Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2019

Archive for the category “Families”

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Fourteen

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Fourteen

 

“You what?”

Detective Martindale must love to shout. He does it almost every time I talk to him.

“I said that I have Leslie Ann Wolas at my place. You might want to come out here.”

“Have you got her tied up? I’ll send out a couple Black & Whites to pick her up.”

I could almost hear a little admonition in his voice, “You better not be wasting my time.” It must have been killing him that I called him like this.

“No, Martindale, I think you’d better come out here yourself.”

“Why, did she ask for me?” he asked.

“No, she’s dead.”

“What?” Yelling again. “If you shot her I will hang you myself!”

He was not going to like this.

“Suicide…On my kitchen floor. We had a long talk before she decided to eat her pistol. So…like I said, you might…”

“I’m on my way. Don’t touch anything. Don’t touch her!”

I’d hate to live with him, yelling all the time. He must be like living with a Jack Russell Terrier.

“Don’t touch her?”  No problem there. I wasn’t being paid to clean up a mess like that, but I probably will end up scrubbing the floor – and maybe the ceiling too.

Suicides. They all think that their problems end once they pull the trigger or take the pills. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All they’ve done is shift those problems onto everybody they left behind.

It doesn’t take courage to kill yourself. It’s the exact opposite. If they really had courage they would face and attack what or who – ever was tormenting them. Instead they turn on the gas jet or drive the car into the bridge abutment. They leave behind a gory mess for someone else to clean up. That’s not an example of courage in my book.

When she fell back from sitting upright her head went past the edge of the linoleum in the kitchen area and landed on my living room carpeting. The linoleum I might just tear up and replace. No big deal, but the carpeting would never clean up right. There will always be a shadow of her blood and every time I see it I’ll think about…about everything.

The Forensics people showed up first. Martindale probably had to stop and pick up his blood pressure meds.

The neighbors were going to be getting quite a show with the lab boys traipsing back and forth. They are so jaded. They have seen things done to the human body that would make a statue vomit, buy it’s just evidence and samples to them. I wonder what they dream of at night.

By their standards what Leslie Ann did to herself was downright neat as a pin. No muss. No fuss. They chatted among themselves as they took swabs and samples. Just another day at the office

“My wife’s been taking a cooking class at the Community Center. We have been eating nothing but Italian food for two weeks now. I’m getting sick of all the different tomato sauces.”

“Me and my girl are getting into sushi. It took me a while to get past that gag reflex.”

I had to step outside. I lit up a cigarette and took a long pull. I must be getting old or my gore immunity is finally wearing off after these years away from The Job.

The Forensic Techies moved quickly but they never got sloppy or took shortcuts. They worked by the book. After a few initial questions to get my take on what happened they went to work and pretty much ignored me – except when I opened the front door.

“Don’t wander too far, Mr. Ellis. I’m sure the Detective will want to speak with you.”

“I’m just going to step outside for a breath of fresh air.”

“Cool.”

The human body, when opened up, smells. Muscles and sphincters also relax and what is in the bowels and bladder is often set free. On my floor. On my carpet. I might move.

I sat down on the front steps. Three steps from my front door down to the sidewalk. A few of my neighbors across the way, newbies, were peeking out their windows at the to do going on – people going in and out of my front door, some of them in uniform with sidearms. Seeing me sitting on my steps with a cigarette in my lips assured them that I wasn’t either a victim or a suspect. I waved to them and their drapes dropped back into place.

Yeah, maybe I should move. Get a place out in the country where all of my close neighbors would have four legs and fur. Who am I kidding? I’m a city boy, born and raised. When I see too many trees in one place I get nervous. I need to hear the sound of sirens racing through the night. I don’t need owls hooting at me. What would I do in the country? Probably go nuts and end up like Leslie Ann, the poor kid.

 I was halfway through my second cigarette when I saw Martindale coming down the street. Why did he park his car half a block away? Probably a Fitness Freak with one of those fancy wristwatches that count your steps or something. Even from a distance I didn’t like him.

“Good Afternoon, Detective. Welcome to my humble, if somewhat crowded at the moment, abode.”

“Where is she?”

“Mainly in my kitchen the last time I looked.”

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Thirteen

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Thirteen

Part Thirteen

“Timmy? He was such a sweet boy.”
“That ‘Sweet Boy’ killed eight people.”

I couldn’t let that pass.

“He would have killed me, Leslie Ann, if I hadn’t shot first. ‘Sweet Boy?’ What was his motive – He didn’t like his snack at the Food Court?”

She looked at me and I could see her underlying rage bubbling up to the surface. Her eyes flicked down to the Walther pistol on the table between us.

“Why did he really do what he did?” she said, her eyes back locked onto mine. “Because I asked him to. He did it because he loved me.”

How much horror has been set loose upon the world in the name of Love? Almost as much as devils have used Religion as their excuse to commit every atrocity imaginable.

“So how in the world is that a motive for mass murder? The idea was yours instead of his? So that makes him ‘Sweet?’”

“Shut up, Ellis! I came here to talk about me, not Timmy or Nate or certainly not you. Forget Timmy. Didn’t your mother ever tell you to not speak ill of the dead?”

“Which dead? The ones at the Mall or at the gas station or the pile of corpses at the ER?”

I was pushing my luck, but I needed to see how she would react to having her nose rubbed in it. She spat in my face and picked up the gun. I guess I found out.

“Ellis…if you say one more word about that boy and I will …”

“I apologize.” I decided to shut up.

“I came here for a reason, Ellis. Let me get to it and I’ll leave you to sit here in your pathetic little life.”

Rather than risk saying anything that might set her off I…picked up my sandwich and took a bite. No sense wasting what might end up as my last meal.

Leslie Ann Wolas, dangerous, and probably as crazy as they come, got up and began to pace back and forth trying to find her words.

“I came here to tell you that this whole thing is a scam. Nate has been running this whole show. I went along for my own reason. I told you…and Timmy, well…. Go ahead and eat your sandwich like a good boy.

“Nate is basically a thief and this whole thing is just a major distraction. While every cop in the city is all hot and bothered by the gunplay Nate will be knocking off everything in sight. Everything but banks thanks to you. Me and Timmy were going to cut out and go to Mexico. You took care of that too.”

She stopped pacing and stood looming over me.

“There’s no reason for me to go now – not since you murdered him” She stood there looking down at me. Me with a sandwich in my hand and a six round pistol in hers and I could see that she was weighing on whether or not to waste a couple of them on my head.

“No reason at all, so here I am. Nate wants me to go along with his crazy scheme, do some more shooting just to stir the pot. I don’t buy it. I told him that if he wants to then go ahead, but I’m done.

I raised my hand like a third grader with a question.

“What?” she said. “What?” She didn’t like interruptions.

“Where is Nate going to hole up? He won’t go back to that attic on Wilson.”

“Why do you care? You going to go after him? He’ll cut you to pieces, old man.”

I put down my sandwich. I’d had enough. Now it was my turn to talk.

“I don’t recall the last time I heard more absolute bull at one time. All of you actually feel justified with what you’ve done, don’t you? You slaughtered I don’t know how many people there at the hospital. The people you shot weren’t The Hospital. They were not the people who committed the sin of saving your life all those years ago. They were people already in pain like you. If you want to get back at The Hospital go in and clog up all their toilets. You don’t murder people who had nothing to do with your own personal troubles.

“And Sweet little Timmy? You two were going to run off to Mexico as if everything was peachy keen after the two of you decided to help Nate Williams, perhaps the biggest lying piece of trash going, with his plan to rob a bunch of Mini-Marts and Mom and Pop Bodegas. Jesus H. Christ! You’re all nuts. None of you should ever have been allowed to be on the streets alone.”

I was on a roll.

“And somehow you tried to tie me into your twisted reasoning making me the reason you’re doing all of this idiocy. You should just put down that gun and go turn yourself into the police. Go talk to them. Tell them your cock and bull story and you just might avoid a ride on the Lethal Injection Gurney to Hell. If you don’t and the cops out there see you first they’ll show you what it’s like to take a round to the head.

