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The Watch Man

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A reclusive war hero, The Watch Man,  confronts his past and perhaps his most difficult challenge when faced with armed thieves who intend to steal his collection of luxury watches.


 Jim Robbins, wounded while fighting the Germans in North Africa in 1943, sets out to foil the burglary with a pair of small friends and fellow veterans. Their resistance to the thieves, however, puts their lives in danger.


Along the way, The Watch Man learns new lessons about friendship, loyalty,  personal qualities that matter, truth and the price of a life of isolation.

*

The children stop after the safety of a few yards, turn and look back at him. A moment later the boy takes a couple of cautious steps toward the house. The girl doesn’t budge and puts her hand over her mouth.

“Jack! No!” she cries, then returns her hand to her mouth and begins to whimper.

He wants to put them at ease. He’s sorry he’s frightened them. He retreats into the kitchen, leaving the door open in case curiosity overcomes timidity and begins to work at the counter.

Two minutes later he hears them at the threshold.

“It’s a pretty hot day and I was just making some lemonade,” he says without turning around. “That interest you two?”

*

Angie gets up from his booth and takes the stool to the left of the mystery man. He comes straight to the point, believing that no matter what happens, Little Hands will have his back.

“You know a guy name of Jim Robbins?”

Mac, startled at the stranger’s abrupt question, turns his head toward Angie and pauses.

“Who’s asking?”

“He is,” Angie replies.

The mobster, looking straight at Mac, pulls the left side of his jacket aside to show the butt of a .45 tucked into his pants.

Before Angie can close his jacket, Mac swings his left arm across his throat. The blow sends Angie flying off his stool, his hands grasping his throat as he struggles for air. The bartender pulls a sawed-off .12 gauge from behind the bar and racks it. Mac straddles Angie and grabs the .45 out of his pants, ejects the chambered round, extracts the clip, which he tosses to the bartender and puts the piece on the bar.

“I said, who’s asking,” Mac repeats.

“F..k, man, no call for that,” Angie whines through his gasps. “Just a simple question.”

“No, it wasn’t. Your manners need changing.’

FROM THE BOOK: He’s noticed them before—but always from a distance, which isn’t easy for him to estimate, having lost most of his depth perception.

‘They must belong to the house about a half mile away, his nearest neighbor,’ he thinks.

They play in the meadow with kites or hide-and-seek in the woods between the two houses. He’s surprised how well they get along, or so it seems from his vantage, only some minor squabbling now and then. It’s odd there are no other children, he thinks, but their neighborhood, his and theirs, is several miles from town.

Today’s sighting, however, differs. The pair appears from his side of the woods, which they haven’t before. He acknowledges they want to pry, but he doesn’t care. They’re curious and he likes children.

He had hoped for children himself and watching the boy and girl brings back memories of his childhood and the migrant pickers’ kids with whom he romped so happily, so innocently in his father’s orchard. But for Jim Robbins nostalgia always ends on Hill 302 where any chance of his attracting a wife and having those children vanished in a hail of shrapnel.

Some people call him a freak when they think he can’t hear, or say it with their eyes, which he considers reason enough to keep his distance. Maybe he is a freak. The thought often crosses his mind.

But these are children. Small children. Curious children, he’s sure, because of today’s unusual proximity. They’re quite young. He guesses somewhere between five and ten. He wonders if they, too, will think him freakish. Is that why they’re curious? They want a closer look at the freak? He thinks he can accept that from children, if they don’t stare. It’s the adults who stare. His mother taught him never to stare. Has theirs?

*

He pushes his reel lawn mower into the garage and goes inside the house. The spring day is exceptionally hot, even in this part of Oregon. He’s dressed in old blue jeans with strands of white threads dangling from holes beginning to open at the knees and from his cuffs, well-worn sneakers, a sweatshirt and a nondescript, faded baseball cap (for the sun). Across the front of the sweatshirt are the letters EWU—if one uses a little imagination—too faded to assign them a color. He’s overdressed for the unseasonable weather, hot and dehydrated.

‘I’ve got to get some help with the yard,’ he vows while removing his sweat-stained work gloves. ‘Soon.’

Evidence of the children’s presence reminds him to return to the library to recheck a hidden cubicle where he keeps some prized watches—more than two dozen. There are also the ‘grandfathers,’ one each in the main rooms of the house. All of them worth at least $500,000. Satisfied his Rolexes, Omegas, Cartiers, Breitlings, Pateks and others are safe, he closes the cubicle door, walks to the kitchen and pulls a Miller Genuine Draft (MGD) out of the refrigerator.

His peripheral vision catches movement at the window. A fliting figure, very close. Another. Then audible giggling. He walks silently to the kitchen door, waits a moment, then throws it open. Two children scream, turn and run, laughing and stumbling over each other.

“Wait! Come back!” he shouts, just as surprised as they at his interest.

© 2016 Stephen Fox

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