Johnson’s characters are as varied and colorful as his background. He studied architecture in Texas and Michigan. Worked as an architect for 10 years in Chicago and Maine. Wanted more, “studied his tail off” and went to medical school in Vermont. Now he works as an emergency physician in a coastal New England town. In his spare time he renovates houses, builds furniture, travels, always traveling and writes when a story strikes. He notes about writing, “English was my least favorite subject in school. I wish I had paid more attention and read more.”
In My Father’s Footsteps
Samantha McCormack was at the gun club. She went there twice a year to practice firing her Smith & Wesson 9mm semiautomatic handgun. She always wanted to be able to use it quickly and safely if needed. She mainly had it for peace of mind and if needed for protection as she lived in a pretty scary Boston neighborhood. Occasionally she needed it for work. She was a loan collector.
She checked the clip, released the safety and took her time squeezing off two shots at the target twenty feet away when her cell phone began vibrating across the counter. She grabbed it before it fell to the floor. She looked down at her phone. She did not recognize the caller, Elijah Chase, Esq. from Dodge City, Arkansas. She was just about ready to let the call go to voice mail when she decided to answer it. She is not sure why she did. It was probably going to be a telemarketer or worse a robo call from overseas. They would butcher her name trying to pronounce it in perfectly sweet but broken English. She would have to hang up as they were still talking not taking “I’m not interested” for an answer.
As it turned out, it was a call that brought back memories that years of therapy and time had managed to suppress. When she ended the call, she readjusted her hearing protection back over her ears and then resumed firing with a determined vengeance. She emptied the remaining 7 bullets into the target without stopping, continuing to pull the trigger a few more times even after the clip was empty. Instead of seeing the 8”round standard bullseye target, she imagined her father’s face or what she remembered was her father’s face.
Dodge City, Arkansas
Sam had an uneasy feeling about coming down to Arkansas. The attorney, Elijah Chase had offered to conduct all the business by certified mail but Sam insisted on coming in person. She told him she needed some kind of closure. Swallowing hard, she opened the door to the Dodge Diner and stepped over the threshold.
The diner was a classic train car shaped diner from the fifties complete with linoleum floors bright chrome and aluminum edge trim everywhere and boomerang embossed patterned plastic laminate counter and table tops. The diner was crowded for 9 AM on a Wednesday morning. As Sam stepped over the threshold all the customers stopped talking and looked her way. The sound of cutlery and glasses clinking stopped, conversations about local gossip and breaking news paused for a moment. It was as if the hot humid summer air outside sucked all the noise out into the street when the door opened. Just as quickly as the diner door shut, the low din of the diner breakfast rush resumed.
Sam understanding single person diner etiquette walked to the middle of the diner and took a seat at the counter leaving the only empty booth for more customers. Next to her on the left was a priest wearing crisp black pants, black sport coat over black shirt and the full stiff white collar. He looked up from his coffee and smiled as Sam sat down. Sam nodded and said, “Morning, Father.” He didn’t look away but held her gaze and smiled. The only visible waitress walked down behind the counter toward the new customer carrying a pitcher of coffee and chewing gum. Without any wasted movements as if she had been working this counter her whole life she turned over the heavy white porcelain mug in front of Sam and asked, “Coffee?” Sam answered, “Please, black.”
Pouring the coffee almost without looking and stopping the pour just below the cup rim without spilling a drop, she let out a small exclamation, “Well I’ll be. You look just like Brooksy.” The priest sitting next to her confirmed, “The resemblance is uncanny.”
Two stools down on the right an elderly gentleman wearing a grey barber smock turned and added, “She even sat on Bob’s usual stool.”
The man the diner customers are referring to is Frank McCormack, Sam’s father. Apparently he was known as Robert Brooks here in Dodge City. She received a telephone call two days ago from an attorney telling her that her father had died and named her the executor. She was needed to sign some paper work and pick up his ashes as he had been cremated. The only problem was they were estranged. She had not seen or heard from her father in twenty years and actually didn’t even know if he was still alive. Well, not alive any more.
Sam had picked the very diner her father was a regular at to have a cup of coffee. Not that there were many options to pick from for coffee in Dodge City, Arkansas. Sam could not imagine this town attracting any corporate named coffee shop franchises. She was even surprised it was called a city. The founding fathers must have had high hopes that it would turn into a bustling metropolis. Instead the Dodge name was more accurate than they could have imagined. One had to go out of their way to come here.
Dodge City is a small isolated, down on its luck town in central Arkansas far enough off the interstate that few strangers ever happened upon it. It was not a destination for many people. There were few jobs to speak of. There were no points of interest. You were here because you started out life here. Most young people left as soon as they could and gravitated to Little Rock. People didn’t even get lost here. The only traffic light was a flashing red light placed there just to slow traffic down on Main Street so town’s people could cross without getting run over. The central business district had the Dodge Diner and the Dodge Motel at one end and the Sheriff’s substation and funeral home at the other. In between were two blocks of the usual small town businesses with shops on either side of the street on the ground floor and apartments or professional offices above on the upper floors.
“I’m Father O’Brien.” The priest offered. “Welcome to Dodge.” He added extending his hand. “My heartfelt condolences on your father’s passing.” Sam shook his hand noticing how soft and doughy the palm of his hand was. She was afraid to squeeze his hand too hard as his flesh might ooze out between her fingers like kid’s Playdough. “Thank you. I am Samantha McCormack. I am.” She hesitated, caught herself and then used her father’s alias. “I am Robert Brook’s daughter.” Saying his name out loud made her wince a little. To fill the awkward silence, Sam defensively added, “We were never close. I hadn’t seen my father in quite some time. In fact I was nine years old the last time I saw him.
“And yet the likeness is unremarkable.” The waitress blurted out. “I’m De” she said pointing to her name tag. Sam looked at her name tag. There were other letters after the “De,” however they were covered with a piece of black electrical tape. Sam thought maybe De’s actual name was too long or difficult to pronounce and she was tired of correcting people. It is after all why we have nicknames. Sam preferred “Sam” over Samantha for personal reasons too. Sam’s mother always called her Samantha and could not understand why she wanted to be called by a boy’s name. Some parents can get too cute with their children’s names and it becomes an awful burden constantly explaining what the hell your parents were thinking and that they have scarred you for life on the day you were born. Or maybe, De just wanted to be someone else.
Chewing gum and talking at the same time, De added, “I served your father, right there in that seat for the last ten or so years. He seemed like a regular guy. He was quiet and pretty much kept to himself.”
Father O’Brien interjected, “Your father had recently been helping out at the soup kitchen in the church basement.” Sam thought this surprising as the man she remembered was mean and ornery. All the beatings blurred together after all these years. He just as soon kick you to the curb than give you a hand. He was never known to be very generous. Maybe he mellowed as he got older she thought.
“I am supposed to meet the attorney, Elijah Chase. Do you know where his office is located?” Sam asked changing the subject.
“He is just down Main Street above the realtor’s office. I’m going to open my shop right now.” the barber offered draining his coffee cup. “I can show you on the way. I’m Clayton Jones. People just call Clay. I cut your father’s hair for years. I can trim your hair too if you wish. I cut men, women and kids’ hair.” Sam a little self aware brushes her black bangs out of her eyes. She had been meaning to have them trimmed. Sam finishes her coffee puts down her mug and asks, “De, how much do I owe for the coffee?” She waves her away answering, “It’s on the house.”
Sam follows the barber out of the diner. They cross the street at the blinking traffic light, walk down a few doors and stop outside the barber shop with its spinning red, white and blue barber pole. He points out the sign, “Law Offices of Attorney Elijah Chase and Partners.” Clay offers as he pulls out his shop keys, “It is really just one office and there aren’t any partners. It is just him. Everything is really pretty small here in Dodge.” Sam smiles and acknowledges him by saying, “Thank you. It is perfect size town if you want the low key laid back life and you do not want to attract attention. Maybe I’ll take you up on trimming my bangs later.” She opens the door to the law office and walks up the stairs to the second floor office of the attorney handling her father’s estate.
At the top of the stairs was the office door. Painted in black block letters was simply “Law Offices.” Sam knocked and then walked in.
Clay, the barber was right. The law offices or rather office was not much. It was one small room not much bigger than Sam’s bedroom back home. It had a desk covered in various height stacks of papers and folders leaning against each other. Some of the stacks had tipped over and spilling into each other. In front of the desk were two old wooden armchairs . These were also covered in papers. Behind the desk was a man with a balding head and a few strands of dark hair reaching across the top of his head. Even the comb-over was thinning. He looked up when Sam closed the office door with a bang. The glass rattled in the door.
“Sorry, if I am disturbing you. I am Samantha McCormack. I am looking for Elijah Chase.” Sam apologized walking toward the desk. The balding man stood up. He was wearing a bow tie and suit vest over his white shirt. The tail of his shirt was sticking out of his unzipped fly. He was oblivious to his wardrobe malfunction. He put down his Mont Blanc pen and extended his hand. “I am Attorney Elijah Chase. I wasn’t expecting you so soon Miss. McCormack. We only last spoke just two days ago? I would have guessed who were without the introduction, you look just like your father.”
“So I have been told. I was able to take an earlier flight and get time off.” Sam explained. Sam shook his hand. Chase had a grip like a bear, squeezing her hand until it hurt. She looked down at their clasped hands. Sam released her grip but Chase kept pumping their hands. He wore a large gold class ring on his ring finger. Where a stone would have been on the ring was a raised gold shield. On either side of the band were canons and crossed swords. This was probably responsible for some of the pain. She managed to finally extract her hand intact from his viselike grip.
“Please sit down.” He offered pointing to one of the paper covered chairs. Seeing the chairs were taken up with his stacks he advised, “Oh, just put those papers anywhere on the floor.” Sam obliged and scooped up the stacked papers on one of the chairs and placed them on the floor next to another stack of papers and sat down. There didn’t seem to be any filing cabinets in his office. The stacks of folders and papers were his filing system. He apparently knew where everything was. Within a few seconds, Chase had thumbed thru a pile of papers on his desk and pulled out a manila folder with “Brooks, Robert” penciled in on the tab.
Putting the folder on top of the clutter on his desk and opening the folder, he looked up and asked, “I hope you’ll not be offended young lady but I need to make this official and see some identification.” Not taken aback, Sam produced her Massachusetts driver’s license. He took it from her, turned in his chair and unearthed a desktop copier/printer from another pile of papers. As a copy was ejecting out of the copier, Sam noticed the framed college diplomas on the back wall that were all a little askew. One was from Texas A & M University and the other from the University of Arkansas Law School.
Chase handed back her driver’s license. “I am sorry to say your father did not have much in the way of assets. He did not apparently own many things other than a few personal items. He did not own a house. He did not own a car. I am told he rode a bike everywhere. As far as I can ascertain he was not employed but oddly enough did not collect unemployment, disability or social security. He stated to me that he did not have any life insurance and would prepay for all arrangements in cash. For all practical purposes, he did not have much of a paper trail. He did have a small savings account, no checking account. His bank account at the Dodge Bank and Savings had a minimal balance. He was living in a house of a woman, a common law arrangement, whose death preceded your fathers. Her will allowed him to live in her house as tenant at will until his death. That house and land will now go to her estate. I believe her relatives have made arrangements to list the house with a realtor. Your father had a safety deposit box at the Bank and Trust here in town but we have not been able to locate his key. The bank president has asked the home office in Little Rock to forward their replacement key. This will take unfortunately a few days. I will need you to sign several documents so I can file them with the county.”
Removing a large paper clip, he handed her a bundle of papers. “Here is your father’s death certificate, his will and certificate naming you his executor.” “Here is a spare key to the house he was living in. The address is on the key tag. You can go around and collect any personal items you want. My understanding is the house is not in very good shape.” he said handing her a key chain.
Clearing her throat, Sam offers, “Mr. Chase, I did not come here expecting any grand inheritance. I came here more for closure than anything else. My father has been an open painful chapter in my life. I am hoping to finally close it and move on. How much do I owe you for your services?” Sam asked. “Your father already paid my fee in advance and in cash, Ms. McCormack.” Chase answered.
Sam signed several documents where Chase indicated. Sam pulled out the death certificate and placed it on top of her stack of papers and examined it. It had an embossed seal of the county coroner. Listed as the primary cause of death was “Atherosclerotic Coronary Artery Disease.” Below that as contributing cause was “Alcohol Abuse.” The box next to “natural cause of death” was checked. Sam’s hands shook a little uncontrollably. This was all hitting a little too close to home.
“Ms. McCormack, you haven’t asked about your father or his remains.” Chase offered matter of fact. Sam folding her copy of the documents she had just signed answered, “No, I didn’t.” Letting that hang, she stood to leave. Mr. Chase, the southern gentleman he was also stood. Sam tried hard to avert her eyes and keep from starring at the shirt tail sticking out from his unzipped trousers’ fly.
