The Red-Carpet Noir

I’m in the front yard of my bungalow in Venice, California, sitting on the roots of the only Oaktree in the Oakwood area. I have a couple of minutes before an early online video meeting. Breakfast is coffee and sunflower buttered toast. A tiny round warbler peers at me through the branches of the old oak. It one-eyes me with thought, pondering my existence in his world, deciding whether I am a danger. My computer makes a noise that sounds like a submerging submarine. Alerted, the warbler’s head turns to the sound. I dash into the house.
A voice cries out, “Joan? Joan, are you there? It’s Elsi!”
Elsi is a prosecuting attorney. She’s got a problem regarding a celebrity who was caught shoplifting in one of those horribly expensive boutiques in Malibu. VaVa. VaVa is my ward. Her fame qualifies her as a media madness concern. Something we deal with a lot on the fifth floor, Homicide, Special Section, at Parker Center. The fact that she is my ward, makes it an issue that is even more delicate for the department. Elsi is a rabid prosecuting attorney with big plans for her future. She’s Latina, younger than me, shorter than me. In some ways, we are from the same tribe. In other ways, not so much. This call is a special favor to me. If you know people in the department, things can go easy on you, or they can go very hard. The actress in question, VaVa Terraza, my ward, is only seventeen. She lives in Mandeville Canyon, has an entourage of servants and a custom jeweler who creates diamond jewelry in rainbow motifs. VaVa, with the overkill on cotton candy colors and unicorns, lives up to her amatory name. She does these online performances, streaming videos and film and has a massive following. Besides VaVa’s drug problem, I suspect it’s all the rainbow diamonds that Elsi finds particularly abhorrent. I don’t think they’re so bad. I mean, they’re not illegal. Maybe it’s VaVa’s mix-ins of kid stuff with her young sexuality that perturbs Elsi the most. I get that. I understand her ire on that subject. It bugs me too, and it would, even if I weren’t her guardian.
“Here I am,” I call out to the video.
“Fully clothed?”
I bring my face into view. “Yes, fully clothed.” I had slipped on a pair of black men’s slacks and a grey shirt without even thinking about it.
“Too bad, was hoping to catch you full Monty. Sorry, Joan but it’s the detention center for VaVa, not her first offense.”
“No, nope, it’s rehab,” I insist.
“What’s wrong with detention? Teach her a lesson.”
“She’s a winning candidate for drug rehab.”
“How’s that?” Elsi asks derisively.
“It’s painfully evident on the security tape that VaVa was zonkers on her meds while shoplifting.”
“Not so painful for me.”
“You obviously never lost a loved one to drug abuse.”
“You sound more liberal every day. Thought you were from Missouri.”
“Yep, the Ozarks. Alcohol and drug abuse are a sickness, Elsi.”
“I would argue that she is a flagrant, repeat offender.”
“Rehab. She reimbursed the store $50,000 and signed a statement promising not to return. Send her before a judge, it’ll waste time and money. He’ll say the same. She’s only seventeen, Elsi. Give her a chance.”
“Fine. Call over there to Rodeo Drive and ask them to drop charges and it will be a non-issue. You can notify her. I’m busy putting people behind bars.”
“Only the guilty ones, I hope.”
“Very funny. If she doesn’t report to rehab, it’s on you. I’ll go ahead and take her off the detention track. I know a judge I can get to sign off on it. You’re her guardian, make sure she checks in. You might also like to know that you’re scheduled for a visit at a women’s college and you’re listed for a mandatory interview with Jesse Cand.”
“What woman’s college? Be serious. A mandatory interview? How do you know that? Why on earth?”
“Bye Joan, I have work to do.”
“Bye, Elsi.”
The submarine noise signals the end of our conference and Elsi is gone.
In some ways, VaVa is a typical seventeen-year-old and I was hoping she’d stay out of trouble, but, I’m not terribly shocked that it hasn’t worked out that way. The only good thing about this is that VaVa will get real professional help. She has trauma that she hasn’t dealt with and other issues besides a drug problem. Maybe I am empathetic. Perhaps I could be more so.
I remember that I have my own scheduled therapy session tomorrow. So far, I’ve had a successful run working in Special Section on an elite squad. They push me in the front for all the high-profile events, but truth is, my success is despite, not because of, department policy. I hadn’t talked to Jesse Cand, an investigative reporter, for some time. I’d heard he was being courted for a television show. I could only pray that he didn’t have the intention of featuring me. It was looking likely that I would have some good material for my therapy session manana.
My cellphone makes the sound of a freight train. It’s a real estate agent. I tell her to come that evening. I’ve decided to sell my Venice bungalow. I hang up the phone and my cell immediately emits a hard-hitting blues riff before I can even get my finger off the button good. It’s the unique ringtone I created for Satch Johnson, my boss. He’s what they call Homicide Coordinator.
“Your old beau came around asking for you.”
“What now?” Satch is a big bear of a man with a red beard like the dodger pitcher.
“Not the last guy, not that surfer dude, the one before him, your old partner, Carl, the PI? He’s looking for someone to help him out with new business and wanted to know if you were available. I guess he was hoping that-”
“No, please! I’m with you, Satch. Don’t even tell me about it. I don’t want to know. Seriously.” I was shocked how fast the word got out to the department about my recent crash and burn. Offer from an old ex through my supervisor? “Satch, may I ask how many people you told about my breakup with Eddy?”
“Just your partner, Gus.”
“Oh, kay. So, that explains it. Men are worse gossips than women. Alright, what’s going on?”
“Just thought I’d check on you.”
“Don’t lie. I’m ready. Let’s go, what is it? What do you want to tell me?”
“Okay. But the truth hurts.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“How do you feel about nuts?”
I pause for a moment, thinking I’d make a joke about liking to kick them, or about being one myself. Satch waits, expecting something along that line but I demur.
“What kind of nuts?”
“I like them quite a lot, but they are pricey.”
“You just said a word.”
“A homicide case about pistachios?” I reflexively sketch a cracked pistachio nut in a small notebook.
“Like you said, they’re very expensive what with tariffs and climate change.”
“Quite a few have gone missing.”
“Oh! Hard to trace I bet.”
“And where’s the body?”
“Meet Gus at the Firehouse Diner in 45. He will fill you in and explain how the case comes to us. It’s a little squirrely.”
“In 45? Give a woman time to brush her teeth.” I could be there in fifteen if necessary.
“Firehouse in 45.”
“I’m with Gus? Again?”
“Yes, Gus again.”
“I’ll be there.” I finish with my cracked nut sketch and pocket the notebook.
Truth is, Gus is the greatest. I like to pretend that I’m tired of him, that I don’t need him. I don’t let on that he is my respected elder. Or that I count on his guidance, except for when I don’t. Gus knows of course. The guy knows everything which can be tedious. I always get teamed up with Gus since Carl and I are no longer partners. Maybe cuz’ nobody else wants to work with me. I’m a little young for the position, but hey, I started young, when I was a kid. I wonder how the hell pistachios come into a homicide investigation. I leave immediately to meet Gus, as Satch directed, in downtown Santa Monica. It’s an upscale seaside town a few minutes from my place so I walk. Gus also lives in a beach town. Pacific Palisades, a little more upscale than my neighborhood, heading Northwards towards Malibu. We tend to have breakfast together and then drive to Parker Center downtown in the same car or even straight to the crime scene depending on where it is.
I stroll by The Brig, the only early morning joint serving alcohol. I survey the reliable line of drunks holding up the brick wall, waiting to get in, as I pass. No eye-contact there, which is fine.
I step it down Abbot Kinney, quiet this early, and finally approach Rose Avenue. I easily spot the Firehouse, a bright red building plainly in view on the corner of Main St and Rose.
I enter the big wide doors of the engine house and instantly, my appetite is back. I spot the back of a head, a thick peppered gray mane. Gus has already ordered us avocado omelets with basil and Gouda cheese. I slide into a roomy black leather booth and show Gus my teeth. People who wear the blues, as we say, love to eat at firehouses converted into restaurants and there are a few of them in Los Angeles. My clothes are hanging on me. I’m down with having a real breakfast, looking forward to slathering butter and jam on my biscuits.
“Are you ready?” Gus asked.
“Nevermore.” I answer.
“How very Poe of you.”
“I think it’s apropos.”
“Carl asked about you.”
“Stop. Don’t even go there. Carl? No way.” Can’t understand why people insist on talking to me about him. Just because Eddy broke my heart, it doesn’t mean I’m going to run back to Carl. Anyway, Carl has a new girlfriend already, a very beautiful Korean woman who works in Missing. Debby.
Gus points at me. I hate it when he does that. “You know what the problem with you is?”
“No, I don’t. Why don’t you tell me?”
“You and Carl are exactly alike.”
“Neither of you ever want to go by the book. He has that new PI firm up and running and you oughta go work for him. He’s getting respectable cases, not just divorces and cheating spouses. He’s already raking in cash money baby, more than we will ever see and he needs your expertise in his corner. I think that big rock star just hired him. There’s been quite a few threats on that guy’s life.”
“Yah, I saw something about that on the news this morning. Austin Mears? Uh, no thank you.”
“You and Carl being together. That’s right as rain. You’re a great team. Never saw two people who could crack a case like you two. He was good for you. You should help him out.”
“Why would I do that? Gus, listen to me.” He looks dead at me, unimpressed. “One, I have a job, thanks. Some people think I’m good at it. Two, rock stars are not my thang. Three, under no circumstances, do I want you to talk to me about Carl, ever again.”
“What happened, anyway?
“Two words: overly protective.”
“You know I’m right about this.”
I glare at him. I try to make steam shoot out of my nostrils.
“What about country singers, how do you feel about them?” he asks.
With Gus it’s better to say nothing. I look around the room. The wait staff are dressed in yellow firemen overalls. Some of them even wear helmets. I stare for a moment at the shiny fire pole that glistens in the corner and listen in on a conversation going on in the booth behind me about a woman’s disappointing sexual encounter the night before. I glance behind me, pretend to look for the waiter, to see a distressed redhead with mascara running down her face. Seems to me she’s way too pretty to get burdened with a lousy lay, but I guess it can happen to anybody.
My cellphone rings with woo-woo music. That could only be one person. A woman who wears flowing silks, semi-precious stones, who recently dyed her hair a blazing red color. Kunda. Kunda explained her new look to me as having something to do with her kundalini rising and spouting like a fountain at the top of her head. Recently, several D-List actresses have taken to seeking Kunda’s advice for a renewal of energy and psychic insights. I hope it’s helping them. I can’t help but wonder how these actresses feel about being referred to as D-List. The Hollywood hierarchy is so, uh, I dunno.
“Hello, Kunda.” I say into the phone so she doesn’t take up time saying this is Kunda.
“Joan! I had a dream about you this morning.”
This should be good. “Not about me?”
“All about you. You are in for a great transformation.”
“Transformation? Ummm. Is that a good thing?”
“It’s revolution, revelation, a rebirth.”
“Something new?”
“New could describe it but not wholly new.”
“This is a fun game, Kunda.”
“It’s your life, your sacred journey, your soul.”
“Sounds serious.”
“You come into your power, Joan. You come into your power.”
“I don’t know what that means but I take that as a positive transformation then, correct?”
“We should meet in person.”
“No, uh, thank you. It’s very kind of you to communicate such a message from the Universe.”
“You do need to be careful.”
“In my business that’s par for the course.”
“I mean, really careful.”
“About what do ya think?”
“Your friends.”
“My friends?”
“People you love and trust.”
“Okay, noted, I need to go now, Kunda. Thanks again. Bye.”
“Joan – “
I cut her off before she can say more. I despise fortune tellers who make people feel paranoid. It’s such an old trick. In my last investigation, Kunda was a dubious but admittedly helpful psychic who has a habit of providing us cryptic clues. I find her unsolicited advice galling.
“That was Kunda,” I say, “with unsought guidance. Now, what are you and I talking about? Career and love advice?”
Finally, Gus relents. “Okay, I get it, nevermore. I’m not going to mention Carl again.”
“Good. I’d appreciate it.”
“Everything okay with your klepto?”
“Her name is VaVa.”
“That’s a name.”
“I begged Elsi to send her to rehab and she said yes. I don’t know how I got conned into being her guardian.”
“One word. Vernice. How could you say no?”
“Wish I wasn’t so judgy. I feel like I’m always frowning at her.”
“She certainly gives you reason to.”
“Children who steal want love.”
“Did you read that in a book on how to raise other people’s kids?”
“It’s Forensic Psychology, Gus.”
“You have a degree in that now?”
“More like a Ph.D.” Gus chuckled at me. “Yah. Okay, Gus, what’s the point here, enlighten me, wise one, as to the location of this pistachio plant. What’s the dealio?”
“Lost Hills.”
“Sounds prophetic. Not our usual territory.”
“A bit far from the red carpet and the typical action but it’s connected.”
“How exactly?”
“You’ll see.”
“I’ll see why we’re chasing our tails looking for someone who stole some pistachios?”
“We haven’t started chasing anything yet. And it’s more than a few pistachios. A truck, Joan. A truck. It’s not like someone stole a bucket of nuts and sold them at the Farmer’s Market.”
“Okay, a lot of pistachios. Where’s the homicide?”
“A man is missing from his home, a renown healer. We think we have a kidnapping and there was blood at the scene.”
“What does that mean, a renown healer?”
“A highly esteemed holy man in the Hollywood community.”
“Oh, well then, that’s why qualify. Whose blood?”
“We don’t know yet. Could be the drivers or it could belong to the healer. We’re running tests now.”
“The blood was found… where?”
Gus sips his coffee, “On the sidewalk leading from the holy man’s home out to the street where presumably he was put into a pistachio truck.”
“We are presuming this because there is no witness and no real reason to believe there is a connection between the darling healer’s disappearance and a pistachio truck parked on the street? I just want to be sure I have a clear understanding of what we’re doing.”
“The man is a very celebrated and beloved healer, husband and father. The blood is no joke, it was quite a bit more than a few drops.”
“And some famous person called the DA? Who was it?”
“Donna Freed, she’s a distinguished activist with a strong grip in Hollywood and the political scene.”
“How about you take a look at these photos?” Gus put a stack of xerox sheets on the table under my nose. He knows I can’t resist the perusal, it’s part of my arsenal, my ability to recall faces. I do take pride in my skills on the job.
Gus doesn’t like to distract me when I’m examining photos and so he allows me my own thoughts and we eat our breakfast in silence, each of us in our own worlds.
The department xerox machine is nearly as good as a photo printer and Gus can have the photos enlarged so that each face gets a full page, which he does. That gives me more of an idea of how people really look. It’s almost the same size as the average human face, and they stick in my mind better, especially if I’ve seen them before. It’s something I noticed when I first started working as an investigator and now it has become usual procedure for me. You’d be surprised how many people I’ve identified this way. People joke that I’m better than a face recognition scan, which isn’t true at all, but I am good at it. Maybe because I can make associations that computers don’t. My memory is not photographic by any means, but I did have it tested once before I came on the job and the results said that only 1 percent of the population had a memory as good or better than mine. I think that’s why I got the job, to tell you the truth, or maybe it just helped push the verdict to a yes on my behalf. There’s been some outcry about the justice department using the facial scan recognition devices. I can’t recall at this moment what the exact objection is. Something to do with surveillance or incrimination, some legal concern.
I start off sort of slow, not really committed to it, not quite familiar with the case but the images are going in my brain and I’ll be able to access them if I run into someone down the road that looks like one of these guys. I slurp down coffee every few pages and eat a few bites of my yummy omelet, allowing the images to sink in while I chew. I’m feeling good. I’m back on the job. I’m flexing my muscles, firing up the pistols of my high-performance brain when, it happens. I recognize one of the men.
I look closer and it’s as if a ghost has appeared before me. Condor. My best friend growing up. Condor is his actual name. I was flabbergasted to bump into my childhood pal on a case. What was Condor’s chiseled face doing in this photo stack of pistachio drivers. Though I had lost track of him, I was pretty sure he played college football on one of the University teams. Harvard has a football team, right? I recalled that somebody told me Condor was going to Harvard, taking courses in humanitarian endeavors, leadership during crisis and other goodwill skill type programs. Soft skills they call them. He’d always been bright, and I had imagined that he’d become an engineer or scientist or maybe even an animal conservationist like his father. Not a trucker, delivering overpriced pistachios.
Gus indicated that the waiter should bring the bill. His cell phone rang.
“Sling it!” he said.
Gus raised his eyebrows at me, then nodded meaningfully at the phone.
“We’re right here, boss. Two blocks away. We got it.”
What homicide could have taken place since I last talked to our boss, Satch, that would prompt him to assign us two blocks from here? The area was expensive real estate, Main Street, Santa Monica, luxurious office buildings, pricey boutique shops, yoga and Pilates studios. You get the picture, money. New money.
“What’s up?” I ask as Gus slips his cell into his designer suit pocket.
“Some real estate king is dead in his bookkeeper’s office just up the road. We can walk. The pistachios will have to wait.”
“Can I finish my omelet?” I asked.
“Yah, sure, but let’s not dawdle.”
Being a cop, you learn to eat quickly, like record time. I didn’t say anything about recognizing Condor. In fact, I slipped Condor’s photo back in with the others. I wanted to fold it and put it in my pocket but that would be too conspicuous. I hand the xerox stack back to Gus; he places it in a folder, then tucks that into a portfolio with a zipper. I chow down my food and chase it with coffee.
We walk out of the restaurant and onto the street where I was nearly run over by a woman flying by on what looked like a skateboard with a motor and handlebars. She dons big black goggles and a tiny black tankini, with thong bottoms and leaves behind a strong fragrance of coconut butter. I saw the brand logo, Blackbird, whizz by.
“Watch out, those things will jump out and clip you.” Gus advises.
Her bare cheeks are well exposed for the whole of Main Street to see. She flies off down the road, her butt jiggling about, probably on her way to the beach. I look at Gus.
“Save your outrage for murder,” Gus says.
“It’s rude on so many counts.”
“I know, let’s keep steppin’, got a body getting cold as we lament young people these days.”
“I’m still young. Speak for yourself,” I insist.
We walk two blocks past hip coffee joints with artisan bakery goods and customers thoughtfully clicking on their laptops. We pass a covered bus stop bench with a poster of the movie remake of SHAFT. On the ground are three homeless men. They were sleeping, completely unconscious in various positions. One is asleep sitting with his upper torso propped up against the SHAFT poster, unintentionally making a social statement. There’s no room for anyone who might be waiting for a bus under the cover but in Santa Monica no one would publicly resent what was certainly a group of homeless friends setting up camp. We move past them. A smell of feces rises from their slumbered bodies.
Several different storefronts featured mannequins sport short skirts, heels and workout apparel. A taco stand is serving egg burritos and Mexican coffee. At the corner, we enter a century-old building. The kind I like. Gus had been given the code to enter. The elevator isn’t working so we climb five floors of the stairway and walked down a dark hallway to suite five hundred. An overweight Santa Monica police officer with a bad over-comb of greasy hair greets us with a self-serious demeanor. He’s large, his stature looming, a belligerent air about him. He’s well-grown out of the uniform he was wearing
“Ms. Rand is inside, sitting on the couch in the foyer. She’s the bookkeeper. The body is in her office. She discovered the owner, dead on the floor, and called 911. I didn’t take a full statement from her.”
“Why bother since you knew we were on the way?” said Gus.
“Where is the body?” asked Gus.
“In the first room on the left. Seems to be an electrical closet turned into an office. The deceased is one of the owners and the chief financial officer. He’s lying face down in a puddle of blood with a pencil in his eye. His name is Donald J. Flunk. His family owns Santa Monica. Well, they share it with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Cosby. They own about a third of Santa Monica, to be correct.”
“Anybody else around?” I ask.
“There’s an ex-girlfriend of the deceased, who lives downstairs on the second floor. She’s the property manager or used to be. She has a key to the office as does Ms. Rand.”
“I thought you said you didn’t take a statement, uh, Kent,” I said as I noticed his nameplate.
“I received that information from the woman in Suite 506, she’s a television writer-producer, some series. One of those Hollywood wives or something or another wives type thing. She lives in an apartment that includes several suites.”
It was odd to me that he considered the size of her apartment an important detail to convey. Always aware of status, those Santa Monica police officers. They were known for that. I recognized his name, Kent, from research I did once on a case.
“Okay, we have it from here, thank you,” said Gus. We both pull out gloves and paper shoes from our pockets. Gus and I enter the office.
The first room is an improvised foyer. It features an old couch in what I assume was originally a living room. On the ratty couch is a tiny old lady in a pink print dress and rubber-soled sandals. Her head is covered in thick grey curls. Round green eyeglasses that make her look like a strange owl. Her hands are folded in her lap. She could have been praying but I wasn’t sure. She stares directly at me as we enter as if she’s hoping someone will rescue her. I assume she didn’t like the first officer on the scene. I look into the office off to the left and see the body face down on the floor. A man in a suit, a pool of blood using from under his face. Gus and I exchange a look. I walk over to Ms. Rand and sit beside her on the couch and purposely slouch a bit as if I was tired and making myself comfortable. She stares at me with those owl eyes. Gus enters the bookkeeper’s to more thoroughly check out the body. A lovely cloud of fragrance floats about Ms. Rand. As Gus disappears into her office, I notice a thick utilitarian chain hanging from the frame of the doorway of the office and a hook on the opposite frame post. Why would there be a chain across the doorway like that? There’s another doorway eight foot into the foyer to that same office and it has a similar setup, a chain hanging on the doorframe with a hook across from it. Was there some need to chain the bookkeeper in her office? Was such a thing even effective? I turn to the little old lady in the pink dress.
“I’m Detective Joan Lambert, Ms. Rand. Are you okay? Do you need a glass of water or anything?” She silently shakes her head no. I notice there are beads of sweat on her forehead. The room is unusually hot. I assume because heat naturally rises, and we are on the top floor.
“What happened, Ms. Rand?”
She shrugs and looks up to the heavens. Her mouth opens in an expression of horror like that famous Munch painting, but she says nothing. I watch as Officer Kent finished up with tying off the crime tape across the front door.
“Are you going to need additional assistance?” Kent asked.
I looked at him with distaste. Yes, of course. “Someone on the both ends of the hall and at the front door.”
He nods and made a call on his cell.
“You found the body?” I ask Ms. Rand.
She nods yes. Tiny jerky nods of her head.
Was Mr. Flunk your boss?”
She nods yes.
“Did you like him?”
She turns to me, her blue eyes get bigger. I didn’t think bigger eyes was possible. Betty Davis eyes.
“Not exactly fond of him. Not much to like often, but perhaps, I was empathetic. He had deep issues.”
“Mental health issues? Money issues? What exactly?”
She looks down at her hands. I did as well. Her knuckles sre white from clasping her hands so tight. I’m hoping she isn’t too stressed out to answer my questions. I decide to continue to ask the questions as if I were a friend who wanted to know what happened to her. It’s a technique that works better than a terse interrogation anyway.
“Those chains across the doorways, were they a symptom of his issues?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Tell me honestly, Ms. Rand, do you think anybody wanted to kill him?”
She nods her head yes.
“A lot of people?”
She nods yes.
Slowly, she nods yes again.
“How many is that? Tenants.”
“About 100.”
“What about the ex?”
She glances at me.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said softly, she held my eyes. “He pays all her bills, kids are expensive, living on the Westside. It was an accident.”
“The man’s heart was as hard as hickory. He was cruel. He enjoyed tormenting the disabled. Lots of people could be suspect. But, really, I think it was an accident. Is it okay if I make some coffee? I usually make coffee first thing and I’m not sure I can answer many more questions without some Joe.”
“Where’s the kitchen?” I asked.
I entered the most beautiful kitchen I’d ever seen. It was in stark contrast to the foyer and the accounting office. Gorgeous woodwork around the windows matched the cabinets. A stone counter made a u-shape with the oven and stove in the middle. A wooden dining room table dominated the rest of the large room. I could go for another cup of java.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Rand as soon as we finish this conversation you can leave and go buy some coffee down the street. Are there a lot of disabled people living in the building?”
“Yes, the original owner, the father, was extremely kind to the disabled and many of the elderly here are people he helped get government paperwork filed so they could have discounted housing. He built his empire on compassion and goodwill.”
“That’s remarkably admirable.”
“Yes, and he was admirable in other ways. But not so his son.”
“Why do you think the son was so different from the dad?”
“Spoiled, debauched, perverted. He had Commodus complex.”
“I’m not familiar with that.”
“You could Google it. You young folks like to do that.”
One thing I know about elderly people, they don’t mind telling you what to do. I pulled out my iPhone and Googled Commodus. In no time I learned that Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor. Apparently, Commodus sucked at his inherited reign as Emperor, making everyone wish his father was still alive. He alienated the senate and deeply offended the gladiators, killing them in the arena providing them with only wooden swords while he wielded a very sharp one. He pretended they were true battles instead of executions. Alienating gladiators is never a smart thing to do. Essentially, Commodus was the beginning of the fall of Rome.
I look up from my phone into the face of Ms. Rand. There’s a defiant edge to her expression.
“I see, learned something not so new today.” I said.
She smiles for the first time and revealed nearly perfect white teeth. I note that she’s wearing mascara, eyeliner and lip gloss to good effect. In fact, if you took off her glasses, you might notice that she didn’t have wrinkles, none. A stroke of pinkish bronze dances across her cheekbones. She’s damn pretty and youthful, and her skin glows impressively for what might be considered a much older woman. In different clothing she would come off significantly younger than this granny personae she’s sporting. I began to wonder if those big grey curls are a wig.
“He’s a lousy guy, but you don’t think anyone killed him. Even though, he was known to be cruel, to abuse the disabled tenants?”
“It was an accident, I’m sure.”
She’s sure. “Why was he cruel to them, do you think?”
“Because he thought he could, that he could get away with it.”
“What exactly denotes abuse in your mind?”
“Verbal abuse, a certain undercurrent of hatred and violence, constant threats of eviction. Sometimes he disappeared their leases.” She frowns when she said the last bit as if that was what really bothered her the most.
“The ones the tenants signed under his father.”
“But the tenants had their own copies, to argue that point, I’m sure.”
“Some of them are mentally or emotionally challenged and since the lease was signed with Mr. Flunk’s father over a decade ago, not everyone has a copy of their lease anymore. A couple of times I had to do recon work to get a copy of the original lease and provide it to the tenant.”
Recon is a military word. I imagined her parachuting and fighting her way through a bureaucratic jungle of files and backrooms. “Did any of this recon work endanger life or limb?”
“Only if I had been discovered,” she replies with a coy and satisfied expression.
“But you’re absolutely convinced none of these disabled individuals or their family members would kill him?”
“No. No way. There was nobody here this morning but me. It was,” she paused for a moment, gave me some heavy-duty eye contact before she said, “an accident.”
“Nobody here but you, ya say. You mean when you arrived and discovered the body?”
She nodded yes.
“Maybe he was cruel to someone who was not so disabled,” I suggested.
“Maybe.” She sighed. “Sometimes he picked on the ex-cons. Or the Mexicans.”
“The Ex-Cons?”
“We have a couple in the building. Nice people really but they have a history.”
“Hmmm. The Mexicans?”
“I should say the Maintenance Men. They’re not all Mexican. He was abusive to them; he would make jokes of them, humiliate them at every opportunity, called them stupid and he wouldn’t allow them breaks of any kind, which is against the law. But they can’t exactly fight back… it’s not like they could file a complaint to the labor board.”
“Why not?”
“Maybe some of them don’t have their real IDs.”
“Real IDs. You mean, the new ones that the DMV is requiring?”
That’s not exactly what she meant. But I got the drift. She had a funny way of telling the truth without saying it.
“I see.”
“You can be sure that situation was by design. Everything Donald J. Flunk did was by design. They need their jobs. Of course, Mr. Flunk knew that.”
I look at her for a moment, taking in her meaning.
“Let’s just say, he always arranged things in his favor,” she added.
“Okay, Ms. Rand, let’s go back to something you said. “Why do you insist that it’s an accident?’
I give her a wry look.
“Please put these on your feet.” I hand her some paper shoes from my pocket. She dutifully pulled them over her open-toed shoes. I noticed her toes were painted a perfect shade of pink that matched her long-nailed manicure. She wore no stockings and her leg skin was smooth, oiled. She virtually smelled like a field of flowers.
“That’s a nice fragrance you’re wearing,” I said.
“Flower Bomb by Victor Rolf.” She beams, “They use gun powder as a component to stabilize the fragrance.”
“May I ask your age, Ms. Rand?”
“Why I’m 62 years young.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
She smiles diffidently. “Ms. Rand, please stay here for a moment.”
I leave Ms. Rand on the couch. When I ducked under crime tape, I found Gus squat down staring at the body. The dead man was on his stomach facing the floor. Blood oozed out from the front of his face, raised a bit off the floor by the end of the pencil sticking out the right eye. The deceased had blonde fuzzy hair with a large bald spot. He was dressed in a blue plaid suit. I couldn’t see his face. Usually, by now I would have pulled out his wallet, but I didn’t want to do anything to move the body as it might change something about how the pencil was lodged in his eye that could mean a compromised crime scene.
Gus was frowning.
“Do you think he fell like that?” I asked.
Gus shrugged his mouth a contorted shape. “His fist is wrapped around the pencil.”
“Maybe he was holding the pencil in his fist when he stumbled and fell.”
Gus exhaled, his cheeks puffing out. He does that when he is at a loss.
“Ms. Rand says it was an accident,” I offered.
“An accident?”
“That’s what she says.”
“Maybe she’s protecting someone.”
“Yes, well, we have to interview the ex-girlfriend. Ms. Rand is protective of her for sure. And she’s protective of all the disabled tenants in the building.
“Are there a lot of disabled in this building? How on earth do they afford to live in Santa Monica?”
“Yah, that’s the thing. I’ll tell you about it. The government helps with the rent.”
I bumped into a xerox machine, bruising my hip. It was at this moment that the point was driven home to me that the room was short on space. Not much air to breathe either. Not one window or vent in the room. Wires were spread out all over the back wall making it rather uninhabitable except for one corner. Small paintings of personable birds, cows, goats, dogs, cats, and other charming critters surrounded the walls around what had to be the bookkeeper’s desk. Stacks of account books on shelves over the desk area and a photo of Ms. Rand with a sweet little lamb in her arms gave me the strongest clues for that deduction. Kids and old folks are my weak spot. Animals too. I’m pretty sure it would be impossible to convince a judge that Ms. Rand was a murder suspect. It would necessitate strong evidence. The strength it would require committing the crime was a factor that excluded her. Pretty much the disabled were not strong suspects either. But apparently everyone else in the building was. That’s a lot of interviews.
Just then, the crime photographer showed up. Satch had called him. Police photographer, Craig Jones, is a black guy, slight of build, shy and quiet. He nodded at Gus and me, saw the body, and started snapping pictures.
It was getting a little tight in the room so I got out of the way so Craig could properly document the body. Gus followed me out for the same reason. Gus turned to me then looked past me, over my shoulder. “We’re going to have quite a few visitors,” he said to Kent who appeared in the doorway. “We’ll need you to handle the front line, okay?”
Kent nodded, “Got it covered,” he turns and walked down the hall.
“Ms. Rand is on the couch?” Gus asks. I nod. “Find out why exactly she thinks it’s an accident. You don’t think she’s a suspect?”
“I find her suspicious, indeed. But murder? I don’t think so. She’s grandmotherly with an undercurrent of something else. Know what I mean?”
Gus appears to be evaluating what I meant by that. Maybe he’s thinking about the dead man and wondering if an old lady could jab a pencil into a man’s eyeball and then into his skull that deep. I thought that perhaps a fall could have caused an eye injury to be fatal. One reason you want to avoid physical confrontations, if possible, is that often people are seriously hurt and die.
“I think I do. Remember, there’s investigative protocol in place for you to follow. Protocols provide steps professionals follow during investigations. These protocols help provide standards of expectations and processes so there is continuity and uniformity for each investigation. It also helps to reduce chances of cross-contamination.”
“I know, Gus, and I know you know I know. This is absurd.”
“How’s it go, again?”
“The Investigative Protocol includes: first and utmost one must preserve the crime scene, retain/segregate witnesses, conduct a walk-through of the scene, search for evidence, record the crime scene, locate all evidence and number, tag or bag it for preservation.
“To maintain the integrity of the investigation and the evidence.”
“Don’t play it loosie goosey with Ms. Rand.”
“I’m working her.”
“She’s not working you. What is it? She remind you of your gramma?”
I looked up at the ceiling. “Have I ever destroyed, lost or compromised a crime scene, ever?”
“No,” I said directing my gaze back to him, “In fact, I care deeply about the preservation of evidence. I’m pretty good at discovery, too, and, oh! Look who’s here to help make sure that all the right things happen.”
Rose Torres, a Filipino woman from the crime lab, appears in the doorway. After a quick handshake to Gus and a hello, she gazes at the body for a moment, then turns her inscrutable face to me. Thank God she showed up just then, Gus wouldn’t continue his admonishing tangent with anyone from the department present. I stand above Rose, nearly two feet taller. But she’s a woman who knows how to hold her ground.
“Thinking it’s an accident,” I say. Her eyes go to Gus who shrugs and then to the hardwood floor. Rose doesn’t waste much energy on words, but she didn’t look particularly convinced “Usual search for fibers,” I say. “I need to know that it’s only his prints on the pencil for one.”
She nods and moves her short thick body into her well-known efficiency mode. Rose is instantly in the office inspecting cabinet doors, pen holders, holding several items up to the light.
“This one is for sure odd, Joan.” Gus assures me.
“Right, I get it. Did you see those chains across the doorways of the bookkeeper’s office?”
“I did,” mutters Gus. “What are those for?”
“To keep that monster of a bookkeeper under control?”
“On the weird side,” adds Gus.
“Doesn’t sound like anyone in the building will miss him much.”
I walk out the front door to the hallway, at the end there was a little curve to the wall, I follow it. It led to an old-fashioned fire-escape. I open the full-length windowed door with gloved hands and let in some air. I leaned against the door frame and took some nice deep breaths. You must have oxygen for your brain to work. There wasn’t much air at all in the bookkeeper’s office. How many times had Ms. Rand stood in this exact spot, getting a little fresh air? Down on the ground, in the parking lot, I spotted the newly arrived news crews, all microphones, cameras, and notepads. They had followed the coroner’s truck, like dogs on a trail. I thought it odd that they had no idea that I was looking down on them, observing.
Gus comes up behind me. Looks over my shoulder. “Here comes his ride downtown with the first group of mourners,” he observed.
“I have a funny feeling not many are going to be mourning this guy,” I say.
“Do you approve of him chaining Ms. Rand in an electrical closet?”
“What’s that, Russian?”
Gus looks at me curiously. How could I explain that the photo of my childhood friend, Condor, prompted me to recall the days of my youth and my father? My dad carried on speaking Russian long after he won the light armored Kombat vehicle from Oleg Krasnov at the St. Louis car show. It’s a story, tell you more about it later. Gus has the portfolio with the photos tucked under his arm. I thought of Condor’s face in black and white and I grinned at Gus. He gave me a droll look.

