Robert Diethild Fiction


written by Robert Diethild

Tommy DeSoto flipped up his collar and splashed across Boulevard Drive to the canvas covered entrance. He shook off his Panama, opened the heavy glass door and entered the warm, dry restaurant. "Hey! Squeaky! Get me a table!" Tommy ordered in jest as he shook the rain from his shoes.

"Take your pick, Soda." said Gina, the waitress with the high raspy voice. She gestured at the nearly empty room. "What happen? You find some money in the street or something?" Gina snickered and dug her pen out of the pouch in her apron and totaled her customer's order and handed him the ticket. He gave her a look that said: "I wanted lunch not yo' damn grocery bill."

"Something wrong, Sam?" she asked the stern faced man as she smoothed her uniform.

"No. My compliment to da chef." he quipped.

"That'll make his day." Gina replied then turned her head to the kitchen. "Hey Morey, another satisfied customer!"

"Call 911!" Morey yelled.

"You havin' a heart attack 'cause somebody likes your slop?" Gina mused. "You got it, Squeaky!" Morey affirmed as he raked his spatula across the grill.

Tommy settled himself in his booth. "Yeah, you're real cute, Squeaky. I had a female like you once. Cute as a button." he quipped.

"Don't tell me. You had her spayed, right?"

"Oh, you heard that one, huh?"

"Screw you, Soda." Gina retorted.

"What dat fool's problem?" Sam asked.

Gina sighed. "Old war injury." she replied as she wrote out another ticket.

"I heard dat." Sam acknowledged.

"Grits, Americans and coffee, Squeaky. Sometime before midnight." Tommy ordered as he shook the rain off his Panama.

"Already got your grits on'a grill, Soda. Your like a damn clock; two fifteen every afternoon." Gina retorted as she poked her pen into her apron. "That doppleganger catch up with you yet?"

"Shut up, Squeaky! Just get my coffee!" Tommy protested.

Gina poured Sam's last cup of coffee and offered: "Get you anything else?"

"Dopple-watsit? What you talkin' 'bout, sugar? Dog dat ugly got a littermate?" Sam mused.

"Just a guy that looks like him only real deadpan. Kinda spooky. Greek guy; at least he talks like a Greek. Comes in here a few minutes after Tommy leaves every day!" Gina exclaimed.

Sam shook his head. "Maybe da fool throw on some otha' skin and do a repeat." Sam proposed, smoothing the lapels of his sportcoat.

Gina smiled. "I don't think so, Mr. Aitkens. Other guy's got a real tattoo on his cheek; strikin' Cobra."

"Better get me them grits, Squeaky, or I'll introduce you to a size nine!" Tommy bellowed.

"You packin', Soda?" Gina exclaimed in jest and held out
her index finger like it was a pistol.

"I'm talkin' about my boot you dumb blonde." Tommy explained slyly.

Gina chuckled and retorted: "Oh, that old thing. That's good 'cause I wouldn't want you to exaggerate." Gina took the coffee to Tommy's table and poured him a cup. "Can I get you anything else?"

"Just bring my food before you forget, Squeaky." Tommy ordered. He pulled a notebook and a pen out of his shirt pocket and began to write.

Gina spoke in her best dumb waitress voice: "I'm sorry, Mister. What was your order again?"

Tommy put down the pen and picked up the ketchup and pointed it at Gina.

Gina exclaimed in her dumb waitress voice: "I'm sorry, Mister DeSoto! I'll get it right away!" Gina duck walked toward the kitchen.

"Pick up on loading dock seven!" Morey declared.

"You're loaded Morey." Gina responded.

"'Bout damn time!" Tommy declared.

"Don't worry Mister DeSoto. We'll have you fed and out of here before your evil twin shows up." Gina said, pouting.

"Don't worry about that sonofabitch, Squeaky. I kicked the hell out of him a short time ago. He won't be bothering me tonight." Tommy said in a deep, rough voice.

Gina brought Tommy's food and set it on his table. "Soda! You didn't. Tell me you're lying. Was he hurt? Did he bruise a knuckle or something?" Gina said, giggling.

"Go ahead and laugh, Squeaky. But if he shows today you'll see bruises a lot higher up on that jerk." Tommy insisted.

"That's no way to treat your brother, Soda." Gina remarked.

Tommy groaned.

Sam rose up from his table and said: "Hey Gina, I alway' wond'ed. Why day call you Squeaky, anaway?" Sam smiled. "Caus'a yo' shoes?"