“Had you been close to your father, Miss?” Chase persisted trying to make small talk as he rounded his desk.
Sam answered without displaying any emotion, “No. I have not seen or heard from my father for over twenty years. Until a short while ago I did not know if my father was alive or dead. He abandoned my mother and me. I will be honest with you, Mr. Chase. My mother told me many years later that my father worked for the Franconi Crime Family. My father was apparently a low level mobster in charge of enforcement and collections for the family business if you know what I mean. He told my mother one day that a significant amount of money went missing, that night my father never returned from the local bar. He apparently spent most of those years either on the run, laying low or living here in Dodge City, Arkansas.”
Reaching to open the door for her, he added “After the coroner was thru with his cursory autopsy, I had his body cremated at the Dodge Funeral Home and Crematorium as he had requested in his will. You can pick up his ashes there. Bring your father’s death certificate in case it is needed for identification. Your father already paid for that service ahead of time as well. You may also need to show them your copy of the Declaration of Executorship.”
“Why was the coroner involved?” Sam was curious. “It is standard procedure here in Arkansas when there is an unwitnessed death to have the coroner determine cause of death and complete a death certificate. Your father was found deceased in his home. There were no indications of anything other than natural cause of death, most probably a heart attack.”
Finishing, Chase added. “He did not leave any wishes or instructions for dispersement of his ashes. You can do what you will with them.”
Up until this point Sam had shown no emotion. She swallowed hard again and looked away, “I am not sure after all that time I would want him around, even in an urn. He had not been around for so long. What would be the point be now?” She thanked Chase. Avoiding shaking his hand, not wanting to have her hand embossed with his Texas Aggie college ring again.
As she stepped through the office door holding her father’s house key in one hand, she turned to him and asked, “Mr. Chase when did my father come to you to complete his will?”
“That is a curious thing, actually call it a coincidence or premonition on his part, but three weeks ago he knocked on my office door for the first time. We took care of everything in one office visit. He was very efficient and to the point. Much like you are.”
“When he named me executor, did he say anything about his only child or my mother?” Sam was hoping there would be some remorse or regret. She got none.
“No, I am sorry. I do not remember him having anything to say about you. He did not speak about his past. He was very focused and a man of few words.”
Sam left the Elijah Chase’s law office and walked back to the diner where she had left her rental car that she had picked up at the Little Rock airport. She had preordered a compact car a week earlier figuring it would be a quick trip but gave into the nonstop upselling from the car rental counter person and took the midsize sedan. She drove the few miles out of town to her father’s house. It was at the end of a cul-de-sac of midsize middle class houses. Chase was right. The house wasn’t much. Sam was sure the neighbors weren’t too happy about this eye sore.
It was a one story tired looking ranch with shallow hipped roof. It was in desperate need of paint. There was more bare wood than painted wood. Some trim boards were missing around the windows. A front window was broken. The soffit at one end of the house was pried open, long grass strands were hanging out of the opening. Two sparrows were flying in and out delighted that they had found a new home.
As Sam got out of her car, she noticed a woman trying to hammer into the ground a “For Sale” sign in the front lawn. The sign read “Hargrave Realty – Ann Hargrave gets results.” Half the sign was taken up with a three quarter profile headshot of a woman that matched the woman trying to pound the sign into the hard packed front lawn. There wasn’t actually any lawn. Even the weeds had dried out in the sun baked earth.
Sam walked up and offered, “Can I help?” She noticed the woman not making any progress getting the sign in the ground. She was holding the hammer close to the head and tapping it repeatedly on top of the metal framed sign. Sam took the hammer, held it by the end of the handle to maximize the force and with three full swings from shoulder height sunk the sign into the ground. Sam handed the hammer back to the realtor with a nod of her head. The realtor was a little taken back by Sam’s surprising strength from such a small unimposing person. She readjusted her tight red sport coat and introduced herself as Ann Hargrave. Out of nowhere she had produced a business card with the same logo and picture as on the sign. Without waiting for a response, she launched into a sales pitch, “This little gem in the rough has just come on the market. It is a two bedroom one bath house that looks bigger once inside.” Without taking a breath she continued as Sam tried to cut her off. “The current owners have moved on.” She cleared her throat and looked away towards the house as if knowing she was stretching the truth about the fate of the owners. She continued, “They will entertain any reasonable offers. The kitchen and bath are original to the house. Can I show you the inside?”
Handing the realtors business card back Sam finally is able to interrupt, “I am sorry, I am not here for the house. I am here to pick up any personal effects of my father, Frank, I mean Robert Brooks.” She caught herself almost saying her father’s real name, Frank McCormack, the only name by which she knew her father up until a few days ago. She was having trouble remembering the name Robert Brooks, his alias. The name he assumed when he went on the run. “I am Samantha McCormack.” she introduced.
The realtor was obviously disappointed Sam wasn’t here to see the house. Sam thought it would be a difficult sell at least from the outside. She had the feeling the inside was not in any better shape. The kitchen and bath were probably midcentury old and outdated.
She was not far off. Ann Hargrave unlocked the front door. She and Sam walked in together. The inside was dingy, the walls and ceilings were stained. It still smelled like stale old smoke. It had obviously been closed up for awhile. The carpet was a medium pile olive green shag that also had multiple stains.
The living room had a matching couch and recliner, both with lumpy over stuffed cushions. There was a large console television, a generation or two before the newer LCD flat screen televisions now. The walls were bare. Not much in the way of personal items. No family pictures. No art work hung on the walls.
The realtor walked around opening windows to air out the old musty cigarette smell. Sam caught up with her in one of the bedrooms. It must have belonged to her father’s significant other. It was the only room that was somewhat neat. The walls were still dingy from cigarette smoke but the bed was made and things put away. A green steel oxygen tank with clear tubing running from the valve at the top caught Sam’s attention. There was also a nebulizer machine for giving albuterol breathing treatments on the bedside table. Sam figured she must have had a breathing condition like emphysema.
Sam asked the realtor, “Do you know anything about the woman who lived here?” Without going thru any lengthy explanations, Sam simply explained that she was estranged from her father and had been out of touch for awhile and did not know much about his personal life. She figured that the realtor would have a fix on the people and their proclivities in this town more than anyone else except for maybe the barber.
“Well let me tell y’all.” Ann Hargrave drops the formality and slips into her natural southern drawl. “I hear tell dat they’d both enjoyed their liquor a bit too much. No disrespect to ya father, mind you.” “None taken.” Sam reassured her encouraging her to go on. “Ms. Cordelia Walker the owner of this house had never married and was living the spinster’s life here all alone for many years until Mr. Brooks, your father come along. He moved in with her a few years back. Folks I gather did not approve of this cohabitation arrangement with an outsider especially a Yankee. It caused a quite a ruckus in our little town of Dodge. But they appeared happy together. Unfortunately, she suddenly got sick about three weeks ago and died. She had gone to the health center in town. They transferred her by ambulance to the Little Rock Medical Center. They think she died from complications of smoking and drinking. She smoked like a stack and drank like a sailor.”
“She smoked even though she had to use oxygen?” Sam incredulously interrupted pointing to the steel oxygen tank in the corner. “It is a wonder the house never exploded and caught fire.” There were several ash trays scattered about the house filled with discarded cigarette butts.
“Yea, she was no saint.” continued the realtor. “They must have really found true love though a short time later, as you know, your father died. Rumor has it of a broken heart, the dear soul. No one saw much of him after her death. He must have been so lonely and depressed, without her in this house.” Catching herself, she stopped and covered her mouth. “Please don’t tell anyone he died in the house. It makes it so hard to sell a house when folks know a dead body was in the house, especially one that had started to decompose I’m told.”
“I wont tell anyone.” Sam assures her. She was surprised that her father’s girlfriend died so recently. She had not realized it was just a few weeks before her father’s death.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to finish opening the windows to air this place out and then get to an open house. If you would let yourself out and lock the front door. Oh and I am sorry for your loss. And yes please take all of your father’s personal belongings. It will be less to clear out at time of closing.”
Sam thanked her and assured her she would lock up. Sam looked around Cordelia Walker’s bedroom before going to her father’s bedroom. Presumable they slept in separate bedrooms. As a child she remembered her mother frequently kicking her father out of the bedroom when his snoring became intolerable. Just before stepping out she noticed an old personal computer with the large bulky CRT monitor on the desk. She walked over to it and pushed the power button. Surprised, it flickered on and stopped at the sign-on screen. The cursor was blinking at the password blank. Sam shrugged and muttered to herself, “Why not? Let’s give it the old college try.” She typed “password” on the keyboard that had old grungy finger residue on all the keys and hit return. The computer responded quickly, “Password does not match. Try again.” She typed, “password123” and hit return. The screen changed to a personalized background of a slightly out of focus picture of a middle aged woman wearing oxygen tubing with a weathered wrinkled face making her look older than she probably was holding a drink and a cigarette in one hand. Sitting next to her with his arm around her was her father. Sam standing all this time, now sat down in the desk chair and leaned forward toward the computer screen.
Sam had not seen an image of her father for over twenty years until recently. Her first reaction was that she really did look a lot alike her father. They had a similar almond shaped face, deep Irish blue eyes. Sam had her mother’s jet black Italian hair. Her father was a ginger. It was almost grey in the photo sticking out from under a ball cap. He was holding a drink also. Her father and Cordelia Walker must have been at a backyard barbeque party as there were other people in the background in various groups eating and drinking.
Sam maneuvered the mouse over the internet browser hoping that it was still an active account. She hovered over the history button. The last several searches were quite revealing. They all related to her father’s past.
The first was a site that claimed to be able to find any one just by typing in their name. In the search box was typed the name Frank McCormack. Sam clicked on the search button. A few seconds later, the screen was filled with bios of hundreds of McCormacks. On the second page was a highlighted Frank McCormack of Streeterville, Massachusetts. A chill ran down Sam’s back, the address given was Sam’s childhood address. The second recent search was on the Franconi Mob Family. There were also pages of articles most highlighting the crimes, murders and court cases of this infamous New England Crime family. The one article highlighted had a picture from the front page of Boston Herald newspaper. There above the fold was a grainy picture of many of the lieutenants of the Franconi mob. Several rows back blurry but still recognizable with his signature ball cap was Frank McCormack, Sam’s father. The article was only two paragraphs referencing a large sum of money stolen from the Franconi mob.
The last search was the most surprising. It was her name, Samantha McCormack and it listed her current address in Streeterville, Massachusetts. She was startled to see her name and address on a computer screen in Dodge City, Arkansas. Sam knew that the internet could track and keep tabs on every aspect of everybody’s lives. No one has any privacy anymore. It was just startling to Sam to see her name staring back at her on someone else’s computer. Anyone could find her. She thought she was such a private person. She rarely participated in social media for just that reason. She had too many hidden ghosts that she wanted to keep buried from others and from herself. It made her feel a little vulnerable.
After these articles, the search history contained more typical searches. Cordelia appeared interested in purchasing in bulk less expensive cigarettes from an Indian Reservation online, a few recent movie reviews, summer dresses from online catalogues and a book club.
The last search before her death had a subject line “turpentine asphyxiation.” It was a news story several years old of a local man who died from working in an enclosed space while using turpentine.
The last several searches were dated after Cordelia Walker’s death but before her father’s death. Someone, likely her father used this computer. There were multiple links to pornographic sites. Sam thought how disgusting and degrading but typical for a man. She did not click on any of these sites, they were probably full of computer viruses waiting to infect a computer, freeze it up and hold it for ransom.
Feeling self conscious about snooping, Sam, logged off the computer got up and walked into her father’s bedroom the next room over. This room looked well lived in. Articles of clothing were still strewn about, on the unmade bed, the dresser and in a pile by the door. Sam noticed there were no other personal items in the room. Usually people will have pictures of loved ones, personal mementos, children’s craft projects from preschool, postcards from favorite trips, recently read books, jewelry, reading glasses not even a set of keys. There was nothing that said Robert or Bob Brooks or even Frank McCormack lived here. Nothing to suggest the personality of the person who lived here. He was still just a distant memory to her. Sam pulled open all the dresser drawers and dumped them on the bed. There were very few articles of clothing – a few pairs of underwear, a whole drawer of unmatched socks, a pair of faded jeans. She pulled a few shirts off hangers in the closet and tossed them in a pile on the bed as well. There were no old pairs of shoes, not even under the bed.
Sam walked out of the bedroom across the living room to the kitchen. She switched on the light, it took a few seconds and some flickering before the warm yellow bare bulb fluorescent light came on. Once it stayed on it continued to hum. There were several dirty dishes in the sink. The faucet dripped. She opened the cabinet under the sink looking for trash bags to help carry away some of her dad’s clothes and any personal items. Cock roaches scattered as she opened the door. The sink trap must have leaked as the bottom of the sink cabinet was rotting. There were no trash bags just a few bottles of standard cleaning stuff - underutilized in this house Sam thought. Next to the bottle of glass cleaner was a pint can of turpentine with the cap missing.
