Pops has been through a lot. He’s been through a lot more than I know of because he doesn’t want to talk about it, at least not to answer questions. Even when Papa Walker was still alive, no one could make Pops talk if he wasn’t in the mood. I wouldn’t know about any of it, if it weren’t for that summer camping with them both. I’d been twelve that summer and the only reason I was going to start high school in the fall was that Pops promised my mom that he’d tutor me over the summer and get me up to grade levels. I’d failed middle school, like the entire thing was one bad grade after another and me really not caring. I don’t know why I stopped caring. It might have been fractions though or that mom graduated from college and still had to work two jobs to pay our rent and feed us.
I miss Mom. I miss being a kid. I miss when Pops could run as fast as I could and my twelve year old self thought he was immortal. Family stories say he was born on a Sunday in 1897, which is a very long way from 2023. I mean that would make him a hundred and twenty-six if it were true, but he won’t admit to anything older than ninety-five, which is how old he said he was when I was 12.
“I’m just resetting my password, dear,” he said, smiling up at me from where he sat at a desk that was probably Victorian and as old as he claimed to be. “It won’t be long now and I’ll have that tuition all paid off.”
“I’m not worried.” I said and it was true. I’d never known anything that Pops couldn’t slay at. It’s true, he was older now, no matter how old he actually was, he was certainly born before computers were and he didn’t grow up using them.
“Well, you should be,” he locked his one remaining blue eye on me and I felt every ounce of his legal career like a spotlight, “Do you know how old I am? Trying to get into my bank account is like trying to rob Fort Knox, but not as profitable.”
“Did you ever rob Fort Knox, Pops?” It’s funny. His hair is the brittle spun silver web over his head now, but once it was golden and curly and it’s hard to imagine him like that, a double war hero with a swagger that he was rumored to back up with the odd murder now and then.
He met Papa Walker in 1915 and the family story goes that Pops was blackmailed into joining the army to keep Papa Walker from getting drafted for WWI. Those stories say that he was a founding member of the first US Signals Intelligence Agency and that he returned to service with the OSS in WWII. Of course the stories also say that he flew in those two winged planes in WWI and that he got caught by the Germans in WWII. The NAZIs did not appreciate gay men and his blond hair and blue eyes did not keep him out of their wrath.
He must have been something though. At least to me, he seemed like Captain America wrapped in a rainbow. Even when I was little, he’d tell me bedtime stories about sneaking people away from the Germans and the French Resistance. Of course, when I was really little, I took everything as the word of god, then I grew up and thought everything he said was a well intended lie. In college, I learned about the wars and things made more sense. It wasn’t as clear cut as lies or truth, but more like perspective. We all have perspectives about what we experience and it can make things seem bigger or smaller than they were. It was when I was in those history classes that he became a human being to me, not the great hero of my childhood or the big mouth exaggerator of my teens, but just a man, just like the rest of us. Some days are great and some aren’t and that’s just being human. There were so many things he didn’t tell me. For all the bedtime stories, there are so many questions that he will never talk about. He will never talk about the pink triangle with the black outline on his arm and all Papa Walker would ever say was that Pops came back from WWII with it and he once tried to burn it off. I can’t imagine a man stronger than my Pops and I know now what a WWII pink triangle means.
“Young lady,” he said, holding the receiver of the phone to his ear, blue eyes squinting and darkening, “I shall need you to listen to me.”
“Pops, let me talk to them or put it on speaker phone.” Not that his old land line had such a thing as a speaker phone.
I was close enough as I leaned over him to her her “Sir....” drawn out as if she were trying to get his attention, to remind him to behave. “You have to reset your password. The bank requires it to be reset every six months.”
“Every six months?” he howled back at her, “I don’t want to change my password. Do you understand me? Can I just send the payment by talking to you?”
“Sir....” she said, “It’s for the safety of your account. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” he said, darkness in his voice and when he stood up from the little desk, frail as he was, he invoked the shadow of who he’d been when he was younger, broader shoulders, the kind of man who could just tackle obstacles and move them out of his way, “I understand that my deposits in your institution are substantial and that I’m still a member of the American Bar Association, little girl.”
I held up my palms waving them as I shook my head. No matter how annoying she was, it was not okay to talk to her like it was 1930 anymore.
“All of our customers are valued by Everest Bank,” she said, without emotion, just mouthing the right things to say. “I would be happy to process a wire payment for you Mr. Mcneil. I will just need to ask you some questions to verify your identity and then we can get that money wired. Will that be okay?”
“Yes, fine,” he said. He touched a photo of Papa Walker that presided over the desk like the sentinel of decorum. “Please forgive my bad temper. My life partner passed recently and I don’t think I shall ever recover.”
