Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
Paying For The Wall
Don K. Haughty was the ruler of his kingdom. He had got elected as such by promising to build a wall between his kingdom and the kingdom to the south, the kingdom of Senior Max Amigo. He further had vowed that the he would make Max Amigo pay for it, the cost of the wall that is. Needless to say, the two were not friends.
So fearful that he would make an ass of himself if he didn’t keep his campaign promise, Don K. began constructing the wall.
Max Amigo defiantly laughed at Don K.Haughty. “You are on a fool’s errand,” he taunted. “The windmills of your mind must not be turning for we will never pay.” Max Amigo wanted no wall to be built for he viewed an open border as a safety valve, that is a solution, for all the problems of his kingdom that he could not fix.
Don K. Haughty paid no attention to this bravado for such boasting was typical of Max Amigo. Just more southerly hot air he thought. So he charged onward and as said, he began construction. Or so he said he did. But there was nothing there to see, no great impressive wall like the Great Wall of China, no drab concrete barb wire topped wall like the Berlin Wall, nothing but a few antenna towers spaced intermittently along the entire border. That is certainly not a wall thought Max Amigo.
Then one day Don K.Haughty announced, “The wall is done and now Max Amigo it is time that you paid for your haughtiness.”
Max Amigo looked across the border. His view was unobstructed. “Pay for what,” he laughed. “There is nothing there. I see no wall.”
“Oh but it is a magic wall,” bragged Don K.Haughty. “You can not see it but it is there all the same. Trust me.”
“Trust you. Ha!” I will prove that no such ‘magical wall’ exists. Max Amigo then ordered his faithful servant, Poncho Sanza, to cross over the border and walk through this invisible wall into the Kingdom of Don K. Haughty.
Poncho Sanza was a trusting but scared soul as he approached the wall. He believed in magic and hesitated one step short of the border wall.
“Do it!” ordered Max Amigo for he did not tolerate disobedience from his peons.
More scared of Max Amigo than of magic Poncho Sanza stepped forward and instantly was zapped to Jesus, like a bug zapped by a bug zapper, nothing remained of him anywhere. He was gone.
“See the wall is magic like I said,” boasted Don K.Haughty. “It will zap all you pesky blood sucking mosquitos that try to cross it.”
Max Amigo hesitated. He thought it politically best not to order another of his servants into the ‘wall’ that wasn’t there.
Don K. Haughty chuckled to himself. The wall he had built was a star wars wall. The technology thereof had been developed and used against a former enemy of his kingdom, by a former ruler of the kingdom, many years ago. So Don K. Haughty decided to employ it here too. It had cost him nothing since it already existed. Nevertheless he hollered back to Max Amigo, “Now you will pay.”
Maximus Leon Amigo defiantly roared back, “We will never pay.”
But alas poor Max Amigo paid dearly. For now the peons of his kingdom were unable to leave a life of grinding poverty, drug cartels, and overcrowding. They could not flee to the north to a better life since the wall would certainly kill them. So they were doomed. Yet they continued to breed like bunnies exacerbating the problem as they were not genetically programmed like lemmings to kill themselves when their numbers got too large. And as for the criminals of the country, they could no longer escape justice by fleeing north. So they stayed and wreaked further havoc on the denizens of the kingdom. Nor could the drug dealers move their merchandise now, for it was certain death to try to cross the border. So they were forced to sell their drugs, at lower prices, to the peons. This was because the peons, though they craved the drugs for the illusionary temporary escape that it provided them, had very little dinero to spend on drugs. Thus the price dropped and the drug dealers became poorer too.
And all this turmoil roiled, boiled and broiled throughout the kingdom of Max Amigo and at the next election he got blamed for the wall and everything else that was wrong in the kingdom. And through local, state, and national crooked elections, crooked without help from any foreign government one might add, it was assured that the now unpopular and hated Max Amigo was removed from office.
And during the whole time all this was happening, Don K. Haughty brayed, “See Max Amigo, I told you that you would pay.”
Jesenia Diaz- I’m ungraduated student from New Jersey pursuing a BA in creative writing for entertainment at Full Sail University. My passion is writing Plays, and drama stories and I also write poetry. The change in the ride is my first published story in 2017. And hopefully will continue to publish more.
The Mysterious Night
Eric leaned against the reception desk as he looked over the painting that rested on an elegant counter. “How about this one?” he said.
“We’ll take that one tonight. That looks like a Kooning.” Charlie observed the picture as well.
“What the heck is a Kooning?”
“I don’t know. I just heard it from somewhere.” Charlie slapped Eric on his back.
“Stupid! You don’t know anything art history do you.”
“No. I was never good at history, but I know this picture is worth millions.”
“Did you just say millions? Let’s keep moving to the next one.”
Eric and Charlie approached the next painting. Charlie tripped over the rug. He sighed when the security guard approached them. They both had rip jeans pants and a black hoody, had black sneaker. It was pass over time for the museum to close. The security guard wanted to leave.
“Excuse me, but you got to leave were closing at the moment.
“Okay. We’re going,” Charlie said. He glanced at Eric. “Let’s go. The man wants to go home.”
“We can always come back later.” Eric slapped Charlie on his back.
They left the museum. The night was cold as they walked to a white van.
“How are we going to get the paintings?” Charlie asked. He kept his head low so that no other person would hear him talking to Eric.
“You idiot. I know there’s security and all but I believe there’s another door way to get in so that he won’t notices where there.”
“So, what time do you think we should be there.”
“Maybe at midnight. I been having this planned out for months we can’t fail.”
“Okay.” Eric whispered.
The security was checking the museum to make sure there was nobody in there. He double checks himself to make sure he didn’t forget. Meanwhile in an old abandoned building where the two guys were getting ready to steal the painting. They bought some wine to celebrate that they were going to accomplish their thief at the museum. Eric was laughing he poured some wine in the glass and cheer to Charlie.
“Charlie, cheers to you because tonight were going to become rich.” Took a sip of the wine. “Thanks for your idea were going to be rich.”
“Charlie do you have the list of the painting.” Eric put the glass down on the table.
“Yea! I got it right on in my pocket.” Dig into his pocket and search for the paper he took it out and handed it to Eric.
“Which one do you think we should take first.” Looking at the list.
“The storm on the sea of Galilee by Rembrandt Van Rijn.”
“Seriously you want to go religious on me.”
“That one’s worth 500,000,00.”
“Well, that five hundred million is going to be ours. Its time let’s go,” Charlie said, folding his paper in his pocket as they both walked out.
The night had come where Eric and Charlie were hype about robbing the painting. They were only thinking about the money that they were going to take out of from the painting. As they approached the museum Eric put his hand on the handle and the door lock was loose it wasn’t lock.
“The door is open.” Charlie said looked at Eric
“No duh, let’s go in.”
“We’re going to be rich. We’re going to be rich.” Charlie whispered as he sung.
“HOLD ON!” Eric was in shock he saw at the wall.
“What is it?”
“Look for yourself.” The wall from where the painting was it was empty someone had took it before they did. The frame of where the painting was at looked destroyed from how it was before it gotten stolen.
“The painting is gone.” Eric looked around
Dee Arnold lives in Denver, Colorado with her rambunctious children, loving husband, two dogs, saucy cat, and five chickens. Dee's appetite for reading is insatiable, she loves recommendations. Currently she is working on a full length novel. To reach her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice woke up to her blush painted ceiling, the early birds chirping, and soreness in her biceps that was delightful. She finally had opened her bakery, Frosted Mad-Caps; a dream that became a reality. Alice hopped out of bed and threw off her blue flannel pajamas, and put on her baking sweats attempting not to look at the scars Alice had given herself in her youth. She had suffered at the hands of her mother – a woman so tortured by her own regret at how her life had turned out she had no choice but to lash out at her daughter. Alice had grown up in fear of saying the wrong thing or breathing the wrong way. Alice’s mere existence infuriated her mother. The bakery would have incensed Alice’s mother; that Alice would have the gall to own something of her own or that Alice would dare to attempt success would have set her mother on fire.
She had tried to escape all of the abuse first in her dreams. Alice’s mother would give her “night-night medicine” at bedtime and Alice would go to the most beautiful places when her eyes would close. In her dreams, the air tasted sweet on her tongue and merely breathing was addictive. In her dreams, the tree leaves were emeralds, and the tiny shoots of grass were soft on her feet like chartreuse feathers. Alice spent her sleeping hours talking to singing posies and daisies and telling riddles with a silly amethyst colored cat. Regrettably, the medicine would wear off, and Alice’s eyes would open to her waking world of dulled grays and smoke-filled air. Alice’s feet would drag through the house on the wiry carpet, and she would look at the vomit green painted walls that her mother loved, wishing she could be asleep forever.
Alice’s second escape had been an attempt to make her dreams place of permanence. Alice had sat down on the cold salmon pink tiles in her mother’s bathroom that smelled like bleach and decided it needed a bit of red. She cut her legs with a pink lady’s razor over and over, not feeling the pain. Her legs had the pin-prick feeling of numbness like a thousand tiny needles were poking her calves. When she felt her legs had been sufficiently cut up, they looked like red butcher meat and not like her legs at all. Next, Alice started on her forearms. Cutting there took strength – lady razors don’t cut very deep. Each little slice bloomed red and stung like an oven burn so bad it’ll blister. The flat, dull pink tiles under her freckled with big and small circles of red. Alice had felt joy at the vibrancy. The red rubies made the tiles sparkle like pink tourmaline jewels. When Alice fell asleep, she had been smiling, and when Alice woke up to her gray ceiling, she cried for the first time in her life. Alice ran away from home the next day and had never looked back.
Alice smiled at her reflection in a gold-plated mirror, in her robin’s egg blue bathroom before going down the stairs to the bakery kitchen. As she rounded the corner towards the kitchen painted in pastel versions of every color, Alice heard a rat-ta-tat knock at the back door of the bakery. Alice hurried around the stainless-steel island, passing the soon-to-be-filled baking carts on her left, and swung open the door. Alice’s short black hair fell into her dark eyes as she shouted out a thank you to the delivery driver climbing back into his truck. Tucking her hair behind her ears, Alice looked down at an average brown box.
The square box was two feet high and wide with “Open Me,” written sloppily with black Sharpie in large block letters. When Alice went to pick it up, she discovered it wouldn’t budge. Alice’s brow furrowed in frustration as she huffed and said to the box, “How am I supposed to get you inside if you’re so heavy?” She stepped back into her kitchen to grab scissors and returned to the package. Alice paused and looked for a clue to as to who would have sent it but there wasn’t a return address on the outside that she could see.
Carefully, Alice cut the flaps on top of the box and pulled them aside to open her mystery present. There was no bottom that Alice could see; it was dark. She reached her hand into the box, and down, down, down she fell.