Sam did not dare open the refrigerator door. She was sure the smell from rotting food would linger and not help this house sell any faster if she opened the door. Before leaving the kitchen, she stepped on the foot pedal that opened the top to the trash can hoping that there would be an unused trash bag there or underneath the current bag. The trash can was full of empty beer bottles and liquor bottles. Their liquor of choice appeared to be vodka as there were several empty quart and fifth sized bottles of Smirnoff.
On the way back to the bedroom she stopped in the bathroom. There wasn’t even a hair brush. There was only one tooth brush in a glass cup. In the shower there was a ladies razor but nothing else other than small remnant of bar soap. She piled everything of her fathers which just amounted to clothes on the middle of the bed, untucked the bottom sheet and tied the four corners together. The bare mattress had stains on it that Sam shuddered to think about. There is something about body soilage that everyone agrees is disgusting. She turned the mattress over hoping to find anything personal of her father even a pornographic magazine but there was nothing. The other side of the mattress was just as stained. She covered this side with the thin cotton bed spread.
Safety Deposit Box Key
She walked out of the bedroom with a bedsheet full of clothes over her shoulder like Santa bearing gifts or a vagrant carrying all of their life’s possessions, thinking she would have to ask at the Dodge Diner where a Goodwill clothes drop box was located. The big bundle of clothes bumped up against the door jamb. Both Sam and the bedsheet of stuff would not fit thru the door opening together. She put down the sheet of clothes to get a tighter grip and stopped to look at the door casing. She reached up standing on her toes and felt lightly with her fingers along the top edge of the door trim. Nothing but years of dust until she got to the other end. She grasped a key hidden on the top casing edge.
She remembered years ago her father had a strong box that held his passport, several drivers’ licenses with her father’s picture but she did not recognize any of the names and some money. He called this stash his “emergency exit.” The money was a wad of cash held together with a rubber band. He hid the key to the box above the bedroom door. He didn’t know it but Sam would stand on a bedroom chair to reach the key that opened the box. When she was home alone and bored, she would count his money and pretend she was a secret agent on a mission. She would put everything back before her father got home. She was sure if she ever got caught that would be the end of her. The “emergency exit” disappeared when her father disappeared.
She turned the key over in her hand that she found above the door trim. It looked like a safe deposit box key. They have that distinctive look, no grooves but multiple sharp deep square notches and a four digit number stamped into the end. She would hold onto this and show the attorney, Elijah Chase, handling her father’s estate tomorrow. Maybe she would not need to wait for the bank headquarters to send a duplicate key after all to get inside her father’s safety deposit box.
Sam pocketed the key, bent down to pick up the bundle of clothes and started to back through the bedroom door when she almost ran over a heavy set man. They both screamed and jumped back. Sam dropped the clothes and reflexively reached behind her back under her leather jacket for her gun. She carried her Smithy semiautomatic pistol there. She stopped herself from drawing it when she saw the man dressed in his postal service blue uniform. He had dropped his leather satchel full of mail. Several letters had fallen out of the satchel and scattered on the floor.
Sam spoke first, “I am sorry, you startled me. I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
“You scared the living daylights out of me young lady.” Exclaimed the letter carrier as he picked up his satchel and the few envelopes that had escaped. “I was delivering mail, I saw the front door open and was afraid vandals had broken in.”
Sam introduced herself, “I Samantha McCormack. My father lived here or used to live here.”
“You must be Robert Brooks’ daughter. This is so tragic. I was the one who found him. I noticed the mail was accumulating in the curb side mailbox so I came up to the house, just like today the door was open. I called inside. There was no answer then I saw him slumped in the recliner. He was cold and stiff as a board. He was holding an empty bottle of vodka.” He said sheepishly and then added apologetically, “He looked like he had been dead for some time.”
Sam trying to change the topic offered, “Your job must make you the unofficial Watchdog of the people of Dodge, especially the elderly.”
The postal worker happy to change the subject proudly said, “Yes ‘um. You got that right. I find more people having fallen tragically and broken their hip bones or worse yet they have had a stroke. When the mail goes more than a few days without being picked up, I get suspicious. It is odd though, I never met your father personally until that fateful day. I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Now, I saw Ms. Walker on occasion. She got most of the mail anyway. Mr. Brooks rarely had any mail addressed to him. Like no one knew he existed.”
Sam shook her head, “Yea, he was pretty much a loner. Who identified his body if do not mind me asking?”
“Oh, I believe the sheriff or medical examiner found identification on him because Miss. Walker died only a few weeks before him. How tragic is that?”
Sam noticed he used the word “tragic” a little too often. “Yes it is sad.”
“Well I have to finish my route. I will put a stop mail order on the address. You should come by the Post Office and fill out a forwarding address to receive any of your father’s mail. Sam could not imagine after twenty odd years she would get any important correspondence regarding her father or would want any correspondence for him. “I’ll do that tomorrow.” she lied. They left the house together shutting and locking the front door.
Funeral Home and Crematorium
She drove back the two miles into town. It was coming up on 5 o’clock. She was driving by the Dodge Funeral Home and Crematorium. She did not know why but thought it odd it was across the street from the sheriff’s office. There were still cars parked in the parking lot of the funeral home. Maybe they were still open. Sam didn’t see any black limousines or a hearse indicating a funeral in progress. She had mixed emotions about picking up her father’s ashes. He had abandoned her and her mother. Never contacted them over the years. They didn’t know if he was dead or on the run or living in some foreign country. She had to care for and eventually bury her mother on her own after battling MS for most of her life. Why after all these years should she care about him. He obviously didn’t care about her. She almost felt herself getting emotional. She didn’t cry once her mother died. She was out of tears. She cried a lot when her father left. Praying every night he would come back. He never did. Eventually she stopped praying and stopped crying. Maybe seeing and holding her father’s ashes would bring some kind of closure. She would have one last opportunity anyway to let out her frustrations and give him a piece of her mind even if it was just to yell at his ashes. She figured she would just throw them out and abandon them like she felt abandoned. Maybe as she was driving out of town she would just pour the ashes out the car window and let the wind scatter them. Like she felt when he left – just blowing in the wind every which way without any direction, without any grounding.
As she pushed open the door to the funeral home and crematorium two people, a young couple pushed past her giggling and laughing holding a white cardboard box. In the back of her mind they seemed out of place. She expected anyone leaving a funeral home would be in a somber mood. They seemed happy almost giddy.
She walked through the vestibule double doors. In her hand she carried her father’s death certificate in from the car in case she needed proof of identification. She wondered why identification was needed to pick up a loved one’s ashes. Had anyone ever stolen someone’s ashes. She was sure ashes probably got mixed up all the time. You always hear about skeevy funeral homes not returning the right ashes to grieving families and years later the ashes on the mantle turn out not to be Grandma’s after all.
The funeral home services were on the right while the crematorium services were on the left. On the right the lighting was low, colors were muted, soft music was playing, it was carpeted. On the left bright fluorescent lighting, white walls, tile flooring and the song Hallowed Be Thy Name by the heavy metal band Iron Maiden was playing. Sam turned left and walked up to the counter.
“I am here to pick some.” Before she could finish, the young man with a closely cut head of hair, bushy beard and multiple piercings behind the counter interrupted her. “Sorry, we’re closed.”
Sam checked her wrist watch. She pleaded putting on her best puppy dog face, “It is 5 til 5. The sign on the door says 5 o’clock and it was still open. I just flew in from the east coast. And I just saw someone leave.”
The receptionist shrugged and heaved a sigh, “What’s the name?” Sam having a hard time not starring at all of the receptionist’s piercings, particularly the studs above the eyebrows replied, “Brooks, Robert Brooks.”
He checked a list on a clip board. “We do not have a Brooks.”
“I was told my father’s ashes would be here.” Sam pleaded.
“Oh you are here for human ashes. I was looking on the pet list.” he shrugged.
“You cremate people’s pets here too?” Sam asked.
“It is becoming a big business now among other things. Not that many people die here in Dodge. So we started offering pet cremations. It has really caught on. What better way to keep man’s best friend with you forever. Your pet can be on the fireplace mantle next to your Aunt Edith.” He said mockingly. “We offer decorative urns or wooden boxes to hold the ashes of your loved one for an additional modest fee.”
By this time another customer had come in behind Sam and was fidgeting and impatient. “C’mon, man. Some of us have things to do.” he complained.
Sam turned and shot the man an asshole look. He was a large looking thug of a man dressed in shredded jeans and black t-shirt with shaved head and dragon or reptile tattoos wrapping around his muscular arms disappearing under the sleeves. He had two tear shaped tattoos below his left eye. He shrugged and replied, “What, what are you looking at, lady?” he muttered. Not wanting to confront this guy who gave Sam the creeps, she turned back around.
The man behind the counter put his hands up to diffuse the tension. “Hold on, John. I’ll be right with you. He turned to Sam quietly reassuring her as if being a regular and a jerk was acceptable, “He is one of our regulars. Let me get your father’s ashes.” Sam thought to herself, “He’s a regular? I bet his family is just dying to get away from him.”
The receptionist turned around, behind him was a metal rack with shelves holding twenty or so white cardboard boxes 8 inches square. They all looked the same. Each one was identified with a preprinted label. He picked up one and handed it to Sam. The label on the box read, “This temporary box contains the cremated remains of ROBERT BROOKS. Dodge Crematorium - No, 31245.”
The receptionist hurriedly requested, “You will need to sign for receipt of the ashes. It appears that Elijah Chase has already paid in full for the cremation.” “Yes, he is my father’s attorney. He made all of the arrangements.” “Please sign here next to your father’s name, here and initial here, next to Elijah Chase if you will.” Sam scribbled her illegible signature and initials where he told her to do so.
Sam holding the box of her father’s remains and stepping away from the counter asked, “What do you do with any gold fillings or other metals like bullets that do not get burned up in the cremation process?” Sam wondered to herself if in her dad’s line of work as a mob enforcer if he had ever gotten shot. She didn’t think her mother would have told her anything negative about her father.
“C’mon, lady enough with the questions.” snarled the creepy guy.
The receptionist consulted his list again. “Mr. Brooks, your father, did not have any precious metal like gold fillings, titanium joints or lithium from a pacemaker battery. The state requires us to remove any pacemakers before firing. Your father only had amalgam cavity fillings which were discarded. We remove any miscellaneous metal like joints, screws, plates or shrapnel.” He emphasized the last word. “Any remaining bone still intact after firing, is then crushed or pulverized. So you just get clean inert ashes of your loved one.”
“Really, that is interesting in a morbid sort of way, to think of the things in our bodies that we forget about and can’t take with us when we get cremated.” Sam commented as she turned around to leave.
She gave an insincere sneer to the guy behind her. Returning the insincerity he said, “Enjoy.” Sam ignored his comment and left. The box felt heavy. She was surprised how heavy her father felt in ash form. She gave it a little shake. There wasn’t any movement not even a rattle. She was not sure what she was expecting to hear. She put the box of her father’s ashes in the trunk of her rental car and drove back to her motel room.
As she drove by the barber shop, she noticed the lights were still on. There were still customers inside. Clay the barber must stay open late one evening a week to accommodate customers who otherwise worked during normal business hours. She parked her car at the motel and walked back downtown to take Clay up on his offer to trim her bangs. She also figured like any good barber he might be able to share information about her father. He probably knew more about her father than anyone else in town.
She opened the barbershop door. The door rattled a bell as it opened and also as it closed announcing her entrance. Just like in the diner, the chatter stopped for a split second as people saw who entered the shop but just as quickly started back up again. She hung her leather jacket up on the coat rack.
It was a one barber chair operation with Clay holding session and new customers waiting in armless chairs lining the opposite wall. Sam took the only unoccupied chair and picked up a Field and Stream magazine from last year and flipped thru. She enjoyed hearing the nonstop banter of the customers and Clay the barber. There was no such thing as a private conversation there. People chimed in with their opinions and thoughts the entire time solving the town’s dilemmas with ease.
The latest town crises seemed to be a few missing pets over the last several weeks. People had reported missing dogs and cats. One customer who took a seat even after Clay finished cutting his hair suggested it was hunters using the pets as target practice as the last few years the deer population has dwindled. Another customer knew it to be gangs of juveniles taking the pets to the town cemetery and performing satanic cult like rituals with them. Clay stopped trimming someone’s very bushy eyebrows long enough to say, “Y’all, Mrs. Beatrice Lee is offering a $100 reward for the return of her dog, Bobby Lee.’ Everyone laughed. A younger customer scoffed at that idea saying, “That dog is a nuisance, always yapping. It looks like an old grey mop head. If it was hunters they did this town a favor.
