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 – 2018

Archive for the category “Fiction Saturday”

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Six

Being an unwelcome visitor I was given the Five Cent Tour of everything I’d seen before. When I inquired about some areas I had never seen I was given a cock and bull story about it either being closed off for remodeling or just a storage area. I knew different.

I ended up in my office having seen nothing, learned nothing, and made to feel as welcome as an angry skunk at a wedding. I shuffled papers around for about thirty minutes just to cool down and to let the goon parked outside my door to fall asleep. I was determined to look behind some of those closed doors.

When I could see that my baby sitter had nodded off I crept past him and headed into the plant proper. I went straight for that “Storage Area” that made my guides nervous when I tried to go there before. I could see that there was light coming from under the door. I could hear voices from inside. “Storage Area” my Aunt Nellie.

I turned the knob as quietly as I could and stepped inside. There were about ten men huddled around a work bench. I’d never seen any of them before. They had some piece of equipment in broken down into parts on the bench. One man was taking pictures of the parts. Another man was talking, like he was explaining it all to them. I couldn’t understand him. He wasn’t talking in English.

It didn’t take more than thirty seconds before one of them noticed me standing there by the door. They all froze. The guy who seemed to be in charge looked at me and smiled. I don’t think it meant that he was glad to see me.

“Can I help you?” he asked me.

“That’s my question,” I said. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Two of the men started moving toward me, flanking me. I was by the door, but I felt like I was being cornered. I wished that I had my sidearm instead of just a fountain pen and a badge.

The head man stopped smiling. “This is a High Security Area, young man. You have no business here. Who are you?”

Now it was my turn to smile even though my situation was deteriorating.

“High Security Area, huh? Lucky me, because I’m the Head of Security for this entire company. Now – who are you – and all your playmates here too?”

I don’t think I got an answer because the two men moving on me rushed and… the next thing I remember was waking up, tied to a chair, with Van Swearingin looking me in the face.

“Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, What’s going on here?” He looked beck over his shoulder. “Will somebody untie him for God’s sake? Tim, I’m sorry for this. Blame me. I didn’t have you meet everyone, our consultants and scientists. I should have. You were right to question them.”

My head was clearing. It ached, but I was only seeing one of everything.

“Scientists? Those two thugs that ‘jacked me didn’t look like scientists to me. More like Steel Workers.” Another strange character untied me.

“Why don’t you go back to San Francisco and take a couple of days off, Tim, and relax?”

I wasn’t going to be given the Bum’s Rush on this. I’d been rolled, tied to a chair, and now being told to pretend it didn’t happen and go ride the cable cars. I was hot.

“I don’t need a couple of days off to relax. What I do need is to know who those guys were, what they were doing there, and why were they kept secret from me. I’ve gotten nothing but the runaround here and at the other facilities.”

Van Swearingin was looking tense. “I’ve already told you; they are scientists, consultants on some new projects. They weren’t being kept ‘secret’ from you. Again, that’s my fault. I apologize for how you were treated. You didn’t know them, they didn’t know you. Things got out of hand. And you are not being given the ‘runaround’ at all. You’re new on this job and it’s bound to take some time until you are fully in tune and see everything. Trust me. This won’t happen again.” He looked around the room. There were five other people there – the three man welcoming committee and the two guards from the front gate. “Do you all understand me? This won’t happen again.”

xxx

Was I in over my head and just needed time to get a handle on things? Or was I being set up to be the Patsy? I needed to talk with “Pops” Mulroy. I knew what his answer would be. He thought that Van Swearingin is selling us, the Big Us, the Country us, out to the Russians. I thought I believed him after our previous talk, but then that all seemed too unbelievable. But now, after my run in with those “scientists” – I just didn’t know.

I took a long walk to think. I ended up down at the Ferry Building, sitting in the same phone booth as before.

A little kid answered the phone.

“Can I talk with your Grandpa?”

“Who?

“Your Grandpa, Gramps, Paw-Paw, whatever you call him. ‘Pops’.”

“Oh, ‘Pops’ – Why didn’t you say so?

“Hey, ‘Pops’! Telephone!”

I could hear some mumbled speech in the background and the kid dropping the phone on the floor. The mumbling turned to shouting as the phone was picked up and “Pops” started to talk, loud and fast.

“If you’re selling something, I ain’t buying. I won’t take your poll, and I gave at the office. Now – your turn and make it short and sweet. Go!”

“’Pops’ – Is that you? This is Tim in San Francisco.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Jesus H. Christ. Tim? I haven’t heard from you. I was afraid that you’d either gone over to the other side or got yourself some concrete boots. How are you?”

“I’m OK I guess. No, that’s not completely true, but this is all getting crazier by the day.”

“Talk to me. What’s happened?”

For the next ten minutes I told him everything I could remember; the strange hiring behind my back, the remote locations with “consultants” speaking other languages, and… “A few days ago I got the stuffing beat out of me by a couple of them when I interrupted one of their little secret meetings at the plant down the coast. I can take care of myself hand to hand, but those boys took me out like I was a cripple. I woke up tied to a chair.”

“Sweet Jesus, are you OK I ask you again? Does Van Swearingin know about this?

“Know about it? He was right in front of me when I woke up. He sent me home for a few days to ‘relax.’

“Tim, you’re lucky to be alive.”

That didn’t make me feel any more secure.

“Young man, you’re in over your head and what’s going on there is bigger than a couple of Rumble Seat Cowboys like you and me can handle. It’s time to hand this over to the Professionals.”

“You mean the FBI?”

“Yes, before you end up dead. Van Swearingin brought you in because he didn’t think you would actually try to do anything but look into your pay envelope, but now that you’ve seen and heard what you just told me about… you have become dangerous and…Tim, there is a lot of empty desert out there.”

Collecting a pay envelope was all I really did want in a job when all of this started and now I’ve got Russian thugs working me over and “Pops’ is telling me that I have a good chance of nothing but bad ahead of me.

“‘Pops,’ I want out. I’m no G-Man. All I want is to grow old and fat. I’ll walk over to the FBI office, tell them everything, and then I’m getting the first train out of town. That’s it. All Aboard. Over and out.”

My head was spinning as I hung up the phone. I didn’t want to hear any more about my life expectancy from “Pops” or anyone else. I looked in the phone book and found where the FBI was. I didn’t bother to write it down.

The Federal Building on Larkin Street wasn’t too far. I wanted to run, but I forced myself to walk. The FBI was on the fifth floor.

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Five

“Everything you see and hear that seems funny. Write it all down,”

The first thing that I wrote down that seemed funny was: Why in the world did he hire me? I have no real experience. I’ve never been in charge of a unit as large as the one I have now. The Boss, Van Swearingin, has men with thirty years of experience and he is dumping them like yesterdays coffee grounds and bringing in a collection of new people who look like they either worked for Al Capone or Herr Shicklegruber. And I’m supposed to be their “Captain.”

I figured that I had better keep this journal to myself. Me and “Pops” Mulroy were the only two I felt I could trust. I had to hide it somewhere in my office. Something I remembered from a radio detective show was that the best place to hide something is in the open, the last place anyone would expect, so I slipped the journal onto a bookshelf between two other books the same color.

For the first three weeks on the job I went around to meet all of the men who were my new “troops.” I broke them down into eight hour shifts. Midnight to 8 AM – The Red Shift, 8AM to 4 PM – White Shift, and the 4 PM to Midnight the Blue Shift. I expected there to be some grousing about the assignments, but there was none. Not a word complaining about being put on the Red Shift. Whatever unit I’ve been in there has always been some complaining and whining about working Graveyard, but not from these guys.

At Van Swearingin’s request, which is as good as a direct order, each man working security was to carry a sidearm and a billy club. A shipment of brand new Smith and Wesson .45 caliber 1911 Model semi-automatic pistols was delivered to my office a week later.

I picked out a few men who had some MP or Shore Patrol experience and made them my Sergeants. I needed a level in between me and the men. I couldn’t be everyplace all of the time. These NCOs set up and ran training schedules for each Shift Unit. They kept them busy until everything was up and ready to go. As a Unit came online, able to function, the old Security men were “retired.” To be honest – most of them were going to have trouble finding any jobs other than Night Watchmen or School Crossing Guards. They were either too old, too fat, or 4-F rejects who were turned down even by a world at war. A bunch of girl scouts would have been an improvement.

As I traveled between San Francisco and the facilities in Utah, South Texas, and about California, taking that DC-3 too often, I felt like I was living in a different world. What was going on in the factories, what they were making, was a mystery to me. The Plant Managers tried to explain it, but it was all too Buck Rogers for me. It sure wasn’t washing machines.

Each plant was out in the “Sticks,” away from main roads and big cities. There was a perimeter around each facility that had to be patrolled. I nixed the suggestion that we buy dogs to help guard the site. That would have made every plant look like a POW Camp.

I made some notations in my journal every so often. There were some unusual things that didn’t look or smell right. In each plant I overheard some of my “new” men huddled in a corner and talking in some foreign language. As soon as they saw me they’d switch to English. And again, no complaints – about anything.

They are suspicious of me and I can’t blame them because as more time passed I became more suspicious of them. That’s the kind of situation that makes my sleep somewhat restless.

When I was away from my San Francisco office my hours were from about 9 AM until the middle of the Blue Shift at 8 PM. That gave me a look at only part of the picture. I needed to see what things were like overnight.

I checked the Main Gate activity reports and I could see that there was more traffic in and out after midnight than at any other time. I didn’t know if that was unusual or not. I asked my Boss, Mr. Van Swearingin, during one of our weekly meetings.

“Oh, that’s not at all unusual, Tim. We have raw materials and parts coming in almost every night and finished product going out the same way. There is less road traffic that time of night and fewer curious eyes. Don’t worry about it.”

But I did worry about it. It’s in my nature. Nothing good happens at three in the morning. I was going to have to see for myself.

Surprise visits by the Brass were not at all unusual in the Army, even in the middle of a combat action. I figured it might be good for me to do the same.

It was a little after 2 AM when I drove up to the Main Gate at the plant outside of Fresno in the Central Valley of California – an area almost exclusively agricultural. Surrounded by Walnut groves and fields of Asparagus the Van Swearingin Ball Bearing Production Plant sat there looking like an abandoned Elementary School with all of the windows blacked out.

A large unmarked truck was pulling out as I pulled up to the barrier by the Guard Shack. I had my I.D. badge ready.

“This is private property, Bub. Turn it around and scram.” Not exactly a professional way to deal with visitors.