Lawrence Dunning has been writing and selling fiction–novels and short stories–for more years than he cares to admit. So far, publication has amounted to three novels in the suspense/espionage/thriller category–two of which have been republished under the Authors Guild BackinPrint.com program–and some 35 short stories published in literary journals, many of which have been included in a new book of short stories titled Rondo and Fugue for Two Pianos. Along the way he has garnered various awards for his writing, among them three Colorado Authors’ League Top Hand awards for short stories and the listing of two of his stories in annual Best American Short Stories selections of the 100 best short stories published in the previous year. He has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
[The following are the diaries (redacted) of Nelson Courtney English III discovered by his daughter Sarah Vanderbilt English after his death by suicide on September 10, 1993.]
Monday, 8 July 1940--Interview with William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan this morning went extremely well, and am now officially an associate of the prestigious law firm of Donovan Leisure Newton & Lumbard. Offices are at 2 Wall Street, near the Stock Exchange--couldn't be better, especially for a fellow who just passed the New York Bar last month. "Wild Bill"--I had the gall to ask him point-blank--was the nickname hung on him in the Great War in 1917, when he served under Black Jack Pershing. "The year you were born," he laughed this morning--he'd obviously checked my vitae. Right off the bat he asked me what my politics were, and though it was none of his business I told him Republican. He said that was his, too, and that in his neck of the woods where he grew up in Buffalo everybody was Republican. I told him in my neck of the woods, too, but a different neck, mine of course being Main Line Philadelphia. He asked me if we'd had servants. I told him two maids. He said in his family the women tended to be maids, and that the men worked in factories and drank a lot. He obviously prides himself on his humble origins--I'll have to remember to key into that when the occasion arises in days to come. He graduated Columbia Law and said he drank a lot but held it better than most. I said I'd match my alcohol intake at Yale with his at Columbia any day. He laughed and said he thought we'd get along just fine--he shook my hand and called me Nelson, and I had to tell him that I preferred Courtney or actually Court, between friends. He said to call him Bill. He offered me a choice of bourbon or Scotch from his private office bar and I of course took Scotch. We toasted my acceptance into the firm. I have to feel that, at age 23, I am well on my way up the legal ladder of success, having gotten so well connected at the outset.
Wednesday, 18 September 1940--Work with Donovan going better than I could have expected--I seem to be a kind of protégé of his, which cannot be bad for my career. I've noted down several things he's told me over the last month or so--they seem to be his guiding principles and thus I should make them mine. For example: "Be somewhat reserved, with an agreeable manner, a sense of humor, and a pleasing speaking voice. No need to be a courtroom bully--you can get your way with a jury by being charming but forceful and absolutely fearless." And again: "Know the value of theater. Be soft-spoken and impeccably dressed. State your main point as a single, powerful, incontrovertible point, and repeat that point as often as necessary, until it becomes canon for the judge and jury." In fact, Bill dresses more handsomely than anyone I've ever known--he patronizes only the best tailors, shirtmakers, and cobblers both here and in Europe. He travels in the highest style and stays in only the best suites in the best hotels. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. He told me the other day that this is the only way to live a decent life. I agreed wholeheartedly.
Sunday, 7 December 1941--The Japanese bombed the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, today. The country is at war--can Germany be far behind? I have no desire to volunteer for fighting--let others who lead miserable lives anyway take care of it. Perhaps, if inevitable, there will be a chance for a commission and some decent rank for me through Donovan's great influence. Roosevelt, pig-headed as ever, should have kept us out of it, but too late now, I fear.
Tuesday, 8 September 1942--Donovan asked me and several others from the firm to join him in the super-secret Office of Strategic Services, doing intelligence-gathering and spy work, apparently. Initial rank of First Lieutenant in the Army, with guaranteed promotion to Captain if the war lasts that long. Donovan told us he's mostly relying on his friends and associates among attorneys, bankers, industrialists, and conservative academics to staff the new organization. He feels lawyers, in particular, have a duty to contribute some of their time to public service. While I do not feel as strongly about this as he, I agreed to join the OSS as he asked, since the alternative might very well be conscription as an enlisted man.
Sunday, 11 October 1942--Reported to OSS headquarters in Washington at the old National Institute of Health building at 25th and E streets on 1 October, and was sent the next day for training at a special OSS school at the well-guarded Congressional Country Club outside DC. I will be here for at least another few weeks, perhaps longer. This spy business is more interesting than I thought, and most of the people going through training with me seem to be the same sort of chaps--most come from wealthy, conservative Republican, socially prominent families, and most attended Ivy League schools and belonged to the same clubs we all did (even ran into a couple of Bones men here). We've already been told to expect a certain amount of ostracism from the regular uniformed services--they apparently refer to the OSS as "Oh-So-Secret" or "Oh-So-Social." But Donovan has Roosevelt's ear, and wields more influence than almost any General (he holds the rank of Colonel). I foresee being extremely busy over the next months and may therefore not have the free time for regular or frequent notations in the diary, but will do my best.
Wednesday, 9 February 1944--London weather continues beastly but should be used to it by now, having been here almost a year. Did have a spot of luck last Friday, running into a fellow I knew slightly at Yale--James Angleton. He was more the literary type, edited a little poetry magazine that published Ezra Pound, among others. His English prof steered him into OSS--he'd been in London scarcely a fortnight when we ran into each other by accident. We're both Captains--he in X-2 (Counterespionage) while I of course am in Secret Intelligence (SI)--but our jobs at the moment are similar, namely, to work closely with British Secret Intelligence Services (SIS). We seemed to hit it off immediately, agreeing that we were happy doing what we're doing instead of being assigned to SO--the Special Operations boys who do all the dirty work of parachuting into occupied territories, contacting the Resistance leaders to help them carry out sabotage and assassination. Angleton was married not long ago but that seems not to bother him, since his wife is a very long distance away. In the way of OSS business I introduced him to a Brit named Kim Philby, who is head of the Soviet Section in our counterpart MI6. Well-bred, Cambridge, knows all the right people in England and all over, and besides, a delightful drinking companion. When we're not winning the war for good old Uncle Sam, drinking is in fact our major preoccupation. Living in this abominable climate, it is easy to see why so many Brits are rummies.
Sunday, 26 March 1944--Last night went to a party in Kensington Crescent with Jim Angleton and Philby and Angleton's Yale mentor. Met an incredible roster of literary and musical luminaries, including T.S. Eliot, Benjamin Britten, Graham Greene, E.M. Forster, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. French champagne, Norwegian caviar, Irish berries in cream. One would never think there was a war going on.
Thursday, 19 October 1944--J.A. (my good friend and compatriot Jim) off to the X-2 resource in Italy, which country he knows well from youthful residence in Milan where his father ran Italian branch of NCR. I shall miss him, miss our long lunches and dinners together eating and drinking the best that wartime Britain has to offer--poor at best. The night before his departure we had a last fling at our favorite watering hole near Hyde Park--the maitre d' obliged with blackout curtains until 4 a.m. J.A. very nearly missed his transport to the airfield later on.
******** ******** ********
Tuesday, 8 May 1945--So-called V-E Day (victory in Europe) as Germany surrenders. There is still the Japanese thing in the Pacific, but that seems to be winding down. Perhaps this frustrating and destructive war can finally be brought to a close with the forces of decency the victors. Allied compromises with Russia, however, remain a problem.
Wednesday, 15 August 1945–After we destroyed two large cities–Hiroshima and Nagasaki–with some new weapon called an atomic bomb, Japan has surrendered and World War II ends. So far there are only rumblings about a timetable for mustering out the U.S. forces, but I am eager to return to the practice of law. Donovan has indicated to his former associates that we will all have jobs when we return to civilian life; I, however, have my own grand plans for the eventual formation of my own legal firm. This war has taken three years out of my productive life, though I've met several fellows in the OSS who will perhaps prove invaluable to me later in a business way.
Saturday, 29 September 1945--Most of us, the scattered troops of the OSS, have been returning to Washington DC for the past month or so. A week ago President Truman abolished the Office of Strategic Services effective 1 October. Bill Donovan called a meeting this evening of all OSS employees at the Riverside Skating Rink, one of the OSS's DC properties, primarily to announce his resignation but also to thank us all for the work we've done toward ending the war. The crowd was subdued--there were more than a few tears shed, and sadness at the end of camaraderie was the theme of most of the speeches. Donovan's was the most impressive, leading us to believe that he would continue to fight for a national policy based upon accurate foreign information. He very much wants a peacetime national intelligence service, and I believe that before long we shall indeed see such an organization.
Sunday, 25 November 1945--These are crazy, jubilant days in Washington since the war's end. I am to be mustered out of Army next month, in time for Christmas (I hope). Last night at a wild Georgetown party I met a beautiful girl named Adele Bourchier, who oddly enough had been working for the OSS-connected Office of War Information (OWI) in New York. Not only is she pretty, but her father is the wealthy heir of a French arms manufacturing family who emigrated to New Haven after WW I and founded the hugely successful American branch of the French bank Credit Lyonnaise. He also, as it happens, married into the Vanderbilt family--Adele's mother. She is 23, five years younger than I, which is just about perfect. She kisses well and, when drunk, pets to a point, but is adamant about not going further before marriage. At least no jocko has been there before me. All in all, a girl worth pursuing.
Tuesday, 25 December 1945--Gave Adele a $3000 emerald necklace for Christmas which we both took to be a sort of engagement present, though the actual words were not spoken. At any rate I can afford it, thanks to my association once again with Bill Donovan's law firm.
Sunday, 16 June 1946--Adele and I married yesterday, 2 p.m., in a small but elaborate ceremony at her parents' summer place in West Yarmouth on Cape Cod. Both sets of parents (mine did not attend, the bastards, but at least gave us the first year's rent on our upper East Side apartment as a wedding gift) seem pleased that we have each married well. Drank too much champagne, could not consummate the vows sexually when we reached our hotel here in Bermuda, but finally did this morning. True to her word, Adele was a virgin--the sheets were a mess and had to be replaced posthaste. I am now desperate to go out for a drink but Adele seems to want to do it again.
Monday, 28 July 1947--Over the weekend Pres. Truman signed into law the National Security Act which creates the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the logical successor to the OSS. However, in true Democratic fashion he messed it up, mandating that the Director of Central Intelligence would work closely with Truman's National Security Council--in other words, hog-tying the CIA for purely political reasons. Donovan is livid over this--Truman, of course, no friend of his.
Wednesday, 16 November 1949--As Adele now 4½ months pregnant, I've contracted to purchase an 8-room cooperative apartment on Fifth Avenue near 63rd--an excellent address--and have promised the movers a bonus to get us in before Thanksgiving, a week from tomorrow. But as they are all union, they take their sweet Jesus time about it.
