IT WAS ABOUT ELEVEN O'CLOCK in the evening, mid October, when the 1940 Ford pulled up in front of the mansion in Westchester. The driver turned off the engine and stepped out. He was tall, though thin. He wore a navy blue suit, a white shirt and a white pencil-stripped red tie, a black hat that covered a head of blond hair, and a tan rain coat. He rang the doorbell and waited till the butler came answering.
"How may I help you?" said the butler with all the requisite rigid dignity.
"I'm here to see the General, he's expecting me."
"Who might I tell him it is?"
"Of course, sir. Would you like to wait inside?"
Rogers followed the butler inside. He took off his coat and hat and handed them to the butler as he stood in the hallway.
"I'll be right with you." Said the butler. Rogers didn't respond as he was busy eying the Philips family crest that hung over the fireplace, and then shifting his eyes toward the pictures that surrounded it. One depicted the master of the house in a the company of his battalion command during the first world war, while another depicted him standing shoulder to shoulder with the top brass of the allied armed forces, between Bradley and LeClerc.
Rogers stood in his place for a few minutes before the butler returned.
"The General will meet you in the study, sir."
General Chester Phillips sat by the window, listening to a Vera Lynn record and looking into space. Rogers immediately saw that the years had not been kind. Age and illness had left their marks on him, shedding his hair, withering his bones, curving his spine and spotting his skin. He wore a large dark robe than engulfed him, though his bony legs peered from beneath them, and a cane rested by the wall, giving a clear indication to his current state of health.
"General Philips." Said Rogers, offering a salute.
"Now now, we're a bit beyond that." Said Philips with a warm smile as he took notice of the young officer he'd commanded years ago.
"How are you feeling, sir?"
"Not too well, Captain Rogers." Said Rogers, "Though a glass of brandy might help with that for a bit. Say, you wouldn't mind-?"
"Not at all." Said Rogers.
"Good man, the bar's over there."
Rogers went to the corner of the room that Phillips had indicated with a claw like finger.
"Pour yourself a glass as well."
"Third of a glass of champagne with your bourbon?"
"Yes. Thank you, Captain?"
"I haven't been a Captain in years, sir. Civilian life has busted me down to a lowly sergeant."
"Yes, I'd heard that." Said Chester.
"Have you?" asked Rogers, returning with a glass of Brandy and Champagne for Philips and a glass of Bourbon for himself.
"I get a few visitors from the service every now and then, some like to keep track of everyone else. I must say, I'd either figured you'd remain with the Army or return to your artistic pursuits, I'd never thought you'd make a foray into law enforcement.
"Have a seat, Rogers, and tell me how has life been treating you?"
"Not much to tell, really. After I was discharged, I got back to Brooklyn and started looking for work. Lots of people were offering, but Joey Castle, you know him, he was in Japan, suggested we try the force. I made homicide detective in '50 and sergeant in last year."
"Have you married?"
"I haven't. I got close a couple of years back, but we broke it off. She's married to an add firm executive in Manhattan, I think."
"You should see that you are, and soon. You don't want to end up an old man in an old family mansion. Do you see any of the men?"
"At reunions, sure. There's a reunion coming up. I'll sometime see someone from the Hundred and first across the street waiting for a bus, or I'll be conducting an investigation in a club and one of the band would be someone I knew who was in the Ninety second, but I hardly ever make a thing of it if they don't. It's strange, you know. Sometime I'll arrest someone and bring them to the station, and as I'm taking them down to the cages, they'll come across someone and their bodies'll tense up. They don't say anything, but you can tell they have history. That's how It feels, like we want to talk, but we can't cause neither of us is really the person the other recognize, and that person is someone that was left long ago, standing in a battlefield."
The general offered a smile, and Rogers felt somewhat embarrassed by what he imagined must have been the general's impression of his words. Hastily, he wanted to change the subject.
"Why have you called me here, general?"
"I am dying, Captain Rogers." Said Phillips, "I have months to live and my affairs to wrap up. I have a favor to ask you, and it is something that can be handled by a man of your expertise, a thing that I can hire someone to see after, but would appreciate if it was done by someone I trusted."
For the next fifteen minutes, the general relayed his instructions, speaking as clearly and exhaustively as he did during the war. The request was then forgotten, and the men spoke some more of the former officer's life, and of the current political climate. They had one more drink each, before the butler entered the study to remind the general it was time for him to take his medication. Rogers excused himself, and the general did not try to keep him.
On the next day at around the time Rogers' shift at the precinct would end, he learned that the General had passed away in his sleep the night before.
Yes, I was ripping off the big sleep in this chapter :)