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 tag “Fiction”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

She loved to shop and it didn’t matter for what. However, this shopping excursion was joyful in a special way. It was all to bring pleasure to a new friend.

Marlee had promised Dennis Thayer a Sunday breakfast, but she decided that a brunch would be better, more civilized. So, here she was, going up and down the aisles at Cala Foods, the only true supermarket on Haight Street.

The menu she had settled on would be: a fruit cup, orange juice, Eggs Benedict, asparagus and affordable champagne. “Hey, if you’re going to do it, do it right” she mumbled to herself as she perused the wine aisle.

It had taken three days of Mall crawling to get the comfortable furniture and accessories that gave her an apartment that would let her prepare and serve her brunch. It would be hard to make a decent hollandaise when you didn’t have so much as a wooden spoon to your name. Now her kitchen, while still short on counter space, sported a clean, hi-tech look.

“God bless Sears and in Kitchen-Aid we trust.”

Her credit cards were melted around the edges from creating her new home, but, at least, money was not an issue. Phillip and MetLife had done a lot of business. She was far from rich, but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese would be on the menu only by choice.

A full refrigerator always made Marlee feel secure and safe from just about anything.

“If you have a roof over your head and food in the ice-box nothing can hurt you” – So said her Nana Antonia, a child of the Great Depression. One look at her shopping cart and Marlee knew that she was safe for at least a week.

The next morning she was up early, dusting, rearranging and even primping a bit, anxious to play hostess.

She hadn’t cooked for anyone in a long time. After Phillip’s death Marlee moved back in with her parents where she and her mother slipped back into their earlier roles. Marlee was no longer an independent woman. She was a daughter in her parent’s home.

But now, here in San Francisco, a continent away, in her own apartment, she was herself again. She was again – period.

Finally, everything was ready to go. She wouldn’t finish the cooking until Dennis arrived.

“Oh, my God. When is he coming? We never set a specific time.” She looked at her watch. It was almost 10:45. She couldn’t wait any longer. She nervously tapped her toe on the new area rug from Pier 1, and then she remembered what Dennis had said. She grabbed the sponge mop from the closet, went into the parlor and gave three sharp raps on the ceiling with the mop handle. The glass lighting fixture rattled. She tried three more taps, but with a little less vigor. Sweeping up fallen plaster was not the way to kick off a Sunday brunch. From up above she heard a muffled voice yelling something and three quick taps on the floor.

Hearing his acknowledgment of her signal Marlee returned to the kitchen to pour the orange juice and get the champagne glasses from the dish rack. She held one up to the light to check for spots.

“Miss Marlee, you have really got to check your door locks.” Dennis was peeking around the corner of the kitchen doorway.

Marlee jumped in surprise and a champagne glass went flying toward the ceiling. She grabbed at it and only managed to knock it higher still. Her guest moved into the room and deftly plucked it from the air.

“He makes the catch and the crowd goes wild!”

“Jesus H. Christ, Dennis, you scared me half to death. How did you…?”

“Your door was open. I knocked and it just swung open.”

Marlee leaned back against the sink still trying to get her heart back into her chest.

“Everything’s OK, girl.” He held up the champagne glass. “Why don’t you fill this with something for me while I show you what I brought?” He stepped back into her hallway while Marlee wrestled the cork out of the chilled bottle with barely a whisper of protest from the champagne. As she started to pour the Napa Valley bubbly, he reappeared holding a small bouquet of red and white tulips.

“Ta-Da! I brought flowers. I figured that you’d already have some, but you can never have enough beauty in your life, I always say.” She took the tulips with her left hand as she held out a glass, filled to overflowing. He moved closer and sipped at the champagne while she still had it in her hand. He put his hand on hers to steady the glass. “Mmm, very nice. Thanks. Every day should start with champagne and tulips.”

Marlee smiled even though she felt a bit awkward about his touch. “I can’t argue with that,” she said. He took the glass from her hand.

“I’m glad you brought the flowers. I totally forgot. I’ve been so busy this week.”

Dennis retreated a couple of steps and set his empty glass on the stove.

“Well then, it’s a good thing I picked them up. And…I’ve got something else for you, a little housewarming gift.”

“Oh, Dennis, you shouldn’t have. What is it?” His enthusiasm was contagious.

He turned his back to her, reached into his shirt and spun back around holding up a small hardcover edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass.”

I just thought you might like it. It’s one of my favorites, always has been.” He held it out to her and gave her a small, but courtly bow.

“Thank you, Dennis. It’s a favorite of mine too. I had a copy, but I guess I lost it in the move.”

“Movers – they’ll steal you blind. Refill?” He held up his empty glass and in a very bad English accent asked, “Could I have some more, please?”

While Marlee began assembling the food, Dennis put the flowers into a glass wine carafe that Marlee had picked up for just that purpose. He set them in the middle of her round, butcher-block dining room table. The red cloth napkins matched well with the tulips. He squinted at the table and picked up one of the knives, giving it a quick heft as he examined the design. “K Mart or Target? Oh, Miss Marlee, you need lessons.”

“What’s that?” Marlee was behind him holding two steaming plates. He took the plates and set them by the napkins. “I was just saying how lovely your table setting looks. Really quite elegant. Your flatware is to die for.”

It was a pleasant little brunch, as brunches go. The food was tasty. The champagne bubbles tickled the palate just right and the conversation wandered from topic to topic. Eventually it took on a more personal tone. Dennis drank steadily as they exchanged bits and pieces of their histories.

Marlee gave him the basic facts about what brought her to San Francisco.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Four

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Four

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

Marlee chose the opposite side of the street for her return trip down Haight Street. She saw chilly tourists renting inline skates and bicycles for a high-speed zip through the Park. She resisted the barker’s pitch, from a chubby girl dressed in black, to step into “Cold Steel” for a piercing of the soft tissue of her choice. The list of possible sites made Marlee feel very “Ohio.”

“It must be a California thing,” she thought.

Seeing the bounteous display of produce at the Haight Street Grocer for the second time, she couldn’t resist the huge Navel oranges or the pencil thin fresh asparagus. It would be perfect with her Eggs Benedict for Sunday’s meal with Dennis Thayer. After all, she did promise him a brunch.

Even though she was just a block from home, she decided to stop for a cool drink. She didn’t

want this excursion to end.

“The People’s Cafe”, near the corner at Masonic Street, was large and airy, with tall sliding windows that made it an inviting oasis and a prime location for idle time people watching.

Marlee looked over the large menu board mounted high on the wall behind the sparkling display case that teemed with decadent pastries.

The cafe was only half full this time of day. The tables were populated mainly with locals, sipping coffee and chatting. Off in the far corner sat one bearded neighborhood denizen, madly scribbling another novel that no one would ever read. It was almost the cliché of a San Francisco Coffee House.

“And what can I get for you today?”

Marlee lowered her gaze from the menu and into a pair of gentle gray eyes that sparkled like dusty diamonds.

“What would you like?”

“Oh, something cool and refreshing, I think.”

He smiled and his words came to her ears with an almost lyric quality wrapped in a warm baritone.

“Ah, there’s nothing better after a morning in the cosmic heat of The Haight.”

Small lines formed at the corners of his eyes. His lashes made her think of a dozing cat. She noticed a small cleft in his chin and wondered if it made it hard for him to shave in the morning.