“Here is my I.D. Maybe you don’t recognize me, but I’m your Boss. And where is your name tag? You’re supposed to be wearing that at all times while on duty. Now – lift the barrier.”

The anonymous guard squinted at my badge like he’d never seen one before. Then he backed away from my car and consulted with the other guard in the shack before lifting the barrier so I could drive up to the building. As I drove off I saw in the mirror the guard picking up a telephone. He was letting someone know that I was coming.

I pulled up by the building. My headlights showed me that there were three security guards waiting for me. A reception committee in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. I got out and walked up to the Ritz Brothers by the door.

“Good evening, Gentlemen. I figured I’d just pay you all a little visit.”

“Well, I wish you’d let us know you were coming.” None of them looked very pleased to see me.

“If I had this wouldn’t be much of a surprise visit, now, would it?”

– To Be Continued –

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Four

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Four

A couple of more flights in that flying coffin and I’d visited all of the Van Swearingin plants and offices. I hope that I don’t have to do that too often. Give me a car and I’ll drive to wherever I need to be.

I was bothered by what “Pops” Mulroy said to me during that plant visit in Salt Lake City. He said that his “retirement” wasn’t his idea, that he was being forced out, after almost thirty years on the job. He didn’t seem to be holding it against me. He told me to finish my “Grand Tour” of the other facilities, keep my eyes open, and then to call him. He slipped me a piece of paper with a phone number on it.

“Call me when you get back. Call me collect, but don’t call me from any phone owned by Van Swearingin. It ain’t only the walls that have ears.”

I went to every Van Swearingin property with the Boss, met a lot of people and never saw anything that looked like a washing machine. Most of the things being built didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before. Some of the workers were wearing special suits like something out of Buck Rogers and behind thick glass shields.

When I was introduced to the Security Units at each plant I was given the same story. The older, more experienced people were all being replaced with younger men. They were all roughly my age and carried themselves like professionals. I didn’t get to talk with all of them. Some of them avoided me, keeping to themselves. They may have been soldiers, but some of them didn’t look like Americans. They had a look in their eyes. I can’t explain it, but they looked like some of the Russian and German soldiers I’d seen near the end. Hardened by the war and, I don’t know how else to say it, soulless.

Even though the plants were all over the place the HQ, the Headquarters, was in San Francisco. My office was on the fourteenth floor. I had a secretary I didn’t know what to do with, and a desk the size of an aircraft carrier. When the job applications started coming in they passed over my desk even though they were already marked “hired” or “rejected” before they got to me. I went over the applications and some of the “rejects” looked good to me: Former MPs or Shore Patrol, military police, who already know the ropes.

A few of those hired by somebody above me had spent time in the stockade or were discharged at the same rank they had when they went in – Troublemakers. That made no sense to me. Most of those guys would have a hard time getting hired to carry bricks anywhere, but they were now part of my new Security Unit.

I needed to talk to “Pops” Mulroy. I called him, Collect, from a phone booth in the Ferry Building down by the San Francisco waterfront.

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

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Two

“Mistakes Were Made” – Part Two

I have to admit – I didn’t expect to see a guy’s son do a B&E on his father’s home, but that’s what it was. I’d handcuffed the kid to the door of a car that cost more than I’ve made in my entire life. I hope he doesn’t scratch it.

The kid had a scowl on his face for me. He also had the start of a decent black eye and a lump on his skull where I whacked him. Hey! You pull a knife on me I’m not going to pour you a cup of tea.

The Old Man, Van Swearigin, wasn’t looking too happy either. I was beginning to think that Charlie was what they call a “Problem child,” and that he’d worn steel bracelets before. He may have been no more than 17 years old, but that knife of his made him as old as Cain.

“What’s up, Pop?” The kid had a permanent sneer going for his father.

“Charlie, what’s this all about?” His voice was strained, but controlled. “Looking to hotwire one of the cars for a little ride?”

Charlie looked up at his father from the garage floor, but said nothing more. He yanked at the cuffs like he could break loose that way.

The Old Man looked at me, but said nothing. I think he was embarrassed that I was there and seeing inside his less than perfect family.

“How have you been, Charlie?” he asked his son. “Do you have a job? Making ends meet?”

His kid is sitting on the floor of a garage, handcuffed, with a black eye and a knot on his skull and he asks him if he’s paying his gas bill. Some family. The kid kept yanking at the bracelet.

“Get this off of me and I’ll get out of here so you can go back to bed. I won’t bother you anymore.” He said “bother you” with a real sneer. Any kid of mine talked to me like that and I’d… Yeah, fat chance of that.

The two of them just stared at each other for a minute and then the Old Man turned to me.

“Cut him loose. Your name is Tim, right? There’s no point in keeping him down there.”

I told Charlie to scoot back. I didn’t want him trying to bite me or anything while I was getting back my cuffs. Those are mine. I had to pay for them. He did what he was told. I think he knew that if he got stupid on me that I’d rearrange his teeth. I don’t care if his old man was standing there or not. As I gave him back his hand he mumbled, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” I whispered back. “Let’s not do this again sometimes.”

Cut loose the kid stood up and dusted himself off. He ignored the little beating I’d given him like it happened every day. Without another word he headed for the door. His Old Man looked older than he did a few minutes before.

“Son… Charlie…Can I help you? Can I give you anything? Anything at all?”

Charlie stopped, one hand on the door, and looked back at his father.

“No.” was all he said. He looked over at me. Gave me a little nod, a gesture of professional courtesy. Opposite sides in the same game. He was already a crook and I represented the Law, the Society that fought back. “No,” and he was gone into the dark.

We all stared at the door for a second then Van Swearingen turned his attention to Marty who was looking as uncomfortable as a mink coat on a wire hanger.

“Marty, get out of here. I don’t want to see you here again. I will be talking to your father about this. He needs to do something before you end up dead or in prison.”

I cut in.

“For you, kid, prison would equal dead. You wouldn’t make it through the first night. They’d eat you alive.”

The Old Man nodded and Marty began to cry like a baby. That’s what he was.

“Get off my property, Marty. If I see you here again…” He let the rest of his sentence be written inside Marty’s head.

The kid ran through the door and disappeared.

The two of us just stood there in the night. Van Swearingin spoke first.

“And you. I expressly told your agency that I wanted no guns. It’s a good thing you had one though. He would have cut you to the bone.”

“Sir, I’ve been carrying a weapon for a few years now, mainly an M-1 or a .45. I’d feel naked without one.”

“I understand. I was in the last war. That’s why I hate them.”

He started for the door. Tonight was over. He had his hand on the doorknob when he stopped. Without turning to look at me he gave me an order.

“By the way, Tim – you’re fired and be back here at Noon. You’re my new head of security.”

To be Continued

Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss – Conclusion

Fotune’s Kiss – Conclusion

Even the Little Sisters of Saint Clair, forgiving but not forgetting their incarceration, picked up and moved into their new convent which sat on a small, sun swept hill overlooking the settlement.

“A good home”, said the Mother Superior.

Soon the new town realized what they had become and voted to give their creation the name of “Fortune’s Kiss”, recalling both the past and acknowledging the present.

Within another year the old town had given up its last residents as the Mayor and his wife were forced to make the walk to Fortune’s Kiss. As everyone else moved away their fear of starvation became stronger than their fear of being powerless in the new town.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss – A Fable” Part Four

Fortune’s Kiss – part four

Time had been kind to the old home but the various passersby had not. Most of the furniture was gone or broken to pieces and burned, as evidenced by the blackened area in the middle of the marble-floored ballroom.

Late in their third evening in their new home, while they were enjoying their daily cordial, there was a knock at the massive mahogany front door.

When the Woman opened the door and saw two men carrying rifles she pulled back before laughing out loud and saying,

“Well, hello gentlemen. I didn’t expect to see anyone from town out here so soon.”

Answering with a courtly bow that revealed his bald and shiny scalp, the taller of the two men grinned and replied,

“A hunting trip, my good woman, and just because the Official Asses of our fair town behaved poorly to you, does not mean that you and your beautiful daughters are not desired and appreciated by the unofficial asses. We saw your lights shining through the trees and thought some other hunters were already camping here.”

She welcomed them in and they spent their evening in comfort.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss – A Fable” Part Three

Fortune’s Kiss – part three.

By late the next afternoon the woman and her girls had loaded three wagons with as many of the furnishings and their personal things as they could manage. What they couldn’t carry they left behind and just before sundown they slowly pulled away from the big home on the hill, down the one-way street and then left onto the dusty road leading out of town and into The Interior.

The wagons were barely out of sight when the Haters held a special meeting, declared the home on the hill to be an abandoned property, took possession in the name of the People and named the home to be the new official residence of the Mayor. All extremely legal and notarized.

The road that led to The Interior was dry, dusty and slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding forest and brush.

The road led nowhere. The Interior was a place where there was only emptiness and History.

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Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss – A Fable” Part Two

Fiction Saturday – Fortune’s Kiss”

They met in the Mayor’s office at the Town Hall, and as the Mayor sat at the old piano he’d gotten as a wedding gift from his Mother, idly playing a song from his youth, they hatched a plan to solve their problem and solidify their power.

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Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss – a Fable” Part One

Fiction Saturday – “Fortune’s Kiss”

Fortune House 3

Part One

Some time ago, in a small town situated in a remote part of the country, there lived a woman. She wasn’t rich, but she was “comfortable.”  She was a rather successful merchant. She ran a brothel.

Her’s was the largest home in the town. It sat, surrounded by rose bushes, on a small bluff overlooking the central square. The only paved street in the town led up the hill to her home. She’d had it paved at her own expense.

The woman was the most admired person in the town, and also the most hated. She was admired by those people who understood and appreciated hard work and a good heart.

She was hated by those citizens who saw themselves as the Elite, the High Society, and the Guardians of the Public Good. She was hated by those people who wished that they were as prosperous, as successful, and as smart as she was.

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Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Conclusion

Conclusion

“Some Monks pray while farming, some while cooking, or writing. I walk. I walk without a physical destination. Today I am here. I think I am here to talk with you.”

“And with the fish?”

“Yes – And with the fish. Walking is my way of praying. Each step is a prayer – a prayer for understanding and for thanks.”

I was getting confused with all of this.

“’Thanks? For what?” The Monk smiled at me and I relaxed.

“I give thanks for each step because I know that a time will come when I can no longer walk and the steps will have to be taken by someone else. Aren’t you thankful for something – your life? For your mother and father, for your home, your friends, and for this lovely spot by the river?”