Friday, 24 March 1950--Adele huge with child, and per her expressed wishes, no sex since mid-January. I despise this situation. She is ugly to look at and her temperament has changed to coincide. I now fully understand those married men who do not wish to sire children. One piece of luck--Adele's friends assure her that carrying the fetus high almost certainly means a boy. It had better!
Sunday, 2 April 1950--Sarah Vanderbilt English born last night. All appendages intact. Adele in labor 24 hours--understand this is a long time but Jesus! Being in a ward full of screaming women not my cup of tea. The hospital paging system (the number I gave them as my office actually the Plaza bar) misfired so that I was 2 hours after the baby was born getting back to Adele's room. She was furious--maybe she had a right to be, or maybe she just smelled Scotch on my breath. I shall not soon forget the look of cold hatred in her weepy eyes.
Sunday, 30 September 1951--Tomorrow starts my new life as a full partner in my own legal firm, Wiley Rouse & English. Had a big party here last night to celebrate. Donovan and many of my former associates in attendance. Donovan a sweet man--wished me well, and over the past few months even helped me set things up. If he's miffed about my pulling all the Vanderbilt business out of his firm into mine, I can't help it--he knows about Adele's connection to the family. In my position I like to think he would have done the same.
Thursday, 14 May 1953--Nelson Courtney English IV born yesterday. Small, they say--slightly less than 5 lbs. Never cried, and the doctors said something wrong with his lungs. Poor little sonofabitch died this afternoon. Adele inconsolable–I think she somehow blames me. Stupid bitch.
******** ******** ********
Monday, 7 February 1955--Life goes pleasantly along. Adele has her charities and other pursuits, the French nanny sees to Sarah, and I--taking Bill Donovan's prescription for the good life to heart--make as much money as I can while I can, invest what I must, and spend the rest as I see fit. In fact, I lack for nothing, with the possible exception of a large suburban mansion suitable to my place in business and society where we could entertain decently. I'm working on this, having put out feelers with a Connecticut real estate agent recommended by Adele's father (her mother passed away last year--so far this has not interfered with my legal representation of certain lucrative Vanderbilt interests). In the meanwhile, luckily, for business reasons I continue to travel a great deal out of the city and even outside the country. I find German women particularly appealing, especially those who have a bent for sadomasochistic sex. There is nothing like having anal intercourse with a woman after whipping her buttocks raw and slowly licking the blood from her flesh. If Adele ever knew--finito.
Friday, 29 April 1955--Bought a 20-room house in Greenwich, Connecticut and have started inquiries about joining the right local clubs. Adele loves it and has begun interviewing for a cook and a chauffeur. The local zoning ordinances absolutely prohibit any Negroes or Jews or other foreigners from buying property anywhere within the town limits, such a relief from living in Manhattan where even in a decent building you're liable to run into scum in the elevators.
Thursday, 14 February 1957--Phone call today from Masterson, one of associates at Donovan's law firm--Donovan had a stroke and is at Mayo Clinic. No word yet on the prognosis.
Saturday, 16 February 1957--Masterson reached me at home this morning--doctors at Mayo say Donovan has inoperable arteriosclerotic atrophy of the brain. I called up there and they finally put him on--he knew who I was and said how much he appreciated the call, and that they'd be starting physical therapy shortly. I consider Bill one of my best friends and told him so--also, that 74 wasn't old enough for him to be scaring us all this way. He said to get ready for some serious golf in a month or two, but I expect he's being overly optimistic.
Tuesday, 16 April 1957--Call from Bill Donovan in Washington--he lives in a suite of rooms at Walter Reed Hospital, which President Eisenhower ordered for him because Bill worked so hard to get Eisenhower elected in 1952 and again in 1956. Bill wants me to fly down there tomorrow for a meeting with him and Allen Dulles, whom Eisenhower appointed CIA Director in 1953. He didn't say, but I think they have something in mind for me. In any case, I of course told him I would come.
Thursday, 18 April 1957--Interesting meeting yesterday with Donovan and Dulles at CIA headquarters in Foggy Bottom. Bill in a wheelchair with a full-time nurse, but otherwise managing. Dulles wants me to come on board as CIA Assistant General Counsel when the position opens up in summer of 1958. For public consumption they'd set me up as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, and would even give me an office at Justice. I was intrigued, of course--asked them to give me a week to think about it, since I do have a thriving law practice and a family to consider. Bill told me that's exactly the position he was in in 1941 when Roosevelt asked him to form an intelligence unit, and it worked out fine for him. Besides, he assured me the “Assistant” part of my CIA title would only be temporary until the aging General Counsel retires in a couple of months. I've not yet mentioned this offer to Adele.
Friday, 19 April 1957--Sleepless night mulling over the ramifications of the CIA offer, but decided to take it. Told Adele this morning (Justice, not CIA--I'll decide later about that) and then held a meeting with Wiley and Rouse, my two partners (also using the Justice
class=WordSection2>lie with them). We hammered out an agreement that I'll be on open-ended retainer of $10,000 per month from the firm until such time as I decide either to make CIA a career (unlikely at best) or return to full-time partnership. Not much they could do, in any case, since I control 50 percent interest and they split the other 50. Then called Donovan in Washington and told him I would accept, and to pass on to Allen Dulles how much I was looking forward to working with him.
Friday, 18 July 1958--Signed papers today to lease the Greenwich house, with proviso that right of occupancy reverts to me upon 60-day notice.
Monday, 11 August 1958--Moved into new house in Georgetown section of Washington, a 2 1/2-story red brick Colonial on Dent Place, not more than a couple of blocks from where Donovan lived during the war. Adele likes it, Sarah as usual noncommittal, but she’s already been accepted at National Cathedral School where she’ll meet other children of the better people here in Washington. Yesterday I finally told Adele it was CIA, not the Justice Department--she seemed to take it well, but I thought I detected a look that said, "What else have you been lying to me about?"
Tuesday, 2 September 1958--First day at the CIA--Dulles introduced me personally to several department heads and showed me to my office in one of the wooden buildings thrown up after the war near the Lincoln Memorial along the Reflecting Pool. I was told this was to be only temporary, for a month or so, until the General Counsel staff is moved to the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the CIA. This, too, will be temporary--Dulles is spearheading the drive to complete a huge new CIA headquarters building in the Virginia woods near Langley by early 1962.
Monday, 20 October 1958--New Foggy Bottom office not much better than previous, but had a nice first-day surprise--ran into Jim Angleton from OSS London days in the hallway completely by accident. He's been with CIA from the beginning, as chief of the Counterintelligence Staff. He insisted on taking me to lunch at a place he frequents, a decidedly low-rung French joint in Georgetown called La Grenouille–frog-- appropriate on several levels, with waiters on roller skates. We ate and drank (J. prodigiously--three martinis and two bourbons, plus wine) for nearly four hours, and when I casually inquired whether anyone at headquarters ever objected he said no, they trusted him to do his work whenever he did it--drunk or not, I thought. But it was pleasant, and we intend to continue the custom regularly from now on.
******** ******** ********
Wednesday, 14 January 1959--Two weeks after Bill Donovan's 76th birthday, and he is dying. As a final gesture from the Agency, Dulles arranged for a portrait of "Wild Bill" to be placed on the lobby wall at CIA headquarters and asked me to escort Bill to the unveiling, which I did this morning. It was a sad occasion but maybe not so sad--as I pulled the cord and the covering dropped away, he smiled for what his nurse said was the first time in many months. Whether he knew what was happening or not is perhaps immaterial.
Sunday, 8 February 1959--Bill Donovan passed away today, God rest his Catholic soul. My only thought at the moment: I do not want to die that way, a piece at a time, my brain shriveling slowly to dust over a period of years. Far better to choose the time and place, to fit bullet to chamber, muzzle to temple, finger to trigger, and evaporate.
Tuesday, 14 July 1959--Adele took Sarah and decamped for her family place up on the Cape at West Yarmouth. I'm glad they're there and I'm not--the place is a shambles, no order, no sophistication within a thousand miles. Sarah will probably wear that tiny two-piece bathing suit and have every boy along the shore panting to put his hands on her--I don't know why Adele allows it. Only 9 years old, but already she has firm little breasts. Sometimes I think...[illegible]
Friday, 17 July 1959--Here by myself in the house I can get as drunk as I please, which I fucking well am, with no one to say me nay. [illegible] early start--J. and I took early lunch at Rive Gauche, consumed so much alcohol and expensive food we decided not to return to office. Angleton has a dry sense of humor that shows itself at odd moments--at lunch, acting like the spy he is (or isn't) he whipped out a black-and-white photograph from inside his suit jacket and laid it on my plate. I wasn't sure what I was looking at--he explained it was J. Edgar Hoover engaging in oral sex with his assistant, Clyde Tolson. Not that this is any big secret in the halls, but to have the actual photograph! Only Angleton. It occurs to me that I would not like to have my friend J. for an enemy--his entirely illegal U.S. files could probably destroy a raft of well-known Americans.
Thursday, 17 March 1960--J. called me into his inner office and played a tape for me that one of his staff "black bag" boys obtained, God knows how. It was Senator John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe going at it in a hotel room in Los Angeles, sometime during the past year. J. says it's one of 5 or 6 similar that he has. Nobody would give a fuck except that Kennedy is running for President. I like his father Joe and have done business with him in New York, but the son seems like a patented do-gooder who might, given the chance, turn on his own kind. I asked J. what he planned to do with the tapes--he said nothing now.
Wednesday, 12 October 1960--Two days ago J. asked me to see what I could do about contacting some mob killers to take out Fidel Castro. I remembered some dealings I'd had with a possible go-between, Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent who sold out to become Howard Hughes's security chief. More than once he'd implied he had gold-plated contacts on both sides of the law. I phoned, we chatted, I flew out to Vegas yesterday. I stressed that his pitch was to be that this was a straight business deal. He said what else?--are you in something besides the legal profession I don't know about? I think I smiled at him. He made some calls from his private office while I listened in--Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana, some other Mafia capos. I mentioned a figure J. and I had agreed on, Maheu mentioned another figure J. and I had also agreed the CIA black fund could absorb. I left with Maheu's assurance that it was a binding contract, with of course no paper.
Wednesday, 9 November 1960--John F. Kennedy elected President last night. Party here at house to celebrate what we knew would be Nixon's election became angry, drunken melee after late returns in--broken glasses, vases, furniture. Adele threatens never again but she's the one who likes giving parties. I think she needs them as excuse to drink. I don't.