Outside, an ocean breeze picks up, handing out a bad hair day to the newshounds that snarled and whine around the Coroner’s truck. Kent made way to allow the coroner’s staff out of the truck. Looky-loos gather on the sidewalk and down the street. People come out of their storefronts. A tall black woman exits the death wagon. Monica Sutton, ME from the coroner’s office, a modern-day African goddess.
“A wealthy real estate man is dead in Santa Monica,” says Gus. “People are going to want to know why. Do you have an answer?”
“The price of rent in this area? Driving up the rising tide of homeless? Higher than it’s ever been? Regular people are having trouble making it work. Seniors, homeless, on the street. Maybe nobody will question why,” I say. “I have a few ideas, but who knows, maybe it was an accident. Not even murder. Certainly not one to muster up much of an outcry.”
Gus joins me and leans on the other side of the door frame. Then he spots Jesse. Jesse Cand of the LA Times has a thing for me that I find exasperating. I don’t want to make a statement. I don’t even want to be on this case. I’m not feeling it. Jesse looks thicker and stronger, much more studly.
“Looks like he’s been working out since we saw him last,” I said.
“For who?” asked Gus. “You?”
“I certainly hope not,” I answer.
“I thought you two were trying to get along lately.”
“I’m not trying that hard.”
When Monica, the stately coroner, finally makes it up the five floors with the gurney, Gus does the talking. “No indication of foul play or violence, particularly,” says Gus. “The time of death and the issue of likely suspects is dodgy at this point. Maybe it was an accident. You and the lab guys should be able to say for sure.”
Her arm muscles flex as she sets down and prepares the gurney. She has an assistant helping her, but I bet she could carry that thing up five floors under one arm. Her amber eyes alight with curiosity when she peers into the office at the scene as opposed to her ordinarily detached manner. Monica shook her head like a disenchanted sovereign while she waited for the photographer to do his thing.
“It’s hot in that room. Any known conditions?” asks Monica.
“We’re pretty sure he died from the pencil lodged in his eye,” says Gus.
“Right, and there’s probably a family doctor, I’ll give him a ring,” I say.
Monica asks with an elegant hand gesture if it was time to move the body.
“Give me a moment more,” I said.
I go back into the small room and stand over the body. I look around the room. Those chains that hook across both doorways add to the claustrophobic office. Rose places Mr. Flunk’s wallet in a cellophane bag. I watch curiously as she presses a button on some new-fangled gadget attached to a cord around her neck. It’s the size of a large cellphone that issued a red scan with square-shaped meridians. It appears to take 3-D x-ray type records.
“What’s that?”
“I’m recording information to be evaluated about the gesture of the body and the bloodstain.”
“Okay, then.”
I can hardly breathe so I go out to the foyer where Ms. Rand is waiting for me. She rolls her big pretty eyes at me. If I didn’t know better, I’d says she’s flirting. Maybe she’s an aging actress, they try to seduce everyone. I’m almost thirty-four and my doc says I’m in excellent shape, except for one knee. I’m crazy powerful for a woman. I suspect my unusual strength might be driven by rage. I take a moment and ask myself how strong will I be at the age of 62? I decide I would still be badass. It’s not something that you want to lose if you can help it. I’m going to have to ask Ms. Rand more questions. More about her past. I sit back down on the couch.
“He was debauched.”
“How do you know that?” I give her my best tough cop look.
She shrugs her shoulders. Debauched is an elder person’s word. So maybe she is sixty-two after all. “I overheard him bragging about things to his Billionaire Boys Club friends on the phone.”
“Got a name?”
“One of them races horses, that’s all I know. Just terrible, they know exactly why all those horses are dying on those racetracks. Forty this year.”
“Why are they dying, Ms. Rand?”
“They are racing them too young, Two years old. You’re supposed to wait until they are four, not before.”
“How do you know that?”
“I overheard Donald on the phone with his friend, he’s hard of hearing and puts the speakerphone all the way up.”
Ms. Rand looks shamed.
“Why do you keep insisting it was an accident, Ms. Rand?”
“Just, um a feeling I have?”
“Was he still alive, did he say something to you?”
“No, he didn’t say anything, I don’t think he was still alive. I didn’t check to be honest. He looked dead to me, so I called you right away. I believe he fell on the pencil. Is that something possible to prove?”
Patrice Ann, the Hollywood Wives producer, sports short black hair and is dressed in a tight black body-con dress. She’s in a red pair of very expensive looking shoes, by that French designer, Christian Louboutin, if I had to guess. And red eyeglasses. The kind that float in front of your eyes as if suspended by magic. Titanium, I think. Patrice Ann is impatient as I had interrupted her writing schedule. I thought writers worked in their pajamas, not like they were on a hot date. I walk into a spacious living room with large movie posters, most of them vintage. They feature Clara Bow, the “it” girl and Louise Brooks, the flapper, an early film star and I also recognized Mary Pickford tied to train tracks with that character, the banker, Snidely Whiplash, stroking his mustache as a train came steaming down the tracks.
“I already gave information to an officer,” said Patrice Ann. She was standing in front of a poster of Dolores Del Rio, known as the Latin “orchid” of the screen.
“Yes, thanks for that. But I was curious, did you hear anything?” To her left was a poster of Maria Montez from the Cobra Jewel movie. Montez was a dark beauty in a tight green dress with a volcano spewing red lava behind her. An angry cobra was curled and poised to attack at her feet.
“Nothing. I heard nothing,” said Patrice Ann.
“Were you on good terms with the deceased?”
“I don’t know who was.”
Patrice Ann gave me a sullen look and I noticed that she had the smallest, barely visible piece of tape just above her eyebrow near the hairline on the side of the forehead. I checked and noted the same above the other eyebrow. Her dark bangs were pulled back into a headband.
“Do you have a photoshoot or something today?”
“No, but I do have to go the set and justify my existence.”
“Okay, I’ll try to make this quick.”
She backed into her apartment and indicated that I should have a seat on what was obviously high design furniture: wood, suede and odd shapes of color. I sat on what looked like a Ralph Lauren chair. All her accouterment was extremely high priced.
“Don’t get the wrong idea but many of us joked that we wanted to murder him but, we were just, you know, releasing tension, blowing off steam, making fun of the situation.”
“What situation?” I scribbled in my notebook.
“Really? Okay, sure, in my case, I wanted to knock down a wall, and he didn’t want me to do it, that sort of thing. He said it was illegal but it’s not like he cares about legal, really. He’s controlling or was… anyway. A strange guy. A total pothead, the office always smelled like weed. Sometimes my whole apartment smelled like a pot den, because of the vents I suppose.”
“Did you complain?”
“Of course, I complained but I was cool about it, only because I was vying for my remodel. But there were times when I was sure I was experiencing a contact high.” I stopped writing and looked at Patrice Ann. “You know when you come in contact with pot even though you aren’t smoking it yourself.”
“Right.” I went back to scribbling.
“I guess I can knock down my wall now. Who’s going to stop me?”
“I can’t comment on that. I’m merely trying to figure out how Mr. Flunk died.”
“That guy was always stoned. I’d bet a thousand bucks that he fell on that pencil.” She stood up and peered into a mirror on the wall, noticed the tape on her temples was showing. She pulled off her headband, mussed up her bangs, the tape now well disguised. A tight smile crossed her face.
I remained sitting, stared for a moment at a gorgeous painting of a flapper. I marveled at how the painter managed the beads and fringe of the dress, the jewels in the headpiece. She was doing the Charleston and grinning, a flask in her garter belt at her thigh. “Just one more question, what were the other issues?”
“Other issues?”
“That the other tenants were angry about?”
“Oh, I don’t know, really. The guy was an asshat. I think Tracy had constant fights with him over the storage. Nothing too serious, I suppose. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but on several occasions, I witnessed him screaming at one of the elderly renters and I didn’t like it. She’s a lady with mental health issues and he was just railing at her.”
“Why do you think?”
“There were bedbugs and moths in her place. You’d be shocked at the roach problem I had for nearly a year before he did anything about it. I must say, shook me up the way he bullied her. The hatred in his voice and the tension in his body as if he was going to leap at her or attack her or something. She held her space though. I admired her for that. So, maybe I sort of hated him. Not actively or anything but I won’t be going to the funeral or crying in my cups.”
“Makes sense. What’s this renter’s name?”
“Oh, she didn’t kill him. She’s a little old lady.”
“I understand what you’re saying, but can you please tell me her name?”
“Her name is Tina. She lives on the second floor. Is that enough now, can I go back to my work? I have a deadline and places to be.”
“Yes, thank you for your time.” I made for the door but just as I was about to exit, I turned back. “I may have to ask more questions, later.”
“Fine. Whatever. Bye now.”
I exited feeling like the dead man’s story was filling out and not painting a pretty picture.
Down on the second floor, Tina was a woman in her late 70’s with wiry hair, a gaunt look to her demeanor with energy that indicated she may be drinking too much coffee. She was wearing a cashmere sweater with holes in it. At first, she opened the door with the chain lock still on. I offered my badge and she allowed me in.
Her place was neat with little old lady knick-knacks and comfy furniture. I was hesitant to sit on the couch with the warning of bedbugs and such. Tina hadn’t heard of her landlord’s demise. She was quite disturbed to hear he was possibly murdered.
“You don’t think I did it, do you?”
“Why would I think that?”
“We had lots of fights over the years.”
“Not physical, but loud arguments I should say.”
“About what?”
“Well, just look at my sweater!” the volume went up as she emphatically pointed to the holes in her cashmere sweater. “I’ve got many more of these with holes in them. They were gifts to me, and they are all ruined by moths because that cheap ass… Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean… and there’s these awful bed bugs. They are in my bed, but I think they are also in my books. I love my books! He’s dead, I suppose I must forgive him. I’ll just get rid of the pests myself. I suppose they will hire a management company to take his place.”
How much rent do you pay, Christina?”
“Nobody calls me that, it’s just Tina. And to answer your question, 250 bucks a month.”
“Good rate.”
“Okay, well thanks, Tina. I may be back with more questions.”
“I don’t know anything.”
“Don’t you?”
“Just that I hated him.”
“Enough to kill him?”
“Yes, but I didn’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t want to go to jail, obviously, but mostly because I’d really hate to lose my apartment for any reason.”
“Especially at that rate.”
“That’s right.”
I met Gus in the hallway. He was strolling toward me and we met in the middle of the hall.
“Who did you interview?” I asked.
“Some Latin lover guy who was ripped off fifty bucks by Donald Flunk.”
“Fifty bucks? The man was a multi-millionaire, why would he rip off a tenant for fifty bucks?”
“That’s the same thing Latin lover said. The guy returned his garage key and tried for months to get the garage key deposit back.”
“Sounds annoying but hardly worth killing him for. Anybody else?”
“A nice couple with a five-year-old daughter who is suffering from asbestos poisoning.”
“Omigod, that’s serious.”
“I’d say.”
“Suspects, ya think?”
“I don’t think so. Mostly, they wanted the girl’s dolls and pajamas back, that is if they were deemed safe. They have moved to another suite while their place is being repaired or de-asbestode.”
“The place will be safe after that?”
“Says who?”
“The supervisor.”
“What’s he like?”
“He’s drunk.”
Gus is disgusted by the whole thing. “Guess that’s why the elevator isn’t working. It’s been out for a year.”
“Not having an elevator must be very hard on the disabled.”
“And the pregnant, and people with kids, and the elderly. One guy has to scoot down five floors on his ass to get out of the building.” Gus spit out the words with anger.
“Maybe they get discounts on the rent.”
“Harumph! I wouldn’t assume that, no. Let’s wait and see what the ME says before we move further with the interviews, huh?”
“Okay. You’re thinking it’s an accident now?”
“I sure as hell hope so.” Gus rubs his neck. He does that when he’s incensed. I could see the trial unfolding and countless witnesses being brought to testify as to their motives. Beyond a reasonable doubt would be a miracle.
“Yah,” I agree, “Otherwise we’re going to be interviewing and re-interviewing for weeks.”
“The guy has pissed off quite a few people over the years.” As Gus says this, he looks up and down the hallway as if the angry tenants will come out of their apartments shouting accusations.
“What? Ya think they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore? Or maybe they did like the Roman Senate, and all convened to stab him in the eye with a pencil.” Gus deadpans me, I moved on to what I think is a logical question. “Did you talk to the Maintenance men?”
“Right, yes, I did. They’re mostly Mexicans. Do you think it’s believable that don’t speak much English?”
I laugh. “Did you get a look at the video picked up by the spy ring?”
“Yes, just now.”
“Donald J. Flunk came in, used his key to enter the bookkeeper’s office. Shortly thereafter the bookkeeper came into frame, put her key in her office door. She appeared surprised that her door wasn’t locked; with suspicion she entered her office and came out within a couple of minutes. She called the police immediately on her cellphone.”
“Did she cry out or look distressed?”
“She looked vexed.”
In my mind’s eye, I see Gus on the stand saying those exact words, exactly the way he said them. We learn to talk like that, like we’re in the witness box. “How long was Mr. Flunk in the bookkeeper’s office before she arrived? Exactly how long after Ms. Rand entered, did she exit?”
“I’ve got it all down precisely in my notebook, in answer to your question. We also entered Donald Flunk’s office, or should I say office/bedroom, sex-toys, a swing, two giant pot plants.”
“Mmm, interesting, sort of. More like a cliché, I have to go,” I say, “gotta meet with VaVa and explain to her the conditions of her rehab deal.”
“Oh, Christ,” says Gus. “Can’t you just Facetime her?”
I’m not really in the mood for a chic luncheon with my unicorn girl, “Why not?” I say.
“Do it in the car on the way to the pistachio plant, right?”
“We’re still going there?”
“Ordered by Satch.”
“Another non-case?”
“We don’t know whether it’s a non-case.”
“Okay. Sure. Facetime then. Good idea.”
We start our exit outta there. We’re on our way down the stairway when Ms. Rand appears on the stair landing one floor above us. She calls down to us, “Are you leaving?”
“Yes, I say, “Is there another way out besides the way we came in?”
“If you take the stairs all the way down the basement, where the Maintenance office is,” she looked at Gus, “and take a right you can walk out of the parking entrance onto the street. You’ll be at the back of the building.”
“Thanks,” I say.
“And thanks for the coffee,” adds Gus.
Ms. Rand gives him a shy smile, “welcome” she says and skips away.
“Did you see that?” I ask.
“She skipped away.”
“I think that’s odd.”
“Odd, yes. Let’s go, Joan.”
I didn’t know what to make of it. I’m thinking that I can avoid Jesse, the news guy. It’s an old game we play. He rushes to my crime scene. I do everything I can to avoid him. If he catches up with me, I try to scrap all his questions. Today, it looks like Ms. Rand has advanced my ability to vacate the premises without even seeing Jesse face-to-face. That could induce even me to skip. Something I haven’t done since grade school. Gus and I race down the rest of the stairs, past a few concerned tenants on the way. I guess it’s obvious we’re cops. I assume word is out that a criminal investigation is in process and that the landlord is dead. I’m intent with getting out of the building and remarkably unconcerned about the image of two cops running down the stairs. At the main floor, in the lobby, I see Jesse standing trying to get in but the glass door had a mirror effect so he can’t see in. I guess he doesn’t have the code and there’s nobody in reception to buzz him in. Too bad.
We turn on the stairway and continue down the stairs to the basement. The basement door opens to a very large SUV painted candy apple red. Imagine the sportiest SUV you’ve ever seen. This is like that but on steroids. It has long muscular lines. It seems about to pounce. A big healthy panther. I glance into the window and note a luxurious leather design with individual rear seats and a cool looking instrument display on the dash.
“What is this?” I ask Gus.
“That’s what you call a red Lamborghini SUV.”
“It has a presence.”
“It should, it cost enough.”
“How much?”
“Starts at 200 thou.”
“Who do you think it belongs to,” I ask.
“Three guesses,” smirks Gus.
“What does it do?”
“It’s got a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that puts out 650 horsepower. Lamborghini says the zero-to-62-mph time is 3.6 seconds and the top speed is 190 mph.
“Well now, you seemed to know quite a bit, Gus.”
“I wouldn’t mind one.”
I look around the basement and spot a video camera. “Maybe before we book it outta here, we should look at more video,” I say.
“Hmmm?” Gus looks where I gestured.
“The maintenance supervisor has access to that?” I ask.
“His office is right here.” Gus strolls about four steps to the door with a sign that reads, ‘maintenance,’ and knocked.
We viewed the tape several times but see nothing except the deceased parking the Lamborghini, locking it and moving out of frame. Usually, we get something but nada.
Gus is a little miffed. Disappointed. I guess he thought he might see something more revealing. He takes down the time of arrival of the deceased and thanks the supervisor who clearly has a drinking problem. I might get a contact drunk just off his fumes. We make our way out of the basement. We have to step it up a small incline. The supervisor manages to press the button for us, opens the iron gate, and we walk out onto the street. Gus called Kent and asks him to secure the crime scene until we officially released it. I’m steppin’ it back toward the Fire House café with Gus, to his car, when we turn the corner and run smack dab into Jesse Cand, news reporter. He leans against the building, a big camera on his shoulder and a grin on his face. How did he do that? He’s so waiting for us. He snaps off a few pics.
“Investigative team on the run,” he’s captioning his photo.
“Jesse!” I rankle.
“Where are you off to?” he demands.
“What?” I bark back. “I don’t report to you.”
“Just ignore him,” whispers Gus. “Don’t engage, keep walking, get to the car.”
“I’m your ally,” insists Jesse, “I have questions.”
“Talk to me tomorrow, then I can say something.” Gus starts a quick gait, I follow. Jesse chases.
I turned around back to Jesse and he nearly runs into me. Snaps more pictures into my face.
“Stop that. What are you, the nightcrawler?” I say into his camera.
“It’s 9 AM, Joan.”
“Never too early to increase your value and leverage your position.”
“Please don’t denigrate the service I provide to the LA community.”
We are both loosely quoting lines from the movie, Nightcrawler.
“Thought you were a global guy. Weren’t you in Denmark last month?”
“You’re following my career?”
“I read the newspapers.”
“You know, Nightcrawler is actually a LA noir love story,” insists Jesse.
“To you.”
“Between a news director and her number one video newsman,” he adds.
“You’re not well, you know that, right?”
Gus intervenes. “If only this little sparring match was amusing. Let’s go, Joan, we have a long drive.”
I turn away from Jesse and pick up my pace to stay in step with Gus. His legs are so long. I look back to see Jesse staring after us. When he sees me turn back, he takes more photos. Yep, I was back on the job. Fo sho.

Select all writings of  Eva Montealegre

Select biography of  Eva Montealegre

Confessions of a Wanker – Book 2, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Reichmann Returns

I rush into the first stall in the old white tiled toilet and collapse to my knees. Holding on to the bowl with both hands I feel my suit pants sop up wetness from the floor, that I think could be pee. I throw-up beer and rum. I make my way to the old chipped hand-basin and hold on. The Boy Scouts law flashes through my mind. Loyal: A Scout is true to his family and friends. I look down at my watch and it’s only forty-five minutes to closing time. I must tell my mates no pussy will ever come between us again. I stagger back through the pub and stand with me mates at the bar, but the words just won’t come. I try to put my foot on the brass-rail, but someone keeps moving it. I feel alone in the crowd and shake my head, trying to clear my alcoholic brain.
“Christ! Drink up. It’s almost last call.” I say, trying to reconnect with me mates.
“That’s right Mr. Wills and it’s your turn to buy, so get us anov’ver round.” Dave says finishing his beer in one gulp.
Suddenly, the incessant chatter in the now-packed bar drops to a whisper. I then follow everyone’s eyes towards the front door. To my horror, there stands Kurt Reichmann, the German gang leader from school. I sober up instantly.
Behind Reichmann there is a solid wall of the grizzliest cutthroats and villains that I have ever seen. Reichmann is even bigger and uglier than I remember. His neck is over half the width of his massive hunched shoulders. Even though he has the posture of an ape he is still head and shoulders above everyone else in the pub. This six-foot six, over three-hundred-pound monster still has not seen me.
“‘Er… boys!” I whisper, “Don’t look now, but Kurt Reichmann just came through the door.” I look down as I speak, hoping that the floor will open and swallow me up.
“Holy shit!” Dave says, almost without moving his lips. “What the fuck is ‘e doing ‘ere? I ‘fought ‘is local pub’s The Bell.”
“It is,” Danny whispers. “and if ‘e’s ‘ere, there’s ‘gonna be trouble.”
Ed is looking around the bar. “Why the bloody ‘ell didn’t they build a back door to this fucking place? Cause I ‘fink it’s way past me bedtime.”
Danny starts to look around as if he would suddenly find Ed’s missing back door.
“Which one of ‘yah ASSHOLES,” Reichmann bellows into the now silent bar, “put the finger on Billy ‘ere, to the bleeding Coppers?”
Billy Ratner is the one-legged hulk on crutches standing almost as tall as Reichmann, to his left. There are many stories about how he lost his leg, but no one knows for sure. Billy always plays the poor helpless cripple especially when questioned by the police about pub fights. “ ’ave a ‘eart Constable,” Billy would answer. “ ‘ow can a poor one-leg cripple, the likes of me, be involved in a fight?” The truth is, when standing wedged into a corner, Billy is a vicious fighter who swings his heavy wooden crutches and inflicts very nasty injuries. Everyone knows that to turn him in would be a death sentence.
Reichmann’s beady eyes scan the bar, unfortunately, he picks me out of the crowd.
“I don’t believe me bleeding eyes! If it ain’t the ‘eadmaster’s pet, Alan bloody Wills, the ‘ ’ead Boy. ‘Ya’re the type of bleeder what would turn Billy into the Rozzers?
I shout back to him. “School’s a long time ago Kurt. I ain’t been in Walthamstow for donkey’s years. We moved away you know.” I try not to sound nervous despite the giant butterflies beating the hell out of my stomach.
“There’s ‘ya pencil-neck, sissy mates? They always squealed on me gang in school.”
I yell back. “No, Kurt, we’ve all gone our separate ways now. This is the first time we’ve all been together for ages. Like a reunion, ‘ya know?”
“So, what about that little weasel next to ‘ya! Who’s ‘e?”
I turn to the stranger next to me. He is less than average height, but on closer inspection he looks very muscular. Plus he seems self-assured, with a determined look in his eyes. I had never seen him before.
“Dun’no who he is, Kurt. ‘Ain’t with us.”
“Ma name’s Scotty. I’m from Glasgow!”
“A bloody Jock!” Reichmann says in a very demeaning tone. “Maybe we’ll ‘ave ‘ya do a ‘ighland bloody fling or play ‘ya bagpipes.”
You can hear a pin drop as Reichmann takes a couple of steps forward.
I look up at the ceiling and say a silent prayer. God don’t let this little Jock defy Reichmann. You of all people know that Scots have a reputation of being hardheads.
“Get outta me way you big oafs!” A woman’s voice shouts from the front door.
Again, I look up at the ceiling. Excuse me God, you sent a woman? I ask silently
As she pushes her way through his gang, we can see that she is wearing the navy-blue Salvation Army uniform. This poor little gray-haired dove surely doesn’t realize that she is landing in the middle of a potential battlefield.
“I’ve never heard this den of iniquity so quiet. What’s going on?” she asks.
“None of ‘ya fucking business,” Reichmann growls.
“‘Ya watch ‘ya filthy tongue, ‘ya big moose.” she says, facing Reichmann.
“Look lady, do’ya mind! We’re in the middle of a bloody inquisition. So why don’t ‘ya go on ‘ya merry way and push God at the next boozer down the road?”
“God’s work is far more important than whatever mischief you’re about.” She says, then she shakes her tambourine then holds it out in front of Reichmann. “A donation please?”
“Get the fuck out of here, ‘ya fucking bible junky, before me gang throws ‘ya’re ass out,” Reichmann pushes her to one side with a swat of his left hand. She falls back held up by a couple of gang members.
She takes the few steps to be back in front of him “You might bully little people, mister, but you can’t bully God!” Again, she thrusts her tambourine at him, this time, it hits his bulbous belly.
The crowd lets out an “Oh” then waits for the inevitable.
“Look lady, I’m Kurt Reichmann. I’m sure you’ve ‘eard of me.”
“No, can’t say I have. I’m Gladys Little, glad to meet ‘ya! Now, how about a little something for the Lord’s work?” Again, she shakes the tambourine, then taps it twice on Reichmann’s obese belly.
An “Ooooo” goes through the bar.
“That does it, lady. You just pushed ‘ya luck too bloody far! OK, boys, throw this old bible-bashing-bitch out in the street.”
Four of his thugs pick up this poor little Salvation Army lady by her arms and legs.
With one exception, none of the pub patrons lift a finger to save her. The wiry Scot leaps to within a couple of feet of Reichmann.
“You’ll have ‘ya men unhand the wee lass, Mr. Reichmann!”
“You must be off ‘ya ‘ead,” Reichmann chuckles. “One of ‘ya …” he points to his gang. “This ‘ere little Scot’s fly, what just landed ‘ere, needs swatting!”
“Do nee move! Not a one of ‘ya, or I’ll be forced to put a bad hurt on ‘ya boss.” The Scot’s eyes narrow as he stares up at Reichmann’s massive head.
“You! Ya’re going to ‘urt me?” Reichmann laughs heartily with his hands holding his big stomach. His gang follows suit and breaks into roars of laughter.
Without a word, the Scot jumps into the air, and with a loud thud his forehead smashes Reichmann’s forehead, much the same way a football player powerfully heads the ball. The giant falls like a rock to the floor, knocked out cold. The four thugs instantly drop the Salvation Army lady on to the floor and join the other gang members around Reichmann. Slowly he comes to. Shaking his head, he shouts, “Get that little bastard!”
The Scot’s courage must have touched all the local lads the way it inspired me. Without a word we all leap on Reichmann’s gang and the onslaught begins. All around me I hear the painful sound of fists pounding flesh. I block a punch from a gang member, grab his hair and smash his nose on to my up-thrusting knee. His blood splatters over my trousers and he hits the floor holding his face. Out of the corner of my eye I see Dave jump clear as a wooden table is over-turned by one of Reichmann’s thugs. Dave then demolishes a wooden chair across his head, and he is out for the count. Blood splatters everywhere; bottles fly through the air and smash against walls. I see Danny duck a punch then raise his head and poked his fingers into the gang-members eyes, and the thug screams out in pain. Looking around for Ed, I block another punch. The public bar is filled with fighters, with fists missing and connecting, heads ducking and weaving. I then see Ed hiding under a table, I smile, maybe he is the smart one, I think.
“Scotty, look out!” I yell. “Reichmann has a blade.” With the precision of a goalkeeper, he kicks up, and the knife flies from Reichmann’s hand up into the air, Miraculously, Scotty catches it and lunges at Reichmann, ripping open a gash the full length of his right inner arm. Blood squirts all over fighters next to him.
“Christ! ‘e’s cut me bad,” Reichmann screams. Holding his wounded arm to his chest blood covers his huge belly. He makes for the door, closely followed by his gang.
The four of us lift Scotty, our hero, on our shoulders high above the battered and bruised crowd. The cheers are deafening, as we step carefully over debris in what looks like a war zone, and circle the public bar holding Scotty high, to the cheers of the crowd
All the locals help clean up the mess and we pass the hat around to pay for the damage. In return the Governor buys everyone a beer. Dave, Danny, Ed, Scotty and me close The White Swan with the much-needed last beer at the bar. Scotty, we discover, is a famous football player. He is in London to play in the England v Scotland cup match. He had come to Walthamstow to meet an old army mate at The Swan.
“Laddies, us Scots have mighty hard heads in more ways than one, as your Mr. Reichmann can surely attest!” Are his parting words as he walks toward the front door, to the cheers of us all. Just then Scotty’s army friend comes through the door, and asks “Scotty why are they cheering you?”
“Auk, I just straightened out the David and Goliath story with these Londoners. They did’nee know that David was a Scots soccer player.”
During Sunday lunchtime, at the Swan, we learn that due to police warrants Reichmann was unable to go to the hospital Friday night. Many eyewitnesses swore they saw him sew the long knife wound to his inner arm himself, using an ordinary needle and thread from a sewing kit, which luckily a woman outside the pub had in her handbag.

By Alan Wills

Select all writings of  Alan Wills

Select biography of  Alan Wills

The Judge

The Cursed Earth stretched out for thousands of kilometers. It witnessed the rise and fall of the living. Many thought of it as cursed for the multitude of plagues, mutants and other problems that inhabited the wide berth of land. One human living in it thought it cursed because no longer could it grow green things. One day, maybe, long after her, it would turn green again.
Nately ‘Nat’ Emmett stood atop a rock formation that was also her home. Upon closer inspection one might discover that it was a marooned ship buried in rock. She held binoculars against her eyes scanning the view around her. The nearby valley village of Idrian, over twenty kilometers away, looked quiet from her vantage. She rotated towards the great western wall of Mega City One, standing as a seamless sentinel of civilization on the far horizon. Something in the foreground caught her attention. She changed her focus and spotted some dust clouds and glints of metal amongst the dust. She pulled the binocs closer. Someone was being attacked. If she left now, she might be able to help them. Ask questions later, if alive. At the very least, she could check on the situation.
She disappeared into the ship. Moments later she came out of the base and uncovered a motor cycle. She wore light dusty desert robes. A weapon lay on her thigh and a rifle hung from a strap on her back. She pulled a helmet over her light brown hair and started the engine. It started quietly and off she went.
As she approached the location, she stopped short and went in on foot. There was enough rock for cover. She surveyed the area for henchmen on look-out. All clear. Five members of the Red Rock Gang and another figure were down in the open space surrounding a Judge. Nat’s eyes squinted against the light. A Mega City One Judge in her valley. The gang had dragged him from his bike. He had already been shot. The Judge had killed one of their gang. As Nat found a safer better vantage point, they shot him again before she had her rifle ready. A body lay in the back of their truck. They started beating and kicking the Judge. She heard someone yell above the other screams. Would a Judge sentence her for killing his assailants?
She aimed, took a breath, released it and fired three rounds. She hit the legs of the gang members. Three members went down in screams. The remaining members stopped and looked around. They didn’t know exactly where the shots came from. The Judge immediately looked for his gun. Nat looked to the rock around her, listening for movement. She was safe. The Judge started crawling. The gang members hurried to get their members to their truck. Two of them turned to finish off the Judge. They aimed their weapons. Nat aimed for their weapons and fired. The guns shattered in the mutie’s hands. She hoped they wouldn’t come calling for a doctor. That would be awkward. They looked in her general direction. They moved again and Nat aimed for the ground around their feet. They ran back to their truck swearing and drove off in a plume of dust.
The Judge crawled to his bike and passed out. Nat waited a minute before moving, scanning the area with her binocs. Gritting her teeth, she moved down off the rocks and quickly walked to the area with the judge. The dirt thirstily drank up the blood. Whether human, alien, or mutant it made no difference. Shell casings and a hat lay in the dirt.
She looked up at the Judge resting near his bike, gun loosely held in his fingers. His dented helmet firmly in place. She swung her weapon across her back and placed her hands, palms forward, in the air. He didn’t move. She could see him bleeding on his torso and right thigh and it looked like a possible broken shin bone. She approached the bike carefully. When nothing happened she carefully reached out to feel for a pulse under the helmet. Weak and thready. She looked at the wounds. She pulled a small bottle out of her pack and sprayed it into each wound. The Judge could still feel that.
She looked at the badge. Dredd. Her eyes went wide. She studied the bloodied mouth. She rocked back on her heels calculating.
“Judge Dredd! Can you hear me? Judge Dredd?” she asked. He mumbled something. Gritting her teeth she slapped him.
“Is help coming for you?”
“Negative,…solo mission,” barely came out of him. She nodded, thinking.
“Will your bike help or follow us? I can help you but you are coming with me.” Dredd made a sound in his throat. Nat took a deep breath and pulled out some clean cloth from her hip pack and stuffed them into his various wounds. She unsnapped the shoulder pieces and put them on the side. She tried to lift him and up and check for exit wounds and those as well. His shin felt swollen,
but she had no splints handy. She studied the bike.
“Law Master? Can you respond to me?” she asked. Nat moved Dredd to his back and tied his legs together. She had a herculean task ahead of her. She needed to make a pallet. She ran to her bike and rode it over to him. She pulled out something that looked like a bag with poles from one of her bike packs and started to unfold and lock it. She placed it next to the Judge. She pulled on his hips to create distance between his head and the bike. Nat feared the bike would shock her and time was critical for the Judge, if she could help him. She stood between him and the bike. With her foot on the pallet she leaned forward and placed her arms under this armpits, lifted and heaved him over to the pallet. She did the same with his hips and legs, meanwhile repeating over and over, “Sorree.” While clipping him onto the pallet and then to her bike, she addressed the Law Master.
“I’m going to save Judge Dredd’s life, if no one from the city is coming. I’m taking him to where I live, so I can remove the bullets and repair the damage. Follow me, track, me…if you can. I will hide you as well.” With a towel, she picked up his Lawgiver, wrapped it and put it in her bike pack. Finished with everything, she got on her bike and slowly drove off. She looked at Dredd to make sure he wasn’t worse. Halfway home, she noticed the bike was indeed following and the pallet left nice clean lines in the dust. The rest of the way, she planned how to get him up into the ship. Thankfully she was not completely alone. The ship’s AI touched her consciousness. “Yes, I need help getting him ready. – No! I can’t trust the trainee. – Alone, with you. Keep me alerted,” she said to the presence. They worked out the details before she arrived.

