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The Gun Show

8 Nov

The Gun Show

By L. Stewart Marsden

Dealer: I need your ID.

Patron: They don’t need it when I vote … why the hell do you need it?

Dealer: It’s the law, Sir.

Patron: Effing law-makers! They need to put those leeches out to pasture.

Dealer: Yeah, the most of them are in it for the money.

Patron: MY money … and yours.

Patron hands the Dealer his driver’s license, who plugs the information into his computer.

Patron: Checking to see if I’m crazy?

Dealer: That, and if you have any felony arrests.

Patron: Ought to make running for office a felony.

Dealer: Get no argument here.

Dealer hands the license back to the Patron.

Patron: Clean?

Dealer: Have to wait ten days for the license to clear.

Patron: Uh. Ten days. Well, you got any of your private stock for sale?

Dealer: You in a hurry?

Patron: I want to get to a range and get used to my gun before the season begins.

Dealer: Well, since you asked – I got this sweet semi I can sell you.

Patron: And I can take it today, right? I mean I don’t have to have a license to buy it and take it home with me.

Dealer: Yep. Kind of like the way it used to be a long time ago. Only thing is if I suspect the buy is unhinged or something. You unhinged?

The Patron laughs in response, and the Dealer laughs.

Dealer: You a hunter?

Patron: Used to when I was a boy. Me and my dad. Squirrel. Rabbits, sometimes. Ever eat squirrel?

Dealer: Can’t say I have. What’s it taste like?

Patron: Chicken. Everything tastes like chicken, right? ‘Cept for chicken …

Dealer laughs …

Dealer: You gonna use this for hunting, then?

Patron: Yeah … hunting. And target shooting, you know.

Dealer: This baby’ll bring down a bull moose at 200 yards. It’s lightweight and won’t throw you to the ground with the recoil.

Patron picks up the gun, hefts it, and points it up, sighting down the barrel. He checks the action several times, then puts it back on the counter.

Patron: Nice! I’ll take it. You recommend a scope with that?

Dealer: I do if you want a clean kill. Otherwise you might miss, or worse – wound your target and have to go traipsing into the brush to finish the kill.

Patron: Well, better add a scope, then. I don’t do traipsing at my age.

Dealer: Okay … I recommend this scope. Assembles onto this model quick and locks in tight. Myself I never use a scope. Kind of takes the challenge out of it.

Patron: Quick and tight. Sounds good to me. Ammo?

Dealer: What do you want? Ain’t cheap.

Patron: What is these days? Any limit on how much I can buy?

Dealer: Only your wallet. Ammo for this gun come in boxes of fifty.

Patron: Ten should do for now.

Dealer: That won’t last very long. Especially on the range.

Patron: It’s 500 shells. It’s enough.

Dealer: How you want to pay?

Patron: Cash okay?

Dealer: Need you to sign for it.

Patron: No problem.

Dealer: Anything else today? Camouflage outfit? Ear protection?

Patron: Naw. I’m good. Wait … can you outfit this with a silencer? For the sound. My hearing is bad enough as it is.

Dealer: What about ear protectors? Cheaper.

Patron: I heard they amplify background noise – least that’s what a friend of mine told me.

Dealer: Yeah. You can actually go online and get instructions how to make one. I sell you one it gets reported to the ATF, and they may want to talk to you about why. Anyways, I don’t carry them.

Patron: I’m an engineer. Or was. I have a huge workshop full of every tool imaginable. Can’t imagine making one will be too difficult for me.

Dealer: Probably not. Anything else?

Patron: You got bump stocks?

Dealer: Nope. But there’s a booth close to the bathrooms that does. They have one that’ll fit what you bought. Not going to use that hunting, right?

Patron: Just curious. Grew up on James Cagney gangster films. Always wondered what rapid-fire would feel like.

Patron pulls out his wallet and counts out the cash, and hands it to the Dealer.

Dealer: Thank you! Now if you’ll sign right here, I’ll get your change.

Patron: Lot of folk pay in cash?

Dealer: Does a bear shit in the woods?

They laugh.

Dealer: Okay, partner … you’re all set. Unless there’s anything else?

Patron: No, no! I’m good. Between you and the guv’mint, I’ll be in the poor house!

They laugh again.

The Patron walks off and disappears into the mulling crowds of the gun show, as the Dealer turns to the next customer.

Dealer: Help you, Sir?

Gun control laws are riddled with loopholes, “protecting” an American citizen’s 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. This is one of them. It’s referred to as The Gun Show Loophole.

 

 

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The Fourth Wall

15 Sep

The Fourth Wall*

 

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Charlie Dipple walks into the modest living room from his bedroom and stands in the middle of the space, just behind the large couch that forms the anchor for a seating area. Two comfy chairs are on either side of the couch and are perpendicular to it, framing three sides of the area. End tables with Tiffany lamps help define the seating area. An oval oriental rug with an ornately carved round coffee table forms the focus of the furniture.

Doors leading to his bedroom, a bathroom, the kitchen and a second bedroom are located on three of the four walls. The apartment door is on the far right wall, and has a peep-hole as well as several locks fastened to it. The fourth wall is comprised of two glass panels separated by a two-panel sliding glass door. The sitting area is oriented so that it faces that wall.

Dipple looks out the glassed wall at the skyline of Manhattan. He walks around the couch and one of the chairs and sits in that chair. He plucks a newspaper from the coffee table, switches on the lamp next to him, pulls out his black-frame half-lensed reading glasses and opens the newspaper with both hands, spreading it before him above his lap.

Then he hears it.

A cough.

Putting the newspaper down on his lap, his head cocked to one side, he says, “Miriam? Are you home from work?”

No answer. He shrugs and resumes reading the newspaper.

Again, a cough.

“Miriam? Sounds like you’re coming down with something, Dear,” he says, assuming Miriam has not heard him call to her, and that she is busy in the kitchen.

“Shall we have the leftover veal, or do you want to try the new French restaurant on West 64th, or would you rather go to Buvette? I don’t really have a preference. The veal would be fine, but I am in a bit of a French mood.”

No answer.

“Can you not hear me talking, Miriam?”

No answer. He puts the paper back on the table and gets up to walk into the kitchen, disappearing behind the mahogany swing door.

“Miriam?” His voice is muffled behind the door.

Dipple re enters the living room, a look of consternation on his face.

“That’s odd! I could have sworn Miriam coughed from one of the rooms!”

Cough.

“The bathroom!” He hurries to the bathroom door and knocks gently. “Miriam, are you in there? Is everything okay?”

No answer.

“Maybe the guest room,” he says, and crosses up to the guest bedroom door and exits, closing the door behind him.

He re enters and stands perplexed, scratching his head.

“You are losing it, Charlie Dipple!” He crosses to a wet bar buffet against the wall and pours himself a drink from a crystal decanter. “Bottoms up!” he toasts himself, and swigs the drink.

“Ahhh! Nothing like a smooth bourbon to calm my nerves. Really, everyone hears things that aren’t. And everyone talks to themselves, which is also normal and you don’t have to worry,” he said, crossing back to his chair. “Unless – unless you begin to talk to yourself in the process – which is EXACTLY WHAT I”M DOING!”

A wave of laughter.

He stands abruptly, and walks to the glass wall, looking out.

“Okay! THAT was NOT my imagination! THAT was someone laughing! Not just someone, but a whole shitload of someones laughing!”

More laughter. And a cough.

Dipple puts his nose against the glass wall, staring intently, his hands cupped on either side of his face in attempt to ward off the fading sunlight. His liquored breath steams the glass in a roundish pattern. Then he stands back, and moves upstage to his chair. He grabs the newspaper angrily, shaking it open, and begins to read.

Another cough. And a laugh.

He continues to read, gripping the newspaper tightly.

Silence.

A titter.

“I’m ignoring you,” he says through clenched teeth, still obscured behind the newspaper. Then, very slowly, he drops the newspaper on the fourth wall side, peering around the paper.

A low wave of laughter.

He jumps to his feet and storms back downstage to the window, crumpled newspaper in one hand.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

More laughter.

“Are you SPYING on me? Are you the government, for God’s sake – ‘cause I pay my goddam taxes. Reluctantly, I will admit.”

More laughter.

“Who and where ARE you? You can’t be out in the air! We’re thirty-eight stories up!”

Titter.

He begins to feel the glass surface with his hands, rubbing as though cleaning it.

“No microphones. I don’t see any drones outside. What the effing-hell is going on here?”

Laughter.

“I’m warning you! Shut the eff up or I’m gonna do something really drastic – I mean it!”

More laughter.

He exits upstage to his bedroom and comes back in a moment with a handgun, which he frantically loads with a bullets.

“I am NOT kidding! I don’t know what the eff is going on, but it is NOT funny!”

More laughter.

He takes the gun with both hands, walks down to the glass wall, and draws the gun up level to his eyes, pointed at the window.

Laughter

“PLEASE! PLEASE STOP LAUGHING! DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!”