“Now, tell me where I can find Nate Williams, because I want that piece of trash for myself. I brought down his father and I’ll do the same for him.”

I looked at her. She was looking right through me as if I wasn’t there.

“Hello. Leslie Ann? Did any of what I just said get through to you? Did you even hear me? Turn yourself in. Forget Nate Williams and save yourself. He’s dead meat and forget about Timmy too. ‘He was Sweet.’ That’s just nuts. I’m done with you. You’re crazy. Either get help or get out.”

She was still staring off into space. As long as she wasn’t pointing her gun at me I figured I was, not safe exactly, but with a better chance of making it through the day.

All I wanted now was for her to flip on Nate Williams and then to leave, go somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t in my house. I was sure that she wouldn’t turn herself in. she’d spent most of her life avoiding them. I wanted her out, but there was nowhere else she could go where she might get some head help. She was going full speed down a dead end street. Her faraway look snapped back and she was in my kitchen again.

“You’re right, Ellis. I am guilty. I accept that. I was too weak. I let Nate talk me and Timmy into doing these things. Guilty and weak – a bad combination.

“I don’t want to do it again – I don’t, but if I go back to Nate I know he’ll talk me into it again.”

“Where is Nate’s place? Where is he?”

“Oh, you don’t want to go there. Nate is evil. He’ll talk you into doing evil things. Where can I go though? There’s no place for me.”

“I don’t know, girl. I wish I could tell you, but…’

She sat down on the kitchen floor and looked up at me. For the first time I could see tears in her eyes.

“I have no place to go where I can be safe and happy. No place. I was happy with Timmy…but you took him away. Now there is no one. Because of you. You ended it all. Nowhere and no one.”

She closed her eyes, but firmed up her grip on the pistol.

“All I can do now is try to find my Timmy.”

She opened her eyes and looked me square in mine. She took that ugly black gun, put it in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

In my small kitchen the noise her gunshot made startled me. The top of her scalp splattered onto my ceiling in the split second before she fell over backwards with her own startled look.

The tears that had been in her eyes ran down her cheeks and fell onto the bloody floor.

I hoped she’d find her Timmy. He was so sweet.

What The Flock Is Going On?

 

Look at them. Chances are they’ll be looking back at you. If, while you are looking for them, you notice that everybody is looking at you…well, there you go. You are the Black Sheep in that family. Congratulations.

How does one become The Black Sheep? It starts early. In those formative years when the other kids in the family are setting up little lemonade stands there is one tyke, boy or girl, who starts their own business selling newspapers. What’s so wrong with that? Nothing except that, our lone wolf entrepreneur is selling yesterday’s newspapers to unsuspecting adults.

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Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Twelve

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Twelve

Now I know how a mouse feels when it’s trapped inside a house full of cats. When a house cat catches a mouse it doesn’t kill and eat it like a feral cat would. No, they play with it. One cat stands on the mouse’s tail while another cat beats the crap out of it. Then they let it go so they can hunt and catch it again. In this scenario Nate Williams and Leslie Ann Wolas are the cats and I am the mouse, being hunted and toyed with.
I thought it was the other way around when I found Nate Williams had been arrested and I’d be able to find out what this nonsense of hunting for me was all about – but he got cut loose before I could get at him. Now I was back to where I started, worse actually, because now he knew I was on his trail. That jockey would blow the whistle on me.

Lacking anything better to do I went home. I saw no sense trying to guess where Williams and his lawyer had gone for lunch. I was hungry myself.

An afternoon at home isn’t all that relaxing when you know that a man who has said that he wants you dead is loose and in a good mood. I know that I sure wasn’t in a good mood.

I was sitting at my kitchen table. My fancy lunch was a sandwich – Braunschweiger and Onion. Who did I have to impress? Nobody. Nobody who couldn’t take me out from a distance.

Sitting there, wondering what to do next, when the answer came sliding under my door. A single sheet of paper, folded, slid under my front door. It didn’t look like an advertisement. There was a new dry cleaner in the neighborhood, but this wasn’t a sheet full of coupons.

It was there on the floor and I had half a sandwich in my hand. The paper could wait. At this point in my day it was just one more piece of trash that needed picking up. Ever since my last lady friend moved out on me my housekeeping skills have really gotten a bit lax.

A single sheet of paper. I suppose that if I’d gotten up quickly and opened the door I might have seen who left it, but I didn’t. First things first. Finish my sandwich and then open another can of something I really don’t need.

OK…OK. A single sheet of paper and I could see that it had handwriting on it. A love note? Not likely. A “Dear John” letter? Most of the women I know would have tied that paper to a brick and tossed through my front window.

Enough speculation. I got up off my ass and crossed over to the door and picked it up off the floor.

“We need to talk. Open the door.”

“What the…” I said to myself. That note could be a come-on from an insurance agent, a Jehovah’s Witness trying a new approach, or maybe Nate Williams. Unless it was Williams I guessed that they’d be long gone by now.

Here we go with “The Lady or the Tiger” again. Against my better judgment and the feeling in my braunschweigered stomach, I turned the knob and opened the door. It was the Lady – Leslie Ann Wolas and she had small Walther pointed at my chest.

At least it wasn’t the Jehovah’s Witness.

“We need to talk,” she said, but she kept the pistol aimed at me. I was in no position to argue.

“C’mon in, “I said.

I turned around and walked back into my kitchen. I was trusting that she wouldn’t plug me between the shoulder blades. She followed me. I sat down and picked up the rest of my sandwich. It might be my last meal, so what the heck.

I didn’t say anything as she sat down across the table from me staring at me like I was a two-headed chicken. I didn’t say anything and neither did she. It was making me nervous because I didn’t really know if she was stoned, drunk, or just crazy. At any moment she might start seeing things and open fire. I couldn’t take it. I broke the ice.

“You’re the one who wanted to talk, so if you want to start now I’d appreciate it. I had planned on going to the two o’clock matinee at the Cineplex. …Or, if you’re going to shoot me with that thing get on with it and I’ll forget the movie.”

Saying this while gnawing on my sandwich didn’t make me look like too much of a threat. She laid the gun down on the table.

“I need to explain something to you, Mr. Ellis.”

“OK.”

What else could I say to that?

She hemmed and hawed for a minute or so like she was trying to find the right words. Not too hot. Not too cold, but just right. How Goldilocks of her except for that black, ugly Walther PPK on the table – still pointed in my direction.

“First off, Mr. Ellis…I have no desire to kill you for shooting my father or for anything else before or…” I interrupted her.

“I’m glad to hear that, but why that calls to that TV station saying the opposite?”

“Oh, that was Nate’s idea. Motives for our actions and that. A distraction really.”

“But what was your motive? All those people? Why?”

“We‘ve each got our own motives and you were just a convenient coincidence. We are all from here so the odds of our fathers mixing it up with you at some point seemed pretty high.”

“You all had reasons, what you think were good reasons, to shoot up the Mall, that Mini-Mart, and you – the ER at the hospital? I don’t get it at all. I also don’t get why you’re here. Why you want to talk to me?”

She held up her hand to stop my talking. She was getting upset.

“I wanted to talk with you to explain… to explain and to ask for your help.”

“My help?”

“Yes, you see, we had our reasons…”

“You’ve said that before, but I haven’t heard anything coming from you that is even close to an explanation for mass murder. Why don’t you start over and quit dancing all around it?”

She lowered her head and closed her eyes. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to pull herself together or getting ready to lose it and pick up the gun again.

“I…it was that Emergency Room that kept me alive after I was…I should have died. I wanted to die. I deserved to die. It’s complicated. You wouldn’t understand.”

Bull.