She lay on the floor of the infirmary, panting at the ceiling. Dragging ninety-three kilograms of dead weight up through rocks and up through a hatch onto the med bed made her dizzy. She pulled a few muscles too. To no one but herself she said, “If the waiting doesn’t kill him…GET UP! Get up. Get up. Get up!” She sat up. Safe inside the ship that was her home, she rose unevenly, stumbled to a sink and kit. She spoke out loud often. No one had taught her to be ashamed to think out loud but then again there weren’t many people in her daily life. “What would he think of that?”she asked the air. “No, not you,” she said to the AI. She stripped off her desert clothes and cleaned up, sterilizing as best she could and to herself said, “I need a chair.”
She stood over Dredd checking his pulse. From the time she stopped his bleeding in the desert, to the time she stood over him ready to operate, not more than 30 minutes had passed, but it felt so much longer. Nat had removed the helmet, studied those most private of facial features and attached the anesthesia. Dredd’s clothes lay neatly folded on a table nearby. With the help of the AI, wound by wound Nat, methodically removed bullets, stopped bleeders, closed and treated the wounds. Then she examined the leg and splint it. She placed several blankets over Dredd’s body. She cleaned up all the rags and instruments. His pulse and breathing were steady.
She desperately wanted to lie down. Instead, she made her way back outside to see how big a trail she left with the bike and the litter. The winds had kicked up and little of her passing could be seen. A storm approached. She should really take out the bike to get a better look but she was too tired to trust what could happen. Turning back to the ship, she talked to the AI as she re-entered, “Stay alert. I’m going to sleep. Wake me if I need to check on the Judge. – Thanks.” She fumbled her way up to the main room. She paused to look at the Judge and went on through the nearby hatch, locked the door in the open position and collapsed in her bunk.
After several hours, Nat woke and struggled to get out of her bunk. It seemed every muscle group complained. She got up and checked on the Judge. Steady readings. Good. She went back to bed.

Dredd dreamed disjointed images of past and current enemies and the job. Standing on a corner watching citizens pass by, he became aware of pain. The citizens turned to climb all over him and bury him. The pain seemed all over his body. In the quasi drugged state of his consciousness, he opened his eyes. His helmet? Where is it? He could barely move his neck. He looked down. His right leg was uncovered and a woman had her hands on his leg! He couldn’t think the next question before she turned brown eyes to him mouthing words he couldn’t hear as he slipped back into sleep.

Dredd surfaced from his nightmares slowly. Something was in his hand. It was not his gun. He squeezed and it squeezed back. An alarm went off in his head. He felt the pain afresh as he tried to move. He opened his eyes. Again, No Helmet! A woman sat there holding his hand. He looked at her hand around his and back at her. She let go before he could shake it off. Like a whisper it felt as if with her release the pain felt worse. She spoke in clear tones.
“Do you know what happened to you?” she asked softly. Her eyes were guarded but kind.
“I was ambushed,” he said. She nodded.
“What’s your name?” she asked then added, “It helps me assess how you’re doing.”
“Dredd,” he said.
“My name is Nately Emmett. Many call me Nat,” she shrugged before she added, “You were ambushed by the Red Rock Gang, alien mutie combo. By the time I arrived you had killed one of them. You had been shot several times and have a fractured right shin.” She stopped and looked away. She licked her lips.
“What happened?” he asked. The Judge in him moved back into position. There was fear in her eyes.
“Things are different here in the Cursed Earth…I lucked out spotting you and them. I got my rifle and bike and rode over. I wounded 4 of them. I would have killed them so that I could save you. I don’t know if what I did deserves a sentence from Mega City’s toughest Judge. I saw a Judge in need. I didn’t want to go to jail. I didn’t want a Judge killed. I didn’t know who you were,” she paused at her babbling. His silence unnerved her. She couldn’t read him at all. She stopped talking. She pulled a small flashlight out of a pocket, put it back. Mentally, as a defense, she put on her doctor hat. “I have more…um, Let me check you out this morning.”
“You sustained three bullet wounds and one fracture,” she said. She gently removed the bandages and checked for infection as she kept talking. “It was a tough call. I didn’t know if the city would send help for you.” She noticed a slight shake of his head. She rolled him over on this side to check the bandages on the exit wounds.
“I got out the bullets. Disinfected the wounds and put a splint on your leg. You’ve been in and out for two and a half days, mostly out. So far, no fever and you appear to be healing quickly,” she said. She finished looking at his thigh bandage. She looked back at him and pulled out the small flashlight.
“Now, look at my finger as I shine this light in your eyes. Follow my finger.” She looked intently at his pupil dilation as she move her finger and light. His eyes tracked with her finger perfectly and pupils were dilating fine. “Good.” She moved to his feet and uncovered them. “It was a challenge to get you up here so I’m checking everything.” She ran her thumb up the arch. “Do you feel that?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. She switched to the other foot.
“And that?”
Nat let out a deep sigh she didn’t realize she had been holding. “You’re doing well. I don’t have Mega City med services to speed this up. I heavily recommend 5 more days of rest before testing the stitches and the leg. I know you don’t want to be here, but I want to you to make it back,” she said.
“Where is my uniform?” he asked gruffly.
Embarrassed suddenly, she pointed to another table but told him when he couldn’t turn to see them. He slowly turned and saw them. They were mostly cleaned and folded neatly. She moved closer to that table.
“I repaired most of the damage,” she said. “I tried to salvage them. I’m sorry for any indignity my actions may have caused,” she said as she fidgeted with her flashlight. She couldn’t look at him. Silence stretched out between them, the first of many.
“Would you have preferred I left you out there to die? Did I make a mistake?” She mustered the courage to look over at him.
“There seem to be some – extenuating circumstances.” It was not a verdict but kept it open ended. He watched her accept it and added, “You fixed me. Thank you.”
She nodded.
Dredd tried to sit up but he felt a dagger of pain and felt a moment of dizziness. He sorely missed the Justice Med Bays. He felt her next to him. She pulled him up with effort and quickly put a roll of blankets behind him and made sure it didn’t rub the exit wound.
“Good enough for now?”
“I can leave you for a while now. Do you object?”
“We’ll talk again later. Ask me any question you want,” she said. She pointed to a switch for the light that he could reach. She moved to a bag on the floor and pulled out a book. Dredd wondered who this woman was.
“Your bike makes me nervous. I wanted to find one of your law books I suspect you always carry with you, but I didn’t dare. Here is a law book that my father had from his days. It is well worn,” she said. She held the book, caressed it for a moment. She handed it to him with both hands. His face softened ever so slightly and snapped back. He wondered at her statement and accepted the offering.
Nat nodded and left the room silently. Off in what sounded like a great distance, he heard a door and then a motor start and fade away. He studied his infirmary living space. It looked like a ship. Writing on the walls, key pads and doors looked unfamiliar, so he made a mental note to find out what galactic language later in Mega City One.
He looked at the law book in his hands. The copyright was twenty years previous. Her father’s law book? Emmett? The name was unfamiliar. Inside the book cover was the written name, Wilson. He repeated the name in his mind. He would look into that when he had the chance. The pages were worn. It could be a good review of historical precedence. He read until he fell asleep.

Nat had high hopes for this Judge. She wanted or needed, depending on how she felt, to go to MC1, as she called it, for further medical training and more. She hoped that Judge Dredd would agree to take her back with him. She approached the small village of Idrian. A few locals saw her and they exchanged waves. She intended her visit to be short. She had to find her assistant in training. Together they would check on a few neighbors and she wanted to talk to the mayor. She intended to let them know of her plans and talk them into the long range goals she had for them. They might not be so happy about it. She told herself it was for them that she was doing this. She had a lot of ideas.

When Nat returned to her ship, buried in the red rocks of the valley, Dredd was fast asleep. In her bunk room which also doubled as the kitchen and all purpose room, Nat prepared another meal and some soup. She plated the food and sat down in Dredd’s direct eye line, if he woke up. After eating, she made a tisane, in her room.
“Emmett?” he asked from the other room.
“Yes, Dredd. I’m here,” she said. It never occurred to her to use his first name. She walked into his field of vision. “Do you need anything?”
“Hungry?” There was a pause.
“Yes,” he said, more like confirmation to himself.
“Good sign.” She helped him sit further up. She brought a tray with the soup and tea and placed it on the small table near him. She sat at the table across the room. A pile of books at her shoulder. “Sorry, it’s all liquid for now. It’s best for your guts.”
Dredd smelled the food and cautiously tasted it. No worse than anything Walter had prepared and possibly better.
“You’re not a mutant. Why do you live here?” he asked.
“Not a mutant?” she mused, “Hmm. I’ll tell you my story while you eat. My parents left Mega City One, I’ve shortened it to MC1, before Cal built the wall. My father, Thomas Wilson, went through the Law Academy but quit shortly after being a judge. He didn’t wall off his emotions. I don’t know how he made it through the academy. He fell in love with my mother, Breeze Emmett. She was a teacher, I think, or wanted to be. She had studied medicine. I had passed the assessment. I entered the academy and then I was out here in the Cursed Earth. They never explained. I’ve never known why. I don’t know if they ever regretted that decision.
“We went as far as this valley…They survived about 4 years, then they were killed by slavers because they got in the way. Close friends protected me at that time. I don’t know if what I was told is the truth but I had no recourse. One day wandering alone, taking stupid risks,” she grimaced, “I found this ship. I think he’s been here for a long long time. I say ‘he’ because of my preference. The AI is a high functioning intelligence….The AI actually installed an implant,”she pointed to her head, “..longer story. He talks to me through the implant. We have helped each other – stay sane…surrogate parent….I moved in here when I thought I was old enough and slowly I’ve been repairing the systems and studying,” she took a breath and paused before continuing, “I started to help the villagers with broken bones and sickness, with his help. He scans the surrounding area, alerting me when I need to go on the offensive. We’ve stayed safe. For now.”
“You operated,” he said. She nodded.
“Yes and he helped with what I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve read a lot of law and medicine books over the years.” They talked. Most of the talking done by Nat until they both grew tired.
They sat there silently for a few moments. Nat looked inside wondering about answering his initial question. She had tried to leave. There had been life threatening attempts.
“I’ve stayed here for several reasons,” she said. Her gaze lost some of her focus. “Let’s call it a night,” said Nat. She yawned and stretched.
“I would love to know more about MC1 and your day to day life, your job,” she said as she eased him back down.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
“Of course,” she said.
She continued to make eye contact with him. He always had his helmet on and so no one could make eye contact. They were intimidated by it. He was the face of the Law. He longed to put it back on. Longed to see again through polarized filters and the HUD. He felt her still in the room. Little noises gave away her activities. He processed all the information she had provided about herself, the ship and the valley. She had dedicated herself to their care and protection. Admirable and very likely foolish without support of the Law. If her story proved to be true, it was a miracle she was still alive. Her days were likely shorter than his. He admitted an inkling of respect for her and gratitude for saving his life and then filed it away.
As these thoughts flowed through his mind, he relaxed and went to sleep. Across the room Nat finished putting away the books. She watched until his face relaxed. She moved closer. His chin the most prominent feature and his mouth relaxed into a more natural downward line leaving fuller lips then suspected. Care and frown lines around his eyes smoothed out. He wasn’t conventionally handsome but he wasn’t ugly. He had a good face. She moved her hand up to block half his face with her hand. Soon enough, she knew that would be all she would ever see again.
“G’night Dredd,” she whispered. She lightly touched his hand and left the room.

Nat woke up and laid in her bunk half asleep. She heard sounds – grunting – and adrenaline flooded her body. She bolted out of bed with a weapon in her hand, scanning the room. Memory flooded back. Judge Joseph Dredd lay in her care in the next room. Rubbing her face, she walked into the infirmary room. He had managed to sit halfway up and put the blankets behind him. He looked at her.
“Dredd,” she said. The gun was still in her hand. She put it behind her back.
“Emmett” he said. She changed topics.
“Ready for some food?”
“Yes.” Nat went back to her multipurpose room, changed her clothes and prepared food. She brought it out.
“Dredd, yesterday, I answered maybe all your questions. May I ask – please tell me about your daily life. What’s it like to be a judge? Is that OK to talk about?” she asked as she placed the food down for him and moved to sit at a nearby table. Dredd checked the page of the law book and laid it down carefully. He picked up the soup and tasted it.
“Being a street judge in a dying city is hard work. Violence, aliens, invasions, and weird situations all come into play. We are called in to handle all sorts of cases,” he said and drank some soup.
“Maybe tell me about an average day,” she said.
“No day is average but I think I understand your meaning,” he said. Dredd proceeded to tell her a play by play detailed account of a day and the multiple calls he answered and assisted. Nat listened attentively filling in gaps with memories of childhood. She heard his selflessness, dedication, his leadership, his rigid will and zealotry for the law and his care for the greater good of the city. She also heard and felt what he denied himself. Her eyes slowly brimmed with tears. Dredd noticed and stopped.
“Nately – You’re an empath,” he said. The authority and insight floored Nat.
“I was a frequent disappointment to my father. He wanted me to be what he failed to be but passed it on to me,” she said, thinking out loud. She felt uncomfortable. “It seems to me, with the life I’ve had so far, that a judge needs to be a machine. Some of the Regs make more sense to me now…but I didn’t realize how lonely and painful it can be. I shouldn’t be surprised. I–I don’t know how you do it.”
“Fifteen years of training. Some judges crack under the pressure. Some take the long walk. Judges die every day,” his voice more gruff. “The Law is life. The law is everything. We should study it daily and be focused on the law all day. There is little time for else.”
“So many laws. How can a good citizen keep track?” she asked.
“Ignorance is no excuse,” he said.
“I’ve lived in the lawless cursed earth for 10 years. All the people out here have done something,” she said. She moved her hands as if to brush away a fly and said, “I talk too much. I – I need to check on a few things. I’ll be back.” She walked out of the infirmary. She walked through the ship. And stopped near the top hatch. She stood there several long minutes thinking things through.
Nat stood in her room looking into the infirmary. She stared at the helmet. She sensed he wanted it. Didn’t know why he didn’t demand it. She walked into the room over to the helmet. Dredd looked up from his book and watched her. She picked up the uniform and helmet and turned to him.
“The world is a cruel place and so it seems the law can be as well. I want to ask you something else,” she paused as she handed him his clothes of office, “Let me know if you need assistance.”
She looked him in the eye for the last time expecting to find cold assessment and saw something else, perhaps approval or relief that he had his uniform. With his hands full and without much thought on her end, she reached over and kissed him. Being a Judge, he didn’t kiss back. It was as if she kissed a warm rock.
Nat quickly disappeared through the infirmary hatch into her room. Once in that room, she jumped up and down, not in excitement but more like she had just burned her hand on the stove. I am going to jail, she told her herself. Why’d she do it? There were lots of reasons. He is a healthy male. He is from the city. He is a Judge. He is her patient. Am I falling for my patient she asked herself. That’s just wrong she told herself and moaned. She sat in her bunk waiting to hear anything. Now, she didn’t want to face him. Fifteen minutes went by and she edged closer to the door. She swallowed.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“I can’t cover my right leg,” he said. Nat went to a small box with alien writing and pulled 2 pieces of cloth from it. Nat stepped into the infirmary. The helmet glanced at her with only his chin available. She moved over to his leg and changed the splint to the unassuming cloth. The wound looked clean and the leg was healing fast. She slipped the cloth around his foot and up his shin until it felt firm against the bone.
“How does that feel?” she asked.
“Like a glove,” he said.
“I’m sorry Judge. I shouldn’t have kissed you. In the city, no doubt, there would have been a sentence,” she said as she worked.
“Six months in the Iso Cubes,” he said.
Nat accepted that with a sigh. There could be mercy. She fixed the suit around the high tech splint. She moved closer to his torso. He grasped her forearm.
“Nately, you’ve done the near impossible in this place. I’ll allow it, this one time, as a warning. Do it again, once inside the City, six months in the Iso Cubes,” he said. Nat looked at him with big eyes. “How much time for an impulsive hug?” she asked. He let go of her hand and she backed up having sensed his annoyance.
“Don’t make it a habit. You haven’t earned familiarity yet and a judge cannot love anything but the law. Attachments are distractions and we cannot afford them; therefore, they are against the law,” he said. “It can also be dangerous for you.” She nodded. This was the most she had talked to anyone in ages other than the AI. She felt ashamed and slightly confused.
“It sounds so lonely,” she said quietly, not looking at him and then added as she looked at him, “You look ready to go,” she said.
“Not without the rest of it,” he said. She smiled.
“Try to stand up,” she said. She watched as he sat all the way up and tentatively put his weight on his right leg. Nat put a small glass jar with a lid on the table next to the law book.
“Inside is a salve to put on the wounds to keep them clean. I think from here on you can do that without me,” she said.
“Judge, can I go back with you? I was hoping I could go to school, get real training and come back here. Can I get training?” she asked. She pulled another piece cloth out of her pocket. She picked up his knife and handed it to him.
“What are you doing?” he asked. Nate held up the piece of black fabric as tightly as she could between her hands.
“Please. Stab the middle of this,” she said. He hesitated and thrust the knife forward. “Again,” she said. Dredd attempted to pierce it again. Without her saying, he tried harder driving Nat a few steps back. She handed the cloth to him. He looked at it closely.
“That’s all I have of that. I and the AI have been working on a formula to recreate it. I want to work on the formula and make enough of it and wear it back here….and offer it to the justice department.” Her demeanor changed. She looked at him with passionate determination.
“Nately, I’ve had every intention of taking you back to Mega City One,” he said. He expected an emotional response and another attempt to hug him. She looked at him and nodded. Good, he thought.
“Thank you,” she said. She put the cloth away. She left him to himself. She went into her room and started to think about what she could take that would be hard to replace. She didn’t know if she would be gone a year, 5 years or forever. She also kept in mind that she’d probably be riding with the judge on his bike rather than hers. No room for sentiment, only necessity.
Dredd dismissed the frustration he felt. The Med Teks could have healed his leg in ten minutes. Remarkably, it didn’t feel as bad as he knew it could. He limped around the infirmary testing any limits and pushing himself. The wounds still hurt but he didn’t notice them as much. He had had worse before when he was younger. He looked into the hatch opposite the one Nat walked through. Then he checked out her multipurpose room. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as she packed and organized things. She used this activity to think and plan.
The rest of the day went quietly. The One window Dredd found was dirty and it looked like a sand storm was moving through the area. Storms could be minutes or hours…perhaps days. He frowned.

The next morning, Joseph Dredd dreamed again. He sat in a classroom. Rico sat next to him. They laughed. Joseph frowned at the laugh. “Joseph.” He heard his name called. “Joseph.” A woman’s soft voice. He turned from his brother’s face to the sound. His eyes opened and looked into Nat’s brown eyes close to him.
“Nothing’s wrong. The Storm has blown over. Willing to go topside with me? Fifteen tight steps going up and a top-side hatch,” she said.
“I’d like to get my bearings,” he said. He forced himself to sit up. He could smell that the same food cooking. His boots had been moved and waited for him. Wincing, he leaned over and put them on. The right leg proved a little tricky but once the boot was on it felt better. Standing on it felt rough but doable. He hated the pain but pain taught lessons. Pain humbled the proud. Pain pointed to strength. Pain distracted.

Nat waited for him in her hatchway and nodded her head to follow. She led him through a few more hatches then to the stairs that spiraled up to an outer hatch. Nat went up the steps to the top. These 15 steps reminded him of limitations. Each one gave him more determination to put them behind him. She opened the hatch and covered her face from the dust, sand, and pebbles falling in. Dredd paused behind her. Nat took a short ladder and hooked it up under the opening. Halfway up the ladder she put her arm out and pulled herself up through the hatch. Who needs grace, she thought. She turned around to watch Dredd pull himself up through the hatch and straighten up. Nat put the binocs to her eyes and looked toward the village. Figures were out and about. She watched them for a moment to see if she could tell what they were doing. Dredd scanned the horizon and found the western wall with no problem. His HUD helped him judge the distance left to go. He scanned the rest and stood next to her looking towards the village.
“You see the village?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“So far this year we have about 60 residents. Right now they aren’t too happy that I’m leaving. Fear I won’t come back. And not happy with the assistant I left down there either,” she said. She turned to look at the wall. We lost our advantage for today. Traveling in the dark on bikes is dangerous -” she stopped herself. “Look who I’m talking to…sorree,” she asked.
“I’m ready. Are you?” he asked her.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she said. Another moment of silence in the dusty breezes.
“Golden reds and browns, wind sun and moon my companions, haunted by green things,”she whispered. She looked through the binocs again. He looked at her. Dredd looked at the orange, gold and red tones of rock and sand. The sky hung over them in an odd shade of blue. Had he ever looked before? It didn’t matter.
“You’re a poet too,” he said. Whether a declarative or a dismissal, that statement made her blush.
“Yeah. Maybe. We should go. You’ll be easy to spot if someone is looking, so we shouldn’t stand here any longer,”she said. She made her way to the hatch. “You first.” Dredd squatted and swung himself down with a grunt. Nat put the binocs on her back and sat in the hatch and swung her legs over to the ladder and lowered herself down. She unhooked the ladder and closed the hatch. Next she took him down to the bottom of the ship and out the hatch to check on the Law Master. He didn’t see his bike at first but a similar shape. Nat pulled off the cover. Remarkable. It totally disguised the bike, he thought.
Dredd proceeded to check functions and talk to Mack, his Law Master computer. Nat left him so she could survey and watch for dust trails and talk with the AI. “I don’t know how long I’ll be – maybe. Could be a year or 5…I..I don’t know. Life is unpredictable. I will miss you too. No. Don’t trust them and neither should you,” she said to the ship. When Dredd was ready, he found Nat looking over her bike inside the ship.
They went back to the infirmary. Dredd propped up his leg and checked the circulation of his foot. Nat went to her room to prepare under the guise of giving him space and herself time to say goodbye. No matter the pain, Dredd had supplies in his bike. He would take Nat with him. He’d give her the chance to do what she wanted. The rest would be up to her. He calculated the journey ahead. In time they ate, talked of what to expect at the gate, the city, the Council of 5, and went to sleep.

By Jennfier Packard

Select all Writings of  Jennifer Packard

Select Biography of  Jennifer Packard

The Journey So Far

You Know Dave

My best friend is dying. There’s nothing I can do to change that. You know Dave; he’s your father, your brother, or the man who walks his dog past your house at 8am. As they say in Dave’s state, Ohio “he’s good people.” One day Dave will be you.

My Dave is a lot older than me. Forget that eighty-seven years young crap. Eighty-seven is old. Medicine can extend a life so that one can exist, but it is a long way from making ones octogenarian years a culmination of a life of joy. The smart ones find joy from a diminishing life menu, a cup of coffee, birdsong and if they are really lucky holding the hand of a wife or partner who loves them.

My Dave is not that smart or lucky. He spent too many years “going to” rather than doing. Too many years single rather than nakedly standing in front of another soul and saying know me and allow me to know you. When we first met one of the joys of David was that he had done so many more things than me, been so many more places and had experienced things I’d only read about. He’d met people that death prevents me from meeting in this lifetime.

We met at college believe it or not. I a complete newbie to America, not knowing anyone and coming from a village that still had cobblestones and a stocks in its center. He would take me for groceries once a week in his car and then we’d have dinner. His stories dazzled me but as the years went on and I had graduated, had children and sadly gotten divorced it became ever more apparent that his “life” was in the past. There was no present; there was no future and each day the sun rose and set twenty years earlier for him. His self-imposed isolation accrues interest with each year.

Ironically this blind spot in him did not obscure his vision of others. He was the one that taught me that the present doesn’t have to repeat the past. It is written by the choices that one makes right now. For that and many other things, I’ll always be grateful to him.

Our thirty-year friendship will not reach thirty-one years. It might, but I doubt it. System by system his body is shutting down and pain erodes his spirit. On a daily basis, I try to give him dignity when time and ever-stronger medicines are taking it way from him. Today I’ll do the life needs of cutting his nails, pulling his pants up and down and making him a tasty meal, I’ll clean his apartment and sort out his paperwork. Those are existing things. If we’re lucky and he’s up to it, we’ll go for a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, we’ll have a glass of wine somewhere he’s never been before which his doctors would probably frown upon, but which he’ll enjoy, and I’ll introduce him to the wonders of ITunes. Those are living things.

After I’ve finished looking after him, it’s home to my rascals ages 2, 6 and 13. Never is the circle of life more apparent than when you are loving and caring for such extreme ends of the lifespan.

Today is your day. The clock is ticking, and there are no refunds. Be it your professional or personal life make the most of what you’ve got and give your Dave, a call. I know he’d appreciate it.