Hysterical laughter.

He shoots six times until the revolver is spent, and only the click of the hammer is heard.

Silence.

Dipple drops his arms to his side, gun in one hand, and begins to sob.

Slow, crescendoing clapping.

Dipple looks up, and realizes the clapping is for him. He stands straight and tall, arms to the side, and bows deeply from the waist, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Bravo! Bravo! BRAVO!

He exits into the bedroom and shuts the door.

All the lights in the apartment dim to black.

A few moments later a loud bang is heard from the bedroom.

Silence.

A key rattles in the lock of the door to the apartment, and the door cracks open. A woman’s hand slips in through the crack and flicks the light switch on the wall next to the door.

The lights come up.

A dapper woman, attractive, enters, laden with several shopping bags.

She crosses toward the kitchen door.

“Charlie, I’m home! I’ve got some things to go with the leftover veal, but if you’d rather, we can go out. I’m kinda in the mood for Italian.” And exits into the kitchen, the swinging door flapping to a close behind her.

Laughter.

†††††

 

*All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
;

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii

The Projects: Updated 09/14/2017

14 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/14/2017

 

Click here.

 

 

 

 

The Projects – Updated 09/13/2017

13 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/13/17

Click here.

 

 

 

The Projects

5 Sep

The Projects

Click here for latest installment.

2nd Edition, Through the Glass Darkly

19 Aug

 

Ray Ferrer’s cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

I’m making the manuscript of my second edition of Through the Glass Darkly available –after many attempts to figure out how to do it – for a limited time.

You are free to download and read the manuscript, as well as share it with others if you so care.

As I do plan to publish it, I hope you will benefit me with your comments, including which stories you liked and why, as well as those you didn’t care for. I will leave this page posted for your comments, but will dismantle the link to the file eventually.

Comments on plots, characters, dialogue, flow, etc., are all important to me. Not so much, “I liked this story” (which I used to say when I wrote book reports as a kid), but, “I liked this story because …”

I post to and maintain my online writing studio on WordPress because I seek feedback, as I imagine you do also. Whether positive or negative feedback, it is all beneficial to me in terms of my growth as a writer and poet.

Thank you in advance for those thoughtful comments.

LSM, 19 August 2017

Click the following link for the manuscript. Please alert me if you have any difficulty opening this file.

ThroughtheGlassDarkly_2ndEdition11-26-2015-TEST

The Projects

16 Aug

  

The Projects

By L. Stewart Marsden

Forward

Sometimes, just before waking, in that twilight of dream-sleep and consciousness, a thought or image or story or scenario will flit through my mind. Like a glint of light reflected off some shiny object. It’s there, and it’s gone.

Two thoughts – spawned perhaps by subconscious mulling over Charlottesville and the last several years of police action.

What if a person convicted of a hate crime – who had served the time – was paroled with the stipulation that he/she (mostly he, is my guess) served lots of hours working in the neighborhoods of the very people the hate crime was committed against? Impossible? I say this because on CBS evening news, a former member of a hate group was interviewed. This person, Christian Pitulini (sp?) joined a hate group at the age of 14, and quit a few years later to form an organization that actively works against hate groups. 

Second, below is another whimsical thought – the beginning of a story that addresses one possible way to span the chasm that exists between minority communities and the police officers who are charged with serving them.

– LSM

†††††

The Projects

Pastor Jeremy Tolbert rapped the table with his coffee mug amid the sudden outbreak of arguing.

“Folks, please! Just give me a moment to clarify things!”

The chaos continued.

“FOR THE LOVE OF JE-SUS!” he blasted, slamming his cup down, freezing the moment as if he had sprayed everyone with ice-cold water. “Please! Sit down!”

One by one his parishioners sat, still somewhat shocked by Tolbert’s anger.

“This is not the same old same old. It’s a new idea on a very old problem, and the Lord knows we need to try something new. Amen?”

Amen, came the reply in unison.

“Keydets are key people of all ages who live in each block. Young, old, men or women. Black, Latino, mix. Straight, gay. Liberal or conservative.”

“We got any conservatives in the hood?” piped up Simeon Crouch, and the room relaxed in laughter.

“We got one or two, Simeon. They just don’t want you to know it!” said Tolbert. “Here’s how it is different: we are the ones who choose our neighborhood block Keydets. Not the police department. Us. And there won’t be no uniforms or badges or guns or billy clubs issued.”

“How anyone gonna know who a Keydet is, then? And how they gonna enforce the law?”

“They won’t enforce anything. That’s not their job.”

“What they gonna do, then?”

“They will play a key role in communicating between the neighborhoods and the police department. We will know who they are because they will be trained to go into their blocks and areas and organize. In a few weeks, a Keydet is going to knock on each of your doors to sit down with you.”

“Organize what?”

“Well, help the neighborhoods know how to protect itself, and to know what to do to identify crime and criminals, and what to do about that kind of thing.”

“So they snitches.”

“Yeah, undercover cops!”

“NO!” Tolbert leaned forward on the table, his arms stretched out in front of him, palms down on the battered wood surface. “No.”

He surveyed the group. They comprised the leadership of Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, where he had served going on two decades. He knew and loved each individual. He could talk spiritually to each person, and knew their stories intimately. How they struggled to make it in a world that seemed to keep them down and “in their place.” How they feared for their children, worrying that the streets would eventually drag them down into lives of crime – or worse. For many of them, that had already happened.

“They are not going to be snitches. They will be – for lack of a better word – Aarons. They will interpret our people and our ways of struggle to those who are charged with our protection.”

“Preacher, why you say Aarons?”

“You know, great as Moses was, he had one major problem. He told God he was slow of speech and tongue.”

“He had a speech impediment,” said Mabel Howard, fanning herself with the flat of her hand.

“Yes. So God appointed Aaron to speak to Pharaoh for Moses. And that’s what our Keydets will do for the community. They will interpret to their partners from the police department how we feel, what we need and what we want as a community from them.

“Our job is to identify these people.”

“You said they will interpret to their partners from the police department.”

“I did.”

“Who they?”

“Like our Keydets, they will be police officers of different ages and races and backgrounds. But a key part of the program, is these officers will have a history of misunderstanding our community.”

“What? Like they’s the ones that beats us up?”

“Not that extreme, Buck. But officers who have something in their history that lets their superiors know they will profit from being involved in the program. It will help to change their attitudes.”

“And how’s that gonna happen, Preacher?”

“In addition to choosing our Keydets, we are also responsible to train the officers.”

Once again the room exploded into vocal chaos. This time Rev. Tolbert waited, drumming his fingers slowly on the table. Gradually the storm passed, and the room quieted.

“The police department will train our Keydets. Observation and questioning skills. Recording skills. And some personal defense. The only equipment the Keydets will have will be an inexpensive cellphone they can use to contact their partner.

“We will train the officers. That curriculum will include a variety of things: our ways and how we view police; our hopes for the neighborhood – such as crime-free; and some basic language skills.”

A laugh rippled through the group.

“The only snitching to be done will be on each other. The Keydet will report to us, and let us know what his or her partner needs to work on. Same thing for the officer, who will report to the police trainer about what the Keydet needs training in.

“The goal, at the very least, is that these two people from two very different backgrounds and experiences, will come to understand and trust each other. They are our Adam and Eve project, in a way. And the hope is that a new and positive relationship between our neighborhood and those sworn to protect us will be the result.”

THAT IS HOW sixteen-year-old Jehwan Tyree Johnson and forty-two-year-old Officer Gabriel Sean O’Hare came to be partners in the southeast Mulholland District of the city.

†††††

“So, we gonna get paid to do this?” asked one of the potential Keydets. “I mean, seems if we gonna do all this work, we should get something for it.”

Heads nodded in the room and a low murmur ensued as those gathered whispered agreement.

“The grant does provide funds to compensate you. Not a lot. You won’t get rich if you choose to become a Keydet.”

“Then why should we care?”

Captain Irene Daniels resisted the urge to roll her eyes. All eyes in the room scrutinized her every move, word and voice inflection. Anything that detracted from “the sell” could mean potential failure. And, as the Chief of Police as well as the Mayor and District Attorney had carefully explained to her weeks earlier, there was no room for failure. The violence in Mulholland last spring could not be repeated. Nor the ambushing of police officers. Nor the display of brutal or fatal force against citizens on the part of her officers.

“Maybe you shouldn’t care. That’s for you to decide. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the anger and rage continues.”

“No, Ma’am – it matter,” said an elderly black man as he rose to his feet in the back of the room. “We have come too far since Dr. King was kilt. Now, maybe that’s not far enough for everyone, and you angry on a cause of that. But now? Seems we be slippin’ backwards towards those days don’t none of us want to ever see again. My boy couldn’t see straight ‘cause of he was mad! It got inside his head to where he couldn’t do nothin’ but hate and fight. Now he’s dead. No, Ma’am – it definitely matter.”

