The Unforgiven

The sins of Jeremiah Birdwell were catalogue enough to condemn lesser men to the depths of hell, or the various rings of hades if one had the faith of Dante, but sins they were and in the most deliberate manner.  A man who could entertain all seven of the deadly sins was to be feared, indeed, to be afraid for one’s mortal soul.  His gluttony was corpulence, his greed was the acquisition of his neighbors property, and his lust was for any woman, be it neighbor’s wife or complete stranger.  Jeremiah Birdwell gave evil a bad name.  But our story does not end here.  One may think that it is a matter of one upmanship.  How evil was Jeremiah Birdwell?  Like Henny Youngman joke, he was so bad…fill in the blank.  That such individuals should exist is a testament to our forbearance toward those whom we consider morally inferior and hence, must be made to feel the lash of Satan.

In a world where so many billionaires are publically known Jeremiah Birdwell is a shadowy figure, unknown by most, even in those money circles where individuals of great wealth meet to rule the world.  He is the Kaiser Sochey of that society, a legend to be talked about but never seen.  It has been reported that he occupies a remote and exclusive Swiss Chalet somewhere but such a habitation has never been identified.  Many have tried to track down this world ruler only to never be seen again.  Thus he must exist, but where?  Even his existence has been questioned.  But I know he exists as sure as I know I exist.  Almost twenty years ago I was a cub reporter newly released from the obit desk.  My assignments were the little news items.  A new small business opening its doors selling whatever.  Perhaps the local high school had suffered a break in or student injury.  All the back page news items that few ever read.  I was far from being given front page type assignments and perhaps the story I stumbled across would have led to far greater importance if I had more experience.

The city university was giving a press conference on some curation of artifacts on loan from a major museum.  Billed as a great introspective assessment of cultural origins in the Alpine communities, it was just the type of event a cub reported would cover.  No one would care and no one would read three inch column and no by line.  Funny thing, boredom gives way to curiosity and I became curious.  In the display one of the communities there appeared to be something unusual, out of place.  It was much like those puzzles like what doesn’t belong but more on the Mensa level.  Since I was the new man I always had an eight millimeter camera in my pocket.  All the aces had photographers trailing along with them carrying Hasselblads.  So I was obliged to take my own photographs and develop them in my apartment.  The problem with eight millimeter is that when you enlarge the image the resolution becomes grainy and loses detail depending on the percentage of enlargement.  Of course by the time I got around to developing the photographs the exhibit had closed.  Too bad because it might have made a great difference.

But my curiousity did prompt me to dig here and there.  The main city library, the university library, and finally Professor Hillman, a cultural anthropologist, became my resources.  It wasn’t that I sensed a story out of my curiousity but that I was driven to solve a puzzle.  That combination of tools, work pieces, and materials didn’t seem to add up.  I compared the catalogue of the curated items to my photographs and found a discrepancy in their number.  There were four too many in my photographs but the detail in those pictures in the catalogue and my photos was not as good as the naked eye.  This puzzle occupied my after work attention for almost four months.  Professor Hillman had begun to make a number of inquiries to the museum that loaned the artifacts but without much success.  “I think there is something wrong here but I just can’t place my finger on it.  Professor Hegel at the museum has been evasive in his answers to my questions.”  Then in that fifth month I learned the professor was the victim of a hit and run auto accident.  The paper had not made much out of his death but I sense that this was no run of the mill accident.  The police discovered the vehicle later that week and an arrest followed.  The man protested his innocence, said his car had been stolen but he was found guilty and sentenced to five years on a manslaughter charge.

A few months later I travelled to the prison where he was incarcerated and talked to him for half an hour.  His story was interesting and he appeared truthful.  The second visit proved more fruitful.  There never was a third, he was stabbed to death in a cell block riot.  That seemed odd to me but I knew any investigation I might do would lead to an immediate dead end.  the second visit I recalled what he said.  “I think I am being watched by someone other than the guards.  I just have a feeling.”  Well I too had the feeling that I was being watched.  Not shadowed, but watched, if you know the difference.  I began to look a little more carefully before I crossed any street.  As the years passed and I found myself earning promotions towards that coveted ace reporter status I always kept my eye out for the unusual.  I attended more city university curated showings and even those of several local museums in the city.  The boys made fun of my cultural conversion But I persisted.  And I obtained a compact thirty five millimeter camera with a adjustable lens.  I think over these twenty years I have perhaps ten thousand photos or more in my collection.  That has necessitated secure storage since I knew I was still being watched.  My apartment has been broken into a half dozen times and a few items stolen to make it look like an ordinary robbery.  But the would be thieves have always left little clues.  Clues that were really traps set by me.  A piece of toothpick set to fall off if a drawer were pulled out, a tiny piece of paper to fall if a cupboard door was opened, anything I could think of that wasn’t obvious.  Sometimes I would leave rolls of unexposed film in plain sight and see that they were taken.  It worked twice before they stopped bothering to pick them up.  What they never knew is that I had rented a single room twelve floors above my apartment.  I wasn’t married at the time and I could afford it.  It became my safe office and a place to keep my files.