The man getting out of the barber chair now with tamed eyebrows looks at himself in the mirror nodding approval and paying Clay interjects, “Excuse me but I think Mrs. B’s dog was probably killed by coyotes. The coyotes have been getting a little more brazen and coming into town looking for scrap food. Dogs and cats are easy pickens for ‘em.”
Sam was the last customer of the day. She pulled the elastic hair tie off that was holding her pony tail as she took a seat in the old time pump action barber chair. Her long straight jet black hair fell down past her shoulders. She looked at herself in the mirror that ran the length of the shop. She didn’t like what she saw. She saw her father staring back at her. Not that he was ugly, on the contrary. Her mother often told her during the years they were alone “how handsome your father was.” “He had many women pining after him. He broke many hearts when he asked me to marry him.”
Clay snapped the apron snug around her neck. This brought Sam back to the present. “What would you like done?” asked the barber. “Could you trim my bangs and cut off the split ends please?” Sam requested. “As you wish.” Clay answered.
Sam took this opportunity to ask Clay about her father. “What was my father like?”
Clay paused holding a comb and scissors and thought a moment before answering. “If I remember rightly, he just showed up in Dodge one day many years back. We don’t get many people coming from away and staying. He mentioned that he was tired of the rat race and wanted a simpler and slower way of life. He said he was a retired financial advisor I believe. He thought he would give Dodge a try. He must have liked us because he stayed all these years. He kept to himself. He liked his privacy. Though I suspect like all of us, he was running from demons. He carried a gun like you.”
Sam was enjoying the comfortable chair and the head massage from the gentle pulling and tugging of the haircut. Clay’s observation that she carried a gun like her father caught her by surprise. She thought she kept it pretty well concealed in the small of her back under her shirt.
She defensively said, “It is for protection. Where I live and what I do you don’t know if you are going to need it. It is for peace of mind more than anything.” Clay reassured her, “I understand, I have a 357 under my cash register. These days with drug addicts running the streets and methamphetamines frying their brains you cannot be too careful.”
She thanked him for the trim, paid and walked back to her room promising herself she would wear more make-up and fewer sport bras to show off her feminine qualities and curves so she didn’t look so much like her father. She had plenty of cleavage that she inherited from her mother. It is just in her line of work, she didn’t want it to be a distraction so she tried to keep the girls under wraps as much as possible. By not wearing make-up and strapping the boobs down thou she came across as being more masculine and more like him. She just did not want to be reminded how much she was like her father. She hated him.
Dodge Diner Breakfast
She slept in the next morning until the bright sunlight woke her. The motel’s thin blackout curtains could not hold out the late summer morning sun. She showered and dressed. She grabbed her car rental keys, checked to make sure the safety was engaged on her pistol and holstered it in the small of her back and opened the door to a startled house keeper and her cart full of clean linens parked in front of her motel room door. Sam caught off guard reflexively took a step back, her hand was still on her gun. She tightened her grip without drawing. This was the second time this trip that she was startled and almost drew her gun. This trip made Sam uncomfortable and on edge. Sam relaxed her grip on her gun and adjusted her jacket back over everything.
The housekeeper apologized, “Lo siento mucho, señora.” “I’m sorry.” She repeated in broken English. Soy Maria la doncella. Sam relaxing her shoulders reassured her, “Está bien. Buenos dias, señorita. Sólo necesito toallas limbias hoy.” Sam only needed some towels as she walked away toward her car, “Muchas gracias.” Sam had taken four years of Spanish in high school and college. She thought the least she could do was use some of it before she lost it.
The diner was its usual hub of activity. There were no open seats at the counter. De the waitress greeted her and motioned her to an empty table. She was holding two breakfast plates. “Good Morning, Samantha.” Sam was surprised she had remembered her name but then figured she was good with names of strangers as they were such a rare breed in a small town full of regulars. “I just brought out the food for Sheriff Dan and Deputy Bob. They must have gotten an urgent call. They sure did leave in a hurry. It is rare they leave without eating first. Something must have suddenly came up in town. It’s a shame to waste it.” She put the two plates she was carrying down on the table in front of Sam. “You are welcome to it. Let me get you some coffee.”
“I almost got run over by them leaving here in a hurry.” Sam looked at the plates of eggs over easy, crispy bacon and toast. Sam acknowledging she hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning and said, “Thanks, maybe just the bacon and toast.” Sam waved hello to Father O’Brien and Clay the barber. They both winked and waved at her. They were at their usual morning stations at the counter.
Sam finished her breakfast including indulging herself by eating the eggs on one of the plates and the bacon from both plates. She drained her coffee, dropped a ten dollar bill on the table and patted her pants pocket to make sure she still had the safety deposit box key she had found above the door trim of her father’s house. She thought she would tell Elijah chase about the key before heading over to the bank to close out her father’s accounts.
Death of a Lawyer
Sam plugged the parking meter where she had parked in front of the diner with a quarter. It was one of the older parking meters that had the knob you rotate after putting in your quarter and the arrow pops up below the dial showing how many minutes left before expiration. You could hear it ticking. The first quarter indicated one hour of parking. Back home in Streeterville, Massachusetts they had succumbed to the new digital parking meters provided and maintained by a private company. They gave you only nineteen minutes for every quarter. It was the chiseling of America thought Sam. Communities contracting out to private companies operations that once were in the realm of public works. Sam plugged in another quarter, she had two hours. That was more than enough time to see Attorney Chase and go to the bank.
Sam walked down the street towards the center of town she saw the flashing lights of the Sheriff’s squad car parked askew of the parking spaces and small groups of people congregating outside the door that lead up to Elijah Chase’s office. Next to the squad car was a white County Coroner’s van. As she walked up to the people gathering, a deputy had a man holding a camera and note pad by the shirt collar escorting him away exclaiming, “The sheriff will give you a statement later.” Sam took the opportunity to slip in behind this commotion and run up the stairs to the law office. The office door was open. Inside the sheriff was talking to another man with a clip board. The sheriff turned when Sam entered the office and yelled, “Bob, you gotta keep these people outta here, it’s a crime scene.” Seeing that his deputy had not returned from throwing out the reporter, he turned to Sam and pointed to the open door, “You are not allowed in here ma’am.”
Sam raised her hand, “I might have been one of the last ones to see Elijah Chase alive other than the murderer.” The sheriff grabbed her arm and sternly asked, “Who said anything about a murder?” Sam pulling her arm free looked around and sarcastically offered, “Well for one, the blood splatter on the wall behind desk, the coroners van downstairs for two and the bloody finger on the desk just for starters.” Standing on her toes she looked over the piles of papers on the desk and added, “and the awfully still body of Elijah Chase on the floor.” He was lying face up, nose broken and bloodied. His eyes were swollen shut like he had the tar beaten out of him while he was still alive.
Sheriff Dan looked at the desk. Partially hidden under papers was a severed finger cut off just above the knuckle. The sheriff incredulously asks, “Who are you? And kindly explain your relationship to Elijah Chase.”
Sam identified herself, “I am Samantha McCormack. Elijah Chase was handling my father’s estate. He had recently passed away. I was here yesterday afternoon signing paperwork to that affect. I was coming back today to clear up some last minute matters.”
At that moment, the overweight Deputy Bob came running up the stairs and entered the office breathing hard. The sheriff told the deputy, “Bob, would you take this woman’s name and statement and escort her out of here.” The deputy grabbed her arm and turned Sam towards the door. Sam turned back towards the Sheriff and offered, “You may want to look for a guy trying to sell a large Texas A&M class ring.” She looked at the diplomas on the wall, saw the date of graduation and added, “Class of 1983.” “The finger on the desk is missing his ring.”
Sure enough, the Sheriff moved the paper covering the severed finger. There was no ring but you could see the untanned skin at the bottom of the finger where a ring would have been. “Take her out and get her contact information. We may want to talk to her later.” He ordered his deputy.
Dodge Bank and Trust
After giving her statement to the deputy, Sam headed to the only bank in town. The bank was a classic small Midwestern bank with four large limestone Doric columns holding up a pediment. Inside was a large central space with tellers on one side, bank manager offices on the other and in the middle were standing height tables for filling out deposit and withdrawal slips. At the back of the bank was a large shinny stainless and brass vault door in the open position.
Sam waited in line for the next available teller. She asked for the associate in charge of the safety deposit boxes. She was pointed to the rear where the vault door was open. A young man at a desk looked up as she approached. “Can I help you?” he asked. Sam answered, “I hope so. I am Samantha McCormack. My father recently passed away and I found what I believe is a safety deposit box key. Does it open one of your boxes and if so can I have access to it?” Sam showed him the key. He took it, turned it over several times and then turned a rolodex of cards around on his desk stopping at one card. “Yes it is one of our keys. We had just requested a duplicate last week but it has not arrived yet. Do you have some identification?” Sam handed him her Massachusetts driver’s license, the embossed death certificate and executor documentation. He offered her a seat. “Would you like to take a seat? It will just be a few minutes.” He excused himself, taking the documents and left to make copies.
Returning he asked her to sign the signature card for the safety deposit box specific for her father’s box. It was odd seeing her father’s alias signature, Robert Brooks, but in his distinctive hand writing right above hers. His last signature was dated just days before his death. Turning the card over, looking at the other recorded visits, other than the last visit, he accessed his box every month near the first of the month. She handed the card back to the bank associate.
Inside the vault were three walls of safety deposit boxes of varying sizes. Her father’s key along with the bank master key opened up one of the larger boxes. The bank associate pulled out the inner box and placed it on the center table. “I will just be outside when you are done.” He said and left the vault closing the inner stainless steel barred vault gate. Sam felt strange locked inside the bank vault in a small Arkansas town. Just two days ago she was back home working not even thinking about the father who had abandoned her and her mother so many years ago. Sam did not know what she was going to find. It was rumored that he was killed by the mob family he worked for after nearly a quarter of a million dollars went missing. Sam was now convinced her father took the money and ran setting up a new life and new identity a thousand miles away in little Dodge City, Arkansas. Living all these years as someone else while his wife and daughter did not know what had happened to him. After so many months and years, she stopped thinking about him and moved on. Her mother occasionally reminded her of her father usually around the holidays, his birthday and their wedding anniversary.
Sitting in the empty bank vault, any noise created an echo off the stainless steel walls. Sam thought about her mother. She was the only one who believed in her, encouraged her. With her MS, she could never hold a regular job. She worked from home doing medical transcription on their computer. She was always there for Sam. There everyday after school, there when she was sent home for fighting in school, there when boyfriends broke up with her usually when they found out who her dad was. She was there until she died too young. Then it was just Sam. She was going to the community college at the time living at home. She finished her accounting degree but had huge student loans. She went to work for the Franconi Family, the same family that her dad worked for.
Sam stopped reminiscing and refocused. She did not know what to expect in the large safety deposit box in front of her. Would it be $250,000 in cash stolen from the Franconi Family, maybe jewelry, bonds or even her father’s gun. More importantly, would she find a note confessing his crime and apologizing for leaving her? These thoughts kept running around her head. She finally unfastened the hasp closing the grey metal box in front of her and opened the lid. There was nothing inside. It was empty. She ran her hand all the way around the inside of the cold empty box incase her eyes deceived her. Sam was disappointed and confused.
“Why have and pay for a large safety deposit box if you are not going to use it, if you are not going to keep valuables in it?” She mumbled out loud to herself. She closed the box and left the vault. She walked up to the associate who had assisted her already. She looked at the block of wood that held his name plate on his desk. “Thank you, Edwin. I left the box on the table. I will also need to close out his accounts, checking or savings if he had any. Edwin, is it possible to see my father’s recent bank transactions?”
He turned to his computer and punched in his password and a few key strokes later had her father’s account on line. He turned the computer screen toward Sam. She noticed corresponding to the dates of him accessing his safety deposit box, he made cash deposits to his savings account of exactly $2000.00 every month. During the month he made various cash withdrawals from the ATM until the next $2000.00 deposit. The remaining balance in his savings account was $51.36.
Sam asked out loud, “Why would he leave $51 in his account?” Edwin offered, “There is a $50 minimum account balance to avoid a monthly bank fee.”
It appeared to Sam that her father was cleaning out all of his accounts. But why? Was he planning on leaving? Had his cover been blown? Was his death not an accident. Did the mob finally track him down? Sam might never know the answers to these questions. She had to admit she was hoping for a small windfall of an inheritance after all these years, her estranged father finally felt so much guilt, he left her a small fortune so she would not have to work again. It was not to be, she left the bank with a check for $51.36 closing out his accounts. It would buy her a nice steak dinner.
