Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dominic and Frederick - Week 4 of 52round2

Dominic awoke just as the sun was setting.  He didn’t make it a habit of sleeping so late, but he functioned best with a full 12 hours of undisturbed sleep.  How he adored the night though, with the moon and the stars lighting up his world.  A few years back, he had been a typical nine-to-fiver, punching in and punching out, and shuffling papers in between.  It had been a generally satisfactory life, and he had earned enough to get by, but that’s all he had been able to do – get by, until the night he met Lenora.

Tired of his routine, one evening he decided to treat himself to a show at one of the small theaters at the south end of town.  He had heard co-workers discussing their fascinating experiences there and found himself captivated.  Those productions and players were not the sort one sees in a typical community playhouse.  There were several stages set up, each with their own unique backdrop, in a large field that was part of Teddy Jenkins’ farm.  In an adjoining field, a band of gypsies had set up their camp, and performed in all the nightly shows.

Teddy had tried to run them off when they first arrived, but over time, it appeared they came to a mutual understanding.  Teddy maintained his home and the rest of the farm’s operations and the gypsies kept their camp clean and trouble free, and were able to sustain themselves with the take from the tickets they sold to their various productions.  There was a great deal of variety to be found.  There were high wire acts, plays depicting characters from various times in history, musical performances, and card readers to tell fortunes.  Dominic sampled them all and one evening, decided to get his fortune told, just for a laugh.

He didn’t believe it was possible to see into one’s own future, but Lenora proved him wrong.  She showed him what was to be and how he could obtain a long and stress-free existence.  She set him free from his dreary life and he would be forever grateful to her.  He left the area soon after and never saw Lenora again, but the memory of her and the world she opened up for him would remain dear to his heart forever.

Free now to travel to seek his fortune, Dominic settled in a small village in a county whose name he could not pronounce, but that didn’t matter.  The people were kind and gentle and Dominic made his home in an abandoned estate a few miles from town.  None of the locals minded since the owners were long since deceased and no heirs came to claim it as their own.  Tourists passing through often stopped by thinking it was a bed and breakfast.  Dominic always accommodated them since it was a mutually beneficial proposition.  They were afforded the opportunity to spend the night in a luxurious mansion and Dominic was provided with the means to maintain the house and property.  Also, having guests in his home served to keep up his spirits and sense of well-being. 

This morning had brought him an unexpected windfall.  A group of people on their way to a family reunion decided to spend the night at Dominic’s.  There were 18 of them; men and women, boys and girls, and grandmothers and grandfathers.  Dominic was beside himself with delight.  For a brief time, he had a bit of company, and with what they paid him, in advance, he could complete his make-over of one of the downstairs sitting rooms.

They had all bid him goodnight and retired to their rooms, planning for an early morning start after breakfast to continue their journey.  Dominic was in his room preparing for his nightly routine when he heard a window break in one of the downstairs rooms.  Slowly he crept down his private staircase to confront the intruder.


Frederick had always been a happy and easy-going soul.  His parents were hard workers and while they could never be considered wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, Frederick’s home was always filled with love and joy and toys and small treasures his father would purchase for him when a few extra dollars could be spared.  They were a close and solid family unit; that is, until Frederick’s terrible accident.  His mother had permitted him to play outside in their backyard while she completed her housework inside.  The terrible scream she heard her little boy emit would haunt her for the rest of her days.

No one could ever explain to him how such misfortune could come into Frederick’s life.  He grew into a decent, hard-working young man, but all potential for a rewarding career and fulfilling life was gone after the horrific event from his childhood.  He lost more than a promising future.  His parents could no longer bear the sight of him and turned him away, as did his friends and neighbors, and his unpredictable behavior following his injury instilled fear in all he encountered.  He was left to face life and survive alone with his disfigurement.

He learned that he could conceal his frightening appearance if necessary, but the true, and new, Frederick would always show itself at the most inopportune times.  He avoided interacting with anyone to save himself the embarrassment and ridicule that always occurred when his scarf slipped or his gloves were forcefully removed by the ever present bullies that resided in every town.  He ate what he could catch and was usually able to find drinking water in streams as he traveled the back roads searching for somewhere safe where he might possibly settle down.

At first, the ugliness in his appearance and manner would seem to come and go at odd intervals, but one day, after another of his too often restless and nightmarish evenings, when he awoke, the vile markings on his person had remained and continued to the present day.  That’s when he knew he had to resort to covering up his head, face and hands if he were ever able to pass people on the road and not have them chase and persecute him.

His aimless wandering led him ultimately to a charming village in a county whose name he could not pronounce, but that didn’t matter.  The people were kind and gentle and never sat in judgment of the short, yet extremely muscular, man who lived in fear of his deformities being revealed.  Frederick knew he couldn’t take what he needed from these people.  They were non-judgmental and supportive, and one of the storekeepers offered him three meals a day and a small room to call his own at the back of his shop free of charge.  All Frederick would be required to do was sweep the inside of the store and pick up out front after closing.

When time permitted, Frederick cruised the countryside to see if perhaps he could find some transient or lost traveler he could abduct.  He had about given up one afternoon when he came upon a large mansion.  He decided to stake the place out to determine if a break-in would be worth the risk.  No one from town ever spoke of the place or went out that far, so he assumed there was no link to any of them.  He observed that people would arrive there, carrying in suitcases and stay past sunset.  He wondered if the place might be one of those bed and breakfasts he had heard talk about.  When Frederick returned the next morning, he watched for some time, but never saw any of them leave.  Since he had no experience with that type of establishment, he didn’t know their checkout times, but since their stay involved a bed for the night and breakfast, he assumed perhaps their morning meal was provided at sunrise and they were long gone by the time he got back to further observe.

On a couple of occasions however, he had seen a young man out and about on the grounds at daybreak.  At times, he looked to be carrying quite a heavy load and at other times, he drove the vehicle the people had arrive in around to the back of the house.  Frederick thought perhaps there might be another road through the woods that would provide quicker access for the travelers to the highway than the road through town.  Frederick felt for this young man since he could see how slowly and deliberately he moved.  He would, at times, have to drag the large parcels as he was obviously too weak to carry them.  Another man cursed by the Fates, Frederick thought; disabled and ruined for life as am I.  He decided the tourists were fair game, but he knew he would spare the owner any distress.  Frederick knew what it was like to have to live one’s life knowing you would never again be 100%.

This morning, on one of his visits to the house, he saw a large group of people enter the home.  What a stroke of luck.  He knew tonight would be the perfect time to get everything he needed.  He finished his duties at the shop and snuck out the back and made his way to the estate.  He waited in the surrounding woods until all the lights went out and the house appeared to be secured for the night.  Frederick decided to use a small rock to break one of the small downstairs windows, climb in, and make his way upstairs to the sleeping victims.

He gently tapped the window and the glass fell inside with a soft tinkling sound.  He was certain the noise was not loud enough to awaken anyone within.  Only someone with super powers would hear him tonight.  Frederick laughed quietly to himself at such a ridiculous thought as he began to climb through the window into the house.  His smile froze and his giggle caught in his throat when he felt powerful hands grab both his arms, pull him through into the house and push him to the floor.

“Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”  Dominic was livid, his plans for the evening having been disrupted.

Frederick recognized him in the moonlight streaming into the room through the windows as the young man he had seen tending the grounds, only he wasn’t moving slowly now and there was nothing weak about him at all.

“I did not come to do you any harm, good sir.  I am only interested in your guests.”  Frederick hoped this would appease the angry resident, but it seemed only to enrage him further.

“They are mine,” Dominic said harshly.  “Each and every one of them.  You know, I should kill you for interrupting me, but I confine my proclivity to guests of the manor.  I do no harm to the locals or visitors to our town, but you have taken it upon yourself to vandalize my property and try to take that which is not yours.   Speak up, man.  What do you have to say for yourself?”

Frederick was confused.

“Your pro…what?  I’m so sorry, sir, but I wasn’t planning to take anything from here or from them and I am sorry about the window.  I will return and repair it as soon as I am able.  Whatever possessions your guests have are yours to keep.  It’s simply that I hunger, and while I am able to sustain myself on human food for a brief period of time, I have reached a point where my need for actual human flesh overwhelms me.”

Dominic knew he had a total nutcase on his hands and decided to scare him away by bringing out the big gun.  He decided to tell this poor disillusioned fellow the truth.  He smiled broadly, his now elongated incisors visible.

“My ‘proclivity’ – my natural inclination; it is the desire for human blood.  I drink it to survive, you see.”

Dominic could see the burglar’s eyes opening wide with shock and surprise.

“What I am, you see, is a vampire,” he continued.  “Tourists stay here and I feed on them.  I dispose of their bodies and belongings in the woods over yonder and their vehicles in the swamp that’s at the back of the property.  No one ever comes here looking for any of them, so it works out well for me.  I tend the grounds during the day as I am able to tolerate the sun, but it depletes my energy terribly.

“Since you are not a member of the group currently staying here, I have no wish to harm you and you are free to go.  If you do not fear to return however, I would appreciate the repair and/or replacement of my broken window.  I do have to say though, considering what you spoke of a moment ago, I’m not sure what your problem might be, but there is a wonderful doctor in town I would recommend you see.  Perhaps he would be able to assist you with whatever mental difficulties you might be having.  You do seem to have some issues though; I mean, you have a scarf wrapped completely around your head and face and thick gloves covering your hands.  It is the middle of summer, my poor man.  What on earth happened to you?”

Frederick couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He decided to reveal his true self to this forgiving stranger, who had shown so much concern for his welfare.  He removed the scarf and gloves and when Dominic saw all the fur, the large fangs and clawed hands, he stepped back in amazement.

“You’re a werewolf?”  Dominic said, not certain how to proceed since he’d never encountered one before.  Then again, he’d never even run across any of his own kind either with the exception of Lenora who had given him the dark gift.  “But the moon is not even full tonight,” he pointed out.

“It doesn’t work that way for me,” Frederick explained.  “In the beginning it did, and I would only turn when it was full, but one night, I became this…this… you know, and when morning came, I remained this frightful beast to this day.  I know I am in your way, good sir, or however I am to properly address you, but could you find it in your heart to let me eat just a couple of your guests?  Flesh from at least two at this point would satisfy me for a good week or two, and then I will be on my way and will trouble you no further.  I love the townspeople as well and could never harm any of them, but since the people here are yours and yours alone to feed on, I will seek another source of nourishment.”

Dominic couldn’t turn this pitiful creature away – he’d been so courteous and respectful, and Dominic did have to admit to himself that lately, while he never went hungry from a physical standpoint, emotionally, he craved conversation and companionship.

“I have a wonderful idea,” Dominic began.  “Why don’t you stay here with me and we will share.  I can do my thing, you can do your thing, and then all we’ll have to dispose of are suitcases and cars.  We already agree the folks in town are off limits, and I’ve got guests booked through next spring.  By the way, my friend, my name is Dominic.”

Dominic extended his hand, and Frederick responded in kind.

“My name is Frederick and I am so grateful for your offer and for your friendship.  I was staying in town and helping to sweep up a store as trade for meals and a bed, but I could move in here and after the shop closes, I could go into town and continue my duties there and then return here for our late evening snack.  What do you say?”

“Our late evening snack?”  Dominic began to laugh.  “I believe you and I are going to get along just fine and become great friends, Frederick.  I know you’re hungry now and to be honest, I’m famished.  We have a buffet of 18 this evening, all laid out and waiting upstairs.  What do you say we start with an appetizer in the first room on the right at the top of the stairs?”

Frederick laughed and followed his new friend up the stairs.  No more scarf, no more gloves and no more fear.  Life was good.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Disappearance of Arthur - Week 3 of 52round2

“Edward, I need those figures for my 10:00 meeting.  Will you have them prepared on time?”

After dealing with Arthur at least once a day for eleven years, Brandon Clowdine, Sales Manager, had never gotten Arthur’s name right.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Clowdine.”  Arthur began gathering papers on his desk.  “The report will be on your desk by 9:30.”

As he had done each day for eleven years, Arthur tried to set the record straight.

“One other thing, if I may, Mr. Clowdine, sir.  My name is not Edward.  It is Arth…”

When Arthur looked up, he was alone, and he could hear the ding from the hallway outside his cubicle that signaled the elevator’s arrival on their floor.  Clowdine never waits long enough for me to even finish a sentence, he thought.  Why ask me a question when you have no intention of waiting for my answer?  I might as well not even be sitting here when he comes by

Arthur knew there was no point upsetting himself.  Clowdine would never change; in fact, he knew nothing would ever change, so no sense fretting.  Arthur finished his calculations on the weekly report, made a copy for the file, and placed the original on the Sales Manager’s desk.  It wasn’t quite 9:30, but Arthur was ready to have his lunch.  He had fallen asleep during the 6:00 news the night before and had missed dinner.  This morning he had discovered he was out of both cereal and milk.  Arthur didn’t relish the thought of bothering the President of the company with a request for an early lunch, but both secretaries had stepped out of the office.  He knocked on the frame of the President’s open office door.

“Excuse me, Mr. Harcourt.  May I trouble you for a moment?”

Receiving no acknowledgement of his presence, he asked again.

“Sir, might I ask a favor?”

“Hmmm,” the President mumbled, while not looking up from the stack of papers on his desk.

Arthur took that as a cue.

“I’m not really feeling very well today, sir.  I missed dinner last night and breakfast this morning, and was going to ask for an early lunch.  But I’ve since developed a headache and wondered if I might go home.  My work is caught up.  Would that be alright with you, sir?”

“Hmmm,” the President responded again.

Arthur hoped that meant he had permission to take a sick day and was on his way back to his desk to get his coat and briefcase when he heard the President call out from his office.

“Did somebody say something out there?  Is anybody there?  Hmmm…”

No, Arthur thought.  Nobody said anything.  Arthur Schuckel was out there and said something, but he is nobody, so it doesn’t matter.  I may as well not even be here at all.  As Arthur put on his coat and picked up his briefcase, it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps it would be better for everyone if he just disappeared.  It was as if he didn’t even exist anyway, both at the office and at home.  He decided to simply walk away – from everything.

