An artist as well as a writer, Kurt Cole Eidsvig received an MFA from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Montana and has been published in journals like Slipstream, Hanging Loose, Borderlands, Main Street Rag and The Southeast Review. A featured columnist on BigRedandShiny.com, and a regular contributor to sites like Examiner.com and ArtAmerica.org, his work won a Warhol Foundation / Creative Capital Fellowship, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship, the Edmund Freeman Award, and a University of Montana Teaching Fellowship. Eidsvig's writing has earned semi-finalist awards from The Sawtooth Poetry Prize and Zone 3 Books, as well as finalist recognition from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Media outlets such as The Boston Globe, The Improper Bostonian, Boston Neighborhood News, and The Weekly Dig have featured Kurt and his work. He maintains a website at Www.EidsvigArt.com.
Victor Cashew was a dummy.
Once a week for a string of nearly fifty-two weeks Victor walked in the front door of Borders Bookstore at Downtown Crossing in Boston, went to the second floor and stood in front of the rack of bright yellow paperbacks. Shopping in the Self-Help and How-To sections were Victor’s favorite part of the week.
He had already purchased Feng Shui For Dummies, Adobe Photoshop For Dummies,
Investing, Texas Hold’em, and Juicing & Smoothies For Dummies. He wasn’t especially
interested in Comparative Religion For Dummies, or Surviving The Holidays For Dummies. This week he lifted Online Dating For Dummies off the shelf, both proud and anxious someone might see.
When Victor Cashew became anxious, as he was at the prospect of this next volume of his life, he often felt a slight tingling sensation at the tip of his penis. While this didn’t always mean Victor needed to urinate, the feeling intensified enough to lead him to a bathroom.
Victor felt particularly qualified to be a connoisseur of the For Dummies collection. He literally was a dummy, even if the condition was a self-inflicted wound. While locked up in a psychiatric ward after his second breakup with Cindy, and suffering through a diagnosis of
PTSD, schizophrenia, and a psychotic disorder, Victor was told he had a phone call.
“You hanging in there squirt?” his father asked. The greeting made Victor a little misty eyed.
Victor stood at the community payphone in his hospital johnnie and assured his father he was doing okay. He wiped his eyes and searched for a place to sit down. Victor assured his father he had never felt better. He assured him the food was good, the nurses were nice. He assured his father everything would be fine. Assured him the earth might not be round, assured him he’d received accurate premonitions of the future, and assured him he’d gone to mass and eaten crackers even though he wasn’t Catholic.
“Son,” Elliott Cashew’s voice came through the receiver of the payphone. “You know I love you, right?”
Victor Cashew did know this much, which was nice.
“You better listen to me then,” his father said. “It’s time for you to dummy up in there. I know guys like you who did too much talking to the wrong doctors in the wrong places and
ended up locked up inside Bridgewater for life.”
Victor knew all about Bridgewater. Jose, the copy shop attendant who yelled obscenities in group sessions, often talked about his previous stays at the state mental hospital.
“I’ve been to Bridgewater,” Jose would say, usually after getting agitated at one of the
nurse’s questions. “And there ain’t no bridge and there ain’t no water.”
“Okay Dad,” Victor said.
He hung up the payphone and tried unsuccessfully to straighten his mussed-up hair in the reflection from the shiny metal box. The biggest difference between the Palmer 5 unit on the fifth floor of the Deaconess Hospital, and other hospitals he’d been to as a visitor over the years, was the lack of handles on the insides of the doors. Plus, they wouldn’t let him go outside to smoke.
Anytime he asked, the doctors and nurses in Palmer 5 shook their heads, no. They were afraid he might be of harm to himself and others.
I’m not, he envisioned himself saying to the Head Nurse, deeply missing his Marlboro
Days before, when the intake person at the Emergency Room asked him, Have you been thinking about hurting yourself? Victor was surprised. He said, What?
This was proof Victor hadn’t given up much in his decision to follow his father’s
Have you been thinking about ending your life, child? She’d said.
Even though he hadn’t been, Victor sat in the uncomfortable chair at her desk, and
wondered why the idea never occurred to him. The intake receptionist typed away at her
One more thing his father said while Victor held the payphone:
“You know what I always say Victor? Just because I’m a Cashew, doesn’t mean I’m
This cracked his father up. The laughter coming through the payphone escalated into a coughing fit.
Victor stopped talking unless absolutely necessary in the psychiatric ward, and it worked. His reassessment team decided to let patient Victor Cashew out less than a week later, suggesting regular follow-up counseling with a practitioner on the outside.
Every day between the phone call and his release Victor walked the hallway many times stopping to look out the window in the hall. He stared down toward the courtyard and thought of cigarettes he couldn’t smoke.
After exiting the Deaconess Hospital and entering the world outside Victor continued practicing his father’s suggestion from the payphone. He decided to give up talking entirely.
Victor Cashew found he didn’t miss it at all.
Victor Cashew’s father—Elliott Norman Cashew—died of Stage Four lung cancer less
than a month after Victor was released from Palmer 5.
“Victor, are you there?” his stepmother said through the phone.
Sitting very still, he looked up at the world through the small rectangular windows in his basement apartment. Before hanging up the phone he exhaled a long stream of blue-gray smoke past the receiver.
The next day he went to the Borders in Downtown Crossing and bought the book
Quitting Smoking For Dummies—the first in his collection.
Victor left the fifty-second choice of his collection outside the door to the Men’s Room, according to the directions printed on the door. No Merchandise Beyond This Point, it said.
Besides finding talking overrated, Victor had also acquired the habit of inspecting doors and doorknobs very carefully since his departure from Palmer 5. After setting down his book on the small table, he opened the door, peered in, and checked the other side. He made sure there was a doorknob there before entering the bathroom and locking the door behind him.
Even though he’d used this same bathroom many times during his weekly trips to the
Borders bookstore, Victor Cashew felt you couldn’t be too careful when it came to doors and
“What if? If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle,” Victor’s father used to say.
Unfortunately for Victor, he was so excited in the bookstore he neglected to properly
shake his penis after doing his business at the urinal. So Victor Cashew ended up exiting the
bathroom with a wet spot on the crotch of his jeans.
With one hand dabbing at his accident with a folded-up piece of brown paper towel, he grabbed gratefully at the doorknob with the other. Victor opened the door to the bookstore, peered over at the table where he’d left the newest book in his collection.
Online Dating For Dummies was gone.
Victor Cashew knew he wasn’t particularly bright. Just last week when his stepmother called to check in on him, Victor had to look all over his apartment for his smart phone before leaving for the bookstore only to realize he was holding the thing up to his ear and listening to her speak. The night before, Victor stared into his refrigerator for what seemed like forever. He’d forgotten why he opened the door as he looked in at the light.
In addition to his enduring muteness his life was filled with great examples as to why
Victor felt uniquely qualified to be an avid reader of the For Dummies series.
Victor’s father used to say, “I’m not always the brightest crayon in the box.”
Even then, Victor was pretty sure he’d left the book there on the table.
Preparing for Valentine’s Day, Borders bookstore was awash with teddy bears and
greeting cards, candy hearts and compact discs playing love songs through the floors. Victor had hardly noticed when riding the escalator up the first time. He hardly even noticed as he walked back to the shelf where the bright yellow books rested in a row.
Online Dating For Dummies wasn’t there. All the books looked remarkably similar with their police tape yellows and deep dark blacks. Victor checked again. Online Dating For
Dummies still wasn’t there.
He walked over and checked the table outside the bathroom again. He checked the
Victor rode the escalator down. He rode the escalator up. Victor didn’t see the bright
yellow and black book anywhere downstairs. He didn’t see it anywhere upstairs either.
Back at the For Dummies shelf, and it still-still wasn’t there. The bathroom either.
The table. The escalator. Victor got tired, wandering in circles around the biggest
bookstore in downtown Boston and the Valentine’s Day sprawl was becoming harder and harder to ignore. Victor Cashew smelled stale Valentine’s Day chocolates everywhere he went, and the scent made him nauseous.
Upstairs he’d heard Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?”
Downstairs there was “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. The muzak in the bathroom took
Victor a moment to identify. It was the song “After All” by Peter Cetera and Cher, without the
vocals, playing through a speaker above the stalls. Cupid was everywhere.
Victor grabbed the familiar doorknob and left, again.
Victor’s father used to say:
“If you want some romantic advice, you should always break up before Christmas, their birthday, and Valentine’s Day. If it’s really meant to be, you’ll get back together.”
Victor’s father said this one time a little over a year earlier to try and cheer him up on the Christmas when Cindy left the first time. Victor was blue-gray smoke on the other end of the phone.
The second time Cindy left Victor’s father said: “Listen, kid—Women are like buses.
There’s another one coming in ten minutes. Just wait.”
The day after their talk Victor Cashew walked through the front door of the Deaconess Hospital and got locked up in Palmer 5.
The employees who worked on Thursdays at Borders knew Victor by sight, as Thursdays were the days he made his purchases for the week. A few of the women who worked behind the long register bank even knew Victor Cashew’s name from his frequent use of a credit card.
These ladies wore ribbons around their necks with tags announcing names like Florence and Dorothy. Near the Fourth of July Florence’s nametag had a sticker of Uncle Sam pointing back from it. She said, “Thank you, Mister Cashew.”
Victor smiled and left.
Dorothy, with a black cat pinned to the ribbon on her nametag, said, “I’m sorry, Victor— could I see some I.D.? This signature’s worn off here.”
Victor fumbled through his wallet, found his driver’s license. Smiled. “Have a Happy
Halloween,” she said.
On another Thursday, Florence wore a hat with reindeer antlers sticking out from each
side. She said, “You must really love these books, huh?”
Flipping the book around, she inspected its spine and looked carefully at the cover, She said “Gosh. Maybe I will have to check one out for myself.”
Victor nodded, helped the woman push his new book into the thin plastic shopping bag. Her reindeer antlers bobbed in outrageous ovals as she handed him his receipt. Victor left.
“Merry Christmas,” she said to his back.
If Victor hadn’t been so anxious, or had cared even a little bit, he might have heard
Florence and Dorothy discussing him as he wandered around the store in a daze, nauseous from the love music. Bright red cutout hearts, and the enduring scents of overpriced candy, were everywhere.
“What’s wrong with Chatty Cathy?” Florence nodded across the store.
Dorothy watched Victor ride up the moving stairs, again. “Poor guy looks lost,” she said.
“He should ask for help,” Florence said. She snorted.
“Florence!” Dorothy said.
The new girl, Angela, was crouched behind them and didn’t want to ask. Gathering
returned and unwanted books from behind the counter, she heard herself say, “What are you two arguing about now?” and regretted it immediately.
Florence said, “I think Dorothy here has a crush on Escalators for Dummies.” “He’s half
my age,” Dorothy said. “But he seems, well, like a lost soul, I guess.”
The three women watched Victor Cashew ride the escalator down, dabbing at his crotch with a folded-up piece of brown paper towel.
“Actually,” Florence said, “he looks like he peed his pants.”
Angela Herald had decided working at the bookstore was definitely not all it was cracked up to be long before Thursday afternoon. Crouched down in the restock shelves, while quietly admonishing herself for even getting the bitties started, she attributed her sourness to general boredom and corporate malaise.
When applying for the part-time gig at Borders, Angela had actually been excited at the prospect of going to work in a place where she’d be surrounded by her favorite things. After practicing interview answers to questions like, What’s your favorite book? And, Is there a protagonist in American literature you most identify with? The questions never came. Even then, when the assistant manager told Angela she was hired, there was a feeling that came over her like a snowbound Bostonian being issued a ticket to Key West, or like a traditional believer spying The Vatican in the distance. Borders Bookstore in downtown Boston was a cathedral to reading. The two story open space expanded upward to hold volume after volume of the characters, ideas, and storylines Angela Herald considered as important as arteries and veins in shaping who she was, and in keeping that entity going day after day.
Part of her discouragement likely came from being forced to start at the bottom of the bookstore food chain. As Angela loaded up her cart behind the bank of registers and the check-out line, how could she be anything but frustrated with the holiday returns and the constant chatter of Dorothy and Florence. They couldn’t stop talking about the good looking guy who was wandering around like a crazy person now.
Charged with restocking books in every section of the store, as unhappy holiday present returners came in and looked for something else, Angela started resenting customers and their literary idiocy.
“Who returns Moby Dick?” she said from her crouch behind the large ladies. “Walden?
Are you kidding me?” she held the paperback version in her hand for a moment of disbelief
before stacking it on the rolling cart with the others. Nearly every returned item was a tragedy of consumerism.
Angela heard Florence’s voice behind her. “Hold on. Here she goes again, Dorothy,” she
The beep, beep, beep of someone’s books being scanned electronically played against the Valentine’s Day soundtrack in the store. Not only was the music a smorgasbord of syrup and indigestion, the playlist was on a loop. Sonny & Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe” was about to segue into “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, a repetition that occurred every hour and seventeen minutes according to Angela’s tracking.
“Take it easy on the poor girl, Florence. She’s got to handle all the returns,” Dorothy
Dorothy turned from her register to face Angela, bent over and wrestling with stacks of books. She said, “Would it help to put a sticker on that nametag dear? I have a few extras here.”
Angela mumbled, No that’s okay, but was drowned out by Whitney’s singing voice.
“God, I love this song Florence, don’t you?” Dorothy said. This comment was something
that also happened every hour and seventeen minutes as far as Angela could tell.
“Here,” Dorothy said.