Sam was a little shaken after this morning’s murder of her father’s attorney and now closing out her father’s bank account and finding absolutely nothing in his safety deposit box, a box certainly large enough to hold $250,000 in cash. Sam went back to her motel room, skipped lunch and took a nap.
Sam was getting that anxious feeling, that all too common insatiable craving for a drink. She had been dry for just over a year now. This was the longest time she had gone without a drink. Like her father she had a drinking problem. It was a constant battle of will power. Each previous attempt at sobriety was longer than the one before but ended in her giving in to the bottle. She had learned from the best, her father. This last attempt at staying dry was at the order of a judge. She had been found sleeping behind the wheel of her car with the engine running in a parking lot.
She had started drinking when she was a sophomore in high school. She hid behind the booze not wanting to face reality. It was easier to drink then cope with her life. She had a drinking problem like her father but unlike his drunken rages, Sam was a quiet drunk. She preferred to drink alone. She was a moderately high functioning drunk most of the time. Her father when he was living with them would come home from the local tavern most nights angry at the world and take it out on his family. Sam just an adolescent and her mother with MS were helpless. They hid the black eyes and busted lips as best they could. Explained them away as just being clumsy.
She woke in a sweat, her heart racing and a little tremulous. She changed clothes and thought if she went to the Dodge diner and had their meat loaf and coffee she would feel better. Sam recalled this morning that the meatloaf was the special of the day. The tar they called coffee would help calm her nerves much like Adderall does for someone with ADHD.
She also looked up on her cellphone the nearest AA meeting. She occasionally went to them for reassurance and support back home. There was a meeting tonight at 7 pm. She could just make it after dinner.
Dinner at the Diner
She walked into the diner figuring it would be empty. It was packed, not an empty seat. It had all the regulars, the priest, the barber, the sheriff and his deputy and De still slinging hash. “Do these people live here? Isn’t there anywhere else to eat?” she whispered to herself.
The reporter who the deputy had dragged out of the now dead attorney’s office was waving her over to his table. “Hi, I’m Tommy Briggs, reporter for the Gazette. You can sit here since there is nowhere else to sit.” he offered. Sam suspicious of reporters asked, “Do I have to talk to you?” “Only if you want to.” he answered.
He waited for Sam to sit down but then started talking. “You are the daughter of Robert Brooks.” Sam looked up from the plastic laminated menu left on the table. “Is that a question?”
He ignored her like any good beat reporter. “I have some information about your father that might interest you.” Sam feigned disinterest looking down at the laminated menu. The reporter pulled out his laptop and after a few clicks and swipes on the mouse pad turned the computer around to show Sam a picture of her father holding a large cardboard check. He was standing between two other people. They were standing behind a bike with front and rear wire baskets and under a sign for the Arkansas State Lottery. “Your father a month ago won $5,000 from the state lottery. I snapped this picture and wrote a small story about our local celebrity who rode his bike everywhere and winning the lottery. It was a slow news day as the Little Rock Times picked up the story and ran it on the front page below the fold.” “You know you look a lot like him.”
“I’ve been told.” Sam didn’t tell him that she already had a copy of that same newspaper article folded up in her wallet. Someone had anonymously sent it to her two weeks ago without any explanation. The envelope was post marked Dodge City, Arkansas but no return address. She was now thinking that person was Cordelia Walker, her father’s lover, house mate and benefactor.
Sam looked up from the menu. “So, my father got lucky and won a little money on the lottery.” The reporter went on, “Don’t you think it is odd that your father dies a month after winning the lottery and now his attorney is murdered?” Sam puts down the menu. She waves De over. “Hi, Darling. Isn’t that crazy the lawyer getting killed in our little town? What is this world coming too where Dodge isn’t even safe?”
Sam says to De, “It is crazy alright. Can I have the meatloaf and a coffee?” “Sure, darling.” De walks away to place the order.
Addressing the reporter, “You are saying that someone murdered my father and killed his attorney all over $5,000?” He shrugs, “It’s possible. People have killed for a lot less.”
She did not want to be interviewed or have to talk about her father more than she had to. She tried to change the subject. “Isn’t there anything else happening in this town for you to write about.”
“Oh I could fill the front page of the Dodge Gazette with stories about the rash of burglaries and break-ins in the area that the sheriff thinks is because they have seen an increase in crystal meth on the streets which in turn causes more low level street crime and more aggressive sometimes psychotic behavior in addicts. There is probably a meth lab somewhere in the county. That story though is not as exciting as murder. Nothing gets these people more agitated and revved up than an unsolved murder right in their own town.”
“Ms. McCormack, Dodge City maybe a sleepy town in the middle of Arkansas but even here, everyone has a story to tell. I try to tell that story.”
The man sitting in the booth behind Sam leans over and interjects, “Sorry for the interruption. If this guy is bothering you let us know. Mr. Briggs here can be a pest. He butts his nose into everybody’s business. Just say the word and we will get him to leave you alone.” Sam puts her hand up to decline the offer of help. “We are pretty much thru here but thanks.”
Addressing the reporter, Sam leans forward, “Mr. Briggs, I am tired, I have had a long and stressful last two days. I think we are done. This is the last thing I will say about my father, I had not seen him in over twenty years. I am here to close out his estate and return home to Massachusetts and leave this town like I found it.” Sam finishes her tirade as De slides a plate in front of her of incredible looking meatloaf covered in an inch thick layer of buttery mashed potatoes.
Mr. Briggs, the reporter, left her alone to eat after that. She finished her meatloaf and drained another cup of coffee, paid her bill and walked to the AA meeting. It was held in the basement of the Catholic parish. In the mornings it was the location of the soup kitchen. Father O’Brien was at the door greeting visitors handing out church bulletins hoping to increase attendance at mass the next day. People were milling about in small groups. Some had come with their sponsors. Others were at the coffee pot getting a cup of coffee. Sam grabbed a handful of peppermints from a basket and took a seat at the back and stuck her hands in her leather jacket. She was glad she wore it tonight as the evening was cooling off with the sun soon setting.
As the meeting started, a speaker with a prepared presentation stood and welcomed everyone. He read from the “Big Book.” This was followed by an open informal discussion afterwards. Sam passed on getting up and giving a testimonial about her recent struggles when they got around to her. There were the usually attendees confessing their powerlessness over alcohol and the need for help. Like other AA meetings she attended it was supportive and noncoercive. There was an emphasis on tolerance and strength thru prayer and meditation. The gentleman who sat behind Sam in the diner and saved her from the reporter’s inquisition came in late and sat next to her. They nodded to each other but didn’t speak.
After the serenity prayer, the meeting broke up. She dropped a dollar in the offering plate and got up to leave. The gentleman next to her introduced himself to Sam. “I’m Lloyd Webster. I’m a carpenter.” He offered his hand. Sam shakes it. It was a firm hand so rough and calloused she thought if they shook much longer she would get a splinter. “Thanks for saving me from the reporter at the diner.” Sam offered.
“That is alright, he can be a real burr in the butt. Don’t pay any attention to what he says about your father. He is just fishing for a story so he can sell more papers. He butts his nose into everyone’s business.” I remember your father was upset he had that picture taken. Your father didn’t like attention. He liked staying under the radar. Like the rest of us, he was probably running from something. Some of us don’t know what we are running from. Your father did. He was more upset when the picture came out in the paper the next day. We didn’t see him for a while after that.”
“Did you know my father?” Sam asked. “Not really, I did a little carpentry for him once. I fixed a set of steps for him. I get the feeling no one knew your father very well. He kept to himself pretty much.”
“He must have kept you busy. I went by his house yesterday, that thing is falling apart.”
No, I did work for him when he lived in a trailer just outside of town off of Arbor Way. You can’t see it from the road. This was before he hooked up with the Walker lady and moved into that wreck of house. We didn’t see much of him after that, just occasionally at the diner.”
“It is getting dark, can I give you a lift somewhere? I’ll buy you ice cream at the Dairy Freeze out by the interstate.” Sam almost took him up on his offer. It was discouraged to hook up at AA meetings as people were more vulnerable then. She was a little lonely but she thought better of it and begged off. “No I have to find Father O’Brien and ask him a question. Thank you though for the kind offer.”
“If you change your mind while you’re still in town, here is my card.” He handed her a business card that simply read “Carpentry - Lloyd Webster” and then his number. Sam pocketed his card.
Upstairs in the parish office, she found Father O’Brien, he was trying to make copies of this Saturday’s Communion leaflet on an old copier that had jammed. He had all the doors and compartments open trying to locate the jam. “Father, can I help you?” “This thing always jambs when I try to use it. Gertrude, the church secretary usually does this but she is away this week at her sister’s.” Sam found the wrinkled paper jamb, shut the doors and pushed the green copy button. The copier hummed to life and started spitting out copies. “Father, I wanted to ask you where I can drop a bag of clothes. I have cleaned out my father’s personal belongings and thought someone could use his old clothes.”
“That is very nice of you child. There is a Good Will Drop box in the back of the church’s parking lot.” He hesitated, “ You know.” She interrupted him and tried to finish his thought, “I know I look a lot like him.” “You do but that was not what I was going to say. Up until the last three weeks I rarely saw your father, only rarely at mass. Three weeks ago he started helping out at the soup kitchen several days a week. It was an amazing transformation. He seemed a changed man after that. He would often engage many of the homeless and downtrodden. It was nice to see. I am sorry that he passed away so abruptly.”
“That surprises me, Father. In the few years I knew him growing up, I cannot remember him attending mass once with my mother and me.” Sam thought he never lifted a finger for anyone especially someone who owed him money or needed money. There were always strings attached to his benevolence.
“Maybe something had happened to him that caused a change in him. People can change. God works in mysterious ways.” he offered.
“Maybe, Father.” Sam was not convinced. “Maybe he sensed his time on this earth was running out and he had better make good.”
They said their goodbyes and shook hands. There was that doughy soft warm hand shake again.
Sam walked back quickly to her motel room. It was dark. There were few street lights in town. She kind of wished she had taken Lloyd Webster up on his offer to drive her home. Hooking up with no strings attached on a cool summer night didn’t sound that crazy. Why did she have to be so withdrawn? Why did she have to be so much like her father?
Sam closed the motel room door behind her. She threw the bolt and slipped the chain on the door and thought that wimpy chain would not slow anyone down who wanted to get in the room. She dropped the room key on the table. Picked up the television remote and clicked on the power button. She threw her jacket on the far double bed and unclipped her holstered 9 mm and placed it on the night stand between the beds. She popped a peppermint in her mouth she had picked up at the AA meeting hoping that would magically take the edge off her craving. It worked for a minute. She decided to take a shower. As she got up to turn on the shower, there was a soft knock at the door.
She looked thru the peep hole to see who it was. It was Maria the house keeper holding a stack of towels. Sam slid the chain off the door and thru the bolt open thinking after this trip she is really going to have to practice her Spanish more. As she opened the door, she noticed Maria was crying. Sam said, “Maria, ya tengo toallas. I already have towels.”
Just then the big creepy guy with the serpent and facial tattoos from the crematorium stepped in front of Maria. He must have been hiding just to the side of the door. He flashed a big black gun. As Sam recoiled at the site of a gun, Maria threw the towels at the man and whimpered, “Lo siento mucho. I am so sorry, señora.” She ran away from the intruder down the outside covered hotel walkway. The man threw off the towels that fell on his head and gun and held his hand gun at arm’s length and fired two shots at Maria’s back hitting her. She crumpled to the ground.
Meanwhile Sam stepped back and tried to slam the door closed but the guy had his black boot on the threshold and the door bounced back open slamming against the adjacent wall. The door knob left a dent in the wallboard. Sam lunged over the closest bed and as she slide over the polyester floral printed bed spread she grabbed her gun and holster on the center night stand and slid down between the two double beds for cover. She threw off the leather holster, clicked off the safety and popped out at the foot of the bed in a kneeling position and fired two shots at the intruder. Both hit the man midsternum causing him to stumble back a step and fire wildly into the motel room. One of his bullets splintered the wooden headboard, the other bullet lodged into the ceiling above the bed. As he fell to his knees, his eyes rolled up in his head and he pitched forward onto the beige cut pile carpeting. He didn’t move.
Sam got up holding her 9mm in both hands arms extended pointing at the man quickly glancing back and forth at the open door incase there was another bad guy. The bad guy’s body blocked the doorway. Sam couldn’t easily step over him so she stepped on his back. He didn’t move.
She cautiously stuck her head out from the doorway and looked in either direction. She saw no one else other than Maria the housekeeper lying on the ground. She stepped thru the door and picked up one of the towels Maria had dropped and ran down to her. She was still breathing. She had taken a bullet in the upper left back and left triceps area. She applied pressure to the bleeding wounds. She wiggled her cell phone out of her pocket, turned it on and touched the “emergency” space without having to tap in the passcode to unlock her phone. It automatically connected her to the 911 dispatcher.