By Michael Jeremy Savage

Select all writings of  Michael Savage

Select biography of  Michael Savage

The Internet President: None of the Above

Chapter 01
War Paint

If Maria Cortez hears the word “gorgeous” again, someone’s getting it in the nuts. Never been kissed and never will. She hides behind grandma glasses and unflattering makeup, but not even clothes that cover every inch of skin, besides her hands and face, can save her from the curse of beauty.
Maria sits in an executive suite with the feel of a teenager’s bedroom. A half-built Lego battle cruiser and robotic components clutter the elegant decor. Science fiction posters wallpaper the room. Near the door, a couple of dozen ants tunnel through space-age gel, in an ant habitat lit up like an alien world.
At the rear of the room is an enormous oak desk. Alvin Renquist presides in the seat of power. He is all teeth, a shark eater. If greed is good, he’s a saint. Six chairs surround the desk, for those who might seek an audience with him.
Maria wonders why James picked Renquist to buy the company. He acts like he owns the place, but he doesn’t yet. “The purchase closes today. Why haven’t your funds hit escrow?”
Renquist slips into the adjoining seat. “I want you as interim CEO, under my guidance.”
Maria eyes him suspiciously. “If I’m CEO, what about James?”
“I’ll make you the face of the company.” Renquist slides his hand onto her thigh.
She retreats a seat closer to the door. “Answer my questions.”
Renquist pursues and sits next to her.
Maria’s leg quivers.
He reaches towards her thigh again but pauses.
“Of course, a makeover!” Renquist undresses her with his eyes, imagining every hidden contour. “Take off those glasses. Add some makeup. Put on a big smile. I can see it now. Billboards. TV. You’ll be everywhere.” The words slither from his mouth as he tries to caress her cheek.
Renquist grazes her face before she swats his hand away.
Maria tries to stay professional and composed, but her whole body shudders. Is it fear, or rage, that stirs within her? She fends off his advances and stands. “Stop! Let’s pretend we have a safe word, and I used it.”
He closes in.
Maria won’t be a victim. She takes a karate stance.
Renquist withdraws, with his hands raised. “Fine. Grab James, and we’ll sort this all out.”
She flings the door open and strides outside. Tiny helicopters, inflatable sharks, and small drones buzz around an unremarkable cubicle farm. Nerf Darts whiz by Maria’s head. A six-inch helicopter crashes to the carpet. She smirks, but her apprehension remains.
James Wong advances down the aisle with a cardboard tower shield and homemade lightsaber. Software developers shoot him with Nerf guns. Their projectiles bounce off his tower shield.
More creative supernova than businessman, it’s moments like these where Maria isn’t the only one to see his inner child.
When he sees Maria, James drops his tower shield and sprints towards her. “Do you remember our first hit app?” He clicks a button on the hilt of his sword and thrusts. Fart sounds change pitch as he swings his weapon.
“May the fart be with you, always,” James says. Maria and James chuckle together. “From fart app to billion-dollar company. We did it. Today is the best day of my life.” James fist pumps.
Her smile crumples. “The buyer wants to see us.”
The intercom turns on with a hiss. “James Wong to my office now.” Over the speakers, Renquist’s voice sounds like an angry school principal.
James puts down his lightsaber. “Why does the Eye of Sauron have to summon me every time I’m having fun?” He grins. “At least it’s good news.”
The employees scatter. Cubicle airspace clears. The programmers put away their toys, slink into their Aeron chairs, and return to work.
Distress fills Maria with every step. It’s like a roller coaster rising farther and farther into the sky.
James seems too preoccupied with his perfect day to notice. He struts into the executive suite.
Maria follows closely.
Two burly bodyguards flank Renquist.
James checks his bank on his phone. “What is your bidding my…” He points to his empty bank account on the phone. “Oh wait, you’re not my master.”
Renquist rips an Aliens movie poster off the wall. James lunges at Renquist, but the security guards intervene.
“Every time you make a movie reference, I destroy a poster.” Renquist rips the poster into strips, and then into oversized confetti.
“This isn’t your office.” James takes a deep breath. “Not until the money clears.”
Renquist squints at the ant habitat. “Everything will be clear in a minute, but first, what kind of freak has ants in his office?”
James says, “Ants are my reminder that with determination and teamwork, anything is possible. As many as a million ants can work together in a colony. Imagine if humans could accomplish—”
“I didn’t ask for the whole Wikipedia entry.” Renquist shakes his head.
Maria retreats to the back of the room. She can feel her roller coaster about to plunge.
“Well James, I’ve got good news. You’re fired.” Renquist throws up poster confetti.
James does a double take. “I think I misheard you.”
“I didn’t say the good news was for you,” Renquist says. “I’m taking Adaptive Unlimited in a new direction, without you.”
“You said you wanted me, along with my company!”
“I lied. I tend to do that.”
James puffs out his chest. “You’ll never find a replacement who knows this company as well as I do.”
“I already have.” Renquist smiles.
“Who could…”
James looks at Maria. How could she? Shock. Fear. Betrayal. “Maria? Maria.”
There’s an eon of silence.
Maria bolts from the room without a word. The door slams behind her.
She zips into the adjoining office and dashes straight to her desk. Monitor on. Keys clack. Live surveillance of the executive suite displays on the monitor. Maria listens, as she pulls a dusty box from the bottom of her cabinet. She opens the box and smiles at the provocative clothes and boots inside.
James pleads, in the other room. “This company is my life. I sleep more in the office than I do at home. Don’t do this!”
“You couldn’t even lead a Boy Scout troop. You’ve only muddled this far because Maria covers for you.”
Maria monitors events in the next room as she undresses. She flings her conservative outfit on the floor one item at a time.
“I built this company one crazy idea after another, a whole trainload of them,” James says. “Maria follows me. She’s the caboose on the crazy train.”
“Is that what you think?” Maria grumbles at her screen and scrunches her nose in anger.
“If you, Maria, or anybody, doesn’t want to ride the crazy train, this is your stop.” James points to the door.
Maria slinks into knee-high boots with stiletto heels. It’s the first step of a sensual self-makeover. She puts on her power suit. Form-fitted leatherette pants and a scandalous front-zip black bustier hug every curve. Her personality shifts, molts, leaving her old self on the ground. Confident. Powerful. Invincible.
James says, “I’m not selling!”
“Just hand over your $150 million cancellation fee, and you can have your company back,” Renquist teases.
“Fine. When does our $1.2 billion arrive?”
Renquist says, “The money’s never coming. You didn’t catch the resale clause. I can resell your company to another buyer before the purchase completes, extending the contract. Profits and control in the meantime go to the seller.”
“Right, and I’m the seller.”
“Wrong. During a resale, I’m redefined as the seller. So, your company will go through one resale after another, for years, decades, if it’s worth the trouble. I get the profits and control. You get nothing. Where did you get your lawyer? A park bench?”
“You reassigned variables on me,” James murmurs. He slumps to his knees like a deflated tire.
Maria springs up and pounds the table. She gets self-conscious, worried they might hear her in the next room. She scrutinizes the screen for a reaction to the noise.
He spreads out the fingers in his hand and stares at them, as he imagines all that cash slipping away. “Nuked from orbit. Game over.”
“That sounds like movie talk to me. Were you born in a theater or something? Talk normal.” Renquist rips an Avatar movie poster off the wall. He tears through it like an impatient child unwrapping a present.
Renquist circles James, a predator finishing off his prey.
Maria roots for him, riveted to the monitor. “Fight him, James. Don’t let him do this to you. To us.”
Renquist leans towards James. “Crazy smart works for startups, but not in Corporate America. You should know your place on the org chart. If I say wear a pink dress, or eat out of a dog bowl, that’s what you do. You don’t respect the chart. You don’t belong on it. That’s why security is gathering your toys as we speak.”
The bodyguards snicker and high five. Their body language suggests they no longer consider James a threat.
Renquist grabs his briefcase from under the desk. He opens it and removes a can of Raid Ant and Roach Spray.
Maria pulls a mirror from her desk. She fixes her makeup and applies ruby lipstick with deliberation as war paint.
James eyes the spray can. He pushes off the floor to lunge at Renquist. The guards tackle James before he reaches his target. Renquist steps over James, approaches the ant habitat, and flips open the lid. James watches helplessly on the ground, pinned underneath 500 pounds of hired muscle.
“You’re an ant, and I’m top of the food chain.” Renquist sprays into the ant habitat. The deadly liquid flows down the gel tunnels. Chemical odors waft through the air. The ants scamper no more.
Renquist crouches down towards James. “I’d say you were a worthy adversary, but even I have a limit on how many lies I can tell in a day.” He gets back up and motions to his guards. “I want people talking about it for weeks. Remove him.”
Each guard grabs an arm and drags James backward, beyond the edge of her monitor. Maria can no longer see him. She rushes to her doorway, just in time to see him dragged into the hallway.
James glares at Maria. He fixates on her lipstick and snickers. “You’re going to pay for your betrayal.” He tries to kick free, but only kicks metal filing cabinets along the hallway.
Bystanders peek their heads out of their cubes like gophers to catch the spectacle.
The guards yank James around the corner, out of sight.
Maria creeps back into her office. She pulls three external solid-state drives from under the desk. She covers them with bubble wrap and slips them into pre-addressed packages. Maria peers out to check if Renquist has his door closed. Confirmed.
Thelma, the company’s only executive assistant, sits at the reception desk across from the executive suite.
Maria slips Thelma the packages and nods.
Thelma nods back. She pushes the intercom button. “Maria Cortez is here to see you.”
“Thanks, Thelma, buzz her in,” Renquist says.
The door opens. Maria slinks in, fully transformed from drab female to sex goddess. She’s on the prowl for big game.
Renquist forgets who she is for a moment. The whole day is forgotten. He focuses on her.
“How’s this for a makeover?” she purrs. “I hope you brought a pill. I might need a full four hours.”
All the blood rushes from his brain. If he were any more brain dead, he’d require life support.
She saunters to his desk, one sensual step after another.
He fumbles for the intercom key. “Cancel all my meetings. I don’t want to be disturbed.”
“Is this seat taken?” Maria asks innocently, as she slides onto his lap. Her hand explores the contours of his chest. He gently inhales the scent of her perfume. His smile barely fits on his face.
She yanks at his tie and whispers. “Do you like it rough?”
He nods vigorously.
She chokes him with the necktie.
He turns red. A gasp. Panic. Renquist slams the table with his flailing right arm.
Maria loosens the tie. With a soft caress, she lulls him back to the fantasy.
Thelma buzzes the intercom. “Are you alright, Mr. Renquist?”
“Disregard any disturbances. It’s going to get noisy.”
“Understood.” Thelma sighs, with disgust. “Since I have you, the 11 o’clock mailman is here if you—”
“I don’t want to be disturbed. That includes you, the mailman, and everyone else. I don’t care if your hair is on fire. Don’t bother me.” Renquist disconnects the intercom.
“Nibble on my ear. Lick me like a dog.” He sticks out his tongue to the max and pants.
She strokes his ear and pats him on the head. “Good doggy.”
Maria rises off his lap and pulls him up. He attempts to embrace her, but she backpedals. The desk blocks her retreat.
Renquist shoves everything off the desk. His water pitcher shatters, creating a puddle. “I hope the carpet isn’t the only thing that’s wet.”
It’s too much. It’s all Maria can do to stifle a snort of contempt. She turns away and rolls her eyes. She turns back to Renquist and smiles seductively.
He heaves Maria into the air and plops her on the table. He leans in for a kiss. Maria shakes her finger no and points to the floor.
Renquist throws off his suit jacket, kneels down, and imitates a dog begging for food.
She tips him over onto his back. He loosens the top buttons on his shirt.
Hostility seeps through her facade. “I’m sorry about earlier. I must have forgotten to take off my ‘please fuck me’ sign.”
Renquist looks confused. He laughs nervously and unbuttons down to his navel, slower with each button.
Maria jabs Renquist playfully in the thigh with the toe of her boots. She circles him counterclockwise and kicks as she goes along as if tenderizing meat.
His face reflects a battle between a libido clinging to a fantasy and his brain attempting a reboot.
Sexy ends, anger starts. In an instant, fire in Maria’s eyes. “You want to fuck me? Am I meat, for you to devour? Did you think I was yours? I’m not for you. I have feelings. I. Am. A. Person.”
Her words hit him like an instant cold shower. He’s back. “You’re too hot to be a person.”
The assault escalates. Repeated blows crush his ribs. Crunch.
Renquist groans in pain. He scoots across the floor to flee. “I’ve never hit a woman, but there’s always a first time!”
“Security!” They aren’t coming. He eyeballs the intercom. Disconnected. He fishes his cell phone from his left pants pocket.
Maria punts the phone from his hand. It flies across the room and hits the wall. Shards break off, but it’s intact. She feigns an attack.
He cowers and holds hands up defensively.
“For months, I made vids of every dirty thing you’ve done in this office.” Maria towers over him with a cocky smile. “I’ll ask you for a favor someday. You pay up. I destroy everything. Until then, you owe me one.”
Renquist rises to his feet. “The only thing I owe you is an unmarked grave!”
Maria does a roundhouse kick to his head. Her right stiletto heel slices his cheek. The heel breaks on impact but remains attached to the shoe. She wobbles, then regains balance. “I’d better not get hurt. If this evidence gets out, they’ll bury you next to me.”
Renquist breathes heavily through gritted teeth. He clenches his fist and strains every muscle to hold back. Blood trickles down his cheek.
Maria stumbles out the door, with one high heel dangling. She leaves a small trail of bloody heel prints. After a few yards, Maria groans and intentionally breaks off the other heel. Maria lumbers away on her tiptoes. The heels flop with each step.

By P.G.Sundling

Select all writings of  P.G. Sundling

Select biography of  P.G. Sundling

The Legend of V: Pyscho Star Showdown!

 Description: The third installment of “The Legend of V” series: Psycho Star Showdown! Join V, his brothers Z and D, his best friends Griff and Azilez, and new Omoh sapien friend Vizor on a journey to the Space Garden, a series of asteroids connected by a black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. They will unravel the secrets of the government-hidden Project Mutant, a research experiment disguised as the first manned space expedition designed to give humans supernatural abilities.

Chapter 8
Castle Kusondela

Absolute monarch, huh? That’s impressive, and she barely looks older than any of us. Maybe I should be studying royalty to be like her one day. I mean, this queen seems way better at her job than the king. I wonder how she became queen this young. That’s probably a touchy subject though, as typically, the queen’s mother has to die for that to happen. Better not ask ‘till the time’s right… if it’ll ever be right.
“Come along, everyone. I will give you a PROPER tour of Castle Kusondela.” The queen glares at King Veniss. He just puts his hands behind his head as if he’s on a hammock. “This way, please. Veniss, follow. I’ll teach you how to properly give tours of the castle again.” She guides her hand to where she came from. All of us follow up. “Be sure to follow only where I go. This castle has a peculiar… how should I put this… glitch.”
“What do you mean by that?” Azilez asks making sure her brush is still in her back pocket.
“It’s one of the consequences of being powered by a black hole. You see, occasionally, a dark blue-lit room will randomly appear in which there is nothing but a podium and a cassette tape. If you ever see this while in the castle, run back to the door in which you came. Otherwise, the black hole will consume you.”
“WHAT? That’s a big glitch.” Azilez’s heart skips a beat.
“Do not worry, for I can sense when this will happen because of my uncanny ability to manipulate light at will.”
“Wait, so that fireworks show when you greeted us wasn’t the staff’s doing? That was you?” Griff asks.
“Yes.” He shows approval and nods. “Now then, let me see…” She places her left hand on one of the diamond-shaped carpet doors. “This room is not glitched. Enter.”
“She’s so poised.” Azilez whispers to Vizor.
“So it would seem.” Vizor agrees, except he forgets to whisper.
“So it would seem… what?” Queen Neona slowly turns her head. “Umm…” Vizor freezes from the chills Neona sends down his spine. “Hahaha! Do not fret. I’m simply joking.” Huh. I didn’t expect that from
her. Who knew a monarch so commanding could have a decent sense of humor too? “Come, please. I insist.” She guides us with her hand once more.
Inside the almost opaque room, there seems to be a giant computer monitor with a few hundred smaller monitors surrounding it. At each small monitor, there is an employee with a bright yellow jumpsuit on with an orange biker helmet. The big computer screen seems to be depicting a radar map.
“What is this place?” I ask.
“Our military head. This is Star Security’s headquarters. You may have noticed the lack of anything other than houses outside of the castle.”
“Yeah, we did.” I reply.
“Well, that is because everything in our society is run through this castle. The black hole powers the castle, and the castle powers the houses and the people

within them. This proves to be an effective system because nothing in this universe can counteract a black hole. Not even light. It is the ultimate energy source.”
“How advanced!” Vizor is suddenly fascinated with the potential technology in the room.
– Hold on, Vizor. Griff interrupts. – This is the military headquarters, right? They might know about Project Mutant, and I’d say right now is the best time to ask.
– Keen senses, Griff. Thanks. “Excuse me, Queen Neona?”
“What troubles you, err… what are your names? Forgive me for not asking.” She bows.
“No trouble. My name is Vizor.” “I’m Azilez!”
“D. I love the flowers outside.” “Griff.”
“V .”
“Hey! Aren’t you going to introduce us too, Griff?” His backpack moves by itself. He grabs the straps with both hands to make sure the backpack doesn’t fly off his shoulders.
“My, my. What do we have here?” The queen tilts her head.
“Uh… nothing, nothing!” Griff quickly shakes his hands.
“Are you certain? I’m positive I heard a sound emitting from your sack.” “All in your imagination!” Griff smiles. – Wisdom! Tell Speedy to shut up!
I don’t want the queen knowing about you five.
– Why is that? I see no harm in it.
– Just do it, please. Sorry I snapped. I just sort of panicked. – Very well. Murmurmurmur
“Oh okay. Sorry.” The Speed Prophecy actually whispers.

“All right then. If there is nothing of interest in the sack, I shall introduce you to our commander. Rod! Front and center.”
Huffpuffhuffpuff. Yes, ma’am! Reporting for duty.” Rod salutes the queen. He’s wearing a different uniform from everyone else in the room. This consists of a dark green military jacket, probably to contrast the rest of the soldiers, a cap with a bright yellow star in the middle, and black cargo pants. He also has extremely long, silver hair that goes out in ten different directions. Now that’s a wild hairstyle, and that’s coming from me.
“Calm.” The queen raises her left hand. Rod slams his hand to his side. “What is the command, your majesty?”
“Nothing of dire importance. Merely to introduce yourself to our guests.” “Right away, ma’am! Hello everyone. I am Commander Rod, head of Star
Security. Are you enjoying your tour of the castle so far?” “Yes! Yes! Yes!” D jumps.
– Okay. My powers are broken. Griff concludes.
–Why do you say that? I ask.
– You can very clearly see that this commander is in a good mood, right?
– Yeah.
– My powers are telling me that he has crippling depression.
– If I were you, I’d just ignore your powers here.
– Same.
“So, commander. What do you generally protect your people from? I doubt
you get many visitors, being this close to a black hole.” Azilez asks. “Excellent question, miss. Our primary threat is our neighbors in the
Phantom Pipeline.”
“The Phantom Pipeline?” D asks.
“Yes. It is a world filled to the brim with derpy-looking gray ghosts. Lately,
many of them have been invading our territory, so it’s my job to lead the fight to drive them away.”

“Teehee. He said derpy.” Azilez chuckles.
“No seriously. That’s the most accurate description I can give those things. I have a picture of one. I can show you.” He reaches into his jacket pocket and finds a crumpled picture. He straightens it out and blows on it to make it more visible. “They all look the same by the way.” Would you look at that? He’s right. This ghost is a rounded trapezoid that has four droplet-like figures coming from the bottom of it. It kinda looks like snot that just won’t fall out of a nose. It also just has two big white circles for eyes and no mouth.
“I think it looks cute.” Azilez holds her brush in both hands.
“That’s really the only thing you can say about it?” Vizor rolls his eyes. “Where do they come from?” D asks.
“The Phantom Pipeline.” Rod replies.
“Oh no. I meant to say where is the way to the Phantom Pipeline? How do
they get here?”
“Ah! Excellent question. If I knew, I’d be at their territory. That’s actually
what we’re working on right now.”
“So that’s what the radar map is for?” I ask.
“Bingo, kid.” Rod puts his hands on his hips. “Your majesty. Might I ask
that I return to my position immediately?”
“Permission granted, commander.”
“Thank you, your majesty!” He salutes her once more and pants back to his
post at the main computer.
“I believe you have seen and heard everything the headquarters has to offer.
Shall we depart?”
“Please!” D tugs on her dress. The queen smiles in return. She taps D’s
wrist with her staff, signaling him to stop tugging.
“So where are we now?” I ask. It looks like some sort of factory. 100-foot- tall steel supporters erupt from the ground to the ceiling. The temperature in here

is colder than the foyer and Star Security’s headquarters. I eye some laborers in loose white suits that seem to be packaging that tough orange fluid I saw everyone drinking earlier.
“This is the Manufacturing Operative.” Queen Neona responds. “All items that my people require are made in this room.”
“This factory doesn’t seem too big considering it makes everything for your people.” Griff points out. “How much do your people need exactly?”
“Well,” the queen adjusts her posture, “in terms of food, hardly anything. Syrusima is all they need to thrive.”
“Seee-rooo-sym-uh?” Vizor tries pronouncing that, syllable by syllable.
“Your people only eat one thing for their whole lives?” Azilez looks like she’s seen a ghost. “I’d rather suffer purgatory!”
“Hahaha! You amuse me, Azilez.” The queen lets out a child’s laugh. “But in all seriousness, Syrusima contains all the nutritional value my people need. And it can be mass-produced. Not a soul in the Space Garden has gone hungry ever since my team came up with this concoction.”
“We should tell the people back home about this. It’ll solve world hunger!” Griff gets excited.
“I’m afraid not.” Neona’s face dips. “The ingredient for this to be made can only be found in the Ophoozi Flower. These flowers can only grow here in the Space Garden and their properties arise from a combination of the black hole powering Castle Kusondela and the meteorites they grow on. I’m sorry, but getting Syrusima to the humans on Earth would be an impossibility.”
“Aw…” Griff’s internal light bulb turns off.
The queen then shows us what other types of products they make in the Manufacturing Operative, from furniture, to clothes, and even to the houses that the people here live in. Then we reach the magnetic section.
“What are those?” I ask, pointing.

“Ah yeah! Dude, check this out.” Veniss finally speaks. He runs up to one of the scientists and snatches a “U”-shaped magnet. He flicks the switch on the arc of the magnet, and it turns on. Everything in the room starts to get pulled in by its magnetic pulse.
“Veniss! Turn it off, this instant!” Neona snaps at him.
“’K, geez, sis.” He flicks the switch in the other direction and we all stop. “You’re no fun at all sometimes.”
“That’s because I actually know how to take my job seriously!” Neona barks. Veniss squints but doesn’t stop smiling.
“What just happened?” D’s eyes widen.
“That is our latest project. Infusing the properties of a black hole inside a magnet. Although, the magnet cannot consume objects, it can attract anything to it.”
“That’d be an amazing weapon in battle.” Vizor points out. “Let all of your enemies come to one area then drop this on them to ensure they can’t move. Finally, annihilate all of them at once with a large explosive.”
“It seems someone is well versed in the field of battle.” Neona smirks. “Yes, it can be used that way. Though, they are difficult to make. That is one of the few we have created so far out of a few thousand attempts.”
“What do you do with the ones that don’t work?” D asks.
“Well, a few years ago, we collected all the defects in a pod and sent it to the Asteroid Belt of your solar system.”
Wait a second. Magnets in the Asteroid Belt? I’ve heard that before! “I think your magnets may have formed sentient life forms, your majesty.”
“What causes you to think that, V?” She crosses her arms.
“About two months ago, while on an adventure, Griff and I stumbled upon a race of floating magnets in the Asteroid Belt on a small, magnetic planet called Zapzoid. Their planet was destroyed by artificial means, but the remains were

taken near San Francisco and built upon. It became its own city called Zaptropolis.”
“Good heavens! Are you certain they’re magnets? And are you certain they are sentient?”
“100 percent yes to both of those questions, your majesty.”
“Then it seems I must send a team to investigate. Thank you for the information.”
“Not a problem.”
“Anyway, it is best we not get too distracted from the tour. Come, there is more to see.”
Next, we go through a door that leads us above a place that has the architecture of a theatre, but the structure of a courthouse. A shiny, wooden witness stand, a marble tile floor with a picture of the sun on it, two wooden attorney benches, and a protruded judge’s chair. We can see that a trial is going on but can’t hear anything because of a thick, glass dome in front of us.
“What you are seeing now is the work of the Absolute Court. This is where criminals, both domestic and foreign, are tried for the crimes they are accused of, as it is the only court in the Space Garden.”
“What’s going on in there now?” Vizor asks.
“I suppose it’s… a foreign case. It seems the Phantom Pipeline is still a problem here. When you leave the castle today, I will have the king escort you to your quarters to ensure safety.”
“How nice of you! Thanks!” Azilez claps her hands together.
“Since the trial is currently in session, we cannot observe for long, so come. We wouldn’t want to distract them, would we?”
“No, miss!” D tries his best to sound official.

“And this is the end of the tour.” Neona opens the final door. “This is my private quarters.”
“How extravagant! How big are those Corinthian columns? What type of canvas is that painting of you made of? What is…” Azilez can’t contain her questions.
“I see you like my choice in design, Azilez?” The queen detects. “ABSOLUTELY! I could study this room for days.”
“Calm down, tiger. We should let the queen get back to her business. She is
a QUEEN after all.” Griff holds Azilez’s shoulder.
“Y’know? You’re right. Bye, your majesty!”
“Please, call me Neona. No need for such formalities.”
“Okay! Bye Neona.”
“Thanks for the tour. It was awesome!” D tugs her dress again.
“Not a problem, little D.” She bends down and taps his forehead with his
staff. D giggles and runs back to me. “Veniss!” “’Sup?”
“Please escort our guests to their quarters.” She reaches for her bedside drawer, takes out some sticky notes, tears one off, and clicks a pen open. She scribbles some directions then thrusts the scrap of paper into Veniss’s hands.
“You got it, sis.”
“Excellent. Now if you’d excuse me, I have some military matters to attend to.”

By Varak Kaloustian

Select all writings of  Varak Kaloustian

Select biography of  Varak Kaloustian

Mordecai Makes a Name

A fictional historical story of the Old Testament Book of Esther.

Description: The story of Esther describes the life in the Persian Empire. The King deposed his queen for refusing to obey his order. The King conducted a beauty contest and Esther was selected, thanks to a plan of her adopting father, Mordecai’s. As result Mordecai was promoted to be the Jewish leader in the King’s court. In order to protect the Queen from assassinations, Mordecai entrapped two disloyal guards.

Chapter 7

In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king’s gate, two of the king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those that kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus. Esther 2:21

Gdaliahu, the Jewish leader of all the Jews in the Persian Empire, was getting old. He was in constant pain, couldn’t sit for long periods, and could hardly walk. He called a meeting to announce his retirement.

When the Jewish leaders from the provinces of the Persian Empire assembled. The men were glad to meet one another and discuss. Colors of gold, blue, white, and red were moving on the shiny marble floor.

Gdaliahu slowly entered the room. Silence fell and everyone moved to find a place, watching the elder leader.

Gdaliahu sat on his golden chair, wait a minute to catch his breath, pointed at Mortdecai and asked him to come forward and kneel before him.

Gdaliahu put both hands on Mordecai’s head and in a wizened voice, croaked, “May the Lord bless you and guard you.”

“Amen,” replied the attendants.
“May the Lord show favor and be gracious to you,” he continued.
“Amen,” responded the attendants.
“May the Lord show you kindness and grant you success.”
“Amen, amen, amen,” chanted the attendants.

Mordecai kissed the hands of his elder-leader. “Thank you for this great honor, my esteemed teacher,” he said to Gdaliahu.

Then he stood and turned to the others. He looked into each of their faces, giving the individual an opportunity to make eye contact before moving on to the next person.

“I look forward to serving you all. Together, with love and support to others, we will prosper and thrive. In celebration, my first decree is that every community leader and merchant contributes for the construction of a Jewish center in their town. Such centers shall provide all the Jewish needs from birth to death: finding brides, celebrate marriage and birth, help the sick and attend burial, provide care for the sick, court, school and business chambers. Use a one year annual fee owed to me to cover the expenses.”

Since the Information Bureau was a tremendous economic success, most leaders competed with other leaders to beautify their community, and added additional funds for the construction effort.

Mordecai was visiting Gdaliahu as often as he could. Out of respect, Mordecai always removed his official ribbons and jewelry in the presence of the older leader. Sometimes, Mordecai asked for advice. The two argued their positions with passion. Both knew, “the good thing about an advice is that you do not have to take it.” And the old leader never checked.

Some time after the celebrations ended, Mordecai met Yavin in the back room of the peddler shop. They locked the door, moved down to the basement, entered another room and locked the door of that room too.

“We healed the King’s pride. His Queen is the goddess Ishtar. Now we must protect her. She is my daughter. We promised to keep her safe. Those Babylonian generals and guards might want to kill her, show she is not the goddess Ishtar, and bring back Queen Vashti from her house arrest,” said Mordecai.
“I will investigate her guards,” said Yavin.

“We must also protect the King, in order to protect Esther. He is a good King. The Jews love him because he allows us to finish the new Temple in Jerusalem” said Mordecai.

“I will watch for a plot,” said Yavin.
“Good luck,” said Mordecai.
“I can look around and join an assassination attempt against the King,” said Yavin.

“Better, but still impossible. Who will let you in?” asked Mordecai. “Yet, it is a good idea. This is the best gift one can give a King. If we save the life of the King, he will owe us.”

“We could irritate his guards. Some of them, lately, are neglecting their appearance. Really insulting our King. Strict grooming would anger some of the enslaved Babylon guards. Harvona can order it.”

“Excellent idea! This will remove bad guards and frighten the others. There are plenty of guards who trust me,” said Mordecai. “It should be easy enough to entrap them. Don’t explain the order to Harvona. It’ll be a good exercise for him as well.”
“But what if they report you? You could be killed!”

Mordecai flipped his hand in a dismissive gesture, “We have plenty of time. If things go wrong, Harvona will understand. We will still be rewarded.”
Harvona ordered the King’s guards to have their beards look identical, and their uniforms and weapons must shine. The King, recognizing the effort, promoted him to first ranked bodyguard. Soon after, Mordecai was told that Bigthan, a low-level eunuch door guard, showed signs of irritation. Bigthan was from one of the most prominent families of Babylon. He would have become a high-ranking minister or general, if he hadn’t been enslaved when Babylon was conquered.

Mordecai was watching Bigthan, and saw him meeting Teresh, another door guard, near the royal palace in a secluded area.

I have to move fast before someone else takes Bigthan under his wing and will really kill the King and Esther, thought Mordecai. Bigthan was walking in the main street with a sour face.

“God’s blessing on you, Bigthan,” Mordecai greeted him.

Bigthan stopped and looked at his feet, avoiding Mordecai’s eyes. “The gods are not with me, your honor. They closed their eyes when I was turned into a guard. I am just worthless dust of the ground. I wanted to be a gen… I want to be promoted out of my misery.” Mordecai’s face softened. “Things are that bad? What happened? Maybe I can help?”

“Since his promotion, Harvona is abusing us. He insulted my honor and claimed I was not properly shaved. Damn him!.”

“Is Harvona picking on anyone else?” asked Mordecai. “Are there others who feel like you?”
“Yes. Teresh feels the same. Harvona is always picking on us.”
“The three of us should meet later. I might be able to help you.”

The next day Mordecai met with Bigthan and Teresh in secret. Mordecai’s hands were shaking and his forehead was covered with sweat. They sat tightly together, their hairs touching one another.

“My master is trying to bring things to where they were before, the time of our glory. Will you join me?” whispered Mordecai. “Yes,” agreed Bigthan and Teresh together.

Mordecai relaxed and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“What’s your master ready to give us?” asked Bigthan.“ Command. You’ll get command of five hundred soldiers and become his trusted officers,” said Mordecai.

“What do we need to do?” asked Bigthan.

Mordecai paused. Trusted officers. Ha. How dumb they are, he thought.
“I’ll supply you with a poisonous arrow. When the time comes, while the King is passing your door, shout ‘intruder!’ Point one hand to a faraway balcony and stab him with the other hand. Then act as if you’re shielding him and trying to pull the arrow out. My master will take care of the rest. In the meantime, follow Harvona’s grooming order to the letter. Don’t show fear or joy. Just be perfect guards. It might take some time. So wait for my instructions. Are you with me?”

“Yes, your honor,” both agreed. Teresh had tears in his eyes. “For years, I was waiting for such a meeting, I prayed and prayed the god Marduk will help me, and here your name is Mordecai,” said Teresh and Bigthan nodded. Bigthan’s mood changed. He was relaxed, and content. His appearance was exemplary and Harvona praised him.

Mordecai was confident the two rogue guards wouldn’t hurt the King on their own, as long as they didn’t have the poisoned arrow. Mordecai waited ten days.

“Yavin, did you hear anything from Harvona?” asked Mordecai.“Yes. He praised your advice. He told me that at the beginning he had some troubles, but he talked to the guards, and since then, like miracle, everything is wonderful. They all dressed perfectly and all are happy.”

“Very good,” said Mordecai. “They did not report me. They have no problem to appear properly. They disrespected the King even before I approached them. They are full of hate and anger. I must move before they will find another master.”
Mordecai contacted Hini, the Queen’s head-maiden, and told her to inform Esther that the honorable guards, Bigthan and Teresh, were related to Baanah and Rechab. Hini gave the message to Esther without understanding what the meaning of it was.

Esther smiled. Esther knew that those two generals, Baanah and Rechab, had assassinated their king, the heir of King Saul, in an attempt to please King David. Esther understood there is no need to rush to the King uninvited. Two weeks later, when Esther was invited to the King’s bed, she informed the King that she heard from Mordecai that Bightan and Teresh were conspiring to kill him.

The King turned to Harvona and said, “Handle it, and write Mordecai’s deed in my history book. We owe him.”

The guards were arrested and interrogated. Each one accused Mordecai and recounted his plan, but it didn’t help their cause, because it was Mordecai who had originally reported them and not the other way around.
The guards were quickly and discretely hanged, putting an end to the incident.
The next day, Mordecai called Harvona for a secret meeting. “Thank you for handling the two traitors so professionally.”

“Thank you, kindly,” said Harvona. “Do you know, people strongly believe the all-powerful all-knowing goddess Queen saved the life of our King! The King ordered me to write your deed in the History book. He declared he owes you.”
“Interesting,” Mordecai said. “But I’m afraid you’ve failed as the King’s head bodyguard. You disciplined Bigthan and you thought you succeeded in reforming him. Wrong! That’s when he started working for me on the plot. If I wanted to, I could have killed the King.”

Harvona stared at Mordecai with wide eyes and a twitch in his mouth.
Mordecai continued. “You can’t make such grave mistakes. Never give disgruntled guards a second chance. They must be immediately removed from the King’s vicinity—preferably killed! No explanations, no excuses. There can’t be a hint of dissatisfaction within their ranks or it could be all over for the King and most likely, for you!”

Mordecai knew he could speak to his friend in such a way and Harvona would understand the serious nature of the situation without becoming defensive or explosive.

Harvona dropped to one knee, held Mordecai’s palm, and brought the upper side of Mordecai’s palm to his forehead.

“Thank you for giving me a second chance,” said Harvona.
Mordecai smiled, raised him, and hugged his childhood friend. “I am giving you a new protocol to select and manage the King’s guards in order to avoid future mistakes.”

“Thank you for your help,” said Harvona.“Keep the story secret,” said Mordecai. “When you write my heroic deeds in the King’s history book, glorify my deed. Don’t give me anything. I want the King to owe me.”

Harvona nodded. “I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”

By Ilan Sendowski

Select all writings of  Ilan Sendowski

Select biography of  Ilan Sendowski

Kenny’s Single Show

Description: After a lengthy marriage comes to a close, newly single Kenny Hunsucker finds himself in a completely new dating world and try’s his best to navigate life and online dating.

Chapter 1

The anger was palatable as Kenny Hunsucker pulled into Sushi Sumo, the latest in
a seemingly endless line of Chinese take out spots that occupied the corner spot in his favorite strip center. For Kenny the move was brought on by Sports Center’s early evening edition alerting the viewing public that former NFL QB and current Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh had met his wife in the take out line of a local PF Changs. While hardly on par with some of the ways John Daley had met his various wives it did present a way Kenny could kill two birds with one stone. Satisfy his hunger and possibly meet the next Mrs. Hunsucker. The subsequent call to the local PF Changs (in keeping with the events of Kenny’s recent life) was anything but successful and ended in an uncompleted order after a considerable hold time.

It was a classic Tuesday evening turning point and Kenny pondered some options to replace the date that had been broken a few hours earlier. Trivia, Blockbuster, a second trip to the gym or take out and NBA Playoffs. The later won and remembering that his dry cleaner had uttered high praise for the neighboring Sushi Sumo, Kenny decided to give it a try.

“Japanese, Thai and Chinese” the new sign exclaimed and even though Chinese was a foregone conclusion it did comfort the weary bachelor to know that so many delicacies could be found under one small roof.

The giddiness of the early afternoon seemed such a distant memory as he entered the quaint establishment, his first visit since the original Nan King closed its doors. When Kenny had made the reservation for Marlo and himself at Frank LoCatto’s Steak House he envisioned a triumphant return to relaxing dining with the opposite sex and had a hard time concealing his excitement. The date would have been there first and Kenny had a feeling (obviously unfounded) that this one had real promise. When he was delivering another quality custom dry erase board to Marlo’s bosses at Zen Masters Physical Therapists two Friday’s earlier the two had a nice conversation which turned to talk of dinner. Having forgotten the wise lessons Mr’s Vaughan and Favreau offered up i Swingers Kenny wasted approximately 3 hr’s and 34 minutes before texting a date request to Marlo. It was an unanswered text which was followed 2 hrs and 11 minutes later by a follow-up call (straight to voicemail) to inquire about a possible Sunday night
date. This too was unanswered and for a few brief moments Kenny considered erasing her fledgling entry from his phone.

General Tso’ and a pair of egg rolls did the trick and as Kenny waited the seven minutes for his food to be prepared, packaged, neatly-stacked and securely placed in a grocery bag he called his anger management sponsor Julian E. Julian was unavailable and Kenny not wanting to alarm him left him a brief and happy little message about the glory-filled day that it had been. Julian had only sponsored Kenny for a few short weeks but it has been a time of calmness, clarity and some mighty fine cigar smokin’. Kenny’s last outburst had been in private while driving down the road on Saturday and as Julian was off at a retreat for the weekend the details never quite made the transition from sponsee to sponsor.