Angela felt the sticker press against her forehead, Dorothy said “Oops.” And “Oh my
gosh, I’m so sorry. I was trying to put it on your nametag and you squatted down again, and…”
Florence talked about wanting Kevin Costner to be her bodyguard, and her valentine, and turned from her beep-beep checking out of a customer to see Angela standing up cross-eyed and looking up at her own forehead, as if to make out what the heart-shape sticker said.
“Be Mine!” Florence burst into laughter. Dorothy chuckled too, and every customer
waiting in line smiled, or tried not to, or nudged the person beside them.
Angela peeled the sticker off her forehead with as much dignity she could muster. She
took the candy heart shape and placed it next to the price tag on a copy of The Catcher In The Rye in her book cart some misguided illiterate had returned.
“What’s that, darlin’?” Dorothy pointed at one of the yellow How To books in Angela’s
restocking cart. “Did somebody return that?”
“I have it organized. This shelf is returns. And here—this shelf is the misplaced or
misstacked. Somebody must have set this book down someplace. Hard to believe, huh? Online Dating For Dummies was almost a Nobel Prize winner from what I understand.”
Angela’s other issue: She believed she was the only store employee who actually read the books. Dorothy had this glazed-over look on her face. She blinked.
“That poor boy,” Dorothy said, looking over at the escalator.
Angela watched the handsome guy the bitties had been talking about—Victor— riding
the escalator up again. Only this time he was walking too, taking the stairs two at a time.
Dorothy said, “He must be just about to lose his mind.”
He’d been wishing so much to find Online Dating For Dummies—a book he now had his heart set on—Victor barely noticed the cart exiting the freight elevator as it smashed into his shin. Not that he typically paid much attention to the staff, but Victor didn’t recognize the girl he almost levelled. She ran from behind her huge cart of books.
“Sorry,” the girl said. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
Victor voicelessly rubbed his shin. He hopped on one foot to try and wished the pain
As his father always used to say: Wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first.
Angela watched the guy hop on one leg all around the elevator landing on the second floor. The oddest part, besides the fact he’d been doing crazy laps around the store for however many cycles of the endless Valentine’s Day soundtrack, was the only sound he made came from the thud, thud, thud of his single sneaker landing repeatedly on the shitty carpet. He didn’t moan or yell Ouch! He didn’t swear or sigh.
Further evidence Borders was driving her crazy: Angela heard herself say, out loud, “It’s like watching television with the sound off.”
There was a thud, a thud, and a thud. Victor Cashew straightened. His face was bright red and wrinkly from holding back whatever sounds her cart full of unwanted books had tried to propel from him.
She watched his face start to relax. Victor placed his hurt leg and foot on the ground.
“Sorry?” she said.
For a moment Victor was overtaken by the vision of the woman. His eyes cleared the blur of rage and pain, and there was her black hair the color of the sky outside his apartment windows at night, and her eyes reflecting the blue of Flathead Lake in summer behind a pair of hipster eyeglasses. The girl, Angela from her nametag, smiled uneasily, before reaching down to straighten her books and the cart Victor had nearly knocked over.
The elevator doors were insistent in their attempts to close, only to stutter against the cart stuck in their way, over and over again. He watched Angela, a girl he guessed to be only a few years younger than him, beautiful in the smell of watermelon chewing gum, roll the cart out of the way. The doors closed successfully and Victor heard the elevator whir.
“The woman…” she said. “The lady at the counter…”
Angela held Online Dating For Dummies in her left hand. She offered it stretched out in Victor’s direction.
She tried again. “The lady at the counter thought you might be looking for this?”
From the open space in the landing, Victor and Angela could both see Dorothy staring up at them from behind the cash registers on the first floor below. Dorothy grinned big and waved. Florence rolled her eyes.
“Or maybe this instead?” Angela held out another book: Archery for Dummies.
“That,” Victor said. He had more trouble pointing, it seemed, than talking. Actually, he was struggling with both.
Angela smiled and nodded.
Pointing at the Online Dating version of the For Dummies collection, Victor tried again. “That is mine,” he said.
Angela handed the book to Victor who stared down in some sort of disbelief. Maybe at his words, maybe at the book, maybe about the amount of pain a book cart can cause a shin.
She said, “And this is mine.” She grabbed the cart’s handles and rolled it down the hall.
Victor heard Angela shout over her shoulder as she walked away:
“You’re welcome,” she said.
Victor mouthed the words Thank You. And then did it again. Thank you.
“Thank you,” he said, out loud this time.
Angela was gone.
Outside the elevator, a small paperback lay on the floor, part of the leftover carnage of book car and shin. Victor leaned down to pick it up.
The cover read The Catcher in The Rye. A heart-shaped sticker was there, next to the
price tag. The sticker read Be Mine with the words printed in bright pink letters. Some of the
letters were smudged from the sticker being peeled up and stuck down too often.
Be Mime, it may have said. He traced the letters with his eyes all the way through the
bookstore, down the escalators, through the line, and to the registers.
Standing in front of Dorothy and her register, Victor handed her one of the books to place on the returns stack.
He said, “I won’t be needing this.”
As the scanner beeped, tallying his selection, Victor Cashew put some extra weight down on his leg. And then on the other. Nothing hurt at all.
I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
He was wearing an Armani suit and had that arrogant useless look about him that screamed lawyer. As the bus roared away, the lawyer slumped over his morning latte at the noisy outdoor café – same coffee and same café as always. It took several minutes for a passersby to realize he wasn’t sleeping and a little bit longer to realize he had been shot twice in the head.
No one looked at the man dressed in business attire with an L.L. Bean messenger bag get on the bus and no one noticed the two small holes in the bag. Average height, brown hair and eyes, average skin tone, average build. He had been riding the 8:45 AM every weekday for the past two weeks. He exited the bus at the far side of downtown at a complex of office buildings, and entered the same building he had for the past two weeks. And out a different door carrying his sport coat wadded up in the messenger bag.
Sweet Betsy had done her job again. Same MO as always. Two shots to the head, tight group, no brass, all done in plain sight in front of dozens of witnesses who saw or heard nothing. That was Sam’s signature. Official investigators assigned to organized crime units called him “The Ghost.” Not seen and not heard. They had no clue who he was. Sam liked that part, but would have preferred “The Shaolin Priest” from the old Kung Fu series: “Listened for, cannot be heard; looked for, cannot be seen.”
Sam named his weapon of choice Sweet Betsy. She was Sig Sauer Mosquito, a high-end handgun built on a polymer frame with a threaded barrel to accept a silencer. Sweet Betsy shoots 22LR loads, the number one ammunition selected by assassins and hitmen around the world.
Sam’s employer had evidence one of their lawyers, make that one of their deceased lawyers, had too many clandestine meetings with the District Attorney. It was Sam’s job to solve the problem. Sam’s dilemma was that this was the third hit this quarter. Minneapolis, St. Louis, and now Boston. This was too many too soon. Sam requested retirement almost twelve months ago, but he was the best, and the answer was no.
A law firm -- where no one had ever met him, handled Sam personal finances, including the condos and vehicles stashed in various cities. His fee was on the expensive end of the spectrum and started at $250,000 for a high profile hit; so at this stage of his life, money was not an issue.
Sam wasn’t always a hitman, but it was too painful to remember anything else. Bouncing around abusive foster homes, he developed a tough exterior. For the ten years before he became a hitman, he was under the care of loving foster parents. A dispute over his foster father’s decision to change hardware distributors turned deadly. Despite approval from company headquarters, a shady competitor thought the new chain store would be too close to his and draw business away. Numerous threats ensued, but they ended when Sam’s foster father’s store burned, killing him in the process. A part of Sam died at that time. In a short time, nothing could be proved and the investigation went cold.
Sam meticulously tracked the movements of the owner of the competitor store and killed him. Sam found he had more of a knack for killing than working in a hardware store.
Three weeks after the lawyer hit, Don Gino Torttelli summoned Sam and told him of his new assignment.
“No more. I’m retired,” Sam said.
“Sam, you’re the best. I need you for one more job.”
“You said that last time, Gino. I’ve been performing these duties for longer than anyone else. I’m done.”
“Sam, there is no discussion on the matter. You will do the hit.” Gino Torttelli was not accustomed to being told no. A string of dead bodies punctuated the message that told how he dealt with those who told him no.
“I’ll do a hit,” Sam replied.
What his employer did not catch the subtle change from “the hit” to “a hit.” Sam had his own way to deal with things, too. My employer will be sent a message.
Almost a month to the day, every news station in the greater New York City area covered the killing. The number-two ranked member of the Torttelli Crime Family was gunned down as he entered a restaurant in Little Italy. Shot twice in the head, tight group, no brass, in plain sight in front of dozens of witnesses who saw or heard nothing. Gino Torttelli, the family Don, had no doubt of the shooter’s identity.
Sam had delivered message “I am retired, everyone is vulnerable, leave me alone.” In less than twenty four hours, Sam had a price on his head. While the Torttelli Family preferred to clean its own house, freelance operators would be eligible for payout. Right on schedule, thought Sam.
The previous month was not spent setting up the hit as was his custom. Sam had already done that with each of the top three Torttelli family members. Just in case. All he had done was a walk through or two. Creatures of habit are such easy targets.
Sam spent most of the previous month setting up his escape from “the life.” For years, he resided in different large cities in Nevada. As far as his employer knew, his time off was split between Nevada and Arizona, always in the metro areas of the big cities. He was the only one who knew he hated the desert. In fact, he hated all of the Southwest – with a passion. But that was where the plane he boarded two hours after the shoot was headed and that was where the hunt would begin.
Sam deplaned in Phoenix with a mob of passengers. With no luggage, save for a briefcase full of folders with spreadsheets, he looked like any other weekday passenger. At the airport, Sam picked up a midsize Chevy from long-term parking and was on his way – a clean get away. Almost.
Sam had not realized Gino recently acquired a contact in the FAA. Screening of the security footage at the airports in the area began hours after the hit. Gino’s most trusted men were scanning at airport security viewing film.
Flights from LaGuardia turned up nothing, but Gino’s man spotted Sam on tape boarding the nonstop 1:30 PM flight from JFK to Phoenix, arriving at 3:46 PM local time. Never underestimate your enemy. Sam made his first mistake. Ever.
The plane had been on the ground in Phoenix for ten minutes before his flight details were known. Quick phone calls and posts to a clandestine message board were placed to “associates” in Phoenix. The Phoenix airport became surrounded by “observers,” hoping to cash in on the open contract. A slight man kept an eye on the cars leaving the long-term parking, because that is where he would leave a car if he were in Sam’s position. He spotted Sam leaving the lot and maneuvered his car into the lane two cars behind Sam.
Sam pulled into a strip motel where he rented a room for the month. He had come and gone several times in the past few weeks so being there for a few days and then gone for a few days was nothing out of the ordinary. The slight man tailing Sam slowed the sedan down and passed the motel once he saw Sam enter room 103. Sam thought he might have been followed but entered the room anyway. Sam had made a second mistake.
Later that night, the lock was slowly picked and with security chain not in use, the slight man silently opened the door and eased into the room. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Six silenced rounds penetrated the torso of lump in the bed. The slight man leaned over the body in the bed and pulled back the blankets and sheets. As that was happening, the adjoining-room door cracked open. When the slight man straightened up, pfft, pfft. Two rounds penetrated his skull and rattled round with exiting. Instantaneous death. Perhaps he should leave a tip for the perforated blankets, thought Sam.
So someone had been tailing him. Always the planner, Sam had rented two adjoining rooms for the month, and always entered the same room. That may have saved my life, Sam thought as he opened the bed and laid the dead man in it. Gino may not know exactly where I am, but he knows where I landed. That was the goal, but was not supposed to happen for several days. Sam’s thoughts whirled around his head.
Not surprisingly, Sam was a loner. His nonwork pursuits involved reading and African violets. His true passion was breeding African violets. He always chose a condo with north-facing windows for his collection. Doubles, singles, white, purple, pink, and now black flowers. Sam had managed to produce a black African violet, in truth, it was a very dark purple; but no one else had been able to get as close to black as he had. Never in clubs, meetings, or shows about the flowers, but Sam had dozens of different screen names in African violet circles. Only on a burner phone (one of the hundreds he had), and only at public Wi-Fi hotspots. Unfortunately, his passion for and knowledge about African violets came out and was one of the few things his employer knew about him.
Sam had regrets. Not about the killing, but leaving his African violet collection, but he was always prepared to walk away from everything at any time. He knew not being able to so provided leverage and shortens the lifespan of people in his profession. Sam regretted leaving his violets.
Sam was on the run and being hunted. Not something he was comfortable with. Likely, this poor sap was the only one who saw him and tracked him; no one wanted to share reward money, thought Sam.
Within minutes, Sam headed northeast out of Phoenix into the dark. It had been a long, long time since events had not gone according to his plan. His current ID was burned.
Sam was still thinking about his violets when he stopped for fuel across the New Mexico state line, Daybreak started as Sam was fueling up. Cash, accepted everywhere and never questioned.
Back in Phoenix, the two rooms had been rented with strict instructions that no hotel staff needed to or should enter the rooms for the month. With the air conditioner turned as cold as the unit would allow, it was three days before the body decomposition alerted the motel staff of a problem. The police had difficulty pegging an exact time of death, but Gino knew. Gino also knew a three-day head start would be two and a half days more than Sam needed to disappear. A furious Gino doubled the price on Sam’s head.
The police carted the body away as Sam entered Massachusetts. His new plan was formulated during fifteen-hour days driving on the US Interstate system. He blended in as another interstate traveler.