“No! No it’s not complicated. I do understand. Your Old Man put two shots into my back. It was a long time before I felt half human again, before I wasn’t in constant pain with every breath. They put me on a ‘Recovery Leave’ for the better part of a year. That just about did me in. It cost me my marriage and I thought of eating my service revolver a thousand times. So, don’t tell me that ‘It’s complicated’ stuff.

She looked at me with the saddest eyes I’d seen since my mother buried my baby sister when I was ten. I might have gotten too hard on her.

“I’m sorry, Leslie Ann. I shouldn’t have jumped on you like that.”

“No. No, you have every right. I haven’t got the courage to take this gun here and finish what was started when I was twelve.”

“Stop that talk. What about the others?” I asked her. “What about Timothy Collins…the one in the Mall?”

“The one you killed?

“Yes. The one I killed.”

“Timmy. He was a sweet boy.”

I Am Not Spartacus!

 

I SAW A LOVELY FAMILY PORTRAIT the other day. It was quite a crowd spanning several generations. At the crux of the gathering was the Patriarch of the Family – Kirk Douglas. THE Kirk Douglas, the world famous actor, who starred in countless movies spanning decades.

He is 102 years old now and still ticking. His wife is 100 years old and still tocking. Together they are defying time.

When I first saw that Kirk Douglas had cracked the century mark it made me feel positively young, but then I saw that his oldest son, Michael Douglas is a year older than me. So much for that illusion of youth that I was clinging to.

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Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Eleven

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Eleven

 

“What do you want to know about Nate anyway? If you already know that he says he wants to kill you – that should be enough.”

It’s hard to argue with basic logic, but I was never good at accepting the obvious. So here I am talking to a jockey with a beer belly who still has a gun in his hand.

“I want to know where he is! I want to find him so I can stop him from killing me.”

“Wait long enough and he’ll find you. Then you two can have a nice chit-chat before he slits your throat.”

“Well, my short not my friend, the trick is that I want to find him before he finds me.”

I didn’t think that was funny, but the little wise guy was giggling.

“So you can slit his throat? I wouldn’t advise trying that. He’s younger than you; in better shape for sure, and he is one sneaky son of a gun.”

This was like talking to a dog. The movement of my lips was keeping his attention, but nothing was getting through to him. Time to start over.

“Let me go back to the beginning. OK? Square one? Are you with me?”

“Shoot, Pal. That’s a figure of speech.”

I really wanted to strangle him by this time.

“OK…’Knock, Knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Me.”

“Me who?”

“Me who wants to know where in the hell is Nate Williams, Jr.? Do you know where he is right now? Today? This very moment?”

“Sure. Why didn’t you ask me that straight out of the gate? Of course I know where he is.”

“Ok then… Where is he?”

The old jockey leaned over and reached down to the floor beside his chair. When he did that he put his pistol in his lap and it slipped off and clattered to the floor. When he straightened up he was holding a newspaper. He folded it in half and tossed it at me.

“Here, read it for yourself, Mr. Sam Spade, Private Detective.”

I grabbed the paper in midair, unfolded it and looked at the front page. The headline was about some senator dropping dead in Washington.

“What am I supposed to be looking at? This story about the dead politician?

“Below the fold! Below the fold! Nate would never merit a spot on top. Are you sure you can read or do you want me to help you sound it out?”

I was being dissed by an ugly gnome who was living in someone else’s attic. Under other circumstances I would have kicked his scrawny butt into next Tuesday, but he was a source.

I turned the paper over and scanned the page below the fold. That was where I saw Nate Williams’’ picture – his mug shot.

“Suspect in Mini-Mart Massacre Captured.”

The story said that he had been nabbed “without incident” while he was sleeping at his home “at 432 Wilson Avenue last night.” I didn’t read any further.

“What the…? Why didn’t you tell me this 20 minutes ago?”

“You didn’t ask – and you weren’t being very polite, lying to me about who you were. Barry Livingston, indeed.”

I’d wasted half a day tracking down this address, getting here through crosstown traffic, and then playing “Twenty Questions” with a smartass munchkin after climbing up that deathtrap set of stairs.

“Why didn’t Martindale call me? I said that out loud.

“That Copper? He’s a dick.” He had the gun in his hand, pointed at my crotch again. “Now, get out of here and don’t come back. I won’t be such a good host next time.”

Nate Williams wanted to kill me and now I wanted to kill Detective Martindale. All he had to do was pick up his phone and call me. I would have slept better last night and I wouldn’t have blown half a day and I think my left knee climbing the stairs at 432 Wilson Avenue.

I didn’t even stop for lunch. I knew that if I did I would end up drunk and try to storm into Martindale’s office. All that would accomplish would be to get myself arrested and tossed into my own cell.

Stone cold sober, but with my stomach grumbling like a St. Bernard, I walked up to the front desk at the Central Station.

“I’d like to see Detective Martindale, please.” I was trying hard to be polite. “If I may.”

The Sergeant looked down at me from his spot at the desk. He knew me, but I didn’t remember him.

“Ellis, he don’t want to see you. Nobody down here wants to see you.”

“Could you tell him that it’s about the Nate Williams Case…Please?”

“There is no ‘Nate Williams Case’, Ellis. Don’t you ever watch the Noon News on the TV? His lawyer walked out of here an hour ago with Williams by his side. It seems that he was able to produce a rock solid alibi. Mistaken Identity or something. Yeah, they were laughing and making lunch plans.

“Now, you…I want you to get out of here before I write you up for being a Common Nuisance.”

***

I don’t know how he did it. “A rock solid alibi” is what the desk Sergeant said.

My aching back.

Williams was all over the CCTV at the Gas Station. Unless he has a twin brother roaming around out there, which I know he doesn’t, Nate Williams, Junior was the shooter and now he is walking the streets again and looking for me…as if I am the cause of all his problems.

If he could have an alibi of any sort in the face of that security camera video what about the others?

Leslie Ann Wolas chopped up the Emergency Room at the hospital and they have cameras up on the wall there too. The other guy, the one I dropped at the Mall, had to be on video too. How could they claim to have been someplace else? Once my bullets put him on the floor his alibi went to hell with him.

I don’t know why it’s been taking Williams so long to find me. It’s not like I’ve been in hiding since I retired. I have moved a couple of times, but that was to save some money on rent. I haven’t even been out of town for more than a day or two in over two years.

If somebody wants to find me I don’t see where all of this showboating has been all that necessary. I’m not in the phone book like Nate Williams, but still…

Some days are not worth getting out of bed for. Some others are not worth getting into bed in the first place. This one was getting to be a day for not worth even owning a bed. I’d be considered a luckier man if I was living in the park and sleeping on a bench.

This morning I didn’t know where Nate Williams was, then I did, and now I don’t again. I’ve had better days hooked up to life support.

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Ten

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Ten

 

432 Wilson Ave. #6. I’m not saying it was a dump. That would be an insult to dumps. 432 Wilson Ave. was a cliché. It was a three story building that had been converted from an ugly single family home into six “Studio Apartments” that should more properly be called “Cells.” Apartment #6 was in half of what used to be the attic. From the looks of it on the outside it wouldn’t be very comfortable for anyone over 5’8”. My data sheet said that Nate Williams Jr. was 6’1”. So, maybe I should be looking for a hunchback.

The entire street had the look that nobody cared anymore about how it looked. Abandoned cars, a couple of waterlogged and moldy sofas, and a soft drink vending machine were huddled against the curb. Up the block from 432 a neglected looking dog was curled up right in the middle of the street. It wasn’t dead. I took a closer look as I swerved my car around it. The dog lifted its ugly head to look at me as I drove past, but made no effort to move. You could probably say the same thing about the humans who lived here.

A couple of old ladies, rocking on their front porches, watched as I came down the block, but if anybody asked them – they never saw me. Nobody ever sees anything on Wilson Avenue.