“I guess so. I never thought about it before. Now that you put it all that way though I guess I do have a bunch of stuff to be thankful for.”

“Good. Now let’s be quiet so this fish and I can talk things out.”

The Monk and the fish might have been talking, but I didn’t hear anything. I stayed quiet because I know that you are supposed to be quiet while fishing and I didn’t want to scare the Monk’s fish.

It seemed to me like we were going to be there all day when the Monk broke the silence.

“That fish,” he said, “Makes a very good case for himself. Much better than me. Tonight I go hungry. My young friend I might as well be on my way.”

“You’re leaving? Where are you going to go?”

“Like I said earlier, I m going nowhere and everywhere as well, but I think I will start by going through your village. How far is it from here?

“The village is around that bend in the path and then an hour – less for you – you take bigger steps than me.” While I spoke he gathered together his things. He pulled his empty hook from the river, dried it and the twine on his red sash before carefully folding it and wrapping it around his body and over his shoulder. I wondered how many times he had done this before when a fish out talked him. When everything was in its place he stood up and bowed to me.

“It has been a pleasure to have spent this time with you and I wish you wisdom and happiness as you grow.”

He started across the grass toward the path. I hurried after him.

“Mr. Monk, can I walk with you awhile? My house is that way too, around the bend.”

“Of course, my friend. Let us both pray with each step we take.”

He was taller than me and I had to take more steps to keep up with him. He saw me trying to keep up and he slowed down to make it easier for me.

“What will you do when you get to the village?”

“I will beg. I am sure that some kind person will feed me and give me a place to sleep tonight. There is almost always someone in each village I visit. People are good.”

We walked on.

“This path goes on all the way to The Great Ocean they say. What will you do when you get to the end of the path?”

“I will turn around and walk back to the Monastery high up in the mountains. It is my home.”

“How long have you been walking?” He looked down at me.

“I began my prayer when I was no bigger than you. It is my entire life, my prayer.”

I was amazed. I could not imagine leaving everything behind and walking for such a long time. He was an old man compared to me – older than my father.

“I’m sorry that I ask you so many questions, but I’ve never really talked with a Monk before.”

“There is no need to apologize. How else can you learn? I ask questions all the time.”

We rounded the bend in the path and up ahead I could see where the path split. One part went on to the village. The other led to our farm.

“This looks like where we part ways. I go on to the village and you to your home. Again, I thank you for our time together.”

I had an idea. I had one more question.

“Do you have to go to the village tonight, a rule or something? I’m asking because my mother and father are kind people and I’m sure that they would be happy to give you something to eat and a warm and dry place to sleep. Would you come with me? I’m sure they won’t be upset.”

“Even your father who thinks we Monks are all wealthy?”

“Yes, I’m sure. He likes to go fishing too. You two could talk about that. But I don’t think he talks with the fish. He uses bits of bread as bait. Please come there with me.” The Monk paused. He looked at me and at the path into the village.

“Young man, every road that I walk splits, and I have often wondered where my life would be if I chose to take that other pathway. My prayer is in my step, not in the road beneath my feet. All roads go somewhere. This road,” he said, pointing off down the path, “It goes to your village and eventually to The Great Ocean. But this other path would take us to your farm and your family. The village and the ocean will be there tomorrow, but if I go that way today I will miss the gift of seeing your family. That chance is only mine for today, never to return.”

He sat down in the dust and looked at both paths.

“I need to think and pray. Give me a moment.”

I watched him close his eyes. He folded his legs like I had seen him do when he first came and sat by the riverbank. I said a prayer of my own that he would come with me.

After a couple of minutes the Monk opened his eyes. He smiled at me.

“My young friend, you prayed. I could feel it. It was a very good prayer. You prayed and I listened for the Wisdom to tell me what to do.”

“What did you hear?” I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

I heard that you are an honest and truthful boy and that I am blessed by having this time with you today. Today is not done and there is more time to share.”

“Does that mean you’ll come back to my home with me?”

The Monk held out his hand to me.

“It does. Now help me up and let me get this dust off my robe. I don’t want your father to think that I am there to beg.”

And so we walked together to my home and with each step I learned more of the power of prayer.

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part Two

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part Two

Staying up in the tree once he knew that I was up there seemed silly to me. I climbed down. The Monk had moved back to his spot – my spot – by the riverbank. He didn’t pay any attention to me. I stayed by the tree trunk not knowing what to do next. He told me.

“Come and sit down. It’s a beautiful riverbank you have here.”

I went and sat down next to him by the water’s edge. He ignored me.

“You’re a Monk aren’t you?” As soon as I said that I knew it was a silly question.

“Yes, I am. Are you a farm boy?”

“Yes, I am,” I said, but being here in the middle of all the farms around here and with me looking like I do, his was a silly question too.

“What does a Monk do, Sir?”

“There is no need to call me ‘Sir.’ And as to what a Monk does it is really very simple – we pray.”

“What do you pray for?” I thought that was a reasonable question.

“We pray to understand.”

“To understand what?”

“To understand why we are here and what we should do to be worthy of this life, this river, this conversation we are having.”

“You must pray a lot,” I said to him.

He began to fiddle with his red sash. He took out the twine and the fishing hook.

“Yes, I pray all the time.”

“You don’t look like you’re praying now. You look like you’re going to try to catch a fish.”

He tied the hook to the frayed end of the twine.

“Fishing calls for a lot of praying, my young friend.”

He dipped the hook into the water and sat quietly. At least he got that part right. After a few minutes I had to say something.

“You really are going to need to pray. You don’t have any bait on that hook. You won’t catch any fish that way.” For a man who looked so smart he seemed pretty dumb when it came to fishing.

He looked at me and smiled.

“I’m not trying to catch a fish. I am waiting for the fish to put himself on my hook. It has to be his decision. It is his life and I cannot take it. He must offer it up.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“That’s asking a lot of a fish, Mr. Monk.”

“Very true. I have a life and so does the fish. Our lives are of equal value. They both came from the same place – from The Creator. I want to eat to stay alive and so does the fish. My hook has no bait because that would be cheating, tricking the fish.

“The fish and I must negotiate and debate about whose need is more important today. If we agree that the fish is more important today – who knows what lies just downstream for him, then I will go hungry today. If what lies down this path is more important for me, then the fish will take the hook and I will eat. Do you understand?”

He turned back to focus on his empty fish hook and I looked at him and then down into the water. There was a fish looking at the hook, but he didn’t look convinced.

“That must be why my father says you Monks are always begging for food. You can’t talk a fish into biting on an empty hook.”

“Your father is a wise man,”

We sat there, silently, for quite awhile. It was a nice day and I was enjoying my time with the Monk even though I really didn’t understand him a lot. Before he came down the path I was just sitting here daydreaming. Now I am, thinking. I’m not used to that. He had me thinking and climbing a tree.

“I saw you coming down the path for a long time. Where are you going?

“Nowhere. Here.”

“What does that mean?”

To Be Continued…

Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Part One

A Conversation By The River

The banks of the river are my favorite places in the whole world. In the afternoon after my chores have been done and I’ve finished my studies too I go to the river.

The river is not very big, but it has come a long way. From high in the mountains the river has wandered down through forests and the hill country, by the city where the Emperor lives, and then to us and our farms. I have been told that, eventually, the river ends as it flows into the Great Ocean. Someday, when I am grown, I would like to make a boat and sail it down the river all the way to the sea. But now I just go to the river and sit by the water and dream.

Yesterday I was sitting on the grass by the river. I was watching the fish swim around in the water. The sun was still hot and I had found a spot underneath one of the big trees. Its leafy branches kept me from the heat of the sun and made it the perfect place to be.

From my place under the tree I could see down the dusty path from our village and, in the other direction, I could almost see the hazy shape of the mountains to the west.

As I looked up the path I could see someone, a man, walking slowly in my direction. As he got closer I could see the little clouds of dust that his sandals kicked up with each step he took. In the bright sunlight it looked like he was dressed in a golden robe. When he got closer I could tell that he was dressed in yellow with a red sash around his waist and over one shoulder.

I have seen men dressed like him before. My parents said that men dressed like that were Monks, holy men, who travel throughout the country. My mother said that they bring good luck. My father said that they were pests, always begging and wanting food for free.

The Monk was coming toward me down the dusty path. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have anything to give him, so I decided that the best thing for me to do was to hide. I climbed the tree and hid myself in the branches.

I could see the Monk clearly as he got close and, instead of passing by and going toward the village, he stopped and sat down under my tree in the very same spot where I had been. I watched him. He didn’t make a sound. He sat there with his eyes closed.

The Monk was bald. There was not one hair on his head and he was clean shaven like my father. He sat with his legs folded up underneath him and his hands rested in his lap/ I didn’t move either. I didn’t want to make any noise that would tell him where I was hiding.

After a few minutes the Monk opened his eyes and stretched out his legs. He took off his sandals and dipped his dusty feet into the water of the river. He sighed and smiled. He had a kind face.

He undid his red sash and unfolded it on the grass next to him. He had several things, but not a lot, that he carried with him.

I saw a spool of twine and a fishing hook, a small knife – not big enough to scare anyone, a book not much bigger than my hand, a flint, and a cup. That was all he had. He was not a rich Monk like my father said that they all were.

He took his cup and bent over to get himself a drink of water. Even though it was a hot day the water in the river was always cool having come down from the mountains.

He drank his cupful of water and then he did something most strange. He bent over again very close to the water. It looked like he was talking to the water, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. When he finished talking he put his hand onto the surface of the water, like he was petting an obedient dog. That made no sense to me. It was like he was thanking the river for the water he had taken,

The Monk sat quietly by the water for a few minutes and then dried his feet, put his sandals back on, and stood up. I thought that he was going to leave and continue walking down the path. Instead he walked over to the trunk of the tree and, without looking up, he spoke.

“Why don’t you come down? I won’t bite.”

That startled me and I almost fell from my place in the branches.

“Come down and we can talk.”

To Be Continued…

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Conclusion

Trapped

For five days I followed him everywhere. I saw nothing that said he was stepping out on his wife. The closest he came was some gentle flirting with his waitress over lunch. I think he spotted me a couple of times. My bruised face made me stand out, but I couldn’t help but get close at times. My hearing is not as good as it used to be.

I called the number Mrs. Tetley had given me and I told her that, as far as I could tell, her hubby was too busy with his business to be playing around on her. She told me to stay on his tail. She was buying my time and my lunch so I kept dogging her husband. She must know something about him that I haven’t uncovered yet.