With his new ID in hand, his destination was Clam Harbor, a small town on the coast of Maine. Five years ago, Sam purchased a two-bedroom cape on the quiet side of the harbor. He managed to visit for about a week every other year. A local lawn service and housekeeping service were the only regular visitors to his house. These, in addition to a twice per year maintenance company, drew on accounts set up at each business. Clam Harbor was to become his new home. In fact, his first permanent home. Sam never considered foster homes as permanent, and they never were. His chosen profession was not one that encouraged settling into relationships or a house. This was all going to change. He was going to become a Mainer.
Sam liked the town and liked the house. Not pretentious or flashy, it looked like many of the other small homes people lived in during their retirement. Berry Park was a five-minute walk and was an underutilized gem. Sam found new joy in reading on the benches overlooking the water. A few of the regulars walking their dogs would give him a polite nod if he looked up. Fall was quickly approaching in New England and would be quite the change for Sam. His time at the park, like the day length, grew shorter each week.
Sam purchased nine African violet plants from nine different resellers and they were thriving under his tutelage. He had hybridized them and there were small string tags hanging from the seed pods, indicating parents and the date of the cross. Sam knew full well this was a risk as this was something his employer knew about him, but he couldn’t help himself. He had to have his violets.
Spring came early and Sam’s violets looked radiant. Seedlings were rapidly growing from previous crosses and new crosses were made and bore string tags. A neighbor stopped by when Sam was in his yard to say “Hi” and asked when he would return to his regular reading bench at Berry Park.
Sam stood silently stunned. Had be become lax, was he becoming a creature of habit and an easy target? And he had an increasing collection of African violets.
Sam smiled and said “I hope the weather cooperates so I can resume my peaceful visits to the park.” Crap, that sounded lame.
While the people in the area were friendly enough, if the outward message was “leave me alone,” that was generally respected. I’m not good at this social custom. I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. That is when people start talking about you and looking into you.
Sam laid out a plan for how he would become more social to a level where people wouldn’t drop in unannounced for coffee but would not look into his past either.
The next week at the park Sam said “Nice collie” to a woman he saw between 10 AM and noon most every day.
“Thanks. Jessie turned nine last week. She is a lovely dog,” the woman replied.
“I’ve been admiring your dog and thought perhaps I should say something. Have a nice rest of your walk,” Sam said. See, that wasn’t so hard. She and the dog were both nice.
Over the next three weeks, he managed to speak to six different people walking their dogs at the park. All of them opened up when he spoke to them about their dog. That is one more contact than he planned, so things were ahead of schedule, thought Sam. He nodded or spoke to the woman with the collie several times per week. He did not count her in his totals because he wanted to say a few words of greeting to her.
“I’m Beth,” said the collie owner as she plopped herself down next to Sam on the bench. Too soon, thought Sam. But there she sat.
“Uh … I’m Sam.”
“Well, nice to meet you, Sam. I’ve seen you at this park for months and months. You know my dog’s name, I thought and you might like to know my name and I thought I should know yours.”
“Uh … it’s Sam.” Oh Jesus, that sounded moronic.
“I know, you just told me. I’ve lived here in Clam Harbor for the past twenty years. I came summers during my sophomore and junior college years to wait tables for college tuition. I liked the town and the area a lot so I stayed after I graduated.”
That woman can talk a blue streak, thought Sam. But he did not budge from the bench, he listened, mesmerized.
“Did I tell you I’m an artist? I studied oils in my art program at BU, but I think I’ve found my calling in water colors. This Friday is ‘Art Walk’ and I am showing in the Reed Gallery. You know, the big one on Main Street with the benches and stone sculptures in front. Besides, there are cheese and crackers along with wine to enjoy while you look at the art. Anyway, you are going to love the art. Even if you don’t like the art, you can sit on the bench there.”
“How nice,” Sam said when Beth took a breath.
“I’ve been working on a series of scenes of Razor Bay, a sunrise and a sunset water color piece for each season. I sold three of the set last week with delivery Saturday morning after the show. These are highlight pieces and they define me as an artist. I am so proud of them. You’ll come and see them won’t you, Sam?”
“Great! The ‘Art Walk’ starts at 4 PM but doesn’t pick up until 5:30 PM and closes at 7 PM. I’ll look for you at 6:30 PM. It’ll be busy but we can get a drink or a bite to eat and get to know each other afterwards. Jessie and I have to go now but it will be terrific seeing you Friday.”
“Uh … bye,” was all Sam could say. What just happened?! Isn’t this what I have avoided? Internal conflict was new for Sam.
Sam avoided the park the next day. He had Thursday to sort out what to do on Friday. Unplanned activity and uncharted territory was new for Sam.
Sam did not have a plan B to Clam Harbor. This was to be his last stop. Sam made a list of pros and cons of going to the Art Walk. Heading the con list was “getting recognized and shot dead.” An ominous start. There was quite a collection on the pro list. Several items involved entering the social scene. “Because I want to go” was on the pro list twice. Twice! What is happening here?
Friday arrived and Sam was at the park reading. He wasn’t so much reading as biding time until 6:30 PM that night. But she is so different from me. I can do this.
Tired of biding his time at the park, he went home and prepared a tossed salad topped with grilled chicken a brewed some iced tea for lunch. And waited.
Sam arrived at the Reed Gallery at exactly 6:30 PM. The place was hopping with locals looking at paintings, erudites sipping wine, artists in peasant dresses and smock tops, all smiling and having a great time. So this is what people do to enjoy themselves, thought Sam.
He spotted Beth before she spotted him. Dressed in comfortable shoes and a print dress that highlighted her figure, she looked radiant and alive. He was sure she had no idea how beautiful she was. He picked up a cheese and cracker hors d'oeuvre and a white wine. Beth spotted him and burst into a wide smile as he turned to head her way. She crossed over and gave him a hug. This too, was new for Sam.
“Sam! I was hoping you would come. I was worried the people would overwhelm you because you don’t seem to like crowds. Come, you must see my series – they’re all sold, as well as three other paintings.”
He followed, or more correctly, was dragged by the hand to the southeast corner of the gallery. A decent-sized crowd was gathered around the wall section with her paintings and there was pointing, head nodding, and smiles. Beth was in her glory with many of the patrons wanting to talk with her.
Sam drifted to the back of the crowd and let Beth converse with people around her. At 7:10 PM, the gallery announced the Art Walk would close in five minutes. Ten minutes later, with the last patron ushered out of the gallery. Sam worked very hard not to get antsy because to him, 7 PM was 7 PM, and five minutes was five minutes.
Beth started to help the gallery owner tidy up, but was told she was the star of the show tonight and to leave the clean up to others.
“Would you let me the take the ‘star of the show’ out for dinner, or drinks, or coffee, or walk you to your car?” Sam asked nervously.
“I’d love to have dinner,” said Beth.
Sam suggested The Paella Bistro as it was almost across the street from the Reed Gallery. As they entered the restaurant, Sam noticed a coarse-looking man watching them. The man had unkempt and unwashed hair, wore a dirty coat too heavy for the season and had a hole in his stained pants. Not quite a homeless look, but that of someone not quite all there.
After a sip of dry white wine, Beth started the conversation. “Sam, I don’t know much about you except you read and you came to my showing at the gallery. Tell me about yourself.”
“Not much to tell really. I grew up in a foster homes. My foster dad owned a hardware store, but it burned and he died in the fire. The grief was too much for my foster mother and she died a month later. I turned twenty two the next month. They left some money for me, and I lead a simple life.”
“Not really, the sad stories are the foster kids that bounce around their whole life and don’t get into a decent home.”
The conversation lulled while their meals arrived. Not to the point of trying each other’s dinner, Sam had to take Beth’s word that house specialty seafood paella was terrific. He thought the same of the Valencian paella on his plate.
"It is getting late. I should walk you to your car.”
Sam noticed the same coarse-looking man watching them as they left the restaurant. As they walked down the street, Beth slipped her arm in his and they walked down the street arm in arm. Sam couldn’t believe how much he liked it.
The man was gone by the time they reached Beth’s car. “Thank you for the lovely evening. I hope to see you again,” said Sam as he opened her car door.
Sam couldn’t wipe the huge grin off from his face as he drove home. I could get used to this.
He went to Berry Park at his appointed time on Saturday, but did not see Beth. Three days passed before Beth showed up.
“Well, good morning to you,” Sam said as she approached his bench. As she neared, he could see her concealer could not totally hide a black eye.
“What happened to you?” Asked Sam.
Sam stared at her and knew she was lying. He silently counted to ten before he spoke again.
“Really, what happened?”
"My ex-husband’s brother is a whack job and thinks I have disgraced the family with our divorce. The divorce was hard, but amenable and uncontested. My ex’s brother is the one that can’t get over it. He arrived at my house shortly after I did and rang the doorbell. I thought it might be you so I opened it without looking and he was there and very angry. He hit me before he left.”
“And you called the police?”
“Yes. He was out on bail almost immediately.”
“I’m so sorry, I wish there was something I could do to help,” Sam said. There is something I can do to help.
“Your caring is enough. The swelling is down and it doesn’t hurt anymore. The color should go away soon.”
Beth sat and they chatted while her collie waited patiently.
Sam told her he was going to buy a bicycle for exercise. Sam was seething inside. Beth did not deserve to be hit. He felt he was to blame for her being hit. Well, he was going to see her more and this would not happen again. Ever.
Getting the police information anonymously was something Sam did well. Wilford Dobson was a coarse and surly type, and would not be on the top side of the earth for much longer. He was a bit off and only job he could hold was hand-sorting paper at the town recycling center.
Sam rode his new bicycle around the area on a specific course. Each day, he would add another loop and extend the ride. The loops were in different directions so not to bring specific attention to himself. He always carried his smartphone with a bicycle ride mapping app running so his rides were documented. An alibi as a backup could come in handy later.
He rode enough in the area where Wilford Dobson lived to get a rough idea of his schedule. On a Wednesday without his app running, about a mile past Dobson’s house, Sam stopped and went into the woods. He hid his bicycle about seventy-five feet off the road. No traffic was present on the quiet road.
Sam made his way to Dobson’s house through the woods. Hidden from view, twenty feet from the edge of the woods, Sam made himself comfortable. Water bottles and granola bars were in his rider’s backpack, along with binoculars.
Sam sat at his post for twenty-six hours. This was repeated for three Wednesdays. Beth had been hired by the Reed Gallery and worked on Wednesdays from noon to 7 PM closing.
The fourth Wednesday was different. Sam did not bring food or water, he came armed. He was in position an hour early. At 4:47 PM, Wilford Dobson drove up, right on schedule.
Dobson was taking a six-pack of Bud out of his truck when he heard “Make a sudden move and you’re dead. Turn around slowly and face me.”
Dobson turned around, holding the six-pack of beer and thought he saw a ninja dressed in black from head to toe with a gun trained him.
“Shut up. Take two steps forward, get on your knees, and then on your fat gut, spread your legs, and interlace your hands behind your head. Don’t make me shoot you.”
Dobson did as he was told. Sam moved around and approached the prone man from the legs. Sam put a knee on Dobson’s lower back. “Don’t say anything. I know you feel a gun barrel on your spine. Move and you will be paralyzed from the waist down.”
“You beat up Beth Dobson didn’t you? Now I expect you to speak.”
“She should be married to my brother, not dating other men. I was so mad. Besides, I barely hit her.” Now, Sam was past seething.
The gun barrel wasn’t a gun barrel, but the hilt of Sam’s razor-sharp knife. In one motion, he lifted the knife and brought it between Dobson’s legs and sliced through the femoral artery. The cut was at an angle so the sphincter muscles couldn’t close off the cut.
A shocked Dobson obeyed, not realizing the severity of his wound.
“If you apply pressure, you may have thirty seconds of consciousness. I want you to hear me. You damaged someone special. You are not special.”
The wound continued to bleed, despite pressure. “I’m going to die!” Dobson’s response.
“Yes, you are. But you can die knowing that you are not going to hurt anyone again.”
“You can’t …”
Dobson never finished the sentence as he lost consciousness. He fell back and continued to bleed out. Three and a half minutes later, the bleeding stopped. Sam would have preferred to pound the man to death with his bare hands but that introduced risk of evidence being left at the scene.
Sam made his way back to the woods, picked up his backpack, changed clothes, and then went to his bicycle. Clothes, knife and gun packed into the backpack, he rode home. Back at his house Sam destroyed his African violet collection. That was a link to his past that needed to be severed. In not doing so, there was a chance that it could be used to track him and that may put Beth in danger. That presented a risk he could not accept.
Dobson frequently pulled a bender on Wednesday so when he didn’t show up for work on Thursday, not a lot was thought of it. He didn’t work on Friday, but had never missed a Saturday before. That afternoon someone from work went looking for him. The smell gave the location of the dead body away before it was sighted. Sam knew the investigation would lead nowhere because they never did.
As an acquaintance who talked to Beth in the park, he was never interviewed during the investigation. Sam was right, the investigation led nowhere.
The news story was minor headlines and Sam almost missed it. Crime boss Gino Torttelli and his driver had been killed in automobile accident on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway heading toward Little Italy. Their Cadillac had been traveling at a high rate of speed before it went airborne off exit 21. There was no longer a price on his head and he was no longer being sought for his “alleged” involvement with the shooting of the number two-ranked member of the family. When the Don puts out a contract, it expires with the Don; no family member would disrespect the memory of Don Gino Torttelli by reissuing the contract. Sam was free from “the life.” Now convinced Clam Harbor was going to be his last stop, under his instructions, his lawyer started to liquidate the condos and cars he had around the country.
Sam asked Beth out on a date the next month. He couldn’t remember if he had ever asked a woman out on a date. Dinner at the Paella Bistro was as good as the previous time. Over the next months, they were constant companions.
He was finally settling down. Beth particularly liked his pet name for her, “Violet.”