If there is one thing that I don’t like more than just about anything else its stairs. Too many years of walking the beat and then having some idiot I was trying to cuff kicks me in the knee and did damage. An X-Ray of my kneecaps looks like a picture of a handful of cracker crumbs. Every morning when I get out of bed and stand my body sounds like a bag filled with castanets. So what do I have to do at 432 Wilson Ave.? Walk up three flights of rickety, homemade stairs that were bolted to the outside of the building.

I was not in a good mood to begin with and now I was going to have two swollen knees before I even got to knock on the door at #6. “Nate Williams better be there” I thought, “Watching TV, in his underwear, eating a bag of Cheetos.”

A doorbell. Somebody put in a doorbell. One of those new ones with a built-in camera so they can see who’s coming even before you push the button. Well, there went the element of surprise. Whoever was on the other side of the door could tell I wasn’t there selling Girl Scout cookies.

Just out of spite I ignored the doorbell and knocked on the door. It rattled and wobbled. One good shoulder hit and it would have fallen apart like it was made out of cardboard.

When I knocked I could hear some scuffling from inside, some mumbling and what sounded like a chair being kicked over. Nothing that sounded like a shotgun shell being racked up or a pistol round being chambered.

I knocked again, but I moved off to the side as far as I could go without falling three floors to the driveway. No sense being an easy target. There was more mumbling, but closer to the door. I looked up at the camera. Somebody had spray painted the lens. Nobody was seeing anything with that piece of useless junk.

“The Lady or the Tiger” was never one of my favorite stories as a kid and right now I feel like that Lady standing in front of a shoddy door. I put my hand on the grip of my weapon tucked in the small of my back. If there was a tiger behind that door I wanted to show it that I wasn’t no Lady.

I gave it one more sharp knock.

“Hold on a minute, will ya? I don’t move all that fast anymore.”

A lame tiger?

I sucked in my gut. I wanted to make myself as small a target as possible. I moved the pistol to alongside my leg with my finger ready to hit the trigger.

There is nothing like the sound of a deadbolt slide being pulled. Whoever was in there was opening more than one lock. I counted three of them before things got quiet again. I was about to see if I was going to face a tiger with bad feet or the wrong end of a .357.

I braced myself for…for whatever as best I could standing on a small wooden platform three storoes above the ground with nowhere to go but either down or through the door.

“Hold your horses, I’m coming. This better be good or I’m gonna be mad. Making me get and all.”

The Voice pulled open the door. I’d expected it to open out but it swung inward. I think that’s illegal, but I’m glad it did. There was barely enough room for me out there.

“Whatcha want, Cowboy?”

I had to look down to see his face. This was definitely not Nate Williams, Jr., Senior, or any other member of the Williams family. I moved on with my pre-planned first question.

“Where the hell is Nate Williams?”

“Well, who the hell wants to know?”

Whoever he was he certainly wasn’t intimidated by my presence.

This guy who wasn’t Nate Williams was no more than 5’4″ tall and skinny as a rail except for the beer belly that jutted out from his open bathrobe. He needed a shave. He’d needed it for at least a week or two and he was wearing fuzzy pink slippers. He was also carrying a five shot black revolver pointed at my crotch.

The little guy had the advantage. I was so surprised that my weapon was still hanging limp by my side. I figured that I’d better answer his question.

“My name is Barry Livingston and I’m looking for Nate Williams. You’re not him.”

“Nate Williams? Yeah, you got that right.I ain’t him, Sherlock. and you’re not Barry Livingston. He was a kid actor on television. so, shall we start over?”

He waved his pistol disturbingly close to my posterity.

“I’m not Nate Williams and who are you? Don’t tell me Ricky Nelson or I’ll clear cut your Family Tree roght here and now.”

I decided that I’d better be square with him since he held all the cards and that five-shot.

“My name is Mack Ellis and I’m looking for Nate Williams because he wants to kill me.” That was it, short and sweet.

The little guy laughed at me.He laughed, but he lowered the gun, turned and walked back into the apartment. I put my pistol back in its holster. If he was really going to shoot me he would have done it by now.

I followed him into the very low ceilinged attic apartment. I had the urge to bend over  rather than hit my head on one of the exposed beams. If Nate Williams ever actually lived here he must have been desperate.

There was only one old overstuffed chair that sat in front of a big screen TV. Off to the side was a single bed. The “kitchen” The walls were bare except for one lone poster thumbtacked to the wall in the kitchen area. It was a large photograph of a horse and jockey taken in the Winner’s Circle at some track. The jockey looked familiar.

The guy who was not Nate Williams saw me staring at the poster. He had plopped himself down in the big chair.

“Yeah, that’s me a few years and a lot of beers ago. That was after The Breeder’s Cup race at Santa Anita. I won by six lengths on a horse that was so juiced I was surprised that he didn’t leak. Drag the kitchen chair over here and we can talk.

“So…Nate Williams wants to kill you? That sounds like Nate alright. He always has somebody he wants to kill.”

 

 

 

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Nine

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Nine

 

A memory can be buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa and as obscure as a 1960s One-Hit Wonder – and one tiny thing can make it come roaring back to the front of your conscious mind as fresh as if it all happened this morning. And this morning was not very good. Only one egg in the fridge, bread with a blue tint along the edges, and just enough coffee to get my pulse steady.

I saved O’Shea’s printout on Timothy Collins for last because when Martindale gave me the five cent recap on him the whole story came back to me like midnight after a bad Mexican meal. The details that I thought had faded away re-etched themselves on my brain. It made me feel screwed all over again.

The first time I heard about the Collins family was when somebody broke into a nursing home. Who breaks into a nursing home? Well, this guy did. He figured it was a good place to score a sizeable haul of drugs of all kinds; pain killers, sedatives, and the like. He was right figuring that, but the staff must have been sampling some of their own stash because they decided to fight back. Brave but stupid. Wheelchairs don’t fare well up against a strung out B&E guy with two .45s. Seven of the staffers bought it that night. The one man with the habit and the guns got a boatload of junk the residents hated as much as they hated the Staff. None of them could or would give a decent description of the man.

Collins got picked up in a sweep of the neighborhood. He was two blocks away, stoned out of his mind, and strapped with a .45. He was handed over to me to interrogate. Trying to question a junkie who was starting to come down? I’d have had better luck trying to get a dog to confess to the Kennedy Assassination. Six hours of me doing all of the talking, then screaming while Collins drooled and sang old Irish songs – after vomiting on the table.

I’d always prided myself on keeping my cool with suspects no matter how disgusting they were, but Collins got to me. He was clueless and I was useless. He belched in my face, smelling like puke, and I lost it. I beat the ever loving daylights out of him. By the time the crew watching from the other side of the glass pulled me off of him the damage was done.

There was an investigation and the only thing that kept me from ending up on the wrong side of a courtroom was that Collins didn’t press charges. He was so ripped that he couldn’t remember me kicking the crap out of him. As far as he could testify he thought that maybe he fell down a flight of stairs or maybe he got hit by a bus.

Internally it was a different story. I was “disciplined” for “Improper Action.” That cost me a pay grade and a two month suspension which was waived because they were already short staffed.

The guy who actually shot up the nursing home was caught the day after I’d creamed Collins. He had been thrown out of a hockey bar for being too obnoxious. He shot out their front window before the barkeep pulled his dog-leg from behind a keg and blew away the guy’s knees. There was enough forensic evidence that he’d killed those seven people that even the Pope would have voted to put him on Death Row. I’d kicked Collins and my career for nothing. Everybody lost.

The newspapers reported that I had beaten Collins in front of his kid, cute little Timothy, traumatizing him for life. Not unless the kid was on the Force already at the age of eleven and watching it all through the one-way mirror.

What a joke.

When it came to the kid, Timothy Collins, he went around telling that bullcrap story as if it was Gospel Truth. It made him think he was somebody. He told it so often that I think he began to believe it himself.

Why he hooked up with the other pair of shooters is something nobody will ever know unless he left a diary or something behind. He’s not telling that story anymore. My two hits took care of that. Do I regret that? Hell, No. I may be the thread that connects all three of them to me, but I don’t think the younger Collins recognized me that day in the Mall. He would have cut me to pieces just like he’d done with those other poor whoevers were there in his line of sight.