Gina looked down at her feet. "It's not the shoes when I walk, Sam. I've been workin' long hours and, well, manners only take you so far. You know what I mean?" Sam thought a moment before he started laughing. He was still laughing when he left the diner.

"Tommy, you probably left him for dead, didn't you?" Gina asked with concern. "You should at least call him an EMT or something if you really hurt him. I mean, I know he's been a nuisance lately..."

"Will you dry up Squeaky! I didn't beat up some kid. He's my size, remember? I'm sure he won't have any problem crawling away."

"Are you sure he's not your brother, Soda?" Gina asked. "You sure act like he was your brother."

Tommy responded, exasperated: "How many times I gotta tell you, Squeaky? I ain't got no damn brother. I've never had much of a family... period. If anybody wanted to claim me they should have done it long ago."

"Well, how do you explain it then?" Gina challenged.

"Explain what?" Tommy said, puzzled.

"He's a dead ringer for you."

Tommy shrugged his shoulders and said: "I'm better looking."

Gina placed one hand behind her head and the other she pressed against Tommy's shoulder. "I dunno'... I've never known you to do anything like this before. Maybe we're makin' the damn coffee too strong or something." Gina offered. "Look, haven't you got enough trouble with your little computer hobby. You should try staying offline for awhile." Gina bent down and kissed Tommy sensually. Gina added: "I don't understand why the University gets you involved with other systems and things, anyway. You're supposed to be in maintenance."

"It's just research. Part of my job is protecting systems from hackers like I used to be. Squeaky, you ever know me to fall in fertilizer and come up smellin' like anything but a rose?" Tommy quipped. "I didn't do anything major with the University's computer system. I'm no thief or anything like that." Tommy looked at her and she stared back blankly. "Chill out, chick. It's Saturday night. Maybe I'll see you tonight." Tommy assured. "At Pappa's." he added.

"Sure thing, Soda." Gina assured.

A few minutes later, as Tommy left the diner, Gina felt something hit her stomach like a block of fresh ice. She wasn't convinced that Tommy wasn't in serious trouble.

Tommy hit the street dodging traffic in his usual ambivalent style, splashing through puddles with his head down.

Inside the diner the smell of deep fat fryer grease and coffee was pungent. Gina cried out: "Morey, are we closing early for sure?"

Morey answered: "Yeah, I told you! It's Saturday and Pappa needs me to help set up."

"Well, you're not going to make me close by myself." Gina groaned.

"Didn't I just tell you I gotta help Pappa?" Morey yelled back.

"Yeah, but that guy with the tattoo is probably gonna show up and he's gonna be ticked off 'cause Tommy just beat the crap out of him." Gina complained.

Morey sighed heavily and then explained: "Lock the door. Don't let him in. If he bothers you about it, call the cops."

Gina placed fists on her hips and shook her head slowly back and forth.

In the early evening, Tommy drove his car through countless puddles that slowed him each time he hit one. Pappa's was busy when he arrived and he found it necessary to park a block away. Morey was waiting tables and Squeaky was nowhere in sight. Probably decided not to show Tommy thought. The Greek with his silver hair and rough, weathered face strode over to Tommy's table soon after DeSoto made himself comfortable in the booth. "E', Toomass! What can I do for you tonight, my old friend?" Pappa greeted, wiping his hand on his apron.

"Hey, Pappa! I thought you were about ready to hang up your apron for good." Tommy teased.

"I'm no' ready to put out to pasture yet, you bastard! " 'helpin' Morey runna place. How 'bout I get you a little Ouzo? Get you' stomach ready for some nice Greek food. You sure you no' drink too much already?" Pappa said, looking around the restaurant.

"I had two beers at Pete's today. That's it." Tommy said, bewildered. "Anyway, I'm only gonna stay a few minutes. I came in here to call someone." Tommy glanced around and spoke in low tones: "Besides, I hear you want to talk."

"Wha', you mean you' gonna call on someone. I know about d'at. No need talkin' about business now. I bring you a little Ouzo... on me." Pappa said with an upward nod.

Morey's got you' girlfrien' workin' her ass off ina diner anyway. You know I gonna leave tonight; gonna visit my family in Greece. Grandkids, you know. Tommy shook his hand back and forth to refuse but later as he ate alone he began to feel a dizzy, warm sensation which he attributed to the Ouzo. Soon he seemed to be swaying gently like the whole restaurant had been picked up and rocked.