“I’ll tell you what, you have a seat and I’ll bring you something that will cool the fire on your brow and fuel the passion in your heart.”

She found a table by the window, but instead of watching the passing parade she found herself staring at the barista with the beautiful eyes.

“He is delicious, isn’t he?”

“Excuse me?” said Marlee. The interrupting voice broke her trance. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

Sitting at a nearby table was a woman who had been pretty ten years ago.

“Luco – He’s gorgeous, isn’t he? But put your tongue back in your mouth, Dearie. He may flirt with you and whisper slivers of his poetry in your ear, but he’s not a man for the long haul. Trust me. I know.”

“I’m sorry, but what are you talking about?” People in Cleveland didn’t just talk to strangers like this.

“She’s saying that she’s upset because I never asked her to spend a month making love on the beach in Baja. Am I right, Marjorie?” The barista wiggled a finger in reprimand as he smiled tenderly at the woman. She deflated under his gaze. Obviously, she still carried around a long-term, and unextinguished, torch.

Marlee looked up into the smooth face of the man with the gigawatt smile. He had a large pastel blue cup and saucer in his hand.

“May I join you for a moment? I made this for you. It’s my personal favorite – espresso, steamed milk with a shot of amaretto, and a single clove, for luck.”

He didn’t wait for her answer as he slid into the empty chair across the table from Marlee.

This warm spot of male light was Luco Reyes, a 15th generation Californian. His family had come to the New World with the first wave of Spanish explorers. He reflected the lineage of the Grandees along with the gifts of other visitors to the Pacific coast, including the Imperial Russian Dynasty.

Just shy of six feet tall, he wore his jet-black hair cut short for convenience. He was not a man who fussed over his looks. He was the man who was there in the mirror the first thing in the morning.

His face was lightly tanned; a healthy glow laid on a complexion the color of tea with just a touch or two of cream.

Luco Reyes kept himself physically fit, but not like a 7-day-a-week gym jockey. Underneath his chambray shirt he had the spring-loaded muscularity of a Middleweight boxer. His body answered with the fast reflexes and easy confidence that didn’t require “muscle shirts” to advertise their presence.

He had the quick wit and romantic heart of the poet that he was. He wrote at night in his flat on Stanyan Street above the bicycle shop. From his windows he had a view of the entrance to Golden Gate Park and the playground and carousel beyond. His poems were long and dynamic, with sensuous imagery and a desperate sadness.

At the cafe he flirted shamelessly and fell in lust hourly, but rarely let it go further than a wink, a smile and the occasional nibble on a very willing earlobe.

As Marlee had just discovered and the woman in the corner could not let loose of: one simple flex of his shoulders or a smiling moment in his focus and you knew that this was a man who could make your eyes roll back in your head and let you forget to go home and feed the cat.

“I hope you like it.”

“Oh, I’m sure that I will. It smells wonderful. Thank you.”

“Please, call me Luco and welcome to the neighborhood. I hope you stay here a long time.”

“How did you know that I’m new here? Does Cleveland show that readily?”

“Not really, but tourists don’t buy asparagus for souvenirs and I’ve never seen you in here before. I would remember you.”

Marlee took a sip of the coffee. It was delicious with an exotic overtone that invigorated her and yet relaxed the tight muscles in her neck. It was her new favorite thing in San Francisco.

Luco looked back at the counter area. Customers were beginning to get impatient.

“I have to get back to work, but stay and enjoy the coffee, my treat.” He started to get up. He smelled of cinnamon.

“Thank you very much…Luco.”

“For you…always, my pale beauty.” He slipped away from the table leaving Marlee to wonder if the warm glow she was feeling was from the shot of amaretto or from the new man who had obviously just entered her life.

“I warned you, Dearie. He’s inside you now. You’re hooked. You didn’t notice that he never asked you for your name, did you? He never will.”

Marlee tuned out the hopelessly desperate woman in the corner. She sipped her coffee and forced herself to look at the strangers passing by outside the open window.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Three

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

She slept through the rest of the night deeply and motionless. When she awoke, the morning sun was coming over the treetops in Buena Vista Park across the street from 1298 Haight Street. Apartment Number 6 was warm and this newcomer to the California Dream knew that there were things to do, memories to be created.

The floors in San Francisco are as hard as anywhere else. One night sleeping on the whiskey colored wood was enough to establish the purchase of a bed as priority number one.

The next night she would sleep on crisp white sheets with soft new pillows and warm blankets to enhance her peaceful dreams.

Her alarm clock on her second morning on Haight Street was a chorus of sharp cries and squawks from outside the bay window. She opened her eyes and slowly focused on the world just in time to see streaks of red, green and blue flash across her field of vision.

She learned later that, years ago, no one remembers exactly when, a number of parrots kept as pets either escaped their cages or were abandoned by shortsighted owners. These parrots soared into the palm and eucalyptus trees of San Francisco and sired new flocks throughout the city. In the mornings and at sunset they spread pallets of color in the air as they soared and glided across the urban landscape. St. Francis would be pleased.

With the morning sun washing through her windows, Marlee drifted lazily in that creamy pool between asleep and awake. Dreaming still, but becoming aware of the world around her. Sounds and motions incorporated into those last minute dreams and cozy never felt so good. The transition from the one world to the other became a luxurious slide of absolute sensory perfection where everything was as it should be and there was no need to hurry.

1298 Haight Street was an old building by San Francisco standards. Built just before the 1906 earthquake and fire that redrew the city map, the pale pink stucco and terra cotta tiled roof made an imposing presence on the corner of Haight and Central. Four stories tall it dominated the corner of Haight and Central. It marked the start of the commercial section of the Upper Haight neighborhood. For the next seven blocks there were shops and galleries that catered to the tourists who were looking for traces of The Summer of Love to take back home to where that Summer was only 1967.

Inside apartment #6, standing in front of the long mirror hung over the bathroom door, Marlee combed out her hair. She had let it grow out to shoulder length, straight and pale blonde, almost white. When taken with her translucent skin it made people think that she was Swedish, but her ancestry was Welsh. Welsh, with some Viking invader blood 1000 years old in the mix. Her eyes were green, almost the shade of the ocean just before it drops off into the deep.

5’8” tall and slim, “boyish” her 10th grade Phys. Ed. teacher had called her. It was never a figure that made men turn their heads as she walked by. Her fine blonde hair and the music in her hips did that.

Her wardrobe was distinctly Midwest Rust Belt plain. It was excessively Earth-toned for a young attractive blonde in California, but she perked up her look with a vibrant scarf and some jewelry. It would do, she thought, as she opened the front gate, set to meet her new neighborhood.

Taking her time, not wanting to miss anything, Marlee window-shopped and ambled into the eclectic commerce of Haight Street.

She considered the latest Rave fashions on the rack at “Housewares”, all to the driving techno-beat from the in-house disc jockey. The iguanas sunning themselves in the window didn’t seem to mind.

She laughed out loud as she looked through the Anarchist Collective Bookstore. Their display of pamphlets and political screeds loudly denounced the capitalism at which they were so dismally failing. Signs trumpeting a “Half-Price Sale” and “Clearance” were everywhere, alerting the three lost-looking teenage browsers that they too could join the Revolution at a discount.

