
told him the man was right. “Like I said, they’re doing some things with
radiation and chemicals now. It’s no picnic, but at least you can fight it. If
you just decide to give up I don’t think you’ll last six months.” Bill
attempted to look encouraging, then, knowing it wasn’t working, slumped down in
his chair. “I’m really sorry Jack.”

Jack looked up at him, but the only words he could find were,
“What time on Wednesday?”

              
Chapter 3

He was back to the void and nothingness. If he had a body,
he would be gasping for breath and sweating, but if he had a body, he couldn’t
feel it. There was only the knowledge of existence and now a memory. And that memory
had been so vivid it was as if he was there again. At the same time though, it
felt foreign and detached, more like he had been a puppet in a play.

As he pondered what it meant, he realized that the re-living
of that day brought back a lot of the background memories leading up to it. Before,
he was just aware of
being
; now he was aware of his
life
. Did
this mean he was dead? Maybe he was sick from the cancer and this was all just
a side effect. Or maybe it had killed him. Perhaps the answer was in the
memory. He focused again, and after a time, his consciousness shifted back to
that day.

 

* * *

 

The rest of the day, Jack went back and forth from his
garage to his living room, drank a few beers, listened to the radio a bit, and
even went for a cruise in his car, but his mind and heart were elsewhere. He
went to bed early that night, after attempting to eat a little dinner. Sleep
was as far away as his appetite, and mostly he lay there thinking about Jenny
and Ally. It would be two years in January...

 

* * *

 

Jack had hit the twenty year mark back in July, and with the
war brewing in Vietnam, he decided to get out while he still could. He had
joined the army at age 16 using a forged birth certificate he bought from a guy
he worked with at a local garage. He did it to get away from his foster family,
and just like any teenage kid he was hoping to get a chance to fight the
Germans or Japanese before the war ended. By the time he got out of training,
the war was pretty much over. He made it to Germany in time to help liberate
some death camps, but he never saw any real action in Europe. He re-enlisted
after his first four years, and a year later, he went to Korea. Jack was good
at being a soldier, his bravery earned him a reputation as a fearless soldier
and a nickname “Mad Dawg” which befit his ferocity when things got intense. It
turned out he was a good leader as well.

During that second tour, the commanding officer of his
battalion, a fairly young lieutenant colonel, made a series of mistakes that
killed half of Jack’s platoon, including the platoon’s officer, and nearly cost
Jack his life. Injured from the friendly mortar fire, he somehow managed to
take charge of the situation, not only completing his platoon’s mission
objective, but also thwarting a flanking maneuver by the enemy that would have
trapped the lieutenant colonel and his staff, and quite possibly result in his
capture or death. Almost two hundred men lost their lives in that one battle,
and another hundred were injured. Naturally, there had been an inquiry, and
Jack “Mad Dawg” Taggart was awarded a silver star for his actions that day. Knowing
the commanding officer’s career could hinge on how Jack responded to the
inquiry, he played his cards right and squeezed the young colonel for a
nomination to OCS, Officer Candidate School. He returned to Korea as an
officer, leading a platoon in several successful missions before the war ended.
He reached the rank of Captain before retiring, which gave him a decent
retirement check.

His last post was Fort Carson in Colorado, where he met his
wife, Jennifer Williams. After High School, Jenny had moved to Denver to get
away from the family farm. She ended up landing a job as a secretary on the
military base in Colorado Springs, shuffling documents all day. She hated it
more than farming and after six years, was about to give up and move back home
when she met Jack. Some equipment had broken down on the job site Jack had been
managing, and he was trying to get some requisition paperwork pushed through to
keep the job on track. Jenny was the one who ended up helping him. There was no
question in Jack’s mind that she would be his wife one day, and after two
months, they were engaged to be married. Eleven months after they said their
vows, she gave birth to Allissa Mae Taggart.

His last seven years in the military were mostly spent
overseeing construction of a secret fallout shelter near Fort Carson, and that
gave him the experience to get a job as a consultant to a civil engineering and
contracting firm after retirement. Jenny was from Montana, near the city of
Great Falls, and the new job allowed for them to move up there and be closer to
her mother. With the combined income from the army and the consulting job, they
were easily able to buy a house right away.