Arthur considered stopping by his rooming house before embarking on his mission to vanish, then decided against it.  He had always paid his rent one month in advance and slid his check under the door of his landlord, Mrs. Brewer.  The next day when he arrived home from work, there would be a receipt for his payment that had been pushed under his door.  He had only seen, and spoken to, her once in eleven years on the day he inquired about the room.  She had been sitting on the steps in front of the building reading a newspaper, and hadn’t looked up even once during their entire conversation.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Arthur had said.  “I understand you have a room for…”

“It’s furnished and the rent is $20.00 a week.  It has its own bathroom with a tub, and there’s a small fridge and a hot plate.  Laudromatic is around the corner.  It’s clean and I expect you to keep it that way.  No drinking and no drugs.  I run a respectable house.  Take Number 3 downstairs.  Door’s open and the key is on the coffee table.”

“Well, that would be wonderful,” Arthur began.  “But, you don’t have to worry.  I don’t drink or take…”

Before Arthur could finish his sentence, Mrs. Brewer folded her newspaper and started to walk to the corner.  Arthur was stunned.  When he had left his parents’ home to find his own place, he thought there would be applications and inquiries to face.  He had obtained a position as head bookkeeper at Harcourt Sales a couple of blocks away, so he wouldn’t even need to take the bus if he lived here.  This couldn’t have worked out better.  He was certain at the time that he would be able to get to know his landlord over time.  She was probably just busy that morning.  He found his room and it was perfect.  It was a place to hang his hat, heat up a can of soup or ravioli, and sleep comfortably.  It was all his.  Alone.

Eleven years later and nothing had changed.  He had never seen his landlord again.  He knew she was there because she cashed his checks, but there were no nights sitting on the steps getting acquainted.  He accepted that nothing ever changed.  He walked past his building without so much as a backward glance.

Arthur was getting hungrier by the minute, so he decided to stop for a sandwich and some coffee at the corner diner.  He could arrange his disappearance just as well on a full stomach as an empty one.  The diner was about half full and Arthur was glad to see the lunch rush hadn’t begun yet.  He would be able to relax, enjoy his meal, and develop a plan for his departure from the life where he felt he was so despised.  Well, that was not exactly the problem.  His very existence wasn’t even acknowledged enough for him to be despised by anyone.  Oddly, being reviled seemed an almost pleasant alternative to Arthur.  If people hated you, it meant they knew you were there.

Arthur found a table and looked through the menu.  He selected a BLT on toast, a bag of chips and an iced tea.  The waitress came to his table, held her order pad, and without looking down at Arthur, tapped the pad with her pencil.  He assumed that was his cue to order, since a ‘good morning’ or ‘what can I get for you today’ would obviously have required too much effort.  She must have been exhausted from dispensing all her pleasantries since Arthur had heard her say those things to the customers at the tables close to his.  Arthur almost asked her why he was not worthy of some common courtesy, but chose to simply place his order.  I supposed I’m lucky she came to my table at all, he thought.

“I would like…,” he began, as his waitress turned and walked toward the kitchen, slipping the pencil and order pad into her pocket.

She picked up the order for the customers at the table next to his.  As she set their food down, she smiled and said she hoped they would enjoy their meal.  She did not return to Arthur’s table, as he had already known she would not.  I must become invisible when people come within three feet of me, he thought.  I need to figure out how to become permanently invisible.  The world would be a much happier place if I wasn’t in it, taking up space.

Arthur got up and decided to buy a couple of chocolate bars at the cashier’s counter.  The young girl working the register was texting on her cell phone, shaking her head and giggling.  Arthur picked up two candy bars and asked the girl how much they were.  She, of course, never gave him an answer – not that he expected one.  He placed $2.00 next to the register, put the candy in his pocket and walked out.  He decided to find somewhere to eat his candy and find a way to stop existing.  For real.

After finishing the second chocolate bar, he looked for a trash bin, and hadn’t realized he’d walked so far.  So deep in thought and cloaked in self-pity, he’d paid no attention to the fact that he’d left the center of town and wound up at the rail yard.  There was one freight car on the tracks with the door wide open.  It had ‘WBC – No. 62’ painted on the side.  There was no engine or other cars around, and Arthur noticed there were no guards or conductors either.  He had never ventured this far from town before, and while he didn’t know anything about railroads, he assumed there should be workers on duty around the clock.

He shuddered as he remembered a documentary he had seen recently on the educational channel.  It was the story of three men, and one woman who spent their lives riding the rails.  He had seen how dangerous that lifestyle could be with jumping on and off moving trains.  He had also seen how equally dangerous the people who lived that way could be.  They were very territorial about the cars they lived in and carried weapons to guard their possessions and to protect their very lives.  Arthur wondered if there were any train hoppers hiding in this car, waiting to attack an unsuspecting citizen who only sought a quiet place to think and plan how not to have a future.

Arthur cautiously peeked inside the car and saw only darkness.  Since that car obviously wasn’t hooked up to anything, he doubted it was occupied and climbed in.  The inside was warm and didn’t have any offensive odor as he had imagined.  He walked to one corner and sat down.

“Now, how do I arrange to permanently remove myself from the face of the Earth?”

Arthur could feel his bladder releasing a few drops as he heard rustling from the opposite side of the car.

“Is someone there?”  The voice was deep and Arthur thought the tone indicated anger.  Maybe not anger precisely, but annoyance at least.

Arthur stood up and backed himself into the corner.

“Please don’t kill me,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes.  “I’m nobody.  I’m nothing.  If you look in my direction, you won’t even see me.  No one else ever does.  I’m sure you won’t either.”

The inside of the car was slowly filling with light as the occupant turned the lever on his lantern.  Arthur could see him clearly now.  He was an older man, Arthur guessed in his 60’s, with sparse gray hair, and a bit of gray stubble on his cheeks and chin.  His hands were clean and his overalls and shirt was spotless and there were no holes in his shoes.  He didn’t look to Arthur like the drug-addicted, filthy, mass murderers he believed lived on trains.

“What are you saying, son?” he said, his tone seemingly calmer now.  “Nobody’s going to kill anybody.  I fell asleep at the last stop and hadn’t realized I was in a whole new town.  What is this place called, young fella?”

Arthur felt more at ease.  He wasn’t sure why, but felt comfortable with this stranger.  At least, the man was looking at Arthur and having a conversation with him.  This was new – and nice.

“You’re in the rail yards outside of Bridgeton.  It’s a little town in…”

The man closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh.

“I know Bridgeton, son.  Truly.  I do.”

The man appeared to be trying to compose himself.  Arthur wondered why the name of his town had obviously upset this man.  He waited for the man to speak.

“So, what’s your name, young man, and why are you taking to the rails?  I know you’re not a regular since hoppers usually don’t wear three-piece suits and carry briefcases.”

He smiled.  Arthur didn’t see the harm in sharing both his identity and his story.  At least when he spoke to this man, he stayed put and listened.

“My name is Arthur and I’m in the process of trying to disappear.”

“Disappear?  Well, that’s quite an ambition.  Mine name’s Jeb, and all I’m trying to do is find a bit of peace.  What are you running away from, Artie?”

Arthur knew it was presumptuous to correct a stranger he’d met in a boxcar on the railroad, but the man was overstepping his boundaries.  Gently, now, Arthur, he thought.  You don’t want to be dismembered over something as minor as a nickname.