Showing that The Haight sold more than recycled bad ideas and hipster fads, there was “Kids Only.” A sunlight filled shop that catered to the families in the neighborhood with plush toys and dolls sweet enough to melt the heart of any six year-old and probably Mommy and Daddy too.

Marlee also saw the casualties of The Haight’s decades long war with the mythology of drugs. Young men and women, some of them really children yet, stumbled up and down the sidewalks with tombstones in their eyes.

“Spare change” was their mantra. Most were runaways or throwaways living on the street or in nearby Golden Gate Park. Their daily objective being to get the cash to buy a slice of pizza and a sufficient dose of heroin or crack or crystal meth to get them through another fearful day and night. If the money was tight the pizza would wait until tomorrow.

This part of her new neighborhood bothered her, but she knew that her spare change would only end up, eventually, in a zippered body bag.

She quickly adopted the long-time resident’s defensive stare that set her apart from the more vulnerable tourists. “See the young druggies, but do so with disdain.” Today was to be a day for happy exploration. She decided to not be drawn into anything that would ruin that idea.

At the “Haight Street Grocers” a sidewalk display of fruits and vegetables fanned out with colors as vivid as any tie-dye in the window of the nearby T-shirt shop.

Passing on her many opportunities to buy shiny black leather and metal studded clothing; she ended up at Stanyan Street. Here the urban gave way to the bucolic wonder of Golden Gate Park, a horticultural masterpiece of nature-defying greenery that extended all the way to the ocean.

Marlee crossed from the world of the hip, the hopeless and the California Dreamers and entered a more gentle land where manicured lawns, rhododendron groves, and lawn bowlers dressed in white, lowered the adrenaline level of life.

She was enjoying the feel of the sun on her face. She knew that she would be pink in minutes. Sunscreen was added to her mental shopping list.

In a city of surprises she was getting used to the unexpected. Just a two minute walk from one of the busiest streets in the city she found herself sitting on a wooden park bench listening to children squeal with delight as they swooped down a corkscrew sliding board and scaled a three-dimensional plastic maze.

The centerpiece of the playground was a carousel with hand carved and painted fantastic animals going around and around to the tinny music that comes from only the best carousels. It was a glorious piece of 19th century America still enchanting the children of the 21st. Marlee hugged the slender neck of the grinning giraffe as she whirled inside an eddy of flashing lights and laughing babies. This was starting out to be a very good day.

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Two 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

“I think it’s white wine with tuna noodle, isn’t it.”

Marlee took the plates and utensils from his hands and headed into the kitchen. They filled their plates and adjourned to the still sunny space by the Bay window.

In the early evening, with the sun dropping off the edge into the Pacific Ocean, a golden light washed over The Haight. It gave everyone out on the street a healthy “only in California” patina. It looked like Shangri-la.

The warmth and the unreal light made Marlee feel – awake and alive. It was her first addictive taste of California.

“These are the best seats in the house. You must know somebody,” her guest teased.

“I know the chef.”

“I hear that he’s wonderful – and cute too.”

They bantered back and forth as they ate and enjoyed the Napa Valley ‘Table White’ wine.

Dennis Thayer sipped at his glass, nursing it for almost an hour. Over the casserole Marlee learned a little more about this genial stranger who lived up the stairs.

“I work for a housecleaning service – ‘Manly Maids.’ It’s a job, hardly a career. What about you?” he asked.

“I’m a classical musician. I play the cello. I’m in between jobs right now, but I do have an audition coming up soon – I hope.”

“Aren’t we all between jobs, really? I fancy myself a Photographer. More wine, Marlee? May I call you Marlee?”

“Of course, Dennis. We are neighbors. You know, I want to thank you for making me feel welcome. My first full day in my own place in San Francisco and I get a home cooked meal. Is everyone so friendly here?”

“Not by a long shot, sister. Under the icing on this cake is a dirty spoon. So, pick your way carefully. This is a tough and dangerous city and The Haight can be one of its toughest neighborhoods.”

“Really? What about all that, ‘Peace, Love and Patchouli’?”

“Honey, that’s all flummery. Always has been. The tourists come here looking for ‘The Summer of Love’ and end up with some junkie poking a knife in their bellies.”

This was the first dark cloud on Marlee’s sunny view of her new hometown.

“The whole ‘hippie’ thing is really just a kind of nostalgia for things that never were.”

He saw that the smile had disappeared from her face and that her eyes were lazily focused on the last rays of light still hiding on the Pacific horizon.

“Oh, now look what I’ve done. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bum you out. It’s not as bad as I paint it, really. I’m just a cynic. You’ll love it here.

“Tomorrow you get out of this apartment and explore the neighborhood. Waste some money on trinkets and beads. Get a tattoo. Just remember, not all the people in The Haight are as nice as me. If they were you’d be up to your hips in tuna noodle casserole.”

 As the sun set Marlee flipped on the overhead lights. With no curtains or blinds on the windows yet she felt like they were on display, exposed.

“Dennis, I want to thank you for making me feel welcome here. It’s been fun, but I have had a long day and I think that I need to just collapse and get some sleep.”

“Of course. I’ve talked your ears off and fed you like a fatted calf.” He started gathering up the dishes. She moved to help him, but he protested.

“I’m the ‘Manly Maid’ here. Let me do this. I’m a professional. You want to help? Here – go put the wine away in your fridge for another day. Go, play wine stewardess while I bus this station.”

“Dennis, you are a real gem. As soon as I get set up I’ll have you down for brunch. I insist.”

“Fabulous, Miss Marlee! You just rap on the ceiling when the eggs are ready.”

“It may be a couple of weeks or so. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to make this place a home.”

“Whenever.”

Marlee took the wine into the kitchen. She had had a thoroughly delightful time with her new neighbor. The wine bottle would be the first thing in her new, ancient, fridge.

In the other room, Dennis scooped up everything in his tablecloth, one big bundle to be sorted out later. As he headed toward the door he walked past the cardboard boxes filled with books waiting to be unpacked. He smiled as he picked up her slim paperback copy of “Leaves of Grass” and slipped it silently into his shirt.

Fiction Saturday — “Haight Street” – Part One

 

 

 

Fiction Saturday —

“Haight Street” – Part One

 

 

Today is the beginning of an experiment for me and, by proxy, for you as well as I start posting a new/unfinished novel as it is being written. This is a First Draft of

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

It couldn’t have been more different for Marlee Owens. There had always been someone to turn to. There had always been Phillip. He was the kind of man who could hold her hand and go for a quiet walk on a busy street. Now she had to rely on herself.

Now that Phillip was dead.

Aside from her music, her world had revolved around him. Until one night, walking back to their car after a Wednesday “date night” movie,  a sixteen year-old addict stepped out of the shadows, decided that Phillip had “looked at me funny” and put four inches of tempered steel into Phillip’s left ventricle. He might as well have put the knife into Marlee’s heart as well.

Her parents and friends tried to comfort and help her, but they had no real idea of what to do. If it had been a divorce they could have managed something, but how do you comfort a woman who has had her husband butchered before her eyes? What do you say to a young widow who had so much blood on her that night that the paramedics thought that she had also been stabbed?

Marlee was drowning in Cleveland.

Read more…

Saturday Fiction Encore  – “Sluggo, Peeto, And No-Face Charlie” – Conclusion

This piece was originally created as a performance piece. It was presented on several stages in the San Francisco Bay Area. Try to imagine it that way.