I don’t think Pops ever said anything truer than that. It was 2023 and Papa Walker passed in 1999, but for Pops it was always sometime last week.
“You see, he set this password when we opened the account to pay for our great grandchildren’s college tuition and if I change it, it’s like a little bit of him goes farther away. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do, Sir. I’m very sorry for your loss. May their memory be a blessing.”
“Oh it is,” Pops said, sitting back down, though one hand grabbed hold of the old photo and drew it so he could press it against his chest. “He was a doctor and a saint, but I’m going to get him back. I’m the king of time, you see and as soon as I master my talents, I’m going back in time to get him. It’ll be marvelous.”
Now there’s the Pops from my childhood, mostly crazy stories and determination. The woman on the other end of the phone was just quiet for a moment, which seemed reasonable to me. The first exposure to story telling Pops always requires a moment. “Well, let me know when you get those talents managed and you can get my mom for me too, okay?”
“I will. Of course, now what questions?”
“What is your birthdate, Sir?”
“July 3rd, 1897. It was a Sunday. I was born in Dublin. We didn’t stay long though. My mom was a crook and not a good one, so here we are. Goodness, I haven’t spoken Irish in years! Everyone else that spoke it in the family has passed on, you see?”
She replied in Irish that it was okay. I had tried studying Irish. I was not easy for me, but I knew enough to know that she had terrible pronunciation and what it was she had meant to say. I also knew what was coming.
He roared to life, more color in his cheeks, and poetry falling from now rosy lips like he wasn’t old and he didn’t need to breathe. My old Pops loved James Joyce to the point that Papa Walker once complained that if Pops had met Joyce first, he never would have taken up with Jack. I don’t know about that. Pops was and is deeply in love with Jack Walker. Papa Walker wasn’t much of a poet though. When she asked Pops to verify the amount of money that was in his bank account, I had to sit down. Pops’ monthly budget ran in the range of 1200 a month, which was not a lot in 2023. I know because I pay his bills and do his shopping.
Sure, the house is nice but it was paid off in like 1925. The library is full of first editions but that was because they were bought when they first came out. The Joyces are all autographed, from when he visited after the stock market crash. Papa Walker said Pops refused to get up out of bed for months, so he invited Joyce to visit and the man took him up on it. The estate sale is going to be very profitable, but I’d trade it all to just keep Pops a few more hours. It was still a shock to me that he had the value of ten new Lamborghinis in the tuition account set aside for us.
For one thing, where had all that money come from? Papa Walker’s life insurance had been just below thirty thousand, enough for a nice funeral and to pay off his active credit card accounts. Maybe those stories about Pops smuggling whiskey during Prohibition and being a gangster were more substantial than I thought. I’m also glad I don’t have to live up to his standards. I’m going to be a doctor like Papa Walker, start school this fall, but I’m not and never will be a member of the Greatest Generation.
Finally, he hung up the phone with a wire of tuition money sent off to my new school. I’m going to graduate from medical school with no debt. Because of him.
I grabbed the other office chair and rolled close enough I could reach for his hands. “Pops, thank you.”
“Nonsense, that’s just what I was supposed to do. I sent a check to your landlord earlier, so your rent is all paid up too. Stupid college not taking checks. All this digital magic spoils people. Now, now, don’t cry Ricky. It’s okay. Everything is alright. I’ll take care of everything. You’ll be just like Jackie was, giving away medicine and bringing good into the world.”
“Pops! Where did all that money come from?”
“I stole it,” Gael said with a crooked smile and a glitter of mischief in his eye.
Scandalized, Ricky pulled back and gasped, “From who?”
“The New York mob, mostly, but also the Central Intelligence Agency. Fuckers.”
“Pops! How long ago?”
“About seventy-five years, right after WWII. The CIA tried to short paying me. I wasn’t having it, and the mob, they set me up, so I hit them where it hurt. Long time ago. I don’t have it in me anymore. You be a good man,” Pops said, patting my face with his skinny fingers, “don’t be like me.”
“As if I could ever be good enough to be like you. Pops, I love you.”
“I love you too, RickyTops. Did you get all your textbooks bought? What am I going to do when you move away to school, uh?”
“What if I put off school for a year, just stay here with you. We could write your life story. You could tell me everything!”
Gael shook his head, chin tucked to his chest. “Let’s watch a movie, order some pizza. Inglorious Bastards?”
“I’ll order the pizza, you set up the movie!”
“If the movie service makes me reset another password today, I swear I will sue them.”
“No worries,” I said, “My account is already logged in, just use that.”
About the Creator
I write a lot of lgbt+ stuff, lots of sci fi. My big story right now is The Moon's Permission.
I've been writing all my life. Every time I think I should do something else, I come back to words.