The next morning, as Tommy regained consciousness, his nose was greeted by a nasal bokay of sassafras and... barbecued beef? He remarked to himself: Someone's having a picnic! as he realized his eyes had struggled open to view a new horizon; one full of ocean. Somewhere nearby someone was calling: "Ice coke! Ice coke!" The entire picture was foreign; the beach, the faces, the signs at the marina. If this is Greektown, where did the ocean come from? is all Tommy could formulate. Yet... this place did seem familiar. He must have been here in his youth.

Tommy DeSoto lifted himself from the beach and swiped the sand from his body. "Jesus, I don't believe this... " Tommy started to say. In his mind he could only remember a striking cobra tattoo and flying over the water. Everything was fuzzy.
"E', Toomass, what you doin' ona' beach? You got sand all up you' butt!" Pappa cried as he and his companion began to chuckle. "E, com'ere I gonna let you meet Alex!" he summoned. Pappa and Alexandra left their Ouzos on the umbrella table and rose to greet Tommy.

"If this is Saturday, this must not be Kansas." Tommy quipped as he shuffled over to his Greek hosts. Tommy held his head between his hands as he complained: "What did I drink, Tequila? I don't remember a freakin' thing."

"This Sunday. This Alexandra my grandchild. She sa'... she's big fan-a-you." Pappa paused a liberal amount of time for effect. "I tell her you know how to fix big computer like ina' University in Michigan." Pappa regarded Tommy with eyes that held fire and looked into the soul for only what they wanted to see.

"Hello, Alex." Tommy greeted warmly. "You don't mind if I call you 'Alex', do you?" Tommy held out his hand. The other was still glued to his skull. "Your name's Alexandra, isn't it?

"Sure Thomas. How are you? Yeah, everyone calls me Alex." she said in a sideways, hair shaking, aloof kind of way. "It's really nice to meet you. I don't know a lot of midwesterners; not to mention computer experts."

"I'm not an expert." Tommy insisted.

"Sure. Maybe I'll see you up at my place in a little bit. I'm going sailing with Andy. Gotta go. See you." Alexandra said and was off for the Marina. "Remember, Pappa! Those files belong to me! Anything happens... you'll be the one who pays. You know what I mean!" Alexandra shouted back.

"I tol' you; we fix for you, Alex!" Pappa replied as Alexandra sped away.

Tommy looked at Pappa and asked: "Who's Andy?"
"E', kids." Pappa grumbled. "Andros... her boyfriend." Tommy watched Alexandra pitch sand into the air behind her with her sandals.

"How old is she?" Tommy asked.

"Twen'ytwo." Pappa answered.

"She's a free spirit." Tommy observed.

"She's a baby." Pappa acknowledged.

"What the hell are we doing in Greece, Pappa?" Tommy said with sudden shock.

"How you know we in Greece?" said Pappa bemused. "You sleep all da way in'a Lear Jet. You no' wanna wake up when we put you on'a boat here."

"I read Greek, remember?" Tommy explained. "Pappa, how in the name of hungry little fish did you expect me to know if I was still dreaming?"

"I tol' you not to feed da fish, kid. Don' feed da fish. You' not dreamin' now." Pappa explained. "That's why." said Pappa, indicating the now small figure of his granddaughter. "She in trouble now an' need you help."

There was a small crowd at the marina and in the blustery mid-morning, yachts were milling about the harbor. The local yacht club was holding a season-opening rally and picnic. Smoke rose from the fire pits as the cooks were busy preparing food.

"I'm not interested in doing anything illegal; especially in a foreign country." Tommy DeSoto argued as he became visibly agitated. "Which reminds me, now that I think about it. I only remember having one drink. Isn't there a law against kidnapping in this country?"

Pappa waved his hand and rebuffed: "Is no foreign country. Is my home. This where I grew up. You got big trouble in the states and you know it. The University gonna have you locked up and then throw away the key. I do you a favor. You make a little money here, I take you back and fix everything. Do me this favor, e'? I know if I ask you... you say no, so I don' ask. I jus' put a little chloral nitrate in your drink. E', you don' have no heart trouble, e'? Anyway, your brother put you in'a jet and we bring you. You shouldn' beat up you' brother like dat!"

"Again with the brother!" Tommy protested.
"Ged over it ,Toomass, da' was a long time ago." Pappa insisted. "You both made a choice. He stayed here. You went to the States. I's no' you' brother's fault you' family was separated. I knew you' whole family when you lived here; you' just a little guy like dat." Pappa said, indicating the height of a small child by holdin g his hand flat above the beach.