Maybe it was the Marlo almost date, maybe it was the length of time Kenny had been without. Perhaps it was the industrious dating pixies from Yahoo who sprinkled $74.95 worth of magical elfin dating dust on Kenny’s bachelor pad. Having never been one to publicly mock those who chose the internet dating route, Kenny privately viewed them with a dose of sorrow and pity. For this was the same virile man who had been propositioned at Jiffy Lube, Kroger, Caribu and Starbucks coffee’s, jury duty pools and DMV lines and countless other orthodox and not-so-orthodox spots. Kenny always had believed that if he was ever unmarried that much like manna in the book of Exodus the good stuff would fall lazily from the heavens. Now that he was a single man; somehow every available single in the metro area had been debriefed and permitted to view all details of his life, the good but mostly the bad. They evidently were fed a substantial bit
of misinformation (this) while not certifiable this had become fairly obvious as the days passed. Kenny would get the occasional digits and the knowing glances, the “hey call me sometime” and the “let’s grab a coffee sometime”. His favorite had occurred on a recent business trip in which the very pleasant conversation with a very attractive young lady ended with her telling Kenny she was taken but he was “quite the catch” and would have “no trouble attracting the girls”. This as she rubbed his chest, shoulders and arms (ooohing and ahhing all along) and at one time pulling a girlfriend over to feel up the now very confident Kenny.

When Yahoo’s A-Team of elves finished there handy work all that was left was for one of Kenny’s Anger Management cohorts, Jed, to mention that Yahoo Personals was the closest thing to fishing from a barrel as he had ever experienced. Jed was 35 and had just finished his 3rd stint of incarceration. Kenny was pretty sure Jed had failed to mention this small, insignificant factoid on his profile. He was struck by the fact that (Jed) although recently freed and living with a roommate, holding a menial job and court mandated to several groups was such a success in the world of internet dating. Jed was the youngest son of one of the cities finest families with boyish good looks and a mischievous streak that girls fall over themselves for. If internet dating seemed cool to Jed well then it was certainly cool for Kenny.

The Visa ending in 5022 was unleashed and Kenny made the 6 month commitment
without a moment’s hesitation. Money had gotten a little tight lately but this was hardly the time to freeze up when such fragrant riches awaited. Kenny posted a fairly straight forward profile mentioning new found singleness, wonderful kids and a fun-loving laid back style that surely would have the ladies flocking. The picture would have to wait until Kenny could find something on his office computer that would suffice. It was quite thrilling to check a few criteria off much like ordering options on a car and then having
hundreds of desperately seeking women appear!

After sending a few “icebreakers” to the first few that caught his eye; Kenny decided to do the prudent thing and add a picture before attempting contact with anyone else. The few profiles he came across with no pictures caused instant suspicion and he sensed that would certainly hold true for his profile until the “right” photo could be added. The babes would just have to wait a little while longer. The def-tones concert in less than 10 days would surely not be another dateless evening with this amazing new weapon in the Kenny arsenal. He even toyed with the idea of dropping Cheno Moreno and the rest of the Deftones names in his profile to ensure that if there were some hot, rock and roll babes who did not have the hook-up to the show then he could provide that service as

The next day Kenny found two suitable pictures. One taken two years prior by his ex while vacationing in Bermuda. It was a shot with sunglasses but Kenny felt it still captured the fun-loving, in shape persona he wished to parlay. The second photo was more recent and in fact was taken at the aforementioned business trip in which Kenny was felt up by his lustful “but taken” friends by one of the partygoers who later e-mailed it to him. It showed Kenny socially interacting with a varied group of party goers and probably because of the angle of the photo made him seem a little heavy. Nonetheless it was all he had to work with and it would have to do until a sexy glamour shot could be arranged. He submitted them both and was told by the backend tech wizards that Yahoo
would carefully review the photos and if nothing was falling out and everything in order that within 24 hours the fun could begin. By now Kenny had lost a little of the initial excitement but knew that Yahoo could not possibly risk an unfortunate Sears catalog underwear ad type moment and must protect unsuspecting eyes from any serial exposers.

Just a few more hours he told himself and folks shouldn’t bother with knocking cause the bed would be rockin’! The industrious censors completed there critical work in far less time than advertised and as Beetlejuice once exclaimed it was “Showtime!” Kenny immediately filled out criteria for a new search, careful not to be too selective and risk leaving hotties on the outside with no mechanism to get on the inside. He may have been new to this internet dating but by god it was not going to take him long to figure it all out. The search revealed several hundred possible matches. “What a great country”, Kenny thought as he feverishly alternated between the informal selected “icebreakers” and more formal e-mail greetings to the really deserving hopefuls. He stopped at a dozen or so rationalizing that any good fisherman first needs to be sure the bait is the right kind and is set correctly. Kenny was sure of two things as he laid his head down that night. First that most (if not all) of the girls he chose to contact would have replied by the following morning. Next that dozens if not hundreds will have sensed the Kenny Hunsucker presence in their dating universe and will have either contacted him (cause as Jed said “brother these women will jump on you quick”) or at least viewed his profile. A viewing is recorded by the dating pixies and one can then contact or ignore the curious possible enterluder. Sleep was sporadic and much like Christmas’ of yesteryear Kenny found himself wanting to leave the bedroom and see if special gifts had actually been deposited in his Yahoo stocking

by Acy Burnes Crawford

Select all writings of Acy Burnes Crawford

Select biography of Acy Burnes Crawford


The Law of Grace

Synopsis:  In the future a Government supplies peace and prosperity in exchange for the loss of some freedoms. In the shadows the government has been using its people for enhancement and other experimentations. An act of violence, which has been all but extinct, threatens the security of the government and could lead to their secrets being brought to light as well as a revolution.


Parker awoke early, enjoying the sun warming him as he strutted down the hallway towards the rear of the house. He stopped short of the milky glass door to the bedroom; it was ajar. He peered at his reflection with the sun shining in. If he’d had an opinion he’d likely think he was handsome. He pushed through and hopped onto the bed. His light footfalls didn’t wake Anne. Parker stepped on to Anne’s chest looking straight down upon her face, a light purr that rolled into a meow. His front paws alternated pressing down, contracting and relaxing his rounded black nails. His eyes narrowed to relaxed slits and then blinked, his sign of affection and trust that he’d shown to Anne every morning since she’d rescued him. As far as cats went, Parker was a dignified, although needy, gentleman.

A cool light breeze blew in through the open French doors of the bedroom. The early morning sea air combined with Parkers’ greeting woke Anne. She sat up and Parker put his feet up close to her shoulders driving the top of his head into her cheek, rubbing it back and forth. She said “Good morning to you too.” Anne thought that the sunrise, the breeze and Parkers’ morning ritual made her morning perfect.

Anne, dressed in a white silk sleeping gown, made her way from the bedroom to the living area. Parker trotted alongside. He purred and sauntered around her ankles in a figure eight, pressing his head into her legs and rubbing his cheeks against them. She paused, caressing his silky grey fur stroking him from his ears to the base of his tail. “Let’s get you some breakfast, shall we.” Anne filled and placed Parker’s silver dish down on the honey-colored bamboo flooring. She thought the colors were a gorgeous contrast against the dark grey fur of the cat, and she smiled at the simple beauty. She retreated back to her room for a few minutes, emerging again in simple khaki pocketless pants and a white t-shirt.

She headed out the side door towards the shared garden between the houses. Mrs. Kusta, the widow, as usual was at her dining room window that looked on this space. She was like clockwork, every morning sitting there alone with her old-fashioned white ceramic mug, taking in the view over the water. Anne liked the consistency that this neighbor had provided, as she herself was consistent, someone who ran on routine. Anne picked a handful of lavender, pulled a few weeds and watered the garden. Mrs. Kusta came outside.

“Anne,” she said with a smile “I can’t thank you enough for taking care of the little garden. I know you’re a busy woman but I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated all your help over the past few months since my Arland died.”
“It’s my pleasure.” Anne replied. “And it really hasn’t been a bother at all. If it weren’t for this little garden that you started we wouldn’t have our lavender, now would we?”

“Dearie, if it weren’t for you, this garden wouldn’t have survived, to say nothing of the odd jobs you’ve done for me either. Especially fixing the latch on my dining room window! I don’t know what I’d have done without you, and I just want to tell you how much I appreciate it.”

Anne smiled and stepped through the garden to give Mrs. Kusta a hug. The old woman smelled of a sweet perfume, something like jasmine.

Anne said; “Don’t forget to close that window this evening. It’s likely to be chilly.”

Anne leaned down and clipped a bit more lavender, handed it to Mrs. Kusta and bid her farewell with a warm smile. Mrs. Kusta then slowly shuffled back to her kitchen table calling out “Anne, dear, you take such good care of me.” Anne smiled and retreated inside her home. Mrs. Kusta lived a simple life, she was a quiet little old woman who minded her own business.

Inside, Anne tapped the control to the blinds that faced Mrs. Kustas’ home, then checked her holo-pad ensuring all the blinds were closed except those facing the water from her small dining table. She used the pad to unlock the front door as well, then sat and looked out over the water. She sat motionless, absorbing the view and the sounds of the gulls being carried on the breeze. The blue of the water, the small white gulls that flew above and the soft light of the morning helped to keep her relaxed, carefree and certain. After some time, noticing the clock, she stood and called for Parker. He came trotting to her, the bell on his collar jingling. It reminded her of the old-fashioned tricycle from her youth: whimsical, musical and pleasant. It made her smile. Alise gave her the little red collar with the bell. While Alise said she hated cats, Patrick would always sit on her lap when visiting. Alise never shooed him away.

She took Parker in her right arm, grabbed a few of his favorite cat treats and the catnip plant from the counter. Parker began swatting at them with his paw. She carefully placed the plant in the spare room on the bedside table, the treats on the bed and Parker next to them. She checked the attached bath, ensuring the litter box was clean and that the small water dispenser was flowing for him. On her way out of the room she stroked Parker and scratched under his chin. He purred loudly. She took the collar off; holding it in her hand, left the room and shut the door. Anne walked around her small but comfortable home, ensuring everything was as it should be. The rooms were neat and tidy, the few hand-written notebooks she’d set out upon her long marble Kitchen counter were open to specific pages, and documents that needed to be passed along were set out for the messenger, Molly, to scan and reproduce for work. She wanted to leave nothing unfinished. Her life’s work was here, or at least the copies she wanted to ensure were found today. The rest, well, it would be available soon enough.

As Anne walked back towards the kitchen and her view, she checked the plants to ensure they had enough water, straightened the mat in front of the glass doors to the rear deck, then went into the sitting room. She reached into a small antique wooden box, with the name “Montecristo” burned into its lid. This antique was one of her most treasured. The feel of the old wood and the aroma of lemon oil used to ensure its continued beauty, the old-fashioned metal hinges that creaked slightly when she lifted the lid. The lid had the Montecristo logo, a triangle of six swords surrounding a fleur-de-lis was worn, but recognizable. These little details made her feel alive, so different from the sterile and cold offices of the R&D lab where she spent her days with its holo-screens and grey uniforms. She grabbed some handmade paper and an ink pen from under the lid, as well as a small, but moderately weighted canvas bag. This, after all, was no job for the holo-terminal voice dictation program. This was an occasion for the old-fashioned written word. This was personal, and timing was important.

She sat at the small bistro style dining table, the marble countertop covered with her work. She took a moment to look over the items before her, contemplating their textures and the way the light was reflected or absorbed by each. She let the sunshine on her face, feeling its warmth, inhaling deeply to etch the odor of the salty ocean and decaying seaweed inside her lungs, then exhaled and felt peace. With two taps on the holo-pad the patio doors and blinds closed. Another tap and a single dim light shone over the table, an almost romantic light that cast a warm glow. Anne carefully uncapped the pen, its weight felt nice in her hand, not like the weightless instruments used on the holo-screens at work. The sensation of the paper with its ridges and imperfections of color delighted her fingers and eyes.

Anne wrote; “My name is not important, but what I have done is. When you proceed with the retinal scan you will find I am a registered citizen in good standing. What I do now, I can only hope will have a wide and deep impact upon my fellow citizens. In the time it takes you to enter my home, scan my retinas and begin the investigation, the damage to the Amerist Government and the hand that leads it will have begun. I ask only one thing: when Ms. Pearce arrives, please apologize to her for any inconvenience she suffers due to the time you detain her for questioning regarding my death.”

Once finished, Anne opened the canvas bag and pulled out the matching neuro-stim bolts. These were antiques, heavy in the hand and smooth except for the small ridges at the center of the rounded ends. The military had stopped using these years ago due to the fact that the needed effect was much less than these bolts were designed for. The bolts, once activated, would destroy the circuits in the brain where thought was processed. While the body could be kept alive, if necessary, there was never a chance of recovering any information. Even with the algorithms that Anne had created to read, decode it and translate electrical activity, once the neural pathways were destroyed there was nothing that could be read or retrieved.

Anne pressed the cold smooth bolts to her temples. The adhering compound worked; it was the one thing she’d worried about, as the compound was very old. She folded the canvas bag neatly in half, placed the newly inked paper on top, then the pen as the weight to keep it all together. She heard a small thud in the backroom, like a small weight hitting the bamboo floor, and Parkers bell jingling. She imagined Parker had found and gotten a hold of the catnip, and it made her smile. She gently touched the emergency alarm on the holo-pad.
“What assistance do you require?” the pleasant feminine voice chimed.

“This is Dr. Anne Augustine, please send a SOaC team to my home.” Her voice and hands were steady, as she pressed the disconnect button, cutting off the human voice that was just breaking into the holorecording. She then pulled up her messages that had not yet been sent out, each to a different contact but containing the same documents and research. She said slowly, in a quiet but strong voice, “Send all,” then lightly set the holo-pad on the table. She closed her eyes, exhaled, and simultaneously pushed in on the bolts attached to her temples. Her eyes turned crimson and her nose abruptly began to bleed, her jaw locked and a throaty deep momentary grunt arose. Her arms grew rigid as the electrical impulses batted around inside her head from one side of her skull to the other.

Once the electrical impulses had stopped, her head fell forward striking and cracking the glass top of the bistro table. The blood from her nose flowed slowly through the cracks in the glass, creating red channels that reflected the light above. Her arms fell to her sides, lifeless, and dangling. What remained were the faintest signals from her brain stem, short with long pauses between, causing the false appearance of breathing; they would call it “agonal breathing” on the incident report. Her body had only to wait a short time before the Social Operations and Control Officers arrived to begin the retinal scans. She greeted them with a deep chestnut lifeless gaze and the faint smell of the burned flesh at her temples.

End of Chapter 1

By Jennifer Schmidt

Select all writings of  Jennifer Schmidt

Select biography of  Jennifer Schmidt

Escaping to Freedom Through the Eye of a Hurricane


Decisions, Decisions…

I am in a difficult position. I have been urged to write my story for teenagers, and the idea seems the right thing to do.  However, I am having a real hard time getting started. Even writing this is a difficult exercise. Where to start? Do I start by giving a background of who I was at the time when my life was turned upside down? Do I tell how a 12-year-old girl faces the hard reality of war? The subject of war was never discussed at home. It is true that I heard about people being displaced. I even went to school with German refugee children who had moved from Germany and Austria because their parents were afraid for their life.  Yet somehow in my child’s mind, it never occurred to me that it could happen to me.

Yet on May 10, 1940, at 6:00 a.m., I was abruptly awakened by my father and told to hurry into the basement for safety. It is only then that I was told that the Germans were attacking Belgium. My father was very cool, calm and collected when he announced what the situation was and what we had to do.  He took charge of what had to be done. He was very confident and definite as to what had to happen. No sooner were we able to get to the first floor that he informed us we would be leaving that same day for Paris. It was as though he became a different person. All he did that day, as I recall, was give us instructions as to what had to happen next.

At the time, I was totally befuddled by the events and suddenly realized that Friday was not at all going to be the kind of day I had anticipated. That particular day was to be a festive day to honor our mothers at school. We had planned to sing songs from Hansel & Gretel. I was going to stand by the pianist and turn the pages of the music. I was so thrilled by the opportunity. I was hoping that my mother would be proud of me. Also, I had worked really hard on a handmade napkin for a tray. It was really beautiful. The night before I had bought some sweet pea flowers for my mother. All that was not going to take place and I was really sad about it. Instead, I managed to hand my mother the napkin I had made during the previous month. All I was told was to pack and be ready to leave that day.

I think this was really the first time that I had to pack for myself and I did not know what I should take. Before I knew, it was time to leave for the train station. My father informed us that we were leaving that day at 4:00 p.m. He was going to stay a few more days to get his taxicab business ready. What he did not tell us was that he had offered his services to the Belgian army. They refused his help. So instead, he took it upon himself to save as many people as he could so that friends could leave Belgium, easily and travel away from the main routes being attacked by the German air force. My father knew the back roads of the country because at one time he used to drive a motorcycle and never traveled the main roads.

In the meantime we were waiting for him, hidden in the outskirts of Paris getting his whereabouts known to us through a friend who was in contact with him. He was risking his life every day. He stayed in Brussels until the last minute, twenty minutes before the Germans arrived in Brussels.

By Dina Klayman

Select all writings of  Dina Klayman

Select biography of  Dina Klayman


Wanker Crosses the Pond – Chapter 1

Coming to America

by Alan Wills

I awake with a start, not remembering where I am. A pair of red lips are by my cheek whispering something in my ear but my mind is slow to comprehend “….said I think you should cover your wife.” As the flight attendants lips move away, they are smiling a very all knowing smile. I look down and realize Nancy’s skirt is up around her waist exposing her long tanned legs and her beautiful round white bare bum. I feel my face flush, and I grab the blanket from the floor and drape it over us. Luckily most of the other passengers are asleep.  Nancy stirs and looks back over her shoulder. “Good morning Sunshine.” Her voice is soft, almost a purr. She gives me a wink and looks content. She snuggles into me.

     “Nancy, the bloody stewardess thinks we did it last night. But at least she thinks we’re married”.

“Good for her. Did she look envious?” she asks.

Christ Wills, I think, I knew it wasn’t a dream. You made love to this incredibly beautiful stranger. 

Made love, that’s a joke! I had little to do with it! Nancy just had her way with me! But if this is what American girls do in airplanes, I can’t wait to get to Los Angeles?

“Nancy, hope I wasn’t out of line last night? Being scared of flying, I drank too much!”

“You were just what I needed. Don’t worry about the stewardess. I’m sure we’re not the first couple she’s known to join the Mile High Club?”

“The what?”

“Doing it a mile above the ground.”

 “Nancy how can you be so flippant? Didn’t last night mean anything to you?”

“What did you think, my Cockney lover?  Because we screwed, we’re going steady?”

“Course not! I was just, er, er!  But ain’t you embarrassed that she knows?”

“Why are you so uptight, Alan? It’s the sixties and we are the love generation. I travel so much as sales-manager for Liberty Records, I have no time for a real relationship.”

I feel used and my mind can’t handle it. Christ, I think, she sounds just like a man. 

Realizing we are still spooning I quickly sit up. Seeing that Nancy has her eyes closed, I close mine. I drift off to sleep, but have a nightmare. I didn’t escape after all. The Mob finds me at the London airport and Luigi shoots me just as they call my flight to freedom.

My eyes fly open and I realize I am safe, and on my way to California. I drift back to sleep and my mind reflects back. I’m telling the Pan Am check-in person, I’d like a seat next to a gorgeous blonde, preferably with loads of money. Then I’m shocked to find myself seated next to Nancy. I guess she’s in her thirties. A tall, stunning, business-woman, in a powder-blue blazer with matching high heels, a white pleated skirt and a high-necked white lacy blouse. I tell her I’m twenty-three and she flips her long blonde hair back, and runs her fingers through it in a very provocative deliberate manner. During the many flight hours we eat very little, drink a lot, and flirt like crazy. The last thing I remember is Nancy turning on her side and saying goodnight. So I assumed the spoon position behind her, then with caution move closer and closer until I feel her bottom against my rock hard member. Achieving such closeness to this beauty was the ultimate conquest, and content I fell asleep.  During the night dreams and reality become confused. I feel my zipper being unzipped and my naked manhood being touched and taken out. I feel her satin panties brush my pride and joy as she pulls them down. I clench my teeth and close my eyes tight in fear I might explode. Then she guides me into her warm dampness.

Am I dreaming? Petrified by fear I don’t move, however, the undulating rhythm of her hips does it all. She reached back and touched her finger to my lips to quiet my moans just at the right time. As we drift off to sleep I think how strange it is that we hadn’t even kissed.  In fact there had been none of the prerequisites of promising to love her till death do us part, required by most English girls to get into their knickers.

Nancy nonchalantly reaches down and pulls up her satin panties, then stands and straightens her white pleated skirt. “Why don’t we switch seats, I’ve seen LA from the air a million times. I think you’ll get a kick seeing it for the first time.”

The  view out of the tiny window takes my breath away. “Wow, Nancy.  LA is larger than I ever imagined. There’s snow-capped mountains, and millions of homes spilling into the valleys, and lots of swimming pools. Your roads are wide and lined with palm trees. Your freeways look as though they’re suspended above the streets, with an endless stream of cars.” I sigh, as my words can’t keep up with my racing mind.

“Look over there.” Nancy points, her cheek now toughing mine. “We’re passing over downtown; the tall white building is City Hall. Now, look up in the hills. See the Hollywood sign: that’s Tinsel-Town where I live.”


“Now look to the horizon.  See the Pacific Ocean, and over there is Catalina Island.”

“Nancy, it’s all beyond my wildest dreams. I had no idea.”

“OK, now we’re passing over Hollywood Park, that’s a racetrack. In no time at all we’ll be on the ground.”

Walking to the baggage claim I am on cloud nine, and just can’t stop smiling. My mind goes crazy:  I’m in America, my new home. Everything looks so clean and bright. It’s March and people are tanned, wearing shorts and summer dresses. I must look like a spare prick at a wedding in my suit and heavy coat. I remove my overcoat and throw in over my arm.

“You look like the cat that just finished a big bowl of cream.” Nancy says.

“I can’t believe I’m actually in California!  It all looks so different from London.”

“Thanks a lot! Thought you looked happy because I took care of you last night?”

I look away feeling myself blush.

 Standing at the carousel, I observe the many races and nationalities that make up the throng of passengers waiting for their belongings. Realizing most of us are foreigners in this new land, I don’t feel so out of place.  Still searching the many faces trying to guess countries of origin, I’m stopped dead by a very tall stunning redhead. I can’t take my eyes off her and cannot believe she’s walking in our direction.  Her red highlighted hair bounces as she walks, as do her more than ample undulating breasts beneath her flowing, flimsy low cut dress.

Damn Wills, I think she caught us looking at her!  I look away, knowing I’m way out of her league.  But the temptation is too great, and after a few minutes, I have to sneak another peak. Where did she go?   I’m torn by mixed emotions. I know she wouldn’t be interested in a poor chap from the East End of London, but I have this burning desire to look just one more time at this exquisite, slim, well-endowed woman with flaming red hair.

“Nancy, watch my carry-on bag and coat.  I have to go pee.” I say, and push my way through the crowds looking in all directions, but with no luck.  I realize how insane my quest is, so I head back to the carousel. I’m shocked, the redhead is standing next to Nancy.

“Alan this is my sister, Audrey.  Alan is from the East End of London.”

What a cow! I think. Why did Nancy have to put the East End kiss of death on me?

“I saw you looking at me across the baggage area.”

Nice girl Wills, I think, dropped you in the shit with Nancy right away, then holds out her bloody hand like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth!

 My old Cockney way would have been to totally deny I looked at her, dismissing her as  unmemorable. But this is a new country and a new start.  No more lies.

“Nice to meet you Audrey.” I say, and take her hand ignoring the accusation.

My eyes meet her bight green eyes. Wills, I think, isn’t evading the truth still a lie.

“Your sister told me so much about you, but she didn’t say you were so stunning!”    

 “Thank you kind Sir!  Next to my big sister, I’ve always been the ugly duckling! So Alan what brings you to the Golden State?”

Nancy beats me to an answer. “Alan’s been a naughty boy. The English police want to lock him up for bilking the public with a TV scam.  As if that’s not enough The Mob wants to fit him with cement boots and drop him in the River Thames. They made him a loan that they say he forgot to pay back. So you could say he’s in L.A. for his health.”

“Well Alan, how naughty a boy can you be?” Audrey say with a wink.

“Down sister! I invited Alan to spend a few days at our house to show him L.A.”

Audrey looks me up-and-down, and I feel like a piece of furniture she is considering for the home. “Well sis, we only have the two bedrooms.  Shall we flip a coin for him?

“,, I really have to go to Glendale as my relatives are expecting me.”

“Alan, you told me you had forgotten to tell them your flight information and that you planned to call them when you arrived.” Nancy says, with the grin of a victor.

“Well then, I had better call them.  Otherwise they’ll be worried.”

“Couldn’t be you’re the one that’s worried being alone with two single women in a strange country, could it?” Audrey says as we walk out of the sliding doors into the bright sunlight.

Wills, I think as we cross the road, she could be rightMaybe you can’t trust yourself being under the same roof with these two gorgeous creatures.

 No! Maybe, I’d shag one, then head for the other’s bedroom and do the sister. Ya that’s it!  Maybe, it would be like that every night of the bloody week.

Yah, Wills, like you’re some big lover. They’d find you a skin and bones skeleton in the first week shagged to death by these two Amazon women.

Get out of my head, idiot!                                                                       

Crossing the road between these two tall, long-legged, beauties is beyond my wildest fantasies.  If only me mates could see me now.  “Do either of you ladies have a camera?”

“I have one in the car, Alan.” Audrey says pointing, “In that parking structure.”

Walking up to the car my mouth drops open, and I forget about a picture of the girls. It’s a very long shiny pale blue convertible with white upholstery.

Audrey presses a button and the convertible top opens and folds down behind the rear seat.

“Could I have your camera? Me mates will never believe the length of this car!” I say positioning the girls next to the car for the picture.

“Christ Audrey.  What a boot! You could put an English car in there,” I say snapping another picture.

“Here it’s called a trunk. The Bonnet is the hood. The windscreen is the windshield. Petrol is called gas. The pavement is the sidewalk and the road is the pavement!”

“Hold on a bloody minute! I came here because I thought they spoke bloody English!”

Nancy slides across the front bench seat. “Hop in Alan.  There’s plenty of room.” Audrey slides in behind the steering wheel and starts the engine. Within minutes we are on the 405 freeway, the bright sun on my face, and the wind blowing through my hair. It’s all like a dream, where I’m being whisked away to a magical land.  From the air I’d seen the vastness of L.A, but now on the freeway it feels more manageable.

Although I’ve never been here before, for some reason, it feels like coming home.

Once off the freeway Audrey drives us through Bel Air and Beverly Hills. I have never seen such huge homes, and each one has immaculate landscaping. A far cry from my parents eight hundred square foot terraced home in London, where I grew up; with the freezing outside toilet, where I would wank. No hot running water and no bath. Right then I decided one day I will have a big house with a gardener who will make sure all the blades of grass are facing the right way.

There are two new cars in the circular driveway of most homes, others have three or more car garages. There are no junk cars like in England. Everyone looks successful.

I ask myself, Wills, will I a poor boy from London’s East End make it here?  

We turn onto Sunset Boulevard, and I recall the TV show 77 Sunset Strip with Ed Kooky Byrnes combing his hair in the driveway. “That’s Dino’s.” I call out! The girls sneer, and I wish I hadn’t said anything, so I change the subject.

“What type of car is this Audrey?”

“It’s a 1962 Cadillac. Do you like it Alan?”

“What’s not to like! It’s a dream car.”

“Well to tell you the truth, it’s not mine! It belongs to a guy I date.”

“What does he do? Rob banks for a living?”

“He’s an almost known actor.”

My heart becomes a huge lump in my throat.  Wills, what did you expect, a girl this beautiful wouldn’t have a rich stud?

I slump down in the plush white leather seat, my eyes cast down to the blue carpet.

“You OK Alan?” Nancy asks.

“A little tired from the long flight. Someone kept me up half the bloody night.”

“Nancy you didn’t! You took advantage of this young man on the airplane?”

“Give me a break, Audrey! Do you think I’d jump someone I’d just met?”

“Sure you would, and twice on Sundays.” Audrey says with a laugh.

“Now see what you’ve started Alan!” My own sister thinks I’d drop-my-drawers in front of a whole plane full of passengers and shag a boy I hardly know!”

End of Chapter 1

By Alan Wills

Select all writings of  Alan Wills

Select biography of  Alan Wills


Scary, Scary Night -Chapter 1

It’s murder most funny as 20-somethings Prudence and Derek start Halloween by arriving late at the costume store— mostly because Derek hates anything to do with bodies, coffins, ghosts and all things ghoulish. Turns out, the store manager has a dead body he needs to offload, that he decides to stash in the local funeral home run by Derek’s somewhat kooky parents, Jeremy and Formalda Hyde.

Chapter 1 – The Costume Store

The Mortician’s Guide to Supportive Behavior
As a Funeral Director, you probably have a natural inclination to help others who are going through a tough time. However, if you aren’t careful, you could end up saying or doing something that makes the mourner of a dearly departed loved one feel invalidated.
With this in mind, it’s probably not helpful to say things like “Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s not your fault it took over a week to find your mother’s corpse in the tub.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Derek hated nothing more than a moonlit Halloween. Unless it was a moonless Halloween. In a funeral home. Being chased by a killer clown.

You see, he had phobias. Lots of phobias. And who could blame him? After all, he was raised in The Hyde Funeral Home & Body Parts Emporium by two pretty weird parents, Jeremy and Formalda Hyde.

I should know, I live down the street.

Not on the cemetery side. The only building on that side is the First Most Fundamental Evangelical Cathedral–more of a church, really. At least it was a church, until Sam Buglehorn and his wife turned it into Sam & Sandy’s Surf Board and Bikini Bottoms Shop. (I don’t know where you go for the tops. Maybe online.)

No, my house is on the other side, the residential side. Four doors down.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you all about Derek and his quirky parents and the murders. I wasn’t actually a part of it, of course, I was dealing with my old man’s death at the time.
Not that he died of old age. More like stupidity. I don’t know what he was thinking, but when he got locked out of the house and couldn’t find an open window, he decided to try the chimney. And it wasn’t even Christmas. We probably wouldn’t have found him, except for the smell.

But I digress.

So. I wasn’t there when everything happened to Derek, the stuff I’m telling you about. But sure as Santa, I heard enough of the pieces from everybody to put it all together. So I can vouch for the whole story.

By the way, I’m recording this, for transcription later. Or maybe I could run my recording through one of those voice recognition programs. I was planning to type it out on my PC, till I got my hand chewed up in the garbage disposal. My own fault. Don’t ask.

But getting back to Derek. A good kid, especially considering where he grew up. Not that his parents were bad people, far from it. Salt of the earth, really. We’ll, salt with a hefty slug of nutmeg.

It all started on Halloween.

Prudence had decided to drag poor Derek at four in the afternoon, in the rain, to a decrepit, badly lit costume store: The House of Mask & Magic. Way too late to be buying a costume, but then Derek was against the whole idea from the start.

Prudence pushed the store door open with her butt, which rang the somebody-just-walked-in-bell hanging above it. She stepped in backward, pulling on her reluctant boyfriend.

“Come on, Sweetie, we’re here now, so you might as well come in. I don’t know what you’re so afraid of.”

That’s the voice of Prudence, Derek’s girlfriend. I’m saying it with a higher pitch, so the transcriber will get that she was a girl. Well, a young lady, I should say. She was a looker, but with a practical flair that let everybody know she meant business. In a sweet sort of way. But no-nonsense sweet, if you know what I mean.

“I’m not afraid,” he said. “I’m just not crazy about Halloween.” (That’s Derek talking, a slightly goofy-looking guy, earnest and sincere and well intentioned.)

“But why be afraid? I’m not afraid. After all, this is just a time when kids go trick-or-treating. I think it’s cute.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you’d been raised in a spooky funeral home by crazy parents, the way I was. They had dead bodies all over the place. It was like Halloween every night.”
Prudence put her hands on her hips and shook her head. (Just like my mother used to do before the Thanksgiving turkey incident. Not really relevant, forget I said anything. The point is, I didn’t like it much, so I don’t think Derek did, either.)

“Sweetie, this isn’t your funeral home, and you knew we needed costumes. I really wish we hadn’t waited till the last minute.”

“It’s not the last minute…”

“Are you kidding? This is Halloween. Nobody waits till Halloween to get a costume.”
“Well, technically, it isn’t Halloween yet. Halloween means ‘Hollowed Evening’. But it’s only afternoon. So it’s sort of ‘Hallownoon’. See?”

Derek wasn’t very good at jokes, so he made up for it with a big smile. Prudence just stared at him. He tried covering up the awkward moment by taking command. He stepped up to the store register and slapped his hand on the counter, then pretended that didn’t hurt.

“OK. We just need a little help here. Hello? Is anybody here?”

Now, I should tell you more about the House of Mask & Magic. Most of the year, the store was filled with racks of magic kits, metal linking rings, card decks, foldable flower bouquets, silk scarves, top hots and black, shiny wands. And a collection of fake hands, arms, legs, feet and scary-looking heads. Traffic in the store was usually pretty light, mostly just horny young magicians looking for cool new tricks to impress girls and the occasional soccer moms on the hunt for party favors for their overindulged kids. Oh, and a few weirdo goths, because that’s what goths do.

But as Halloween came near, the manager always rolled out the clothes racks filled with costumes to turn anybody into a Frankenstein monster, werewolf, vampire, pirate, mermaid, Playboy bunny, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Batman, Superman, Spiderman and—my personal favorite—Shrek. (Big and green. It suits me.)