“Thank you, Mr. Terrell. I hope that this program will end the “we” and the “they” mindset we’ve all fallen into. So, yeah, the pay is not great. But you will be doing something positive to change this neighborhood and yourselves – plus the police force – for the good.

“Sergeant O’Hare is going to pass out your cell phones. These will be used for you to contact your police department partner, or they you. Don’t lose these, please. If something goes wrong with them, bring them back in and we will either repair or replace them.”

A large bear-like officer cradled a cardboard box, and began handing out cellphones.

“Hey, Chief!”

“Captain,” Daniels corrected.

“Oh yeah – Captain. Can you text with these?”

“You can text. But you cannot get on the internet. They are not smart phones.”

“They dummies!” a voice blurted out, and the room tittered.

“Make sure the phones are charged, and that you can bring up the phone number for your phone.”

“How you do that?” said an older woman.

“I’ll show you how, Miz Cruise.”

“Thank you, Jehwan. It is Jehwan, right?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Sergeant O’Hare is your police department partner, Jehwan.”

“No shit? Uh – sorry, Ma’am. Really?”

“Really.”

†††††

“And how old are you, Juwan?”

“Jehwan. Like a J with a wan. You know, Obi Wan? But it’s J-wan.”

“You’ve seen the movie?”

“Who ain’t?”

“So, J-wan … how old are you?”

“Sixteen. I’ll be seventeen next October.”

“Ah! Me too!”

“Damn! For a seventeen-year-old, you musta had a really hard life!”

“Smart ass! I meant I was born in October! You a Libra, then?”

“Nah. Scorpio.”

“A leader!”

“And a lover! Least that’s what the ladies tell me.”

“I’m a Libra. Intellectual, we are,” he said, trying to mimic Yoda.

“Didn’t know – ah, no – never mind.”

“Never mind what? You can tell me. We’re partners, right? Partners can tell each other anything.”

“I don’t know …”

“Go ahead. I’m a thick-skinned Irishman.”

“I thought the Irish were a little sensitive. Quick to get mad.”

“That’s a myth. Now, what were you gonna say?”

“What I was gonna say was I didn’t know cops were intellectuals – per se.”

O’Hare stopped in the middle of a spoonful of his ice cream soda. Jehwan could tell he was thinkin’ fast.

“How’s your Sundae?” he finally said.

“Oh, it’s fine! Very fine.”

They continued to eat their desserts silently.

“So, tell me: what are your superiors concerned about you?” Jehwan asked.

“What concerns? What’re you talking about?”

“Preacher Tolbert said, when we was recruited, that the police partners was chose based on – you know – some problem they has with people like me.”

“People like you?”

“Black people. People who live in Mulholland. You hit somebody?”

O’Hare put his spoon down. He was slowly turning red in the face. Jehwan wasn’t sure if the color change was anger or not.

“It was nothing. I made a mistake. I said something to somebody that I shouldn’t have said.”

“Yeah? What was it?” Jehwan’s eyes were wide with interest, and he leaned forward over the small table toward the officer. O’Hare said something – but it was garbled, and Jehwan didn’t understand.

“Say again?”

“You know. The N-word.”

“Wha?! You called somebody Nigger!”

“Shhh! Not so loud! I was angry, okay? The guy was a junkie. He was a worthless piece of shit!”

“Oh, my!”

“Let me ask you – why is it okay for a black person to use the N-word but not a person of another color? I don’t call all blacks the N-word. Just the scum-buckets. And don’t you call white people Honkies? Should I be upset about that? I mean, I’m not.”

Jehwan laughed out loud.

“That funny to you, is it?”

“Nah, man. Either way, nigger or honkie ain’t right. But that word you used. Scum-buckets!” He laughed again.

“That’s what they are! And so I called one black scum-bucket the N-word. What the hell is so wrong with that? Tell me, please!”

“It remind me of this YouTube video I seen where Eddie Murphy was like this old man in a sweater in some kind of kid show.”

“Mr. Rogers? Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a great TV show!”

“That’s it! Yeah, but Eddie was the black version, and he’s talkin’ ‘bout his landlord, and he looks into the camera and says all nice and all, ‘Can you say scum-bucket, boys and girls?’”

“Ha! Yes! I remember that one, too!”

They laughed. Then Jehwan drew himself as tall and as straight in his chair, trying to neutralize O’Hare’s size.

“So here the thing: it ain’t cool for a non-black person to use the word ‘nigger.’ That’s our word. We own it. Least that’s what Chance said when Bill Maher said it on his show. And besides, mostly we use ‘nigga’ – not the other one. So I ‘preciate that you do not use the words around me or my kind.”

“And I appreciate you not calling me honkie – or worse: carrot top, or spudfucker.”

Spudfucker!? Agreed.” They fist bumped to seal the vows.

“Well, that’s what got me into trouble. And that’s why the Captain assigned me to the program. And that’s why you and me are partners.”

“Not like you beat somebody up or shot them – like what’s been happening.”

“Just so you know, cop lives matter, too.”

“Shit! I don’t even want to get into this!”

“If we don’t, we won’t make any progress.”

“Progress. You don’t even know, man!”

Silence.

“So how’s your Sundae?”

“It’s okay.”

†††††

The police cruiser slowly passed Jehwan, who was walking quickly on the other side of the street. The interior light cast from the computer on the dashboard illumined the two officers, and he could see the one in the passenger seat was eyeing him carefully. Jehwan’s heartbeat stepped up several notches, and he slowed his pace to see if the cruiser would also slow. He put his hand in his pocket and clinched the cellphone given to him for the neighborhood/cop program. It was cool to the touch.

The cruiser did slow, and pulled over to the opposite side of the street and stopped. Of a sudden, the blue lights on its roof began to flash, and he saw the driver lean forward and a siren began to wail, as the car pulled out quickly, its howl subsiding as it sped down the street into the night and disappeared.

As on cue, the phone in Jehwan’s pocket vibrated in his hand, and he pulled it to his ear.

“‘Lo?”

“I’m running late, Jehwan. Go ahead and get started without me and I’ll be there shortly. Have to do something quick.”

“Yeah? Well get me one of the jelly-filled ones.”

“Jelly-filled what?”

Do-nuts! That’s where you’re going, right? To get coffee and doughnuts?”

“Ha! Only in the morning, my man. See you in a bit.”

Jehwan grinned, and stored the phone back in his pocket. He was glad to hear O’Hare’s voice, especially when he figured he was going to get waylaid by the city’s finest on a dark street.

He picked his pace up and turned the corner onto Seventh Avenue toward Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, located across the street in the middle of the block. The only working street lamp on the avenue rose from the sidewalk at the foot of the church’s concrete steps, a wide swath that invited passers by to stop and climb them. During the day, the steps served as bleachers for spectators of pickup basketball games in the street.

The Reverend Tolbert had bought a portable basketball goal from Movement God and placed it across the street from the church steps. He had also put out a rubber garbage can full of street-ready basketballs. Jehwan always wondered why the balls were never stolen. Not one. One of his friends said if somebody ever did, they might end up in the river.

During summertime and on weekends, neighborhood kids swarmed the street to play three-on-three, and the goal had seen better days. Originally, Pastor Tolbert had leaned a piece of plywood against the wrought iron handrails of the steps. On it he painted “You must be this height or smaller to play basketball,” indicating a horizontal line drawn at about the five-foot level.

That didn’t go over well, and the bigger kids eventually started dominating the “court.” Of course he had to replace the metal rim and the backboard a few times due to kids dunking and hanging off the rim. And he went through a dozen or more nets. Someone told him he should put up chain nets like those used on the public playgrounds, but he refused to listen, remembering how he hated the metal sound of a swish compared to nylon.

“Only the best for my kids,” he said.

Parishioners laid out lane markings for the court, and spray-painted the lines with white paint. Then someone came up with the idea for an ongoing three-man basketball league, which Tolbert christened “Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church Trinity Basketball League,” a mouthful. Everyone called it The Trinity League, which suited Tolbert just fine. The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost basketball. The league grew, and so did Tolbert’s reputation as a voice of reason in the community.

Jehwan crossed the street under the basketball goal, flicking the bottom of the net as he passed. He thumped the garbage can full of balls and leapt up the steps to the church’s arched double doors. The doors were unlocked, as they always were, and he swung one open and entered the church.

The vestibule was small and covered in red carpet, which continued into the sanctuary and ran down the middle of rows of wooden pews. At the far end of the nave the chancel was elevated above the floor level. A baptismal font stood on one side of the chancel, and a dais on the other.

Seated on the edge of the chancel floor, feet dangling, Pastor Tolbert faced a small group of people seated haphazardly in the front pews. Only the chancel lights were on, the rest of the sanctuary shadowed in night tones. One one side of the aisle were people from the community, and on the other side, a variety of people from the police department, some in plain clothes, and others in uniform.

Tolbert looked up as Jehwan entered.

“Hey, here comes the last of our community Keydets! Everyone, this is Jehwan Johnson for those of you who don’t know him.”