Rick Edelstein was born and ill-bred on the streets of the Bronx. His initial writing was stage plays off-Broadway in NYC. When he moved to the golden marshmallow (Hollywood) he cut his teeth writing and directing multi-TV episodes of “Starsky & Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Chicago,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” et al. He also wrote screenplays, including one with Richard Pryor, “The M’Butu Affair” and a book for a London musical, “Fernando’s Folly.” His latest evolution has been prose with many published short stories and novellas, including, “Bodega,” “Manchester Arms,” “America Speaks,” “Women Go on,” “This is Only Dangerous,” “Aggressive Ignorance,” “Buy the Noise,” and “The Morning After the Night.” He writes every day as he is imbued with the Judeo-Christian ethic, “A man has to earn his day.” Writing atones.
Even though they both worked in different stations, Jackson a server and Rambles in the kitchen, they got off at the same time, walking out the back door of Mickey’s Steak House.
Crossing from the alley to the main drag, Rambles, who was built like a tree trunk, lit a cigarette, offering one to Jackson, six inches taller who was rubbing the slick out of his has-to-be-neat-hair-for-work but now ready to explode. “No, I gave up smoking.”
“Since when?” Rambles asked.
“Since it can give you cancer-when.”
“We all die,” Rambles said inhaling with pleasure.
“Yeah,” Jackson responded as he avoided walking on a small turd of dog-shit, “But I plan to die later than sooner. How you holding up in the kitchen?”
“Hot and sometimes crazy but how many peoples hire somebody with our history? Why do you think Harrisburg took a chance?”
“The dirt is that a gang ‘o years ago he spent time in a the joint on a hummer, some swift suit got him out with a big time settlement to which he used to open Mickey’s.”
“His name ain’t even Mickey.”
“A rose is a rose...want a brew?”
Tossing his cigarette on the pavement and stepping on it, “Yeah but I don’t want to go to Barney’s.”
“Why not, it’s only two blocks away?”
“Too many Irish dudes looking to rumble.”
“Maybe it’s because you mess with them.”
“Let’s do Millhouse, two more blocks but it’s cool.”
“What makes it better than Barney’s?”
“Mostly Jews. They don’t fight.”
“Tell that to an Israeli.”
“And they got nuts, chips, pretzels on the bar no charge. How’d you do tonight?”
“Good. Hundred and fifty-six.”
“In fact I’m going for more ‘n one. For health reasons.”
“Since when are suds good for health?
“Slickers told me, before Tito popped out his left eye he told me a doctor who was dealing rushbo said a beer a day will keep kidney stones away.”
They turned the corner and walked into Millhouse, pulling up stools at the bar, Rambles immediately copped some nuts, chewed noisily and signaled to the bartender holding up two fingers, “Negro Modelo.”
Jackson added, “Chill the glasses.” He nibbled on some pretzels, “Rushbo did in Slickers.”
Almost choking on the chips, Rambles could hardly believe Jackson, “What are you saying?”
“The relevant information sliding down the pike is that Slickers o-d’d on oxy two days after release.”
The bartender placed the glasses and beer in front of them. Jackson said, “Run a tab.” Bartender nodded and left.
Jackson lifted his brew for a toast. “Here’s to Slickers.”
Rambles clinked, “I guess he won’t be missing his eye. Slickers!”
As they drank Rambles noticed Jackson staring into space, “Where are you, man? What’s happening?”
Jackson drank a few times, hesitant, took another drink and went for it. “Okay this might, no not might, this will sound strange but truth is often a tougher fit than fabrication...”
“Talk your shit, Jackson,” as Rambles grabbed some chips.
“I was playing chess on the computer and...”
“I remember yeah I recall you running a class inside the joint teaching us chess. I got the moves down you know pawn one box straight ahead unless taking down some sucker on the right or left, knight can slash your ass like a hidden shiv but you were always preaching to figure out what the dude’s next move, even five moves down, shit, I never could tweak what the man across the board was going to do one or even two but five moves from now? I mean some scram punches me in a moment before grief I clout him back to check mate his rowdy ass demonstrating that this man does not wait no five times before I get to eating pavement, you know what I’m saying? Playing chess on a computer, you say? Who wins?”
“Most times I lose.”
“Then why play a bandit if you know you’re gonna’ get ripped off?”
“Mental gymnastics. Keeps me on top of my game.”
Rambles downed and finished his drink. “You ready for another?”
“One more and that’s it.”
Rambles signaled to the bartender for two more. “Me, I do solitaire on the computer and play until it runs the deck and that is satisfactory. After that I’m into porn. You lose today?”
“I was about to make a move that even the computer could not undo, I was three moves away from mate and I got...” Jackson was dealing with his resistance to share but he also needed to check his sanity so he went past his reluctance. “Okay, Rambles, just hear me out..Jesus, how can I say this...okay,” Jackson hesitated again, then blurted, “I had, god what is the word, okay I guess, a visitation.”
“Don’t tell me the parole officer dropped in unannounced. They do that shit trying to catch us as if we’re about to hustle on the bleak side. Come on give us a break, We did the crime served our time don’t make one grape into wine.”
“No, I’m not on parole. I’m clean out.”
Bartender brought them another round.
“What was that word you used, vistatation? Sounds like what you put on sandwich to make it taste better.”
“Oh yeah, okay, visitation. Sure, like a visit, like someone dropping in on you, right?”
“Fill in the blanks Jackson.”
“So I’m playing chess about to move my knight and lock in the king when I hear a voice...almost like a rebound echo bounce.”
“A neighbor somebody?”
“Inside where? Somebody, some voice, right? I ain’t the slickest eel in the pond but a visit is someone from the outside coming inside. That’s what you mean, right?”
Rambles took a long slurp of beer, wiped his chin, glared at Jackson,
“You playing me?”
“No, I’m telling you straight up. I know this sounds off-the-wall but
like inside my head, the sound, it was almost visible, physical, like it was, it’s hard to delineate, it had a kind of...”
“Delineate, specify, you know, nail it down, I couldn’t...it was a kind of...an energy, reverberating, like a ricochet in a deep cave.”
“I don’t know if it’s the brew or what, but you are giving me a headache trying to understand what you’re putting down.”
“No explanation, man, just happened. Freaks me out too.”
“Okay okay...so some kinda’ visitation inside your brain, is that what you’re what was that word, delineating?”
Rambles tossed a fistful of peanuts into his mouth and mumbled while chewing, “I’ll play...all right, what did the visitation do or say.”
Jackson drank some beer, hesitated, shrugged, “What the hell, it said, and I’m not making this up, Rambles, it said...You Will Know.”
“And then it said, and this is really weird...
“You already gone way past weird. What you been smoking, Jackson?”
“Weed doesn’t work for me. I’m clean enough for the health department.”
“Just don’t tell ‘em you’re hearing voices.”
“Then it said ...loud and clear...it said...Bodega.”
Rambles tried to make sense and ground the conversation to a trace of familiarity. “Okay,” he said as if he hit the lottery, “Bodega. Yeah, Rodriguez’s grocery on the corner from where my crib is. We walked by five six weeks ago when you came to pick me up.”
“Right, yeah,” Jackson recalled, “You popped in to buy some cigarettes.”
“There’s your Bodega. Ignacio told me he was losing business faster than the rent which was raised. He was eating it big time from when Ralph’s Supermarket opened across the street.”
Jackson, “Maybe we should check it out.”
“Check what out?” Rambles asked.
“The Bodega. In your nabe.”
“Waste of time. Sign in the window, for lease. Bodega gone, brother. Your voice sending you on a hummer. What else did it say?”
Jackson shook his head, not understanding but feeling it. “You Will Know. Bodega. That’s it..”
Rambles swigged some beer. “I think somebody dropped a pill in your drink, man, ‘cause hearing voices, I mean that’s on the other side of a jacket with straps. Back then, which I do not plan to visit ever again thank you, I was put in isolation for three days after kneeing Wheels in the soft spot but I’m telling you Jackson, alone all that time with nothing but walls I heard voices, sure. No big thing. You got to get out, man. Join the peoples in the nabe because you sure don’t strike me as certifiable three dog night time.”
“Come on, Rambles, everything is not always what you see is what you got.”
“If I can’t see it, feel it, suck it or fuck it, it ain’t worth a worry.”
“You don’t think there’s...how can I put it...an energy that you can’t see or hear but you feel loud and strong? I mean when you walked out in the yard...bam, across the way, you turn your head and you know, you know fifty feet away Tito’s ready to rip somebody a new one, or the other side of the yard tatted Jimmy-Two-Shoes ready to make thunder, you know that how? You feel it, you sense it, you know what I’m saying?”
“Mos def. My sensin’ the scene has kept me, outta’ harms way . Yeah, okay.”
“So that’s my experience, man. No pills. No isolation. Just those deep resonating words: You Will Know. Bodega.”
“I don’t know whether to buy in or wish you a good breather as I distance myself but then again you did me a solid or two in the joint so pay the man and let’s make a move.”
Rambles and Jackson finished sweeping the floor, unfolding used chairs when Rambles started to take the sign, Bodega, out of the window, Jackson said, “Leave it, Rambles.”
“But this ain’t no longer a Bodega.”
“Okay...so you paid rent for three months. These rickety chairs may not last that long. Now what?”
Handing him a sign he lettered in big black magic marker, “Put this sign in the window.”
Rambles reading the sign, Come in & figure things out. He looked at Jackson. “From the get-go I can’t figure out what this means.”
“I’m not sure either.”
“But you wrote it.”
He walked to the window and put the sign facing the street. “Okay, sign’s in the window. Now I wanna’ figure something out.”
“What are we doing here?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“But you said that voice said You Will Know.”
“It didn’t say when though, did it?”
“Just You Will Know and Bodega. That’s it.”
“If you weren’t so smart and on top ‘o things in the joint you might consider me absent but as you appealed me out I gotta’ have your back but I don’t know for how long before nothing happens.” He looked around, inhaled. “This joint smells like three week old socks. We gotta’ clean up this place,” kicking aside some used grocery cartons, a worn bat rolled on the floor. Rambles picked it up, “I’ll bet this wood could tell some stories.”
The door to the Bodega opened admitting a man and a woman. His scowl was so etched in his face it could have been a tattoo. She was gripping his hand as if to keep from drowning. “We saw the sign,” she said with an insouciant smile trying to deflect any impression of concern, although she couldn’t cover the edge as if she was checking the canary in a coal mine. She glanced at her man looking for confirmation but he said nothing although his creased forehead was statement enough.
Jackson nodded, “Sure, pull up a chair.”
Jackson heard that inner voice – You Will Know – “My name is Jackson,” he pulled up a chair facing them. Rambles just laid back in a preferred shadow.
“Jackson!” she said as if winning the bingo game. “My brother in law on my sister’s side is named Jackson. I am into names. Google them. You are Jackson, huh? That means God favors you. All right. Isn’t that cool, Wilbur?”
Wilbur of the etched forehead just grunted.
“I am Rita Thursgood,” she said, “My name Rita means a pearl, a good-natured person.”
Wilbur broke through his darkness, “She’s a name-freak. There are days when I tell her about some scram at work and she Googles his name.”
“Which is accurate information if you ever gave me credit, Wilbur.”
“I got your credit. What the fuck are we doing here?”
She tried her smile to ward him off as she turned to Jackson. “And this is my husband, well not legal-like but we have been together for over almost eight years now. Isn’t that right Wilbur?”
“Well plus is closer to eight than seven wouldn’t you say?”
“What the fuck are we doing here?”
“Well the sign said, come in and figure things out. Isn’t that accurate, Jackson?
“Yes, Rita, exactly. What do you want to you want to figure out?”
Wilbur harpooned, “Figure out what the fuck we’re doing here, how’s that!”
Rambles eased out of the shadows feeling an unsaid threat from Wilbur.
Jackson eased his voice, “I’m not sure either, Wilbur, but I get from Rita that she has some concern, something to figure out.”
“There you go!” Rita affirmed with that coverage of a smile which did not match her eyes. “Go ahead, Wilbur, tell him, tell Jackson like what you told me this morning, go ahead.”
Wilbur wasn’t buying in. “Jackson over here has nothing to do with what I said this morning is between me and you. Just shut it, give it a rest!”
Rita was resolute. “What you said this morning needs some figuring out. And this sign in the window is a sign, yes, a sign more than the sign, if you just open to signs. Tell him, go ahead.”
Wilbur looked at Jackson as if he was a cobra ready to strike a possum.
Rambles moved closer to the scene.
Jackson motioned to Rambles that he has it covered. Rambles stopped. Jackson said to Wilbur, “Look man, I’m just here listening. Not making you or anybody else wrong or right. Just listen and maybe I can tell you what I hear.”
Wilbur looked at him. Looked at Rambles. Looked at Rita. Decided. “You’re here to listen okay. What I said to Rita this morning was and it still stands, you want to get married and I want a baby but you can’t give me a baby so why should we get married, that’s what I said.”
One tear slowly filled Rita’s left eye and seeped down her freckled cheek, “We can always adopt a baby. A beautiful little baby. Any sex, even they got tests which tells you lots of things like...”
Wilbur slammed the door on her with, “But it won’t be my baby.”
Rita retorted with surprising energy, “If we love it, it will be our baby. That’s what makes a baby yours, isn’t that right, Jackson?”
Jackson wanted to agree but his head tilted as if hearing a new voice. He waited for the You-Will-Know but nothing came. The silence in the room was palpable in bulk sadness. Rita looked at Jackson and in a voice closer to a child’s plaint, “The sign said figure things out.”
Jackson looked at each of them, not knowing what to say or do but somehow something in him resonated with You Will Know, as he took out a pad and pen from his pocket, tore off two small pages and gave each one to Rita and Wilbur. He turned to Rambles, “You got a pen or pencil?”