Tuesday, 25 April 1961--Bay of Pigs invasion a farce--Kennedy rightly taking heat for not providing air cover, etc. Rumors in Agency halls that Kennedy will shortly replace Dulles as DCI, probably with John McCone--Dulles will be scapegoat. J. and I agree that this will be bad for Agency morale--Dulles one of the original OSS boys. Kennedy seems to hate the CIA and may wage personal vendetta against us.
Saturday, 1 July 1961--Early Fourth of July party tonight at Ben and Toni Bradlee's Georgetown house, up the street from ours. J. and wife Cicely also there, as well as Robert Kennedy--whom everyone calls Bobby--sans wife, looking much less like the U.S. Attorney General than like a young man on the prowl for a piece of ass for the night.
Monday, 13 November 1961--McCone bright enough as administrator but he's no Allen Dulles. After Bay of Pigs the President has stated repeatedly in public that there's no effort to dislodge Castro's Communist government in Cuba--but of course various CIA departments have been working on such a plan for some time. Finally, in order to cover our asses, McCone along with J. and I went to call on Bobby Kennedy at his office on the 5th floor of the Justice Dept. Without much pushing, Bobby agreed to secretly endorse our Operation Mongoose to overthrow Castro's Cuba. None of us from the Agency seemed to feel the need to point out this inconsistency between the Kennedy brothers.
Thursday, 11 January 1962--Finally moved into new General Counsel suite of offices on 2nd floor of new Langley CIA headquarters building. J.'s offices in corner of same floor--I walked over to see his set-up. His secretary a tough red-haired woman who guards banks of black files in outer office. Inside, J. has his own files--no other access, he assures me, not even McCone. He has windows but keeps them heavily draped so room is dark, except for small desk light and the glow from his ever-present cigarette. Every surface in room piled high with papers and folders, but what appears to be random chaos is not. We agreed to try the Langley cafeteria for lunch, and did. Separate lunchrooms for covert and noncovert employees, which makes sense. J. entitled to use covert but did not, in deference to me. Food awful.
Monday, 5 March 1962--J. pointed out today that he, I, and John Kennedy are all virtually the same age, all born 1917. But differences are, of course, enormous--for one thing, he's many times wealthier than J. or I can ever hope to be and in addition is an immoral, conceited prick.
Monday, 7 May 1962--Lunch with J. at Key Bridge Marriott. J. furious (as I am) about increasing U.S.-Soviet détente, all JFK's doing--J. says détente is a sham, a Soviet tactic for waging cold war. Kennedy surely leading U.S. down the garden path with his civil rights initiatives and his appeasement of every foreign interest. We agree he must be stopped. But how? Also, J. has tapes of many of JFK's sex meetings with Judith Campbell Exner, who is Mafia don Sam Giancana's mistress and who apparently knows all about the deal I set up October 1960 with Maheu to have Mafia eliminate Castro. So far they haven't, but Exner's knowledge is extremely dangerous to the CIA and the country. J. suggests I set up a second meeting with Bobby Kennedy to feel out his reaction, without going through McCone. Bobby continues to hound Giancana even though, because of Exner, this could ruin his brother the President. J. and I have a fantasy that if the JFK-Mafia link gets out to the public he may be impeached. Wonderful! (Except, of course, that the CIA would go down the toilet with him.)
Friday, 11 May 1962--Meeting with Bobby K. went extremely well--two attorneys discussing business. Bobby controlled but obviously furious that JFK knew but did not inform him about CIA contracts with Roselli and Giancana to assassinate Castro. Bobby said to leave Exner to him--I wonder if he plans to have her killed?
******** ******** ********
Friday, 7 September 1962--JFK continues to disturb J. and me with his prodigious appetite for women. (J. has many tapes from planted bugs in private houses and apartments and even the White House, including phone lines.) Marilyn Monroe death last month called suicide, but since she was sexually involved with both Bobby and Jack K. it is anyone's guess. Good riddance, for my money--she was a psychotic nymphomaniac whose only positive attribute was big tits. A much more serious problem is Mary Meyer, Ben Bradlee's sister-in-law, whom JFK has been banging since the first of the year. She and her friend, drug freak Timothy Leary, seem to want to corrupt the world's leaders with illegal drugs to make them more peaceful. J. slightly connected to her through her ex-husband Cord Meyer, a former senior Agency official. J. bugged her Georgetown art studio, got tapes (J. played them for me) of her and JFK smoking marijuana and taking the hallucinogenic drug LSD during heavy sex. At lunch today at La Grenouille, J. and I discussed the enormous implications for the security of the country if the President could conceivably be too crazed from drugs to push the panic button in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack. Leaking this information to the liberal press would do no good--they would simply cover it up, as they invariably do and have in the past.
Monday, 15 October 1962--Entire CIA and all U.S. military units on extreme red alert. Yesterday one of our U-2 reconnaissance planes on Cuban overflight took 14 photos of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles deployed only 90 miles off our coast. Nuclear war a distinct threat, depending on actions next 24 hours of our deranged President.
******** ******** ********
Saturday, 27 October 1962--Missile crisis ended for now, but apparently only because JFK promised Khrushchev he would never invade Cuba. At Langley today met with J. in his office to discuss what to do--without doubt Kennedy is destroying country, and apparently plans to destroy CIA though will probably wait until reelection in 1964. I suggested that JFK must be replaced as soon as possible and before expiration of this term in office--meaning either that a palace revolution must be arranged or his death otherwise ensured--and J. agreed without hesitation, stating that Lyndon Johnson is much more a hard-liner on Soviets. Discussions along these lines must continue.
Sunday, 23 December 1962--Adele and I to pre-Xmas dinner at J.'s house in Alexandria. After dinner J. privately took me to his study for Cognac and a brief recapitulation of our many talks these past 2 months, to ensure we were still on the same wavelength. J.'s eyes were intense, almost glowing--"You realize, Court," he said, "that we've come too far now to back down--the only logical course of action for us is to arrange his assassination within the coming year." And as I remember I nodded and said Yes, I know--and that was that. We shook hands solemnly, as befits a momentous occasion such as this, and touched our brandy snifters in salute to this revolutionary concept. In keeping with his slightly melodramatic view of the spy world, J. on the spot gave our impending operation the code name BIG BOY.
TO BE CONTINUED
Sara Jacobelli grew up in the factory city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, dropped out of high school and left home to hitch-hike around the country as a teenager. In New Orleans she ran errands for the doormen and strippers on Bourbon Street before going to work in restaurants and bars. She writes about the streets and the characters she has met along the way. Her stories have been published in various places including First Stop Fiction, Drunk Monkeys Literary Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Fiction on the Web, The New Laurel Review, and the New York Times Metropolitan Diary.
Short Story Blog: Capitare a Fagiolo: https://capitareafagiolo.wordpress.com/
“You got your sweet tea, Slim Jims, donut and your God damned Tweety-Bird Pez dispenser, get in the car.” Crazy Dave ran a comb through his long red hair. “Their fried chicken takes too long.”
Gina got in the back seat, popped a Pez into her mouth. Maybe Scraggly Hair in the trunk is already dead.
Rocky drove the Coupe Deville.
Dave leaned over the seat. “We just crossed the state line.”
She looked out the window. There’s nothing lonelier than a black Mississippi night.
“This Caddy’s pretty, but cars are cages. Rather be on my cycle, The Widowmaker.” Dave fiddled with the radio. “Can’t get shit out here. Tape deck work?”
Rocky grunted. He steered the Caddy with his beefy tattooed arms. Gina wished she could drive. She couldn’t swim. She couldn’t cook. All she knew how to do was run errands on Bourbon Street for the doormen and strippers and bartenders and cocktail waitresses and gangsters and bikers and pimps and prostitutes and drug dealers. She regretted going for a ride. Dave said he’d pay her fifty bucks if she talked Scraggly Hair into getting in the car. “Easy gig.” She missed running the streets of the Quarter and it had only been a few hours.
“You think Scraggly Hair’s dead?”
“Not yet. Fucking snitch.” Rocky lit a camel and looked at Gina in the rearview mirror. “Better keep your mouth shut or you’re dead too.”
“She knows.” Dave found a Doobie Brothers tape, shoved it in the tape deck. “She’s one a them kids grew up on Bourbon. Knows when to keep her mouth shut.”
“Tell her no more questions.”
Gina pretended to fall asleep.
“She seen some shit, seen a girl blow her brains out, blood splattered all over. She worked the card games with gangsters bigger’n the God Damned Godfather. She’s run errands for our club for years, guns, drugs, you name it. She’s a good gopher.” Dave turned his head and looked at Gina. “We raised her right. She’s like my kid sister.”
Rocky spit out the window. “We coulda got Scraggly Hair in the car without her. Don’t like another set of eyes.”
“Ever tell ya bout the time the fucking Doobie brothers came to the Bastille? The God Damned Doobie Brothers, and Jerry Jeff Walker. Little Feat. David Allen Coe tried to come in the bar, but we had to run em off. Runs with another club.” Dave lit a Marlboro. “They all came to see their favorite bartender, Little Joe. Til he went away.”
“Well I don’t want to be bunking with Joe over by Angola. You capisce? Gotta take a leak.” Rocky parked the car. “Be right back.” He stuck his gun in his belt and pissed in the bushes.
Dave opened the passenger door, shook Gina. “You gotta take a piss, kid?”
“Went at Big Ruby’s. Where we going?”
“Gotta find a place to get rid a the guy.” He touched Gina’s face. “Don’t say nothing’ll make Rocky nervous.” He adjusted his leather vest over his black Harley Davidson t-shirt.
“I won’t. How long you gonna be a Prospect? When you gettin your real colors?”
“Gotta make my bones, kid.”
He shook his head.
He shook his head.
“You won’t see twenty-seven.”
Crazy Dave and Rocky came in carrying bags of whiskey, cigarettes, cheeseburgers and barbecue potato chips.
“Fucking dry county. Had to drive forever to find booze. Found a town drunk who told us where to find a package store. Can’t wait to get back to New Orleans, where it’s civilized.” Dave pushed Gina. “This bed’s mine. That one’s Rocky’s.”
“Where’m I sleeping?” She grabbed a cheeseburger.
“The floor. Gotta sleep in shifts, to watch him.” Rocky found a Bogart movie on TV, lit a Camel. He gathered pillows, leaned against the backboard.
“If you guys are gonna kill em, why dontcha just get it over with?”
Dave glared at her. “Toldju to shut the fuck up.”
“But you could get money. Heard he went to college, his folks got money.”
“Shut the fuck up! The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, I love this part.” Rocky turned the TV sound up. “They got so fucking greedy. If they just divided the gold up, they woulda been alright.”
Dave drank Jameson’s Irish Whiskey straight from the bottle. “Slainte.” He lit a Marlboro. “Kid, you think his family’s got money?”