Faces turned and people grunted various greetings as Jehwan eased into one of the pews toward the back of the group. Jehwan raised his hand and waved briefly.

“Where is your counterpart, Jehwan? Sergeant O’Hare?”

“Oh, he be here directly. He said go one with the meeting.”

“Okay, that’s a good idea. I know everyone wants to get started on time. All of your time is valuable, and I so appreciate your willingness to be here. May we begin tonight’s meeting with a prayer? Good!

“Dear precious Lord, we are set with a task that is bigger than any one of us. The wounds of this community gape open, and we seek your healing touch.”

Various impromptu responses of “Amen” sprinkled from the group.

“So we ask humbly, dear Heavenly Father, that you unite us as one body, with one accord and resolution to do whatever is necessary for this healing to take place. We know it will not be either a quick or an easy task …”

“Yes, Lord!”

“… as the gulf that separates us has slowly widened over the years and decades …”

“Uh-huh!”

“… and the distance between us is steeped with stubbornness …”

“That’s right!”

“… and ignorance …”

“Oh, my!”

“… and preconceived notions and falsehoods …”

“Je-sus!”

“… on all – I said ALL sides …”

Clapping, and arms raised, heads nodding and shaking back and forth.

“… There is no one but You, Father God, who can provide what we need today and evermore …”

“All right!”

“… which is the miracle of your healing hand …”

“Yes!”

“So use us, Lord, as you used Moses – use our mouths and our hands and our feet to lead this community out of its attitude of slavery …”

“Oh, Lord, do!”

“… into one of servitude to one another, that we may do unto others – NOT before they do unto us – but that we may do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. Amen.”

“Amen!”

†††††

The keydette training and officer training was difficult. Not physically arduous – but strenuous on a mental and psychological level. For Jehwan, the process of realizing that not all cops were racist or bullies or imbued with a disposition to prejudge anyone of color, or from another country, or who worshipped anybody other than Jesus – was, as he told the police instructor, “Tough as shit.”

On the other hand, Sargent O’Hare strained against second nature that had been ingrained through three generations of police officers in his family. He was used to throwing back a couple of beers at O’Malley’s On The River, and trading jokes with his fellow officers.

“A Jew, a Wop and a Wetback walked into a bar …” kind of joke.

Racist, he was told.

“By God and by Jesus! Them’s ninety percent of my joke repertoire!” he said, smiling in anguish. It was anguish over the loss of his favorite jokes, not that he was racist.

“You tell me the definition of racist!” he challenged Rev. Tolbert.

“Racism, in a nutshell, is the belief, however conscious or unconscious, that you are better than someone else because of the color of your skin. And in the case of your jokes, that extends to national origin, religion, and other things – like gender preferences.”

“Oh, well! Are you telling me we aren’t different? Are you telling me some people aren’t better than others? That a law-abiding citizen isn’t better than a low-life drugged-up gang-banger?”

“If you can, Sargent, try to strip away how one behaves from those attributes that define who one is.”

It baffled O’Hare that anyone could separate what someone does from what someone is.

“A junkie is a junkie. A liar is a liar. A thief is a thief. And so forth, Pastor. Is it my fault the majority of these criminals are from a certain class or race or religion? Look – my ancestors came over to America from Ireland. The way they were treated when they got here was a crime. But did the Irish give in to that crap? Hell, no! We persevered and pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. There wasn’t no handouts for us. We had to succeed on our own! We are fighters! And that’s the only way you’re gonna make it in this world. You claw and scrap at anything and anybody who is in the way and you will eventually climb to the top of the heap! Period!”

“But you were never bought and sold, or separated from you wife or children, or hung because you tried to escape being a slave – all because you were Irish.”

IT WAS NO BETTER for Jehwan.

“So, the Man has always been there to keep us in our place – whether it was on the plantation or in the ghetto.”

“And by ‘the Man,’ you mean?” asked Captain Daniels.

“By ‘the Man’ I mean the ones who is in power. And mostly that’s white people.”

“Well, I have the power to keep the peace, and I’m not white.”

“You an outlier.”

“Nice word, and correctly used. But blacks have made great advancements since the time of slavery, or the time of Jim Crow.”

“Jim Crow’s coming back.”

“Why do you think so?”

“It’s so obvious! The most of us is still struggling to get somewhere and be somebody. We are a threat! I mean, what would happen if the black man was to somehow become top dog? All across the nation people – most particularly the Man – is gettin’ nervous and all about that very prospect. So he be cracking down by crackin’ us in the head. Or worse. And, by the way, the Man is using you, Brother. You think you have improved your situation, but have you really? I mean, you’re becoming just like him! The power has gone to your head! And to your billy club. And to your gun.”

“So what’s the answer, Jehwan?”

“I don’t really know. I mean you pull out these programs – like this one – and I don’t know if it’s to keep us quiet or to help. We are so far apart – I mean I not gonna hold my breath or nuthin’. It’s like Dr. King’s dream is just that – a crazy, unrealistic dream that not nobody gonna ever wake up to for real. That’s all it is, seems to me. A dream.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“Being sorry ain’t gonna change nuthin. Sir.”

Thus the Keydet program got off to a dubious, if not extremely shaky, start.

†††††

The phone call awoke O’Hare from a vivid dream. He reached over on the nightstand for his cellphone and turned on the lamp. His wife, in a harrumph, turned her back to him and pulled the bed covers over her head.

It was Jehwan. And it was two am.

“Jehwan? I know we’re supposed to be bonding, and all – but …”

“You got to come get me – now!” The urgency in his voice was enough. O’Hare threw his clothes on, grabbed his keys, gun and badge, then fairly leaped down the stairs and out the side door to where he kept his old Fiat.

The weather was cold and damp, and it took several tries to get the engine revving. He swung out of the drive and gunned down the dark streets. He had enough time to get a location from Jehwan before the boy hung up: Tyrone’s Bar-B-Que.

Jehwan was huddled in the small alcove of the front door of the restaurant. He wore a thick dark hoodie to protect him from the wet cold – or to keep him from being identified on the streets, though the Sargent . O’Hare stopped and unlocked the passenger door, and Jehwan jumped into the car. He was shivering – his eyes wide with fright.

“Let’s get the hell outta here!”

Before O’Hare could respond, the rear window on his side of the car shattered.

“What the hell – !?”

“GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!”

O’Hare floored the gas peddle. The Fiat sputtered, then shot forward, leaving a thick trail of smokey exhaust in its wake.

“What the hell is going on?”

“I’m in trouble.”

“No shit, Tonto! What kind of trouble?”

“I don’t think I can be a Keydet anymore.”

O’Hare slowed the Fiat and pulled to the side of the street under a street light.

Jehwan looked about nervously, casing the area carefully as he spoke.

“I got a visit tonight.”

“From who?”

“Let’s just say it was peoples that is not too excited about having somebody spy on them in the streets.”

“Spy? You’re not a goddam spy, for Chrissakes!”

“Yeah? That’s not what’s goin’ ‘round. Two other Keydets got visits earlier this week. A message is being sent – just like that bullet through your window.”

“For me, it’s nothing new. Don’t get me wrong – I might have pissed my pants. But cops get shot at all the time.”

“You not in your cop car, Sargent. You in this – this – what the hell kind of car is this?”

“Fiat. 1998. 250,000 miles and runs like a dream if you’re not awake.”

“They don’t pay you shit, do they?”

“My wife has the good car. Dodge Stratus.”

“Damn! Look – you can see they mean business.”

“And who is ‘they?’”

“The Cyclops.”

“A bunch of punks, Jehwan. Real fine citizens of your community!”

“The brothers got guns – big, bad-ass guns. And they ain’t afraid to use them.”

“Yeah? Well they ain’t very good shots,” O’Hare said, nodding toward the shattered window.

“If they had wanted, your head be busted open like a watermelon.”

“And their message to you?”

“Get out of this program. Or worse.”

“What could be worse?”

“Be dead. Or do like they want, and be a snitch on the inside.”

“What?”

“Keep them posted on you guys – the cops.”

“We got no secrets. Unless maybe a planned bust.”

“Exactly my point. You and I is a threat to their business. And they don’t tolerate threats, if you know what I mean. The next shot won’t miss, in other words.”

“I don’t want you to quit the program, Jehwan. These guys need to be kicked out of the neighborhood. They are the reason things are the way they are.”

“You may think that, but the way things are? It’s a lot more complicated than a bunch of gang members sellin’ dope. And everybody lives here knows that.”

“Well, we gotta start somewhere. You should stay in the program. Help turn things around. Get the gangs out of here.”

“How we do that? You think this is gonna do anything more than make things worse you are dreamin’, Man.”

“Like Dr. King said, ‘I have a dream …’”

“This is not a dream. This be a nightmare! And as far as they concerned? You and I are the Bogeyman.”

“So you’re gonna quit.”