The ambulance had taken Maria away. The coroner was carting the dead guy away to their van. Sam was sitting at the table in her motel room. The sheriff was standing over her holding her gun. Sheriff Dan asked, “Exactly what do you do for work again that you need this gun and obviously know how to use it?” Sam popped another peppermint in her mouth before the previous one had dissolved. ‘Again, I am a loan officer for a private equity company in the Boston area.” Some of our clients are not necessarily fine upstanding citizens like you have here in Dodge.” As she sarcastically pointed to the blood stains on her motel room floor.
Sam asked, “Who is that guy? He doesn’t look like your typical Dodge citizen.”
“His name is John Stempke, small time hood and meth head.” answered Sheriff Dan. “He was wearing this.” He held up a plastic bag that contained Elijah Chase’s gold Aggie ring.
“I am guessing John Stempke never graduated from Texas A&M.” Sam snarkily offers.
Sam continued, “Can I have my gun back.” “You’ll get it back when we confirm your registration and are done with the investigation.”
“I hope I wont need it before then.” Sam added.
“I don’t think this town can take much more of you, Ms. McCormack.” The sheriff said shaking his head.
“Nor I it, frankly. I plan on leaving tomorrow if that is alright with you. You have my number and address. Can I pickup my gun tomorrow on my way out of town?” she asked.
Sam had explained multiple times already the call from the attorney Elijah Chase, about her father’s death, the empty safe deposit box, the remaining account balance of only 50 odd dollars and the photo of her dad holding the blown up lottery check four weeks earlier.
“I do not get it. Why would a guy torture and kill a prominent attorney, attempt to kill you and the motel housekeeper for a fifty dollar check? Maybe he thought you had the 5 grand lottery money your father won after you visited the bank.” The sheriff said thinking out loud.
She did not mention that she had seen the dead guy briefly in passing when she had picked up her dad’s ashes. It didn’t seem important.
Getting the Hell out of Dodge
Sam was given a room on the house at the same and only motel in town. This room was at the other end of the block of rooms. Her old room was sealed and had yellow crime scene tape across the doorway. She slept fitfully that night feeling a little uneasy without her gun. She had wedged a chair under the door knob of the motel room door for added security. The next morning she walked to the diner. This time the cacophony of diner noise did not start back up when the door closed as she stepped inside like it did the previous times. Instead everyone paused and watched her as she took an empty seat at the counter. De poured her coffee without having to be asked like she was now a regular. “You sure know how to shake up a town!” exclaimed De. “It is not my intention. Really I’m pretty shy and quiet supposedly just like my father. Do you know how Maria is doing?”
“They think she will make it. Do you want anything to eat?” “No, just coffee. I have one more stop and then plan on getting the hell out of Dodge. I have been dying to say that and now I really mean it.”
Sam had already checked out of the motel and put her small suitcase in the trunk of her car next to the ashes of her dad. She forgot she had left him in the trunk all this time. She still wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.
She lied to De, she had two more stops to make. She drove a little ways out of town to Arbor Way. Lloyd, the carpenter, was right you could not see the trailer from the main road. She pulled down the dirt road kicking up swirls of dust along the way. The trailer looked abandoned. Weeds had grown up around it. The standing seam metal roof was rusting in places. Discarded trash and numerous rolled up, faded newspapers were strewn about. The only thing out of place was a bike leaning up against the steps. It had wire baskets just like her father’s bike in the lottery press clipping.
Sam climbed the few steps and knocked on the door reaching through the ripped screen door. The door opened a crack after a few minutes. The man inside paused a moment then turned away but left the door open. Sam reached thru the screen again unlocked the screen door, pulled open the screen door, pushed the door open and stepped inside. It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the low light level. Sitting on a well worn love seat was her father unshaven and unkempt holding an open can of beer. Empty beer cans and liquor bottles everywhere.
“I’ll be damned. So it is you. I read about you in that dam paper that you were in town stirring things up. How did you find me?” he slurred taking a sip from a beer can.
“It wasn’t easy. She answered as she walked thru the small trailer to make sure they were alone. She came out of the bathroom which separated the living space and the back bedroom. “You covered your tracks quite well. Several things just didn’t add up however.”
“The crematorium said they discarded your metal dental fillings. The father I knew wore dentures. Most of your teeth either got knocked out from fighting or fell out from rotting. I remember you would often put your dentures in a glass of water by the bed at night. Sometimes when you were too drunk you would forget to take them out and they would either fall out during the night or you would vomit them out when you really had too much to drink and were almost comatose. Then you would make me crawl under the bed, find them and wash off the dust and hair that stuck to them.”
“It was also quite a coincidence that you draw up a will and empty your safe deposit box just before you died. The part I don’t get is why name me in your will. Why get the kid you abandoned all those years ago involved now?” she finally asked and paused hoping for an answer. He didn’t answer her.
She continued, “I had pretty much blotted you out of my life until a few weeks ago when I received an anonymous newspaper clipping of you.” It wasn’t easy. Trying to suppress her rage she took a few deep breaths and unclenched her hands which had tightened up into fists. She is not sure what was stopping her from stepping over and beating the man senseless who twenty years ago abandoned her and her mother suddenly without any warning or goodbye.
“You could have called, written, left word or something.” Sam let that hang awhile before continuing.
“We would have tried to understand, Mom and me.” She never lost hope. She held out until the end never uttering a harsh word about. She defended you over all her remaining years. Me, I gave up on you the day she died.” “She suffered long and hard not just the humiliation of the rumors that you stole $250,000 from the family that raised you but when she was dying, you weren’t there. She had no one. I wasn’t of much help trying to go to school and take care of her. I could have maybe gotten over your drunkenness, the drunken stupors even the beatings. But to let her die without once contacting her. She made me promise to find you. But that is all I promised her. That I would find you.”
He sat silently on the couch without showing any emotion. Sam continued, “I promised myself I would not grow up to be like you. I couldn’t do it. I do not know if it is genetics or fate but I have become just like you. I drank and burned thru friends faster than I could make them. I was angry at life and angry at myself. I finally pulled myself out of the bottle and turned things around. It is not easy. I often get reminded by people who knew you, say that we look alike and have some of the same mannerisms.”
Her father finally spoke, “You do look a little like me.” He burps and wipes some spittle around his mouth with the back of his hand and continues. “The resemblance is a little spooky. Hey, I did what I had to do. I lived my life. I made some decisions I regret. They would have killed me if I stuck around. I needed the money to pay off some gambling debts. So I took the money. What was left, I used to make a new life, a new identity. It took awhile to burn through a quarter of a million dollars living on the cheap. It was going fine until that reporter took that picture of me and that stupid cardboard lottery check. It was actually Cordelia’s lottery ticket, I took it and cashed it. She got upset, flew into a rage and started snooping around and found my past on the internet. She said she sent you the newspaper clipping. I couldn’t let her tell anyone else.
“You killed her didn’t you?” Sam asked point blank.
“Yea, I put turpentine in her nebulizer machine when she was having a bad emphysema attack.” Sam remembered seeing the open can of turpentine under the sink in the house and the internet search.
“How did you fake your death?” she asked.
“I just got lucky there. I volunteered at the soup kitchen hoping to find someone of similar build and coloring. It didn’t take long, just a few weeks. It is amazing the number of homeless people drifting in and out of Dodge. No one was going to miss him. It was a perfect plan. I had disappeared before, I could do it again. I needed to get rid of the body incase someone got suspicious and tried to identify me, so I contacted that damn attorney to make out a will and direct that my body or rather the body of Pete the homeless guy be cremated. What better way to legitimately get rid of a body than to cremate it?” He said this all very casually as if killing a homeless person and faking his own death was just an everyday occurrence.
He added, “I thought it would be more believable if I named you executor, my long lost daughter. Pretending that after all these years I was bringing closure to the whole ordeal. The Franconi family might even stop looking for me and let the whole thing drop if they thought I was dead.”
“It was a great plan. I didn’t figure on you, my daughter snooping around.” He said shaking his head.
After a few seconds of staring at each other, Sam shrugs and speaks. “The Franconi family is now the The Franconi Enterprise, a limited partnership private equity company. They have gone legitimate. They still make loans to people of questionable character. They still donate to politicians who support their business dealings. They still offer protection to businesses. It is just above board now. I am their loan officer now. Frank, I have your old job.” She used his name for the first time.
“So the daughter of a former mob enforcer has followed in her father’s footsteps. She has taken over his job. How ironic?” Frank almost sounds a bit envious.
“I learned from one of the best. One of the most ruthless and cut throat mobsters. You ran away from your job and your family.” She acknowledged. She realized and accepted for the first time that she had become the last person that she wanted to be, her father.
She gathered herself, “The Franconi’s do not forget someone who stole from them, Frank, especially a quarter of a million dollars. You of all people should know this.”
He shook his head and raised the beer can to his lips and drained it. He threw the empty can on the floor. “So you found me.” he burped. “Now what? The mob money is pretty much gone. I have five grand left from the lottery winnings.”
“The Enterprise is not interested in the money. The board simply wants closure to this ordeal. I have both a personal and a professional reason to see this completed.”
At that moment a dark sedan pulled off the main road onto Arbor Way and drove up to the trailer. Two large men in dark suits got out. Frank looked out the window. “Friends of yours?” he asked. “Business associates.” Sam corrected.
That beer has gone right thru me. Let me just go to the bathroom before we get this over with.” Frank explained clumsily getting off the couch to make his way to the bathroom.
“Don’t bother looking for your gun, Frank. I have it.” Sam pulled out a black pistol from behind her back and held it up. “When you were living at home, you always hid your gun in a plastic bag in the toilet tank at home. Some habits don’t change.”
He stopped short of the bathroom, turned and said, “My ‘f-ing’ daughter of all people. Your own father.”
“Frank, the problem was you were never really a father.” she lamented.
Sheriff Dan returned from lunch and walked back to his desk. Patty the dispatcher caught him and said, “That McCormack lady stopped by on her way out of town and inquired about getting her gun back. She left a box for you on your desk.”
Just then over the radio with pressured speech, Deputy Bob was radioing in a report of a trailer fire on Arbor Way. “It is fully engulfed. Volunteer fire department wont be here for another ten minutes. It will be a total loss by then.” Sheriff Dan got on the radio and asked, “Who called in the fire way out there?” Deputy Bob answered, “Two businessmen were driving by when they saw some smoke. They didn’t think much of it until they heard the explosion and then turned around to investigate. The explosion must have been the propane tank under the trailer going up. They think there maybe a guy in there. It is too damn hot to get near it.”
Sheriff Dan went back to his desk. On top was a sealed white cardboard box with a label from the Dodge Crematorium. The sheriff took out his knife and sliced thru the label sealing the box closed. He noticed there was a line drawn thru the name of ROBERT BROOKS on the label. He opened the box. Inside were two clear plastic bags. One was filled with what appeared to be grey fine ash. The other bag held what felt like a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine.
“Patty, get Bob on the radio again.” He yelled out of his office door. “I need him to leave the trailer fire and get back here. I think we have located that meth lab. It has been across the street right under our noses all this time! This also explains why Stempke tortured and killed attorney Chase. He was looking for his meth. They must have mixed up the boxes.”
Father O’Brien opened the wooden special offering box for the soup kitchen at the back of the church. It usually only had a few coins, occasionally someone felt generous and pushed thru the slot a folded dollar bill. He was surprised to find an envelope with quite a bit of money in it. On the outside of the envelope was written, “In memory of Cordelia Walker and homeless Peter Sweeney.” Father O’Brien counted almost $5,000.
The cause of the trailer fire out on Arbor Way was never determined. They did find male human remains inside what was left of the trailer. A DNA sample was obtained from the severely burned body but it did not match any in the national DNA database (NDIS). The database only goes back to 1998. The body did not have any teeth to help with dental record identification. The state crime lab was not able to obtain any fingerprints off the body or the scorched and twisted metal frames of the trailer or the bike.
The owner of the trailer said she rented it to a gentleman over the telephone by the name of Peter Sweeney. She never met him and he paid for several months’ rent in advance with cash.
The remains of the body found in the trailer were cremated. This was the last body to be cremated at the Dodge Funeral Home and Crematorium.
The methamphetamine lab that was posing as a crematorium was shut down. Pets stopped disappearing. Mrs. Beatrice Lee never found her dog Bobby Lee though there was an unclaimed box of pet ashes that was labeled “Yappy” left after the crematorium closed down.
Dodge City succumbed to budget pressure and replaced the mechanical parking meters with digital ones operated by a parking conglomerate out of Tulsa, OK. A quarter now only got you 30 minutes of parking. The towns’ people were outraged and fired the town manager but the new parking meters stayed.
De the Dodge Diner waitress finally got a new name badge that simply read “De” - no tape.
Samantha McCormack was promoted to Vice President of the Franconi Enterprise, LLC.