“Actually, sir,” he said quietly.  “I mean, Jeb, sir, my name is Arth…”

“Did you rob a bank or shiv your roommate?  Do you really think this lifestyle is for you?  You know, Artie, my boy, there’s some pretty dangerous fellas that ride these rails.”

Arthur decided to drop the name issue.  He wanted to vanish from his present circumstances – not to have his body parts spread along the tracks from here to Atlantic City.

“No, Jeb, of course not.  My only crime is that I exist and I’m obviously excess baggage to the rest of the world.”

Jeb couldn’t believe he was hearing such defeatism and bitterness, especially from one so young.

“My, my, my, Artie.  It’s way too early in the day to be drowning in self-pity and crying in your beer.  At least wait until after noon.”

Arthur was livid.

“I almost believed you were different,” Arthur began.  “But you’re like all the rest.  If they don’t ignore me, they’re making fun of me, like you are.  People are all the same.  Maybe if I go to the desert, I can finally be done with everyone.  And, by the way, my name is not Artie – it’s Arthur!

“Good for you, Artie.  Is that the first time in your life you raised your voice?  How did it feel?”

Arthur was shocked; the nerve of this man.  Come to think of it though, it felt kind of good.

“Why are you picking on me?  What did I ever do to you?”

“I’m not picking,” Jeb said.  “I’m trying to understand why you’re running away.  You’ve got a backbone.  I just saw you use it.  Tell me son.  Why would you want to disappear?”

Arthur thought, maybe he is trying to help me.  I could take a chance.

“This might be hard for you to understand because I’ll bet you’ve never been ignored in your whole life.  But, people act as if I’m not even there.  At work, I can be in the middle of a sentence and they walk away.  In restaurants when I get ready to order, the waitress walks away.  My landlord has never looked me in the eye and when I first rented the room, she told me which room was to be mine and walked away.  They’ve always walked away all my life.  They all walk away.”

Arthur began to cry.  He pulled some tissues from his briefcase and wiped his eyes.  Jeb wondered yet again why the world could be so hard on some.

“Artie, let me explain something to you about people.  Everyone is looking out for themselves.  Haven’t you realized that yet?  Times are hard, times are always hard, and that’s the only way to get by.  Folks rush through their days and never feel like they have enough time to share any of it with someone else.  Sound familiar?”

Arthur nodded.  This man knows exactly what I go through each and every day.

“Then again, son, half of the problem is you.”

“What?”  Arthur couldn’t believe Jeb had turned on him too.

“All I meant, Artie, is that you just let people walk away from you.  Why don’t you call them back and say ‘hey, I wasn’t finished’ or just follow them and keep talking until you are finished?  That takes effort and caring though, doesn’t it?  It is easier, I guess, to whine that nobody likes you and decide to run away from home, right?”

“Why are you being so mean?”  Arthur began to cry again.

“Listen to me, boy.  You don’t want to run away and disappear.  I made that mistake myself a long time ago.  I walked away from my gal and my life because I thought I wasn’t good enough for her.  When I came to my senses and realized that she really did love me just for me, I tried to go back and make things right, but it was too late.  She’d already found someone else.

“You see, when you give up your place in this world, if you wait too long, somebody else might fill it.  Then you’re left to wander and son, you don’t want to be left to wander.”

Jeb paused for a moment and then began again.

“Do you have a gal, Artie?”

“Not exactly,” Arthur said.  “The front desk secretary, Francine, is a very sweet lady, but I could never ask her out.  She would never want to be seen anywhere with me.”

“There you go again, son,” Jeb said, shaking his head.  “See how you do yourself in?  If she says no, then ask another gal, but don’t give up before you even try.  You need to go back and take your place back in this life.  If people walk away, call them back.  Don’t let someone else take your spot, and make sure you ask that secretary of yours out for a date.  Do it before another fella does and puts her out of reach.  Don’t let it be too late for you too.”

Jeb sat back in his corner and Arthur knew he saw tears in Jeb’s eyes too.

“You know, I will do it, Jeb.  You’re right.  It’s just that I have always been afraid, but no more.  I’ll go back and fill my spot up so good there won’t be room for anyone else to take it away from me.  I’m going home to get a good night’s sleep and start fresh in the morning.  Thank you, Jeb.  Thank you for everything.”

“You’re welcome, Artie,” Jeb smiled.  “Think of old Jeb when you’re bouncing your grandkids on your knee.”

Arthur walked home and felt like a new person.  Life involved taking chances, and he was no longer afraid to take them.

Arthur woke up and got ready for work.  He wasn’t sure if he still had a job after leaving without notice yesterday, but he was prepared to suffer the consequences, if any.  Regardless of how that matter turned out, he knew he was going to ask Francine out for lunch or maybe even supper.  He had always thought she had the cutest way of pushing her glasses up on her nose.  Jeb had been right; half of his problems were his own fault.  He decided to pay him another visit and bring him something to eat.  He made a sandwich and put it, and two cupcakes, in a bag.  He walked to the train yard, but all the tracks were empty.  He saw a man working on one of the signal lights.

“Excuse me, sir,” Arthur said, making his way through the maze of tracks and equipment.  “I was wondering if you could help me.  There was a freight car here yesterday and it had WBC painted on the side.  Do you know when that one will come back around here?”

The man expected a cruel prank from kids, but from a grown man?

“WBC is nothing to joke about, mister,” the man said angrily.  “Take your sick sense of humor elsewhere.  I’ve got to get ready for today’s run.”

As the man began walking toward a small shack, Arthur almost turned around and continued on his way, but stopped.  ‘Don’t give up before you try – call them back.’

‘Sir, I’m not trying to trouble you.  Perhaps I was mistaken about the logo I saw.  Maybe I saw WBC somewhere else.  Could you please tell me why mentioning that name upset you?  Would you mind?  I can’t really explain why, but it’s very important to me.”

The man decided this fella was probably okay.  From the looks of him, he’s some kind of bookworm who doesn’t get out much.  No harm in telling him about the nasty business, he supposed.

“Sorry to pounce on you like that, son, but I thought everyone knew about the tragedy.  It’s part of this town’s history – the dark part, anyway.  You see, the WBC was a local line.  It was based here and only went through this county and the two to the South of us.  They went out of business more than 50 years ago after that horrible crash.  D&W’s the only train we get through here now.”

“Crash?  More than 50 years ago?  Please, sir, tell me what happened.”  Arthur needed to know, but wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

“Well, there were problems with the engine and all the inspectors kept letting them all slide.  Apparently, the cost to fix them would have been too high.  In the end, though, the cost wound up being the lives of three people.  The morning train was hauling four cars filled with wood for a project the town was planning – some storefronts, I was told, and the train was on its way back here.  About fifteen miles from here, the tracks used to run on that bridge over the canyon by Hoff’s Bluff.  Halfway across the bridge, the train stalled, the engine started sparking and then exploded.  The entire train, along with all four freight cars, went off that bridge.