Tommy DeSoto sighed. "I knew this wasn't going to be a social visit." he resigned.

Pappa breathed deeply. "No. This important business. Alex keep the records for the family and she has a problem. I's just a little glitch. You can fix it in no time and nobody's the wiser, you know? E', look, I already talk to your boss. You don' go back to the University tomorrow... you covered, OK?"

"Great!" Tommy thought; half-heartedly. From the marina he could still hear the vendor shouting: "Ice coke, Ice coke!"

After the picnic, Pappa drove Tommy up to the estate which had an entrance cased in large stones on the side of a hill. They found Alexandra sitting in the study in front of an IBM tower computer. One file after another was displayed until Tommy cleared his throat. Alexandra hit a key and the computer went to screensaver mode. Alexandra turned with a blank face and tossed her hair. Then she smiled. I've just been getting the system ready for you, Thomas.

"You go ahead, Toomass. I don' like dose things anyway. I go shower." Pappa said then left the room to freshen up and change clothes.

Alexandra got up from the captain's chair and invited Tommy to sit down. "See, right now we just have a little trouble getting files to come up. Only certain files. That's not a big problem. A problem with the iniation files on a couple applications. I can probably fix that myself." Alexandra explained.

"So... what do you need me for, Alex?" Tommy queried as he pulled his wallet from his pocket. "What's that for?" Alexandra asked. "See, I keep a few notes in here... just in case. You know. You can't carry books with you everywhere." Tommy explained.

"Well... Pappa brought all your books here from Michigan." Alexandra said, puzzled. Then she laughed. "I still remember you when you were a little boy. You had long hair... all dressed in white and eating cherries." Alexandra laughed again.

Tommy blurted: "What the hell right does he have going into my apartment?" Tommy stared at her for a moment; aware that his anger and confusion must be showing. "Yes well, I won't need all that right now."

"You see," said Alexandra almost whispering. "What we really need is a way to protect files that won't... you know, show up. Either here or on the network. This system is the main backup terminal for the net we use."

"Something like a hidden password?" Tommy posed.

"Something like that only a bit more sophisticated." Alexandra explained.

"Well, how elaborate. I mean... what do you want the system to do when someone tries to log on?" Tommy asked.

"Without authorization?" Alexandra qualified.

"Yes." Tommy responded.

"We want the system to destroy itself." Alexandra answered.

"Well, it's possible to disable the hard drive... " Tommy began.

"No." Alexandra said firmly. "We want everything to erase. Software, files, everything."

"You want a virus?" Tommy said with surprise. Alexandra smiled. "Something like that." She acknowledged.

"Now I understand, Alex." Tommy said. Alexandra slowly said: "Understand what?" and tossed her hair.

"Why Pappa wanted somebody from out of the country. This must be really big." Tommy concluded.

"I don't know about all that." said Alexandra. "I just keep the books for the family's vineyards. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff; files that I don't know about on the drive. Some things that... aren't exactly legal."

"So you can show me a wine list then, huh?" Tommy said with his eyes lit up.

"Isn't it a little early for you?" Alexandra inquired with eyebrows raised. She tossed her hair again and punched up the files for the household wine cellar.

"No." said Tommy. "I want the family's wine list.

Alexandra hunched her shoulders and said: "That's a big list!"

Tommy gave her a couple encouraging upward head-shifts and insisted: "Punch it up."

Alexandra tossed her hair again and brought up the database. DeSoto pulled a computer disk from his shirt pocket and started with the file directories. "You carry one of those with you?" Alexandra remarked as she pressed her hand to her face.

"Always." Tommy said.

When Pappa returned he looked refreshed. He wore dark gray trousers and a white pinstriped shirt. Pappa's hair was slicked back and he wore a splash of aromatic cologne. He walked around the hall to the study to find no one was there. Pappa left the room and came back with a bottle of white wine and a glass. He set the glassware down and punched in the password on the computer only to find the machine unresponsive. He tried a second time. "Alex!" He cried. "Wha'... you change the password?"

In a moment Alex returned and blurted out: "Pappa! Wha' you doin'? Why you always want to mess with my computer when you come home. What did you do?" Pappa stared at her wild eyed. "I just put ina password!" he explained. Alexandra's eyes got big.

"My God, I changed the password!"

"So wha's the new one 'den?" Pappa asked.