So there it is. Three people ready and willing to murder. One of them dead by my hand and two on the loose and somehow I am tied to all of them and they call the TV stations to let them know that I am their real target.

Crazy.

Nine pages of data gathered with the help of an old friend who became an enemy, who now is…somewhere in between. I’m not sure if he will move that data upstairs to his superiors. He might. He should, but he might also look upon those nine pages as something just between the two of us and hit the delete button.

I’ll pass on those nine pages to Detective Martindale, but no right away. They have at least fifteen people looking for those two surviving media-loving killers. If I give the guys upstairs this pile of information they’ll be bumping into each other and queering any real sources who might help end this without hailstorm of lead. I’m going to keep this printout to myself for awhile. Close to the vest and very quiet. I’ll plumb my own sources – the ones who are still alive and talking to me. There aren’t that many left, but they can be invaluable. They can dig up information that even O’Shea’s computers can’t. His electric solid-state snitches can tell him how much money they might have, but my people can tell me which pocket it’s in.

Nate Williams Jr.

Leslie Ann Wolas

Timothy Collins

***

Which one first – Williams or Wolas?

Those were the two who were still alive and dangerous. Collins could wait. He wasn’t going anywhere. I’d made sure of that.

My first freelancing source of information was courtesy of the phone company. One of the first things people do when they grow up and move out into the world is to get their own place and the first thing they do after they sign the lease papers is to get a phone…a landline even if they already have a cell phone. It’s the grown-up thing to do. They may never use it, but it’s there, sitting on the table in the corner, reassuring them that they are no longer Mommy’s little baby.

Page 477, halfway down the page: “Nathan Williams, 432 Wilson Ave. #6, 675-1298.” He’d dropped the “Junior.”

For all his genius O’Shea had ignored that bit of information. People move so often that it was almost a 100% sure thing bet that Williams wasn’t living there anymore. A useless bit of history it would seem? True, but what O’Shea couldn’t know was that maybe, just maybe, he had sublet his apartment to a friend who knows where to send his check every month.

It couldn’t hurt to ask, but to make sure that it couldn’t I packed three inconspicuous and easily concealed pistols – one on my hip under my jacket, another tucked in the small of my back, and a third in an ankle holster. Being sure that something is safe and harmless is the quickest way into a casket. If everything at 432 Wilson Ave #6 is harmless as a puppy dog then fine and dandy, but if they are friends of Nate Williams Jr. they might be as nasty as a rattlesnake with a fangache.

OK…I had my information. I had my three steel friends, and I had my first question ready for whoever answered the door.

“Where the hell is Nate Junior?”

Now it was my turn to go hunting.

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Eight

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Eight

No matter how tragic and screwed up a road Nate Williams, father and son, traveled down theirs was a rose covered pathway compared to the gauntlet that Leslie Ann Wolas had to run.
Greg Wolas was a man totally unfit to be a parent yet there he was a damned fool given total custody of his daughter by the courts. He hadn’t asked for it, but the judge, who wanted to go have an early lunch with some friends, gave it to him so the court could adjourn before his favorite restaurant got filled with the lunch crowd.

There was no doubt that Greg Wolas was the biological father of Leslie Ann Wolas. The DNA test Greg had paid for trying to prove that he wasn’t the father had backfired on him and now, with Mommy on her way to prison for at least a decade or two for stabbing her john, Greg was ordered by the Court to become a loving and responsible parent – a Father, to a five year old girl with strawberry blonde hair and no idea who he was.

“JUSTITIA CONDEMNABITUR”

That was just in the first two paragraphs of Timmy O’Shea’s printout pages on Greg Wolas, the man who, a few years down the road crossed paths with me. He ended up dead and I was given the standard psychiatric evaluation whenever an officer shoots and kills. The verdict was that I was hasty drawing my weapon. The fact that I took two slugs from him wasn’t an obvious enough reason for me to shoot back. I still have those scars on my back.

Spending those hours sitting next to Tim O’Shea as he exhumed both the facts and the memories of how it came to be that now, years after I “retired” from the Thin Blue Line, there are three people I have no recollection of ever having had any direct contact with, stepping into my life over dead and bloodied bodies.

Leslie Ann Wolas grew. You can’t say she was raised. Whatever she learned about the “Three Rs” she picked up pretty much on her own. The printout showed that she had been registered in seven different elementary schools in three states. Stability was just a word on a spelling test.

For some reason, when Leslie Ann was 12 years old Daddy Greg took off for Atlanta leaving her behind to fend for herself. That was like throwing a rack of ribs into a pit full of starving dogs. As smart as she was she was still a kid. Kids alone on the street simply don’t matter. After a week she was tossed from a moving car outside the hospital emergency room. She was alive, but her body, mind and soul had been violated and abused, passed around like a tray of nuts. Greg came back after a few weeks carrying his own collection of scars and injuries. He discharged Leslie from the hospital and they caught a bus to New Orleans. He needed her body to prove to Welfare that he was her father and therefore qualified for a bigger monthly check.

Throughout her teen years she followed the cliché route of rebellion against everything and that included her father. She walked away from him and disappeared for three years. How and why she ended up in this city again is unclear. Maybe she and Greg had some sort of family reconciliation – genetics overcoming brutal reality. Even more obscure is how and why she went back to that same hospital ER that saved her life and shot the hell out it. They saved her life instead of letting her die.

Maybe that’s why.

Maybe that hospital ER was her personal target and she joined up with Nate Williams and Timothy Collins as just a way to exact her own revenge. Maybe it had nothing to do with me. A real coincidence even though I don’t believe in them.

Nah.

I killed her Father.

The stupid SOB.

On page six of the printout was a synopsis of how I ended up swabbing the deck of Greg Wolas. This was after Greg and his daughter had apparently kissed and made up, a loving family portrait once more.

Greg had moved up from running nickel and dime scams to try running a string of girls. He was as big a failure at that as he was at being a Father. His string was very short – one anorexic idiot who was as attractive as an open running sore and Leslie Ann. Why she went along with his idea is beyond me, unless it was a combo of trying to help her Father and another level of self-loathing.

Greg and Leslie had picked out a street corner in what was called a “transitional neighborhood.” That meant it was going from being just a slum sliding down the slime track into downright squalor. It was also a heavy drug market corner. I guess Greg believed in that old marketing slogan, “Location; Location, Location.

I was assigned to a task force that was going after the drug activity in that area, as if that was going to make a real difference. That neighborhood was circling the bowl a year or two away from when gentrification would come in and make it chic.

One Saturday night a raid on a number of corners was scheduled. We were going to go in scooping up a bunch of the small fry on the street. It wouldn’t do much except frustrate the drive by customers and take a tiny bit of profit from the men who never visited their corners.

That was also a night that Greg Wolas decided to loiter on the corner keeping an eye on his “string.” The street drug crew didn’t mind. Greg stayed out of their way and they liked chatting with the girls.

When me and the other members of our squad came swooping down on the corner things got chaotic. One nervous druggie pulled his cheap pistol and put a hole in the hood of a Black and White. I came out with my weapon drawn and ran after the punk who shot at us. That took me right into the path of Greg and Leslie Ann who were running in the same direction. I didn’t care about them. I wanted the other guy.

Witnesses said that as I passed Greg he pulled out his own piece and fired at me a little beyond point blank – twice into my back. The hits spun me around and I saw him with his pistol and I fired once. I went down and so did he. After three weeks and losing my spleen I got back up.

Greg never did.

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Seven

 

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” 

Part Seven

It had been years since Tim O’Shea had heard my voice, but it was still fresh enough in his memory to make him freeze in his chair.

“Go away, Ellis.”  His voice was flat, displaying no emotion. No anger. No interest. He could just as easily have been a bus driver calling out the next stop along his route.

“Go away.” He still kept his back to me.