It’s not much of a job, but it’s all I have. Once I can’t tail a sneaky husband any more all I’ll be good for is to be an Organ Donor…except for maybe my liver.

###

Ten days I’ve been tailing this guy and I’ve not seen him do anything out of line, except that I know that he made me once or twice. The other day he was heading out to his country club and I had to back down and give him more room on the less crowded road that leads out there. I lost sight of him and as I sped up to regain contact I looked in my mirror and there he was behind me. All I could do was break off and turn down the first road I came to. I called his wife.

“Look,” I told her, “ He knows I’ve been following him, so, even if he is playing around – which I don’t think he is – I’d never catch him at it now. Let’s just settle up and call it quits.”

“Maybe you’re right, Mr. Walker,” she said cooly. “Perhaps I’m just being a silly wife.”

I gave her a quick accounting of what she owed me for all of my wasted rime. I padded it a bit just to soothe my ego. She could afford it. We set up an appointment time for her to come by my office to give me what I had coming.

###

“I think I spotted your ‘Mr.Walker’ following me a couple of times. He looks like a bad prize fighter.”

“Oh, Nigel, be careful. He said he’d kill you. Can’t we just give him the money so he’ll go away?”

“Constance, if we give into him once he’ll never go away. I’ve got to convince him that he’s going after the wrong people.”

His wife looked worried. The cell phone in her pocket began to “ring.” It played a few bars from Aerosmith’s song “Janie’s Got A Gun.”

“Hello,” she said softly into the phone and turned toward her husband. “It’s him. It’s Mr. Walker,” she whispered.

“I see,” she said into the phone. “Yes, I have the money.” She went silent, listening to the voice on the other end of the line. She nodded as Nigel paced back and forth. “Maybe you’re right. Perhaps I’m just being a silly wife.” She looked up at her husband. “Yes, I’ll be there with the money.” She ended the call, slipped the phone back into her pocket.

“Well, you heard that, Nigel. He wants me to go to his ‘office’ he called it, in some building in the city. He insists that I come alone with the money. Oh, Nigel, I’m scared. What if he…tries something? He said that he has a gun.”

“Well, so do I, my Love. Don’t worry, you won’t be there alone. I’ll be there with you and I’ll take care of ‘Mr. Walker.”

###

The sun was going down when I left my apartment. I’d slept a good portion of the day away. There was nothing else on my calendar until the slightly paranoid Mrs. Constance Tetley was scheduled to meet me at the office to settle accounts. That was later, around eight. I had time to soak my still aching body. I headed for Koreatown and a hot tub and massage.

Ten days of Birddogging a man who was as boring as a paper napkin was not fun. He may be the richest man in this part of the state and undoubtedly into some shady business dealings, but his wife only wanted to know if he was bringing it all home at night. She wants her Hubby to give her what she wants and needs.

Me? All I want is paid for my work so that I don’t end up living under a bridge sharing a cardboard box with some guy named “Lucky.” I’ve given up on my dreams of becoming a rich and famous detective. I just want to have enough to keep body and soul together and, when I’m gone, to have a few friends left to share some good memories of me.

###

“What a dump. Are you sure this is the right place?”

“This is the address, Nigel, I’m sure – on the eighth floor,” she whispered as if anyone else was around to overhear them as they got into the elevator.

“He’s only expecting me, so I’d better go in alone. I’m terrified, but I know you’ll be right there.”

“I’ll be right outside the door, Constance. Here’s the money.” He handed her a white business size envelope with ten thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills. “He’ll feel the need to count it. That’s when I’ll come in, but if tries to get physical just yell and I’ll be there before he can do anything.”

“I know you will, Darling. It’s Eight O’clock.”

###

“It’s Eight O’clock,” I said to myself. I heard the elevator stop on the eighth floor. She’ll pay me and then I’m going home, after a drink or two. I’m glad that she’s on time.

“Good evening, Mr. Walker.”

“Good evening, Mrs. Tetley. Please come into my office so I can give you a receipt and so you can be on your way.”

“Is cash OK with you, Mr. Walker? I don’t want my husband to see anything on our bank statement. I’m sure you understand.”

“Cash is fine. It’s my favorite actually. It never bounces the next morning.”

When we were both seated she reached into her purse and pulled out a white envelope. It looked chubby. While she did that I took the holster with the .38 revolver off my belt and set it on the desk. “I guess I won’t be needing to carry this around anymore. Hopefully for a long time. Personally, I hate the things. They’re nothing but trouble.”

“Here’s your money, Mr. Walker. I’ve put in some extra as a bonus for all of your hard work.” She was smiling like she just scratched off a winning lottery ticket.

I opened the flap on the envelope and saw Ben Franklin and his whole family staring back at me.

“Mrs. Tetley, this is way too much. I appreciate your gratitude, but this is…

Her smile disappeared as she jumped to her feet knocking over her chair.

“What do you mean it’s not enough?” She was yelling. “I won’t do that! No! No! Don’t point your gun at me. Help! Help! Nigel!”

She had flipped her coin in two seconds.

“Mrs. Tetley, what’s wrong? What’s going on here?” I picked up my gun. I didn’t want her grabbing it. “I’m not pointing this at you.”

She is screaming. I’m confused and my office door flies open and Nigel Tetley comes in with a big .45 caliber pistol in each hand. His wife stepped back away from the desk and plastered herself up against the far wall.

“So, ‘Mr. Walker’, you pull a gun on my wife? First it’s blackmail and now what?”

I was barely hearing him. All I could do was look at those two cannons pointed at me. The .38 in my hand felt like a cap gun.

“Blackmail? What are you talking about? She hired me too…”

“That’s a lie, Nigel. He showed me those ancient pictures of me and demanding money – and now he points that awful gun of his at me and tells me to undress for him.”

“I never said that. What is this?” I was getting scared. This was falling apart all around me.

“The pictures weren’t enough, eh, Walker? You wanted the real thing. You…” He lifted thee .45s and two red laser dots lit up on my chest.

I may be getting old and slow, but I’ve been shot before and it’s not fun and with his two pistols I wouldn’t have a prayer. My brain shut down and instinct took over. I dove to my left trying to get my body behind my file cabinet. I pulled my trigger. Nigel Tetley did the same. I felt the impact on my thigh. The pain would come along soon enough. My ears were ringing from the roar of the gunfire in my small office. I was on the floor. I was waiting for him to come after me – to finish me off. I would try to return the favor if I could.

Nothing was happening. When my ears opened for business again everything was quiet. I decided to crawl out of the corner to see what was going to happen next.

The first thing I saw was feet. They were attached to Nigel Tetley and I was seeing the soles of his shoes. Both .45s were still in his hands, but they were on the floor too.

I was able to pull myself over to my desk and into my chair. The pain was starting up big time. When I looked at the rest of Nigel Tetley I saw that he was missing an eye. My one reflex shot had hit home. Tetley was as dead as a man could ever be.

“Nice shooting, Walker. Lucky, but nice.”

I turned my head toward the sound of that voice. It was Mrs. Tetley, still standing by the wall. She was smiling again.

“What just happened here?” I asked her or anybody else in the room who could still talk. “Why is he dead and I have a hole in my leg?” I was still holding my gun.

“What just happened, Mr. Walker, is that you just made me a very rich gal – and put away that popgun of yours. You won’t shoot me. You need me. I’m your only witness. You shoot me and your next stop will be Death Row for a double murder. With me still alive I can swear it was self-defense. My crazy, jealous husband followed me here. I came here to hire you to follow him, just like I really did. So don’t threaten me with that pea shooter. You’ll never get off two lucky shots tonight. And now I’m going to call the police.”

She took out her phone, dialed 911 and gave a performance worthy of a Hollywood Star.

I was trapped. She had me in a cold corner. There was no way out for me except through her and she knew it. I knew it, but I didn’t understand it.

“What if your husband had killed me?”

Oh, the same story only reversed. I was hiring you, he followed me, came in. You pulled your gun. He pulled his. Bang. Bang. You’re dead and I tell the cops my hubby shot you in cold blood. He goes to the Gas Chamber on my eyewitness testimony and I am the tragic, but very wealthy, widow. Either way – I win.”

“And I lose,” I said. “I lose again, just like every other day.”

She stepped over the body of her dead husband and sat down again across the desk from me. She reached out and picked up the envelope with all the cash and put it back in her purse.

“No sense on wasting this on you, Mr. Walker, is there?”

I could hear the sirens even from up on the eighth floor. They’d be coming through the door in a couple of minutes.

“Why didn’t you just divorce him?”

“Pre-nup. I wouldn’t get squat. I figured this was my best option.”

She was probably right.

I had no good options. I was sitting in my chair bleeding out, dead broke, and at the mercy of this tall, leggy…there is no word for her in my vocabulary.

I was at a loss. What could I do? I never felt so lost – so trapped. I saw no way out.

###

“This is the Police. We’re coming in and I want to see everybody’s hands in the air. Do you understand me?”

“Come on in.”

There was a single shot.

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Part One

Fiction Saturday – “Trapped” – Part One

Trapped

I don’t care what they say. If you get worked over by a couple of toughs you are not going to get up and chase after them. You’re more likely to just throw up in the gutter and then go home and feel sorry for yourself.

At least that’s what I did yesterday.

Two pieces of meat working for a crook who is bleeding his own company dry and didn’t like me digging into the details. They knew what they were doing and they enjoyed it.

If I was a few years younger I might have been able to defend myself better and made those two muscle boys regret taking me on, but yesterday was not a few years ago and I’m the only one with regrets.

Regrets and, I think a couple of loose teeth.

When I took an early retirement from The Job I was feeling flush. I had a nice portfolio of tech stocks and my health. Five years later my tech stocks weren’t worth a dozen donuts. I knew the price of donuts all too well and, all of a sudden, I wasn’t a young stud any more.

Today, I’m lying on my couch and wishing I’d stayed on The Force. Then I had insurance and could afford to see a doctor. Now, as a P.I., all I can afford are some cans of chicken soup and a soda straw until the swelling goes down.

That chicken soup’ll be all I’ve got if I don’t get off this couch and back to work. I’m too young for Social Security and Mums and Daddums have cut me out of the will.

Right. If it didn’t hurt I’d laugh at my own jokes.

Work. Office. OK.

It took me a while but I changed clothes, put a couple of band-aids on my once handsome face, and drove downtown to my office. It was a Saturday so I didn’t think I’d run into too many people before I got to the 8th floor. I was wrong.

“Geez, Mr. Walker, you look like you tried to French Kiss a train.”