Saturday Fiction – “Sluggo, Peeto, And No-Face Charlie” – Conclusion

 

They found a spot near the rear of the lot and backed in so that they could survey the scene. Moments after they pulled in, a group of about four or five boys wearing jackets sporting large orange appliqué footballs and high school letters, swaggered up to the car, smelling of “Wild Irish Rose” and telegraphing danger like a gun that wants to go off.

“Hey guys.  How’s it hangin’?”

“Just great, Tony.  Hey, check out what we got in the back seat.”

The biggest of the jacketed boys leaned through the window.  Charlie lifted his bottle in a toast of greeting.

“Oh, Jesus Christ.  How’s it hangin’ Charlie?

“Whatcha gonna do with him?” whispered one of the other jacketed boys.

“I got some ideas… stay close”, said the driver.

The jackets left but Charlie didn’t notice the leaving, only his empty bottle of Iron City.  After a moment of quietly scanning the scene the boy in the driver’s seat turned and faced Charlie.

“Well, Charlie, this is ‘Hank’s’.  Pretty neat, huh?”

Charlie said nothing out loud, but his eyes said that Hank’s ­was­ “neat”, the neatest spot on the face of the Earth.

Read more…

Saturday Fiction Encore  – “Sluggo, Peeto, And No-Face Charlie” Part Two

This piece was originally created as a performance piece. It was presented on several stages in the San Francisco Bay Area. Try to imagine it that way.

Saturday Fiction – “Sluggo, Peeto, And No-Face Charlie” Part Two

 

It had become an ongoing rite of passage for local boys to go out “Charlie Spotting” with their favorite girl friends.  The idea being that, if you spotted Charlie, your date would be frightened by his looks and cling tightly to you for comfort.

Charlie always carried a large walking stick and if you slowed down and gave him a bad time he’d take a swing at you.  Whenever you saw a car in Beaver Falls with broken headlights or a crease across the roof you knew that someone had gotten too close.

Once, in the steamy summer of 1963, three of the local football hero types got closer to Charlie than anyone ever had before and a lot closer than they had planned on.

It was the kind of humid summer night when, if anyone had any ideas at all, they were bound to involve trapping things in glass jars and watching them die.

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Fiction Saturday – Boxer – Conclusion 

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Conclusion

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“What about…” He looked at Gloria who had walked into the room and was standing by the kitchen door with her arms crossed. “Our two – visitors?”

“They’re, uh, in the trunk.” Walker leaned forward ignoring the pain.

“What trunk? My trunk? The Cadillac? You put those dead bodies in the trunk of my Cadillac?” Gloria stood up straight.

“Dead bodies? What dead bodies? She asked. Her words stuck in her throat. “Terry, what dead bodies? You didn’t say anything about dead bodies. Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.” She hugged herself and started to rock back and forth. She was already on the verge of crumbling. “Oh, Terry.”

Walker lost it. “Shut up, you stupid Gin Blossom! Terry, shut her up. I need to think.”

“Gloria, please. He needs to think. I’ve messed things up. I’m sorry.”

Gloria looked at Terry. “You’ve messed things up? What about this jackass sitting on our couch? He’s the one who’s messed things up, not you.”

Walker picked up one of the small pillows from the sofa and threw it at her.  “Hey, Blondie, shut up. Get out of here. Go do something useful. Go slit your wrists.”

“Do something useful? I’ll do something useful right now.” In two steps she was in front of the sofa and she delivered a sharp left jab onto Walkers bandaged shoulder. He let out a short scream before he passed out. “Now that’s something useful, you, Mr.’My Cadillac.’”

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“I’ll let you in, but I don’t have to like it.”  –Gloria Dumbaugh

 

“No. No. No. Are you crazy, Terry?  What are you thinking? This man has been shot? He’s not a lost puppy You can’t just bring him home.”

Gloria was pissed.

“I don’t know what else I can do, Hon. He’s my Boss. Look, he’s out cold. I got something I gotta do. Just a few minutes. He won’t be any trouble, I promise. Just keep him on the bed.”

“Our bed you mean.”

OK, on the couch then. I gotta go. It’s important.”

“Terry, he’s been shot. What if he dies on me? What then?”

Terry ran his bandaged fingers through his hair. He wanted to run away. “He won’t die. Doc patched him up. See all that tape? He’ll be good as new in no time.” He set the shirtless, unconscious man on her couch. “Hon, I really gotta go. I’ll bring you back some ice cream.”

“Terry, No, you can’t…” She stopped. She knew it was useless. “Butter Pecan.”

Terry took the Cadillac. He wished it was his. Maybe someday. He parked in the alley behind Walker’s office, right back where it had been before all this mess started.

Inside Walker’s office nothing had changed. The dead guy hit with the shotgun was still dead and was going to stay that way. The Fat Guy by the door was…where was he? Terry started to sweat again and talk to himself.

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“Mr. Walker? You’re bleeding.”

“Yeah, I know, Einstein. My arm. I need to see Doc. Can you drive?”

“Sure. Keys?”

“In my left coat pocket. You’ll have to get them. I’m parked in back – dark green Cadillac. Let’s go.”

“What about them?” Terry asked, pointing with the baseball bat at the two men on the floor.

“Later. They don’t look like they’re going anywhere soon. C’mon, help me up.”

Terry picked up the dead man’s pistol and set it on the desk. Walker slipped it into his right coat pocket.

 

“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”  — Al Capone

 

Doc shook his head. “I can’t do that. Not here. You need to go to the hospital.” He looked pale and hung over. That explained again why he never finished medical school.

“Doc, you gotta do something for him. He’s been bleeding all over the place. He passed out on the way over here.”

“Oh, Jesus, Terry, I can maybe try to stop the bleeding, but that’s about it.” Doc gave the unconscious man a quick eyeball check. “That slug is still in him. Probably stuck in a bone. I can’t deal with that here.”

“Do what you can, Doc. I’ll take him to the clinic, I promise.”

“No hospital. No hospital.” Walker had stirred. He was awake enough to hear what was being said. “No hospital. They’ll call the Police.

“Mr. Walker.” Terry wiped his hands on his pant leg. He was sweating like he had gone fifteen rounds. “Mr. Walker, Doc says that the bullet is still in your arm up by your shoulder. No offense, Doc, but Mr. Walker, you need a real doctor.”

Walker was barely able to stay awake. He shook his head. His eyes were only half open. “No hospital. I’ve got two dead bodies in my office. How do I explain that?”

“What?” Doc took a step back from both men. “What? You two have to get out of here. If the police bust me I’ll die in prison. You have to go. Now. Get out.”

“Terry, he’s right. In my wallet there’s a card…a card. Dr. Wycoff. Call him. Take me there.”

“Wycoff? He’s a Veterinarian,” half shouted Doc, “A horse doctor.”

“Terry, do what I tell you. Call him. Call him and then I’ll…” He passed out again.

“Doc, what should I do? He’s my Boss. If he dies I’m out of work, but if I take him to the hospital we’re both in hot water. Doc?

Doc opened a cupboard and took down a box of latex gloves. “He needs a real doctor, but that Wycoff is an old drunk who’d kill him for sure – if he wasn’t dead by the time you got him there. Damn it. Let me see what I can do.”