It is a hollow and empty existence that I am engaged in, what am I living for then if not to spread myself across the flame of the dead, yielding myself to the flesh of their book histories. Once there were altered states of imagination and now becomes mine to claim. To shut myself in when the world becomes cold, to commit myself to hide away, (no matter how unbearable it becomes it still feels like home. It is a life to live even if it is always winter agents that come upon me. Ah, my comrades, they comfort me in my skin’s glowering pose and that which is my sanctuary, where I lay my head to rest, to rejuvenate my senses that informs the psychology that I lead with. The canvas of the sun that breaks me like vultures and death.
The sun is silent over the sea mocking me while gliding across my shoulder blades like the falling water of a waterfall. Just as there is a miracle of life in seawater so there is in translation. She eats like a bird keeping all her secrets to herself like the surface of carrion passing triumphantly into a blue oblivion where closure is self-imposed like the intimacy of letters in a novel language as thin as the width of a thread all thumbs. The weight of water has lightness in it. I’ve endured her harvest, my sister’s time away from me, and the fact that summers have stolen her away from me. It has emptied my heart of wonder, of spells, locked me instead into building a wall around me, where I wait for her in silence. I wait for her to release me from the voice inside my head that has carried me from our childhood years, now to our passage as grown women. She has taught me to hold onto the familiar, the passing of the heavier moments slipping into time, pools, and curves of momentum and motion.
The land that time simply forgets to acknowledge. She seems to perfect everything. Her being is not as wooden as mine and her manners as stiff, her words are not strange and challenging. Words do not cure her like they do me instead my sister fills me up with meaning, with her marked pure rituals that came on the brink of her womanhood. Time has marked us as a minority, liberated us from a scheming mother, a quiet and gentle father. Now our parents have faded into the background like voids in the inner space of a lucid dream.
Flowers infect thoughts of death in the cemetery bittersweet like rage, a strange, demented vocabulary as if it were the memory of ill health. My emptiness dies with the dawn and finally calm I heal old wounds. I call this progress, obstacles and challenges have ceased to exist for me because all I see when I dig is the blade of the sun, I have to endure for there is no other way out of the abyss except to jump over the black edge.
If I was writing an anthem for the youth where would I place meaning, how would utopia fit, the missing link, the most primal of screams, the poverty of the mind, that great divide between place and time. Where would a helpless poet transformed by ripples of a half-life of drowning in garlic, the familiar, the discovered plate find herself? Where would the poet frightened to death to be smitten, who instead embraces to be cured of it and having deciphered enough of it in lovely words threaded through her head realise that the world is not her home. It is only a meeting point where the courage for the broken is exposed and where it no longer mocks immortality, marriage or takes possession of physical space in an agonising waiting game. Female poets see things in interiors, as instruments that can cut through the blue, the picture, details of what a house means. For them it’s a song.
And when I fell in love the feeling was like the windsong windskin in Birches, throughout the branches of the tree brushing strands of my hair into my face. Love felt like a great escape but when he left the hospital he took the love with him and I became a stature of a woman, fearless, cold and heartless. I had notches on a belt. When I walked in the park it was not wilderness yet. It was only wilderness that I had to transcend in imagination. In a way it was love and in another way it was just a picture of love going up in flames, going up in smoke. I pocketed them all like silver keys calling them my dream keys for the future.
But doesn’t everyone live in a dream world. They don’t live like me with lithium.
Catching tales of love with lithium. So I stare at my reflection. The messy and dirty unkempt hair and tell myself, that smile suits you well. It’s a ghost of the past sinking back into childhood where you made negotiations of the sea with your sunflower-yellow bucket and brick-red spade, your cone dripping on your sandy foot. And later the grammar and spells of gifted stars will rise above dunes like scrolling parachutes. But now it feels like winter. As if it has been winter all my life. Everything is dying around me. It feels as if I am dying to let go.
In my nightmares there is the Mysterious Skin of a Haunted Street. All my old haunts figure. A school hallway, walking to school, in a classroom with a hated teacher, a friend’s sweet face, the bully I feared the most on the playground. Going up then down is no fun. Really it was just a basket of hell as if I was sitting in the dark by myself watching bad television.
Every day at the hospital, I walk from room to room in the ward. It is a day in recovery. It can inspire. You’re free to dream. No one can say anything if you do. The bright lights of the big city can hardly be seen from anywhere on the grounds. High walls and trees shield me. You can go from feeling like the most capable human in the world and then when that goes you feel extraordinarily incompetent, the introverted nature of being ill assumes fierce control and you are left retiring and docile, cooling your heels. My bright shouts draw a red line of emotional self-destructive behaviour through me. It doesn’t take much to get me to a plane of being piloted by the life lessons depression leaves me with. There is something of a sweet dream about it. I’ve grown to love to fall into that sleep. It’s a skill.
Sometimes you think the journey of the illness renders you invisible like air in your addiction for the tiny ball of golden light of health. So even if you’re self-conscious of any small mistake you make, it makes you feel beautifully humanoid as if you weren’t constructed by glorious organs, perfect tissue, cells, platelets, blood and bone and the image of genes in a jungle of veins. The doctors would like to think of change from being ill to an undeniable state of physical wellness was instant but I think that happened for the most part only in their dreams. Here, in this nameless, shapeless country, there were scenes of looking out into darkness, badly drawn addiction, and the act of alcoholism that had played a role in someone’s life, a life of a family. Sufferers and victims and survivors bonded over a meal, gossip, the chit-chat of small talk. We were all joined together in the pursuit of becoming an outpatient. Of escaping what so easily we had come to think of as a route to follow to reality, normalcy.
I was a discoverer of the fractured known and the terrible force of the unknown. The flow I had to come to grips with clasped battle lines. For the most part I felt like a pin in a pincushion, snow falling and given room to grow spreading itself across the landscape.
The jewel of mental health is to keep your spirit intact. You are at the mercy of the honesty of the illness. You’re always curious to succeed even though you’re at your most fragile. Humanity, normality still had the power to seduce. I had not completely abandoned that trail of thought. Hunger and hell became equals. The colour of the day was usually intensely blue (when I felt the depression articulate its nightmarish self), white (when I spent most of the day reading paperbacks, feeling acutely medicated and that it was most unnatural feeling that I had ever felt) or red. That was when I couldn’t put my rage and frustration and pack it into the life force of words. The only thing I could do was storing it up in reserves. It gave me energy. But that energy was temporary like a fuse that blows or a spark.
When I left the hospital all I wanted to do was read books that doctors had written about depression, that pharmaceutical companies printed in their bright little pamphlets filled with colour and magazine models demonstrating ‘sadness’, ‘family life affected by depression’ and the symptoms. I could tick them all off one by one. In no uncertain terms I was depressive. I read books on depression in which the detailed, uncompromising text left me reeling and scribbling away with a compelling and affecting urgency. I picked up memoirs or books on the lives of creative people who had suffered just like I had. I always found a vision, a better version of myself being reflected back at me.
The bottom of depression sinks further and further away into an abyss of nothingness. There is nothing I can do about it except stare into space until my eyes hurt and start to water or close them and wish the spell away. Once I was a city type of person rushing everywhere I needed to go but it soon paled. Poetry never did. And although poets were people whose lives where often not sanguine or bliss I believed in them, worshipped them. I discovered there were walls everywhere. To keep me in, protect me, to keep the death of me out.
I watch my weight constantly as if I’m under surveillance. I pick at my food. Nothing is good for me. I swear I eat in little bites as if it would help me in some way as if there is no dietician watching over my shoulder at the portion size. I don’t keep it down for long. My throat burns as I run water in the bathroom. Nothing is nourishing or filling enough. To me I never had a healthy relationship with food. I devoured the heaps of food on my plate with delight, savouring every crumb. All through high school I was skinny. But the world when it turns on me soon everything begins to hurt like the plague.
Why couldn’t all my eccentricities translate itself into something that was not touched by madness? But there is a powerful triumph in all of this – I can still write. It is my Source.
I wished I could shrug off blood, sweat and tears in high heels, with alluring self-confidence in an office space like my sister. But that is not me. It would not increase my knowledge of this planet; make me worthy of being in competition with my contemporaries.
It is disheartening feeling, thinking that you are never good enough. Never perfect. It came from a padded childhood and the reward of that had already shown up in my life. Already I had convinced myself I was less than zero, just a blurred negative. Imagine thinking so little of yourself that you thought being self-destructive was redemptive in some way.
When the world went black and the sky became hard, wrapped in stone, magic would course through me, my fingertips tingling, promising me a slight reprieve.
The writer called Chelsie Rivera, known as @poetcheel, is a young puertorrican poetess with amazing desires and aspirations to continue to write poetry full-time. The last daughter of five from an athlete family. Graduated with good grades from public schools and attends UIPR College, studying BA on Office Systems in Puerto Rico.
Started writing in 2018, at the end of her senior year. She is a very quiet and observant person, and introvert person. Loves coffee, photography and art. Kind and peaceful human soul.
Darkness Of Night
Walking through the branches,
seeing if he watches,
-- the dark side of my heart.
A life full of surprises and yet
No one happens,
To discover my true-self on this
Full of doubt, full of thoughts,
Never fading away from these
Of whether I stay or fade away.
Deeper and deeper drowning in
your eyes, but my self-hatred is no
The words spoken, spoken out of
a scream witnessed by your
Smiling because I was told, acting
if I were to hold
my unhappiness by my never-changing character.
A loneliness felt by day, and a life
killed by night
A night whom my anxiety desired
my withdrawal overnight.
Only few could understand it-- others blindsided by it.
Problems seemed meaningless along with the distance-- that I couldn’t fully conquer.
they didn’t approve of our passion, just like Romeo and Juliet, how could we end up here?
Waiting for your reply, Waiting for our encounter, Waiting for a mere sign
The walk was difficult to strive-- you should’ve noticed.
A secret was needed to succeed this destiny.
Missing each other was the highlight of our day
Risking my life for you is the best gift you could ever receive --sometimes it wasn’t enough, you never knew.
The rumors, rumors I heard in town-- quite the newspread on a saturday evening
you only wanted her for pure pleasure even money, they said.
Evading me every second of the say, was your task
Leaving me wondering was your delight
That man, once I loved, has become indeed a stranger-- that I couldn’t evade, nor contact
If I looked at you, eye to eye-- one more time, would you say the same….
Truest misery and torture was this, him hating me and I (myself), trying to love him again…
A mistery that we both feared--
one left and the other that tried…
May I wonder what this is?
That particular color reminded me of a person--
it had a meaning beneath the painting
a freedom, worth mentioning since then
Sounds of a war, she was escaping from
Big bruises in all her body
No signals of other souls
Colors and Colors
was all she could see--
Just figures and lines
in the dead sea
Missing people all around the country
Others-- hiding in their rooms
Wishing for a miracle
Some lives lost--
became their hope to keep surviving
it was all they had left
Miles and Miles
away from home,
never gave up on her feet
--Where this could be her lead,
to a greater place than home
Ending up in a small village called Nitzanei Sinai
Fought like never before
Ending everything here, now and then
Sarah was the name,
identification ID all crocked and dirty--
of a little girl that had to become a warrior for her own salvation…
Night In Paris
Lonely in this old train, no waiters, no people to witness my high-end dress
Bitter taste, distanced nature’s beauty
Rapid movements on them
Caught on guard
In search for Paris wonders
and a man, that buys expensive wine
for me to savour
in his mid-class hotel
Waiting for a stop, to encounter thou
I shall treat thee nicely
in my mains, don’t worry
Walking through the trains hallways,
Proceeding to go out--
jumping out like old movies
Streets call my name
people recognize my face
and love my voice
Both feet going faster till I find your face--
Desire for your touch, body and lips
Just— a small glimpse of thee
Behind, pieces of brown hair
and a 360 degrees turn,
to glance at your freckled face
Closing the space between us,
Eye to eye— just to ask
Will you buy me wine?
He replied— “Yes, in this beautiful night in Paris”
maybe one or two--
your guess could be wrong
The first comes out--
and later the other one,
don't act surprised
a bomb to explode
Barry Vitcov lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife and two standard poodles. He started writing poems in his early teens and fondly remembers his father carrying around a small collection of his poems in his billfold and showing them off to his friends and customers. During his professional career as a teacher and school administrator, he wrote very little poetry or fiction, as he was immersed in his work. Retirement has changed that, and now he’s back at uncovering his writing voice again.