“There was supposed to be two men on the run, the conductor and his assistant.  They found their bodies in the wreckage, but they also found the body of another man in what had been car number 62.  Old fella, they say, a hopper they hadn’t known was even in there.  No one knew who he was so they checked missing persons, but came up empty, and no one ever came forward to claim his body.”

“He wasn’t technically missing because his spot wasn’t vacant anymore.  Someone else had filled it up,” Arthur said, tears forming again.

“What was that?” the man said, seeing Arthur wipe his eyes with the back of his hand.  “Didn’t mean to make you misty-eyed there, young fella.  Were you related to any of them?”

“Oh, no,” Arthur said.  “It’s just that I…what I mean is I saw…, I’m sorry to have taken up so much of your time.  Thank you for the information.  I hope you have a very nice day.”

The man told Arthur he hoped his day went well too and went back to adjusting the signal light.  Arthur walked back toward town on the way to his job.   Jeb, he thought, Artie here.  Thanks for wandering my way.  I promise you I will stay in my spot and I pray you’ll found another somehow, wherever you are.  God knows you’ve more than earned one.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Justice for Ethel - Week 2 of 52round2

As soon as I opened the door and saw her face, I knew.  There she stood, black eyes and all, crying on my doorstep.

“Come in this house right now, Ethel,” I said, putting my arms around her and pulling her in out of the cold night air.  “That boy has struck you again, hasn’t he?”

Since she had never been able to look me in the eye whenever I inquired as to the source of her ever-present injuries, I knew my assumption was correct that her psychotic nephew was responsible.  Her troubles with that despicable boy began after he had just turned eleven.

Her sister, Claudette, and brother-in-law, Theodore, had never been blessed with children of their own.  Even after 15 years of marriage, they both still longed for a son or daughter they could share their lives with.  Since Theodore had been very successful with his appliance repair business, Claudette had been fortunate enough to be able to remain in the home full-time.  They hoped the fact that they were financially stable, coupled with their reputations as pillars of their community, would assist them with the adoption process.

They both felt, considering their ages, it would be best for all concerned if they brought a child into their home instead of an infant.  To their surprise, two days after submitting their application to the county, they were notified a ten year old boy was available for permanent placement.  His social worker was anxious to situate him since none of their foster families were willing to provide him with even temporary housing for more than a couple of days.  There were rumors of mutilated pets, physical and verbal assaults on other children within the homes and several incidents of arson in the neighborhood when he was in the vicinity.  No clear evidence of his direct involvement was ever produced, but the circumstantial clues pointing to the boy in all cases was so overwhelming, the fear in the various households was palpable.

His name was Bobby, and Claudette and Theodore adored him the moment they were first introduced.  Ethel had mentioned to me that Claudette believed the boy seemed lost – a wandering soul, out of touch with both time and space.  As far as I was concerned, however, it was nothing quite so romantic.  The boy was simply evil, and found great delight in causing pain and suffering to all he crossed paths with.  But, I digress.

The adoption process became finalized within a couple of weeks, with no home inspections or follow-up visits having occurred.  This was highly unusual, but then, this was a highly unusual case.  The child was given the legal name of Dorning and his meager personal possessions were relocated to a spacious room of his own at his new parents’ elegant home.  It didn’t take long for the disturbing incidents to begin again.

The boy was sullen and secretive, and his teachers made it clear to the Dornings that they were afraid to turn their backs on him, even in the classroom.  Within a few short weeks, he was expelled from school for his violent outbursts and his brutal assaults on his fellow students.  His parents believed he was simply misunderstood and needed to have his energy focused in a more positive direction.  They employed a live-in homeschool teacher to help the boy with his lessons and to help him find, and develop, interests in an attempt to modify his behavior.

The young woman, Charmaine, hired to assist Bobby to find himself, moved in on a Monday.  Five days later, she was dead, supposedly from a fall that resulted in her striking her head on a coffee table.  The autopsy supported that account as told by the child.  She was always such a clumsy one, Bobby had said.  No one else had ever witnessed Charmaine constantly tripping over her own feet, but who would be so uncaring as to question the veracity of a little boy, who was most likely traumatized by the whole affair.  I wish to God someone had.

Theodore was the next to die.  Bobby was with him, helping to change a flat tire on the family car.  The jack slipped, the boy had reported, and the car fell on him.  Why the man had been underneath the vehicle while putting on a new tire was never questioned.

Claudette and Bobby were comfortably provided for following Theodore’s death.  His assets went to his widow, with the provision that in the event of her death, all would be held in trust for the boy until his 18th birthday.  Provision had also been made for his care in the event his parents expired while he was still a minor.  Their will strongly recommended Claudette’s sister, Ethel, become the boy’s guardian and executor of his trust.  When Claudette was found dead in her bed on Bobby’s 11th birthday, apparently from an overdose of sleeping pills dissolved in her nightly cup of cocoa, her passing was attributed to depression over her husband’s untimely demise.  No one suspected anything amiss, even though it appeared she had committed suicide knowing the child she adored would find her cold and stiff that morning.  This is the point in time where Ethel came into the picture.

Ethel and I had been friends since Kindergarten.  We were inseparable all through school and served as maid of honor at each other’s wedding.  Both our husbands had been killed in separate car accidents by drunk drivers – an odd coincidence that only served to further cement our friendship and parallel lives.  We lived on the same street, served on the same committees, and watched over each other’s lives in general; that is, until that boy came to live with her, and Ethel became a prisoner in her own home.  He was only 11, but tall and very muscular for his age.  He was an intimidating presence, and I knew Ethel feared him.  Still, she felt obligated to provide for him and set up her assets in trust for the boy in case something should happen to her.

Ethel and I didn’t see much of each other after he arrived.  She resigned from her committees, fundraisers and our book club.  Her story was that her nephew needed her full attention, but it was common knowledge in our small town that she was embarrassed by all the bruises visible on her person.  It became more and more difficult to explain why she would be wearing gloves, sweaters, and scarves in the middle of our hot and humid summers.  It was easier for her to simply remain hidden behind closed doors.  Bobby, however, was constantly out and about.  He did not attend any school since being expelled from the county’s system.  Ethel’s rationale was that he had abandonment issues and learned best in a home setting.  She was never contacted for any follow-up on his progress.  It was easier to let it slide.  Right.  Easier.  But, for whom?

I knew he wasn’t doing his studies since he was rarely home.  I would see him at the grocer buying cat food and bananas, and then later at the department store picking out clothes, toys and other personal items for himself and charging it all to Ethel’s accounts.  On the rare occasions when Ethel would be out picking up her mail at the end of her driveway, she always looked so pale and weak.  Since Ethel had never had a pet and was allergic to cats, I couldn’t help wondering if all that cat food and bananas was all that evil boy would permit her to eat.

Years passed with more of the same, and the boy grew both in stature and strength, as well as in capability to inflict suffering.  Beloved pets from the neighborhood either disappeared completely or were discovered horribly mutilated.  Children would cross the street on their way to and from school to avoid walking by Ethel’s house.  They informed their parents they had been warned by the big boy who lived there that there would be dire consequences if they came within as much as fifty feet of his front door.  They didn’t know what dire consequences were, but their parents certainly were familiar with the term.  None of the families ever filed a complaint with the police though.  They just let it slide.