Christmas 1964 was as idyllic as it could be. The fireplace
was crackling with flaming pine logs, the Christmas tree was dazzling with
ornaments and tinsel, and three stockings were hanging from the mantel, one for
Jack, one for Jenny, and one for Ally. It was a prosperous year for them, and
the Christmas gifts reflected it. Jenny got a stunning pair of diamond
earrings, and Ally got more toys than any child should have.

The next few days were picturesque. The sun was shining, the
trees and ground blanketed with a few inches of snow, and with a few days off,
Jack got to enjoy some lazy mornings in bed with his wife while Ally played
upstairs with her new toys. His job often meant he was out of town, and he
cherished this time with both his wife and his daughter. Life simply could not
be better.

The following Monday, they headed out of town to visit Jenny’s
mother, Mabel. Jenny was younger than Jack by about five years, she would be
thirty years old that summer, and Mabel was still a young woman when Jenny was
born. Mabel’s husband had died in a farming accident when Jenny was nine years
old, and despite still being very young, she never remarried. Most of her time
was spent running the farm, which she was good at, but occasionally she had
tried to date other men over the years. Usually, the men she dated were only
after her farm, and the rest were deadbeats. She was smart enough to recognize
this, so for the last ten years she had avoided relationships altogether. There
were some rumors that one of the farmhands warmed her bed once in a while, but
otherwise she seemed content to be alone.

Jack, Jenny, and Ally spent the week at her farm house, and
on Friday afternoon, Jack headed back to town to go to work. There was a new
project near the airbase that his firm was working on, and Saturday was the
only time the engineers could get out there to survey the site with Jack. Jenny
was going to catch a ride back to town with one of Mabel’s farm hands on
Sunday.

The night she and Ally returned it was bitterly cold, as it
can get when the January wind is blowing hard in Montana. The temperature was
easily ten degrees below zero, and flurries of snow were swirling around in the
wind. The snow on the roads that had been soft in the recent sunny days turned
to rock hard ice. The accident was nobody’s fault really, it just happened. The
car slid off the road and dropped into an embankment, and it was the next day
before anyone found them. The driver was killed on impact, Jenny and Allissa
probably died from exposure before their injuries had a chance to claim them.

Monday after work, Jack returned to his house to find a
patrol car out front. He didn’t think it unusual when he pulled up, as the
officer, Frank, was an old school friend of Jenny’s who used to help out on her
family’s farm. Jack figured he was just there to visit his wife. Frank was a
good man with a wife and two kids of his own, and Jack never felt threatened by
their friendship. When he pulled into the driveway, Frank got out of his car
and walked up to him. “Jack,” he said, “I have some terrible news.”

 

* * *

 

Sometime in the early hours of dawn he finally found sleep,
but it didn’t last long. At seven a.m. he was up and showered. He had so many
things to do, and he felt as if he were now racing against a clock. In Korea,
there had been times when he was sure he would be dead before the sun rose
again, but even in those cases, there were always things that needed to be
done. The military had taught him to work through the fear, and that discipline
drove him this morning. The first order of business was to contact Mabel.

He hadn’t talked to her in almost a year. It wasn’t anything
she had done or said to him, he was just trying to put that part of his life
behind him. It was an attempt to ease the pain that was there all the time, and
while it gave him little reprieve, he stuck to it, not wanting to add to the
pain by opening that door again. There wasn’t really any other family in his
life, and he needed someone to take care of whatever was left after he was
gone. His parents died when he was in Middle School, and not long after that he
joined the military. There were no brothers or sisters, and both his parent’s
families were small; a couple distant cousins and uncles but nobody he had kept
in contact with over the years. In the military, he’d had buddies, but many
died, and after getting his commission, he just didn’t quite fit in with either
the enlisted men or the traditional officers. Furthermore, the secret nature of
the projects he worked on the last few years forced him to be somewhat of a
loner. The phone rang seven times before there was an answer. “Where the hell
are you Dick!” Mabel didn’t get too many calls at the farm, and obviously she
wasn’t expecting any calls out of the ordinary.

“Mae, it’s Jack, how are you?”