The two men lifted the unconscious and bleeding man up onto Doc’s kitchen table. Doc took some scissors and started cutting off Walker’s coat and shirt. Terry moved back and stood there watching and worrying.

“I’ll try to stop the bleeding. That’s first, and then we’ll see if I can at least find that bullet. It’d be a snap if I had an X-Ray.”

Ten minutes later Doc had stopped the bleeding, and after poking around he could tell that the bullet fired by the dead man, the very dead man, still in Walker’s office looking for his face, was lodged in the joint where the upper arm connects into the shoulder.

“Well, Terry, that’s about all I can do. I can see where the bullet is, but…”

“Can you get it out, Doc? That would help him a lot wouldn’t it?”

“I said I know where it is, but it might as well be on the moon. No, I’ve done what I can here, Terry. Thanks to you he is still alive, but he needs more than either of us can do.”

“I think I’d make a good Corner Man, Doc.”

“Yeah, but nobody ever got shot at in the Boxing ring.”

Doc stripped off his latex gloves and tossed them into a wastebasket half filled with empty bottles. He looked at his unconscious patient and at Terry. Standing next to his Boss Terry looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“What to do now, Doc? My Boss needs an X-Ray and there’s two stiffs in his office.”

“Not good, Terry.”

“Yeah, Mr. Walker took out the one that shot him – with his sawed-off. It’s a mess. I got the other one, a big fat guy, with a baseball bat.”

“Oh, Terry, this is getting worse by the minute.’

“Could I just leave, Mr. Walker here for a while, you know…?”

“No. No way you can leave him here. Where does he live? Does he have a family?”

“Jeez, Doc, I don’t know where he lives. I’ve only seen him at his office or at ringside. Family? I don’t know that either.”

Lying on the table, Walker was coming to a bit. He was moaning. His arm and shoulder were heavily bandaged. He was drooling.

“Terry, you have to go, both of you. I’ll help you get him out to your car.”

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“Now I know why tigers eat their young.”  —  Al Capone

 

Once the night faded away the streets were wet and the sky promised more. Terry Jarosz was at his Boss’s office at 8:30. He had slept on Gloria’s couch for a few hours using the three grand as a pillow. He dreamed that the money was his, but he knew it wasn’t and now he was at the office to turn it in and get his cut – five percent. The Boss was waiting for him.

“Did you get it all, Terry? Three grand?”

Terry nodded and emptied his pockets out onto the desk.  The last two dollars was in quarters. “I got it all, Mr. Walker.”

“Good job, Terry.” He looked at the Boxer’s bandaged fists. “Jesus H. Christ, what happened to your hands? Was he hiding the money in a meat grinder?”

Terry looked at his bandages. They were feeling tight. He was swelling.

“No. He got physical with me, him and one of his boys. I’m OK. I’ll take it easy for a day or two and I’ll be OK.”

“I hope so. You look like you went twelve rounds with the Marines.”

“I’m OK, Mr. Walker. A hundred-fifty dollars?”

Walker peeled off a couple of wrinkled Fifties and the rest in Twenties and Sawbucks.

“Five percent of three thousand – a hundred-fifty dollars.” He threw in an extra Twenty. “A bonus – to cover the cost of your bandages, Terry. Take your girl out for a nice dinner.”

“OK. Thanks Mr. Walker. I’ll do that. I’ll be ready to go again in no time.”

Read more…

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Two

 

Boxer  —  Part Two

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“You’re either at the table or on the menu.”  —  Al Capone

 

And that was where Mike Walker came in. He was a fan of The Sweet Science.  He’d liked watching Terry fight because he knew it wasn’t just “entertainment.” He respected Terry’s work as a boxer and rewarded him by throwing some jobs his way. Mike Walker had a “Private Security” business. He was an ex-cop, a bad one, who did background checks, provided an extra pair of eyes for shopkeepers when inventories grew legs, and he collected overdue debts. Terry Jarosz entered the picture when payments got slippery.

 With ninety-five out of a hundred people who missed a payment or two it was just one look at Terry and wallets opened up. With the other five per cent – they got stupid before their money finally came across the desk. Stupid is what sent Terry to see Doc. Doc never charged Terry for helping him. He knew that The Rules were never fair for either of them.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “Boxer”  – Part One 

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“Our words and deeds, Good or Evil, are the dishes we put before the Lord.” 

—  Pope Severinus – 640 AD

The light shining in Doc’s kitchen was the only light on in the neighborhood. It would do. It always has before. In a couple of hours things on the street will begin to percolate, but now? Nothing good happens at three in the morning.

“I think your hand is broken, Terry.”

“No, it’s not, Doc. It’s just scraped up a little. I’ve broken it before. I know what that feels like.”

“Uh huh.”

Every knuckle on Terry’s right hand looked like he’d tried to knock down a brick wall.

“I just need you to clean it up, Doc, and tape it to keep the swelling down.” He held out his hand like it was a sledgehammer that needed repair.

 “Uh huh. What was it this time, a bar fight or what?”

“Business. Just business, Doc.”

“I swear, Terry, you get busted up more now than you ever did in The Ring.”

“Yeah, well, I gotta earn a living, right? In The Ring there were rules. Now, not so much. Different rules. I tell you, it gets hard for me sometimes to understand what the rules are.”

The peroxide washed over the scraped and bloody knuckles, stinging like hell. Nobody winced.

“What you need is a tetanus shot. You should go to the clinic for that.”

“They ask too many questions. This’ll do, Doc. This’ll do fine.”

He wiggled his fingers, testing for flexibility, and could he make a fist?

“You know, Terry, that I’m not a real doctor.”

“Yeah, I know. You went to medical school for a year or two. I heard you tell it all to Dutch, my old corner man. I remember.”

“Two years. I had two years of medical school, Terry. That’s all.”

Doc was a tall and sickly looking thin man. Skinny was more like it. His kitchen was his office and, on occasion, his surgery. This morning it was a little of both. He didn’t have a license to practice medicine. That dream died after two years and a weakness for gin. He drained away until all that was left was enough knowledge to pretend. Knowing enough to earn the nickname “Doc” that stung every time he heard it.

The gin introduced him to a different level of the culture and he got himself hired on as a “cut man’ for prize fighters. His job was to stop the bleeding and make things look not so bad when the referee came to their corner to assess the damage.

Doc knows only to blame himself. One night when he can’t hide in a haze he will open a vein and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.

“I can patch you up, Terry, but Jesus, I can’t keep putting you back together forever.”

“I don’t need forever, Doc. I just need tonight. Now tape me up and I’ll go.”

“Boxing is real easy, Life is much harder.” —  Floyd Mayweather Jr.

 

Terry Jarosz, 36 years old and at one time a boxer. Middle-Weight Champion for about five minutes, a punching bag the rest of the time. A guy who struggled with the world of rules and laws.

After too many fights the damage to his body didn’t want to heal up fast enough and he couldn’t get any more matches. Permits were denied and that was that.

A guy who played by the rules in The Ring was thrown out of work by the rules from outside The Ring. He had to make a living.

Terry had to work, but it’s hard for an ex-fighter to find any work that doesn’t call on his only skills – hitting and hurting other people. At that he proved to be better than most.

He took work where he could find it. “Lift this.” “Carry that,” and more and more frequently, “Hit him. Break that.”

When he was in The Ring it was nothing personal. It was two men beating each other for the purse, or a part of the purse, after “expenses” were taken out by half a dozen men who called the shots.