That’s not what Derek and Prudence saw, though. They saw mostly empty racks, with only occasional remnants of costumes nobody would recognize, of characters nobody ever heard about. Leftovers and meager odds and ends. They didn’t notice as the store manager, a tall brooding man named Nussbaum, walked up behind them and spoke in a voice that sounded suspiciously like a broken cement mixer.

“Good afternoon.”

Derek wasn’t prepared for this. He wheeled around and almost fell down in fright.
Nussbaum wasn’t at all fazed. “Find what you wanted?”

Prudence was more socially adept. “Actually, no, we’re going to a masquerade party, and we both need costumes.”

“Most of the costumes are already gone.”

Prudence turned to Derek and gave him an I-told-you-so look. “See?”

Derek wasn’t deterred. “Okay, but can we see what you do have?”

Nussbaum shuffled over, took a costume from a nearby rack and handed it to Prudence. He stayed strangely in profile, never fully turning to face them.

“You might want to try this on. The dressing room is just behind there.” He pointed to a door at the back of the store.

Derek frowned. “What is it?”

“I’ll surprise us both,” Prudence answered. “Just give me a second.”

As she skipped to the dressing room, Derek looked more closely at the sinister store manager who seemed to prefer standing away from the light.

“You know, you look familiar. Have we met somewhere?”

Nussbaum shot him a suspicious glare. “What are you getting at?”

“I don’t know, it’s just … you look… I can’t quite put my finger on it…”

“Are you a cop?”

“A cop? Me? No, I just…”

Nussbaum’s shoulders relaxed. “Oh, I remember. You must be that kid, Derek, from the Hyde Funeral Home.”

“…and Body Parts Emporium.”


“Never mind. I did grow up in a funeral home, but—how did you know that?”

Nussbaum leaned over to tap Derek’s forehead with his index finger. “Think back. We were kids. Your family was moving in as they were pulling me out – for the fifth time.”

“Oh… Oh! You’re—”

“Yes, I’m…” He looked up at the ceiling. “An orphan.”

Derek shook his head. “Actually, I was going to say you’re that kid who didn’t want to leave. They called you—Nussbaum.” He looked the store manager up and down. “You’ve grown.”

“Yes, I’ve grown.” Nussbaum gave Derek the same once-over. “You, not so much.”

At this point, Prudence waltzed out from the changing room wearing a big red nose and dressed in a clown outfit, clearly too big for her. She walked up behind Derek and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and nearly dropped his pants, scared out of his wits.


This scared Prudence, who also screamed. Then they both yelled again, right in each other’s faces.

Prudence pulled off her bulbous nose and hit Derek on the arm.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? Why would you dress up like that?

“What are you talking about? It’s just a clown costume.”


She peered into his face. “A clown costume? Hello? What? Are you afraid of clowns?

Nussbaum didn’t hide his smirk. “Awkward…”

Prudence took on a more motherly tone. “Aw, is it because of all those horrible zombie clowns who attacked you in your youth?”

Derek wasn’t having any of that. “No. But clowns, they’re just bloodthirsty, and ax murderers, and chainsaw serial killers—”

“Sure, in horror movies… I’m surprised you would even watch those.”

He folded his arms. “Well, I don’t like it, so take that outfit off.”

Her head went back. “Excuse me?”

“I said, take it off.”

Hands on hips, she gave him her worse scowl. “I will not. And I’ve had about enough of you. First you procrastinate like crazy, then you make me practically drag you here, then you yell in my face, and now you’re ordering me around. Who do you think you are?”

“He’s Derek,” Nussbaum interjected.

“I know his name is Derek, thank you very much.” She turned back to her boyfriend. “I’ve been so nice, and you’ve been terrible. I’m not talking to you.”

Since Derek’s mom didn’t raise any dummies, he changed tack right away.

“Look, I’m sorry, really. I can’t stand it when you’re mad. There are lots of things I can take—lots of things—” He motioned at the clown costume she was wearing “—but when I see that unhappy face—” He touched her face “—it’s much worse than a serial killer clown.”

Prudence thought about this for a second. Then she took on a more forgiving tone. “Okay, I’m not mad any more—well, a little mad.”

“And you’ll change your costume?”

“All right, I’ll change this costume if it means so much to you.”

Derek stopped holding his breath. “Thank you.”

He turned to Nussbaum and asked, “Do you have anything else she can try?”

Nussbaum frowned, then his forehead cleared. “Well, I do have one idea…”

He looked toward the back of the shop and shouted, “Albert!”

Derek looked at him sideways. “Albert?”

“My assistant.”

A voice echoed from the back storeroom. “Yes boss?”

“Do we still have that dress out back? You haven’t burned it yet?”

“Not yet.”

Now Derek was really confused. “Burned it?”

Nussbaum grunted. “Yep, it was last year’s model. But it’s still in good shape. It’s only been worn once, at a—ceremony.”

He went to the storeroom and returned with a wedding dress and veil. The dress, ragged and dirty, looked as if it had been in a recent bar brawl, with a big red stain on the front. He held it up proudly, but again, purposely stayed in profile.


“Excuse me?”

“What do you think?”

Prudence stepped in to take over. “It’s terrible. And it has a stain on it. Is that blood?”

“No,” Nussbaum insisted. “I call this my ‘Bride of Dracula’ dress. That’s just–uh–stage blood. For effect.”

“Hm… don’t you have anything else?”

Nussbaum gave her a crooked smile. “How about Barney, the purple dinosaur? I have three of those left.”


He held up masks of U.S. presidents in each hand. “Barack Obama? Donald Trump?”

Prudence sighed and shrugged. “Never mind… Okay, ‘Bride of Dracula’ it is.”

She grabbed the dress and headed back to the dressing room.

Derek looked through some other costumes on the rack and spoke to Nussbaum as he fumbled through the meager pickings he saw there. “So you’re that Nussbaum kid who wouldn’t leave the funeral home…”

“It wasn’t a funeral home then, it was my home. The bank took it when they found my parents—or pieces of them.”

Derek stopped what he was doing. “Pieces of them? That’s horrible! What happened?”

“Nothing. An accident. An explosion.”

“Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. How did it happen?”

Nussbaum glared at his stupid customer. “I told you. An accident.”

Derek mumbled, “Well, at least you weren’t hurt…”

Nussbaum stepped into the light and for the first time turned to show his left profile. “Maybe you didn’t see my face.”

That was when it happened, and not for the last time.

As soon as he said the word, “face,” ominous music came out of nowhere, as if they were in a movie. It went, “DUHN-DUHN-DUUUUUUHHHNN.”

They both looked up and around, trying to understand where this music came from.

Then Derek looked more closely at Nussbaum and became more confused than ever. His left profile looked just the same as his right.

“But—I don’t get it. Your face looks fine. I don’t see the problem.”

Nussbaum gave him a testy sneer. “No, people never do. That’s what they pretend. But they don’t fool me. I know they find my disfiguration too horrible to take. I know, I know.”

He exited through the back storeroom door, slamming it.

At this point, Prudence came out of the dressing room wearing the stained wedding dress. In spite of its shabbiness, she looked radiant, even beautiful.

“Well? What do you think?”

Derek was beside himself. “Wow. You look fantastic. You’re stunning!”

Prudence gave him a dismissive cluck of her tongue. “Sure, now you think I look good, when I’m dressed as a monster.”

“No, really, you’re—I don’t know—exquisite.”

Prudence was flattered after all, and turned to pose in a full-length mirror to the right of the counter.

“You really think so?”

“Definitely. It’s eerie, but you’re really unbelievably striking, attractive, gorgeous—dazzling.”

Prudence looked in the mirror again, rotating her hip. “I guess it’s not that bad.”

“Bad? It’s great. You’re the most amazing Bride of Dracula I’ve ever seen. In fact…”

She looked at him with suspicion. “What?”

“Marry me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Marry me, Prudence. I just can’t help myself, I love you. I’m mad about you. I’m addicted to you. In fact, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s get married tonight.”

She took a step back. “On Halloween? Not bloody likely.”

“But just think, it’d be so easy to remember our anniversary.”

“Now, why do I find that romantic?”

Derek gave her a hopeful look. “Does that mean it’s a Yes?”

“In your dreams.” She stepped closer and touched his face. “Sweetie, you’re really wonderful, and funny, and adorable, and clever, and—”

“And you love me? You’re crazy about me? You get breathless when I walk into the room?”

She shook her head. “Hold on, cowboy. If I ever do fall madly in love, I won’t be one of those fawning women who faints at the sight of her man and sits by the phone all night hoping he’ll call. I’ll handle it with grace. Quiet dignity. Self esteem.

“Yeah, but…”

“And for me, being in love will be amazing, phenomenal, earth-shattering.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Besides, marriage is a huge step. And there are things a girl has to think about.”

“Things like…?”

“Well, if you must know, I’m a little worried about your phobias.”

“Phobias? I don’t have any– oh, you mean the clown thing. But everybody’s afraid of clowns.”

“I’m not afraid of clowns. Or costume stores, or Halloween, or coffins, or graves—”

“Okay, I get your point.”

“—or corpses, or funeral homes, or—”

“Okay, Okay. I get it.”

She put her hand on his cheek. “Can’t we just keep things just as they are? I do love you, you know.”

“Well, that’s something, anyway. But I’m still going to keep asking.”

“So your feelings aren’t hurt? You’re okay to go to the masquerade party?”

“Lead on, McDuff.”

“And if we have time, let’s stop to see your parents on the way. I know they’d enjoy seeing our costumes.”

“Stop by to see my crazy parents at the funeral home tonight? On Halloween? No way.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. Where’s that strong courageous figure of man I know you can be? Come on, it’ll be great. Besides, I think you have the greatest parents ever, really kooky and fun.”

“I have the strangest parents ever. They’re not just kooky, they’re certifiably weird. I’ve seriously considered getting them committed.”

“What are you talking about? They’re sweet, they’re generous and kind. And they’re completely unpretentious. It’ll be great. Besides, I always enjoy seeing how they’ve decorated for Halloween. And you know they adore me.”

“Hey, here’s an idea. How about if we go see your parents instead?”

“Oh no, they hate you. That’s going to take more time than we’ve got tonight.”

“Wait, what? They hate me?”

She ignored him, busily figuring things out. “No, if we’re going to share this with family, it should be your family.”

“They hate me?”

“Pay attention, Sweetheart, you’re repeating yourself.” She looked at her watch. “If we leave now, we’ll have plenty of time.”

“They hate me?”

Nussbaum appeared from the back storeroom. “Sorry, I got bored and drifted off. Did you want to buy costumes or not?”

This brought Derek back to the point. “Oh, right, I almost forgot. We still need a costume for me. Do you have something really appropriate that goes with the wedding dress?”

“Oh, you mean like a bridesmaid dress.” Nussbaum looked him up and down. “Nope, sorry.”

“No, I don’t mean a bridesmaid dress. I mean something like a Count Dracula costume.”

“Nope. Sorry. All out… Wait a minute—” He shouted to the back storeroom. “Albert!”

“Yes boss?” came the disembodied voice.

“Where’s that zombie nurse’s outfit?”

“It’s back here.”

Derek ran his hand through his hair. “Thanks anyway, but I honestly don’t want to go as a zombie nurse. White stockings with white shoes really creep me out.”

“You know,” Prudence said. “I’m thinking you must have watched a lot of horror movies as a kid.”

Nussbaum shook his head. “It’s not for the shoes and stockings. One second.”

He went to the back storeroom and returned with a costume. He pulled a short nurse’s cape from the rest of the outfit. It was only waist length, but at least it was black with a red satin lining.

“Here. I can let you have the nurse’s cape and some Dracula teeth. If you slick back your hair, put on a black suit and talk with a Transylvanian accent, you’ll make a passable Dracula.”

Derek narrowed his eyes, but put on the cape. Seeing his reflection in the mirror, he grinned, grabbed a piece of the cape, swung his arm in front of his mouth and spoke in a Transylvanian accent. “Good ideeea. I theenk it will work. I’ll take it.”

Then he turned to Prudence and once again gave his best Bela Lugosi imitation. “I never drink—wine.”

He started to kiss her neck, but Prudence pushed him away laughing, “Sto-op.”

Derek, finally proud of himself, strode to the register to pay. Nussbaum rang him up as Prudence made one last twirl in the mirror.

“I think I’ll just wear this dress home.”

Derek talked over his shoulder as he paid. “Good idea.” He gathered up his costume and the clothes Prudence had been wearing. He turned to her with renewed confidence.

“Well, we’re all set. We’ll just go to my place, scarf down some supper and get me all duded up as Dracula. We can be at my parents’ by eight.” He added to Nussbaum, again in a Transylvanian accent, “Sorry to rush, but we have to fly.”

He put his caped arm around Prudence and together they headed for the door.

Nussbaum barely looked up. “Don’t forget your fangs.”

“Oh, right.” Derek grabbed a small package from the counter and ushered Prudence through the door to the double-ding of the hanging store bell.

Nussbaum ignored them. He opened his laptop computer and mumbled to himself as he typed. “Hyde Funeral Home… Hyde Funeral Home… Yes.”

End Chapter 1

By Michael Lunsford

Select all writings of  Michael Lunsford

Select biography of  Michael Lunsford

My Life Stories – Grandpa Remembers

Introduction:  I write these stories so they won’t be forgotten …

Excerpt from Book – Prologue 0 to 1929 (Before I was born)

Zayde Kalman Leaves Russia

I come home from school and open the front door with the key that
hangs around my neck on a string.

Mom yells from the kitchen, Is that you, Ronnie?

“Who else would it be?” I yell back as I smell the delicious food she is
cooking for Passover. I go to the bathroom and … whoa … What do I see?
There is a big fish swimming in the bath tub. I scream, “Mom!

Mom comes running with a wooden spoon in her hand and a worried
look on her face. She yells, “What’s wrong? Oh, I see. I didn’t tell you about
the fish. I’ll tell you all about it when you come out of the bathroom.”

I rush out of the bathroom. “Mom, the fish?”

She stirs a pot of chicken soup with a wooden spoon. Then she takes
some Matza dough out of a bowl and shapes it into a ball. After that, she
carefully drops it into the soup so it won’t splash. It smells delicious.

Finally, she says to me. “My mother, your Baba Lena, told me that the
Gefilte Fish tastes better when the fish you use is very fresh. She kept the
fish alive until the very last minute. That’s what I’m doing. I didn’t think you’d
mind going without a bath for a day or two.”

“No, that’s Okay Mom. Speaking of Passover, tell me the story about
how Zayde Kalman told you that you were going to America. It was on
Passover. Wasn’t it?”

“Again, I already told you that story a million times.”

“I know. I just like to hear it.”

“That’s Okay. I kind a’ like telling the story. It was in 1911. We were
living in Odessa, Russia, My father, your Zayde, was thirty eight years old.
He was really handsome, you know, with his straight black hair, parted in
the middle, and his twinkling blue eyes.”

Then she suddenly laughs so hard she is crying.

“What’s so funny, Mom?”

“He was wobbly because he already had three cups of wine for the
Passover Seder. His cheeks were red. He waved his glass in the air and
looked up, like he was talking to God, and said in a voice so loud that God
could hear.”

“On this holiday, we celebrate freedom. Just as Moses led our people
out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in Israel, I am going to lead my family
out of slavery in Russia, into freedom in America.”

Then Mom gets a serious look on her face. She wipes her hands and
dries the tears from her eyes with a towel and goes on with her story.
“My mother, your Baba Lena, gave him a disgusted look.”

Mom stops and looks at me. “Ronnie, do me a favor and get me a fresh
towel, will you please?”

“Sure Mom” I go and get a fresh towel and hand it to her. “What about
Baba Lena? What did she say?”

“Your Baba was thirty three. Her dark brown hair was parted in the
middle and pulled back into a tight bun. She wore a loose fitting gray house
dress and no makeup. She told me that she was taught by her mother that
she shouldn’t look pretty after she was married so she wouldn’t tempt
anybody but her husband.”

“She said to Zayde, ‘Sit down old man. Don’t talk such nahrishkeit.
You’re talking foolish. I can hear the wine in you talking.'”

“Your Zayde looked upset. He really wanted to convince his wife that
they had to leave Russia. He tried something new. He looked at her and
continued. ‘We live in a dangerous city. you know?'”

“Baba shrugged. ‘What’s with the danger? Our neighbors are Jewish?
They’re not going to hurt us.'”

“I could see my Papa getting frustrated. He went on, ‘What you don’t
see is the danger from Turkey. Russia took Odessa away from Turkey in
one of their many wars. Now they are afraid the Turks will invade and take
the city back. Then they would kill all of the Russians living there, just like
the Russians did to the Turks.'”

“‘The Russian people wouldn’t live here at first. That’s why the Czar let
us Jews live here. He could care less if all the Jews got killed. He won’t
let Jews live in any other Russian city. We showed him. We made Odessa
into a very prosperous city. Now the Russians want to live here. He’ll
probably change his mind and kick the Jews out of Odessa too.'”

“Baba stood up and screamed. Her face was red. ‘We can’t leave Russia.                               You have worked hard. We are making a good living from your leather
factory. You are head of the Odessa Communist party. The children
are doing well in school. ‘”

I say to my Mom, “Boy, things got tense.”

Mom answers “Yes, I got scared and changed the subject. I said to
Zayde, “Papa, you once told me you wanted to be a Rabbi. Why did you
change your mind?”

“Then Papa smiled at Rose, my younger sister, and me. He loves us
and we adore him. He waved for us to come to him. He said, ‘Look at my
two Ziese Meydele, my sweet girls, so smart and beautiful.'”

“Then he answered my question. ‘I decided that the Communist Party
will make life better for everyone. We will live in a classless society. The
Russians will not be our enemies. We will be comrades.'”

Mom gets serious again, “Getting back to the story, Your Baba got red
in the face and yelled at Zayde. ‘Why don’t you pay attention to your son,
Chaim? He is only ten years old, yet he helps you in the factory every
day after school. See how handsome he is. He dresses like a grown up.'”

“Chaim, my older brother, your Uncle Herman spoke up. He didn’t want
anybody to talk for him. He said, ‘Rabbi Schwartz, my Bar Mitzvah teacher,
told us there are 150,000 Jews in Odessa. Most of us are doing well.'”

“Baba looked proud as he spoke. ‘We are doing well. That is good.'”

“No,” said Chaim. “Rabbi Schwartz said it’s not good. The Czar is like the
Pharaoh of Egypt. He is afraid that we will join his enemies.”

“‘Pooh, he was just trying to scare us.’ Said Baba Lena.”

“‘No Mama,’ protested Chaim, ‘the Rabbi says the Czar is planning
more Pogroms. He will send the Russian peasants on killing sprees against
the Jews and let them steal their homes and properties. He wants to take
over our businesses and factories and give them to his friends.'”

“Papa got very serious. He told us, ‘The Russian sheriff came to visit
me. He warned me if I didn’t quit my Communist activities, he would
take Chaim into the army when he turned twelve.'”

“Baba turned pale. She was finally convinced we had to leave
Russia. She pulled Chaim over to her and hugged him tight. Chaim looked
scared. He told us, ‘My friend, Hershel Greenbaum, was taken away into the
army last week. His mother Rachel says he was as good as dead. The
family is sitting Shiva. That’s the ceremony for someone who is already
dead. I am too young to die. We have to leave Odessa.'”

“Zayde looked relieved that Baba agreed. ‘We have to do this quietly or
the Sheriff will call in the Cossacks to wreck the, factory. He doesn’t do it
now because I pay him for protection. Boris Karpoff, the head sewing
machine operator, will pay me a few kopeks for the business.'”

Mother continues making Matza Balls. She says “Your Zayde Kalman,
told me how he went to the office of the sheriff, Ivan Ivanovski, the next day.
I’ll tell you the story exactly how my Papa told it to me.”

“Ivan sat there behind an unpainted desk, drinking vodka from a dirty
glass. A red cap with a gold star was on his bald head. A visor shaded his
red nose. His arms were folded across his huge belly, ‘Hello Kalman, You
are my favorite kike. I hope you gave up that Bolshevik activity. I’d hate to
take that smart little Chaim into the army.'”

“He gave Papa a bear hug. Papa could smell Ivan’s body odor and onion
breath. Ivan asked, ‘Did you bring something for me?'”

“Then he asked, ‘How can I he be of service to you, tovarich?'”

“‘I want to take my family on a trip to visit my relatives in Warsaw. Then I
want to go across the border to Berlin to visit my wife’s family.'”

“Ivan bragged, ‘We have a good business arrangement, no? It takes
six months to get such a passport, but I will have yours ready in a week.'”

“Ivan waved goodbye to Papa as he left and said in a loud voice,
‘Dasvidaniya. I will see you soon, tovarich.'”

“Papa waved back and smiled as he whispered through clenched teeth,
‘Dasvidaniya, Tovarich. I will never have to see you again. Never again.'”

Mom finishes making Matza balls as she finishes her story. She turns
off the gas under the soup. She says to me.”Ronnie, you can thank God
we are safe in America and you can thank Zayde for bringing us here.”

Written by  Ron Lever

Select all writings of  Ron Lever

Select biography of  Ron Lever

Writing, from the Art of Seeing

Chapter 9 

by  Bernard Selling

The writing of a motion picture screenplay is both a subtle art form and a maddening craft. By their very nature, screenplays are incomplete, in the same way that plays are incomplete: they provide only the text with which the actors and director must work. Creating a sub-text that breathes life into the screenplay and the film is the job of the actor and director. A job well done by the screenwriter means nothing until the screenplay gets to the screen.

Every writer, whether novelist, short story writer, playwright or screenwriter has three basic tools with which to work: narrative, dialogue and inner thoughts and feelings. The novelist and short story writer must be skilled at narrative, good at dialogue and have the advantage of being able to express inner thoughts and feelings directly.

The screenwriter must be skilled at creating narrative that can be communicated through action and dialogue. His success, however, will derive from the way that he handles inner thoughts and feelings that can seldom be expressed directly. Since a great many scripts are adaptations from novels, short stories and plays, let’s take a look at a classic American short story and see how it might be adapted to the screen. I have in mind Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” An example of American short fiction at its best, “Macomber” was one of Hemingway’s favorites. It was also made into a 1947 movie, Macomber, starring Gregory Peck. The story is typical Hemingway: every moment in the story is a test of a man’s manhood.

In the story, “Macomber,” a handsome, athletic, very rich, rather naïve man goes on safari in Africa, accompanied by his wife and their guide, Wilson. Let’s look at the opening:

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

“Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?” Macomber asked.

“I’ll have a gimlet,” Robert Wilson told him.

“I’ll have a gimlet, too. I need something,” Macomber’s wife said.

“I suppose it’s the thing to do,” Macomber agreed. “Tell him to make three gimlets.”

This seems like idle conversation, yes? Except for the line, “…pretending nothing had happened.” What does this line mean? Hemingway goes on:

‘Francis Macomber had, half an hour before, been carried to his tent from the edge of the camp in triumph on the arms and shoulders of the cook, the personal boys, the skinner…he had shaken all their hands, received their congratulations and then gone into his tent and sat on the bed until his wife came in. She did not speak to him when she came in and he left the tent at once…to sit in the shade.’

So the public perception of Macomber is that he has done something to be proud of, but Mrs. Macomber doesn’t share that view. Next, Hemingway describes these characters:

‘Mrs. Macomber looked at Wilson quickly. She was an extremely handsome and wellkept woman of the beauty and social position which had, five years before, commanded five thousand dollars as the price of endorsing, with photographs, a beauty product which she never used. She had been married to Francis Macomber for eleven years.’ (Page 4)

“He’s a good lion, isn’t he?” Macomber said. His wife looked at him now. She looked at both men as though she had never seen them before. One, Wilson, the white hunter, she knew she had never truly seen before. He was about middle height with sandy hair, a stubby mustache, a very red face and extremely cold eyes with faint wrinkles at the corners that grooved merrily when he smiled. He smiled at her now.’ (Page 4)

Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five-years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big game fishing records and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.’ (Page 4)

Ah, so there it is. Macomber has shown himself to be a coward. What kind? Since this is a safari—probably a wild animal hunt, we can suppose that Macomber ran from a lion or a rhino. If so, what will the consequences be?

Early in the paragraph Hemingway damns Macomber with faint praise: “if you didn’t mind the length of bone…” (gangly) “thin-lipped…” (unsensual) “…good at court games…” (a too-civilized form of mano-a-mano competition).

“Here’s to the lion,” he (Macomber) said. “I can’t thank you enough for what you did.”

Margaret, his wife, looked away from him and back to Wilson.

“Let’s not talk about the lion,” she said.

Wilson looked over at her without smiling and now she smiled at him.

“Hadn’t you ought to put your hat on, Mr. Wilson…you have a very red face.”

“Drink,” said Wilson.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Francis drinks a great deal but his face is never red.”

“It’s red today,” Macomber tried to joke.

“No,” said Margaret, “It’s mine that’s red today. But Mr. Wilson’s is always red.”

From this we see that Macomber has done something to be ashamed of, apparently something cowardly, such as running away from danger. In all likelihood, Wilson saved his life and shot the beast. Macomber tries to joke about his cowardice, as if it’s a small thing—maybe it is to Macomber. But it’s a big thing to his wife. She is ashamed. Or is it something else? Perhaps they have a relationship in which each struggles for power and now Mrs. Macomber has the power on her side. It seems that way, from the way she flirts with Wilson.

The two men talk about the natives, Wilson allowing that a good beating every now and then keeps the natives in line. Macomber replies, “We all take a beating every day, you know, one way or the other,” a line suggesting that Mrs. Macomber has been indulging herself in exercising her power over her husband quite often.

Moments later, Macomber says, “I’m awfully sorry about this lion business. It doesn’t have to go any further, does it? I mean no one will hear about it, will they?”

So now we see that Macomber is ashamed of his actions and he doesn’t want the world to hear about them. Or is he? It is an odd line, so–as we say—“on the money.” If we repeat the line to ourselves, remembering that Macomber is a very rich man, one gets the impression he is more concerned about the annoyance of having failed at this sport than the shame. He certainly sounds more matter-of-fact than deeply wounded. Wilson is put off.

“You mean will I tell it at the Mathaiga Club?” Wilson looked at him coldly. “No, I’m a professional hunter. We never talk about our clients. Supposed to be bad form to ask us not to talk, though.”

Hemingway follows with several of lines Wilson’s inner thoughts and feelings:

He had decided now that to break would be much easier. He would eat, then, by himself and could read a book with his meals. They would eat by themselves. He would see them through the safari on a very formal basis—what was it them French called it? Distinguished consideration—and it would be a damn sight easier than having to go through this emotional trash. Insult him and make a good clean break.

“I’m sorry,” Macomber said. “I didn’t realize that. There are a lot of things I don’t know.” So what could he do, Wilson thought. He was all ready to break it off quickly and neatly and here the beggar was apologizing after he had just insulted him. He made one more attempt. “…you know in Africa no woman ever misses her lion and no white man ever bolts.”

A moment later, Macomber says, “I bolted like a rabbit.” He’s matter of fact, honest, strangely non-evasive, as if not ashamed, just nonplused.

Hemingway reveals more of Wilson’s thoughts. Now what in hell were you going to do about a man who talked like that, Wilson wondered.

Wilson looked at Macomber…(who)…had a pleasant smile if you did not notice how his eyes showed when he was hurt.

“Maybe I can fix it up on buffalo,” he (Macomber) said. “We’re after them next, aren’t we?”

Here, the exposition comes to an end. Macomber has shown he is a coward but not a blustering, silly coward–just a matter-of-fact coward, not a man for whom Wilson can summon any contempt.

Mrs. Macomber, however, enjoys her husband’s vulnerability to the fullest, savaging him like a picador teasing a bull before sticking the sword in its shoulders.

“Why not let up on the bitchery just a little Margot,” Macomber said.

“I suppose I could,” she said, “since you put it so prettily.”

So, Robert Wilson thought to himself, she is giving him a ride, isn’t she? Or do you suppose that’s her idea of putting up a good show. How should a woman act when she discovers her husband is a bloody coward? She’s damn cruel but they’re all cruel. They govern, of course, and to govern one has to be cruel sometimes. Still, I’ve seen enough of their damn terrorism.

Before going on to the development of the story, Hemingway takes us into a back-story that allows us to experience—and taste every bit of Macomber’s cowardice in facing the lion.

Returning to the present, Hemingway begins the development section of the story, having Margot to continue Macomber’s humiliation by sleeping with Wilson.

Yet Macomber does not go to pieces. Like one of the animals being stalked, he’s wounded…hurt…but not crippled. Despite her infidelity—which has taken place many times before—he is alert and ready for the hunt.

The next day they engage several buffalo and, though Macomber acquits himself well, the largest one escapes into the bush.

“Then it’s going to be just like the lion,” said Margot full of anticipation. “It’s not going to be a bit like the lion,” Wilson told her. “Did you want another drink, Macomber?”

“Yes, thanks.” Macomber said. He expected to have the feeling he had about the lion to come back but it did not. For the first time in his life he really felt wholly without fear. Instead of fear he had a feeling of definite elation. “Can we go in after him now?” asked Macomber eagerly.

Wilson looked at him appraisingly. Damned if this isn’t a strange one, he thought. Yesterday he (was) scared sick and today he’s a ruddy fire eater.

Wilson tells Macomber they will wait a little while. Hemingway then slips into Macomber’s point of view and stays there for a while.

Macomber felt a wild unreasonable happiness he had never known before.

“By God that was a chase,” he said. “I’ve never had such a feeling. Wasn’t it marvelous, Margot.

“I hated it,” she said bitterly. “I loathed it.”

“You know I don’t think I’ll ever be afraid of anything again,” Macomber said to Wilson. “Something happened in me when we saw that first buff and started after him. Like a dam bursting. It was pure excitement.”

“Cleans out your liver,” said Wilson. “Damn funny things happen to people.”

Macomber’s face was shining. “You know, something did happen to me.”

His wife said nothing and eyed him strangely.

“You know, I’d like to try another lion,” Macomber said. “I’m really not afraid of them now. After all, what can they do to you?”

“That’s it,” said Wilson. “Worst they can do to you is kill you.

It had taken a strange chance of hunting, a sudden precipitation into action without opportunity for worrying before-hand, to bring this about with Macomber, but regardless of how it happened it had most certainly happened. Look at the beggar now, Wilson thought. He liked this Macomber now. Damned strange fellow. Probably meant the end of cuckoldry, too. Well, that would be a damned good thing. He’d seen it in the war work the same way. Fear gone like an operation. Something else grew in its place. Main thing a man had. Women knew it too. No bloody fear.

“You’re both talking rot,” said Margot. “Just because you chase some helpless animals in a motor car you talk like heroes.”

So here we have it. In this struggle for power, Margot had always gotten the upper hand—their reason for staying together. She stayed in order to assert her power. He stayed because he had to find what it would take to release him from her death grip around his neck—to find his balls. So now the question remains: what will happen in the next four pages? Will Macomber prove himself as capable and fearless as he believes? How will Margot handle it.

…the gun bearer shouted wildly and they saw him coming out of the bush sideways, fast as a crab, and the bull coming , nose out, mouth tight closed, blood dripping, massive head straight out, coming in a charge, his little pig eyes blood-shot as he looked at them. Wilson who was ahead was kneeling shooting, and Macomber, as he fired, unhearing his shot in the roaring of Wilson’s gun, saw fragments like slate burst from the huge boss of the horns, and the head jerked, he shot again at the wise nostrils and saw the horns jolt again…and aiming carefully, shot again with the buffalo’s huge bulk almost on him and his rifle almost level with the on-coming head.

Wilson had ducked to one side to get in a shoulder shot. Macomber had stood solid and shot for the nose, shooting a touch high each time and hitting the heavy horns, splintering and chipping them, and Mrs. Macomber, in the car, had shot at the buffalo with the 6.5 Mannlicher as it seemed about to gore Macomber and had hit her husband about two inches up and a little to one side of the base of his skull.

So this is Hemingway’s solution to what happens after Macomber’s emancipation. His wife sees to it that he pays the price. As she cries hysterically, Wilson comes up to her:

“That was a pretty thing to do,” he said in a toneless voice. “He would have left you too.”

“Stop it,” she said.

She repeats this over and over.

“Oh, please stop it,” she said. “Please, please stop it.”

“That’s better,” Wilson said. “Please is much better. Now I’ll stop.” Wilson sees this as a game in which Macomber had been stalked all right, but not by the wild African game he no longer feared. And while he had grown to fear his wife no longer, she had not ceased her hunt. If she couldn’t wound him any longer, she at least could kill him—all because, with her beauty fading, her power was ebbing before her eyes.


How might we translate parts of this story into the language of the motion picture. Let’s look at the beginning, this time cast in motion picture script format.


The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber


On a vast plain of the Serengeti Desert, several small tents dot an oasis. Two Land Rovers sit behind the tents, as the “beaters” eat their lunch at some remove from two men and a woman who sit beneath the fly of the dining tent.