“They own a place in the Bahamas, with boats and stuff.”
“You ain’t pulling my leg? If they gave us the God-Damned Bahamas joint, know how much money we could make? Running guns, drugs, women and shit? This is like a gold mine. Ya heard that Rocky?”
“Shut the fuck up. This is the best part. Bogart, now that was a bad-ass dude. Let me watch the ending in peace.”
Dave pulled the gag out of Scraggly Hair’s mouth. “Your family got fucking money?”
“Yeah. Plenty.” He gulped for air. “Let me take a piss?”
“Alright.” Dave untied him. “Don’t try nothing. I’m holding the gun on you the whole time.”
“How would SHE know if the snitch’s family’s got any dough?” Rocky yelled during a commercial.
“Heard em talking at the bar.”
Dave walked Scraggly Hair back from the bathroom, gave him a drink of water and a cheeseburger. When he finished eating, Dave tied him to the chair and stuffed the gag back in his mouth.
“Get some ice.” He handed her the ice bucket. “Hey Rock? You think it’s worth keeping him alive to see if his folks’ll give us a ransom?”
Rocky kicked off his boots. “What if they don’t even like him? Lying, thieving, rat-faced bastard. What would Bogart do?”
“Bogart’d shoot em. Damn, fucking boats in the Bahamas, man.”
“Be lucky to get five grand. For our trouble.”
Dave took the gag out of Scraggly Hair’s mouth, stuck a gun to his head. “Did you snitch?”
His blue eyes filled with terror. “No.”
“Your parents got any fucking money?”
“Yes.” Scraggly Hair’s desperate breathing filled the room.
“They pay to keep you alive?”
“Yes. A lot.”
“Were you lying in the bar about that Bahamas joint?”
“No. If I’m lying I’m dying.”
“Who the fuck is it?”
Rocky opened the door. Gina smelled Scraggly Hair’s fear as Crazy Dave held the gun to his head. “Ice machine’s broken.” She closed and locked the door, sat on the bed. Beer-Donuts-Fried Chicken-Ice.
“He was lying in the bar and he’s lying now.” Rocky changed channels. “Wish they played Jeopardy at night. That there’s a good show. All about the facts, something that lying-snitching-college-punk don’t know nothing about. Facts.”
Dave stuck the gag in Scraggly Hair’s mouth. “Yeah. He’s lying.” He held the gun to Scraggly Hair’s head.
Rocky handed him a pillow. “Shoot him. I don’t gotta silencer. Use one a these here pillows.”
Gina wondered if the guy really was a snitch. She wondered if he deserved to die. She wondered if they were all going to go to prison. Beer-Donuts-Fried Chicken-Ice.
“Shoot him. Shoot her too. You’re a fucking Prospect. Do as you’re told.” Rocky turned the volume up as high as it would go.
Beer-Donuts-Fried Chicken-Ice. She pictured Big Ruby as a smiling woman in a purple housedress surrounded by children and grandchildren, frying bacon and eggs in the morning. Sundays she’d make fried chicken, bake pies. She’d welcome Gina into her arms. Come home child. You’re part of the family now. She wished she could have stayed there forever, in the red neon glow of Big Ruby’s Gasoline Heaven.
Colton Bennett wrote advertisements for the radio channel, AM 1450 The Source in Frederick County, Maryland. He moved from there to Orlando to study creative writing. You can follow him on twitter at @CBennett417.
The roommates looked over the cardboard box sitting on their carpet. It was no bigger than two fists pressed together, and it lacked in any decoration aside from the two labels across the top.
Ross loomed above the tiny cube, arms crossed and eyes glazed over. Calvin was down on all fours with one cheek against the floor. He had been scanning every side of the box over and over for almost five minutes, and Ross had been forced to supervise.
Finding the end of his rope at long last, Calvin sat up on his knees and sighed.
“Yep,” he said. “I got no idea what that is. It smells kind of funny, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”
“Why is it on the floor anyway?” Ross asked. He breathed the words out more than he articulated them.
“Because it’s a mystery box!” Calvin said, as if it was the most simple thing in the world. He extended his hands toward the package and gave Ross a wide-eyed glare. “I’m starting to regret even bringing it inside.”
“Don’t those things come with a label? Like a return address?”
“You think I didn’t check? It’s just got one big one that says ‘To: Calvin’, and then under that is our address,” he retorted. He shuffled where he sat, crossing his arms and squinting at the box. “Why’d this gotta happen today of all days? On my special day?”
“What’s so special about today?” Ross asked.
“You already forgot? Some friend you are.”
He shrugged. “Why don’t you try, you know, opening it?”
“Are you insane?” Calvin said, slack-jawed. “I’ve seen the movies. We open up an unlabelled mystery box and we’re gonna unleash… I don’t know. Something horrible.”
“You’re being paranoid.”
“I’m absolutely not being paranoid. Now think, do we have enemies? Do I have enemies?”
“You’re being very paranoid. Lemme see it,” Ross said. He extended a hand and gestured toward himself. Calvin rolled his eyes and gingerly handed him the box.
Eyes still half-lidded, Ross gave the box a once over. He moved on to shaking it next to his ear, and he heard a series of thumps as the contents smashed against the sides.
“Ross!” Calvin shouted. He leapt up from the floor and snatched the box back in the same motion. Backing a pace away from Ross, he cradled it against his chest.
“Sounds soft,” Ross said.
“Are you trying to get us killed?”
“I’m trying to prove that you’re being ridiculous.”
“It could be a bomb for all we know! Or poison!” Calvin hissed the last word. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for a plague.”
Ross blinked a few times in quick succession. He tried squeezing his eyes closed after that. No luck.
“What are you doing?” Calvin asked, squinting at him.
“Praying that I’m in a nightmare, and you aren’t actually this stupid,” Ross answered.
“Oh ha ha.” Calvin said. Shrugging off the comment, he held the box up to his ear while keeping his hands as steady as possible. “I don’t think you set anything off. I hope you didn’t set anything off.”
“There’s nothing to set off, Cal,” Ross said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He exhaled and approached Calvin with one arm outstretched. “Give me the box. I’ll open it.”
“No.” Calvin said with a cold look in his eyes. He set to guarding the mystery package with his forearm.
“Calvin, I just woke up, and I want to move on with my day. Give me the box.”
“No! I’m not letting you screw us over!”
Calvin bent his knees and jumped backwards onto the coffee table. He didn’t stumble for a second, and he landed with both feet flat on the top. Standing a head and shoulders higher than Ross, he raised the box as far over his head as he could manage.
Ross sighed and shook his head. He stepped off to the side and kicked the table’s leg with his heel.
“Ah!” Calvin gasped as his platform shook. The sudden motion was enough to make him drop the box right into Ross’s open palm.
He couldn’t help but shoot a smile up at Calvin, who had gone pale as a ghost.
“Don’t you dare.” Calvin warned.
With as little care as possible, Ross jabbed a finger through the tape sealing the cardboard. Calvin steadied himself and brought his hands up to his face.
In the long seconds that it took for the box to be peeled open, Calvin mentally checked off all the worst ways to die.
There was no explosion, swarm of killer insects, or puff of toxic gas.
Ross looked down at the mess of plastic wrap, icing, cream filling, and chunks of vanilla cake. In the center of it all, crumpled and stained from being shaken, dropped, and jabbed, was thank you note from the surprise-order bakery.
“Oh. I did order this, didn’t I?” Ross asked himself. He gave the destroyed cupcake back to his speechless roommate.
“Happy birthday, Cal.”
Bethany Howell is a creative writing major who lives in south Florida with her family and six unofficial cats. She likes to spend her time daydreaming and writing stories.
THE TIME BETWEEN US
“It’s our anniversary,” she said at the reception desk, unable to stop her smile. Laughing all the way to the room after he hissed at the receptionist for the key.
The room was okay. Two double beds with wrinkled sheets and a phone in between. The room also had a gated patio in the back. She cleared her throat and when he looked over, she pointed to the clear door.
“Since we're going to be stuck here for a while anyway,” she said.
He stopped pacing and his eyes narrowed.
“I just want to feel the sun,” she said. "Might not be able to for a while when we get back.”
He grunted and muttered out what sounded like approval. She walked out the door and seated herself in the nearest chair. He appeared a while later with a glass in his hand.
“What’s this?” she asked
“Water,” he said from the seat across from her.
She took the glass sipped it and rolled her eyes.
“I’m not giving you alcohol,” he said as he looked up from his watch.
She looked over at him with a scoff and chewed on a piece of ice. "I didn't ask for any."
She sat in her chair and chewed on another piece of ice. He stared at her with his arms folded in his lap. His frown deepened with every bite she took.
“What? Did they teach you at time travel detective school how to scowl?” she asked.
“The Time Travel Bureau of Investigation taught me to track and catch criminals who work in time periods that are at a technological disadvantage,” he said with the same sour look on his face.
"So, I had a little fun and got carried away," she said.
"Your fun has exposed these people to technology that's centuries ahead of their time," he said.
She watched him with a small smile as her eyes crinkled. "You haven't changed," she said in a small voice.
He fiddled with his watch, a blank stare on his face.
"Did you volunteer, or did they send you?" she asked after a long silence.
He sighed and said, "It doesn't matter, none of this does." His face hardened. "When the watch finishes recharging, we're leaving."
"Then, can we make one final jump to the end of the twenty-first century?"
"You always wanted to see the first space colony."
"Interacting with time periods that have humans is a crime. You know that," he said.
"Even if I wanted to time travel, I can’t. After what you did the rules changed. We can only jump twice now - there and back," He said as the watch began to ring. "It's done were leaving," he said getting ready to stand.
When he turned his back, she jumped up and slammed herself into him. Caught off guard, he lost his balance. The force sent them both to the ground.
In an unconscious attempt to protect her, he grabbed her and twisted their bodies so he would take the brunt of it. His head slammed into the concrete pavement.
Dazed from the fall he could only watch as she snatched the watch off his wrist and entered a different time. She held him close as blue lights hissed and sparked before it engulfed them.
DC Diamondopolous is an award-winning short story and flash fiction writer published worldwide. DC’s stories have appeared in over seventy-five anthology and online literary publications, including Lunch Ticket, Silver Pen’s Fabula Argentea, and Fiction on the Web. “Billy Luck” is nominated for Best of the Net 2017 Anthology and won first place for short story at Defenestrationism’s summer contest of 2016. The international literary site The Missing Slate, in Aug. 2016, honored DC as author of the month.
The same sun scorched downtown Los Angeles that had seared the Iraq desert. Army Private First Class Samantha Cummings stood at attention holding a stack of boxes, her unwashed black hair slicked back in a ponytail and knotted military style. She stared out from Roberts Shoe Store onto Broadway, transfixed by a homeless man with hair and scraggly beard the color of ripe tomatoes. She’d only seen that hair color once before, on Staff Sergeant Daniel O’Conner.