Rambles dug down his pocket and pulled out a pencil with a worn nub. “Here you go.”
Jackson took it, gave his pen to Rita and the pencil to Wilbur. “Here’s what I want you to do. On a scale of one to ten write a number which indicates how you feel about your partner. Not about a baby. Not about marriage. Just how you feel about your partner. If it’s a ten that means you love her, love him, no matter what. If it’s less than five, not so much. Then give me the paper. Your partner will not see it now or ever.”
Rita took it anticipating that this will help figure things out.
Wilbur threw the paper and pencil on the floor. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here?”
Jackson picked them up, offered the paper and pencil back to Wilbur, speaking in a hopefully soothing voice, “Look, man, some things take time to understand, to figure out. Give the home team a break and just write a number about how you feel about Rita. She won’t see it. Only me and you. Our secret.”
Wilbur stared at him a few seconds to check if he was being conned by Jackson, finally shrugged, took the paper and pencil, “What the fuck.” He looked at Rita, “I’m going to write a number. Just don’t fucking forget, this whole thing here is your idea, so what I write is what I write so don’t forget that I would not be here writing a number if you didn’t make a scene outside, just don’t forget all this bullshit is your fault!” And started writing a number.
Rita’s countenance was visibly changing under Wilbur’s assaultive don’t forget. She was fuming, gritting her teeth, trying to hold on to some semblance of reason, which was not working. She broke expectations when she threw down the pad and pen, exploding in Wilbur’s face, “Don’t forget? You telling me not to forget? I will never forget, Mister Wilbur Macintosh, that after eight years of me loving you, serving you, rubbing your back when you came from work even though I was tired from serving stupid customers all day, when I cut the hairs growing over your lips because they scratched me when we kissed which was not all that often as you are not prone to express affection but just the same I never did anything less than being good to my man who comes up with I can’t marry you if you can’t make a baby. Well fuck you and can’t-marry because Wilbur, I would not marry you if you were the last man on this planet. And in case you were wondering, Wilbur means boar. Wild pig. A swine, Wilbur Macintosh, you are appropriately named after a swine!” She walked towards the door in a controlled steady pace and stopped. Turned to Wilbur, “For eight years I thought I was in love with you. But that was a lie. I was in habit with you, not love. And in this very moment, Rita Thursgood is kicking the habit.” She turned to face Jackson, “How’s that for figuring things out!” She smiled as if she slayed the dragon and left the Bodega in a victorious strut.
Wilbur’s head swiveled as if he thought it could do a 360...stopped, stood, glared at Jackson. “Who the fuck are you and see what you done!” Taking a few steps towards him.
Rambles moved between them. “Don’t even think about it!”
Wilbur looked at Rambles, sizing him up for a knock-down. Rambles extended his arm which was holding the old, scarred baseball bat he quietly picked up earlier. “You really want to try me, man?”
Jackson stood, “Just ease your ass out of here, Wilbur.”
“Fuck both of you, motherfuckers.” He walked out trying to appear triumphant but it didn’t work as he slammed the door which was on worn hinges, no slamming sound available.
Rambles and Jackson looked at each other and broke out laughing. After their laughter died down Rambles asked, “What are we laughing at?”
Jackson shrugged, “The human condition.”
“Is this what your You-Will-Know number meant, I mean Rita-baby surprised my ass by reading Wilbur the riot act. Made me hard. Nothing like a woman standing up for herself in the face of what did she call him?”
“Swine,” Jackson closed.
“This is it, the You Will Know numbers, you think? This kinda stuff people coming and doing whatevers?”
“Surprises me as much as you, Rambles. I’m just playing blind.”
“But so far,” Rambles said, laying down the bat, “it played out nice, though I wouldna’ minded crushing that chump's ribs for having such a bad ‘tude, I wouldna’ minded.”
The door creaked open as an old man with a limp and a cane entered. He walked in slowly as if he was in pain from the movement. He looked around in shock as his European accented hoarse voice rasped, “What happen. What is this? Where is Ignacio? I do not understand. Who are you persons?”
Jackson whispered to Rambles, “We’re on,” and then to the old man, “My name is Jackson. I leased this space for a few months.”
“How can this be? I turn around Bodega is no more and someone named Jackson replaces Ignacio? This is not good. How could this be?” He leaned heavily on his cane with almost visible audible breaths.
“Would you like to sit down, sir?” Jackson offered.
Emanating a noticeable sigh, he slowly walked to a chair Jackson was holding and sat down with a grunt. “Yes, I would like to sit and I would not mind an explanation because this is totally unacceptable.” He looked around for the missing shelves. “This emptiness. I am sorry Mister Jackson but I do not make such an adjustment after all these years every morning I come here, Ignacio introduced me to the good taste of Cubano Coffee with a Danish of course. Danish!” He made a dismissive sound. “You would think a Danish comes from Denmark but no, Ignacio at six in the morning no matter cold, hot, rain, weather meant nothing to Ignacio who said there is no bad weather only inadequate clothing he would go every morning to Feigel’s bakery and buy two dozen. At a price. Then he sells two dozen at another price. Capitalism is better than where I come from. But where is he, what happened to Bodega?”
Rambles jumped into the conversation, “Well, the supermarket across the street...”
Chaim annoyed, “Who can find anything in such a big ugly too many lights, stupid music, what is your name, when I speak to someone I want to know who the someone is?”
“Rambles? Hmmm...interesting name. Rambles. All right, Mister Rambles.”
“No Mister. Just Rambles. And your name?”
“Chaim, Chaim Mandelbaum. My passport says I came from Poland but do not call me Polish. I was born in Lithuania.”
Rambles surprised both of them, “I knew a Jew from Lithuania. Serving big time. Siegelstein, he said he was a Litvok. Are you a Litvok, Mr. Mandelbaum.”
“Do not you dare! I am Ashkenazi, never a Litvok. And why this empty and where is Ignacio?”
Rambles explained, “I was trying to explain, Chaim, that when the supermarket opened across the street Ignacio lost most of his business. And then they raised the rent on him.”
“Oy vey,” Chaim intoned.
Jackson added, “Then Whole Foods three blocks away didn’t help either.”
Chaim made unintelligible sounds, wiped the spittle from the sides of his mouth. “Look at this neighborhood. I live for twenty three years, denks God in a rent-controlled apartment but everything is changing. Whole Foods. Fancy shmancy coffee places. Even jigamajigs to park your bike. The entire wherever you look is becoming gentlefried.”
Jackson gently corrected, “Gentrified.”
“That too. Every morning, for six maybe eight years I would come and talk facts with Cubano coffee...”
Rambles, “And a Danish.”
“Yes of course what else? We would talk Ignacio and me, we would shmooze, discuss the problems of the world and even how to solve most of them but who listens.”
Rambles said, “But how come you didn’t notice before? Store’s closed three weeks now?”
“First a hip operation. Recover in Israel with my daughter and fakakta husband, not a mensch but my Rachel chose him so what can you do but they made me a zeida with my grand-daughter Hannah who is smarter than both of them in that mashugana country. I come back with a cane an Arab made for me to no Ignacio. Totally unacceptable.”
Rambles, “I know what mashugana means. Siegelstein said it a lot. Crazy, huh?”
The door swung open and like a gust of bluster, Bubu, wearing rimless glasses, a bandana covering his forehead, tall and thin enough to worry about a big wind entered, refusing to be ignored with an aggressive voice demanding to be heard in a rhythm of its own creation. “So I see your sign and being kind I ask is it benign or a sneaky shame by doing a game on an unsuspecting lame but like it said to this swiveling head come and figure things out which is a most relevant shout so to whom do I talk or maybe balk as long as there is no chalk outlining my torso Bubu which is my tag and I ain’t no fag not that I have an against a gay no way but I gotta’ say a butt is a butt and I ain’t no slut but there’s nothing juicy Lucy not o.j. either but let’s take a breather and to whom do I groom my worthless pout to figure things out.”
Jackson, Rambles and Chaim were in a stunned silence. Finally Jackson offered his hand, “My name is Jackson.”
Bubu took his hand, shook it twice and spun around as if performing for them all, “Son of Jack get back lest you hack with the pack in the dark abyss of Satan’s kiss tasting the lack on a rack of lies which you can surmise as the boys in power inundate a shower of do this do that while they get fat and we go to lean on a plate of demean if you know what I mean.”
Rambles enjoyment was obvious, “Go on with yo’ bad self, Bubu!” and offered him five to which Bubu slapped his hand against Rambles.
Bubu said, “Five’s alive my brother but another reward would board on ten so let’s do it again.” And Rambles with Bubu slapped both hands in a discovered beat that solidified their bond.
Jackson smiled, “You rap up a storm, Bubu...that is your name, right?”
“A nose ain’t some toes which everybody knows so what’s in a name ‘cept a blaming game as the Man got a file which I revile as they keep in reserve to serve a high degree of a misery but just the same we’ll do our name game for now anyhow as Bubu will do for me ‘n you so who all am I to be talking to in order to border and figure out no doubt?”
“Like I said my name is Jackson, and you just connected with Rambles over here, and sitting to your right is Chaim, Chaim Mandelbaum.”
Chaim nodded, mumbled, “Please to meet you Mr. Bubu but the truth is I did not understand most of what you said in fact all of it I could say.”
Bubu looked at him and said, “What I’m sayin’ ain’t prayin’ Chaim. I know what Chaim means between the seams, Chaim means to life even in strife it’s a name for a Jew and I got a question for you.”
“So ask,” Chaim said.
“Why does a Jew always answer a question with a question.”
To which Chaim slyly responded, “Why not?”
Bubu laughed, offered five to which Chaim responded, “Five or ten is for you and Mister Rambles over here. My generation does this.” He offered his hand for a traditional shake.
Bubu took his hand, shook it, “Okay, Chaim. The sign in the window says figure things out so I’m gonna restrain my shout ‘cause I see you’re no fool but the Jews killing A-rabs is too far from cool.”
Chaim looked at Bubu and then at Jackson, asking, “Is he insulting me or does he really want me to answer?”
Jackson nodded, “Your choice, Chaim.”
Chaim sighed, leaned forward on his cane, looked up at Bubu, “I do not know if maybe you are ready to learn maybe a little or if, Bubu, you just wish to smear my people with some dirtiness which cannot compare with our history but if that is your intention, gai kaken oifen yam.”
Bubu responded, “I don’t speak Jew talk.”
Chaim sat up straighter and looked Bubu from a place of surprising strength, “What you call Jew talk is Yiddish. And if you want to hurt me with your words I say, gai kaken...go shit in the ocean because nothing you say can compare to...”
Bubu interrupted, “No man, get my scam, it’s just my way into the fray of the human condition immersed in sedition and perdition I just want to know what’s the score, there must be more to the why that so many Arabs die their life is done by a Jewish gun.”
Chaim was getting hot and on the edge of anger from what he perceived as an anti-Semitic onslaught from Bubu. “Listen here, Mister Bubu, as old as I am, I am alive enough to tell you right to your face that I do not and will not be silent in the appearance of what you are...”
Jackson felt the urge of You-Will-Know and chose to lower the temperature.
“Tell me, Mr. Mandelbaum...”
“Chaim will do. Tell you what Mister Jackson.”
“Jackson will do.”
“We do good already. So nu, Jackson, what do you want to know because this schnorrer over here has got my heated attention?”
“Well maybe what Bubu is asking and not in words that sound all that good, I mean earlier you said mashugena Israel. From what Rambles translated as crazy. Is it real crazy or just a kind of...”
Chaim looked at Jackson, turned and faced Bubu. His voice was surprisingly aggressive with a no-doubt righteous judgment, “Do you really want an answer, information that only I can give you or are you ready to insult a two-thousand year heritage?”
Bubu said, “Have no fears my opening ears want to hear the data dat mattas.”
Chaim turned to Jackson, “Is that a yes.”
Jackson nodded, “Try him.”
Chaim said, “All right. Listen good. Mashuga is sometimes a kind of crazy but in this particular time and place a real terrible crazy not-good for the Jews or Arabs as a matter of stabbing, shooting, both sides mashugana chazzerei, peoples lives ending. Israel is in serious drek and no one knows why or when or how to fix it. Yes, all kinds of talk which does nothing but fill your kishkas with oy gevalt.” He took a breath and spoke almost in an accented whisper. “I know when this hurt almost beyond a damage not fixable happened. If everybody knew when it started maybe possibly they could do what your sign says, figure out you know how to fix. I even know when, where, what. But who listens.”
Jackson said, “I am listening.”
Rambles said, “I am listening.”
Chaim looked at Bubu with demanding eyes, but Bubu was not sure what was going down.
Jackson made it clear with a kind of pre-emptive caring when he said to Bubu, “What about you, Bubu? Here to learn or just try and score on our man, Chaim, here?”
Rambles joined the fray moving closer to Bubu, “And in case you didn’t get Jackson, Chaim is a brother, if you get what I’m saying.”
Bubu gave it up. “Hey man, I got no burn I’m here to learn if you can lay it out without a pander or slander just give me the reason for the killing season.”
Jackson turned to Chaim, “Chaim?”
Chaim leaned back, looked at Jackson. “Should I believe him?”
Jackson, “We’ll find out in time.”
Chaim looked at Rambles, “And what do you think?
Rambles, “Either Bubu’s straight or we’ll show him the door.”
Chaim considered it. Looked hard at Bubu. “All right already, I will tell you a secret but you cannot, will not use this to hurt this man sitting here or any other Jew. Are we agreed, Mister Bubu?”
Bubu was silent a few beats.