A tall man leans back in his chair. He is Francis Macomber, rich, wealthy, mid-forties. A sportsman. Next to him sits his wife, Margot, a once-beautiful woman, now a bit lined in the face. Across from them sits the guide, Robert Wilson, middle height, and red-faced from living outdoors all his adult life.

MACOMBER:  Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?

WILSON:  I’ll have a gimlet.

MARGOT MACOMBER:  I’ll have a gimlet, too. I need something.

MACOMBER: I suppose it’s the thing to do. Tell him to make three gimlets.

This is the scene almost exactly as Hemingway wrote it. The physical descriptions, the dialogue, everything. Except that it means nothing. The most pregnant line in the beginning, “…they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened,” has not been dealt with in any way. Consequently, there is no opening.

Let’s start by asking ourselves what each character wants. According to Hemingway, Macomber is here to shoot lions. But we realize that, in reading the story, he’s here for some other reason. His wife taunts him as she has done in the past. So he’s looking for a way to get past her taunts. And perhaps her taunts serve a purpose—to goad him into facing what he has never faced: his basic cowardice.

So that’s what he wants: to gain his manhood.

And that’s what she wants: to remind him of his smallness, his insignificance, his impotence. Is that what she wants, really? No, the author has something else in mind.

What does she really want? To feel powerful. Yes, that’s it.

Having used her beauty all her life to get what she wants, she knows her power lies in her face and her figure. But now that both are fading into middle-aged wrinkles—and that her husband looks a hell of a lot better than she does, she must find some other way to feel powerful. Yes, that’s good. How does she go about it? By reminding Macomber of his impotent insignificance. Thus he will stay close because she’s smarter and stronger. Uh huh, that’ll work.

What does Wilson want? We know from the story, he loves the opportunity to match wits with and to test the mettle of wild animals. He also loves bailing these “sporty” fellows out of trouble, and bagging their wives, if the occasion warrants, as his bounty for saving their skins. So he wants to feel superior to these rich people. But if a man, who has shown himself to be a cowardly sort, suddenly turns out to be ready to test his mettle in some earnest way, Wilson will give him all the credit in the world. So his secret desire is to help men become men, as would a top sergeant who brings his infantry troops to the front lines for the first time.

What does he want? To free men of their cowardice? Yes, good.

So if Macomber want to find his manhood, running away feels bad, feels like a defeat, or perhaps he’s trying to overcome some inability to focus when panic surfaces. How would we express this in action and dialogue.

* * *


Francis Macomber leans back in his chair. Rich, wealthy, mid-forties, a sportsman with a surprising innocence about him. His smooth cheeks and bright eyes suggest a man who has not been out in the sun more than necessary. Next to him sits his wife, a once beautiful woman, now a bit lined in the face, who has been out in the sun too often. Across from them sits the guide, Robert Wilson, middle height, and red-faced from living outdoor all his adult life, coupled with a pint of whisky at the end of each day.

A servant brings them vodka gimlets, frosted, out here in the desert.

MACOMBER: (raising his glass) A toast.

MARGOT MACOMBER: (giving him a look) How you do love your toasts.

WILSON: I’m in. He lifts his glass, just barely. Macomber clinks his glass against his wife’s.

MACOMBER: To Mr. Wilson. A crack shot.

MARGOT MACOMBER: (eying Wilson) Umm, yes. A crack shot. Put it right where he wanted it. I suppose you’re always pretty much on target, aren’t you Mr. Wilson?

Macomber’s eyes narrow as he gives her a look. Wilson catches their look.

WILSON: Paid to do it, Mrs. Paid to do it.

MARGOT: My husband’s a crack shot, aren’t you, dear?

Macomber eyes her, holding back something.

MACOMBER: (shrugging) No one’s perfect, my dear. Margot leans toward Wilson. MARGOT: A perfectly wonderful shot, Mr. Wilson. Yours, I mean. A work of art I should say, you—standing there waiting —until the last moment. Then Pow! The crack of the rifle. Down it goes, poor helpless, frightened beast.

She gives Macomber’s arm a patronizing pat.

MACOMBER: (shrugging) Helpless, eh? (looking up) Tomorrow, Mr. Wilson? He clinks Wilson’s gimlet glass. Wilson who has closed his eyes to the two of them, awakens with the slow rattle of a snake uncoiling.

WILSON: Tomorrow, Mr. Macomber? I should have thought You might want to wait a day. Gather yourself.

MARGOT: (laughing) Oh, you know how we Americans are. Fall off a horse, get right back on. We’re taught that from birth.

Wilson, fully awake now, sizes up the two of them. He downs his gimlet.

WILSON If you’ll excuse me. (getting up) Tomorrow, eh?

He gets up, taking his gimlet glass with him, walks over to where the “beaters” are eating and tosses the glass to an elderly black man who washes dishes.

SERVANT: (laughing, showing rotten teeth) Americans, boss?

WILSON: (shrugging) Americans. They say the women all have one breast— So they can draw back the bow string a little better.

He motions as if to draw a bow string across his chest and shoot an arrow then swings around as if to send it into the servant’s heart. They laugh.


Macomber plays with a hunting knife he has drawn from its case on his belt. He picks up a stick and begins to carve until it has a sharp point.

MACOMBER: I thought we agreed you’d were to stop playing the bitch, Margot.

MARGOT: Does the queen take her pawns off the board, just because the bishop whines in her ear?

He takes the stick he has been whitling and runs in under her chin. She looks a little startled, even worried.

MACOMBER: Nice chin. I should say, a very nice chin. If anyone ever said, ‘Macomber your wife is losing her looks,’ I would answer them, ‘On the contrary, she has never looked more beautiful than at this moment.

She gives him a cold look, gets up from the table and stalks into their tent. Macomber gets up from the table and wanders over to Wilson who is packing rifles, ammo and the rest of their kit in one of the vehicles.

MACOMBER: (sotto) I say Mr. Wilson….Eh, no one needs to hear about what happened this afternoon, do they?

WILSON: We never talk of these things, guides I mean.

MACOMBER: (musing) Ran like a rabbit, I did.

WILSON: Wouldn’t think much on it, governor. Or talk about it. Macomber shrugs as he turns and looks out at the desert.

INSERT – Macomber points his rifle at a lion some distance away, but never fires. The lion races toward Macomber, who turns and runs for the bushes. A shot rings out. Macomber turns and sees the lion drop at his feet. Macomber is covered with sweat, his eyes filled with fear. Over and over again those eyes brimming with fear.


Macomber rolls over restlessly then suddenly awakens at the sound of footsteps. He opens his eyes as Margot enters, disheveled, straightening her hair.

MACOMBER My God, Margot. It’s practically morning.

MARGOT: Go to sleep.

MACOMBER: You said you were done with that kind of thing. She takes off her shirt, revealing her well-toned shoulders and arms, full bosom and slim waist. She drops her trousers, no longer hiding a pair of lacy panties that cling to her very shapely bottom. Leaning over, her butt practically in Macomber’s face, she pulls open the bedding on her cot and climbs under the blanket.

MARGOT: Sleep well, Francis. You have a big day coming up tomorrow, don’t you? (suppressing a throaty laugh) Tomorrow—. Ummm.

She smiles to herself, pleased, and falls asleep. In the background, Macomber stares at the top of the tent from his cot. No sleep for this man.

* * *

As we evaluate the job we’ve done on this section of the story, we must consider six questions:

Q: Have we reduced this 37 page story into a much shorter screenplay or a longer feature length screenplay?

A: So far we are doing well. These ten pages of short story have been compressed into four pages of script. That’s a plus.

Q: Have we been faithful to Hemingway’s intent?

A: We have established what each one wants: Macomber to test his manhood again, Margot to make him pay for all the ways in which he has failed her, imagined or not, Wilson plays a waiting game.

Q: Have we found a way of keeping the inner thoughts and feeling of the characters present through dialogue and action.

A: Wilson’s inner thoughts and feelings are difficult to reveal in a story such as this so they must be externalized somehow. Thus the moment with the elderly black man—“Americans”.

Q: Have we managed to keep the dialogue interesting, that is, have we kept the dialogue from being too much “on the money” (obvious).

A: We’ve kept alive the sense that something went wrong and these people are reacting to it, trying to make everything normal, as happened in the story, but on the other hand Margot is not going to let an opportunity like this go by unchallenged.

Q: Are the character qualities of the actors faithful to the author’s intent and do these qualities still work to make the story interesting.

A: We’ve kept alive Macomber’s sense of innocence, his singular focus on getting his manhood back “tomorrow.” We’ve kept Margo’s sly bitchiness in sight as well. “Always on target, Mr. Wilson?” Wilson remains slightly contemptuous, but open to possibilities—to Margot’s in-your-face infidelity as well as Macomber’s intent on righting his ship and proving he’s a man.

Q: If we’ve made changes, do they work in behalf of the story?

A: The changes we’ve made have been in the direction of shortening the dialogue while keeping Hemingway’s sense of characters in conflict. A film has a life of its own so being too faithful to a book or story can be a drawback. But if we move too far away, we lose the feel of Hemingway’s life experience. Hopefully we’ve found a happy medium.

We have made every effort to create a script from which actors and directors can draw upon their talents to bring the conflicts into focus. At the same time, the script must be visual enough and sufficiently readable that a producer will be satisfied that the script will serve his purposes: to raise money and excite the right talent to want to work on the project.

The End

by Bernard Selling

Select all writings of  Bernard Selling

Select biography of  Bernard Selling

Note: Bernard Selling’s books on writing are published by Turner Publishers and may be ordered from



Confessions of a Wanker – Book 1, Chapter 3

Athletes and Growing Pains

It’s a short bike ride down Low Hall Lane from our road, past the war time allotments where neighbors still grow vegetables, to the green playing fields and swings of St. James Park.  To the left of the park is the smelly ugliness of the city dump, a sad place where poor wretches rummage through trash for items to repair and sell.  Its slim pickings for them as the dustmen always bag anything of value for themselves from outside the homes.  Behind the rear park fence there is a strip of land, filled with overgrown trees and bushes that we call the jungle, it’s where we built our gang hideout.  To cross the Amazon River we balance across a fallen tree trunk, if we slip alligators will eat us. In truth we would die of the stink, it’s an open sewer.  Beyond the jungle the city used trash fill and dirt to build a sports area; football fields, cricket pitches, and a running track.

Danny uses the cricket field as an escape from his battling parents, he’s a good batter.  At the start of our second year, he tells me to try out for the team as a bowler.

Mr. Stanton, our cricket master, stands three feet from the wicket, and says he’ll “kill two birds with one stone” and watch my bowling, and Danny’s batting stroke.  At twelve I have never actually bowled.  I’ve seen cricket matches on TV, and feel I am destined to be a world’s best bowler.  My run-up is perfect.  My right arm rotates smoothly over my shoulder and the ball leaves my hand at incredible speed.  Unfortunately, my aim is exactly three feet to the right of Danny’s bat, and the rock-hard leather cricket ball strikes Mr. Stanton in the crotch.  By his screams I know have totally demolished his family jewels.  I run to where he is reeling on the grass.

“Sorry, sir!”  I say.  “Slipped out of me ‘and.  Do ya want me to ‘ave anover go?”

In a female voice he answers, “Another go?  Are you mad?  You’re out of cricket!”

I walk off the field feeling like a right wanker.

So ended what might have been a promising career as a cricketer.

Wills who cares! I think. Cricket is as boring as watching paint dry on a bloody fence.

I’m transferred into field and track, along with Dave, Eddy, and the other cricket dropouts.  With the shortage of teachers, Stanton is the coach for field and track and cricket.  He spends five minutes at the track, and then we never see him again.

Being dedicated teenagers, we always run one lap before heading for the stands to

play cards.  It’s been an unlucky week for me, I’m down three shilling.  I’m late, riding my bike as fast as it will go, I pray my luck will change.  As I approach the others, surrounding Mr. Stanton, I smile.  Dave is wearing cutoff work trousers, black leather shoes and a black sweater.  The twins look as if their mother dressed them from a rummage sale:  Bernard is wearing a silky blue shirt and a pair of khaki army trousers. Gilbert, is wearing an army shirt and a pair of tight red shorts, that I swear are women’s.  Ed’s football socks are pulled up above his knees, overlapped by white shorts that look two sizes too big.  I feel very out of place in my dad’s long white cricket trousers and starched white shirt.  Mother insists I must look the part to carry on me father’s achievements on the cricket pitch.  I’m too ashamed to tell them I was kicked off the cricked team.  So I run wearing my dad’s cricket whites.

“Wel1 boys,” Stanton says, “you will represent our school at the County Games.”

My heart sinks “But Mr. Stanton, we can’t” I protest!

“You can and will, or you´ll get a fail for PE on your report card.  And remember, I also teach you idiot’s social studies, which you’ll also fail, if you don’t at least place at the Interschool Games!” With a smug grin, he turns and walks off

“What a prick!” I say, and stick me tongue out to his back.

“No, he ain’t a prick”‘ Dave says. “A prick’s useful!  ‘e’s a bleeding blackmailer.  But ‘e ‘as all the bloody aces!  So I guess we’re the bloody field and track team. ”

“But we don’t know ‘nuffing about all that stuff,” Eddy says.

“Then we’ll learn, and learn bloody quick.” Dave says firmly.  “The games are in ten weeks and I don’t want us to look like the wankers what Stanton ‘finks we are.”

“Dave what do ya ‘fink our chances are of winning one of them races?” Eddy asks.

“I would say about a million to bloody one!”

“Oh, that’s OK then” Eddy says, “cause I didn’t “fink we really stood a chance.”


We all meet at the track at six A.M, two hours to practice before school starts.

“All right you idiots,” Dave yells.  “As none of us knows our ‘idden talents in field and track, I want ya to line up.  When I say go, run as fast and as far as you can!”

“Fuck ya Dave! I say.  “It’s too bloody cold, and too bloody early to be running.”

“Little Alan’s cold is ‘e.” Dave says with a sneer.  “Then run so you’ll get warm.”

Eddy takes off like a rocket.  Being heaver and taller, it takes me a while to get going.       Seeing the others sitting on the grass, I run all the way around the track then join them.

“Alright!” Dave says, “Eddy, you’re quick off the mark, so ya take the ‘undred-yard dash, plus the standing broad jump.  Alan, the two-twenty and four-forty yard runs.  Ya two twins ain’t very fast, and ya look like a couple of bloody fairies tip-toeing through the bleeding tulips.  But ya did keep going, so ya can join Alan and Eddy in relay races.  But, mark my words ya two wankers.  I’ll punch ya lights out if ya don’t do well in the Interschool Games. As for me!” tall, slim Dave says, “I’m built for the high jump, and long jump.  Be no problem, ‘cause I’ve watched both of ‘em on the telly.”


We meet every morning, evenings, and weekends, but have little improvement.  We work hard for two hours then collapse in a group on the grass sweating and panting.

Out of breath. I say “Dave, we’re wasting … our bloody … time!”

“You lot are not motivated,” Dave says. “I got the winning times from last years games from old Stanton.  We’re gonna race for green!”

“Oh!” I say, “So where’s this money coming from? It don’t grow on trees ya know!”

“We’re gonna nick it from our mum’s handbags.  Then we’ll each ante-up a pound in the pot.  The one what gets closest to winning will get the big five pound prize.”


We meet Mr. Stanton at six A.M. then board the red double-decker bus.  Each of us really looks the part.  Mr. Stanton had borrowed matching blue shorts and shirts from his old school.  Getting off the bus, the white columned Grecian style South West Essex Tech looms up in front of us.  We walk in silence to the running track.  I know we’ve trained hard, for the entire ten weeks, but I have huge butterflies in me gut.  Entering the field I see hundreds of real field and track athletes from the richer schools, limbering up.  All my butterflies form a squadron then fly upwards. I swallow and close my lips to stop from throwing up. Hoping it will calm my nerves I head for the loo to have a quick wank.

I take second in the four-forty and third in the two-twenty.  Dave steps over the line and is disqualified from the long jump. His long legs place him second in the high jump.   We could have won the relay, but one of the twins refused to let go of the relay baton, and Eddy dragged him about thirty feet around the track. We came in third.

Eddy shocks us all by winning the hundred-yard dash, breaking the county record.  He tells us, “When the gun went off, I let a very wet fart, and was afraid of pooping me shorts so I ran like hell for the finish line, and the W.C.”  He won the five pound prize!

On Monday, all five of us go up on stage, in the assembly hall after morning prayers.

“Jolly good show chaps!” The headmaster says. “These five boys showed courage, determination, plus physical fitness at the Interschool Games. So give them a big hand.” The applause is deafening.  “Heed their example!” He continues as the applause dies down “They were the underdogs and finished with flying colors, Eddy Sells breaking the county record.” thunderous applause starts again, and cuts off the Headmaster’s voice.

The five pounds made it fun, but I ‘fink the ‘fing what made us achieve the unachievable was our Cockney pride, to show Mr. Stanton that we ain’t no wankers.


Maureen Miller, who is labeled semi-easy, approaches me after the assembly.

“ ’ello Alan…., me name’s Maureen.” She says coyly. “Congratulations, ya’re one of our school ‘eros.   I’ve wanted to talk to ‘ya fa so long, but I was too shy.”  Wearing a black bra beneath a white low cut blouse, she looks as shy as an alligator in a duck pond.

“Oh, Maureen!  Glad to meet ya.” I say, unable to keep my eyes out of her cleavage.

She offers to take me to a movie.  Considering my empty pockets, I gladly accept.

As we sit down in the back row, a huge bar of Cadbury chocolate flashes on the screen.  The movie then proceeds to show Cadbury’s factory, and how chocolate is made.

“So what’s the main movie, then, Maureen?”

“This is it!” she says, looking down.”

“A bloody movie about Cadburys?”

“Yeah! I got the tickets for free, from a bloke outside Woolworth’s.”

“Christ, Maureen! I ‘fought ya was taking me to a real bloody movie.”

“Now, now, don’t get pissed off.  I’ll throw me raincoat over us, ya can cop a feel.”

My hand slipped inside her bra, and I’m titing-her-up!  Unexpectedly, I feel her hand touching the head of my “Pride and Joy” through my trousers.  I feel embarrassed that she knows how excited I am.  Wills, I think, ya mates will never believe this!

“Do ya wan’ta put ya ‘and up me skirt?” she whispers, nibbling on my ear lobe.

“Not ‘alf!” I pull my hand from her bra. Holding my breathe I gingerly slip it between her legs, under her tartan skirt, and feel the softness of her inner thigh.  I stop knowing I’m about to touch that forbidden place. I think, Wills, you could be the first of the boys to actually touch what we have talked about for so long?But ‘ow can ‘ya prove it to ‘em?

“What you two up to?” a voice says from behind a blinding light.  It’s the usher.

“Oh, nuffing, sir,” I say, removing me hand. “We put the coat over us …It’s cold!”

“Do ya see stupid idiot written on me forehead?” he says, shining the light in my eyes.

“You two buggers are doing nasties in me cinema! I’m going to call ‘ya parents.”

I jump up, grab Maureen’s hand, push the usher across the aisle, and we run from the theater.  We don’t stop running till we reach the bottom of High Street.

At the theater there was a tray of free samples,  Maureen helped herself to two bars. At her house, she takes them from her handbag, and hands one to me.

“I’m five minutes late, me dad’ll kill me,” she says. “Sorry we don’t ‘ave time to finish what we started, but I’ll make it up to ya on our next date.  I’ll eat me Cadbury’s in bed, and ‘fink of you, Alan. She kisses me hard, and is gone through her front door.

It all happens so quick that I stand there feeling as useless as spare prick at a wedding.  On me way home I think of her soft smooth thighs while I eat the chocolate, and have to stop down an ally for a quick wank.  Finish what we started. I think,  does she mean?


Saturday morning. I awake early, and remember putting my hand up Maureen skirt. My pride and joy is making a tent of the sheets. I take care of it, into my handkerchief.       Then I run up our street to Dave’s house, and pound on the door. His dad lets me in. Without a word, I bound up the stairs, two at a time, and burst into Dave’s bedroom.

“Wake up, Dave! I bloody did it. Wake up, for Christ sake.”

Slowly he sits up and rubs his eyes. “What’s all the bloody fuss about then?”  Getting out of bed, he slides a chamber pot from beneath, and takes a pee in front of me.

“I bloody did it.” I yell  “I put me bloody ‘and all the way up Maureen Miller’s skirt.”

Dave says, “So!  Every boy in school ‘as got a little stink-finger from ‘er!”

I’m crushed.  That dirty slut!  I think.

Wills, I ‘ope ya didn’t touch ‘er ‘fing! Cause ya fingers could turn black and fall off!

At school Maureen Miller tries to talk to me, without a word I walk away in disgust.  Now I’m definitely sworn off birds, and pledge to just hang out with me mates.  Next time we all go to the cinema I have to have a bar of Cadbury’s.  It recaptures the memory of Maureen Miller’s soft, smooth inner thigh.  I head for the loo to relive the tension.  After, I walk back to where me mates are seated.  However, I don’t feel that wonderful old feeling like floating up to heave, it’s like I’m left still wanting.


It’s now a year later and we all seem to have changed dramatically.  At fourteen Dave’s voice suddenly jumps three octaves.  It goes from the high shrill of a girl being goosed in a crowd to the deep tones of a radio sports announcer.

Eddy, who insists we now call him Ed, says when he looked in the mirror one morning, he discovered his hands and feet had almost doubled in size.  He says that’s why he keepings his hands in his pockets. We all know he’s playing pocket billiards.

Danny’s face and neck have become even more infested with acne. His favorite pastime is squeezing whiteheads that splatter onto the mirror in the boy’s toilet.  He collects his blackheads in a matchbox, to grosses out the girls on the school playground.  During this pitted-face period the same policeman who caught him sniffing girls’ bicycle seats, and let him off with just a warning, has now arrested him.  It appears he had shinnied-up a drain pipe outside the municipal baths to ogle women undressing.  The policeman would normally just shake his finger, call him a dirty little sod, and send him on his way.  However, this time Danny was holding on the drain-pipe with one hand and amusing himself by abusing himself with the other.  The story flew around our school, he is now called the “World’s Wildest Wanker.” Dave predicts, Danny will be the one to start a new club called  “Sex Without Partners.”

As for myself, I am getting much taller plus suffering many of the same teenage growing aches and pains, my legs always ache.  My mates attribute this to me standing while wanking in front of the toilet.  How dare they suggest such a thing!  I absolutely deny it! But I have change to a seated position.

End of Chapter 3

By Alan Wills

Select all writings of  Alan Wills

Select biography of  Alan Wills

Confessions of a Wanker – Book 2, Chapter 42

The Dreaded Miss Heathcliff

When I arrive at the store, at five-thirty P.M, I see Danny at his workbench; head slumped down over a typewriter. I know Miss Heathcliff is running him ragged.  He has been looking very tired and very pale lately.

“You asleep on the bloody job Danny?”

“I ain’t feeling so ‘ot, me old mate.”

“I’ll get you a glass of water.” I say and head for the loo.

Running water always makes me want to pee, but I hold it, as I’m worried about Danny. I rush back, give him the water and an aspirin, and he says he’s feeling better. I rush back to the loo and take a piss. A faint smile  crosses my face remembering the many times before at work when I’d have a quick wank.

Wills, I think, how can you have such thoughts when Danny needs you!

     Was only a bloody passing thought, I did wank did I!

When I return I’m shocked to find Danny passed out on the floor. I scream at Dave “Help me!”

We lie Danny in the back of the van, and I drive as fast as I can to Connault Hospital.  On the drive I think everything through, what’s the worst thing this could mean.  If Danny’s hospitalized I will have to take leave from Stanwood’s, to run the typewriter business. Better still, if I was in hospital Stanwood would pay me. With this in mind I check Danny in as Alan Wills. The nurse in the emergency room says she thinks Danny has pneumonia and admits him.

The next morning I awake early, and have no intention of going to work at Stanwood, but instead head to our store. I call the hospital. They confirm that it is pneumonia, and that he will be confined to the hospital from one to three weeks.  I call Stanwood’s and talk to my manager.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Grey. I must have been overdoing it trying to sell off all those trade-ins as quickly as possible for you. Well I’m at Connault Hospital, and they say I have pneumonia, and that I will be confined here for at least three weeks.”

“Dear me, Alan, that’s very serious. Pneumonia can be very nasty. You look after yourself. Get lots of rest. Don’t worry about the trade-ins, they’ll still be here when you get back. Be sure to bring us your discharge papers when you are released from the hospital. Good luck old chap.”

I feel less pressure now that I have time to run our businesses. Although I can clean and do minor adjustments on typewriters, Danny is the mechanic.  It’s just two days since he went into the hospital, and a vicious typewriter gremlin has taken over at the Swift Shirt Company.

It’s now a week Danny has been in the hospital. I have been called to the Swift Shirt Company every day, and I now have ten machines in the shop that need major work. Consequently all ten loaner typewriters are now at Swift. Danny, being a competent mechanic is usually able to repair the typewriters on the spot. Therefore, we had never before used more than one or two loaners a month.  Since we are out of loaners, I pray that Danny will be back to work before another typewriter bites the dust.

Have you ever noticed that your prayers sometimes fall on deaf ears? Or, even worse, that the horned feller, carrying the oversized toasting fork, and wearing the red suit, intercepts them.

Today I receive a call from guess who, at Swift Shirt.

“Hello, Mr. Wills.  This is Miss Heathcliff from the Swift Shirt Company.  An inordinate number of our machines seem to be malfunctioning.  We now have two more that are totally out of commission.  Can you come right away?”  Miss Heathcliff asks, sounding like a stern English schoolmarm.

“Oh yes, Miss Hea’fcliff.  I’ll be right there. Don’t you worry?”

Out of commission was an understatement.  Both machines are seized up tighter than a duck’s ass, and that’s watertight.  I do everything I can with my limited experience, plus some calculated, out of desperation taps with my hammer.  I even close my eyes and talk to the big mechanic in the sky.  But I guess he must have been out tuning harps or something, as I get no reply.  So I pluck up the courage and head for Miss Heathcliff’s office. Anticipating her fury, I gingerly tap at her door, hoping she won’t hear.

“Come! Come!” she yells, in a sergeant-majors voice.

“Yes, Mr. Wills?” her loud voice startles me back to reality, as I enter.

“Well, Miss Hea’fcliff, your two typewriters are sick and will have to go to the hospital,” I say, trying to make light of the situation. But, judging by the deafening silence, my humor fell on deaf ears.

“So why are you telling me? Just install two replacement typewriters and be on your way. I’m a very busy woman you know!”

“Well, you see, that’s the problem.  I don’t have two more loaners.”

“What?” she bellows like a water buffalo in heat. “What? You don’t carry adequate replacement machines? Mr. Wills, Swift Shirt Company is the largest shirt manufacturer in Great Britain.  We type hundreds of invoices, labels, and letters every day.  We must have those typewriters in working order, at once!”

“Oh yes! I totally understand, Miss H.”  Again it went as quiet as if someone had brought a ham into a kosher kitchen.  She tilts her head back thrusting her nose in the air.

“My name is Miss Heathcliff, and I’ll thank you to remember that, young man!”

“Yes, of course!  I mean, whatever you say, Miss Heathcliff.”  I almost bow as I shuffle backwards, then bump into the doorpost “I’m sorry. I…”Christ! She must think me a real idiot apologizing to the doorpost. I half open the door and make a hasty retreat.

I have only been back at the shop for fifteen minutes, and haven’t even started to look at the two typewriters, when the phone rings. I just know it’s old thunder thighs.

“Mr. Wills, this is Miss Heathcliff.  Are those two typewriters ready?”

“Well, not quite.  You see, me partner, Danny, is in the hospital and…”

“Now, you listen, and listen good!  I don’t care about your petty problems.  You get me two typewriters NOW! Or I will see to it that your contract with the Swift Shirt Company is revoked.  Do you completely understand?  Do I make myself clear? Mr. Wills?”

“Right, yes, very clear!  Clear as a bell, Miss Heath…..”

She hangs up in my ear, something that’s now not new to me, but it still makes me mad. I kick the solid wood leg of the workbench and hurt my foot.  Hobbling around, I call her everything but a lady.  I decide to phone Danny at the hospital, to consult with him about how to repair the typewriters.

“I’m so sorry,” says a sympathetic sounding nurse.  “Your friend developed appendicitis, and has been sedated and rushed to surgery.  But you will be able to visit him in a day or so.”

Why me, God?  When I was young I went to church, sort of regular, was a Boy Scout helped old ladies across the road, and even carried the Union Jack flag in church.  You know, sometimes I did fake singing hymns but it was really in your best interest. You of all people know I have a lousy voice. Oh, and I guess You know about me using the money me mum gave me for the collection plate, to buy peanut brittle from Mrs. Strut’s sweetshop.  But even so, don’t You think losing the money on the fairing business was repayment enough?  Let’s make a deal.  You get me out of this scrape with the bloody typewriters and I’ll go to church regularly, or at least semi regularly.

It becomes really quiet in the shop and I wait, for what I’m not sure.

OK, God, I’ll donate ten percent of the Swift Shirt contract money to the poor. Again I wait and listen. So how about fifteen percent? Oh, yes! I forgot that you have turned a deaf ear to Alan Wills this month. So is this the payback for my illegal deeds my mother warned me about?

Instantly the phone rang.  Realizing that God communicates in strange ways, I grab for it in hope.

“Mr. Wills, this is Miss Heathcliff from the Swift Shirt Company.  Are you there?”

“Oh yes, I was just expecting someone else!”

“You remember me, don’t you?”

“Oh YES! Of all people how could I forget you, Miss Heathcliff?”

“Well, Mr. Wills, our main duplicating machine won’t print and it’s the only one that will make legal size copies.  Can you come right away?”

“I’ll be there before you know it, Miss Heathcliff!”

“Will you be bringing the two typewriters with you?”

“Now, what’s more important”, I hedge, “the duplicating machine or the typewriters?”

“The duplicating machine!  My boss is in a big meeting with the solicitors and must have copies within the hour.”

“Be there quick as a wink, Miss H… I mean Heathcliff.”

I take the back off the huge, old, duplicating machine, and I can’t believe my eyes.  Before me is what I can only describe as a frightening conglomeration of gears, rollers, and strange devices.  Devices, I might add, that my four years of electronics school had never remotely touched on.  I experience the fear of a coal miner being asked to perform brain surgery.

I take a deep breath and try to compose myself.  Wills, let’s consider the factsYou are not stupidYou have passed every practical exam for electronics and TV repair.  Tape recorders and record changers never give you a problem, and they are mechanical devices. This is just another device. A scary device, I’ll grant you, but still only a big mechanical device. A man designed it, a man built it and servicemen no smarter than you repair it.

That’s right, I think.  So what am I worried about?  I’d better get busy and repair it before the old battle axe, Miss Heath-bloody-cliff, returns.

I am just becoming more relaxed, when suddenly, my long screwdriver hits something and there is a big FLASH, and a BANG! Then all the lights in the office go out.

As the door opens, I didn’t need to look up to know who is standing there.

“Mr. Wills! What on earth have you done? I heard this enormous explosion and all the lights went out in the offices.”

“Yes, I heard that too. Must be something outside!  A power outage or something.”

“Power outage, my foot!  You blew all the fuses! Are you qualified to work on the duplicating machine?”

“Qualified? I’m overqualified!  City and Guilds degree and a five-year apprenticeship.  This box of tricks is a piece of cake. That fuse had nothing to do with what I’m doing, but I’ll be glad to go down in the basement and check the fuses for you, Miss Heathcliff.”

Once at the fuse box I quickly jump the blown fuse with a piece of solid wire that a bomb couldn’t blow,

Back behind the monster, duplicating machine, I know that I must repair it or Miss Heathcliff will definitely see to it that our contract is cancelled.

As I work I fantasize; Miss Heathcliff inviting me into her office. “Lock the door young man’, she commands, standing there wearing one of those old fashioned corsets with the bone ribs.  She also is wearing navy blue, knee length fleecy school bloomers, and holds a school cane in her hand. “Take me, and save your contract,” she’d say, ripping the corset apart with both hands. I pictured her huge boobs hitting her knees, and I shudder.  Boy, do I understand why she is still a bloody Miss. I shake my head to focus.

As I delve deeper into this mystery box of tricks, I gain newfound confidence.  Although it is messy, with greasy gears and inky rollers, it disassembles quite easily.  I carefully lay out the millions of springs, levers, drive-belts and ‘C’ clips in order on a table next to the duplicator.  So far, I have not found a problem, so I decide to delve deeper, which requires removing a large metal screening box. After I remove all the retaining screws, the box will still not come loose. Gently I tap it with the handle of my large, fuse-blowing, screwdriver.  It appears to move, so I tap it a little harder and it moves again.  Placing a hand on either side of the box, I give it a huge pull.  Unexpectedly, it comes off with such ease that I stumble backwards, knocking over the wood table.  Rollers, gears, springs, clips, levers and a thousand unknown parts go flying everywhere.  Before the last part hits the floor, Miss Heathcliff is at the door.

“Mr. Wills! In exactly five minutes, Mr. Witherspoon, my boss and Director of this company, will expect me to hand him copies of his legal papers.  Do you understand?  I must have those copies or it will be my job. What do you think, Mr. City and Guilds with five years apprenticeship?”