The man pushed his life in a shopping cart crammed with rags and stuffed trash bags. He glanced at Sam through the storefront window, his bloated face layered with dirt. His eyes had the meander of drink in them.
Sam hoped hers didn’t. Since her return from Bagdad a year ago, her craving for alcohol sneaked up on her like an insurgent. Bathing took effort. She ate to exist. Friends disappeared. Her life started to look like the crusted bottom of her shot glass.
The morning hangover began its retreat to the back of her head.
The homeless man disappeared down Broadway. She carried the boxes to the storeroom.
In 2012, Sam passed as an everywoman: white, black, brown, Asian. She was a coffee colored Frappuccino. Frap. That's what the soldiers nicknamed her. Her mother conceived her while on Ecstasy during the days of big hair and shoulder pads. On Sam’s eighteenth birthday, she enlisted in the Army. She wanted a job and an education. But most of all she wanted to be part of a family.
“Let me help you,” Hector said coming up beside her.
“It’s okay. I got it.” Sam flipped the string of beads aside. Rows of shoe boxes lined both walls with ladders every ten feet. She crammed the boxes into their cubbyholes.
“Can I take you to lunch?” Hector asked standing inside the curtain.
“I told you before. I’m not interested.”
“We could be friends.” He shrugged. “You could tell me about Iraq.”
Sam thrust the last box into its space. The beads jangled. Hector left.
She glanced at the clock, fifteen minutes until her lunch break. The slow workday gave her too much time to think. She needed a drink. It would keep away the flashbacks.
“C’mon, Sam,” Hector said outside the curtain.
Hector knew she was a vet. He didn’t need to know any more about her.
On her way to the front of the store, Sam passed the imported Spanish sandals. Mr. Goldberg carried high-quality shoes. He showcased them on polished wood displays. She loved the smell of new leather, and how Mr. Goldberg played soft rock music in the background, with track lighting, and thick padded chairs for the customers.
The best part of being a salesperson was taking off the customer's old shoes and putting on the new. The physical contact was honest. And she liked to watch people consider the new shoes—the trial walk, the mirror assessment—and if they made the purchase, everyone was happy.
Sam headed toward the door. Maria and Bob stood at the counter looking at the computer screen.
“Wait up,” Maria said. The heavy Mexican woman hurried over. “You’re leaving early again.”
“No one’s here,” Sam said towering over her. “I’ll make it up, stay later. Or something.”
“Or you’ll end up like that homeless man you were staring at.”
“You think you’re funny?”
“No, Sam. That’s the point.”
“He reminded me of someone.”
Sam turned away.
“Try the VA.”
Sam looked back at Maria. “I have.”
“Try again. You need to talk to someone. My cousin—”
“The VA doesn’t do jack shit.”
“Rafael sees a counselor. It helps.”
“So do the meds.”
“I don’t take pills.”
“I’m okay.” She liked Maria and especially Mr. Goldberg, a Vietnam vet who not only hired her but rented her a room above the shoe store. “It’s just a few minutes early.”
Maria glared at her. “Mr. Goldberg has a soft spot for you, but this is a business. Doesn’t mean you won’t get fired.”
“I’ll make it up.” Sam shoved the door open into a blast of heat.
“Another thing,” Maria said. “Change your top. It has stains on it.”
Oh fuck, Sam thought. But it gave her a good reason to go upstairs.
She walked next door, up the narrow stairway and into her studio, the size of an iPhone. Curry reeked through the hundred-year-old walls from the Indian neighbors next door.
Sam took off her blouse and unstuck the dog tags between her breasts. The Army had no use for her. “Take your meds, get counseling, then you can re-enlist.” But she wasn’t going to end up like her drug-addicted mother.
The unmade Murphy bed screeched and dipped as she sat down in her bra and pants, the tousled sheets still damp from her night sweats.
The Bacardi bottle sat on the kitchenette counter. She glanced sideways at it and looked away.
The United States flag tacked over the peeling wallpaper dominated the room, but it was the image of herself and Marley on the wobbly dresser she carried with her.
Sam had taken the seventeen-year-old private under her wing. She’d been driving the humvee in Tikrit with Marley beside her when an IED exploded, killing him while she escaped with a gash in her leg. Thoughts of mortar attacks, road side bombs, and Marley looped over and over again. Her mind became a greater terrorist weapon than anything the enemy had.
Her combat boots sat next to the door, the tongues reversed, laces loose, prepared to slip into, ready for action. Sometimes she slept in them, would wear them to work if she could. Of all her souvenirs, the boots reminded her most of being a soldier. She never cleaned them, wanted to keep the Iraqi sand caked in the wedge between the midsoles and shanks.
The springs shrieked as Sam dug her fists into the mattress and stood. She walked to the counter, unscrewed the top of the Bacardi, poured herself a shot and knocked it back. Liquid guilt ran down her throat.
Sam picked up a blouse off the chair, smelled it and looked for stains. It would do. She dressed, grabbed a Snickers bar, took three strides and dashed out her room.
Heading south on Broadway, Sam longed to be part of the city. Paved sidewalks, gutters, frying tortillas, old movie palaces, jewelry stores, flower stands, square patches of green where trees grew—all of it wondrous—not like the fucking sandbox of Iraq.
The rum kicked in, made her thirsty as she continued down the historic center of town. The sun’s heat radiated from her soles to her scalp. A canopy of light siphoned the city of color.
She watched a tourist slowly fold her map and use it as a fan. Businessmen slouched along, looking clammy in shirtsleeves. Women, their dresses moist with sweat, form fitted to their skin. Even the cars seemed to droop.
Waves of heat shimmered off the pavement. They ambushed Sam, planting her back in Tikrit.
She heard the rat-a-tat-tat of a Tabuk sniper rifle. Ducked. Dogged bullets.
Scrambled behind a trash bin. Searched around for casualties. She looked at the top of buildings wondering where in the hell the insurgents fired from.
“Hey, honey, whatsa matter?” An elderly black woman stooped over her.
“Get down, ma’am!”
Sam grabbed at the woman, but she moved away. “Get down, ma’am! You’ll get killed!”
“Honey, it’s just street drillin’. Those men over there, they’re makin’ holes in the cement.”
Covered in sweat, Sam swerved to her left. A Buick and Chevrolet stopped at a red light. She saw the 4th street sign below the one-way arrow. Her legs felt numb as she held onto the trash bin and lifted herself up.
“You a soldier?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Sam said looking into the face of the concerned woman.
“I can tell. You fella’s always say ma’am and sir, so polite like. Take it easy child, you’re home now.” The woman limped away.
Sam reeled, felt for the flask in her back pocket but it wasn’t there. Construction workers whistled and made wolf calls at her. “Douche bags,” she moaned. Alcohol had always numbed the flashbacks. Her counselor in Bagdad told her they would fade. Why can’t I get better, she asked herself? Shaking, she blinked several times forcing her eyes to focus as she continued south past McDonald’s.
At 6th, she saw the man with tomato color hair on the other side of the street jostling his shopping cart. “It’s Los Angeles, not Los Angelees!” he shouted. His voice rasped like the sick, but Sam heard something familiar in the tone. He pushed his cart around the corner.
The light turned green. Sam sprinted in front of the waiting cars to the other side of the road. She had grown up across the 6th Street Bridge that linked Boyle Heights to downtown. From the bedroom window of the apartment she shared with her mother, unless her mother had a boyfriend, Sam would gaze at the Los Angeles skyline.
She followed the man into skid row.
The smell hit her like a body-slam. The stink of piss and shit, odors that mashed together like something died, made her eyes water. A block away, it was another world.
She trailed the man with hair color people had an opinion about. The Towering Inferno. That’s what they called Staff Sergeant Daniel O’Conner, but not to his face. He knew, though, and took the jibe well. After all, he had a sense of humor, was confident, tall and powerfully built, the last man to end up broken, not the hunched and defeated man she was following. No, Sam thought. It couldn’t be him. It couldn’t be her hero.
He shoved his gear into the guts of the city with Sam behind him. The last time she’d been to skid row was as a teenager, driving through with friends who taunted the homeless. The smell was one thing, but what she saw rocked her. City blocks of homeless lived under layers of tarp held up by shopping carts. Young and old, most black, and male, gathered on corners, sat on sidewalks, slouched against buildings, drug exchanges going down. Women too stoned or sick to worry about their bodies slumped over, their breasts falling out of their tops. It was hard for Sam to look into their faces, to see their despair. The whole damn place reeked of hopelessness. Refugees in the Middle East and Africa, at least, had tents and medicine.
Sam put on her ass-kicking face, the one that said, “Leave me the fuck alone, or I’ll mess you up.” She walked as if she had on her combat boots, spine straight, eyes in the back of her head.
Skid row mushroomed down side-streets. Men staggered north toward 5th and the Mission. She stayed close behind the red-headed man. He turned left at San Pedro. And so did Sam.
It was worse than 6th Street. Not even in Iraq had she seen deprivation like this: cardboard tents, overflowing trash bins used as crude borders, men sleeping on the ground. She watched a man pull up his pant leg and stick a needle in his ankle. Another man, his face distorted by alcohol, drank freely from a bottle. The men looked older than on 6th. Some had cardboard signs. One read, Veteran, please help me. Several wore fatigues. One dressed in a field jacket was missing his lower leg. Most, Sam thought, were Vietnam or Desert Storm vets. She felt her throat tighten, the familiar invasion of anger afraid to express itself. She’d been told by the Army never to show emotion in a war zone. But Sam brought the war home with her. So did the men slumped against the wall like human garbage.
The red-headed man passed a large metal dumpster heaped with trash bags. It stank of rotten fruit. He disappeared behind the metal container with his cart.
Sam looked at the angle of the sun. She had about ten minutes before thirteen hundred hours.
There was a doorway across the street. She went over and stood in it.
He sat against the brick wall emptying his bag of liquor bottles and beer cans. He shook one after another dry into his mouth. She understood his thirst, one that never reached an end until he passed out. He took a sack off the cart and emptied it: leftover Frito bags, Oreo cookies, pretzels. He tore the bags apart and ran his tongue over the insides. He ate apple cores, chewed the strings off banana peels.
“What are you—” he growled. “You. Lookin’ at?” His eyes roamed Sam’s face.
Shards of sadness struck her heart. It was like seeing Marley’s strewn body all over again. Staff Sergeant O’Conner’s voice, even when drunk, was deep and rich. It identified him like his hair. How could the man who saved her from being raped by two fellow soldiers and who refused to join in the witch-hunts of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a leader, who had a future of promotions and medals, end up on skid row?