“I’d like to talk with you, Tim. I need some help on a case and you’re …”

“You’re not a Police Officer anymore. You have no case.” He slowly started to turn around. “Get out of here. You don’t belong here.” He had that part right, but still, I needed him.

“Tim, Please. This has to do with those three shootings – at the hospital, the gas station and the Mall. I’ve already spoken with Martindale about this.” I figured a little misdirection might help. It was technically the truth. We had spoken only he’d grilled me like a store brand bratwurst.

“Please?”

He was facing me now. His eyes squinting through some dirty glasses. He took his time as he looked me up and down. “You look like hell. Where you been living – at the bottom of a gin bottle?”

He was not far off.

“You’re not looking so hot either, Tim. When’s the last time you got your hair cut by somebody other than Stevie Wonder?’

A smile cracked across his face. That face of his looked like it hadn’t seen the sun in years. Did he ever get out of his basement lair?

“How long has it been, Mack?”

“I don’t know, Tim. It seems like a lifetime.”

“At least. You say you talked with Martindale about this?”

“Yes.”

“I did too, you lying Son of a…”

“OK, I admit it,” I jumped in on him. “I did stretch things a bit about that, but…”

“Martindale told me that he thinks you’re tied into that mess somehow and that you might try to get me to save you some legwork.” He paused and took off his glasses, blowing on each lens. “Well, Martindale is a dick. I read the papers.”

He turned around again and leaned in close to a computer screen. That had to be bad for his him somehow. He stuck out his arm pointing at a folded chair leaning up against a bank of file cabinets.

 “Sit down.”

For the rest of the morning I fed Tim names and any information I had and he nodded, grunted and let his fingers march back and forth across his keyboard. I couldn’t follow it all. He had three monitors going with changing screens displaying a number of official looking documents and pictures of the three shooters at various ages. Tim O’Shea was cooking.

He tackled the trio of killers one at a time. He was able, starting with just their names and their father’s names, to burrow back in time. Their school records and any juvenile brushes with the Law even those records officially locked or expunged. Nothing seemed to be off-limits or out of reach. He was able to find medical records, employment applications, and even school records on them.

Nate Williams Sr. was a career criminal who had the proverbial long as your arm record. He passed on his tendency to lie, cheat, and steal on to his son at an early age.

Nate Williams Jr. made his debut in a courtroom at the age of 9 when he stabbed a playmate with a plastic fork for his lunch money. He stabbed him in the eye. That was the part that got him the attention of the Police. Little Nate spent a year in Juvenile custody for that.

When he got out and was placed back with his family young Nate seemed to keep it together and behave himself – or at least he never got caught. It wasn’t until Daddy lost control one Sunday afternoon in a gas station mini-mart that Junior seriously got pulled into the family business.

According to Grand Jury testimony while Daddy was inside the mini-mart gathering up some cash and pistol whipping the clerk, young Nate stayed in the car. After a couple of minutes he got restless and came inside to see what was taking so long. He came through the door just in time to see the owner of the mini-mart come out of his office with a gun. Being the faithful little son Junior called out a warning and watched his father turn and put two rounds into the owner’s gut. He lived, and testified at Daddy’s trial that Junior was a part of the whole thing.

I was put on the case and in a couple of days I was able to follow the slime trail and track Nate Williams the Elder to the crawl space in his mother’s house. Me and another officer dragged him out while his mother screamed “Police Brutality.” Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I paused long enough to give his Mommy a healthy punch in her ample gut. She stopped screaming and nobody saw a thing according to the perfunctory report…except Nate Junior who saw his Grandmother doubled over on the floor.

For all of that ugly nonsense Daddy got 15 to 30 years in the meanest prison in the state. Six years into it he was shanked in the exercise yard for some reason that someone thought was important.

Nate Williams Junior went back into Juvie even though this time all he had done was react like any kid would have.

And so, a long standing resentment was born that vomited again onto the world in the same gas station mini-mart where a number of years before a boy had seen his father shoot a man in the stomach.

No matter how tragic and screwed up a road Nate Williams, father and son, traveled down theirs was a rose covered pathway compared to gauntlet that Leslie Ann Wolas had to run.

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Six

 

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” 

Part Six

Technically and legally I have no direct access to police records. When I left The Force, or rather it left me, I lost my key to the door that opened on a world of information, but I hadn’t lost Tim O’Shea. At least I hoped not.

Tim O’Shea had been on the force longer than me and because of a couple of injuries in the line of duty he had been moved to desk duty. He had shown a knack for the technical side of the badge and after some retraining he was put in the IT Department as a clerk. He was a quick learner and within a year he became “Tim The Computer Guy” who everyone turned to when they needed to track a suspect’s path via the world of Bits, Bytes, and Mega-Whatevers. If a Person Of Interest had ever so much as played an online video game Tim O’Shea could track him down and tell you what he had for lunch. I was counting on that level of investigation.

Rather than go back downtown and through the front door again and face running into anyone who might not appreciate me doing their job for them – and doing it better, I parked a block away from the HQ building and came through the City Offices entrance. A visit to the Building Code Enforcement offices on the lower level provided a quiet backdoor access to the Police IT section of the basement.

O’Shea had his own office filled with more electronic gear than that Gates guy in Seattle. He was down in the building’s basement where it was always cooler than the rest of the joint thanks to the ancient A/C system. No matter what the setting the top floors were too hot and as you went down everything got cooler. Down in the basement it was like a picnic cooler in Winter. Lettuce could sit on a desk down there and stay fresh until Spring.

O’Shea’s domain was different. He had set up his own environmental sphere – temperature and humidity controlled 24 hours a day with multiple backups for every system. Nothing was being left to chance or political interference.

Yeah, Tim O’Shea was the right man to see…that is if he’ll let me through the door.

The O’Shea Problem

The hard feelings between us go back a number of years and like all too many long standing problems – there was a woman involved.

I left the police ten years ago, partly at the urging of the powers that be, partly by the sadness in my troubled heart, and partly because of a woman named Josinda – Josie for short.

Josie was a civilian clerk in the City offices that shared some floor space in our building and I didn’t know, I swear, that she and Tim were a number. Apparently it was a bigger number in his mind than in hers because she said “Yes” when I asked her out for a drink. Tim did not take that very well. In his eye I was, I think his phrase was “Claim jumping” to let me know how he felt. I didn’t know how he felt about her. She didn’t either. She broke it all off with Tim and me both. It was no big deal to me, but to O’Shea I had ruined his life. I tried to explain it to him, but he didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t believe me and a good working relationship crashed and burned. That hurt more than not getting closer to Josie. I was over her in about an hour and a half, but having Tim O’Shea shooting daggers at me everyday hurt.

All of this was a long time ago in the past as far as I’m concerned, but friends still in Blue tell me that Tim still gets somewhat icy when my name comes up.

I feel like I really don’t have a viable second choice. If I want to dig into these three killers it’s got to be Tim O’Shea or nobody and Nobody stopped talking to me a long time ago. 

***

What a lopsided triangle that was: Me, Tim, and Josie. I innocently asker her out – for a drink and nothing more, I swear. She said “Yes” and before I knew what was happening Tim got PO’d at me. Then Tim got PO’d with Josie. She got PO’d at both of us, saying, loudly, that she was not going to be the prize at a Police Turkey Shoot. She called us both “Cop Bastards” and walked away. When she told off Tim in the office in front of everyone it all really hit the fan.

He blamed me for everything. I tried to tell him that I wasn’t cutting in on his turf – claim jumping – and that I was the only innocent leg of the triangle. He didn’t buy that at all. Nobody bought it and all of a sudden I am being cast as an evil and sneaky SOB.

I may have been innocent in that mess, but I got laid more in the six months after I got tagged as “The Bad Guy” than I had in the previous years. Some women just like the Bad Guy who’d steal another man’s woman. I didn’t put up much of a protest. Nothing I could say would overturn the rumor machine and, anyway, I was having a real good time of it. I considered it a payback for my reputation being sullied.