Over the years I would pick up more pieces to this puzzle I had stumbled upon and I saw more deaths of people who were connected in one way or another to this mystery.  By my count, which I know to be short of the mark, perhaps some ninety individuals who were involved wittingly or unwittingly with any of Swiss Quality Imports or Swiss Quality Manufacturing or any dozen affiliates that I could unearth connections to, found an untimely end.  I had discovered that some of these business entities went out of business.  Some went bankrupt and some were destroyed under suspicious circumstances.  But most simply closed their doors without much reason.  I was sitting at the First National Bank restaurant waiting for a particular corporation president to meet me there for dinner.  The place was very popular with the local financial and business leaders, those who had sufficient bank accounts to afford the over stuffed chairs and prices to match.  I was seated in one of those overstuffed chairs in the lounge part of the bar having myself a single barrel scotch whiskey on the newspaper’s expense account.  Seated at the table behind me I overheard three men talking about the closing of the Baby Swiss Alarm Speciality Clock Company.  “He said just to close down the business and pay the employees off by the end of the month.  No reason why.”  “Didn’t he say anything at all?  We were making money in that import business.”  “Stan, I don’t understand what’s this about.  what are we suppose to do now?”  “I was told that the order came from JB himself.  I will get more details later, Friday they say.”  “Why would Birdwell want to close a money making business?”  “Yes, Stan, why?”  “The rumor is that he is folding it into another one of his businesses.  But that is just rumor.”

I had my interview with Mr Robert Hall of the Luxall Insurance Group and we talked over the very expensive lamb chops and a bottle of Chateau Margaux.  I hope my editor would grouse too much, I hear he is fond of Chateau Margaux even if he can’t afford it.  “Robert, didn’t your company insure Quality Swiss Manufacture before it burned to the ground?”  “Yes, I think we suspect it was arson but could never prove it conclusively.  Bad business there, I still believe it was the act of a disgruntled employee.”  “You mean one called Tom Sturgis?”  “Why yes, how did you know?”  “Didn’t they find him dead two weeks later?  Gunshot I think.”  “Yes, the corner called suicide.”  I remember seeing the police photos and it was anything but suicide.  The pattern was emerging and if anything I needed to keep a close watch.

The next week there was a US Customs raid on Baby Swiss Alarm Specialty Company.  Parts for munitions were found in the warehouse ready for shipment to Africa.  The three top executives were taken in custody, one whose first name was Standish.  Supposedly he committed suicide in his jail cell.  The other two disappeared for almost a year.  Their bodies were found when a construction crew was excavating a foundation for a building.  In researching s J Birdwell I came upon some information but it was sporadic and condictatory at best.  The very few times I ever spoke with a couple of billionaires I heard the tale of this J Birdwell and some of his dealings.  It was said that he lived somewhere in Switzerland.  Now I had a few more pieces of the puzzle and knew where I needed to go to possibly solve it.  Our foreign corespondents did some digging for me but the tracks seemed to have died out.

So I took my vacation in Switzerland.  I also brought several old black and white photos with me, the ones I had taken almost twenty years ago.  I found the village and hired a guide to show me about.  I said I was a magazine writer doing a article on  the discovered villages of the Alps.  The man was impressed and went out of his way to point out all the scenic beauty and attractions the village had to offer.  When we passed what looked like a plot of land where a building had stood I pulled out one of the photos and ask him about it.  “Didn’t this house use to stand over there?”  “Ah, yes, it burned burned last year about this.  A tragedy for the village.  It belonged to an English man.  The found the bodies of five women in the ruins along with him.”  “Do you remember his name?”  “Yes, it was Birdwell.  He had a reputation for being an evil man.  His body is buried outside the wall of the cemetery.”  “Why is that?”  “He never attended church, never sought forgiveness.  He was unforgiven.”

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