Fast forward to this evening when Ethel rang my doorbell.  After I got her settled on the couch, I brought her some tea and a sandwich.  She looked like she hadn’t eaten in a week.

“If you don’t want to admit that he abuses you, I won’t press you,” I said.  “But, something has to be done, and soon.  You’re not well, you are one giant bruise, and the bigger he gets, the harder he hits.  Talk to me, dear friend.  Please.”

“He will be 18 years old tomorrow,” she said, wiping her tears with a tissue and wincing from the pain as she dabbed the bruises on her face.  “He wants his parents’ money all turned over to him first thing.  He’s going to take me to the bank to sign it over.  It’s just a formality because the money is his now, but he insists I make it official and relinquish my position as executor.  I suggested perhaps beginning with an allowance rather than acquiring all that cash in one lump sum, and that’s when he…I mean, that’s when I…oh, I can’t anymore, Lizbeth.  That’s when he punched me.  I’ll sign it over, I don’t care anymore.  Maybe if he gets his money, he will leave.  Do you think he might leave, Lizbeth?  I’m sorry to bother you with all this, but I’m so upset.  He’s out somewhere and I just needed to talk to you.”

“Never be sorry for coming to me.  I’m here for you now, and always will be.  You can’t help him, no one ever could.  Give him what he wants and there won’t be anything to keep him here any longer.”

“Thank you, dearest.  I’ll be alright now.  That’s true.  He will have no reason to stay.  I have an appointment with my lawyer set up for next week to change my will too.  I’m not going to leave him a cent.  All my money is going to the library fund.  I know I’ve let this go on too long and it’s time to stop being afraid.  Thank you again, my friend.  I should be going now before he gets home.  No sense looking for trouble on this last night.”

As I walked Ethel to the door, a terrible thought popped into my head.

“You didn’t tell Bobby you were going to write him out of your will next week, did you?”  I had to ask.

“Oh, no, of course not,” she tried to smile.  “I called Sid when Bobby was out of the house.  He’s out of town this week on business, but his secretary told me she could type up a new will for me and have him look it over when he returns.  Then, I could come in and just sign it next week.”

Good.  No sense looking for trouble indeed.

Ethel was dead the next day by lunchtime – another hit-the-head-on-a-coffee-table accident.  Considering Ethel’s age, no autopsy was performed, although it was my understanding that was the law.  The doctor felt it best, however, to simply let it slide since older folks get clumsy at times.  Clara, her attorney’s secretary and friend, although not a close one, attended Ethel’s funeral and made certain that everyone in attendance knew that she was the last person to speak to Ethel before she died.  To clarify, she didn’t actually speak directly to Ethel, but to her answering machine.  It seems she had left a message that the rewrite of Ethel’s will, removing her nephew, would be ready sooner than originally anticipated since the attorney had returned a few days early from his business trip.  She stated that she often wondered if poor Ethel had been lying dead on her living room floor as her message was being left, but that wasn’t the case.  I knew for a fact that Ethel’s fate was sealed not when the message was left, but when it had been heard.

Within a month, Bobby had it all:  His parents’ money, Ethel’s house, and the cash from the life insurance her husband had left her.  He spent and partied and spent and partied some more.  Ethel’s front yard was littered with beer bottles and newspapers tossed there by the delivery boy and never retrieved.  It made my heart ache to see what he had done to my friend’s home that she had taken so much pride in.

Before he trashed the entire place, I took it upon myself to gather a few trinkets Ethel had promised to me years before.  From a financial perspective, they were worthless, but priceless in the friendship department.  She had wanted me to have her cheerleading sweater from high school, her two pom-poms, an award certificate for most improved handwriting she had received in second grade, and several other personal treasures.

We had given each other keys to our respective houses, as friends do who watch over each other are prone to do.  I went over early one morning and let myself in.  If I had rung the bell, that nasty boy wouldn’t have admitted me, so I decided to avoid any unnecessary confrontations.  He had partied heavily with some thugs from the next county the night before, so I knew he would be out cold, as they say.  I can be quiet as a mouse, as most of us elders can, and I entered unnoticed and made my way up the three stories to the attic.

When I opened the door, the air was so thick, it was suffocating.  I opened the large window at the far end to air it out a bit so I could search for the promised items in relative comfort.  Ethel had her attic fully carpeted when she and Jack had bought the house, so it was easy to move around and not disturb anyone on the levels below.  I found the box with my name written on the front on a shelf, but darned if it didn’t slip out of my hands and fall down with a loud thud, the carpeted floor notwithstanding.  As I moved it next to the open window to get a better view of the contents, I heard stomping on the stairs.  Oh my, I thought.  I hope I didn’t wake the young man of the house.  Apparently I had though, because the door was flung open and in Bobby came, cursing all the way.

“What are you doing in here, you old bitch?  How’d you get in anyway?  I’ll get you for sneaking around in my house!”

He charged at me and I stepped away from the window.  I decided to give him a few minutes to calm down and then make an attempt to reason with him.  He lost his footing a few feet from the window when he tripped over that section of carpet that had come loose and bunched up.  Years ago, when Ethel was showing me how she had arranged her attic, I had slipped on that part of the rug too.  She had said she planned to get that tacked down someday.  I guess she forgot.  Before I could grab for him, he fell right out of that window and landed on the neighbor’s cement driveway face down.  It made quite the mess, don’t you know.  I attributed the distance in the air he’d achieved to the fact that he’d had a running start.

The Sheriff, the doctor and I were the only ones in attendance at his funeral.  I arranged for a nice ceremony, for Ethel’s sake.  She had such a good heart, she would have wanted him to have a respectable and dignified burial.  The Sheriff remarked how odd the circumstances of his death were in that he didn’t fall straight down.  I, of course, piped in with what a clumsy fellow he’s been all his life, since he was a boy – always tripping, always falling down.  I said that one certainly could not expect a routine outcome when someone with that affliction was involved.  He agreed with me, as did the doctor, and as was our way, we all decided to simply let it slide.  Oh yeah.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Road Block - Week 1 of 52round2

Today is turning out to be a truly fine day.  It not only began headed in the right direction, but it is going to end up as one of the best, at least, in my book.  It is a day for ridding myself of unwanted baggage and suffocating dead weight and embracing an unencumbered fresh new beginning chapter in my life.

My day had begun, as so many had recently, wondering where I had gone wrong.  My lady love and I, with the assistance of her supposedly long-lost younger brother, with whom she had been recently reunited, had planned to pull off our sweetest heist ever.  It wouldn't take a lot of planning beforehand since it wasn’t exactly Fort Knox.  It was a rinky-dink bank in a rinky-dink town with one rinky-dink manager, and his daughter as the only teller.  The security guard, if you want to call him that, was the manager’s older brother - and I do mean older, who napped more than he guarded.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, why bother with a losing proposition like that.  What could the take in a heap like that amount to?  Well, you really cannot judge a book by its cover.  In the hills surrounding that nowhere burg were mines of something or other.  Now, that, in and of itself, matters not a hoot.  What does matter a hoot and a half is the fact that loads of miners work those holes and some big-name corporation pays each and every one of them in cold hard cash.  None of them are dumb enough to live in the area, but the company sets up camps for them to stay in for the couple of months they work.  I heard those camps are set up to give the workers a decent place to sleep, food, doctors and nurses, entertainment, and whatever else they might need.