“Yeah, that’s it, Pal. You got me pegged. I’m really into locomotives.”

That was down in the parking garage.

“Mornin’ Mr. Walk…Sweet Jesus, what did you do to earn all that?”

“I put insufficient postage on my tax return.”

That was from the Newspaper stand guy in the lobby.

Finally, Room 817. The stenciled letters on the frosted glass said, “Private Investigations and Licensed Security.” Down a line or two was my name: “John Walker”

A quick run through the mail informed me that I was up to date on the light bill, late on the rent, and I might already be a winner of something or other. The wastebasket was doing its job well.

I was sitting there behind my desk thumbing through a catalog filled with basic police stuff that I couldn’t afford when I heard the front office door open and someone, a female someone, call out, “Hello? Anybody home?”

I got up, brushed a few crumbs off my shirt, and checked my fly. “I’m here. One moment. On my way.” I opened the door from my office and I lost the power of speech.

She looked like a Pulp Writer’s cliché, straight out of a detective novel. Tall, slim in just the right places, legs that would take time to fully appreciate, and a face that made me want to ask her to the prom – or to Mexico for a weekend.

‘Are you Mr. Walker?” I liked her voice, mainly because it was talking to me.

“Uh…Umm,..Yes, that’s me… Him…John Walker.” I extended my hand like a paw. She took my hand and told me her name, “I’m Constance Tetley and I think I may need your help.”

“Well, if I can help you in any way…”

“Do you own a gun?”

That got my attention.

“Perhaps we should step into my office.”

I ushered her into my inner office, bringing up the rear to close the door behind us and to get another look at – well, you can figure that out. I may be getting old, but I’m not dead. She sat down in the chair in front of the desk. I went behind it to get to mine. She stayed silent so I figured it was up to me to get the ball rolling.

“So why so do you care if I have a gun? You want me to shoot somebody?” I thought that was a reasonable question.

“No, of course not,” she said, wiggling in the chair in discomfort. It made me uncomfortable too. “I ask because, well, my husband has a temper.”

“Your husband.” That was a statement and not a question.

“Yes. He’s why I’m here. I think he’s cheating on me and…”

“And you want me to take a few snapshots of him with whomever, and so on and so on. Right?”

“In a nutshell – Yes,” she said. Mrs. Constance Tetley, young, but not too, and as gorgeous a stack of new and crisp U.S. Grants, dabbed at the corner of her eye with a hanky. I saw no tear.

“Tell me about his ‘temper’ as you called it.” I needed to know how hot the water was before I dipped my toe in. I’ve been burned before.

For the next ten minutes she tried to sugarcoat her husband, Mr. Nigel Tetley, and his propensity to shoot first and skip the questions altogether.

“He’s a collector,” she added.

“Of what?”

“Guns. He has over eleven hundred of them.”

Somehow I knew it wasn’t postage stamps. She readjusted herself in the chair and my blood thinned a bit.

My better judgment screamed at me to call her a taxi and then go for a drink – alone. My less than better judgment wanted for her and me to both be sixteen and in the backseat of my old man’s Buick. What to do?

What I did was take her cash, get her phone number, and cleaned and oiled my five-shot Charter Arms revolver. I must be nuts.

***

He walked into their library and saw his wife curled up on the leather sofa. She looked like she had been crying. She looked up at him as a real tear rolled down her cheek.

“What’s wrong, Constance?” His voice filled with what sounded like genuine concern.

“Sit down, Nigel. I have – we have – a problem.” She reached for her glass on the coffee table and took a swallow as he moved closer.

“What kind of problem?” he said. “Let me take care of it.” He patted her knee like she was the young daughter they didn’t have. “Talk to me.”

She took a deep breath and dried her eyes.

“Nigel, there’s no point in pretending. We both know that I had ‘A Past’ before we met, that I…that I lived in the ‘fast lane’.”

“You were a Rock and Roll groupie,” amended Nigel Tetley. “Yes, I knew all about that when we first met. So, what’s the problem now? All of that was years ago and a lifetime away. What’s going on? It is all in the past, right?”

“Oh, Nigel. Yes, it is all in the past, the distant past. I swear. At least I thought it was.”

Her husband’s back straightened and his fists clenched. “Talk to me, now.”

“A man came up to me when I was at the Mall shopping today. He just walked up to me and said ‘We have some business to conduct.’”

“What does that mean? Was he trying to sell you something?”

“That’s what I thought and then he shoved a couple of pictures in front of me. Pictures of me, from long ago, from those crazy days.” She stopped and took another sip from her drink, cleared her throat, and continued. “I didn’t know these pictures even existed. He said that unless I ‘Came across’ with some money he would ‘show them to the world’.”

“Blackmail, that’s what this is,” said Nigel Tetley. “I’ve been expecting this to happen – for years. It was just a matter of time before some weasel out of the past would show up. Did he threaten you – physically?”

“Me? No. He said that if he didn’t get the money he would kill you. Oh, Nigel, I am so sorry. I don’t know what else to say or do.” She moved next to her husband and let him hold her in his arms, to comfort her.

“Don’t worry about this, Constance, I know how to deal with people like that, but I need to ask you a few questions. OK?” She nodded and buried herself in his arms.

“Constance, did this man give you his name or a way to contact him?”

No, he said that he would contact us, but if we called the police he would kill you. A name? Yes, he said I should call him ‘Mr. Walker.’ He was a mess. He looked like somebody had beaten him up. He was all bruised.”

“Walker?”

“John Walker.”

***

I figured the only way I was going to see if Constance Tetley’s husband was stepping out on her was to shadow him for a few days to see if he does have a “hottie” stashed away. If he does it shouldn’t take long. He’ll want a taste or two soon enough. I follow him; hope for a convenient window or open door – snap, snap – and the wife and her lawyer have their evidence.

It may not be a pretty way to make a living, but unless you can get a contract with some big company to run their Security Setup, you have to eat. The way things have been going for me I haven’t been doing much of either. No work, no money. No money, no reason to feel hopeful and you take any job.

I don’t usually carry my weapon with me. Most of my jobs have relied on my research and computer skills, finding lost or missing people and money, but after the Lovely Lady with the Long Legs told me that her hubby was better armed than most countries, I figured I better dust off my belt holster.

Over the years, on The Force and now as a Freelancer, my stomach has been my own Early Warning System. Putting the gun into the holster made my stomach clench up, but I put that off to the working over I’d just absorbed.

I did a little research into Mr. Nigel Tetley – born in England, and wealthy – very wealthy. The source of his money is a bit obscure hidden in a number of overseas ventures and commercial properties in this one.

He was known to have an explosive temper. There were tales that he pulled a one punch knockout on a “Capital O” Official from the Commerce Department who dared to question his business practices.

Online sources says that Tetley has two passions: Guns and his wife, Constance. Eleven hundred guns and one very special wife. The scuttlebutt has it that a number of his guns have a dirty past. The same could be said of his wife.

Constance Tetley, nee Bosworth came from small town Texas and by the age of sixteen was on the road touring with a well-known Rock and Roll Band as a backstage groupie and main squeeze of the lead screamer.

She met Tetley at a backstage party when she was 22 and he was 40. He wanted her and what he wanted he got. They were married and she disappeared behind The Wall of the Very Rich.

Now, according to the Mrs., Mr. Nigel Tetley is, or might be, cheating on her and she wants me to tell her yea or nay.

Next week – The Conclusion of “Trapped”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Conclusion

Pushing his aching body as fast as he could Luco arrived at the Arboretum Gardener’s Shed in fifteen minutes. He called out.

“I’m here, Thayer. Marlee, are you in there? Are you OK?”

Dennis was waiting.

“I’m sorry, Reyes. I’m afraid she’s a bit tied up right now.”

“Dennis, let her go. She’s not invol –“

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Dennis screamed. This is my turf and I make the rules here.”

Luco paced back and forth knowing that every second that Dennis still held Marlee anything could happen.

“Dennis, let’s talk. Come on out here, face to face.”

Dennis looked at Luco through the window shutter, standing there. “Did you come alone, Coffee Boy?”

“Yes, Dennis, I’m alone.”

Inside the shed Dennis, grinning, turned to Marlee. “He came alone. He really is such a Boy Scout.

“Reyes, you come in here if you want to see your little ‘Nursey-Wursey.’ Now!

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Part Thirty-One

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Part Thirty-One

The Game isn’t over until one side wins. The final score has to show the world who the winner is – and more importantly – who is the loser.

The Game is almost over.

1298 Haight Street had turned into something no one wanted and no one could do anything about: a crime scene.

The Hit and Run of Luco Reyes was tied to the smashed window at the café, the constant break-ins at Apartment 6, and the brutal killing of the cat. They were all connected to Apartment 8 and Dennis Thayer, but he was nowhere to be found.

The DMV showed that Thayer owned a van, or had. He had failed to keep it registered for the last two years. There was no record of it being sold or scrapped, so it had to be somewhere – just like Dennis Thayer. He had to be somewhere.

Shopkeepers on Haight Street kept reporting that they had seen him lurking about, standing in the shadows watching something or someone. One minute he was there – the next minute he was gone. At night he was heard but not seen.

The people at 1298 Haight Street swore that they heard him in the building. He was going from floor to floor meowing like a cat, but by the time anyone would open their door he’d be gone – into a vacant apartment, into the Park, into the darkness. He was seen sitting on the Buena Vista Park steps across the street. Sometimes he would shout something that someone said sounded like, “I don’t share.” Another time he yelled out a slurred, “Marlee, you’re mine. I own you.”

Marlee had all but quit living in her apartment and moved in with Luco Reyes’ flat on Stanyan Street. Little by little she was transferring her sparse possessions from where she had hoped that she would find the start of a new life, but what had turned into a twisted continuation of the old.

Stanyan Street was a refuge. Every day Luco was getting stronger and she felt safe being with and near him.

The savagery of the killings in the neighborhood had escalated. While there was no proof – no hard evidence, no pictures to make it real, the people on the street knew in their gut that it was Dennis Thayer who had been butchering the Street Kids. The Kids warned each other, but had no place to go, to hide from him. They knew the killer was a man who offered them drugs, shelter from the cold and food. He also led them away to a van, they said, and then to their graves. They were leery of the Police and of any authority that might try to send them back home. They feared that more than they feared “The Man in the Night.”

“Meow, Meow. Here. Kitty, Kitty. Are you in there, Marlee? Can I come in? You know I can – anytime I want.”