Whatever else he was, Terry Jarosz was known as a hard guy who never took a dive when maybe he should have to save himself. He learned too late that in his world being an honest man paid a lot less than the other kind.

People who knew his name assumed, that because he had been a “Champ,” that he was set financially. But people who knew Boxing knew that money had a way of walking out of the door faster than a Ten Count from a crooked Referee. When Terry “retired” he had less than eight hundred dollars to his name. At least he had his name.

That got him some free meals and a few jobs, but after a year or two he became “Terry who?” Fans moved on and real friends, like always, were few and far between.

Now, working as muscle, collecting debts, it always ended up being personal. Sometimes he knew the men that he was leaning on – again for just a cut of the money. He got 5% of whatever he brought in.

It didn’t take long for word to get around that Terry Jarosz would get rough if you tried to snow him. When he first started working as a collector he was easy to fool. A good sob story and he’d end up buying you a drink or slipping you a few bucks. A couple of weeks having to sleep on a sidewalk heating vent fixed that. He learned that in his new world there was no “Loser’s Purse.” He changed. He didn’t listen to the sob stories any more. He didn’t care if your mother was in the hospital. It was either pay up or tell Momma to move over.

“A man’s gotta eat.” That became his motto.

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Conclusion

A Safe Place 

revolver3

“Show me. If you didn’t kill her, who did?”

He pulled out one of the photos and held it up facing me.

“He did,” he said, pointing to the dark haired man who was younger than either of us and in a lot better shape.

“Him,” I said? “What makes you think it was him? Just because he was…” He interrupted me before I could finish my sentence.

“He told me he did it.”

Off in the distance we both heard sirens. He looked at me, an anger beginning to build in his eyes.

“Did you tip off the cops that I was here?”

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t tell anybody, but you better talk fast. They’re getting closer. He told you that he’d killed your wife? When” Why?”

“I told you. While I was in jail.”

I nodded, not knowing what else to do to get him to keep talking.

“After you showed me these pictures in your office. Again, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, yeah – go on.” The sirens were getting louder. “I think your neighbors are nosier than you thought.”

“Well, after I left your office, I went down to the bar down the block. A guy accidentally bumped into me and I hit him, hard. The barkeep called the cops and I spent the next 72 hours in lockup.”

“But what about him,” I said, pointing to the naked guy in the picture? “Talk faster.”

“Him? He was one of the cops who pulled me off of the guy in the bar. He knew who I was and the next day, with me in restraints, he told me that he’d killed her a few hours after they’d hauled me in. He said that he went to see her, told her about the pictures and me being arrested. They argued, she pulled a knife on him, and it went to hell from there.

“He said that it was fun, what he did to her. Then he beat me up while I was tied to a chair.”

He teared up.

“I was released when this filthy animal did my bail. He wanted me out. If I was out when she was discovered they’d come looking for me first thing. You know that. It’s always the jealous husband. He needed me out on the streets. I was his alibi.”

The sirens had stopped and I could hear them coming up the stairs like a herd of elephants. I looked at Cumberland. He was rocking back and forth on his toes, not knowing what to do next.

Four cops came through the open door, guns drawn. I recognized one of them, even though he had his clothes on. He was smiling.

“Nobody move. You – drop the pistol if you want to live.”

I did, so I did.

“How did you know he was here,” I asked? 

“We didn’t, but we knew you were. Cumberland, you are under arrest for the murder of your wife.”

“I didn’t do it.” He was getting really agitated. I hoped he wouldn’t snap.

While the smiling cop started to read Cumberland his rights, one of the other cops took out his cuffs and moved toward the much smaller man, still in his apron.

“Stay away from me. That one,” he said, pointing at the now outright grinning cop by the door. “He’s the one who killed her, not me.” He moved around to the other side of the table. “No, stay away from me.” Cumberland looked at me for help. I was no good.

It was like watching at a cat play with a cornered, terrified, mouse. Looking at the two of them I finally believed Cumberland’s story.

“Stay away from me,” he said. Crazy and desperate, Cumberland grabbed the still hot dish of lasagna and threw it at the cop.

When the steaming mess hit the cop square in the face, he screamed in pain, and the no longer smiling cop, who I now finally believed was the killer, opened fire, hitting Cumberland square in the chest.

The shooting inquiry report read “Justified.”

———

I hate jobs like this. Snooping into bedroom windows; taking grainy photographs that are going to make somebody cry and somebody else walk out the door. Only this time two somebodies got carried out.

The End

toe tag

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Six

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Six

A Safe Place

He started moving toward me. I lifted my revolver and aimed it between his eyes.

“Stop right there, Cumberland. Don’t get any closer or I will shoot you dead.”

He stopped. “Can I just set this down? It’s getting heavy and it is hot. These are cheap oven mitts. I’ll put it down on the table and I’ll back up. OK?”

It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask. “OK, but no funny business. I’m a good shot.” That was a lie too. I’d be lucky to hit him at all even though he was only five feet away. I hoped that my shaking knees weren’t obvious.

He did like he said. He put the lasagna down on a straw trivet, then went back to where he started. He closed the oven door and threw his mitts on the range top. I didn’t like his additions to our agreement. I told him so. He shrugged and I pressed him some more.

 “Tell me, Cumberland. Why did you come back here? I’d think you’d want to get as far away as possible.”

“Where would I go? And if I started running I’d never be able to stop. I came back here because I needed a safe place to stay. The Police were done with it and most of the neighbors aren’t real nosy. After you chased me away from the Mission – I came home.

“And I’m sorry about your office. I just went nuts. But I didn’t kill her. I couldn’t have killed her – even though…. I can prove I didn’t kill her.  I have an alibi.”

“What kind of alibi?”

“I was already in jail.”

“What are you talking about – in jail? What kind of line are you trying to hand me?”

“I’m trying to hand you the killer – if you’re interested. Are you interested – or are you just going to shoot me and close the case?

My knees stopped shaking and my heart started pounding.

“I’m not going to shoot unless you force me to.” I hoped not, anyway.

“Assuming, for a second, that I believe you – you know who killed your wife?”

“I didn’t at first, when you showed me those pictures, but I do now. The pictures – they’re in my desk there. Can I get them?”

“I’ll get them,” I said. “Where?”

“Top right drawer. You don’t trust me? You think I have a gun in there”

I just stared at him. I was beginning to have doubts. What was done to that woman and the man standing in front of me didn’t match up so well anymore.

I opened the desk drawer. There was the Manila folder I’d given him, but no gun. He didn’t move until I tossed the folder onto the table.

“Show me. If you didn’t kill her, who did?”

He pulled out one of the photos and held it up facing me.

“He did,” he said, pointing to the dark haired man who was younger than either of us and in a lot better shape.

“Him,” I said? “What makes you think it was him? Just because he was…” He interrupted me before I could finish my sentence.

“He told me he did it.”

Off in the distance we both heard sirens. He looked at me, an anger beginning to build in his eyes.

 

To be Continued – Next week, the Conclusion

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Five

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Five

 

A Safe Place

lasagna On my way through the lobby I peeked into their mailbox – nothing – and a chill ran down my spine. By now that box should have been stuffed with junk mail if nothing else.

The yellow “Crime Scene” tape was still stretched across their door. I could taste my lunch again.