Once again in my life something or someone is working my mouth. Even I can’t believe what I hear coming out, “What do I think, Miss Heathcliff?  I think you’d better start looking for another job!”

As you might guess, we lose the Swift Shirt contract.  Danny, still in the hospital, is fit to be tied. He tries to get on the good side of Miss Heathcliff, by sending her flowers and a very nice “Sorry we fucked up” note. But we have not heard from her.

I try to console Danny by telling him “You did everything he could to get on her good side. But that old battle axe obviously doesn’t have a good side, Danny!”

End of Chapter 42

By Alan Wills

Select all writings of  Alan Wills

Select biography of  Alan Wills




The Witch Lineage

The storylines that drive the young adult thriller, The Witch Lineage, are the fight between two warring witch covens in Morro Bay, California, a geeky girl in love with the high school hero, and an unstoppable sorceress set to form a powerful alliance. Will either coven kill to bring the supreme witch into their fold?

Here is the book chapter:

Chapter 2

Several groups of teenagers milled around the tiled courtyard at Morro Bay High, a huge
school with a large student body. The crowd was buzzing. Kids pointed to solemn school
personnel who were posting notices plastered with a senior boy’s face on the walls and doors of the building. A few people pushed their way through the crowd to read the “Information Wanted” notices. The majority of the young people turned to each other, raising their eyebrows.

Most look scared and pale. The bell rang and the crowd of somber teenagers filtered through two huge double doors into a bustling hallway.

Lena and Penny walked through the many cliques in the hall, alone as usual. But for
some reason, the hairs on the back of Lena’s neck tingled. There was a hushed tone to the crowd in the hallway, rather than the usual loud roar. Intuition prickling the back of her neck, Lena knew the difference was due to her dream. She looked over at the notices while Penny led the way. Her friend seemed oblivious to the posters. Instead, Penny waved to a few people as they walked forward.

Pointing to the signs, trying to get Penny’s attention, Lena stopped where she stood.

“What happened last night? I’ve got a bad feeling.”

Again the images of people screaming, lights going out, and shadows surrounding a boy
came into Lena’s mind. She recognized the boy from her dream as the same person on the posters. He looked like a senior named Kyle who went out with a pretty girl named Sarah. Could Kyle have been hurt in a bonfire? And was any of this related to the other incident last year?

Lena started to push her way through the crowd to read the notice nearest her, but her
train of thought derailed as Nick Stewart walked into the hall. The drop-dead handsome jock she had always loved, Nick projected a mellow energy which made him sexy to the extreme. He wore the letterman’s jacket she wished he would give her and faded Levis that barely fit over the sculpted muscles of his thighs.

Jackson, Nick’s best friend, jogged up and gave Nick a high five. A poor woman’s version
of Nick, Jackson was an elf in comparison, three inches shorter, with large ears and a button nose. One of the rich kids at their school, like Nick, Jackson was dressed in his usual uniform of expensive jeans, a tight T-shirt and a hip leather motorcycle jacket.

Penny pushed her, and she walked by Nick’s group, staring at the boy she had loved
since grade school. Nick didn’t notice her pass, but Jackson stared in her direction. She
could sense his dark eyes on her back.

“I can’t wait for college,” she said, muttering under her breath, but loud enough that
Penny could hear her.

Penny popped a breath mint into her mouth, a sour expression on her face. “How’s Mr.
All American?”

Lena knew Penny disliked Nick. But she didn’t think her friend gave him a fair shake.
Lena couldn’t resist getting in a dig. “My sides are splitting.”

“It’s comic.”

Penny was so wrong. “Nick doesn’t know I exist.” Although Lena wished this wasn’t
true, it was a pathetic fact. “It’s tragic.”

“Because you’ll never stop loving him.”

Lena didn’t care for Penny’s sarcastic tone. She wished she could make her friend
understand. “There’s a connection I can’t explain. He was nice after my mom died.”

“Don’t make me care about him.”

“Nick links me to her in some way.”

In fact, Nick was tied to Lena’s memory of her mom so much that she was almost certain
she would never lose her mother if she could make him love her. She knew her logic made no rational sense, but Lena didn’t care. Every day she could recall less and less about her mother and she wanted to retain whatever she could. Maybe if she and Nick were together, she could hold on to the memories she cherished.

“He’s changed since fifth grade.”

Lena dismissed Penny’s statement. But a tiny piece of Lena wondered how Nick could
ignore her the way he did after having been such good friends with her just a few years back. She figured his popularity and interest in athletics were to blame. She was hopeless when it came to sports, and her popularity was nonexistent. He didn’t excel at academics and had to work hard just to get the ‘C’s’ necessary to play on varsity teams. Still, she wanted to believe they were meant for each other.

“He’s perfect for me.”

“You’re sure he’s your soul mate, you’ve wanted him since elementary school, and you’ve spoken to him, what, three times in the last eight years?”

When Penny put their relationship that way, Lena had to acknowledge the irony. But she
knew why she didn’t often speak to Nick, and the truth embarrassed her.

“I always say the wrong thing.”

“You don’t say anything.”

“Quiet beats road kill.”

Penny chuckled but nudged her, so Lena waved at Nick in desperation. Unaware of her,
Nick gave a passing jock a high-five. Lena walked away, knowing how dejected she must look, but unable to hide her emotions.

As Penny followed her, Lena thought she heard Jackson say, “Hey dude, didn’t you see
Lena waving at you?” She strained her ears to catch whatever response Nick might give, but all she heard coming from her crush’s lips was, “What?” and Jackson saying, “Man, you got to pull your head out of your ass.”

She moved closer so she could hear Nick, but not so close that he would notice her. The
hallway was still crowded, but she could catch the conversation through the noise of the other people. “No time for girls right now. You know the pressure is on. I’m working for the state scholarship. I can’t let up.”

“Come on, bro,” said Jackson. “That one’s ready to turn.”

Lena heard these words and stopped short. Jackson was pointing in her direction. Did
Jackson know her birthday was tomorrow? She swiveled her head away from them to Penny, who shrugged her shoulders. Then Lena turned back and watched Jackson slap Nick on the back.

Nick pulled Jackson into a headlock, and the two laughing guys walked down the hall in the opposite direction from Lena and Penny.

Lena forced herself to stop wondering about Nick and Jackson. Her thoughts flitted back
to the posters on the wall. She wanted to know what had happened and if the victim was Kyle. She was about to move closer to the posted notice when she heard a loud, shrill whistle. A young boy and a tall, thin, pretty girl approached Lena and Penny, waving. They were her science research partners and she was glad to see them. They had a lot to discuss.

The boy was John-Paul, a small, Asian, self-proclaimed nerd toting a science model and
wearing mismatched clothes and big glasses. A button on his shirt read, ‘Scientists do it in the lab.’ John-Paul was obsessed with gadgets and had every new form of hand-held technology available. The girl, Emily, was more old-school, preferring to do her work the old-fashioned way. She still used a paper calendar for her school assignments and wrote all her papers in long-hand. Emily’s look reflected her retro attitude. She sported a large Afro hairstyle and over the top 1970’s style clothes that almost, but didn’t quite, look hip.

“Lena!” said Emily.

Penny ducked, lifting her books to cover her face. “Oh, no. Freshmen.”

“They’re not that bad.”


Lena forced herself to not roll her eyes at her friend as Penny dissed Emily and John-Paul and stalked off to class. The girl could be such a snob about matters of school status.
When Emily and John-Paul reached her, Emily asked, “Where’s Penny going?”

Lena ignored the question because she didn’t want to hurt Emily and John-Paul. Instead
she pointed to the ‘Information Wanted’ posters on the walls, hoping her friends could tell her what had happened.

“Do you guys know what’s going on?”

Emily nodded but John-Paul interrupted her before she could open her mouth. He jumped with excitement, falling back to the ground with a spastic jerk.

“I got a call yesterday,” he said in his high, thin voice. “We won first place.”

“No way!” said Lena.

Emily nodded. “Now we’re in the running.”

“The top Physics prize. Wow.”

Lena was proud of their accomplishment. They’d been working all year, developing a
detailed plan for an experiment located at the bottom of a nearby quarry. The experiment would offer them a chance of detecting dark matter, the vast, invisible universe which humans cannot perceive but that scientists think exists. Dark matter and dark energy exert gravity on what is visible; so Lena, who loved Physics, was determined to find whatever was blindfolding humanity and discover the phenomena causing dark matter. She and Emily and John-Paul had put together their final written presentation two months before and sent it in to the state science fair for consideration, never daring to hope they would be chosen. Now they had the chance to win at the national level, to join the big leagues of scientific research, to study with the cream of the crop.

The best part was that the prize came with funding for one year of experimentation. Now they just had to develop a verbal presentation for the competition. They had a two-month window to hone their talk. A herd of butterflies raced through Lena’s gut. She always avoided public speaking when possible. But this time she wouldn’t be able to worm her way out of it.

“Did your dad finish his cure?” asked John-Paul.

She nodded, her apprehension about the science competition fading, amazed at the
convergence of two such major scientific breakthroughs in one day: the cure her dad had come up with, and the chance to detect dark matter and dark energy. She wanted to hug Emily and John-Paul, who had gotten her one step closer to making her dream a reality.

Lena reached around to open the zipper compartment of her backpack to show them the sample of the cure her father left in her safe-keeping. She had decided never to let the cure leave her sight. Keeping the cure with her reminded her of her father. And she wanted Emily and John Paul to see it. “He gave it to me.”

As John-Paul raised his finger to push back his large taped glasses, which had fallen
forward on his nose, Cassandra Morris, the beautiful cheerleader holding pom-poms, walked by with a group of pretty senior girls. The Morris family lived in town; that is, until Mr. Morris relocated for business. He had left his wife and daughter here two years before. Even though Lena should sympathize with Cassandra Morris, since her own father was only leaving her for a week and she was having a hard time dealing—and it must be even worse for the other girl, she wasn’t a big fan of the cheerleader and all-around gorgeous queen bee who ruled their high school. With an evil gleam in her eye, Cassandra mimicked John-Paul’s motion. Then Cassandra gestured at the three of them.

“It’s the cast of ‘Weird Science.’ Was it you at the bonfire?”

John-Paul looked confused but Lena tensed up, remembering her dream. Was Cassandra
saying some people from high school had been involved? Or was she suggesting something more sinister, such as she and her science partners were witches?

Cassandra’s group sniggered, doubtless at her shocked expression and John-Paul’s
obvious outrage. But Emily looked at Cassandra and licked her lips long and slow.

“Sugar, I know you wanna be my next experiment.”

Cassandra backed up into her group of nervous friends, who giggled. As Cassandra
turned around to leave, Emily gave them a warning glance, which Lena took to mean there would be retribution. The next words out of Cassandra’s mouth confirmed Lena’s suspicions.

“See you at the assembly tomorrow. FYI, no genetically engineered mutants allowed in
the bleachers. Hope you don’t mind standing.”

Cassandra’s taunting words hurt. It was clear to her that Cassandra was now gunning for them. She could only hope the girl’s animosity would not cause a roadblock in her dad’s deal with Morris Pharmaceuticals. For the first time, Lena was glad her dad had left town. She glanced at her freshmen friends, who were looking at their feet. The bell rang and Cassandra and her friends walked laughing toward the gymnasium where the cheerleaders congregated. Lena, John-Paul and Emily walked in the other direction.

“I hate assemblies,” said John-Paul.

Emily nodded, an angry expression on her pretty face; but Lena asked again, “What
happened at the bonfire?”

Emily turned to face her. “That kid Kyle got paralyzed. They’re saying it’s the same thing
that killed the senior guy last year.”

Lena gasped, too frightened to speak. Her sister Linda had almost gone to the bonfire
party at the town gazebo the year before. Only a terrible migraine had stopped her from
attending. But the trauma had shaken the whole town.

John-Paul shook his head. “Not again.”

Emily nodded and pointed him and Lena toward the “Information Wanted” poster. Lena
didn’t want to think about last year’s incident, but the information flooded her brain. After the senior had been killed, popular community opinion held that witches had killed the boy. Nothing had ever been proved, and no culprit had ever been found. The autopsy was inconclusive. The detectives who investigated her mother’s death, Blanca Garcia and her partner Randy Blaggett, failed to turn up the killer, just as they had when her mother was poisoned. Because of public outcry, and the fact that the dead senior boy’s father had government connections, the FBI had been called in. But the federal probe found nothing either.

Emily and John-Paul were staring at her. But Lena couldn’t seem to master her panic.
Her insides were wrung out. Fearful and apprehensive, she wondered what more she would learn that day.

End of Chapter 2

By Marian Lindler

Select all writings of  Marian Lindner

Select biography of  Marian Lindner

Confessions of a Wanker – Book 1, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Based on a true story of a boy’s coming
of age in London’s East End



Chapter 2



Living in Two Worlds

Me best mate Dave lives four houses up on our side, and Danny Silver, who’s a bit of a wanker, lives opposite him.  Everyone knows everyone’s business in our six block neighborhood.  Dad says the war brought everyone together.  Me self I think it’s the mums chin-wagging their gossip over a pot of tea after their old men go off to work.

At thirteen Dave is the oldest of me mates.  Danny and Eddy are the same age as me, twelve.  We’ve all lived on Albany Road since we were born.  It’s a short street with terraced houses on both sides.  Dad says they’re two hundred years old.  They look the same as all the working class homes in the East End of London.  They are narrow two story brick houses, with a bay window, a front door next to your neighbor’s door, and slate roofs.  They have a black cast-iron coal stove in the living-room for cooking and heating.  There’s no bathroom and no hot water.  The toilet, or loo, faces out to the back yard, and is bloody freezing cold in winter.  I don’t know why but the door has a big gap at the top and the bottom.  I always sit on me hands to take a poop, and get out fast, with no thoughts of wanking.

Mum’s sister Aunt Jenny and her hubby George, who suffers with terrible gout, lives next door at number 34.  Their kids, are me cousins. Paul is thirteen, who is a right prat, and his sister, gorgeous Patricia, is fifteen.  Eddy’s family lives opposite.  Something I still can’t figure is how Eddy can be their cousin, but they tell me he’s not my cousin.

Dave is the oldest in our little gang and we think he knows everything.  He is tall with a long face and square chin, sort of like a movie star, but with a big nose.  All us other boys on Albany Road have blue eyes.  We think Dave is smarter because he has brown eyes – plus he tells us he’s smarter.  He always says, “If I don’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.”

Danny’s dad is old and crotchety.  His younger mum, who me dad calls a tart, shows lots of cleavage.  She always stops, in full view of us boys, and lifts her skirt above her knees; looks back and straightens the line on her stocking.  Friday and Saturday nights his crippled old man stands out front and yells up the street, “Piss off ya trollop” as she heads for the pub.

Danny’s a loner and a misfit. Even though we think him a bit of a wanker, all us boys feel sorry for him, so we let him tag along.

Due to the shortage of teachers after the Second World War, students are herded through school with little concern for education.  Unbeknownst, to me, it is impossible to fail the Eleven Plus exam.  Kids who spell their names correctly, know the date, and answer most of the questions go on to the better schools to prepare for university.  The rest of us are sent to Markhouse Road Secondary Modern School, just a five minute walk from me house, and a meager four year preparation for the rest of me life.  For some unknown reason, me attitude during me first year at this mediocre medieval school is that of an onlooker watching a mere rehearsal.  During the first year’s final exam it hits me. Wills, you missed the main performance.  Mother, I swear I’ll study hard next term.

     Me and me mates think Cockney is real cool.  So I live in two worlds.  With my parents I speak proper English, and with me mates Cockney.  Some people think, or as  Cockneys say it ‘fink, the Cockney dialect is low class.  For us, it’s a badge of honor to drop our H’s and “ ‘ope people fink we’re Cockney.”

We are also proud of our tough walk, not that I would let my mum see it; she calls it a cocky Cockney swagger.  She say’s Cockneys are ruffians and low life who will never amount to anything.  So as not to upset her, I keep me Cockney gear at me mate, Dave’s house.  Wearing Cockney gear is like giving the finger to English class consciousness.  On Fridays, as soon as school lets out, I rush home, kiss me mum, and tell her I am going to Dave’s “House” to study.  In front of her, I always emphasize H words.  But then discard all my H’s on the way up our street.  Dave’s mom, who is a real Cockney, opens the front door. “ ’ello Alan, Dave’s in ‘is room waiting fa’ ya, listening to ‘is bloody awful music.” Her Cockney lilt is music to me ears.  His dad calls from the living room,

” ‘ello Alan, you two lay-abouts going up ‘ igh Street to ogle birds (girls)?”

“More than likely Mr. Kent, bird watching is me and Dave’s favorite pastime.”

As I climb the stairs I think, Dave is lucky ‘aving young Cockney parents.  Wills, I think, you was a mistake! 

     Me parents are older, and don’t have a clue about teenagers.  I smile hearing Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock through the door.  Bursting through the door, I kick off me leather school shoes, tear off me navy school blazer with the school crest on the pocket, and remove the noose they call the old school tie.  With relief I kick off me gray short trousers, which label me a child.  In me Cockney “gear,” blue twill work trousers and the black pullover, I feel older.  Lying on his bed, already dressed the same, Dave watches me as I strut around him like a bantam cock.

“Ya such a wanker.” He says, as he jumps up, and opens the door. “Time to ‘ang out on street corners, and check out the birds.” He says, running down the stairs, and out the front door.

Outside of school, and church, our whole world revolves around the High Street. There are hundreds of stores, on both sides, all the way up the mile-and-a-half-long street.  On market days the road is closed to traffic and becomes cram-packed with stands, known as bargain stalls.  These are loaded with everything from clothes to china, to gold fish and cute puppy dogs.  Push carts known as barrows are laden with fruit, flowers, or cockles, mussels, and fish.  The barrow boys or costermongers, as some people call them, are all real Cockneys, and we hang on their every word.  For us boys, the walk up and down High Street is sheer heaven, or as we say ‘eaven.  We find it almost impossible to pass a store window without stopping to comb our hair in the reflection.   We always stop at Lou Rose, the one tailor shop that has a pair of America blue jeans in their window.  Dave says, “they’ll never ever sell ‘um ‘cos they cost more than a bleeding suit.  These ‘ere jeans came all the way from America.  They’re the same as them worn by movie stars, the likes of James Dean, and rock and roll groups.  You’ve all seen the pictures on me bedroom wall.”  Every Friday all four of us made a bee line for Lou Rose, just to look at the jeans in envy.

A few months ago we all followed Dave up High Street to Joe’s half price stall, where he shows us blue work trousers, which when he rolled up the bottoms looked like jeans. “Now, as we’re all mates.” Dave said, “I need ya to cough up ya money so I can get the first pair.  Then every week each of ya can filch money from ya mum’s handbag and by months end all you wankers will ‘ave Cockney gear.”  We all empty our pockets into Dave’s hands, and he buys the blue work trousers.  Then he disappears into the public toilet, which we call the bog, and comes out wearing them with a tight black wool pullover.  “So what do ya ‘fink, gang?”

“Dave, where did ya get the new black wooly.” I ask.

“Sort of slipped into the bag with the jeans didn’t it?  When I pointed out the bird with the big tits across High Street, Joe turned around to look.”

“Dave, you’re our ‘ero, a true wanker.” Danny says.

By months end we all had our Cockney outfits.  For me the wooly itches like crazy. “Don’t be a bloody sissy!” Dave says, “It’s “in”, and remember, we’re tough Cockneys.”

In actuality, our town is a good sixty minute bus ride to Cheapside, and the famous Bow Church, where to be a real Cockney you have to be born within the sound of its bells.

Me mum enrolls me at Smiths Dance Academy to learn to ballroom dance.  Me partner is a very tall, older woman of about thirty, who has rotten teeth and bad breath.  I get the basic step but have trouble with the turns, so she lifts me up at every corner and puts me down, and we dance on.  I live in fear that me mates will find out I am taking ballroom dancing lessons.

Dave tells us that Rock and Roll will change the world, and us 50’s kids will do things our parents’ generation never even thought of doing.

“Can you picture,” he asks “ ya dad sticking ‘is tongue half way down ya mum’s throat, or shagging ‘er down an ally?”

The thought makes me sick.  I think, I know me mum would never let me dad do that.

Dave teaches us boys how to comb our hair in the latest styles with Brylcream hair grease.  He has sideburns, and combs his jet-black hair into a DA, (ducks ass) with a “Tony Curtis” rolling over to touch the center of his forehead.  Dave is “real cool.”

Dave is the only boy in his second year class who wears long trousers.  This was prompted by a note sent home to his mother from the girls’ gym teacher, Miss Babcock.  It informed Mrs. Kent that Dave’s manhood had outgrown the length of his short trousers, and that it was causing a major distraction to the girls in her gym class.

Miss Babcock is a beautiful young woman in her mid-twenties who always wears shorts.  All us boys gave her ten on a ten-scale.  Eddy is crazy for her, and gave her a twenty.  Eddy and Danny are like chalk and cheese.  Eddy’s dad, who was a officer in the army, marches him to the barbershop for a short-back-and-sides every couple of weeks.  He has almost white blonde hair, what there is of it, and there is never a hair out of place.  He has to call his dad sir, and we are sure he would be court marshaled if he ever answered him back.  Eddy has three brothers and two sisters, all much older than him.  Even though he sits at the back of the class with me and Danny, we ain’t real close mates.  His dad won’t let him out to play much, and he’s always doing chores or reading.  I’m still confused, me cousin Paul says Eddy ain’t me cousin, but he’s Paul’s cousin?  It must be true as Eddy never tells me no personal stuff, like cousins do.

Today our science master was taken ill, so Miss Babcock comes into our class and says she’s our substitute teacher.  Fortunately, this voluptuous gym teacher knows nothing about science, and agrees to read us a story.  Me, Eddy, and Danny, are sitting in the back of the room and are going nuts over her short shorts, and bulging white cotton shirt.  Frantically I wave me hand in the air,  ” ‘cuse me, Miss.  Me and me mates can’t ‘ear ya from way back ‘ere.  Can we come up front and sit on the floor?”

She agrees and we position ourselves in front of her with our eyes bulging.  The direct view up the leg of her shorts, into the dark unknown, more than compensates for her poor reading abilities.  At the bell, we rush to find Dave and tell him what we had seen… or, should I say what we hope he’ll believe we’ve seen.  In actuality, by squinting hard I almost saw her underwear.  Well, at least I thought I almost did.  The memory of Miss Babcock is great every day for three or four wanks!


End of Chapter 2

By Alan Wills

Select all writings of  Alan Wills

Select biography of  Alan Wills

Confessions of a Wanker – Book 1, Chapter 1

by Alan Wills

Based on a true story of a boy’s coming
of age in London’s East End

Wanker: British Slang
1.  An endearing term between mates
2. A Con-Man or Jerk
3. Masturbator

 This auto-biographical novel is shockingly explicit, very real, and filled with humor. Readers will pass through the tough Cockney East End of pub fights, cons, dead end jobs, and revisit the 50’s & 60’s and the early days of Rock and Roll.

The story opens with the vicar’s sermon decrying self-abuse. At eleven Alan knows he is speaking directly to him.  He and his four mates are inseparable, and emulate Cockneys, by speaking rhyming slang. You will relate to teenage embarrassment, rebellion, and sexual naiveté. This only child is abandoned at fifteen by his parents. Learn how Alan is forced to become self-sufficient, working in outdoor markets, including London’s famous Petticoat Lane. The costermongers and barrow-boys add color and charm as they con the English public, and tourists alike.

We follow Alan’s determination in many different businesses, and discover he was an inexperienced jerk, or wanker, and we live his guilt and justification.  He does become business smart, but is an absolute novice in matters of love and sex.  His big con shows the inner workings of a wanker, or con-man’s mind.  It also demonstrates the entanglement, financially and ethically, that leads this young man to leave all his mates and England on his wedding day, with The Mob and the police hot on his heels.   Enjoy! 

Confessions of a Wanker is an easy read, as it unfolds in short chapter of connecting short stories. Although funny and light hearted, there are many lessons to be learned from his life, which he refers to as the College of Hard Knocks.

Just for fun, at the end of the book there is an appendix:

Cockney East End Street Language and Rhyming Slang with translations into ordinary everyday English.

Your comments are welcome


Chapter 1

After the War

     “Ga-Aw-D” the vicar’s three-syllable word always gets me attention.  I’m looking up at his stern face high above me in his pulpit.  His double chins hide most of his white clerical collar.  My eyes are glued on his worn black suit straining against his plumpness, and his huge mouth filled with big teeth.  I think. This monster could eat a small kid.

“Ga-Aw-D wants you to refrain from self-abuse,” he demands, pointing his outstretched finger directly at me.

My mind questions.  Self-abuseWills, is ‘e talking about wanking?

No, self-abuse sounds painful and wanking is a release; like floating up to ‘eaven.

“Ga-Aw-D knows when you abuse yourself!” he bellows. “You will go to a fiery hell!”

I’m eleven and a half, standing with three other scouts as the color guard in front of the whole bloody congregation wearing me neatly pressed tan scout uniform with merit badges on both sleeves.  I grip the flagpole tightly with both hands, trying to hide behind it.  The Boy Scout law rings in me ears,  A Boy Scout is clean of mind and deed.

Everywhere I look I sense God, in this massive white stone St. Saviors Church, this Sunday morning.  The ‘oly Ghost reads me dirty mind with a thousand piercing eyes.

Me mother has eyes that can see though solid brick walls and around corners.  She says God knows and sees everything.  Funny, many times I totally forget about Him being around.  Ironically, I never think of God while hiding in our outside loo, even though I’m making one more attempt at floating up to heaven.  The age-old horror stories of “Wankers Doom,”: hair growing from the palm of me hand, has not deterred me.  But “Ga-Aw-D WANTS YOU TO REFRAIN” keeps rattling around in me brain

I close me eyes and try to escape the vicar’s harsh words.  Me mind flashes back through time and I see meself at a World War II bomb-site with me older cousins.  I’m a happy little blonde, blue-eyed, six year old boy, rummaging through the personal stuff strewn throughout the blitzed homes.  I find a small suitcase covered in dust and fill it with my new found treasures.  Torn faces in broken picture frames, lifeless dolls with severed arms and legs, and other previously valued possessions of departed owners.  I find one rubber shoe, a Plimsoll, and dig with a bent knife in the dirt to find it’s mate.  I take off me black leather shoes with the holes in the bottom, that makes me feet wet when I jump in puddles.  The dirty white rubber shoes are too big, but Patricia me cousin says I’ll grow into them.  She says I can keep the Plimsolls and little suitcase as the boy who owned them is in heaven.

Holding the flagpole, I think, when the suitcase was me most prized possessionIn my bedroom I use to talk into the suitcase to the boy in heaven.  I was never alone again.

A moment later my eyes spring open and my head jolts back as I realize the human suffering those bombsite playgrounds represent.  The overpowering stench of decay returns to me nose and throat, I gag on the memory.  I cling to the flagpole to regain balance.

The vicar drones on and on and my eyes close again.  I see the train bringing me and me mummy home from being evacuated in Liverpool.  I’m five.  It stops with a loud hiss of steam.  A man opens the carriage door.  He sort of looks like the picture that mummy kept next to our bed, but with more lines.  I’m a little scared of this stranger.  He lifts me down to the platform and says how big I got.  I don’t feel big, looking up at huge people all around me.  I’m afraid I’ll be stepped on.  He throws his arms around me mummy.  They hug, and she cries. I think, I hate him for making her cry.  Then they kiss. Yuk!  Each takes one of my hands as we walk down the platform.  They talk about stuff; London bombing, his job as air raid warden, missing each other, and terrible things that happened to some evacuated kids.  I touch the toy knife sharpening man in me jacket pocket, and remember how happy we were staying with the old couple, who I called Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary.  I go to show Daddy the toy, but change me mind.  I keep look up at them but they just look at each other.

Wills,  ‘e don’t even know ya ‘ere.

You’re right! I like Uncle Bob better, I think, and not just because he gave me the toy.  I wish we’d never come back to London.

The vicar’s monotone voice reminds me of the drone of the German rockets that flew over London during the war.  The big difference being, once the vicar stops talking we can all head back to the Scout room for biscuits and lemonade.

Me mind flashes back to 1943, I was three.  The air-raid siren wails and my mommy scoops me up and carries me to the dark, damp, air-raid shelter, underground in our back yard.  When I wake-up I can’t see I have white stuff in me eyes.  She says not to pick at it and calls it apses, as she washes it away.  She tells me the loud noise in the sky was from German rockets, called doodlebugs, and that if the noise stops we have to get under the bed quick. Many nights in the shelter we hear the engine stop and under the bed we’d go.  It’s a fun game.  She’d always hold me tight in her arms and prays to God that we’ll be spared.  When we hear the explosion, mommy cries, saying the Doodlebug had blown-up nearby, and Londoners had perished in the flames.  She always asks God to save their souls.

I hold the flagpole tight and think, God, will I ever be free of these memories of the war?

I look around the church at all the neighborhood people dressed in their Sunday best. There are many more women than men.  Mum said, countless husbands and sons didn’t return from the war.  I feel sad as I see the little old ladies with rounded shoulders and hunched backs sitting alone, who still dress in black and never smile.  God I ‘ate war!

Every Sunday the vicar says a prayer for their dearly departed.  Then, I smile at the younger women who wear blue eye shadow and tight sweaters that show pointy breasts.  I watch as some of them flick their hair back, or cough to gain the attention of the few single men in the congregation.  I say a silent prayer, God, please! No more wars! Plus help our fifties generation bring happiness back to England.

Wills, it seems like bleeding ‘ours that we’ve been standing ‘ere ‘olding this bloody flagpole. I think, shift from foot to foot.  Once again I feel the weight of the war memories pushing down me shoulders and me eyelids feel heavy.  I open me eyes real wide and try to empty me mind of war.  Like a shuffled deck of cards me mind stops on the school exam that I took a few days ago.  Have you ever noticed the questions they ask on school exams pertain to information that you’d swear had never been covered in class?  This was definitely the case with me “Eleven Plus” which determines the type of senior school that you attend.

Looking at the exam paper in utter disbelief, I was petrified for most of the first hour. Then it hit me.  Wills, The bleeding school board has obviously devised questions guaranteed to eliminate the likes of us. 

     Your right! What would me Dad’s hero, Field Marshal Montgomery, do?

In Dad’s war stories he says Monty distrusted the obvious, and out-thought his enemy.

Me eyes become slits as I think hard about the exam.  Then I feel a smug smile spread across me face, as I know what I must do.  Wills, Ignore the bloody questions, and check the answers in systematic order.  A cunning teacher would start easy, with ‘free yes answers to sucker ya in.  Then slip in a no, then ‘free more yeses, one more no and so on.

     That’s the answer! Monty would be proud of me, deciphering this sneaky plan.

     I quickly apply me theory, marking the first three questions with a yes, then one no, then the next three yes and another no.  I smile; it feels very good being this confident.  I quickly finish the exam and I’m one of the first to leave the room.  I wait outside in the drab green hall, displaying our school crest Circa 1902, feeling smug.  A couple of classmates, “A” students, who we call book-worms, walk out of the exam.  On checking me three-yes-to-one-no theory with their answers, it becomes obvious that I could be busted all the way back to kindergarten.  Looking down at me shoes I wonder how to break this news to me mother?  I hear a familiar voice. I look up and see Danny.

Today as always, Danny’s clothes look as though he has slept in them.  One sock up the other down around his ankle, his shoes are a combination of scuffs and mud, his dull mousy brown hair sticks up in all directions.  Danny’s face is a bombsite of acne and pock marks, which he continually scratches with his filthy fingernails.

“ ’ow d’ya do then, Alan?”

“Not so good Danny!” I admit.

“Sitting in the bloody back of the class, that was our downfall me old mate.”

“’ow’s that, Danny?”

“Well, information travels on sound waves, don’t it?”

Knowing Danny once built a crystal radio set, I feel safe in agreeing with him.

“Sure does!”

“So then it makes sense that some info. ‘as long-waves and some ‘as short-waves.”

“Ya, that sounds right to me, Danny!”

“I’m sure Alan, like me, ya noticed that the exam was filled with bloody short-wave length questions?  So, as the information never reached us at the back of the bloody class.  ‘ow could we be expected to know the bloody answers?”

It made perfectly good sense to me.  However, on my return home, my mother is less receptive to Danny’s theory.  She keeps asking embarrassing questions, like, “which questions didn’t you understand?”  Then she says the typical mother things, “God helps those that help themselves, you know?  It’s all up to you, Alan!  I’m just trying to help!”

Wills, ‘ow’s she going to ‘elp ya? I think, as she’s talking. For Christ sake she can’t even understand Danny’s ‘feory of long wave and short waves.

     “See mum, Danny’s  theory is the exam was filled with short wave questions that never reach the back of the room, where me and Danny sit.”

“That’s quite enough, Alan!” she interrupts “Go to your room without dinner.  Wait up there until your father gets home and see if he buys your story of Danny’s waves.  Personally, I reckon you are in for a good hiding!”

End of Chapter 1

By Alan Wills

Select all writings of  Alan Wills

Select biography of  Alan Wills