Had she heard something or was it just her imagination. Anytime she was in her apartment, even for a few minutes, she felt like she was being watched. She opened her door, a butcher knife in her hand, but he wasn’t there. Was he ever there or had her fear put him inside her head? Did it matter?

She had gone back to 1298 Haight to get her cello, the last important thing not yet moved up the street to the flat above the bicycle shop.

Not wanting to spend any more time in Apartment 6 than needed Marlee picked up the case holding her cello and left the building behind. She’d slipped a small knife into the belt under her jacket. The fog was coming in as the sun was dropping toward the Pacific horizon.

The crowd on Haight Street was beginning to build. Walking all the way to Stanyan Street would be awkward carrying her case. A quick cut down one short block to her usual route, Page Street – a quiet residential street with leafy trees and flowers running parallel to Haight Street.

As she crossed Masonic Street she had to jump out of the way as a gray van ignored the stop sign. It missed her by inches. The van had a bright red circus tent painted on the side and the name, “Big Top Day Care.” The driver was in a hurry to drop off the last of the kids to their parents already home from their jobs downtown.

“Oh, that was close, Missy Marlee. I would have been so disappointed. You know by now that I won’t share you with anyone. I want you all to myself. Don’t be in such a rush to get to your Coffee Boy. No need. I can wait. Just a minute or two more, that’s all.”

Marlee crossed Ashbury Street and passed by an old Victorian style home that was vacant and up for sale. The streetlight above the sidewalk was out casting a shadow over the house. She was struggling with the bulky cello case. It was beginning to feel heavy. She wasn’t used to carrying it this far. She passed the short driveway, not seeing the gray, freshly painted, van sitting inside the open garage.

Marlee paused to catch her breath and get a better grip on the case. She heard a sound behind her.

“Meow.”

She started to turn around, but she stopped when she saw a grinning familiar face. An arm reached around and held her tight against his body.

“Hello, Missy.”

She struggled to free herself, but he had her firmly immobilized.

“Now, now, don’t fight me, Missy. Relax. You’re going to feel something in your neck now, it’s a needle, and in about fifteen seconds your legs will go to sleep.” Marlee sensed what felt like an icicle pricking her neck. “So, let’s stroll over to my van while you still can. In thirty seconds you will start a nice long nap.”

Dennis Thayer half dragged Marlee Owen from the sidewalk and, as she collapsed, lifted her limp body into the back of the van.

As he drove away the van scuffed the cello and case into the street.

When Marlee opened her eyes and tried to move she discovered that she was tied – her hands in her lap with silver duct tape around her wrists. Her ankles were bound with the same tape. There was one more swath of tape across her mouth. She was sitting on a dirty wooden floor with her back up against a pile of sacks filled with mulch.

“Well, hello there, Princess. Good morning. I hope you slept well. I’m sorry I had to knock you out like that. I was a little pressed for time there on the street. In case you’re wondering, it is about 7:30 AM. I gave you a nice…let’s call it a mild sedative of my own design. I wanted you quiet until we got here. You’ll be a bit groggy for a while, but you’re not going anywhere, are you? And we are expecting company.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Dennis said with a smile, “I’ve got to go get ready for our guest.” He pulled two knives from sheaths on his belt. He took out the small knife that Marlee had carried when she left her apartment. He shook his head as he spoke.

“Didn’t your Momma ever tell you to not play with knives? Tsk, Tsk. Such an upbringing.” He laughed as he walked away leaving Marlee bound, gagged, and trying to sort out what was happening through a drug induced veil.

The light was dim coming through the hard plastic sheets that made up the ceiling of what appeared to her to be a gardener’s shed. She was surrounded by plants and tools. There were mowers and rakes, clippers of varying sizes, a number of ladders and a pair of chainsaws. On a long table were potted plants, orchids, day lilies, and cacti. She was no more mobile than any of the plants.

Dennis moved about the shed placing items in positions that seemed to have meaning to him; boxes, tool racks rolls of plastic. He noticed Marlee checking out her surroundings.

“Wondering where you are and what’s going to happen? I can’t blame you. No, that’s not true. I do blame you, Missy.” Holding his butterfly knife he loomed over her sitting on the floor. He could see the fear in her eyes. He smiled and lowered himself to the floor and sat next to her. Shoulder to shoulder.

“Let me answer your questions. Where are we? We are in the Arboretum in the Head Gardener’s Workshed. No one but the Gardener and his crew come in here and this is a weekend so we have it all to ourselves. The Gardener did come in earlier while you were sleeping. Why he did that I’ll never know. Oh, well, that’s him in the big bag over there.”

Marlee’s eyes widened in terror.

“Oh, Miss Marlee, save the mock horror. You’ve seen cut up men before and you will again. I guess you’re just bad luck. Men come around you and they end up dead. And guess what? It’s going to happen again. Oh, yes. Your precious barista is going to be your next victim. Marlee’s third dead man.

“I dropped a note to him on our way here telling him where he could find us. I told him to come alone or I’d do to you what I did to your smelly little kitten.

“Just listen to me, will you?” He struggled to his feet “Sometimes I just monopolize the conversation. Here, let me get this tape off of you.” He gently peeled the duct tape from Marlee’s face. She screamed.

“Oh, go ahead and scream, you little two-timer. There’s no one within a quarter mile from here.” She spat in his face.

“You animal,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Yeah, right. Would you like some tea? I have a pot steeping.”

“Let me go, Dennis. You can’t get away with this. There will be every police officer in San Francisco coming in here after you and they’ll –“

“No, they won’t. Your little Boy Toy will come here alone. I know his type. He wants to be the hero to rescue his Fair Maiden. So save your breath. And how did you phrase it, ‘You can’t get away with this’? But I already have. I have you here, Coffee Boy will come as ordered, and then I will show you what I can do with all of these delicious tools here in the shed. Get away with it? When I’m done I’ll just walk out of here and disappear into the fog. How ‘Movie of the Week’ is that, Girl? Let me get your tea.”

***

“I’m sorry, Luco, I haven’t seen her. Hold on, let me ask.” With her hand over the mouthpiece, Scar called out, “Has anybody seen Marlee this morning?” Luco could hear the buzz as everyone answered her.

“Sorry, Luco. No such luck. She’s not been in. Have you called her at her place? Oh, OK. Well, I’m sure she’s out and about. Later, Honeybuns.”

This was not like Marlee. In fact it was the opposite of her normal behavior. Every day when she left Stanyan Street to walk back to Haight Street she would call him when she arrived. She called last night, but nothing since then.

Luco began to pace, still painfully, feeling sure that something was wrong. Ever since she found the cat he had been urging her to not go back there at all. When she left him to go to 1298 she said that was going to get her cello and head back to Stanyan Street. That was 14 hours ago.

“Something is wrong.”

Luco’s body was considerably better than a week ago, but he was far from feeling strong and healthy. That would take months, but he could not sit at home alone and wait to hear from Marlee.

Slowly he struggled into his boots, not allowing himself to grunt in pain as he bent to tie the laces. His fear was turning into dread.

At the bottom of the stairs he saw that his mailbox was full. There was also one sheet of paper without an envelope sticking out of the box. His name was scrawled on it in a mixture of large cursive lettering and block printing..

At the top of the handwritten page he read, “Hey, Reyes – Guess who?

“If you’re looking for your skinny bitch, save your time. I’ve got her.”

Every sore and wounded muscle in Luco’s body tightened.

“I’ve got her and I’m going to keep her. I saw her first, and remember – I don’t share.

“Now that I have your attention, you undereducated, minimum wage, pretty boy waiter, I want you to read this slowly.

“I’m a nice guy, really I am, but I can play rough. I imagine you’re missing your blonde widow. Would you like to see her? Talk with her – before I cut her to pieces and feed her to the sea lions at Pier 39? Better hurry then, you gimpy fool. I’ll let you come to see her – us, but if you don’t come alone or try to tip off the stupid SFPD I will make her suffer beyond belief. And then I will disappear forever. Get it, Coffee Boy?

“We are enjoying a cup of tea at the Arboretum. Come to the far western end, to the Gardener’s Shed. We’ll be waiting.

“Ta, Ta.”

A combination of rage and painful memories washed over Luco. He had finally met someone who could fill the hollow space in his heart, but again, some sick and insane man was trying to take her away from him.

“Not again!”

Next Week – THE CONCLUSION

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Thirty

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Thirty

The new lock was child’s play.

Marlee had been home, caught a few winks, fed the cat and gone back to the Stanyan Street apartment above the bicycle shop to be with and care for Luco. She wouldn’t be back for hours, maybe all night. He wouldn’t need that much time. Not even close.

Dennis Thayer picked the lock in less than ten seconds, entered the apartment, and locked the door again behind him. He set his small box on the butcher block dining room table.

“Here, Kitty. Kitty, Kitty. Come to your Uncle Dennis.”

The cat had moved behind the sofa as soon as it realized that it was Dennis and not Marlee opening the door.

Dennis took a piece of netting out of the box on the table and started to silently stalk the little yellow tabby. He knew where the cat liked to hide. He pushed one end of the sofa against the wall cutting off one avenue of escape. He wrapped the netting over the other end, trapping in the cat – or so he thought. Taking out a small flashlight from his pocket he knelt on the couch and shined the light down on the terrified kitten.

“Hello, little Kitty. Time to come out and play.”

The light reflected golden off the kitten’s eyes.

Not waiting for his pursuer to grab him the kitten launched itself up the back of the couch with claws extended. When he reached the top of the couch he kept climbing, clawing his way across Dennis’ face leaving a trail of deep bloody scratches from his chin, across his eyes and into his hairline. Before Dennis could react the cat was under the bed and huddled against the far wall.

“Want to play rough do we, Kitty? Then I’ll show you rough, you mangy little fleabag.”

Moving slowly and warily Dennis walked into Marlee’s bedroom and closed both doors trapping them both in the room.

Shining his flashlight under the bed he could see the frightened cat up against the wall. It hissed when the light beam hit it.

“There you are. Come here, Kitty, Kitty.”

J.P. hissed again.

“No? You don’t want to come out and play? That’s not very friendly. I’ll tell you what – you stay there for a minute. I’ll be back in two shakes of a cat’s tail.” He got to his feet and went to the dining room, making sure to close the bedroom door behind him. He searched through the box on the table singing softly.

“What’s new, Pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Ah, there we are. Playtime is over you little furball.”

J.P. Cat was still in the corner, under the bed, shivering in fear.

“I’m back, Kitty. Still don’t want to come out? You’re shivering. Are you cold? Well, here, let me warm you up.’