"You don't understand! Tommy already installed the protection program. The memory is being erased while we speak!" Alexandra explained.

Pappa tried frantically at the keys then turned the machine off.

"It's no use." Alexandra said.

"It's too late." Tommy explained.

Pappa got to his feet, pointed his finger at Tommy and threatened: "I gonna wait till you sitting in your own home and I gonna have you' brother come and shoot you. No! I gonna come and shoot you jus' like 'dat myself." Pappa's face lit up like a poor poker player; caught bluffing by everyone at the table, as he continued: "You two plan da whole t'ing di'n you? You wait till I come out an' check da file an' see what you doin'. You wise guy! You knew I was gonna check it!" He pointed his rage at Tommy. Alexandra's features went stiff with indignation. Her eyes were lit with a fire like Tommy had never seen in a woman before.

"Pappa, that's absurd! What the hell are you talkin' about, Pappa?" she began with speed and intensity. She continued: "What'you think, Thomas's just some second rate hack you can blow off like some fly! He's got friends back in the States, even some here! Somebody could be lookin' over your shoulder right now."

"Look, it's not worth it, Alex." Tommy protested.

"Yes it is, Thomas." Alexandra continued. Then she brought her attention back to Pappa. "Maybe flying over your head! He's got kids you don't even know how to find. Maybe a couple years from now someone shows up and puts a hole in your belly. What're you thinkin', Pappa? You think he gives a damn? He's got so much damn pressure now, he don't know what to think about anything. You think he gives a damn about your operation? You know I'm the one who knows the most about Thomas. I'm just like him." Alexandra's face was searing. "I don't give a damn about your operation either! Thomas knows he don't need your help with Michigan anyway; and he still helped you."

Pappa then left the study in a rage then slammed the door on his way out of the house.

Tommy blew out a long breath. "You've got backup, don't you?" he asked of Alexandra.

"Of course." she said, smiling. "But it's gonna cost him a new boat to get it and he knows it." she continued, tossing her hair aside. "And I'm not settling for a small one."

"So what about me?" Tommy inquired.

Alexandra smiled again and cast a sidewards glance. "He'll cool off." She looked down and saw the wine glass she was still holding. Alexandra drained it before she spoke: "You want me to show you around Athens for awhile before they get the plane ready for home?"

"Yeah, that'd be great but can we stay away from the beach for a while? I still haven't gotten rid of all the sand." Tommy complained.

"I'll make this trip worth your time, Thomas. Just getting that old man like we did is worth more than you know." She winked."You better freshen up. I'm going to give you the deluxe tour." Alexandra insisted. "I'll be out on the patio. I'll bring the car around." she indicated the west side of her home.

The next day when Tommy arrived at the diner on Boulevard Drive, he caught
Sam leaving. "Hey, Sam, how ya doin'?" he greeted.

Sam returned the greeting: "Fine, 'Soda. How you? Hear you' been outa town."

"Fine, Fine." Tommy reported. "Yeah, weekender."

"Word ona streets you's kidnapped, Soda." Sam said with a big grin.

Tommy gave Sam a double-take.

Inside, Gina was busy setting up tables. "Hey, squeaky, get me a table!" Tommy cried.

"Get it yourself, Soda!" Gina replied.

"What's got your hair in a tangle this time?" Tommy inquired.

Gina took a deep breath and spoke: "You're gone for a whole weekend, you don't call, I heard several rumors including 'you left the country'. You want to know what's got my feathers ruffled! By the way your brother called this morning and said you should have stayed home and also that he is going to kill you. Does any of this make any sense to you? By the way, your brother also said he was going back to Greece after the funeral."

Tommy DeSoto thought for a moment before saying: "Yeah, he probably is my brother. Anyway, if somebody wants to adopt you bad enough and there's a family resemblance...I'm a little fuzzy on the funeral part but..."

"What?" Gina responded with her hands on her hips.

"You got my grits ready, Squeaky?" Tommy ordered.

"Get'm yourself, Toomass!" Gina shouted back. She paced to the kitchen, issuing a flurry of complaints.

Tommy tilted his Panama down over his eyes and pulled the floppy disk from his pocket. I'll have to think of a good place to put this other copy now. he thought. He put the floppy away, leaned back and cast his eyes side to side. Then he looked out the windows in the direction of the river and remembered the seemingly inappropriate comment that Pappa had made on the beach in Athens.

I tol' you kid: "No' to feed da fish. Don' feed da fish."

If Pappa only knew what was eating him.

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