“Man, this is my life we’re talkin’ about! They will kill me! Or, if not me, my baby sister, or my aunt, or my damn dog! And they wouldn’t blink twice about it. They been three drive-bys in the last six months!”

“I know. And we’re working on that.”

“Well, whatever you doin’ ain’t done shit!”

“That’s why this program –– ”

Fuck this program! Already things has not gotten better, but worse! You think the Cyclops gonna be rehabilitated? What they gonna be rehabilitated to? Shit, man, they wearing gold bling and got real diamond ear studs – real diamonds, I said! Got more weapons and ammo than the National Guard! Drivin’ fine cars! They own the neighborhood. They not lookin’ for more power ‘cause they is the power! Now you tell me –– they gonna give that up for a minimum wage job at Mickey Dee’s?”

“They’re a bunch of dumb thugs. There are at least ten ODs here every month, and out of those, six don’t make it. They are killing off the very customers they live off! You okay with that staying the way it is?”

“First, they ain’t dumb. They smart enough to not get caught up in the dope theyselves. And, ain’t but a few ever see jail –– but even so, they know they can catch up when they out. And they know they kids is protected and has food and rent money.

“Second, they don’t give a flyin’ fuck if somebody ODs and croaks. They’s always somebody lookin’ for a fix. And schoolyards of future customers.”

“Wow! I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you.”

“Why? You don’t think I understand where they coming from? Get a education, they say. That’ll give you a future! It ain’t no future possible if all the rest of the cards is stacked up against you. It don’t matter you can read or spell or do algebra if the door is always closed. Sure, they’s one in a million gets a chance to break out and make it. What they do then? Why, they move out of here and live in some exclusive neighborhood. Like they’s white, or something. How does that help me?”

“Yeah, but Obama ––”

“Don’t do that. He the outlier. He the exception. The man don’t even talk black. Now, if Jesse Jackson had become President? He a black man’s black man. He knows. He identifies. Where Obama now, ask me? He not down here with me. He busy sticking up for DACA. Am I glad he was President? Damn straight! It was about time that happened! But what happenin’ now? Cops beating up and shooting blacks every other day …”

“So what do you want me to do?” O’Hare had heard the rhetoric seemingly endlessly. It was a dead end street to him.

“I don’t want nuthin’ from you! Not no handout. Not no special consideration.”

“But what do you want?”

Jehwan leaned his head back, cradling it with both hands, arms raised.

“Opportunity. That’s all. Same considerations for me and my eventual children, based on my ability and my willingness. I want to work hard and earn respect for what I do and who I am –– not be seen or not seen because of the color of my skin. You ever look at a black person’s hand?”

“What?”

“My hand.” He reached out to O’Hare, palm up. “Look at it. See, the inside of my hand is the same as yours. Got the same kind of lines. Not too far from the same color, either. My hand is lighter on the inside than the backside.”

“So?”

“It ain’t no gorilla’s paw. They’s black on the back and the palm. I am not a ape.”

“I know that.”

“Do you? Really?”

“Look, Jehwan –– I am not your prejudiced person. I got plenty of black friends. Hell, I work for a black woman who gets paid more than me and can order me about. She’s more educated than me, and lives in a better neighborhood –– which, by the way, is mostly black.”

“That’s supposed to mean something to me?”

“I don’t know –– but it’s a start.”

“We been hearing ‘it’s a start’ since the Civil War! That’s like sayin’ ‘Well, you should be satisfied with the progress you’ve made and what you have, not with what you don’t have.’” He trumped up his voice to sound white.

“So you’re saying progress hasn’t been made?”

“Sure it has. But on a superficial level. And now, they’s whites that has put up with it and now are afraid and want to go back to the dark days.”

“C’mon –– you don’t believe that’s gonna happen.”

“I honestly can’t say it won’t. Especially given all of the evidence to the contrary.”

“So you’re gonna quit, and just let everything go the way it will. Not try to make a difference. Because, frankly, I kinda had this feeling this program was gonna collapse. Not because of the cops, either. I became a cop to make a difference. I want to be a peace officer, not an armed thug looking for somebody to pick on. Not all cops are in it to beat up and shoot people. We just want to get the bad guys off the streets so the good guys can live their lives with what you said –– equal opportunity.”

They both sensed it. Stalemate. Like a game of tic-tack-toe. No winner. No loser. The silence was thick, like the cold pouring through the shattered window.

“So, you gonna report this?”

“Report what?”

“The window.”

“Won’t do any good. I’ll tell the insurance company somebody tried to break into my car and they’ll cover the window replacement. Actually, that’ll probably cost less than my deductible, so I’m screwed because it means they won’t pay for any of it. Maybe I should drive back through here every night and get all my windows shot out. Then, at least, I’ll get something for all the premiums I pay. I mean, why even have insurance, right?”

“Well, least you got a car. Two, if I remember. And a police cruiser.”

A bit more silence.

“So, are you gonna quit or not?”

“And miss these philosophical interchanges wid you?”

“But what about the Cyclops?”

“What about them? They a problem no matter if I am a Keydet or not. Who knows? If we made it to the moon and back, maybe there’s hope.”

“Want a ride back to your apartment building?”

“Please.”

†††††

Frank Garver had a lot to live up to, and a lot to live down. Like most cops in the precinct he came from a long line of law enforcement, as in four generations long. “It’s in my DNA,” he often said.

Frank’s Uncle Stew Garver had forever set the bar for those Garvers that followed. Uncle Stew was hustling groups of people down the inside stairwell of the South Tower of the World Trade Center at around 10 am, September 11, 2001. Frank Garver was 17 at the time, just beginning his senior year at Queens Academy in Flushing. He could see the large plumes of black smoke rising in the distance through the classroom windows, and watched the television monitor as the tower began its slow, surrealistic implosion.

He was his uncle’s favorite nephew, and a member of the American Legion baseball team his uncle coached.

After graduating from the police academy, Garver pursued the most rigorous assignments, and never complained about the hours or the pay or the disrespect he was subject to on his various beats. That dedication paid off, in his estimation, when he was appointed to the undercover division of his precinct. It’s also when his anger and guilt began to eat away at his soul. That erosion took the form of risky behavior, initially, and led to alcohol and drug abuse later.

The department moved mountains to help him rehab, which he did. Several times. But the hook was in, and Frank Garver struggled like a snagged bass, doing everything he could to free himself.

Finally he had what he called a cathartic experience, when he was put back on the beat and his partner, John Llewelyn was killed in the cross-fire of rival street gangs. He had gone to church in the early morning after drinking away his partner’s wake, and, kneeling at the altar in St. Patrick’s, broke down. After three years sobriety, he was reinstated to the undercover division.

Most of the other cops gave Garver a wide berth, and figured he was destined for some catastrophic end. He didn’t care. Camaraderie was overrated in his book.

Garver sat bent over on the bench in front of his locker, going through his Rosary, when O’Hare entered the locker room and began to dress for the day, hanging his starched uniform on a hook in his locker.

“So how’s it goin’, Frankie?”

Garver looked up from his beads and smiled.

“Couldn’t be better, Sarg.”

“That’s good.” O’Hare began to undress to his skivvies, then don his uniform.

“How’s the Musketeer thing goin’, Sarg?”

“Musketeer? Oh. The Keydet Program. Actually, I think it might make a difference. I wasn’t sold on it at the start – but now, I don’t know.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was you.”

“Why’s that?”

Garver turned on the bench and propped his feet up, facing O’Hare.

“Word on the street.”

“Which is?”

“I understand the Cyclops are not too happy about having cops and people in the neighborhood gettin’ all chummy. And, I heard you got a new rear car door window.”

“How’d you know about that?”

“Like I said, word on the street.”

“I figured there’d be some kickback on the part of the thugs. But when the fumigation is complete, them cockroaches will scatter like the pussies they are.”

“Maybe. But cockroaches have a way of coming back, no matter what kind of poison is used on them. Oldest animal on the planet, I heard.”

“Then why are you still a cop if you feel that way? If what we do doesn’t do anything, why the hell do it?”

“I owe people. The fucking terrorists and the fucking gang-bangers. Anything I can do to shorten the life of one of them, I figure it’s the least I can do.”

O’Hare nodded toward the Rosary beads in Garver’s hands.

“So, are those beads – or notches?”

Garver grinned, and slipped the beads into his jeans pocket. “Hard to say. So I guess the world has been turned upside down for you now.”

“How so?”

“You’re seeing Mulholland with new eyes, right? I mean, what has been the festering hole for some of the worst shit for human beings suddenly now has raised your expectations! Hope!”

“What’s your beef, Garver? I thought you had an ‘experience’ with God! What the hell is wrong with developing a new attitude, for chrissakes?”

“Nothing at all, my man! But be a cop, first. Everything isn’t always the way it seems. That’s the first rule of stayin’ alive.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Your Keydet. Jehwan, is it?”

“How – ?!”

“Leopards don’t change their spots, Sarg. Just remember that.” Garver slipped a hoodie over his head, closed his locker door, and walked out of the locker room.