Dennis Thayer: Psychotic killer, drug addict who hated drugs and other addicts, Sadist, and Unforgiving, killed a small terrified kitten with the barbs of a 50,000 volt taser. He laughed as the young cat convulsed even after it was already dead.

“Now we can both play and cook up a little surprise for Missy Marlee.”

When Marlee returned home seven hours later she unlocked her door and with two steps inside she knew that something was wrong.

“What is that smell? Did I leave something…?”

She went into the kitchen and felt the heat from the oven.

The people standing at the bus stop in front of 1298 Haight Street looked up at the windows of Apartment 6. They heard a woman screaming in horror. She couldn’t stop.

***

When the police entered Apartment # 8 it was obvious that the renter had abandoned it. His clothes were gone. Food in the kitchen, what there was of it, was old and stale. The one plant in the apartment, a Hibiscus, was shriveled and dead.

In his bedroom the wall that had been covered was bare except for remnants of tape and the corners of torn photographs that were now…where?

After his butchery of Marlee’s cat Dennis knew that he couldn’t stay in the building. He took what he could carry and he was now living out of his mobile sanctuary – his gray van. In the van he was hidden. The Motor Vehicle registration listed the van as being red, but a cheap paint job down in the Mission District fixed that. The police would waste time and energy looking for a red van that no longer existed.

He needed his invisible hideaway so he could carry out the next part of his courtship. Luco was still alive, injured but alive. That had to be corrected.

Dennis didn’t want to go after Luco again. He had to lure the Coffee House Cry Baby out of his apartment – out to where he was helpless and vulnerable. Out to where he would die.

The van gave Dennis mobility. The entire city could become his trap. He would lure Luco into the trap with the most delicious bait.

He had injured Luco; Marlee was traumatized and unable to focus.

Easy pickings.

The “What’ and the “How” were already decided. All that remained were the “When” and the “Where.”

“Let the cops look for me. I am invisible and in control because I saw her first and I never share.”

Marlee was staying at Luco’s place almost around the clock; partly to continue helping him in his recovery, and partly because she couldn’t bear the thought of returning to her apartment on Haight Street – not after what Dennis Thayer had done there. Any trips to 1298 Haight were just to pack and move her possessions to Stanyan Street.

As Luco grew stronger he tended to help her closet the horror so she could resume her new life in San Francisco. That was something they both needed to do. While they had both been given a second chance there was no guarantee that they would ever be blessed with a third. They couldn’t let Dennis Thayer decide their Tomorrow. They couldn’t let him win.

As each day passed and the police couldn’t find Dennis Thayer Haight Street became more nervous and afraid. Another young Street Kid was killed and dumped in the middle of the night in the doorway of the Bicycle Shop on Stanyan Street.

At night the gray van hid in the fog. Dennis slept and dreamed of his next moves – to draw Luco Reyes to his death and to have Marlee Owen wrap her arms around him. After all, he saw her first

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

At least the sun was shining and the winds were warm, out of the East, down from the Sierras. The fog was pushed out to sea hiding the offshore Farralon Islands from view. It made San Francisco seem like it was a part of the popular image of a Sunny California.

Luco wasn’t scheduled for release from the hospital for another three days, but he was raising such Holy Hell and threatening to crawl out of the place on his hands and knees that the medical staff voted to give him an early trip home.

“Mr. Reyes, as your doctor I must advise you to give us a couple more days to make sure that your internal injuries are on a healing track. But… as a member of the human race and someone who has to be around you all day I’d just as soon kick you down the stairs. Of course, I’d have to take a number and wait in line for the privilege.”

“Doc, I don’t mean to be trouble, but I hate it here. I’m feeling OK and I want to go home.”

The young doctor, who looked like he was there earning a merit badge, drummed his fingers on the side rail of Luco’s bed.

“Mr. Reyes, you may feel alright, but you’re not. Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. If I sent you home alone you might end up dead on your bathroom floor before sundown. Of course, if I don’t let you leave, you might succumb to the night nursing staff.”

“I’ve been that much of a pain?” said Luco. He winced as he shifted his weight trying to get comfortable. Looking in the doctor’s eyes, Luco saw a mixture of professional concern and a weighing of the odds with a jury of his peers.

“Pain?”said the young man in the white lab coat. “Mr. Reyes, there was talk of starting a pool to predict which shift would report your sudden and unfortunate death. I’ve been here six years and I’ve never seen a grown man behave in such an immature and irritating manner.”

Luco blushed. He had never been a “good patient.” Even as a child being home sick from school could drive his mother to tears.

“Doc, I’m really sorry if I’ve been difficult. Do you think I should go and apologize to everyone?”

“No, Mr. Reyes, I couldn’t guarantee your safety. I think it best if I just sign your release and get you out of here. Who can tend to you when you get home?”

“I’ll take care of him, Doctor.”

Both men turned their gaze toward the doorway. There stood Marlee, dressed in tan shorts and a striped tank top. A large straw hat and matching bag completed the look.

***

“Oh, Jesus God, why didn’t you just leave me there to die?”

“I told you those steps would be rough, Luco.”

Marlee helped Luco ease himself down onto the sofa.

“Rough I could handle, but those last few steps…. I thought I was going to split open like a ripe watermelon.”

That’s why the doctors wanted to keep you a few more days.” Marlee spread a light throw over his legs. He had his head back, with his arm crossed over his eyes. “Inside, you’re still hamburger according to one of the Interns.”

“I feel like hamburger.” His eyes were closed.

The short ride home and the climb up the 18 steps from Stanyan Street had exhausted Luco’s body and drained his reserve of mental toughness. He fell asleep within seconds.

Luco had maintained that the vehicle that cracked and crushed his body had been steered with malicious intent. There had been no eyewitnesses. The people in the coffeehouse had nothing helpful to add.

The official police report concluded that it could come to no conclusion. There were no unusual skidmarks on the pavement. The intersection of Cole and Waller was busy during the day with diesel buses and tourist’s rental cars. Collisions and skidmarks were not uncommon. When the investigators looked at the scene they just shook their heads. The intersection looked like every other intersection in the city, except for the broken glass and the blood.

Marlee sat down at Luco’s desk and stared out the window. The grassy slopes of Golden Gate Park were still damp from the morning fog as it retreated offshore. The sunlight sparkled off the grass and made the world look clean and inviting.

She turned away from the window and looked at Luco’s sleeping form on the old hotel sofa. With his short hair and relaxed features he looked like a small boy napping. One part of her wanted to take him in her arms and rock him, nurturing, caring, protecting. Another part was coming to accept that she wanted to be held in his arms.

***

Marlee walked down Haight Street after getting Luco settled in and safe. The bright morning sun was shadowed by conflicting emotions. She and Pete from the cafe had arranged for a home healthcare staff to tend to Luco until he was farther along in his recovery.

She was comforted just knowing that he was alive and going to survive his injuries, but she was still scared for him. Luco was so sure that the driver of the van had hit him intentionally. The blend of relief and fear was exhausting. She hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. It was catching up with her now. A good solid week’s worth of deep, comforting, sleep would be good, but she needed to be back at Luco’s apartment. Five hours would have to do.

She made a short detour into the Haight-Central Market to get a couple of onions, some canned tomatoes and a green pepper. Tonight Luco was going to eat her Swiss Steak, whether he was hungry or not. He needed some red meat.

Standing at the counter, Mike, the young Lebanese owner rang up her purchases. He liked Marlee. She never gave him any grief and she never asked for credit.

“Hi, Marlee. How you doing? Don’t take this wrong, but you look terrible. Can’t sleep? Haight Street can get noisy at night.”

“It’s not the noise, Mike. I just haven’t had the chance to get any rest. Hopefully I can grab some this morning.”

As he listened, Mike let his eyes dart up to the large parabolic mirror in the corner. Shoplifting was an ongoing problem on the street and the mirror let him see clearly down both aisles of his small market.

Anyone who tried shoplifting from Mike had to be incredibly stupid. There was only one way out of the store and that was right past Mike and the 9mm pistol he kept tucked in his waistband. It was usually covered by his shirt, but not always. His eyes quickly scanned the store.

“I heard about Luco. Too bad.”

“It was horrible, Mike. He is a very lucky man, just to be alive.”

“A real shame. My brother got killed crossing Stanyan Street a few years ago. They never caught the guy who hit him. My Mother still cries about that.”

“My sympathies, Mike. At least Luco will survive.” She saw Mike’s eyes move up to the mirror. “He was released from the hospital yesterday afternoon. He’s not getting around too well yet. He needs time to recuperate.”

“Good thing he has a friend like you to help him out.” His gaze was fixed on the mirror. “Son of a bitch.”

“What?” Marlee turned and looked up at the mirror.

Crouched down in front of the beer cooler was Dennis Thayer. Marlee and Mike watched him slipping cans of beer into the pockets of his coat.

“Look at that. I finally let him back in here and the first thing he does is try to rip me off again. Marlee, here, take your groceries and get home. Me and this clown are going to have a talk and I don’t want you to be in the middle.”

“Oh, good Lord, Mike, be careful. Do you want me to call the police?”

“No. You go home and get some rest.” He smiled at Marlee, but his eyes stayed glued on the image of Dennis in the mirror. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

He unfastened the bottom two buttons of his shirt. Marlee could see the textured black grip on the pistol and the polished chrome of the barrel as Mike shifted it and flipped the safety to “off.”

“Marlee, please leave. Now.”

She picked up her plastic carrier bag and, taking one last peek at the mirror, left the store.

“Please be careful, Mike.”

Mike could see that Dennis was heading toward the front of the store.

Marlee hurried across the intersection, her keys out. Opening the front gate to the building, she glanced back and saw the front door at the market swinging shut.

There was little doubt that Mike could take care of himself, but it still made her uneasy. She knew, all too well, how quickly things could go sour and become deadly. Heartbeats are fragile.

“Sleep, girl. Get some rest,” she said out loud as she opened her front door.

Within three minutes the groceries were on the kitchen counter, the blinds were closed, alarm set and Marlee was underneath the soft blankets. Her breathing was slowing and sleep was only seconds in coming. Fives hours would come soon.

“Just a loaf of bread today, Mike.”

“Sure, Dennis. That’ll be $8.87.”

“$8.87? For a loaf of bread?”

“For the bread and for the three beers you have in your pockets.”

“What beer?”

Dennis smiled. He knew that Mike had seen him hide the cans. This was the fun part, the sport of it all. He saw that the front door was closed. It was just the two of them, alone in the store.

“Mike, I’m not trying to rip you off.”