After that six months of fun and games things calmed down. My Groupies figured out that I wasn’t such a scumbag after all, and once Josie was out of the picture and stopped feeding the rumor mill, everybody took a breath – except for Tim O’Shea. To him I was still the Devil incarnate – a combination of a Casanova in a blue uniform and the actor Richard Burton. Well, let me tell you, Josie was no Elizabeth Taylor.

The sign on the door should have been enough to stop me from going any farther.

“Knock, Phone, Email, or send a Postcard, but DO NOT just walk in.”

I figured that since I was already on his “Least favorite persons” list I had nowhere to go but up. I twisted the doorknob and pushed open the door. Without even turning around in his chair to see who was violating his space, O’Shea yelled, “Can’t you read?”

“Not very well, Tim.”

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Five

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Part Five
Digging back in time on those three people is not as easy as I thought it would be. I assumed that the newspapers would have everything computerized, available at the touch of a button. They did for maybe the last five years or so, but beyond that – not so simple. The newspapers in this town are still firmly locked in the 20th century.

To go find the coverage of the events that, theoretically, put their fathers and me in the same frame had me sitting in front of an ancient microfilm player cranking away on those dusty little handles.

Once I located something relevant I was faced with another problem. When I busted Daddy #1 – Nate Williams Senior, I was a lot younger, but trying to read about it now I was faced with the fact that I had today’s eyes. I had my Driving glasses with me, but I am going to have to face reality and Reality is telling me that bifocals are in my future – like yesterday. I couldn’t get much past the headlines so I had to drop a few bucks to get printouts.

I stopped at a discount store on the way home and bought a pair of those cheap “Reading Glasses” for a couple more dollars. Add in the cost of parking downtown and some lunch from a food truck and this “research” was getting costly.

Read more…

Please Vacate The Premises

 

WHEW! WE GOT THAT HOLIDAY OUT OF THE WAY. Of course, it’s going to be six months before all of the Yahoos in the neighborhood run out of the fireworks that they bought from our old pal “Three-Fingered Lucky.” Actually, it’s a bit of a race to see which disappears first – the fireworks or one of the eyes of the clown who got “beered up” and forgot to let go of the bottle rocket sputtering in his hand. My money is on the guy who owns the glass eye franchise in town.

Now that the “4th” is done with we don’t have any more holidays until Labor Day – you know – Labor Day, that day when everybody takes a day off from work. I’m retired so on Labor Day I’m tempted to go out and find a part time job. I’m just looking for some symmetry.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Two

Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”

Family Matters

Part Two

My stomach was hurting. I decided to take a walk around the Mall hoping it would ease up and then I’d stop for a beer. That was my plan if you could call it that.

Five minutes into my leg stretch I was down by the Food Court, looking at the window display at Victoria’s Secret.

It was no secret to me. It was 5:40 PM when the world began to rock.

It sounded like a shotgun blast. Someone screamed. Someone else started to scream, but was cut off when a second report from the shotgun cut it short. A third and fourth shots echoed through the Mall. People started running away from the noise.

I hit the floor and scooted on my aching belly up to the corner of the storefront. I could see the shooter. He looked to be in his mid 20s. He was reloading his single barrel shotgun for another go at the shoppers who were down or still within his range. He was laughing, looking at the mess in front of him.

I slipped back out of his sightline and reached down to my right calf, lifted my pantleg, and got my short barrel .38. The sight of me with my weapon started a fresh round of screaming, but the shoppers were going in one direction and I was crawling in the other.

Read more…

Let’s Dig Up Some Worms

LET ME PREFACE THIS BY SAYING that I am not a Grandfather and unless something of positively biblical proportions happens I never will be.

I’m cool with that.

For many people being a Grandparent is a lifetime goal – even more so than being your plain everyday Parent without the Grand part. I think that, if they could, many of these people would rather skip the Parent part altogether. It doesn’t work that way as far as I can tell.

This morning one of the “Semi-Regular Suspects” was in for coffee earlier than his usual routine would allow. He informed me that he was going out to play golf with some friends and had a 7 AM tee time. To me going out to play golf at 7 AM is a sign of mental illness. But who am I to argue? He’s a grown man…and a Grandfather.

Read more…

Everybody Shut Up!

THE OTHER NIGHT WHEN THE WHOLE KIT AND KABOODLE of the family went out for dinner the operative word became CACOPHONY.

Everybody was talking at once. I don’t know how any actual communication took place. It was like a convention of seagulls all squawking at once.

Squawk! Squawk! Double Squawk!!

Read more…

Throwback Thursday from January 2016 – “Cereal Killer On The Loose”

Throwback Thursday from January 2016

Cereal Killer On The Loose

TOO MUCH EDUCATION CAN BE A DANGEROUS THING.

I know a person with a graduate degree in finance from an Ivy League school. He can squeeze so much value out of a dime that it makes FDR get up and walk.

Now, I like saving money as much as the next guy – maybe a bit more even. I grew up poor with cardboard in my shoes to cover the holes. Even today, at an overripe old age, I still wince whenever I spend money. But, the fellow of whom I speak has elevated money-saving to an Art.

Coupons 1

Earlier this week he told me of his latest trip to Kroger’s to buy some breakfast cereal. He had some coupons in his hand.

When he got to the Cereal Aisle he saw that the object of his hunt was also being discounted. He smiled I’m sure, bordering on a leer.

Many of the “discounts” on the store shelves are as phony as a politician’s promise – The item sells regularly for $1.49, they change it to $1.79 and slap on another tag reading, “Marked Down to $1.49!” Instant Non-Discount.

Sometimes the discounts are real – usually because a buyer screwed up and they are stuck with ten truckloads of the stuff. Of course, some discounts arise after a news report says that the product can make your kids grow extra thumbs or decide to go to college and major in “Organic Bongs of Medieval Japan.”

Back to my tale of Nuclear Couponing in the Cereal Aisle.

In addition to your garden variety discount was another tag offering even bigger markdowns if you bought the cereal boxes 10 at a time. The buyer must have really screwed up. My Friend The Shopper felt like he had just found the Lost Dutchman Mine. He made a trip to chat with the store manager to verify that everything, as he saw it, was kosher. The Manager said that he was entitled to all of the posted discounts – plus – another “Instant Coupon” that would be given to him upon checkout. The coupons he walked in with were those super-duper double coupons and all of this back and forth with the store manager meant that he was getting into some serious high finance negotiations with Kroger’s. For a guy with a degree from Columbia University and a resume that includes a lengthy stint on Wall Street, this was heaven.

Cutting to the chase!

This man, who just wanted to buy some breakfast cereal for himself and his daughter, ended up walking back to his

triple

car with 48 boxes of Post and Kellogg cereals – and a bottle of cranberry juice.

He hadn’t really wanted the cranberry juice, but after the dust settled at the checkout cash register, the store owed him $1.79.

The Manager was concerned that the Home Office in Cincinnati might pop an aneurism if the transaction showed up as a negative cash flow. To circumvent this he grabbed a bottle of cranberry juice off the shelf that cost $1.79 and they called the whole deal a push.

When I heard him tell this story my first thought was, “I hope you and your daughter really like cereal, because you’re going to be eating it every day for a year.

As he told this story I could see a fire in his eyes. This experience has spawned a monster. He said that he has found a cable TV show all about serious “couponing” and “It’s really interesting.”

I told him that I thought it all seemed like something that ended up with a very cult-like fanaticism.

If he keeps up with this “couponing”, I half expect him to shave his head, move to Battle Creek, and start banging a tambourine at the airport.

“Om, mane pay me coupon om.”

Throwback Thursday from January 2016 – “The Last Biscuit Protocol”

Throwback Thursday from January 2016

 

“The Last Biscuit Protocol”

BY AND LARGE we are a polite society. Of course, the exceptions to that are loud, obnoxious, and to be avoided at all costs – particularly around dinner time.last biscuit

Whenever the family gathers, like at Christmastime, or other major events, we can have a considerable number around the table. And, for the most part, they are members of that polite society. But that politeness can lead to some interesting observations. Let me explain.