The kicker comes in where their pay day is concerned.  The money is sent in by armored truck to the local bank, and it is locked up and held until one crew is done with their part and a new crew is brought in.  The ones who have completed their time collect their cash and go home.  Then, another crew is brought in and a couple of months later, their pay is delivered, and so on.  I never did find out why they can’t work more than a couple of months at a time, but it’s probably because it’s illegal or hazardous to their health or something like that.  It makes no difference to me.  All I cared about was snatching one bundle of pay, and that’s where Savannah and Buster come in.

I first met Savannah, her real name is Beatrice, in one of those Dime-A-Dance joints out East.  I don’t want you to think I’ve ever been desperate for a date, because that never happened, but sometimes you just get tired of all the phony flash and sparkle and you look for something real.  Yeah, okay, that does sound like a load of crap and that’s because it is.  I was hard-up for company and I thought, how bad can those dames be anyway.  Well, let me tell you, most of them can be really hard on the eyes, but there was this one gal sitting by herself in a corner.  It was dark in there, but even so, she didn’t look as old and used up as the rest, so I went over and asked her if she wanted to cha-cha with me.  She told me she wasn’t a very good dancer, and that’s when I fell head-over-heels.

Here she was, putting up a false front, working in a dance place and she couldn’t dance to save her life.  I knew we’d make beautiful music together.  I asked her if she wanted to join me in a life of crime and she smiled that crooked little smile of hers and said yes.  The reason she had a crooked little smile was because her mama, after having one too many shots of Crown Royal, had dropped her on her face and cracked her jaw.  Mom never took her to the doctor because she didn’t want to get accused of anything and end up losing her state assistance, so Beatrice’s jaw never healed right.  One of her eyes was slightly lower on her face than the other too - I think that came from another fall, but it made her look kind of dim, if you know what I mean.  She was actually kind of smart, but to look at her, you’d never know, and I really liked that about her.  I told her I was going to call her Savannah because I liked that name better and she said okay, and that’s how it all began.

We pulled jobs here and there, mostly small-time stuff, and everything was going swell until one day I came back to our rooming house after getting a haircut and found Savannah in our room, sitting on our bed, with a young guy.  To say I was surprised would be putting it mildly.  I was, in fact, extremely pissed.  Sure, it was only one room with a double bed, a toilet and a hot plate, but it was mine and so was she.  I immediately went for my .38 in the dresser and that’s when they both jumped up and started to explain.

I should clarify something here for you.  While it’s true that I did have a gun in my possession, I never used it on a job.  That’s not totally true, I did bring it with me and wave it around, but it was never loaded, and I would never shoot anybody.  I’m no killer; well, at least not before today.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  As I raised the gun, which wasn’t loaded at that time either, toward the two of them, Savannah rushed me and threw her arms around me.

“No, no, you don’t understand, Wade.  It’s not what you’re thinking.  This is my brother, my younger brother.  We haven’t seen each other in years and he saw me at the market this morning and followed me here and knocked on the door.  When I opened it and we looked into each other’s eyes, we both knew.  He’s my brother and his name is Buster.  Put the gun away, honey.”

Buster was standing there, nodding himself silly with every one of her words.  I put the gun back in the dresser drawer and put out my hand to him and he reciprocated.  Savannah proceeded to tell me that Buster was all for joining us in taking scores and he was up for anything we could offer.  I went along, for her sake, but something stuck in my craw about this whole deal.  She had told me all about her sot of a mother and her vanishing daddy, but she had never mentioned a brother or a sister or a cousin or an aunt…you get the picture.  But, what could I do?  I asked our new partner if he had any cash on him for a sandwich or two since we were almost tapped and he said sure, he’d cover lunch.

Over burgers, fries and shakes that he sprang for, I went over the plan to liberate the miners’ payload.  As I have already explained, all we pretty much had to do was walk in, wave my gun, stroll over to the open safe, and take the money.  I had already done a run-through on my own when I first heard talk of how this operation went.  One of the miners from an old crew was shooting off his mouth in a bar in the next town over from where we were temporarily staying, and I was all ears.  He rattled off the timetable of their work schedule, the specifics of their camp, the delivery of their pay and when, and how, they picked it up.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  I must have done something grand in a past life to have the heist of a lifetime dropped in my lap like that.  I decided to act on it right away though in case anyone else who got an earful got the same idea I had.

I went to the bank to talk to the manager, pretending to consider opening an account, when the truck pulled up.  Two guards came in, carrying two huge bags of money each, which they dropped at the door to the open safe, which was a bit bigger than our rooming house bathroom, tipped their hats to the manager, and left.  I kid you not.  The bags had dollar signs on them and the manager’s daughter, who was 16 if she was a day, pulled the drawstrings and opened both bags and began to giggle.  I, on the other hand, almost swallowed my tongue.

I had never seen so many packets of 20’s in my entire life, and those were real too.  I mean, they weren’t like the fake ransom packs you see in the movies.  You know, the ones where there’s real money on the top and bottom and cut up newspaper in the middle.  These were true green through and through.  I knew the workers would be in the next Friday afternoon to pick up their pay, so I decided we would hit the bank Friday morning and relieve them of all that lovely clutter.

Everything went like clockwork.  Me, Savannah and Buster walked in right after the bank opened.  There was nobody in there yet, and I pulled out my gun and girly-girly behind the counter passed out cold and her daddy told us to take whatever we wanted, just not to hurt anybody.  Buster tied him up onto his desk chair, Savannah tied up his daughter, who still hadn’t come around, and I grabbed two of the bags and took them out to the car.  When I came back in to get the other two, I got the surprise of my life.

Dear brother, Buster, punched me smack in the middle of my face right when I walked in, and I hit the deck.  It wasn’t hard enough to knock me out, but I was definitely not firing all cylinders at the time, if you get my drift.  He grabbed my hands and put them behind my back and my dear lady tied them together.  She then tied my feet together as well.  I got the impression a double cross was well on its way.  They propped me up against the wall by the door and Buster grabbed the other two bags and carried them out to the car.  Savannah knelt down beside me, put my unloaded .38 in my pocket, and delivered the final cut.

“Sorry to have to cross you up like this, sugar, but I found me a younger man and I’m going to take up with him from now on.”

“What are you talking about?”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  “Younger man?  You said he was your…”

“Brother?”  She smiled that crooked little smile of hers - the one I always hated because it made her look stupid.  “He’s not my brother, he’s my new boyfriend.  You are so dumb.”

Her new boyfriend beeped the car horn.  Nothing but class.

“Gotta go,” she said, heading for the door.  “See you around.”

I saw her get in the car and give Buster a less than sisterly smooch, and they drove away.  Oh, you’ll see me around alright.  You most definitely will see me around.