I was hoping that I was wrong, but when I grabbed the knob and it turned, I knew that I wasn’t. I took my weapon out of my pocket. My palm was sweating, along with everything else.

Considering what Cumberland had already done, I was scared about what I’d be up against when I opened the door. I’m no superhero. I’m just a guy with limited corporate world job skills trying to keep myself fed.

I turned the doorknob as slowly as I could, hoping it wouldn’t squeak. When I pushed the door open a crack I could see that a light was on somewhere in the apartment. I could smell something too – something familiar – Lasagna? It smelled like one of those frozen lasagna dinners I buy myself. And garlic bread. I could hear someone singing.

When I stepped inside the front room I could tell that the smells and the singing were coming from the kitchen near the rear of the apartment. I headed that way moving from area rug to area rug to cover my footsteps. The dining room table was set for one. A bottle of Chianti was open next to a single wine glass.

I stepped into the kitchen doorway. The floor creaked and Cumberland turned around. He was holding the lasagna with both hands. He had on two red oven mitts and an apron asking me to kiss the chef. I passed.

 I thought he would look surprised, at least, or maybe throw the steaming lasagna at me – but he didn’t. He didn’t move. He smiled. That I didn’t see coming.

“I heard you come in. I’ve been expecting you, sooner or later. Would you like some lasagna? There’s plenty.”

I’m standing in this guy’s kitchen with my gun aimed at his guts and he asked me to join him for supper.

“I’m not hungry.” That was a lie. “I have to take you in. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know. But, like I said before, I didn’t do it. How could I kill her? I loved her. Can you believe that?”

“Even after I showed you those pictures of her and…?”

“I know. That really hurt me. I guess I knew it already that she was playing around, but your pictures – that hurt.”

He had tears in his eyes. He wiped them away with the oven mitt.

“And I’m sorry about your office. I just went nuts. But I didn’t kill her. I couldn’t have killed her – even though…. I can prove I didn’t kill her.  I have an alibi.”

“What kind of alibi?”

“I was already in jail.”

“What are you talking about – in jail?”

He smiled again and started moving toward me. I lifted my revolver and aimed it between his eyes.

“Stop right there, Cumberland. Don’t get any closer or I will shoot you dead.”

He stopped. “Can I just set this down? It’s getting heavy and it is hot. These are cheap oven mitts. I’ll put it down on the table and I’ll back up. OK?”

It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask. “OK, but no funny business. I’m a good shot.” That was lie too. I’d be lucky to hit him at all even though he was only five feet away. I hoped that my shaking knees weren’t obvious.

He did like he said. He put the lasagna down on a straw trivet, then went back to where he started. He closed the oven door and threw his mitts on the range top. I didn’t like his additions to our agreement. I told him so.

When he crossed his arms and leaned against the stove I asked him, “You were already in jail? What kind of line are you trying to hand me?”

“I’m trying to hand you the killer – if you’re interested. Are you interested or are you just going to shoot me and close the case?

My knees stopped shaking and my heart started pounding.

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Four

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Four

A SAFE PLACE

“…I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill her.”giphy-9

If I’ve heard some guy say that once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. What else is he going to say? “I did it. I’m guilty.” Not in this state.

Cumberland was a small guy, but when his temper gets let loose, like it did in my office, he could play Linebacker for the Rams. He could easily have done to his wife what I saw when I got a look at her on the floor of their apartment.

Now all I wanted to do was nab him. If I could take him in alive, so much the better, then the people would at least get a trial for all of their tax money. I’m not getting paid for this chase, but the cops are getting a lot of overtime on their paychecks. I want him because he used me to give his lawyer a possible defense.

There’s no doubt that he is as insane as they come, but in my book he’s guilty too.

 “…I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill her.”

It always amazes me how someone like Cumberland can hide so that me and the whole police force can’t find him. This isn’t that big of a city and everybody in town has seen his face a thousand times by now. Is he hanging out at the Society for the Blind, or what? Where is he sleeping now that I’ve queered the Mission for him? Is he cooking rabbits in the Park? I need some sleep. I’m going home and get some rest. I’ll take something out of the freezer and…No. That can’t be.

I didn’t have time to call my hired goon to back me up. I was going to go solo on this. If it didn’t pan out, I’d look like a fool all by myself, but if it did – I slipped two extra speed loaders into my coat pocket.

I hadn’t been down there since that first day when they found her body. The forensics people had been in and left with bags of stuff. So did the coroner.

 On my way through the lobby I peeked into their mailbox – nothing – and a chill ran down my spine. By now that box should have been stuffed with junk mail if nothing else.

The yellow “Crime Scene” tape was still stretched across their door. I could taste my lunch again.

 

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Three

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Three

 

A Safe Place – Continued

Jesus_saves

I was going to bring him in. I know that he says that he didn’t do it – that he didn’t kill her – they all do, but after that business in my office, I found it hard to believe.

I outweigh him by a good sixty pounds, but he tossed my desk around like it was made of cardboard and the look in his eyes made me think of King Kong swatting at those airplanes on the top of the Empire State Building.

I went into the Mission through the loading dock. I sent my guy in the front door. If he spotted Cumberland he was to start whistling so I could come in from behind. It’s not much of a plan, but when there’s just two of you, you go with it and hope you get lucky.

A couple of men in the dock area told me to go around to the front door, but once I flashed my badge (which I bought at Woolworth’s for seventy-nine cents, including plastic handcuffs and magnifying glass) they backed off. Most of these guys in the Mission have been rousted by goons with even cheaper looking badges than mine, so they didn’t push it.

I snaked my way through the ground floor and headed up the back stairs to the dining room. That’s where I figured we’d find him. Even a scrawny King Kong has to eat. When I opened the door from the kitchen I heard my guy whistling loud and clear. I might not have chosen, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was whistling for all he was worth. Cumberland was in the room – but where? There were at least a hundred and fifty guys in there. The stock market must have dived.

With that many men waiting in line, and all of them dressed pretty much the same – Skid Row Chic – it wasn’t going to be easy. And Cumberland didn’t stand more than five foot-seven. He could hide behind somebody’s wide lapels.

I started moving up one side of the room and The Whistler did the same. It was like walking through a field of corn, looking down each row. I was still hoping to spot him first and then try to get him down and cuffed before he had time to go ape on us. In that room there would be no telling how many people might be on his side.

About halfway down, nearer the back by the main door, I saw some movement – like a fight was about to break out. That doesn’t happen here, especially at meal time. Nobody wanted to get tossed out before they got fed.

As I moved closer I saw him. He had seen me first and was making a break for the staircase to the main floor and the street. He was moving fast and had a head start. I was on the wrong side of the room.

I yelled at my hired hand to go after him as I pushed my way through the food lines.

“Cumberland! Stop! We’ve got you surrounded!” It couldn’t hurt to try.

He didn’t stop and neither did we. As he reached the door to the street he turned. Everybody froze. I was partway down the stairs.

“I told you before, I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill her. I loved her.”

“I don’t believe you, Cumberland. The police don’t believe you. Nobody believes you.”

I reached for my pistol, but thought better of it. There were too many people still coming into the Mission to make a clean shot and, anyway, I wanted him alive. But it wasn’t going to happen that night. He was gone – again.