“Asshole!” O’Hare said.

†††††

A gloved hand, finger covers missing, gripped the door to the Captain’s office and gave a gentle turn. Locked. A second gloved hand inserted a straightened paper clip into the keyhole, and wriggled the piece of metal until the lock yielded, and the door opened with a soft click.

The Intruder slipped into the office, leaving the lights turned off. A small flashlight helped navigate chairs and tables to the large desk dominating the floor space. The paper clip and a few seconds was all that was necessary to open a large file drawer in the desk. The Intruder sat in the Captain’s chair, wary of the sluggish night activity in the precinct room outside the glass walls of the office.

Fingers quickly rifled through the hanging file folders until a specific folder was discovered. Typed neatly on a label was O’Hare/Johnson: Keydet Program. The Intruder slowly pulled a manilla folder out, and slipped it under a worn wool sweater, tucking the bottom of the folder under the top of his jeans. He closed the drawer, and stood to leave.

“Hey! What the hell are you doing in the Captain’s office?” The ceiling light suddenly flickered on as an officer stood in the doorway of the office.

“I had a meeting with Daniels this afternoon and left my cellphone in here.” The Intruder raised his gloved hand that held his cellphone. “See? I came in to find it.”

“In the dark?”

“First rule of investigative search, my man: turn the lights off and use a flashlight. You see things easier that way.” The Intruder flicked the small flashlight on and off to demonstrate.

“You are such a case,” the officer said.

“Fuck you,” replied the Intruder, shoving past his discoverer. “I got duty tonight. Have a pleasant evening.”

†††††

 

O’Hare burped loudly, and pushed away from the table.

“Sean!” his wife responded.

“What can I say? It’s a compliment in some cultures,” he grinned.

His son laughed out loud, and forced his own burp.

“See what you’re teaching him?”

O’Hare patted his son on the shoulder as he walked into the living room.

“The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, my Dear.”

He sat in his favorite lumpy chair and grabbed the remote, flicking on the flatscreen. He knew the UFC channel by heart, and turned to a bout between two rugged and muscular fighters. As he leaned back to fall into his customary after-dinner snooze, his phone vibrated.

“Damn!”

It was Jehwan. A text.

I need your help! Can you meet me at the church by the basketball goal?

WHAT’S GOING ON?

I don’t have time

ON MY WAY

“Marie, I gotta go.”

“What this time?” She said it as though she had said it a thousand times before, with a tired, defeated tone.

“Hey! Sorry, Hon. It’s Jehwan.”

“That boy will be the reason I divorce you.”

“I know,” he replied gently, and kissed her on the forehead. He grabbed his coat and waved at his son as he opened the door to leave.

“Bye, Dad!”

And was gone.

†††††

The Fiat literally smoked through the night streets. O’Hare was a bit miffed, like his wife. But he understood. He decided to talk to Jehwan and stress how little time he spent with his family. How police work wasn’t a 9 to 5 job. How his wife always worried if he would return home, whether or not she said it.

“This’d better be something,” he grumbled to himself as he turned down Seventh Avenue. He could see someone who looked like Jehwan sitting on the church steps in the light of the street lamp. He pulled over and parked and got out.

“What’s the problem?” he said in a loud voice.

“What? What’re you talking about? I was going to ask you the same thing!” Jehwan said, walking toward O’Hare in a huff.

Then it dawned on the cop.

Damn! We’ve been set up! Get into the church – quick!”

But it was too late.

†††††

The decision to hold services for both Sargent Gabriel Sean O’Hare and Jehwan Tyree Johnson met resistance from no one. Not O’Hare’s wife and son; not Jehwan’s mother or sister or other family members. And to hold it at Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church in the Mulholland projects was also a unanimous choice.

The day was not gray with clouds, nor maudlin with dreary rain, but the contrary. A beautiful blue sky looked down two communities gathered to morn and celebrate their lives and contributions.

Along Seventh Avenue officers of the Twenty-first Precinct lined the street on one side, dressed immaculately in their formal blues. On the opposite side of the avenue gathered those who knew, as well as those who did not know, Jehwan and his family.

Two shiny black funeral limousines turned down the street, headed for the church. Flags and flowers decorated every foot of the short drive from the corner. A line of six police officers, dressed in Scottish garb, marched slowly down the street in a wide line, bagpipes to shoulders, regimented in every movement. The lonely shrill of the pipes echoed Amazing Grace in the canyon of the avenue, the pipers turning at the steps of the church and splitting evenly on either side of the stairway.

The first limousine held Jehwan’s coffin. Eight pallbearers stepped forward as the coffin was rolled from the rear of the car. Four of the pallbearers were police officers, and included Captain Irene Daniels. The four other pallbearers were family members of Jehwan.

The second limousine held Sargent O’Hare, and again, eight pallbearers stepped forward. Four officers, and four from the community – including Pastor Jeremy Tolbert.

As the two coffins were lifted and carried up the stairs and into the church, the bagpipers fell into double lines behind the procession. The coffins were placed at the front of the church on either side of the midline.

Pastor Tolbert climbed to the pulpit and held onto either side of the wooden structure, gazing into the faces and eyes of those gathered. He nodded, and the piped song ended at the next refrain, the pipers slowly splitting to either side of the sanctuary where they stood at attention.

“What a beautiful day to honor two beautiful people: Sargent Gabriel Sean O’Hare and Jehwan Tyree Johnson.

“As they have become a part of us over the months, as they have struggled and succeeded – yes, succeeded in helping to bring us all together – we have much to be thankful for.”

Scattered amens echoed in the sanctuary.

“Sargent O’Hare and Jehwan came together as a part of The Keydet Project. Many of you know about it, and many of you are participating in it.

“And just as this program was indeed a project here in what many call the projects, so were Sargent O’Hare and young Jehwan.

“As are we all. Projects.

“We come together today as unfinished projects; as projects that are in some way crude, with a long way to go before we are finished products.

“But, rest assured, we are in the Master’s hands, and he will see each of us through to the end.”

Amens and hallelujahs.

“I know this is a hard time for the family and friends of these two. My heart aches, and I would like more than anything we were not gathered here for this occasion, God knows.”

Well!

“But this I know: that in that day I will stand in the presence of God Almighty, when I hope, through his Grace and Forgiveness, that he will say to me, “Well done!”

Tolbert turned and nodded at a young black woman off to the side who was dressed in a deep red choir robe. She stepped forward and began to sing.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll …

Her voice started out light and soulful, the notes filling the sanctuary with reverence and pain. Then she stood straight and resolute, arms to her side, hands balled into fists, her eyes looking up into the great arch of the sanctuary.

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say …

She became more than a conqueror on the last line, raising both arms and hands high above her head, her voice trembling with emotion.

It is well, it is well, with my soul!

Tolbert stepped to the side of the podium, and motioned to the congregation to rise and join in the chorus, well-known by some, awkwardly unfamiliar by most.

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul!

The grand blend of voices crescendoed and hung in the air, as the drifting sound of bells knelling on a distant hill.

Tears flowed freely, and handkerchiefs flapped like flags throughout the congregation. Tolbert returned to the podium, and raised his hands for silence and attention.

“I do not think it inappropriate to ask the members of my community, and the members of the police community, to move from where you currently stand and to integrate – if I may use that word – into one united body.”

Then he nodded and directed with his arms as the attendees slowly realized what he meant, and began to mill and mix with each other, shaking hands, hugging, and exchanging quiet and brief words to each other.

As family, friends and neighbors and police officers became indistinct from each other and melded, Tolbert began to sing.

A-a-ma-zing Grace, how sweet the sound

And as others joined in, the bagpipers began to play. The pallbearers resumed their positions, bearing both coffins back down the center aisle and down the steps to the awaiting limousines, followed by the bagpipers and the congregation.

At the end of the street, parked off to one side inconspicuously, was a sleek Ford Mustang. Its passengers were shaved bald, with greenish-black tattoos running up their necks, and covering each arm with sleeves of diabolical renderings.

The driver put on dark sun glasses, and lit a cigarette, then reached down and patted the handgun resting on the console. He looked around and grinned at his passengers, who took the safety locks off their guns. Then the driver reached to turn the key in the ignition.

The End

Note: This is the germ of a story on a contemporary problem. The central idea is two persons of different backgrounds are thrust together, not necessarily in accordance with their will, to try to work towards some semblance of understanding and cooperation for the good of all. Kind of like Congress, too. If you would like to see more of the story unfold, please say so. If you have any contribution or ideas as to how the story should/could progress, comment on that also. Thanks for the “likes,” but it is your comments I’m more interested in. LSM.

Charley’s Angles

27 Jun

Charley’s Angles

By L. Stewart Marsden

Part 1

Charley and me were twins. Not identical twins. Fraternal. But you would never know that in a million years. He and me was different in every way. I got the looks and the athletic body and all. What’d he get?

The brains.