Mabel paused for a second, recognizing that it was not Dick
on the other end of the phone. “Jack! My goodness! Sorry about the way I
answered, my field hand was supposed to be here over an hour ago with the
winter seed and... anyway, it’s good to hear from you, I was worried, it’s been
a while.” Mabel and Jack had always gotten along very well, and just hearing
her voice was comforting. However, it also amplified his sense of loss, and
emotions started welling up.

He swallowed hard, trying to wash down the emotion and keep
his voice steady. “Not so good Mae, that’s why I’m calling. Look, I uh, I went
to the doctor a couple weeks ago, and it turns out I’m – well, I’m sick.”

He could almost hear her heart drop into her stomach. Her
next words were quiet and cautious. “Oh my God! Jack! What is it?”

“Mae, it’s...” As hard as he was trying not to, his voice
caught. He swallowed again, paused, and finally said, “they
think
it’s
cancer.”

There was a long pause, and Jack wished he had just driven
out to the farm to break the news face to face. “Oh Jesus! Oh Christ, no... no
Jack... That’s... That’s just awful.” More silence as neither of them quite
knew what to say.

“Mae look, I don’t know everything, yet. I have to go in for
a surgery tomorrow to see how bad it is. I... I don’t have any family that
matters to me Mae, Jenny and Ally were all I had, and with them gone-”

In a very motherly tone, Mabel interrupted, “Jack, you don’t
even have to ask, I will come up to see you to the hospital, you know that.”

He didn’t expect that and quickly said, “No, uh... that’s
not why I was calling. You see, I don’t have anyone else to uh... to pass on my
belongings to and...”

“Oh hogwash! You quit talking that way! It’s not over until
you die, and you’re a fighter. Always have been, Mad Dawg, so don’t give up
until you draw your last breath.” Despite the circumstances, Jack smiled at her
use of his nick name. Mae was indeed a tough woman and knew how to push his
buttons as well. He blinked away what might have been the start of a tear,
feeling new resolve.

“I know, Mabel. But I’m just being honest with you: if this
is it, I want to be prepared. Look, I make a decent living, and I have a little
money. Since Jenny... Well, I – aside from a car, I haven’t spent much money,
and it seems a waste just to give it to some charity or worse, some doctors.”

Her voice softened, “Tell me straight, Jack, are you giving
up here or are you going to try treatment?”

“I don’t know what my options are yet Mae, and from what I
do know so far, it doesn’t look pleasant. This is difficult. I still feel fine.
I only went in to see the doc because I was getting a little indigestion and my
back was hurting.”

“Jack, let’s just wait until the doctors tell you exactly
what your options are.” Mabel was now taking charge of the situation, something
she had done all her life. Jack was a military officer, used to being in
charge, but it dawned on him that maybe he had called her because he needed
someone else to take the reins for a little while. “When do you go in for your
surgery? Tomorrow? I’ll come in to town and drive you there.” It was settled,
and Jack knew it, but he wasn’t giving up control quite yet.

“Mae, that isn’t necessary, I can handle it myself,”

“Bullshit Jack, you’ll need a ride home anyway, and there’s
no reason you have to try to do this alone. I’ll be there in a couple hours.”
Well
so much for keeping control
.

With feigned resignation, Jack said, “Okay Mae, I’ll have
the guest room ready for you.”

 

* * *

 

The next call was to his boss, Phil Norland. Jack had been
working for Phil since retiring from the military. His official title was
“Coordination Consultant”, but really he was more like a general contractor,
and unofficially, second in command to Phil. When it came to work, their
relationship was professional. Before Jennifer’s death, Phil and his wife were
frequent guests at Jack’s home, but these days there was just the occasional
beer after work. If Jack could call someone his friend, it would be Phil, but
like Mabel, he had neglected to spend much time with him outside of work.

After explaining the situation, it took Phil a minute to
speak.

“Oh Christ, Jack, this is just awful news.” He sighed
heavily, “I can’t even tell you how sorry I am to hear this. You take all the
time you need and keep me up to date on what the doctors have to say. If you
need anything, don’t even hesitate to call. Theresa and I will be there for
you.” The sincerity in his voice made Jack feel guilty for not being a better
friend lately.

BOOK: The Freezer (Genesis Endeavor Book 1)
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