“Thayer, I’ve had it with you. I take pity on you and let you back in my store and you thank me by trying to steal from me again.” He let his hand rest on the butt of the pistol so Dennis would get the message. “Either put the beers on the counter or pay for them. Either way, I don’t want you in here anymore.”

Dennis grinned and fondled the butterfly knife in his left pants pocket. He was enjoying this. The sight of Mike’s 9mm was an added treat.

“Are you threatening me, Mike?”

“Yes, I am you stupid junkie. You think this is a game show we’re playing here?”

Dennis’ smile vanished. Name-calling was out of line. This was just a game. There was no need to get personally nasty.

He pulled the cans of beer from his pockets and, one by one, slammed them down on the counter. They would be undrinkable for hours.

“Don’t call me names, Mike…ever. I don’t like being insulted. You understand me, you stinking camel jockey? There’s your beer. Why don’t you pop one open, Osama?”

“Get out of my store. Don’t come back. No more games with you. Go!”

Dennis pushed open the door. A bright orange Municipal Railway bus was stopped at the corner. He looked back at Mike.

“You’re right about one thing, Mike. No more games.”

Dennis quickly crossed Haight Street and headed down Central toward the Panhandle. He looked up at the 1298 Haight building. He saw the blinds snap shut in the windows of apartment number six.

“So, Miss Marlee, your macho stud is still alive. Don’t get too into playing nursemaid for him. It’s going to be a temporary job.”

It was a dry cleaner, working off $750 in traffic fines by picking up trash in the Park, who found the body of the sixteen-year-old runaway, stuffed into the trash bin behind the playground in the Panhandle.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

The fifth floor of St. Mary’s hospital was indistinguishable from the fourth or the sixth. All of them had the same aqua and “seafoam green” colored walls, recessed lighting and the smell of disinfectant.

Using the hint offered by the helpful nurse in the Emergency Room, Marlee learned that Luco had been moved from “post-op” to room 534. With her heart in her throat Marlee took the large and spotless elevator up to the fifth floor.

Forcing herself not to run madly down the corridor Marlee walked along the painted line on the floor, gazing into each room as she passed the open doors. It was a slide show of semi-private tragedy. She was ashamed of herself for peeking into other people’s lives. Looking ahead she saw several empty gurneys parked along the walls and a large laundry cart filling up half of the hallway.

A man came out of the room just beyond the cart, and as he walked past her, Marlee could see that he was a priest. Doing some quick counting, she guessed that he had come from room 534. She picked up her pace. To Hell with decorum.

“Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God. Please, not Luco, not Luco.”

Another flicker of shame burned her cheeks as she realized that she was wishing the Last Rites onto someone else.

The door to 534 was partially closed. From inside Marlee could hear the sound of someone crying. Slowly, she opened the door, fighting back tears, and entered into the room. All of the lights were off, putting the room into shadowy darkness. The curtain was drawn around bed. Behind the thin green fabric there was sobbing and praying in Spanish. Marlee felt her knees buckle and she had to grab the back of a chair to keep from falling to the floor. A nurse, wearing a stethoscope, pushed the curtain back and saw the reeling Marlee. Over the nurse’s shoulder Marlee saw a gray-haired man on the bed, his eyes and mouth open in death. Gently stroking his papery cheek was the sobbing woman, a look of despair and unbelieving sorrow on her face.

The nurse pulled the curtain closed behind her and looked at Marlee.

“Can I help you? Are you all right?”

“Luco Reyes? I was told he was in this room. I’m his wife.” Marlee moved her left hand behind her back.

“Let’s go out in the hall for a moment,” she said and, taking Marlee by the elbow, led her into the corridor. Once there, she told Marlee the details of what had happened and about the treatment he had received so far. Marlee blanched, hearing how they had cut Luco open to repair his torn lung. His condition was still listed as “Serious”, but barring unforeseen complications, he would survive. Marlee shed tears of joy at this news and asked if she could see him.

“Of course, Mrs. Reyes.”

Silently the nurse took Marlee by the arm again and led her to a second bed sitting by the far window.

There was Luco. Marlee stood and looked at him. He was unconscious with a sheet pulled up high on his chest. He had an intravenous drip line going into his right arm. “He looks so small,” was her first thought.

Marlee took a side chair and sat down next to the bed. The rails were up and he looked like he was sleeping in an aluminum crib.

For the next ten minutes she just sat and looked at Luco. His face was scraped and there were small bandages on his chin and forehead. He was still under the lingering effects of the anesthesia. Lowering the rail, Marlee reached out and smoothed his hair.

“Oh, Luco. My poor, sweet Luco.”

Thoughts of their talk at Martin Macks the previous evening went through her head. “Was that only last night?” She remembered how they had both cried as they told each other the stories of their lives. She recalled the feel of his hand in hers as they walked down Haight Street and how very much she wanted to hold him, but didn’t.

Marlee looked at him and wondered about “unforeseen complications.” Was she going to lose this man from her life? Unconsciously she took his hand. His skin was warm and soft, just like last night.

“Marlee?”

She looked at his battered face. His eyes were slits. “Luco.” Her voice leapt from her throat. She lifted his hand and kissed it.

“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was hoarse. He struggled to focus his eyes, with only marginal success.

Even though his vision was blurred, he could feel her hand on his and turned his palm up, closing his fingers around hers. “Where am I?” She squeezed his hand gently and he squeezed back with a strength that surprised her.

“You’re in the hospital, Luco. You were hit by a car.”

“It must have been a tank.”

“You had surgery last night to fix some damage to your lungs, but you’re going to be fine.” Luco just nodded as he began to lose consciousness again. As the anesthesia wore off the pain medication mixed into his glucose drip would smooth the rough edges, but he would sleep for most of the day.

Marlee got up to lower the blind to keep the glare off of Luco’s serene and regal face. He looked like a king in Marlee’s eyes. Somewhere lost in his lineage, generations ago, there must have been royalty in his family. Even now the bearing and grace shone through.

It wasn’t long before hospital protocol geared up and a tall man in a crisp white linen coat escorted the new widow from her station at her husband’s bedside. As soon as she left the room two muscular men tenderly, respectfully, moved the lifeless body onto a gurney. They covered him with a fresh white sheet and took him away. Marlee could hear the squeaking wheels on the gurney as it rolled slowly down the hallway.

While Luco slept Marlee stayed by his side, watching him, willing him protection from “unseen complications.” Occasionally Luco would stir or moan softly and she would sit up straight and take his hand until he quieted again.

Seeing Luco so helpless and seemingly small in that large metal bed, with tubes running into and out of his limp and injured body, sent her back in time. Back to the night when she cradled the body of her husband in her arms, feeling his life escape, a modern Pieta.

Marlee wanted to crawl into the hospital bed next to Luco and hold him, to come between him and any harm. In her heart she had failed to save Phillip, but she would not fail again. Not this time, not today. Not with this beautiful, scarred soul.

The night before they had laid bare their deepest wounds to each other. It was then that she learned about the real Luco Reyes. It didn’t matter if no one else ever saw past the facade of the flirting, glib barista who traded unanswered invitations with the women who drank in his special brews. Marlee Owens would know the real Luco.

She saw that that cavalier behavior was Luco’s way of staying alive. Get close enough to smell the perfume, but not so close as to inhale the explosive aroma of the woman herself. That he would not, could not, allow himself to do.

Luco was stopped by the idea that to caress too gently, to hold too closely, to care too deeply, would be a betrayal to a Love who was gone and beyond return. All that he had left was the memory and if he let that go he would be lost. That memory was his anchor and he was afraid to search for another.

Marlee knew that she was battling a similar enemy. Despite her dreams of Phillip releasing her, she still held a tangible guilt about her feelings for Luco. In the years since Phillip there had been no one else in her mind or her heart. Now, however, this frail looking man the hospital bed had gently invaded both.

Luco moved his head and Marlee leaned forward. “Luco?” His eyes fluttered and opened. He looked into Marlee’s eyes.

“Te amo,” he whispered. Marlee understood the phrase and searched for the right words with which to answer. She found them deep in her heart. “I love you too, Luco.” She laid her cheek on his hand. He reached over and stroked her hair.

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Marlee couldn’t move. Luco continued to run his fingers across her pale blond hair as he spoke in slurred Spanish to his deceased wife. Marlee’s knowledge of Spanish did not allow her to follow all of his words, but he said Alicia’s name several times. As he spoke silent tears spilled from her eyes. Each touch of his hand tore at her heart. How could she ever hope to find love with a man so married to a memory?

When Luco fell silent, Marlee moved his hand and sat back in the chair, looking at him as he slept once again.

Marlee wondered about what was going to happen now. In her mind it was clear that Luco was not ready to love her, or anyone. But she had spoken out loud the words “I love you” to him, even though he had not heard them, she had.

Deep within the hemispheres and ridges of his brain, Luco Reyes was moving from dreamless unconsciousness into a dream-hungry sleep. A mad projector in his brain was flashing images, sounds and people before his mind’s eye. Events raced by at an incoherent rate. Nothing made sense, but he understood that he was subconsciously reviewing and evaluating his life, judging himself in preparation for…for what he did not know.

He was seeing every moment of his marriage and as, in his haunting memory, he sat again at the horrible funerals in the chapel at Mission Dolores. He heard someone call his name.

“Luco?”

He knew the voice.

“Te amo.”

“I love you too, Luco.”

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Not knowing how long he would have, he poured out his thoughts to his wife.

“Alicia, I need to tell you that I realize you told me the truth. I have been wrong to cling to you the way I have. It’s been unhealthy and unfair to your memory.

“Alicia, I have met a woman, a beautiful and good woman. She makes me feel like I did when I first saw you. We have talked and she has suffered a great loss in her life too. She understands even though I can’t explain it all to her.

“Alicia, I love this woman. I need this woman. I hunger for this woman.

“Know that I will always love you and Regalito, but this woman makes me want to live again.”

An unheard voice spoke to Luco from the depths of his life.

“Go to her, Luco. Love her.”

In the silence and dim light of the hospital room Marlee sat with her head in her hands, feeling lost in her California exile and thinking that she had lost again to Death. First it was Phillip’s life and now it was her own, to the memory of a dead woman.

She had come almost 3000 miles to get away from a lost love only to have it happen again, but this time it was far more cruel. The man with whom she loved and could not have, was in love with a ghost.

Her thoughts drifted to her cello and she wondered if it was to be her only source of loving sounds in her ear, responsive and giving in her arms and solid and sinuous against her skin.

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