Around our table food can vanish quickly. Platters are moving clockwise at a dizzying speed and serving forks and tablespoons are dueling. But, when that part of the action stops and the serious eating begins, one observation can be made – nobody has taken the last biscuit. Sitting all by itself is one solitary biscuit, probably feeling like the last kid to be selected for the touch football game.

It might be that biscuit, or a slice of bacon, or last spoonful of that green bean casserole, but no one will finish it off. Why, I ask myself? Does everyone think that they have been playing Russian Roulette with the food and they have lucked out, leaving the loaded biscuit behind?

Perhaps they are so self-conscious, not wanting to be seen as being so hungry that they would actually snatch that last biscuit away from someone else.

I can’t believe that everyone’s appetites have been completely sated just one bite shy of an empty casserole dish.

Come on! I’ve seen this group go through a potluck supper like Sherman’s Army through Georgia. I have seen people around the table looking longingly at the last slice of pie, resisting the urge to pounce on it like a leopard on a wounded gazelle. If eyes could drool the tablecloth would be wet, but “The Last Biscuit Protocol” takes precedent and the pie remains, alone and abandoned.

I do know that before the evening is over that last slice will miraculously vanish from the refrigerator, leaving an empty pan behind. I’m thinking we should set up one of those cameras that zoologists use to count wolves or Yetis in the wild. Then we would be able to find out who scarfs down that remaining pie, or sausage link or biscuit.

All in the name of science, of course.

I’m sure that this phenomenon happens in other families, around other tables, and around the world. I’m sure that in Sweden there is “The Last Lutefisk Protocol,” and “The Last Monkey Brain Protocol,” holds forth in some remote Asian or African village. I do doubt, however, that there is a “Last Taco Bell Breakfast Menu Item Protocol,” anywhere, at any time. I have no proof of that. It is just a gut feeling – that feeling being a cramping sensation tinged with a need to escape.

I’m sure that we will continue to be polite and that the last biscuit will continue to die a lonely death on the plate. There is nothing I can do about it, and don’t expect me to be the culture-buster who reaches out and snatches it away with everyone else watching in horror. They already look at me funny as it is. I don’t need the pressure – and I sure don’t need the biscuit.

 

Hi, Neighbor!

 

WE HAVE NEW NEIGHBORS! LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

The house next door has been empty for several months – ever since the crazies and their dogs moved to Florida. This past weekend a caravan of SUVs, cars, and a van or two began to show up unloading furniture and household goods. I said a silent prayer.

About an hour after the parade of vehicles began, my wife, the lovely and eternally ecclesiastical, Dawn, and I were on our way out. We were just getting to the Toyota when we heard a loud voice coming over the fence.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!”

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Three

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Three

 

“Think about it.”

That’s all I’ve been able to do. Here I am a newly reborn civilian whose only real job experience is those three years of trying to kill the other guy first. Oh, sure, I had some jobs before the war = delivering newspapers and mowing lawns. Now, pretty much out of the blue, some rich guy, a war industry all by himself, offers me a job for more money than me, my old man, and his old man ever made altogether. Think about it? Darn straight I thought about it.

Everybody knew the name Van Swearingin. He and his factories made more tanks than anybody. They saved a lot of lives, killed a lot of Nazis, and freed up a good sized portion of Europe. He was rich before the war making washing machines. Then the war came and now he is considered one of the richest men in America.

“War Profiteer” – that’s what some people called him. Making tanks and making millions of dollars doing it. I don’t begrudge it to him. His tanks saved my backside several times. Lots of people made lots of money off the war. That’s just the way it is. And now that the war is over they’ll be making washing machines again.

One thing I don’t understand though is if they’re going to be making washing machines again, why does Van Swearingin need a 180 man Security unit? Why does he need me? Does he think that the Russians are out to steal his washing machine secrets?

He gave me a week, with pay, to think over his job offer. He said that he wants me to update and reorganize his Security people, all 180 of them. If they are like most guards and night watchman types I’ve seen the mice could have robbed him blind. During the war I’m sure there were armed G.I.s watching over his factories, guarding against saboteurs and 4-F thieves, but now, transitioning back to washing machines – Grandpas and a new fence should be enough.

Why does he want me to turn his 180 men into what we had at Anzio and Iwo Jima? What was he expecting? That Sears-Roebucks was going to outflank him?

Could I do it? Sure. Any guy who spent three years in uniform could put a decent company together in his sleep. Uncle Sam paid me $40 a month. Van Swearingin would be giving me a heck of a lot more.

If he was willing to fill my pay envelope every week I’d be a fool not to take it.

I guess I’ve made up my mind.

xxx

It was only Wednesday when I called the number Van Swearingin gave me to use when I had decided. He answered the phone himself.

“That’s great, Tim! Welcome aboard. What I need you to do now is come here to the house tomorrow morning at 9 AM. Pack a bag because we are going on a tour of all our facilities – your new responsibilities, so you can get a feel for things. Is that all OK with you?”

“No problem, Sir. Everything I own is in my duffel. 9 AM? I’ll be there.

“Wonderful, Captain. That’ll be your new rank – Captain. In time most of the men under you will be other returning soldiers and they will be used to their boss having rank on them. So, I’ll see you tomorrow morning – captain.”

xxx

I’d never flown before. Busses, trains, then troop ships, and on foot have been the only way that I’ve gotten around. That and a variety of old jalopies.

I was glad when we landed in Salt Lake City. Crossing the mountains and then the emptiness of Nevada made me uncomfortable, almost ready to vomit. Van Swearingin took it like he did it every day. Maybe he did with factories and offices in three different states. He’d almost have to fly to cover that much ground. He had his own private DC-3.

I hope I don’t have to do a lot of this.

West of the city, in a chauffeured Cadillac, we came to an area called the “Salt Flats.” Out there, in the most desolate place I have ever seen with nothing around for miles, was a huge, black as night building. It was one level with no windows. There was a rail spur at either end and one narrow dusty road snaking up to the building.

“Welcome to Van Swearingin Industries, Tim.”

We followed the dirt road toward the building. As we approached a large loading dock door opened and we drove in. There were at least 150 other cars parked in there.

“No sense giving some curious eyes any idea how many people work here,” said my new Boss. “During the war there was a Guard Post back up the road a piece. If anyone who didn’t belong tried to get too close they would have been…let’s just say that they wouldn’t have tried that again.”

That was the way things were.

“What do you make in here, if I may ask?”

“Before V-J Day it was Norden Bomb Sights. Now, we are developing the next generation of Radar units. You’re familiar with Radar, Tim?’

“I’ve seen them being used, but I never got a close up look.”

“Well, we can scan a flock of birds and tell you which ones are going to be laying eggs. I’ll give you a tour later, but first I want you to meet up with ‘Pops’ Mulroy, the current Head of Security. You’re replacing him. He is looking forward to retiring so he can get back to Colorado and his grandchildren.”

“Pops” Mulroy was about the same age as Van Swearingin, but in tip-top physical condition. He may have been in the first war, but he looked like he could have held his own in the Second. Most men called “Pops” look like they are a hundred years old and half dead.

Introductions and handshakes taken care of, Van Swearingin said he had to go.

“I’ll leave you in ‘Pops’ hands to get the Big Picture around here. I have some other things that need taken care of. I’ll rescue you in a couple of hours.”

It was just me and “Pops.” I tried to break the ice.

“You must be anxious to retire and get back to Colorado, is it, and your family?”

“Pops” looked at me. He wasn’t smiling

“Retiring? It ain’t my idea, kid, but there ain’t too much I can do about it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I must have misunderstood,” I said. What is going on here?

“I’m retiring all right. It was my job, now it’s yours. That’s called retirement around here.”

To Be Continued

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