“You remind me of someone,” she said. How could a once strapping man who led with courage and integrity eat scraps like a dog next to a dumpster? What happened that the Army would leave behind one of their own? Like a militia, disillusionment and bitterness trampled over Sam’s love of country.
She woke up to another hot morning. Her head throbbed from the shots of Bacardi she tossed back until midnight as she surfed the internet, including the VA for a Daniel O’Conner. She found nothing.
For breakfast, she ate a donut and washed it down with rum. She pulled on a soiled khaki T-shirt and a pair of old jeans and slipped into her combat boots, the dog tags tucked between her breasts.
Sam knotted her ponytail, grabbed a canvas bag, stuffed it into her backpack and left. She had to be at work at twelve hundred hours.
If O’Conner slept off the booze, he might be lucid and recognize her.
At the liquor store, she filled the canvas bag with candy bars, cookies, trail mix, wrapped sandwiches and soda pop then headed down Broadway.
The morning sun streaked the sky orange and pink. Yellow rays sliced skyscrapers and turned windows into furnaces. Sam hurried south.
When she crossed Broadway at 6th, the same sun exposed skid row into a stunning morning of neglect. Lines of men pissed against walls, women squatted. She heard weeping.
Sweat ran down her armpits, her head pounded. Sam felt shaky, chewed sand, and looked around. Where was Marley? She stumbled backwards into a gate.
“Baby, whatchu doin’? You one fine piece of ass.” The man reached over and yanked at her backpack.
“No!” Sam yelled. She didn’t want to collect Marley’s severed arms and legs to send home to his parents. “No,” she whimpered, grabbing the sides of her head with her hands. “I can’t do it,” she said sliding to the ground.
“Shit, you crazy. This is my spot, bitch. Outa here!” he said and kicked her.
Sam moaned and gripped her side. She saw a plastic water bottle lying on the sidewalk, crawled over and drank from it. A sign with arrows pointing to Little Tokyo and the Fashion District cut through the vapor of her flashback. Iraqi women wore abayas, not shorts and tank tops. Sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, Sam hit her fist against her forehead until it hurt.
She saw the American flag hoisted on a pulley from a cherry picker over the 6th Street Bridge, heard the click clack of a shopping cart, and the music of Lil Wayne. The sounds pulled her away from the memory, away from a place that had no walls to hang onto.
Sam held the bottle as she crawled to the edge of the sidewalk. She took deep breaths, focused and glanced around. What the fuck was she doing sitting on a curb in skid row with a dirty water bottle? “Or you’ll end up like that homeless man you were staring at.” “Oh Jesus.” Sam dropped the bottle in the gutter and trudged toward San Pedro Street.
She had thought that when she came home, she’d get better, but living with her mother almost destroyed her. It began slowly, little agitations about housework, arguments that escalated into slammed doors. Then, one day, her mother called George Bush and Dick Cheney monsters who should be in prison. She accused Sam of murder for killing people who did nothing to the United States. Sam lunged at her, when she stumbled over a chair and fell. Her mother ran screaming into the bathroom and locked the door. “Get outa my house and don’t ever come back!” “Don’t worry! You’re a piece of shit for a mother, anyway!” She left and stayed with her friend Jenny until she told her to stop drinking and get her act together.
In her combat boots, Sam scuffled along, hoping to catch O’Conner awake and coherent.
She turned left. The shopping cart poked out from the trash bin. Sam walked to the dumpster and peered around it. O’Conner wasn’t there, but his bags and blankets were. She stepped into his corner and was using the toe of her boot to kick away mouse droppings when someone grabbed her hair and yanked back her head, forcing her to her knees. Terrified, she caught a glimpse of orange.
“Private First Class Samantha Cummings, United States Army, Infantry Unit 23. Sergeant!” She raised her arms. Sweat streamed down her face.
His grip remained firm.
“Staff Sergeant O’Conner, I’ve brought provisions. They’re in my backpack. Sandwiches, candy bars, pretzels!”
He let go of her hair. The ponytail fell between her shoulders.
“I’m going to take off my backpack, stand, and face you, Sergeant.” Her fingers trembled, searched for the Velcro straps and ripped it aside. The bag slid to the ground. She rose with her back to him and turned around.
She saw the war in his eyes. “It’s me. Frap.” His skin, filthy and sun-burnt couldn’t hide the yellow hue of infection. He smelled of feces and urine. His jaw was slack, his gaze unsteady. “You want something to eat? I got all kinds of stuff,” Sam said. Her emotions buried in sand, began to tunnel, pushing aside lies and deceit.
O’Conner tore open the backpack and emptied out the canvas bag. “Booze.”
She knelt beside him and unwrapped a ham and cheese sandwich. “No booze. Here, have this,” she said handing him the food. “Go on.” Her arm touched his as she encouraged him to eat.
O’Conner sat back on his heels. “It’s all—”
Sam leaned forward. “Go on.”
“It’s all. Stuck!”
He shook his head. “It’s all, stuck!” he cried. He grabbed the sandwich and scarfed it down in three bites. Mayonnaise dripped on his scruffy beard. He kept his sights on Sam as he tore open the Frito bag and took a mouthful. He ripped apart the sack of Oreo cookies and ate those too. “Go away,” he said as black-and-white crumbs fell from his mouth.
Sam shook her head.
“Leave. Me. Alone!”
“I don’t want to.”
He drew his knees up to his chest, shut his eyes and leaned his head against the metal dumpster.
Here was her comrade-in-arms, in an invisible war, where no one knew of his bravery, where ground zero happened to be wherever you stood.
“You saved me from Jackson and Canali when they tried to rape me in the bathroom. I should have been able to protect myself. And when they tried to discharge me. For doing nothing. You stood up for me. Remember?” O’Conner didn’t move. “I never, thanked you. Cause it showed weakness.”
O’Conner struggled to his knees. “I don’t know you!” His breath smelled rancid.
“Yeah, you do.”
“I don’t know you!” he cried.
“You know me. You saved me twice, dude!”
O’Conner stumbled to his feet and gripped the rail of his shopping cart, his spirit as razed as the smoking remains of a humvee. He shoved off on his morning trek. For how long, Sam wondered.
She gathered the bags of food and put them in the canvas bag. She kicked his rags to the side, took his blankets, flung them out, folded them and rearranged the cardboard floor. She put the blankets on top and hid the bag of food under his rags.
Emotions overcame her. Loyalty, compassion, anger, love—feelings so strong tears fell like a long-awaited rain.
Sam couldn’t save O’Conner, but she could save herself.
She ripped off her dog tags and threw them in the dumpster. Once home, she’d take down the flag, fold it twelve times and tuck the picture of Marley and herself inside it. She’d throw out her military clothes and combat boots. Pour the rum down the sink. She’d go to the VA, badger them until she got an appointment. Join AA. She’d arrive and leave work on time.
The morning began to cook. It was the same sun, but a new day. Sam walked in the opposite direction of O’Conner.
Melodie Corrigall is an eclectic Canadian writer whose work has appeared in Litro UK, Foliate Oak, Toasted Cheese, Emerald Bolts, Earthen Lamp Journal, Six Minute Magazine, Halfway Down the Stairs, FreeFall, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Corner Bar, Persimmon Tree and The Write Place at the Write Time (www.melodiecorrigall.com).
THE BIRD ACCORDING TO JACK
Jack-Be-Nimble—seventeen, energetic, restless—stretched back on the grassy bank, his feet dangling in the brook. The cool white water bubbled past, tugging his toes and ticking his arches. Eyes closed, he savored the sound of the water gurgling and the murmur of the wind in the leaves. He studied the soft grey clouds floating across the white sky. One could see things in the clouds: strangely shaped creatures.
Above him a fat old lady sat cross-legged, a shawl pulled over her head. Beside, or perhaps pursuing, her was a large humped serpent. The two slowly moved across the sky on their relentless chase.
The serpent seemed content to bide his time. Maybe he wouldn’t know what to do if he caught his victim. Jack sympathized. He too was confused; he didn’t know what to do. At his age, rather than seeing serpents and old ladies in the clouds he ought to be searching amongst the silver sunlit dust for the Bird.
Since childhood Jack had heard references, scraps of confusing adult chatter about the illusive Bird. There were so many conflicting theories; it was impossible to imagine what It looked like.
Some people said that the Bird, although not large, had powerful wings and a curved ripping beak. Others argued that It was so massive that faced with It a person would only see an all-encompassing feathered belly. The large-Bird-people maintained that no matter how far back you stood you couldn’t ever get far enough away to see the entire Bird.
There were also passionate arguments about the color of the Bird. Some believed It was pure shimmering black and glistened in the sun like ebony. Others believed It was speckled. Once Jack had read in a Neo-Sciences journal that a group of scholars in Chile had proven beyond reasonable doubt that the Bird was pure white.
What was one to make of it?
Although the question interested Jack, with all the little worries of twenty-four hour life he didn’t have much time for what his mother referred to as ‘idle speculation’ on such subjects. His usual concern was what color T-shirt to wear or where to get some grass or whether Mary-Anne would and if she would, would he be able. When he got nervous he always made a botch of things and Mary-Annes were so impatient. But today, lying beside the brook, he had all the time in the world.
Today, Jack was ready to think about the illusive Bird. There was something uplifting about considering a conundrum that so many people thought and argued about. Of course, lots of people also talked about sewers and pollution but that was mundane. The Bird was different. It was eternal and worthy.
Jack closed his eyes. His hands wandered lightly over the grass. It tickled his palms. The moving water felt like black speckled fish nibbling at his feet. He dozed off. The hot white sun beat down on him: silence, the sun’s heat, the prickly grass, and the cool bubbling water.
Suddenly: the Bird. There with his eyes closed, his feet chilled, his face burning, Jack saw the Bird. He bolted up. The color. What was the color? It wasn’t black. It wasn’t white. It was. It was. It was something else, something incredibly, indescribably else.
It had three long tail feathers folded looped up and all three of a different something else color. All three held up by a shiny black button to the Bird’s behind.
How to describe the colors of the Bird? There were no paints to color It. They weren’t black, white, grey, stripped or dotted. He had seen It. He, Jack-Be-Nimble, had seen the real, the very real Bird. He was burning to tell what he had seen. But how?
He thought and thought. Massive grey clouds drifted by overhead but Jack no longer saw them. He scrabbled about the recesses of his mind and finally he found a way to tell of those strange, strange but very real feathers. Yes. He would name the colors in words by describing them as sensations. Yes.
One color was how the fun felt on his face. Yes, yes, the sun on his face. The next was the cool water on his feet. Yes. It was fish nibbling in the cool water on his feet. And the third? Think. The third was like the grass, the rough grass but not black. Like the wind, but colored.