Fast forward to this morning, and I won’t bore you with the details, but I was able to get out from under that caper in the blink of an eye.  I left the manager and his kid where they were and slid out of my so-called bindings.  That babe never could learn to tie a decent knot.  It didn't take too long before I found them both.  All it took was a little bit of cash in the right palms and I was practically delivered right to their front door.  They didn’t go far, even with all that haul, and they were staying in a dump across the county line.  I never did understand why she did it.  She could have been staying in a dump with me.  What did this so-called younger guy have to offer her that I didn’t already give her?  Doesn’t matter.  Not anymore.  I wish I had a camera to have a permanent record of the look on their faces when I knocked on their door.  She opened it and her bottom jaw dropped a foot and a half. I raised my gun, which was loaded for this special occasion, and pointed it at her forehead.

“Hi, sugar,” I said.  “Aren’t you going to invite me in?  Where’s your child groom, by the way?”

I decided not wait for her to welcome me with open arms, so I barged right in and closed the door behind me, and locked it.

“Oh, Buster, where are you? Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

I waited for him to come to me.  Knowing Beatrice, she was no longer a Savannah to me, she’d probably hit me over the head with a pot or a pan or something as soon as I turned my back on her.

“I’ve got a bullet for you and a bullet for my lady fair.  Do you want it first or do you want to watch me do her and save you for last?  Let’s go, Buster.  I don’t have all day.”

The moron lunged at me through the bathroom door waving a straight razor.  I shot him dead center in the chest and he dropped like a stone.  Beatrice gasped and I let her have it right between her lying eyes.  I left them where they fell.  I wasn’t in the mood to get all schmaltzy about it and put them together on the bed.  I had already had enough of those images in my head while I was hunting them down.  I looked under the mattress on a whim and sure enough, I found pack after pack of 20 dollar bills.  I took a peek just to be sure and there were no cut newspapers in any of them.  One of the bags was in the closet, so I stuffed it and put a couple of extra packs in my pocket.  They must have stashed the rest of the cash somewhere else since I couldn’t see how they would have spent all that so quickly, but you never know.  One bag’s worth would be enough to stake me for quite awhile.

I walked out just as smug as you please, right past the desk clerk, who was sipping his lunch from a bottle inside a brown paper bag.  He nodded to me and prepared to take another sip.  I felt secure that he wouldn’t be making any 911 calls any time soon.  I put the bag in my trunk and drove off to pick up the interstate, and that brings me right back around to what a wonderful day this is turning out to be.  No witnesses, no one’s coming after me, and I wasn’t even angry anymore.  Funny how getting even calms me right down.

So, I’m heading down the only road out of this no-name dump of a town toward the highway that will take me across the state line.  I considered going the other way since there were lots of trees and I figured it would be easy to disappear in there.  Before I paid my call on Beatrice and Buster, I had stopped in a diner for breakfast since I knew once I had finished with them, there probably wouldn’t be an opportunity to grab a bite any time soon.  I was talking to the waitress about that rough looking road going the other way out of town and she told me I’d be much better off going to I-94.  That’s all woods, she told me, for miles and miles and miles.  At the end of the forest, there’s a mountain, she thought.  She wasn’t altogether certain of all the terrain, but one thing she knew for sure, and that was that some folk had gone in there to see what was what and never came back.  That was good enough for me; I-94 it would be.

I’m sipping on my coffee-to-go with vanilla creamer - you don’t often find that available in small-town diners, when I find myself coming up to the on-ramp of my made-to-order escape route.  What the Hell?  There’s a squad car sitting sideways across the ramp, lights and sirens off, with a cop leaning against the side of the car, smoking.  I looked up at the sky and it was clear and sunny.  So, why is mine the only parade being rained on today?  I decide to slow down a bit to get my bearings and happen to look in the rear view mirror.  No way.  Coming up slowly behind me, no lights or sirens either, is the only police car with the only cop that nothing town I just left has.  I say again, what the Hell?

How could they know and radio ahead so quickly?  I just left minutes ago, and that clerk was so lit on Crown Royal, he couldn’t have identified me with a Mr. Potato game kit.  A cop ahead of me and a cop behind me and no other cars on the road.  What did they do, seal off the town too?  All I did was rid the world of a couple of low-down two-timing double-crossers and they plan such a formal reception for me.  It isn’t like I’m some big shot gangster or international spy.  I’m nobody.  I’m Wade Schupp, originally from somewhere down in Florida, who’s just trying to get by.  I had to take them both down; anybody would have.  You can’t just let people do you like that and walk away from it.  Reputation matters.  Whether anyone else knew they crossed me doesn’t matter.  I knew and I would always know.  What choice did I have?

I’m getting closer and closer to the ramp and the end of the road for me.  Come to think of it, this is a death penalty state.  There aren’t too many of those left, you know, but this one still delivers the deadly cocktail with a dull needle.  There is no way I’m going out that way.  Since I can’t get by and I can’t turn around, I guess I’ll just have to make my last stand right here and now.  If I’m going out, I’m taking the money with me.  No way am I going to let them get their hands on one penny of it.  Cops never turn all the stuff in they find at crime scenes, I’m sure of it.  Whatever they can pocket, I’m sure gets stuffed down deep.  Who’s going to check that all the evidence is there anyway, their partner?  They’re all in it together - Blue Wall and all that.  Well, you’re not going to get a Miami condo on Wade Schupp’s dime, guys.  I’m taking it all with me.  I’m going out of this world like I came into it - with a bang.


The officer from Millsford stopped his car when the sedan ahead of him slammed on his brakes and the driver got out of the car.  The State Police officer at the ramp was wondering what that idiot was doing, stopping in the middle of the street, getting out of his car, mumbling to himself.  They both reached for their weapons when they saw the man pull a gun out from his pocket.  But, he didn’t point his gun at either of their locations; he fired at his gas tank and blew up his car, along with himself.  What in the world…

Patrolman Ross, from town, ran over to the car at the ramp to check on the officer who had flung himself behind his car for cover.

“Are you okay?”  he asked, worried the officer might have been injured in the blast.  He’d been on the force 18 years and had never seen the likes of what he just witnessed.

Officer Henley, from the State, stood up and looked around at the burning pieces of metal strewn on the road and far into the fields on each side.

“Good God, did you see that?  What was that all about?  Yeah, I’m okay.  You?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” Ross said.  “When he jammed his brakes with nothing in front of him, I knew something was up, so I stopped where I was.  I had no idea he was a nutcase though.  Why in the Hell would he pick this spot to take himself out like that?  Makes no sense.  Plus, look at this mess.  If this was some kind of twisted joke on his part, from where I sit, there’s nothing funny about it.  We’ve got people from town that work in the next county.  Once we get you out of the way, how are they going to get to the highway now?  Do you think you could radio for some help to clean this all up?”

“No problem,” said Henley.  “I’ll get on it.  I don’t even know how to write this one up though.  I mean, all this guy had to do was let you get around him so you could help me out with my car.  Like I told you on the radio, I hate taking number 802 because the battery always runs down and it figures it would die right in front of a highway ramp.  I couldn’t even get it to run long enough to pull over and ended up having to block the ramp.  These new batteries for our call cars are such a pain.  They can only be jumped by the same model, which is why I’m glad you were so close and were able to get out here so quickly.”

“Any time,” said Ross.  “I’m with you on what just happened here too.  What do we put down?  The way he acted and what he ended up doing, it's just too crazy.  Whatever was going through his mind?  Did he think we were setting up a road block?”

A road block.  They both had to laugh.  Now, that was funny.