Charley was smart as a whip. Beat you in chess blindfolded. Tell you the capital of every country in Indo – Indo – well, everywhere. Could talk his way in and out of trouble without you ever knowing what was going on.

Dad said we was so different he wondered did he need to check the woodpile. I never knew what he meant by that, but Mom would look at him with the awfullest sneer whenever he said it. And he said it a lot.

“It’s possible to have the children of two different fathers conceived at two different times and they be born at the same time,” Charley said once at breakfast over a bowl of Cheerios and bananas.

“I don’t see how,” said Mom, that look on her face again.

Charley looked at her and grinned back innocently, “Everyone doesn’t understand electricity, yet that doesn’t keep us from using it.”

Even I knew what he was doing, and had to bury my face in my napkin.

Once Charley said something like that when Mom had a pan of biscuits fresh from the oven. He learned never to tease her again when she was armed. The pan missed his head by inches.

But Charley was ugly. It was bad enough to be smart, but to have ugly piled on top of that was just about the cruelest thing God could have done him.

His face was skinny and his hair moppy. His ears looked like radar dishes stuck on. He was missing two teeth that never developed – from Mom’s side of the family (or the woodpile, Dad would say).

He was also sickly all the time. Allergic to just about everything, and caught anything that came along at school. Flu? He caught it every time. Measles? Mumps? Chicken Pox? Them, too. Even had rare diseases, like scarlet fever. He was a mess.

He was older than me by six minutes. That was one thing he had on me other than smarts. He was my older brother.

“Good thing we don’t practice primogeniture or you’d be stuck with nothing when Mom and Dad die.”

Well, first, I didn’t know what primo – primo – whatever – meant. And second, I thought it was terrible to think that Mom and Dad would ever die – much less talk about it.

In spite of everything we didn’t have in common, we loved the hell out of each other.

All through school Charley was the butt of bullying and teasing. He got tripped going up stairwells, and had his face pushed in more than one bowl of apple sauce at lunch. So I became his protector.

He only made things worse whenever he tried to use his smarts to keep him from getting beat up. Nobody understood half of what he said, and he said a lot. Big words. Words with more than two syllables.

“I suppose because of your inferior intellect you feel overwhelmed by mine, and must compensate by resorting to your instinctual and Neanderthal brutishness.”

WHAM!

And he was flat on the ground with several guys diving on top, swinging their fists.

I would come running up and clear the bodies off him, threatening sure death to the rats as they scrambled away in fear.

He would smile up at me, him flat on his back. “Thanks, Brother!” I’d pull him up and we’d go on our way, arms draped over each other’s shoulder, and I would give him my advice.

“You gotta quit talking like that, Charley!”

As we grew older, Charley played Ying to my Yang. I was a star running back on the football team. He was the team manager. I was the hot power forward on the basketball team, and he was the team statistician. I was the slugger who batted cleanup on the baseball team, and he was the bat boy and kept the inning by inning score chart.

If it hadn’t been for Charley, though, I’d never have made it through high school. He kept me eligible for sports by doing most of my homework. That kept my grade average up in spite of my test scores, which he couldn’t take, of course. He always said it was too bad we weren’t identical twins.

“I could take your tests, too, if teachers couldn’t tell us apart!”

I knew there would be advantages for Charley if we were identical; those he could only fantasize about: girls.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 2

 

“So what’s it like?” he asked me one night when I came back from a date.

“What’s what like?”

“You know. Being with a girl?”

“I don’t know! Like being with anybody, I guess. I never thought of it.”

“From what I hear, thinking has little to nothing to do with being with a girl.”

“Oh! You mean what’s sex like?”

“Yes!”

He sat up on his bed. He was all ears – which he was anyways. We shared a bedroom on the top floor. Our beds were separated by a table with a small lamp and wind-up clock on it.

I unbuttoned my shirt and threw it on the floor for Mom. Then turned my back to him and slipped my pants off and hopped quickly into my bed.

“You want to know what sex is like?”

“I do.”

“Well, one day you will know.”

“No I won’t. And you know that.”

“Yes you will! What? You gonna get some strange disease and die before you make it with a girl?”

I remember he sat there with the strangest look on his face. A sad smile and big eyes. Like our Golden Lab, Delbert. Like he knew something I didn’t – which was always the case.

“Sex. What’s it like?” And he waited, his head cocked to one side like Delbert when we were eating at the table and he begged for a taste. I could never resist feeding Delbert from the table either.

So I told him. I told him about Betty Sue – who was my first. How I slipped my hand under her blouse at the Center Theatre and she didn’t stop me. How she responded by putting her hand in my lap.

No!” Charley said in amazement, sitting up straighter.

How we awkwardly left the theater before the end of the movie and hurried up the dark aisle, all my buddies giving me the thumbs up and their dates grinning over big cups of Coca-Cola and boxes of popcorn. How we drove out to the lake. How I pulled a blanket from the back seat and kept the car radio on.

How Gary Puckett sang “Young Girl” just as Betty Sue slipped out of her blouse and unhooked her bra, displaying all her glory by the light of the waxing moon.

“Time for bed, Charley. Sweet dreams.”

Wow!” was all Charley could whisper.

I turned the light off.

The rustle of his bed sheets for several minutes told me Charley would indeed have sweet dreams – and more.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 3

 

“Say that again, Charley – slowly.”

I was distracted when he first said it, trying to reach a lone fry at the bottom of my bag of food from McDonald’s. Charley said it so casually just before he clamped down on his Big Mac as he sat in the passenger seat of my car.

“Leukemia,” he repeated, picking sesame seeds from between his teeth.

“What the hell is leukemia?”

“It’s a disease of the blood. The bone marrow, actually.”

“The what!?”

“It’s inside your bones. It’s where new blood cells are made.”

Rain splattered against the windshield of the car where we had parked. A sudden storm came out of nowhere with driving wind that shook trees and bushes around us. Customers made mad dashes out of McDonald’s to their cars, holding their shirts and jackets pulled over their heads in vain to keep dry.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“I didn’t know for sure. And Mom made me promise not to.”

“Why the hell would she do that?”

“Well, finals. She said it would devastate you to the point you would blow it. If you don’t graduate, the football scholarship isn’t worth anything.”

“God!”

“No – it’s okay! Really! I completely agree with her. Look, it’s not her fault. No one’s fault. These things happen.”

“But why you? Why not me?”

“Why not me? Look, please don’t tell Mom I told you!?”

“Jeesh, Charley! I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t know this? Because of a lousy scholarship? How – did you catch this from somebody? Who else knows?”

“I didn’t catch it. And nobody else knows. Even Dad.”

“What!? Dad doesn’t know?”

“His heart. You can’t tell him either.”

“Yeah. Yeah that makes sense. So what happens?”

“I have some time. There are treatments we’re going to try. Doctor Slate told us to go to Duke. They’re on the cutting edge of most medical conditions.”

“How long have you known?”

“Two days.”

“That’s where you and mom were, when you went to Duke?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought that was to interview to go there. This is so – so crappy!”

“I know.”

“Are you gonna die?”

“Everyone’s going to die …”

“–You know what I mean!”

“Don’t know.”

I pounded the steering wheel in anger, and the tears came – suddenly, like the rain.

“Oh, Charley!”

“I know.”

“I wish I could do something! I mean, it should be me, not you! I’d do anything to help – you know that.”

“I know.”

The rain and wind continued to beat down around us. Curtains of water swept across the parking lot and the streets. The car began to shake with the storm.

“There is something you could do for me. But, nah – I shouldn’t ask –”

“No–no–no! There’s nothing you can never not ask me! I’ll do anything to help! Honest to God, I will!”

A flash of lightning startled us both, and thunder rolled off into the distance. Charley was reluctant, and had trouble telling me what was on his mind.

“Honest, Charley! Anything!”

Another distant rumble.

“Remember when you told me about you and Betty Sue at the lake?”

It was the furthest thing from my mind, but not hard to remember.

“Yeah?”

“And remember how you said one day I would know what sex was like and I told you I wouldn’t?”

“Uh, yeah.”

His look came back to my mind. That strange look on his face. The sad smile and big eyes. Like Delbert at the dinner table.

“I was right. I won’t ever know what sex is like.”

“You knew about this back then?”

“I didn’t know – I had a hunch. An instinct. I had been feeling exhausted lately.”

“You’re always exhausted …”

“Worse than usual. And I was bruising in strange places on my body, and didn’t remember being hit or bumping into anything. No bullies lately, thanks to you.”

“That’s leukemia?”

“That’s the lack of platelets.”

“What?”

“Simply, you bruise easily. And I was. So I looked up the symptoms in the school library, and I matched up with most of them. I told Mom, and that’s when we went to see Dr. Slate. A few tests, and …”

“So it’s for certain?”

“I can’t tell you that. Duke ran different tests to find out conclusively. But it doesn’t look good. I have to decide what to do. Do I go to Duke for treatment? Mom mentioned St. Judes. But, like I said – looks like I won’t ever know what sex is like.”