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Two

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part Two

 

A Safe Place – Continued

typewriter gifContinued from last Saturday –

I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the night crawling under every bridge abutment and behind every dumpster in town. I don’t care how much I want Cumberland’s scrawny neck. He’ll have to surface again and I’ll be waiting. But I’m going to need some help.

***

“I assume you’re up on this creep. I mean – you’d have to be dead not to be – unless you’re like me and you only buy a paper to look at the sports page and the crossword puzzle.”

“I guess I’m as familiar as the next guy about him. He offed his wife, right?”

“Yeah. He came to me because he thought his wife was running around on him. She was, and I don’t blame her. Her husband, Cumberland, that sick piece of trash, treated her like a slave – worse – he treated her like a slave’s three-legged dog. I didn’t like him from the start, but he paid in cash and I was behind on just about every bill I had.

“Uh – huh.”

“When I showed him the pictures – her and some guy comparing moles – he went berserk right here in the office. It was all I could do to keep him from killing me just because I was handy. I wish I’d thrown him and his cash… I wish I’d become a priest too, like my mother wanted, but Donna Jean Shansky was better looking than my mother, so….  

“What do you need me for?

“Tonight we’ll go back to the mission – you and me. If he’s back for another “hot and a cot” we’ll double team him. Handcuffs, ankle irons, Anti-aircraft guns, everything and a couple of hits to the kidneys if need be – just so he won’t feel like fighting back. I’ll take my .38 along, just in case. You bring the ’jack and nail his head if he starts to make a serious fuss. OK? Ready? Let’s stop for a burger on the way. I’ll drive.”

I usually work alone. That way I don’t have to split my attention – watching my target and watching the hired help who might be getting paid more by the target than by me. I’ve had it happen.

The guy who was with me for this take-down was someone I’d used before. He knew the streets and how to use a variety of tools that I’m not supposed to supply. I can’t go so far as to say that I did or did not trust him, but he could probably say the same thing about me. Hey, it’s almost a living.

After dark the neighborhood around the Beacon Light Mission looked even more depressing. Most of the streetlights had been broken by the small-time drug dealers who felt more secure in the shadows. Add a wispy fog that distorted what light there was coming from inside the Mission and the half hidden figures moving in and out of the light – well, it made it sure that there was no way to identify anyone before they went inside. We were going to have to go into the Mission to grab Cumberland. I hated that.

Outside I could slip in line behind him, one quick whack in the head and off we’d go, but inside, in the brighter lights – he might spot me first and then it would be a game of hide-and-seek. And I don’t seek as well as I hide. That’s the biggest reason I decided to get someone to go with me. Bad knees, a bum shoulder, and too many late night slap-outs have made me lose a step or two, or three, or… Point made?

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place” – Part One

Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place”

 

 I hate jobs like this. Snooping into bedroom windows; taking grainy photographs that are going to make somebody cry and somebody else walk out the door. Only this time somebody got carried out.

Six months ago – it seems like six years – his life was quiet and predictable. He had a job that was less than perfect and he was in a relationship that he described the same way – less than perfect. He hired me to look into it for him because, as he said, “Whenever I’d think about the imperfections everything would tense up.” At least that’s how he said it to me – “Tense up.”

I’ve had to deal with some of the toughest, meanest, and downright sadistic people you would ever hope to not meet, but this little guy topped them all. Or maybe I should say “bottomed” them all. I didn’t think I could be surprised any more after ten years in this racket, but when I saw what he did to… I don’t want to talk about it or I won’t sleep tonight. Just imagine the worst thing one human being could do to another – then double it and you might come close. If you don’t vomit first.

And now I had to find him – to hunt him down. I don’t want to, but I feel obligated. After all, it was me who took the pictures that lit his fuse. Sure, the police were looking for him too, but they tended to work as well as anything you might buy from a TV infomercial at four in the morning. I figured it was me or nothing.

I’ve had all my contacts, snitches, and keyhole peekers sniffing at the wind for a month trying to get any clue as to where I might find him – Patrick Cumberland is his name. Tonight I got a call. Someone thinks they saw him, maybe. My snitch says that his snitch says that he’s showed up at the Beacon Light Mission hoping for a meal. I needed to get down there – now.

Why is it that every Mission for the down and out and the misfits of the world – why is it that they all look like something that should have been torn down fifty years ago? The people looking for help there are feeling bad enough; they don’t need to go into a building that looks as ragtag as they do.

As I pulled up to the Beacon Light Mission – there is always parking in front – there were about a half dozen men lounging on the steps, waiting for the bible service to end so they could go in for a meal and a warm cot for the night. It was already getting into the mid-40s and Fall officially starts tomorrow.

I didn’t need to ask directions about where to find the head honcho. I knew my way around the building. It seems that half of my jobs call for me to scrape the bottom of this particular barrel. It’s a terrible place to hide. It’s a terrible place to go if you want to be inconspicuous. It’s just a terrible place. I’ve slept there.

“Yes, he was here, but not with the name Cumberland.”

Reverend Billy looked down the page full of names. He got so much Federal and State money for each person he fed and sheltered so he kept meticulous records. Meticulous and I’m sure just as legitimate as his “Reverend” certificate that hung on the wall behind him.

“Here he is. Todd – Sweeney Todd. I remember him because of that. You know – the musical and all that?”

“Uh –huh. Is he here tonight – now?”

“No. This says he was here two nights ago and again last night, but that means he won’t be here tonight. Two nights in a row, then they have to leave for a couple days. Otherwise we’d turn into a hotel and that would mean a whole new set of regulations and such.”

“And no cash from D.C.”

“No.” He paused and looked at me like he had just bitten into something stale. “Why are you looking for him? He didn’t seem very dangerous. He looked more like a lost bunny.”

“One very sick and twisted bunny. Any idea where he might go on a night like tonight when he can’t flop here?”

“Please don’t say ‘flop.’ We are not a flophouse. We are trying to save both their souls and their bodies, and, as to where he might be tonight – if he has some money – one of the real flophouses down by the waterfront. Without any money – your guess is as good as mine. Would you care to make a small donation?”

“My taxes aren’t due until next April.

“Cynic.”

I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the night crawling under every bridge abutment and behind every dumpster in town. I don’t care how much I want Cumberland’s scrawny neck. He’ll have to surface again and I’ll be waiting. But I’m going to need some help.

                             * * * 

“I assume you’re up on this creep. I mean – you’d have to be dead not to be – unless you’re like me and you only buy a paper to look at the sports page and the crossword puzzle.

“He came to me because he thought his wife was running around on him. She was, and I don’t blame her. Her husband, the piece of trash I’m looking for now, treated her like a slave – worse – he treated her like a slave’s three-legged dog. I didn’t like him from the start, but he paid in cash and I was behind on just about every bill I had.

“When I showed him the pictures – her and some guy comparing moles – he went berserk right here in the office. It was all I could do to keep him from killing me just because I was handy. I wish I’d… Oh, I wish I’d become a priest like my mother wanted, but Donna Jean Shansky was better looking than my mother, so….  

“Tonight we’ll go back to the mission – you and me. If he’s back for another “hot and a cot” we’ll double team him. Handcuffs, ankle irons and a couple of hits to the kidneys – just so he won’t feel like fighting back. I’ll take my .38 along, just in case. Ready? Let’s stop for a burger on the way. I’ll drive.”

– to be continued –

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