Jackson jumped in, “The man asked you a question, Bubu.”
Rambles made it clear which side he was on as he picked up the bat. “Are you agreed, Bubu, not to use whatever Chaim puts down to put down his people?”
Bubu looked at each, finally to Chaim. “No put-downs from the put-down clown. Nothing to toll, just let it roll.”
Chaim nodded. “All right. You want to know when Israel, when the Jews scarred our own Jewish souls? Not you, not the anti-Semitistics, no, we Jews did to ourselves. Neshama would never be the same.”
Quietly Jackson asked, “Neshama?”
Chaim, as if in private prayer rocked back and forth slowly and mumbled, “Neshama, the purest aspect of our soul. It shines in the deepest core of our being.” He grunted with a memory as the words eased out, “In my body he has kindled a lamp from his glory. A poem by Moses ibn Ezra referring to the light of neshama.”
Jackson gently asked, “You said neshama would never be the same. Why, what happened?”
Chaim said, “A shandeh un a charpeh. A shame and a disgrace. It gives me shpilkes to this day just to think of November 4, 1955. There, I told you.”
Bubu asked, “When, what happened then?”
“The rule, the two thousand year old rule was broken.”
“What was the rule?” Jackson quietly asked.
Chaim sighed and whispered just loud enough for everyone to hear. “No Jew kills another Jew.” He moved his tongue as if it tasted of poison. “That rotten, terrible, nasty day, in Israel, a Jew for God’s sakes, that sonofabitchbastard Jew killed Yitzhak Rabin, a Jew. That disgusting ugly wicked act was the beginning of the end of the purity of our tribe. And now, now you want to know why Israel is mashuga. Now you know.”
Jackson said, “But that was what decades ago. Now, I mean today...”
Chaim interrupted, “Today what? Arabs kill Jews, Jews kill even more Arabs. What to do? Simple. Give the Arabs work, give them what we cherish most of all, education, knowledge, a roof over the head. Shoin, Fartig, genug, no more killings on either side.”
Jackson was more than impressed, “Then why don’t they do that? You can’t be the only Jew who understands a way out of the maelstrom.”
“Maelstrom, good word. Why they don’t do that? Why don’t we use our Jewish gift: Sechle, common sense? Ask Yitzhak Rabin.”
Jackson empathically asked in a soft tone, “So what’s the answer, Chaim.”
He rocked back and forth as if in solemn prayer. Then nodded, sighed, “Who says there is an answer?”
Quiet in the Bodega.
Chaim stood with effort, leaned on his cane, walking with his severe limp towards the door. “No more bodega but I still want a Danish from Feigel’s.”
Bubu walked over and put his arm around Chaim’s shoulders helping him ambulate, “I want a Danish too so let Bubu and the Jew...”
Chaim looked at him, nodded, “Good, Bubu. Me and You. See I too can rhyme.”
Bubu raved, “And that’s no crime,” offering five to which Chaim looked and slapped his hand with his.
“Tell me Bubu,” Chaim asked, “Do you know some place maybe perhaps that we can have Cuban coffee?”
Bubu affirmed, “Around the corner cross the street all the Cubanos go to meet.”
They walked towards the door with Bubu’s supportive help, “Lean on me, Chaim, it will easier.”
Chaim did so, “Bubu and Chaim. Who would have thought!” And they left.
Jackson and Rambles were quiet, each dealing with the experience of Chaim and Bubu.
Ultimately Rambles muttered, “That was somethin’, huh?”
Jackson mumbled, “Yeah. Sure was.”
Talking quietly Rambles said, “I feel like we’re in some kinda’ foreign movie with those things at the bottom.”
“Yeah. If the movie’s good sometime I stop reading and just, you know.”
“So maybe, this You-Will-Know is your movie.”
“But how does it end?”
Jackson pointed to the door where Chaim and Bubu exited arm in arm. “Maybe it already did.”
Rambles grunted in assent. Thought a while. Then, “What should we call it?”
William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem."
You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).
The Light in the Window
Max crumbled up his ticket and threw it in a trashcan by the door. He put on his toque and stepped out of the cinema. The brisk air of winter felt refreshing and he walked holding his gloves instead of putting them on. The movie had been good and this was the best IMAX theatre in the city so he had to see it here. Although, there was always the danger of running into somebody he knew and would the movie be worth it if he had such an uncomfortable meeting?
He stood on the corner waiting for the traffic light. Looking around, he tried to make up his mind. Should he? He was so close; it seemed stupid not to take advantage of the situation. The light turned green, so he decided to let it show him what to do. He jumped off the curb to avoid a pool of slush and crossed the street. It was only one block up and one block over; so close and so simple, but he felt himself getting a little apprehensive. Please, dear God, don’t let me run into anybody I know. He kept scanning the other pedestrians hoping, no praying, that if he saw somebody, he would see them first and be able to turn away in the wild hope of not being recognised.
It was early evening but with Christmas only a couple of weeks away, the streets were busy. Streetlamps were sprouting festive decorations and storefronts had seasonally themed displays. He smiled. This time of year had a sense of warmth to it, a feeling of family, closeness, and nostalgia. It may be chilly out but you could always have a cup of hot chocolate. It felt good to wrap your hands around a warm mug.
He arrived at the next corner and turned left. He scanned the other side of the street trying to look at each pedestrian. If he saw somebody, he figured they would be on that side of the street, but anything was possible. He was close. As he took the final steps, the other side opened up at a side street. He looked up. There it was, set back behind a row of stores, the nine-story building standing as a silent backdrop to the commercial bustle.
He moved to the edge of the sidewalk and stopped. He stared at the windows of the eight-floor corner condo. A light was visible in the balcony window. He assumed somebody was at home. That meant there was less of a chance of seeing a familiar face. He looked around again, checking both sides of the street but not recognising anybody. He looked up at the window. It was less than a block away but he knew it was now light-years away. It was once his, or theirs, and now it wasn’t. He had walked up this street countless times to this very corner and looked up to see that light in the window and knew it was the light of home, his home. Sometimes, he had stopped to stare at that lighted window to relish for a moment it was his place in the world; it was where he belonged. He would smile at the thought that he would shortly cross the threshold into that light, into the safety and security of his home, into loving arms and an open heart.
Somebody brushed against him. He looked at the person walking away then looked down to see if he could shift a little more to stay out of the way of the other pedestrians. He looked back up at the window. This would probably be the week to get the Christmas tree out of the storage locker. He would have gotten the luggage cart from the lobby and gone into the garage to the storage area and pulled out the various boxes containing the tree and the decorations. It would have taken the two of them a couple of hours to get everything sorted out: putting the various parts of the tree together, getting the strings of lights in place, and hanging the various ornaments. The kids were grown, but they still liked to visit and add things to the tree. Closer to Christmas, he would always add envelopes individually addressed to each member of the family, as well as husbands, boyfriends, and potential holiday visitors. Come Christmas day, he didn’t want anybody left out. Joy to the world and joy to each and every one under this roof.
As he stared at the window, a wave of nostalgia came over him. He experienced an enormous sadness. A tear welled up in his eye and he reached into a pocket for a tissue. He pulled out something and glanced down at his hand. It was a napkin from the last time he had stopped for a slice of pizza. Holding up his glasses, he wiped his eye. He looked again at the window then blew his nose. He looked down and sighed. He felt tired. Sadness was exhausting. It was a difficult burden to bear.
He turned and started down the sidewalk. That was enough. Besides, he didn’t want to push his luck. The last thing he needed was to have anybody see him standing there staring at the window like he was a stalking ex.
The streets were busy. The decorations on the streetlamps had a pleasant holiday spirit. He thought that Christmas was always a joyful time of the year. What a wonderful time to meet family and friends, share a few laughs, and tell stories about what had happened during the year, to catch up on life. He sighed. Just not for him.
It would take an hour on public transit for Max to get back to his small one-bedroom apartment. There would be no light on in the window.
Julian has previously worked at the United Nations, as a bookseller and as a proofreader, but his true passion lies in writing. He now lives in the British countryside and devotes his time to writing and growing tasty vegetables.
The Phone Call
The phone rang. Larry sighed. He ignored it and offered the bowl of pickled olives to Jim.
It rang again. It was one of those old ringtones that sound like the first telephone ever invented. The new, fancy ringtones irritated Larry.
‘Don’t you want to answer that?’ Jim said. ‘You never know, someone could be dying.’
Larry smiled. ‘Fine.’
He put the bowl down and got up.
‘Will you bring some more wine on your way back?’ his wife asked, winking at Jim’s wife.
Larry nodded and hurried to the kitchen. The cell phone had rung five times; one more and it would go to his voicemail. He entertained the thought of failing to get to the phone on time, but now that he was up… He answered.
‘Mr. Goodrich?’ a woman’s voice said.
Larry confirmed. He wasn’t in a mood to entertain nuisance calls. They never usually called at eight o’clock at night. He had his rebuke ready-made in his mind.
‘My name is Lisa Chang. I am the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the United States in Phnom Penh.’
Why did this ring a bell? Larry thought. Then he remembered. His son was on vacation in Cambodia. He was there with his girlfriend, backpacking across French Indochina for two months.
Larry kept quiet.
‘I am calling about your son, David.’
A gush of heat rushed through his veins. His tinnitus grew louder. He held the phone tightly to his ear.
‘I’m afraid I have unfortunate news. Your son has been arrested by the Cambodian authorities, and is currently being held in custody.’
Jim made a joke and Larry’s wife laughed out loud in the sitting room. The woman, Lisa, said something else but all he could hear was his tinnitus. The light in the kitchen grew brighter. He saw his reflection in the window, turned into a mirror by the darkness outside. He was perfectly aware that right now, at this very moment in time, his life had changed. Nothing would ever be the same again.
‘Sorry, what was that?’ Larry said, pulling himself together.
‘Rest assured that we are doing our best to get David out of this situation.’
‘You didn’t mention what the charges were.’
‘Your son was caught smuggling heroin out of the country. We are convinced David is the victim, but the Cambodian authorities don’t see it that way. We will keep you updated on the progress.’
‘Alexandra. My son’s girlfriend. Red hair, long–’
‘She’s here with us. She’s the one who contacted us. She’s in safe hands.’
‘I’ll call her parents to tell them.’
‘Actually, she’s already called them herself.’
‘Right. Well, thanks for calling.’
‘We will get your son out of there, Mr. Good–’
Larry put the phone down. He lay still, as if life had left him. He allowed himself a few moments of emptiness before reacting. But slowly questions emerged in his mind and the flow increased until he couldn’t remain motionless any longer.
What was he to do now? He knew he couldn’t merely wait at home for the phone to ring. His son was in danger, and if the TV had taught him anything, he was in lethal danger. Southeast Asian justice was pitiless.
He saw an unopened bottle of wine on the kitchen countertop and seized it mechanically. He returned to the sitting room, put the bottle on the coffee table, and asked his wife Erin to follow him into the hallway.
‘Larry, we have company,’ she replied, looking at the guests with an embarrassed smile.
‘Erin. The hallway, now.’
‘What’s the tone for? No, I will not follow you out when we have guests. It’s quite rude.’
Jim and his wife Mary said it was alright, they didn’t mind being left alone, but Larry wasn’t listening. He glared at Erin and pursed his lips.
‘David has been arrested in Cambodia for smuggling drugs.’
Mary gasped. Erin’s eyes grew wide and flickered to the guests. Jim put his fingers to his lips.
‘I’m going to Phnom Penh now. I’ll call you when I have more news.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Erin said. ‘There’s nothing you can do.’
‘I can do even less by sitting here. Jim, Mary, I’m sorry to leave you like this.’
‘Of course,’ Jim said. ‘Don’t worry about it. We should probably–’
‘I’m not going to Cambodia,’ Erin said.
‘I know you’re not.’ Larry put his shoes and coat on.
Erin asked Jim and Mary to stay for support. Larry checked he had his wallet and cell with him, and he left the house without another word.
He jumped into the car. They had only one car. He wondered how Erin would manage without it, but he realised he didn’t care. He drove down the highway as if his pregnant wife’s water had just broken.
He wondered if you could still just turn up at the airport counter and purchase a flight ticket, like they did in movies. He found out you could. He was lucky, too, to live close to Newark airport; they had flights to Cambodia.
Boarding was only in forty-five minutes, but he didn’t have any bags to check and the officials got him through the security line faster so he managed to board the flight on time. He paid more than any tourist would have been willing to pay, but he wasn’t a tourist. Money had no value to him anymore.
He didn’t watch a movie during the flight. He didn’t read. He didn’t sleep. He didn’t talk to anyone. He only ate the piece of bread he was given with the hot meal. He simply thought of his son and how helpless he must feel. Tears came to his eyes several times; he didn’t bother wiping them.
Larry had always considered his tinnitus to be the worst problem in his life; a never ending torture. But it now seemed a childish matter. He longed for his tinnitus to be his only problem.
David had been tricked. The Lisa woman hadn’t mentioned why she thought David was the victim, but he knew that was the truth. Most parents didn’t think their children capable of committing crimes, and when they did they fell to pieces, flabbergasted or remaining in denial. But with David it was different. He wasn’t the type of kid to use drugs, let alone smuggle them. He was too sensible to engage in such activities in such dangerous territory as Southeast Asia. Plus, Alex was the most innocent girl he’d ever met. If it came to that, she would’ve kept him from doing such a mistake.
He arrived in Hong Kong after a long, tiring flight and transferred. He didn’t need coffee to stay awake. The plane landed in Phnom Penh at eleven in the morning the next day.
He halted the first tuk-tuk driver he saw. The vehicle was a motorcycle pulling an articulated passenger trailer. He asked the driver if he knew where the American embassy was. The driver stared at him blankly, then added, ‘Come, come!’