Portraits of Angels in the Sky
Portraits imagined on a day
Disguised as clouds floating high
Painting pictures of times gone by
Painting images in blues and grays
Portraits of angels in the sky
Whimsical shapes morphing nigh
Dancing in shadowy arrays
Disguised as clouds floating high
Sketching ideas without a why
Depicting others in their own ways
Portraits of angels in the sky
Wayward forms that often belie
Their natures that freely play
Disguised as clouds floating high
Visions of futures we might surmise
Alive without death or decay
Portraits of angels in the sky
Disguised as clouds floating high
thunderstorm slowly creeping
a stealthy black cat
looking for new nervous prey
quietly huddling alone
Her Beauty Was Not an Open Lie
Regardless of what others had to say
It hurt too much to say goodbye
Whispers like corrosive alkali
Causing discord and hurtful feelings
Her beauty was not an open lie
What might we do, you and I
Resistance is a hard veil to build
It hurt too much to say goodbye
While others scheme and mystify
I find comfort in your soft embrace
Her beauty was not an open lie
Listen to a wistful tune and cry
Our love was soon becoming lost
It hurt too much to say goodbye
We found ourselves in mid-sigh
In a park beneath an unburdened sky
Her beauty was not an open lie
It hurt too much to say goodbye
Resting on black granite
Edges vibrating with jazz sounds
Collecting discordant music
Like a soulful immigrant
A lonely drop of water
Its depth measurable
But don’t break its surface tension
Rainbows may escape
Lost like undiscovered treasure
A lovely drop of water
With and without souls
Mischievous tiny wonder
Keeps nothing but its balance
They’re all the rage
A dollop of carnitas
Or carne asada
Pico de gallo
Arranged artistically on a plain plate
With some corn tortillas
Off to the side
The diner is expected to do the work
Putting the ingredients together
Making a tasty dish
I like it when the drip flowing down my chin
Is just right
And then there are deconstructed stories
With invented language
And punctuation eschewed
No vital cues
Served up as literature
Where the reader is expected to do the work
And make sense of the author’s laziness
For goodness sakes
It’s already hard enough
Getting inside a writer’s head
Not the stories I want to take to bed
I like deconstructed paintings
With their scribbles and lots of white space
A few lines and dots
Arranged on a canvas
Titled nude on a park bench
Invitations to draw my own pictures
Having no ability to draw at all
I imagine nakedness on the wall
My imagined art indistinguishable
From Rubens or Chagall
BOOKS IN A BOX ON A TABLE
I have my books,
The ones you returned to me,
Sitting on my living room table,
Still in the box.
I removed a few, not many.
The box hangs open, slackjawed.
I pass it several times a day,
Needing to turn sideways as I do so.
I considered burning the box
And all its contents
But I had already tried suicide
Many years ago and it didn’t take.
No need to try again,
I have grown since then.
The box will remain in its proper place,
Open and in the way in the middle of the room
As long as I reside here.
It reminds me to remain romantically retired.
It reminds me that you were so inclined to dispose
Of my final remnants where you are
As quickly as possible.
It reminds me of how little I can be worth.
When I lie awake at night, remembering our good days
And nights, imagining one day I will walk through your door
It reminds me of the other person you also are
And how when you close your eyes at night
And you think about me,
It is only thoughts of the past.
Books in a box on a table,
Open like a vomiting mouth.
I climb inside and I close it,
Shutting out the light and the hope.
I am where I belong.
Right where you put me.
A BRUTAL AND NATURAL THING
And it is a love
That is a brutal and natural thing
Like lions mauling prey,
Tearing some poor animal limb from limb
Or a hurricane that pulls trees from their roots
And feeds drowning frogs to thankful egrets.
I take you to bed and I destroy you.
You tell me you love me
And I am drunkenly delirious.
How I love you
And how you love me
And it is a love of earthquakes,
Tsunamis, the sky splitting open
And lightning crackling in the heavy rain
That crinkles in the leaves and the darkness.
I look into your eyes and make you cry.
You touch the back of my neck and my body quivers.
We walk across the parking lot toward one another
And the electricity crackles
From light to light above us.
We meet in the doorway and universes collapse into themselves
And stars are being born
As we kiss,
Our bodies mingled.
I am the hunted and the hunter.
You are the mistress and the prey.
I am in your web.
You are caught and held down in the dark.
You spin me into a cocoon. I sink my teeth into your throat.
This is what it is now.
I howl to the moon
With these hunger pangs.
You bare your sharp teeth
Looking out your window
At the angry pendulating ocean
And starving for my meat
Just like I starve
Sometimes it closes on something.
Sometimes on nothing.
Sometimes there is so much in the hand that it loses what comes to it
On the closing.
There is only so much room inside.
There have been times I have closed my hand and held little.
Other times, just enough.
Most often I have held nothing.
But never have I closed my hand
And held too much.
you lend me that spark
of blue flame
that sets fire to this page
and all the pages that preceded it.
I genuflect at the wriggling flames,
inhale the sweet smolder
and love you
like I love these words,
like I love myself among them,
these ruins, embers,
mirages of my past.
Ignite the remaining dark hours
until the days
and it’s predictable jealousies
extinguish our reverie,
our bonfire of history.
The smoke spirals
it’s gutsy ascension
into an idea
and I am
TO MY ANGEL
My skin is tougher, the lines deeper,
I sleep less and less.
It seems like I dust the shelves at night
And when I wake up in the morning
They are coated in dust again.
The dishes in the sink are always there.
The garbage is always full of rotting refuse and empty bottles.
Every night seems the same.
I have the poetry
And I have the music
And I have the occasional nights when I drink and write
And think about you
But I don’t have you.
It’s another summer without you.
If feels worse than the winter without you
Because you know I hate the heat.
I make these lowing noises like a beaten cow
As I lie in bed at night, tossing and turning,
Waiting for the morning or the end.
To my angel –
Who gave me a beginning.
It’s another summer without you.
I mourn the end of us as if it is a death
And in some ways it surely is.
There will be more summers and more winters without you
Until that, too, ends.
I will grow older and fatter, more ill in health
Until that finally ends.
Charles Springer has degrees in anthropology and is an award-winning painter. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he is published in over seventy journals including The Cincinnati Review, Faultline, Windsor Review, Packingtown Review and Tar River Poetry, among others. His first collection of poems entitled JUICE has been published by Regal House Publishing. Visit him at https://www.charlesspringer.com. He writes from Pennsylvania.
V for WINGS
Michael Lee Johnson, internationally published poet, 10 yrs. Canada, Vietnam era, Itasca, IL. 10 poetry sites, 198 poetry videos U-Tube, published 4 poetry books, published 39 countries. http://poetryman.mysite.com/. Michael Lee Johnson, Itasca, IL, nominated for 2 Pushcart Prize awards poetry 2015/1 Best of the Net 2016/and 2 Best of the Net 2017, 1 Best of the Net 2018 poetry. Michael is an administrator on 4 separate Facebook poetry groups.
Cracker Jack Box Poem
it reminds me of my age, 73, soon more,
outdated gadget, time hanging where
moving parts below don’t belong nor work anymore.
I don’t like to think about endings.
Age is a Cracker Jack box with no face, modern speed dial,
no toy inside, when it stops, no salute, just pops.
Lesson: "What young men want to do all night takes older men all night to do."
South Chicago Night
sugar rats, street walkers, pickpockets, pimps,
insects, Lake Michigan perch,
neon signs blinking half the bulbs
@ Heart Attack Greasy Grill
tad hillbilly son,
patterned then in
hardly old enough
tall enough to work
nor notice if I had pubic hair-
large or small endowment
growing up self-conscious
about short comings
Just a teen aged nighttime boy
looking 4 a part-time hook up-
little girl play, with a five-card stud.
Preacher daddy raised me,
back-seat Christian boy
low on faith high on doobie
I took my 1st job, pancake flipper
@ Heart Attack–Greasy Grill, 24-7
pocket coins 4 tips, a few greasy dollars,
pancake short stack, secret menu was that
boss’s daughter, blood on hands,
my bun busted now stale, stained, & baked.
Eliminate lines unessential:
waitress injected me some spice
old time recipe.
Unknown Poet from Rue Montpelier
strong words tripping over emotions
like an imbecile-
so you think you’re Leonard Cohen
loving some naked Nancy in a cluttered
matchbox apartment overlooking
European culture simulated,
above some obscure narrow
For your information,
straight poetics from insanities Almanac,
Leonard Cohen died years ago
in a twisted pickle poem he
Do you and your welfare lover
desire to be the 2nd generation,
deceased, unnoticed, unheard of,
unwarranted for failure artists
inside this thin, onion-skinned wall
dingy with your dreams?
I warned you darts with advice,
tapering off with your impotence.
like a man trying to finish a Rubik's cube with no hands,
It is unsolvable
just when you think you understand something
it turns out you really knew nothing at all
so why do people go on
wailing and thrashing through time
the faster they go the faster time goes and then
bang it is finished and you lay there waiting for the death breathe to come
in fear for what you have never seen
at least most people haven't
how could they
they are too busy
they don't sit down and try and solve what it is they are really doing
they don't have faith that the wind can take you where you need to be to go
only then will you see like me that it cannot be solved but it can be what it is meant to be
still not sure what I was, you think I would know after all these years
I walked out of the toilet and saw five pound drop to the floor
so I picked it up and kept shouting. "Mate, mate." but he kept walking.
I ran after him caught up with him and told him he had dropped it
As I walked back the man with his child told me I had done an honourable thing but if he wasn't there
I may have put it in my pocket and walked off
but still I wanted to go back to that mirror and say
"You see I am a good person after all."
Maybe the mirror gave me the test
I don't know I am beginning to think
it is all a test.
I see a man on a flat roof
he is like one of those Gormley statures.
He is perfectly still
as he looks out into the distance he does not move at all
could almost be dead
it is like he is looking at this land for the first time
it never existed before he got up on that roof
and now he doesn't want to come down
he is turned to stone
When I drive past later
I will see if he is still there looking for something that he will never find.
like the feeling you get when you wake up at four in the morning
and know you are the only one alive
you could almost be dead yourself and not know it.
You start to think with a clarity that has alluded you your whole life
nothing to hold you back
and suddenly you want to build
brick after brick those words that speak out from the darkness
tell stories that no one will ever hear
but they shout out of the silence like alarm bells warn the sailors of the rocks that lurk underneath.
So you piece them together
and you know you are making something you don't know or need to know what it is you only find out when you finish
then you can stand back and see what it is
as if you knew before you started
then you look and know and see what it is
and for once you know what it is
The inner voice
thoughts that seem so pure they could almost come from the sun or from an angel.
Sometimes I can almost speak them
get close to them that pure language
but you have to have an audience that wants to hear them.
That wants love
that wants something else.
The way you sometimes hear people on a stage they find it
the thoughts that can be spoken
and time stands still as people understand they have found something that is not of this world.
It is why I spend so much time there now
my thoughts are my best friend
"I beg your pardon."
"You see I need milking even more than a friend. Friends are hard to find at my time of life."
"Did you say you want me to milk you."
"Well you only have to say no if you want, after al,l I only thought I would give it a try. She walked off shaking her head.
Ioana Cosma is an English lecturer at the Department of Translation Studies from the University of Pitesti. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto on the figure of the angel in Modernist literature. She conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Bucharest on the concept of forgetting in Modern literature and philosophy. Her first volume of poetry is forthcoming with the Institutul European Publishing House in Romania
In Time and through Matter
by meter and rhyme,
the solace of discrete words,
and music of wine,
the mare of night
obeyed once more their piper,
relapsing in time.
Trees build Bridges
cities build tree-dumps
i still remember the time
you told me you loved
my nature vs. culture
picture now pasted on
my Toronto memories like
my Cluj memories where
we played guitars
under the bridge beneath
sad willow trees that
sang with us a song of
rebellion and redemption.
Pure and Simple
shone in the pile
of brown broken leaves
in the improvised park where we polished
our words and friendly gestures
that fall your kid danced to the
song I'd played pure and simple
like warm, 5 am baker's bread
we ate on the way back home
The Time Travel of Being
in the banishing of 'I's'
like a shy monk's gaze
on a Renaissance painting
springing forth within the
'was' of ever the mind's dream
into new day's creation a
single unit of congruity
with the first 'shall be'.
The Human Imprint
on the buildings' walls, caressing
the faces imprinted on the whitewash
bricks, the sun glowed violent and bleak,
the houses began their mourning.
The children's playground became a
hollow circle, the lovers' kiss a cindery
convulsion. Those who remained
drew symbols in the ash and wept.
The shadows' impression on the
charred walls bespoke mankind's
century-old sublimation: instead of
trace, X-ray, instead of human remains,
a pile of ash to fit an infant's fist.
C. CHRISTINE FAIR
CURTIS A. BASS
JOHN ("JAKE") COSMOS ALLER
KABEDOOPONG PIDDO DDIBE'ST
KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD
K SHESHU BABU
LOIS GREENE STONE
MEGAN E. FREEMAN
MICHAEL LEE JOHNSON
RUTH Z. DEMING
SHERRON SINCLAIR TULLOS