The image of the Bird had been seared into Jack’s mind.
From that moment on whether Mary-Anne would or wouldn’t, whether he was high or low, whether he laughed or cried, he could not forget the Bird. It had been revealed to him and his burning obsession was to reveal the Bird, in all its splendid colors, to humanity.
Jack ran home that famous afternoon and explained to his mother, in the minutest of details, the Bird’s appearance. She listened from time to time. When he finished, she apologized that said she hadn’t had the education that he had and he should focus on finding a job. Imagine such idleness as talking about colors that weren’t colors. It was absurd.
When Jack told his father, who was ‘in business’ the old man said that he could vaguely remember the color of cool water on his feet but it was long ago and better forgotten.
He was more successful describing the Bird to his young friends than to his parents. But even they, after much late night discussion, could only come to short agreement.
Whatever the challenge, Jack was committed to his cause. He worked unceasingly to spread the word. In time, many brave young men and women agreed that there was, or quite probably might be, a Bird and that It just might be of some color other than black or white.
At the tender age of 19 Jack’s essay disclosing the color of the Bird was published in the Political Monkey, a highly influential periodical. Jack refuted, or rather amended (with guidance from the more learned), his initial thesis the following year, explaining that what he had originally described as the hot sun sensation was more accurately defined as the sting of a slapped face. The shock of the vision had confused him, he explained. Since he had first seen the Bird he had studied the whole question logically, maturely, and the pragmatic conclusion was sting not sun. It was the same sensation only the semantics had changed for clarity. Clarity is expedient, especially in difficult times, and times were becoming increasingly difficult.
The following year, the second sensation was reinterpreted. Under the sweet influence of a lady-friend, Jack decided to reiterate the cool water sensation. It was an unfamiliar one to many. He explained the color as perhaps being more aptly experienced as the beat of a black boot on a grey pavement. Most people understood. Pragmatism was important if they were to succeed. Some felt frightened, others betrayed but most followed Jack.
Several years later, Jack contemplated a deeper study on the third color. His followers fidgeted. The young people got angry and abusive. The third color, the wind or grass tickling the hand, had such a steadfast group of supporters that Jack dared not refute it, yet.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Jack’s revelation, there was a grand celebration. Jack marched in the lead, stumbling along as fast as he could. The hearty Be-Nimblists behind him marched smarty. The enthusiastic parade was dotted with large banners printed in black on white or white on black. All the popular slogans were displayed proudly: “Black grass tickles.” “The Color of a Stinging Slap.” “The Pounding of a Black Boot.”
The day ended in violent fighting between opposing factions. The principal disagreement was the color of the Bird’s head. The United Controllers, linking arms, insisted on black and won.
Over the years, the Be-Nimblist Organization gained in strength and size. The day came when it was considered unfashionable not to be a Birdist. The students and the intelligentsia went even farther and to a one were Be-Nimblists. By his final year Jack-Be-Nimble’s name was a household word.
Shelves of literature had been written about him and his vision. His word rocked the cradle and burnt the corpse. The mark of the 50th anniversary Jack was wheeled back to that famous spot beside the white brook, now merely a trickle in the black mud: the spot worn grey by pilgrims. They placed Jack on a blanket. As on the first day (the day of revelation) he stretched back. He was too old to put his feet in the muddy water.
There were cameras nearby and microphones dangled near his wrinkled face. A few thousand faithful crowded near their hero singing “Jack-Be-Nimble soon.” Millions more around the world clung to their electronic devices straining to be part of the historic moment.
Jack closed his dry parched eyes. He waited. He saw nothing. Still he waited; still he saw nothing.
After a time, with the restless crowds rumbling in the background, a black quill appeared and with a painful slowness it began to trace the outline of a bird: one long continuous line scratching from tail to beak to tail. Black line on white ground. And inside was neither black nor white. It was void. Jack waited, breathless for the quill to continue but it faded. There were no tail feathers.
“Empty,” Jack groaned.
“What,” shouted a jowly man swooping in and jamming the microphone into Jack’s quivering lips.
“Move in the camera,” roared an excited reporter.
The Be-Nimblists pushed forward, a swelling tide.
“Pty,” Jack croaked, his eyes opened slightly then rolled back.
“Pty, Pty! Pty’ the crowd whispered and the whisper became a roar: a roar across the nation, across the continent, across the world.
Black banners, white banners, speckled banners all at half-mast for Jack. And the battle cry for the short future was “Pty! Pty!” For thus had sayeth Jack.
NT Franklin writes after his real job hoping one day to have it be his real job. He writes cozy mystery short stories, nostalgia short stories, and Flash Fiction. He has been published in Page & Spine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Fiction on the Web, Madswirl, Postcard Shorts, 404 Words, 101 Words, Freedom Fiction, Burrst, Entropy, Alsina Publishing, Fifty-word stories, among others. When not reading or writing short stories, you might find him fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
ME AND BART SELL GOLF BALLS
Monday afternoon Bart pedaled up the driveway grinning like a fool. This was going to be good.
“I got a great idea,” he said. “We should sell golf balls.”
“But we don’t have any golf balls,” I said.
“That’s okay. Look here.” Bart pulled two golf balls out of his pocket. “They’re all over the golf course.”
“Yeah, but aren’t people using them?” I asked.
Bart ignored the question. “I was riding on River Road, you know, the road along the golf course. And WHACK! A golf ball bounces next to me, goes sky high, and lands in the bushes across the road. Fair game.”
“You could have been hurt,” I said.
“Nah. Besides, I went into the bushes and found it and one more golf ball. Right there for the taking.
“You think there are any more for the taking?”
“I dunno, I found these two pretty easy. There are lots of bushes on the edge of the golf course. There have to be millions of balls in them. And there are the little ponds that a ball sometimes lands in.”
“I have a mask and fins,” I said. “We could get them from the little ponds when no one is looking.”
We wasted no time bicycling to River Road and scouting out the golf course. Bart looked around and said, “Most of the bushes are on the golf course side of the road. We should look there first.”
We laid our bikes down in the ditch and entered the bushes.
“Gold mine! There are two right here,” I yelled.
Me and Bart walked along the bushes and found a total of six balls. “They’re dirty,” I told Bart.
“Yeah? Follow me.”
I followed him to where golfers tee off for a hole. We waited until the golfers moved down the course. There was a ball washer right there under the Hole Number 9 sign. For free. Bart put a golf ball in the hole in the handle and pulled it up and down and presto, the ball came out clean. He washed up all the balls and most looked pretty good.
“Nice, but where do we sell them?” I asked.
Bart smiled.“Right here. Just wait a few minutes and another group of golfers will come by.”
Sure enough, four golfers drove up in a cart after a few minutes. Bart approached them, held out some of the golf balls, and offered them for sale. I stood behind Bart with my hands full of mostly clean golf balls.
“Four balls sold to the first group. This is great,” I said. “I thought it was funny the oldest guy in the group wanted to pay less for a ball but you held your price firm.”
“Yup. They don’t like the dirty balls, they bought the white ones. You know, I’ll bet they’re all clean in the ponds. We should go get your mask and fins.”
We raced each other home on our bikes to get my mask and fins and were back at the golf course in no time. Since I was wearing my swim trunks under my pants, I was all set to dive for golf balls in the ponds. We went to the small pond near where we found the first golf balls. I took off my shoes, pants, and shirt and put on the mask and fins.
“Look at that, the water is so clear, no green algae growing or anything.” Bart said. “This is going to be good.”
I waded in and found a couple balls with my feet and then dove with my masks and saw lots of balls. I came up with ten balls for ten minutes of work. I threw them to Bart and he dried them off. They all looked white to me. One had a slice in it so we might not get full price for it.
I heard Bart say “Move it” as another group of golfers approached so I climbed out of the pond and we hightailed it to the edge of the course.
“That was close,” I told Bart.
“Yeah, I guess. Ten minutes, ten white balls, ponds are the best place to get the balls. Let’s go to the next pond.”
We went to the next pond and as soon as the golfers left, I waded into the water. I had my sixth ball ready to throw to Bart when I saw two men with him.
“Come out of the water, son,” the older one said to me.
“Are we in trouble?” I asked.
The older one squinted his eyes, gritted his teeth, and then said, “You two boys have to come with me. Sam here will gather up your bikes and bring them to the clubhouse.”
Me and Bart sat in the locker room of the clubhouse. Bart never looked worried, but I started to sweat. I was sure we were going to get in trouble. We weren’t members of the golf course. Maybe even trespassing.
The older man said, “My name’s Tim and you boys aren’t in trouble, we just need to set some ball-collecting rules. I see you went into the water, so go stand in the shower and rinse off really well, okay?”
I jumped off the bench and headed to the showers.
“Keep your swim suit on,” Tim called after me.
“I showered and used the time to think. I didn’t come up with much.
Sam handed me towels and I dried off and took a seat on the locker room bench.
“Boys,” Tim started, “we can’t have you going into the water. You have to stay out. You can collect balls from the bushes off the course. Can you two live with that?”
“Sure we can,” Bart replied. I was glad he spoke because I don’t think I could.
“You see…” Tim fumbled for words, “…the balls in the water belong to the golf course.”
“We didn’t mean to steal them,” I blurted out.
“Well, you haven’t… yet. You were selling them, right?”
“Yes, but not the ones from the water yet,” Bart replied.
“Well, we’ll pay a finder’s fee for these balls from the water. The top price you’ve received and we’ll buy all of them today. Except you can’t go into the water ever again. Okay?”
Bart looked at me and I nodded.
“We can live with that,” Bart said.
Bart handed Tim the sixteen balls from the water and Tim handed him cash.
Bart asked Tim, “There’s something else other than the golf course owns the balls in the water, isn’t there?”
“Okay, you seem like smart kids so you maybe you should know,” Tim said. “We put chemicals in the water to keep it from turning green. The chemicals aren’t good for boys. Now you can’t tell your folks you were in the water or we’ll have to call the police right now. Okay?”
Bart didn’t even look at me before he said, “We can live with that.”
“Now, do you want to buy the other four balls we have?” Bart asked.
Tim smiled, shook his head, and said, “Why not?”
Bart stood up and stuck out his hand.
“Good doing business with you, Tim.”
Tim just chuckled.
I couldn’t get out of the clubhouse fast enough. We mounted our bicycles and headed away from the clubhouse, I let out a loud sigh. “I thought we were going to be arrested for trespassing.”
“Nah, I had it under control,” Bart said. “You know, we’re riding right by the Town Diner. We’ve earned a Coke and fries today.”
“Race you there.”
The Coke and fries were as good as ever and we had money left over. Twenty-four golf balls found and sold. All in all, it was a good day and who knows, there is always tomorrow.