Larry asked again, but the driver kept repeating “Come!”. Larry had naïvely thought any driver would know where the embassy was. He returned inside and connected to the airport’s free wifi. It took longer than he would’ve liked to find the address because he rarely used his cell’s wifi function.
He kept the page with the address open and returned outside. He showed the screen to the first tuk-tuk driver that stopped; he didn’t want to risk mispronouncing the names.
He hopped in. He stared around him as the tuk-tuk wiggled its way through a swarm of cars and motorcycles. Every Cambodian he saw reminded him of the blatant injustice reigning in the country. He had always been indifferent towards them, but now he despised them. Not everyone was corrupt – he was perfectly aware of that – but he couldn’t help feeling resentful. It was personal. His son was in danger.
He was relieved when he saw the American flag fly high above the building. Something familiar in a sea of unknown. The symbol of the rule of law. He paid the driver ten dollars and told him to keep the change.
Security guards checked him at the entrance, and when he mentioned why he was there, a phone call was made and Lisa appeared almost instantly.
‘I didn’t realize you had decided to make the trip, Mr. Goodrich,’ she said, shaking his hand.
‘Not yet. We’ve been working at it since seven o’clock this morning with our lawyer.’
They entered her office. Alex jumped out of her seat and hugged Larry. He hugged her back. They didn’t say a word – they didn’t need to. She sat back down and Larry took the seat next to her.
‘So what happened? I thought Cambodia was rather lax when it came to drugs. I heard they rarely enforce the laws.’
‘That’s correct,’ Lisa said, ‘except when it comes to smuggling drugs out of the country. Smuggling laws are harsh because it’s a poor country and drugs are cheap and available. As it’s close to the golden triangle and a lot of heavy marijuana and opium producers, some foreigners have tried to stop the eventual chuck-out by smuggling drugs to other richer countries, which would mean all sorts of international pressure and trouble for Cambodia if it caught on.’
She paused for a moment. Then she said, ‘David was caught with ten pounds of heroin in his bag.’
Larry stared blankly at her, then turned to Alex. ‘What happened?’
‘We were about to enter security check to board our flight to Hanoi, but before going in we went to the bathroom. He looked after my bag and I after his. I went to the snack dispenser to buy a chocolate bar as I was looking after his bag. Someone must’ve sneaked the packs of drugs in his bag then, because at security they saw the drugs on the screen.’
‘Didn’t he feel the difference in weight?’
‘He did, but he didn’t think much of it. He thought it was just him. He had no reason to think someone had sneaked loads of heroin in his bag.’
‘I read a bit about Cambodia on the internet at the airport. Bribing seems to work well, didn’t David try that?’
‘He thought of it,’ Alex said. ‘But he didn’t have any cash with him. Me either. We offered to go to the ATM but they didn’t want to hear any of it anyway.’
‘Excellent, it had to be the only honest Cambodians in the Goddamn country. I have cash with me now. Isn’t there anyone I can pay?’
‘Too late,’ Lisa said. ‘It went too far. A judge has been contacted and now has to be involved.’
‘Have you made an appeal for clemency?’
‘We have. Unfortunately, Southeast Asia isn’t afraid to ignore appeals for clemency from Western governments, so we’re not basing our hopes on that.’
‘What about extradition? He’s an American citizen. He should be tried by an American court.’
‘That’s what we’re pushing for at the moment. The success rate in this country is quite low, though.’
‘What’s the other alternative?’
‘Proving in a court of law that he didn’t have the drugs on him when he entered the airport. Proving that he is innocent; that he was set up. Our lawyer is with David right now, building the case.’
‘Can I see my son?’
‘You can, but later.’
‘How is he?’ Larry asked Alex.
‘He’s hanging in there. He was furious at the airport. I’d never seen him like that. It probably didn’t help. I haven’t seen him since he was brought into custody.’
Larry yearned to see his son. He wanted him to know that he was there for him. He wanted to tell him that everything would be alright. He wanted to comfort him. That’s what parents are for, he thought.
‘What’s at stake?’ he asked Lisa. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’
‘Thankfully, the death penalty here has been abolished.’ She paused to look at Larry, thinking he would be relieved, but he wasn’t. ‘On paper, Cambodia’s laws prescribe punishment ranging from five years to…life in prison. But that is just on paper; law enforcement is lax.’
‘But not in David’s case, you said.’
Lisa looked at her desk.
Larry rubbed his eyes. The tinnitus came back. It was a welcome distraction, and he let it take him away from the civil servant’s office for a few moments.
They spent the next few hours going over their options, the probability of each sentence and which arguments the lawyer had in store. Then the three of them left the embassy to go to the police station. They used the ambassador’s car and chauffeur, as if it would make things better.
The lawyer was waiting for them. He was the first well dressed Cambodian Larry had seen so far. He wore a dull grey suit without a tie. His jacket was on his arm because of the heat. His forehead was glistening with sweat, and his black hair oily.
He talked in Khmer to the officers, pointed to the three Americans, and after a few minutes they led them through a hallway. The lawyer told them to sit down until they were called in.
Larry didn’t remember ever having so little patience. He wanted to slam the door open and look for his son. He knew David was somewhere in there; they were only separated by a few concrete walls. It didn’t seem fair to have to wait. He felt like he hadn’t seen him for years. A shiver chilled his skin as he thought of the moment he would see his son.
The door finally opened and his name was pronounced with a very Cambodian accent. They all entered the room. He had expected to walk through another hallway but there was David, sitting at a table in front of two officers in uniform.
Stars shone in David’s eyes as he recognized his father. He got up and Larry hugged him as if he would never let go. His son’s arms didn’t wrap around him because his hands were in handcuffs behind his back. Larry let his tears flow. His cheeks and lips were dripping wet when he kissed his son’s neck. He felt hot, damp breath on his shoulder and knew David was crying too. Larry had never cried in front of his son before. It was a type of weakness a father shouldn’t show, he thought. But he didn’t care anymore. Not that he had any control over it, anyway.
The door opened and the lawyer was called outside. Larry let go of his son and they looked at each other for a few seconds, father and son smashed to pieces. Larry wanted to tell him that everything would be okay, like he had been longing to do all day, but no words came out. There was too much emotion for words.
Alex took over and hugged him as well. Larry sat down at the table opposite from where David’s seat was.
‘They treating you well?’ Larry asked with a choked voice.
He nodded, his lips trembling.
They looked at each other in silence. There was so much to be said that they didn’t know what to say.
‘It’s filthy in there, dad. It smells. There are animals. Rats. Mice. Cockroaches crawling over me. Bent needles. Don’t even know how they got there.’ His voice was trembling.
Larry wanted to hold him tight, but the officers’ glares fixed him on his seat.
‘It will be okay, son. We’re working to get you out. It shouldn’t be long now.’
He hated lying to his son, but it just came out.
The lawyer came back in the room and whispered behind Larry’s back. Larry was too focused on his son to notice anything. He didn’t feel Lisa’s hand on his shoulder, or hear her words when she talked. He had let his tinnitus take over and block everything else out. He only saw his son gape at Lisa and then Alex, then try to smile but only winced as more tears flowed down his cheeks.
Larry turned to Lisa and looked at her in confusion. She repeated: ‘He’s free! They caught the smuggler who put the drugs in David’s bag in Hanoi; he admitted to doing it. The judge has acquitted David without a trial!’
Larry cried for the second time in his life in front of his son, but he never felt so good.
Yvette Flis has published under different names, each hers, but gave up spare vowels when she took up snow drifts and dark winds. She reads to remember and writes to forget. Her recent works have be seen in The Linnets Wings, and under the names Yvette Managan and Yvette Wielhouwer, in The Prose Poetry Project, Winamop, Every Day Fiction, , Open Magazine, Mason’s Road, Flashshot, Sporkpress, Eclecticflash, Killer Works, All Things Girl, Literal Translations, Polluto 6, Mirror Magazine, and Sinister Tales; and under Yve Wildflower inNefarious Ballerina.
Bird of Prey
Dawn arrived without its usual splendor, just a brightening of the sky. I should have taken that as a warning of the veil that was to be lowered, which would settle over everything and onto tomorrow. But I didn’t know. I just thought that we’d get a bit of rain.
And rain it did, slowly at first, single large drops that splattered against the roof of my car, and then in torrents, sheeting over everything and obscuring vision so that when I drove I looked out for momentary glimpses of the yellow and white lines that defined the sides of the pavement.
By the time I arrived at the cookout, I was ready for a drink. I made my way over to porch where Bob had set up the wet-bar. Sylvia sat on a folding chair set away from everyone else. Her lips stretched tightly over teeth that have bitten, and a mouth that has curled around sharp words. She nodded at me curtly. “Why are you here?” she asked. “Where’s Kenneth?”
“He should be here by now,” I answered. “I’m supposed to meet him.”
Sylvia scanned the yard. “I don’t see him.” Her eyes squinted.
“How are you?” I asked. She’d shrunk with recent widowhood. I hugged her and felt bones shove through the thin skin on her shoulders into my hands. They felt sharp as knives. I felt her intent on spreading buttery words or sibilant sounds that hinted of “Sh! Shshsh…” or “Things ‘er all right.” She didn’t answer, so I pulled away, mumbled something, stepped to the bar, and ordered a scotch, neat.
Sylvia turned her attentions to the men who’d gathered at the grill. “I see Ken now,” she said.
She’d bleached her hair as soon as her husband stopped breathing, and exchanged her tee shirts and shorts for low cut girlish tops and snug fitting bottoms that called for attention. She tattooed a large heart over her breast – red, with her husband’s name on it, and his birth and death dates, above and below.
“Anyone who wants me is gonna have to deal,” she said. Her mouth had stretched wide, exposing teeth and the pointed tip of her tongue.
I’d stood back, surprised and discomforted. I imagined myself in a similar situation. Would I look for a replacement so soon? I’d felt a scandal coming on way back then and as Sylvia stood near the grill, her head turned from side to side. Her gaze rolled over each man. Sometimes she sucked on a tooth, sometimes she drew on the Virginia Slim that dangled from her fingers, and I shuddered. My skin prickled and smells became more important. I knew how many breaths I took, heard a tiny squeak at the end of each of her inhalations, felt each wisp of wind and change in its direction – someone slammed a door down the street, across the road they’d started a fire. I wondered if that would grow to be out of control too.
I wanted to move aside the bottom of my shorts, lean my pubis forward, to pee on each tree and every cornerstone. I needed to mark my territory. My blood rose. I looked at Sylvia. “How would Melvin feel if he knew you were looking for a new man?”
“He wanted me to,” she had said. “He told me he didn’t want me to be alone.”
I thought I’d understood. Sylvia would hold her expectations too high, I decided. She’d hunt where there was no game, or where the prey was larger than her meager weapon.
Maybe that’s what she was doing, but where she hunted at the barbeque, where she laid her scarlet talons and her aging cleavage, was around my home, my friends, my territory, and we all squirmed.
Was she a woman pained by the loss of her husband as she claimed, or was she a vulture, shed of her tethers, who lurked and hunted and gave couples gooseflesh as she passed?
I watched her set her snare. Sylvia sidled over to Kenneth, came too close to him. She ran a finger up his sleeve, drew her face near his. Her mouth moved in words, secret ones, I knew, and as she stared deep into his eyes, Kenneth bolted.
He burst through the line she’d drawn around them and fled to my side. His face flushed. He told me she’d whispered, “You are what I want.” He met my eyes in honest distress and continued, “Please keep this between us.”
It is, Kenneth, between only us, and there it will stay. My word to you is gold, but I am still disturbed by what you’ve said – what she’s done, what she wants.
“I’m not the only one,” my husband said. “She’s gone after Bob and Lawrence too.”
Both are married men, and both are devoted to their own wives.
“She can go after Phillip.” I said. “He’d have her.”
“She doesn’t want him,” Kenneth replied. He searched my face. His eyes grew large. His mouth grew silent and I knew that Sylvia had heard him suggest the very same man.
Her traps are not large enough to catch him, I know that. I think.
I took to writing stories about a little over a year ago for something to do while recovering from a broken foot. I've had about thirty published here and there. They have appeared in Romance Magazine, Heater, The Flash Fiction Press, The Fable Online, Frontier Tales, Clever Magazine, The Zodiac Review, Fear of Monkeys, Abbreviate Journal, and The Texas Writer's Journal Quarterly.
A Special Place In Hell
“Did you know dear that there’s a special place in hell for women like you dear who don’t support women.”
“Where’d you come up with that one?”
“It’s right here on the internet. It says that women who don’t support women candidates have a special place in hell reserved for them. A woman said that,” the male of the pair stated knowing that it would get a rise from his female mate.
“Let me see that please,” she asked reaching for his Samsung notebook.
He handed it to her and she and started reading the article. Her husband blathered on. “Well if it’s on the internet it has to be true doesn’t it? Some old bat named Madeleine Alright said it.” He purposely mala propped her name knowing that it would irk his wife some. “She use to be our country’s U.N. ambassador or something. She’s one of those intellectual type women. Knows everything about everything and what’s good for everybody. And since she knew what was good for our country and the world when she was ambassador she’s got to know now what’s good for women too right? Like it’s good for some women to burn in Hell.”
The wife finished reading. “Christ on a crutch. Women like that give women a bad name.” She closed her eyes and shook her head from side to side. “All this political nonsense why it’s the height of stupidity. Why in the world the press would take that old fool seriously is beyond me. Anybody in their right mind can see that it’s nothing but just another political propaganda piece. Makes you realize how effed up the news media is.” She handed him back his Samsung, picked up her own and went back to surfing the net.
“You know I bet that there’s a special place in hell for men that don’t support men candidates,” her husband continued. “I’d like to see the press should do a story about that. Only they’d do it differently of course. I can just see them now reporting on some male politician getting up there spouting to the press that men must vote for men or burn in hell. They’d run it as a male chauvinistic pig sexist story. You just wait and see though, I betcha that they’ll run a story about some African-Americans saying that African-Americans must vote for African-Americans or else they’ll burn in Hell. Or some Hispanic saying vote Hispanic or burn. Hispanics are all Catholics you know and those Catholics are really scared to death of going to Hell. That will get them to vote straight. Straight Democrat that is. You know there’s lots of stories they could do, gays for gays, transexuals for transexuals, muslims for muslims. The press could even report that a muslim man wouldn’t get his seventy two virgins if he didn’t vote for a muslim. Don’t have to worry about women muslims though because they can’t vote in their own countries and muslim men won’t let them vote here either. Yes there’s a gold mine of stories out there just waiting for the press to milk them.”
“Knock it off!” she shouted. “That’s enough! You’re just being silly now so just drop it dear! I can’t take any more of your blathering. It’s bad enough that the news media is stupid. But I shouldn’t have to put up with to a stupid husband too.” Her eyes shot darts at him hoping that her burning glare would be warning enough for him to back off. She wanted to go back to her own world on the net, choosing what stories she wished to read, undisturbed by him.
But nooooo! He being a man, he couldn’t resist. He couldn’t let this die just yet. He had to get it just one more cutesy inane remark even though he knew that he would pay dearly for his insolence and that it was suicidal to do so.
The death wish took control of his brain as he blurted out, “You know I should hold a press conference and announce: “Old generic white men like me should only vote for other old generic white men. That way they can’t accuse us of being racist or sexist if it's okay for women to vote only for women, blacks for blacks, gays for gays, etcs for etcs, can they?”
“Enough dear,” she repeated through gritted teeth, the steam rising from her head, her jaw firmly clenched, her eyes glued to her computer.
But it was too late for him to stop now. The runaway train had been set in motion and the wreck was about to happen. “Yes us old white men deserve our special place in hell too you know.”
“Why that’s nice dear and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. But I’m sure that there’s a special place in Hell for you.”
“Well I know where that would be.”
“And where would that be dear?”
He knew that she’d rise to the bait. His face was all aglow as he answered. “Why right next to you of course.” He bolted from his chair and flew out the door. It never hit him in the butt as he was far down the street when his wife slammed it shut. He suddenly had gotten the urge to take a walk, a very, very, long walk.
Lisa lives in Mayo, Ireland with her East German husband, two teenage sons, two dogs, two cats, and four liberated, battery farm hens. But, she has not always lived on the wet and windy west coast of Connacht, she grew up on the sunny west coast of California in the famed City of the Angels.
Before she settled down in the countryside, she lived in London for four years and then spent another four years in Berlin. She has a certificate in Child Care, an Honours degree in Irish Heritage and a Masters in Advanced Language Skills German. She knows you have to make time to do the things you love and she loves to write.
Gently swishing water with beautiful feet. That’s what she was doing.
Sexy. That was the image she wanted to capture.
In public, image was her purpose. In private, she prepared it. Whatever she did, her image was her ulterior motive. She didn’t just sit down and dip her toes into sea water. She dipped freshly pedicured toe nails, smooth and shapely feet, attached to smooth and shapely legs, crowned with high-waisted denim shorts into water and quietly posed looking natural, but feeling like a photo in a magazine.
She was aware of the men’s approval. She caught the turn of their heads and lengthened glances out of the corner of her eye. Women looked too, but with envy. She’s so skinny and smooth, their looks said and she imagined they suddenly felt dumpy and unkempt. The men simply wanted to get those long legs of hers apart. Perfect, exactly the reaction she wanted. A surge of power hit her and settled into a steady flow, she basked in the glow generated by their desire to be her, to have her.
Some of the men thought they had a chance, like the one who owned the super luxury yacht. Other men, like the one bringing crates of alcohol onto the deck, knew they didn’t. The owner of the boat had been eyeing her up since her travelling group had met with him this morning. He’d held the door for her as they were leaving the restaurant and placed his hands firmly on her waist as he’d passed her in the courtyard. The young guy sweating with the crates was definitely sexy. His muscles rippled under his brown, gleaming skin as he hoisted and carted those crates. And she enjoyed his less refined glances. She planned to flirt with him later just for fun.
She skimmed the water with her toes and leaned back on her slim, toned arms. She tilted her head back because that is what a girl does while sitting by the water, it emphasises your slender neck and long, highlighted hair. A few of the local girls were shrieking and splashing water on one another, chasing and laughing. The water moulded their tops around their breasts. Bras and no bras were revealed. She wondered what it would be like to get attention that way without meaning to and in a group. But the ladies on the yacht were her competition, the girls on the dock her inferiors. They’d be the types to get together with the crate boy later and he was looking their way each time he walked by.
She looked down at her feet. Small waves forced water up against her calves. Was the water contaminated she wondered and mentally cringed. She was freshly showered, softened, deodorised and scented. Sterile and sleek. At the salon the day before her flight she’d had a manicure as well as a pedicure, fake tan applied and the show girl body wax. Not just her legs and underarms waxed, but her forearms, fingers, eyebrows, and chin. Lower back, tummy, bum and toes. And her pubic hair narrowed down to a landing strip. At home, she shaved off dark hairs that grew around her nipples. She wasn’t ashamed of waxing fingers, toes and back, because all the women she knew waxed there, she’d be ashamed not to, but the nipples. If the thought of those nasty hairs in unladylike places crossed her mind outside of her apartment, it was abruptly banished. Any notion of an undesirable genetic line was locked up in the tower. Feminine women didn’t have hair on their nipples, she was sure the other ladies at the gym didn’t, but who would ask or admit. The thought, cropping up now, disappeared behind iron bars as she swished and observed and posed. Her makeup came to mind. It was waterproof and had been carefully applied this morning and retouched, she wouldn’t need to check on it until they boarded the boat.
The yacht owner was telling the crate boy off for leaving the supplies in the wrong place. They were both good looking, but only one had the assets. By now she’d found out all about the houses and cars he owned and the success of his business, the influential people he knew. His name was Kenneth. Well, that makes me his Barbie, she thought and a bubble of laughter pushed up and tickled her lips. She struggled to suppress it, not wanting to look weird by laughing all alone. The Barbie image suited her sense of self, she was the gorgeous, glossy woman and he her perfect match. And they both excelled at the ultimate power of their gender. Allure and authority.
An old woman in a black dress and head scarf came into view. She was thickset and hunched over and made her way with a graceless gait. The shrieking girls fell quiet as she approached and spoke to them in a distinctly chastising manner. Barbie girl shuddered inwardly, Yuck, she thought. Could you imagine looking like that. Abruptly, images of herself escaped and plopped solidly into her mind’s eye. Her, old, lined and saggy. Shapeless and withered. Or worse, as an old woman still grasping on to past glory, slipping down, clawing the unstable ground as those above sneered. Come on give it up, we all know you’ve had numerous operations. Do you think he’d look at you? And then turning away bored as she fell to oblivion.
Blankly staring, her composure cracking, she barely noticed her surroundings, her admirers, or the girls, now subdued, walking away with their grandmother. Only adverse adjectives rapid firing into her brain got her attention. Useless, shunned, powerless, ignored. Useless, shunned, powerless, ignored. IGNORED. And she saw the hordes of young girls, younger than she was now, arising and arising and arising.
CB Droege is a fantasy author and poet living in Munich. Recently his fiction was collected in RapUnsEl and Other Stories, and a selection of his poetry appeared in the Drawn to Marvel anthology. His first novel, Zeta Disconnect was released in 2013. He recently edited Dangerous to Go Alone! An Anthology of Gamer Poetry.
Learn more at manawaker.com
The Truth Is
I can’t believe you’re willing to listen to that complete bullshit. You’re a damn straight-line fool if you believe this wholop. I think your friend here’s got a bit of a thing for Cap’n Elly, he does. The Truth is that Miss Ellynore, as the news keeps calling her, knew exactly what she was doing when she took out Clyde. Now, I’m not gonna defend Clyde Harbone. He was a right turd, if you ask me, and I was his best mate, but Elly did her share, and her actions are a dishonor to her former station. We’re lucky any of us survived her wrath.
Elly and Philly were both just as stuck up as any other spoiled rich brats, and they was close as any two sisters anywhere. Dagger Jones says she didn’t flinch when she saw that video of her sister’s trial; I believe it, she could put on quite the show when she needed to, but I think there was more. I think she done already seen that video, long before her men found it on our ship.
First off, there ain’t no way she tagged us outa’ quantum space by accident, like she says. We was in a dark tunnel, believe it or not. I was at the damn controls, so I don’t care much what you believe. When a ship is in a dark quantum tunnel, even along a popular trade route, the chance of accidentally interfering with the field and bringing it out is so close to zero, it might as well be zero. You can look it up in one of your fancy physics books, if you want, but I know it’s true from running the damn things.
Elly was either tracking our engine sigs, or she had someone on our ship who was reporting to her, neither of which is honorable, and neither of which is worthwhile if all you’re looking for is some incidental booty, like she claims.
Then, she came bursting through that drill-lock, like a woman on fire, and she tore through everyone she found with a fury like she was on a holy mission until she found Clyde, then when she tore him apart, she stopped murdering and started taking prisoners, which I was grateful for because I was right there with Clyde when it happened, and I thought I was next. Elly fought like a tigress. She was a whirlwind of blades and fury. If you had seen her eyes the moment when she killed Clyde: The anger, the rapture of that moment, you would never believe she was just “clearing the deck of threats”. She was hunting that man. Then all the air went out of her, and she calmly started picking up the pieces of her cruel assault. Half of our crew was dead, mostly at the end of her swords. I’ve been on one side or the other of at least two dozen ship-to-ship attacks, and I ain’t never seen so much blood on the deck before that day.
Now, I ain’t saying that what Clyde did to Elly’s sister was right, or even defensible, and I ain’t saying that Elly’s anger was not righteous nor undeserved, but she took her vengeance too far, and she was in the wrong when she killed all my mates for what their captain did.
You’ll all see through. Tomorrow, when Mayor Binner holds his trial, we’ll get the truth of it out in the open, and everyone will see the wrongs she done. Binner has always been a fair and just man, even with us privateers, and he’ll get at the truth, I know it.
CB Droege is a fantasy author and poet living in Munich. Recently his fiction was collected in RapUnsEl and Other Stories, and a selection of his poetry appeared in the Drawn to Marvel anthology. His first novel, Zeta Disconnect was released in 2013. He recently edited Dangerous to Go Alone! An Anthology of Gamer Poetry.
Learn more at manawaker.com
Let Me Tell You Something
While the judge considers his verdict, let me tell you something.
It was while I was in the personal guard of the governor of SpinCity Elizabeth, that Miss Elynore and her sister showed up there in response to a job offer. Strike me down if I'm lying. I was there. I was in the room when they made the plans.
You probably heard that Governor Cecil was looking for some official operatives, and that the Francis sisters showed up for an interview. And you probably heard that they threw the governor's hoity-toity bergamot tea in his face and stormed out. Well, that's not really what happened.
First of all, the sisters were raised well, and love their tea. They would never waste it on such a pointless gesture. His governorship left that meeting spotlessly dry, I assure you. More importantly: and this is the good bit: They took the job.
Yes, they stormed out.
Yes, they decried Governor Cecil as a hater of freedom and an enemy to non-toppers.
Yes, they went on a spree of piracy in the wake of the meeting, rousing the ire of the Orbit guard of every major SpinCity and Station.
It was all part of the plan.
"What I need," Cecil told Miss Elynore and Miss Philydae, "Is a skilled crew to investigate the quantum shipping lanes being used by SpinCity Salvador."
"Don't you hate those guys?" Philadae asked.
"They have long heaped insult and debt upon us!" Cecil said, pounding a fist on the table, rattling the teacups. "We need to know what their major operations are, so that we may hurt them back."
"Why settle for just intel?" Elynore asked after a few moments of stillness into which the governor's outburst could be absorbed, "Just have me and my crew take what you want from their tradeships"
Elynore explained to an increasingly furious Governor Cecil that the financial success of SpinCity Salvador was mostly due to smuggling, which they employ to keep the Sol Council from knowing that they are vastly exceeding their trade caps, which Miss Elynore knew because she'd been working for them for several years. The governor's head nearly exploded, I think, but Philydae stepped in and calmed him down.
"We know how to find everything valuable already," She said, voice even, posture unnaturally relaxed. "We can just take it all for you."
When the words sank in, the governor smiled, and the planning began. Everyone always forgets that the beefy guy with the laser pistol by the door has ears, and I heard them lay it all out. The Francis sisters would track where the major operations were going down for Salvador, and target those ships, splitting the take with Cecil and his cronies in Elizabeth. In exchange, Cecil would protect the sisters' actions, including the minor piracy they'd have to commit against other cities and shipping lanes to cover the pattern. The storming out, the outcry against Cecil, it was all invented to make his governorship less nervous about them being connected back to him directly.
I don't know much about Captain Clyde, but mark my words: If you could look closely into the manifests and patrons of the Damned Engine, you'd find a lot of ties to SpinCity Salvador, and with Gamma-Ovantia Station such a close ally with SpinCity Elizabeth, this ruling will be in Miss Elynore's favor. And if you could follow whatever interesting things are in the hold of the Damned Engine, I think you'd discover them on their way to Elizabeth, minus a hefty commission, of course.