“That’s sad, Charley. Very sad. God, I hurt for you.”

“But, that’s where you could help me out.”

“Whaddaya mean by that?”

“Betty Sue.”

“What!?”

“So I don’t die without that experience! Like you said, very sad! And, like you also said, you would do anything for me, right?”

And it dawned on me what Charley wanted. I was so confused by the news of his disease! And it truly was sad that he could die without experiencing sex. And even if he didn’t die from it, who knows how it would effect his ability to – well – perform? And I could probably at least do something about that for him – if nothing else. It was a brother’s obligation, after all.

As if a sign of confirmation, the rain stopped as suddenly as it started. A shaft of sunlight pierced through the dark clouds and illumined the steeple on the First Main Street Baptist Church across the street.

It was the closest I ever came to having a real spiritual event, and was as if God himself had said through that shaft of light, “Go thou, and fetch Betty Sue for thy brother’s sake.”

“I’ll call her tonight,” I told Charley.

A big missing-tooth smile broke out over his thin face, and his large ears even seemed to wiggle in appreciation. I thought he was going to join me in a flood of tears.

“God bless you, Brother!” Charley said to me, gripping my shoulder with his trembling hand.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 4

Betty Sue was talented – in many ways. She played a mean trumpet in the band, and boy could she blow (if you know what I mean)! Not so bad in the classroom, either. She wasn’t exactly the girl you bring home to mother, but she was the experienced woman in our class.

She could drink any guy under the table, take the pot at poker every time, and smoke a cigarette and chew tobacco at the same time without turning green and puking.

I thought she looked like those posters of Rosey the Riveter from World War II.

I didn’t know what she would say when I called her about Charley, but I knew she had a big heart. She was a sucker for sappy stories, Golden Retriever, and little kids.

She didn’t disappoint me.

“Oh! God! Of course I will! When do you want me to come over? Tonight?”

That surprised me. It was ten o’clock when I called her. Of course, time was of the essence for Charley, and he nodded his head insistently when I replied, “Tonight? I don’t know …”

His ears, now burning red, flopped back and forth, his eyes wide open.

“Yeah, sure! Tonight’s fine. Say, midnight? That way Mom and Dad will be asleep. Can you climb trees? We’re on the second floor and there’s a big water oak beside the window. Not afraid, are you?”

“I’m not afraid of much. What’s your address?”

I gave it to her, and she made a kiss sound over the phone before she hung up.

Charley was beside himself with excitement and anticipation.

“Should I take a bath? Yes! I should take a bath!” And he stripped off his clothes on the way to the bathroom down the hallway. I walked in a few minutes later and lavender bubbles were creeping over the side of the tub as he completely sudsed himself. I laughed.

With a mound of bubbles peaked on top of his head, Charley stopped and nodded at me.

“I owe you big time. Thank you for doing this!”

“That’s what little brothers are for.” And we both laughed.

“I figure you don’t have protection,” I said as I squeezed my hand into my jeans and pulled a plastic packet from my front pocket. TROJAN was printed on the packet. I tossed it to him and he missed it, scrambling with his hands through the suds to pull it out of the water and look at it.

“Doesn’t using one of these take the sensation out of it?” he asked.

“Peggy Sue requires it. She doesn’t want little Charley’s running around pulling at her apron, right?”

“Remember when we were young and I found one of these in the woods behind Grampa’s house?”

I did remember. Neither of us knew what it was, but Charley opened it.

“Eeeyew! It’s all slimey!” he said at the time, holding the wound rubber up with two fingers. “It’s a balloon!”

We took the “balloon” to the city pool, and Charley unrolled it, and blew. He blew and he blew and he blew. It was off-white in color, and grew to an incredible size.

“Hey, Charlie! Where’d you get that?” asked one of the older kids, laughing.

“I found it at my Grampa’s.”

Everyone laughed.

Charley dried off as the tub drained, and combed his hair back. He brushed his teeth twice and rinsed with Listerine. Then he coated his underarms with Ban deodorant. He carefully popped the most obvious zits on his face, and squeezed out a few blackheads. He literally showered himself in Canoe, all the while staring at himself in the bathroom mirror, posing to the side and trying to look sexy. I could hardly keep from laughing.

“I suppose I’ll turn out the lights when Peggy Sue and I – you know.”

“Might be wise,” I grinned.

“Should I wear pajamas?”

“No. Underwear and a T-shirt.”

“Could I borrow a pair of your boxers?” He only wore tidy-whities.

“Long as you wash them.”

Back in our room Charley began to straighten up. He even made my bed, which I normally did myself at least once a month. He took down the Miss May fold out and stashed it in the bed table drawer.

“I don’t think Peggy Sue would mind the picture.”

“I mind. I don’t want her to think I’m that kind of guy.”

“What kind of guy?”

“You know –” and pumped his fist a couple of times. “You didn’t tell her I’m a virgin, did you?”

“Charley!? That’s the whole point of her agreeing to come over tonight!”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s okay.”

He was really nervous, and kept picking up the windup clock to check the time.

“You know what they say about a watched clock.”

“You’re right. Can I play your stereo? When she gets here? I’d like to play either your Johnny Mathis album or Dionne Warwick. Which do you think? Which will be best for the mood?”

I began to have second thoughts about this. I mean, Charley was a bit – I don’t know – over the top?

“Charley, relax! It isn’t like this is anything special for Peggy Sue! She’s not going to wear your ring or anything like that afterwards. It’s a one-time thing. You don’t have to impress her, or worry about what you look like, or how you smell, or your breath or anything! She’s coming here to bang you, man! That’s it. Nothing special for her.”

Charley slumped on his bed. I regretted the words almost as soon as I said them.

“Look – I didn’t mean it isn’t special. It is. For you, I know. And for Peggy Sue.”

“Right,” he said without feeling.

“Look, don’t play Mathis or Warwick.” I got up from my bed and went to my stack of albums and rifled through them quickly, pulling one out, which I handed to Charley.

“Your Led Zeppelin? For mood music?”

“Stairway to Heaven,” I replied. “Mood beyond mood.”

He looked at the label, flipped the album over and looked again for the song.

“It’s only eight minutes long!”

“Kiddo – that will be plenty of time, believe me.”

A tap on the window interrupted us. It was Peggy Sue, straddling the thick branch of the water oak that was closest to the window.

It was midnight.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 5

Peggy Sue had gone all-out for Charley, and I was so proud of her and glad for him. She wore a halter top tied in the front, and form-fitting satin pants. It was obvious she wore no bra, and I wondered if she had no panties as well.

Her long blonde hair was wavy – like she had rolled it. Later she told me she had. Plus she had taken a bath and powdered her body with Baby Powder, painted her nails and toenails. She smelled delicious, and I was a bit envious of the experience my brother was about to have.

Peggy Sue pecked me on the cheek with her deep red lips, and smiled. “You staying?”

“Oh, no! No, I’m leaving,” and she ushered me out of the room. Just before she closed the door I caught my final image of Charley as a virgin, sitting on the edge of his bed dressed in a white Hanes vee-neck T, and a pair of polkadot boxers that were way too big for him. The look on his face was priceless.

Peggy Sue closed the door quietly, so as not to wake my parents, who were long asleep in their room at the end of the hallway.

I turned and sauntered to the stairway, stopping halfway and pausing until I saw the bedroom light go out from under my bedroom door, and then heard “Stairway to Heaven.”

I was incredibly proud of myself, and grabbed a blanket and pillow from the downstairs closet, and curled up on the livingroom sofa for the night. Periodically I could hear footsteps crossing the floor upstairs, and “Stairway to Heaven” begin again.

Damn! I thought.

Six times the song played.

And on the seventh, all hell broke loose.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 6

Know how there are those times when you are listening to good music and you become “one” with it? How things around you kind of disappear, and how you swirl with the beat and the tune and you have no consciousness of anything around you? How, for example, the loudness of the music doesn’t register with you? Or you aren’t bothered by repeating that tune over and over and over again?

That’s what happened to Charley and Peggy Sue. Every time he got up to reset the stereo stylus to “Stairway to Heaven,” he also bumped up the volume a bit, and on the seventh time he played the song, the volume was full blast.

Neither one of them heard Mom complaining from her and Dad’s bedroom, “Turn the music down, please!”

Then, “TURN the music DOWN, please!”

“TURN THE MUSIC DOWN, PLEASE!!!”

“TURN THE GODDAM MUSIC DOWN – AND DO IT NOW!!!”

The couple, leg-locked and totally naked in Charley’s bed, were also totally lost in each other and the music. They never heard Mom’s vocal complaints. They didn’t hear Mom jump up out of her bed and stomp heavily down the hallway toward our bedroom. They were completely oblivious of anything else but the music and the moment.

Until Mom swung open the door, turned on the ceiling light and screamed at the top of her lungs,

“CHARLES FISHBURNE MILLER!? WHAT IN GAWD’S NAME IS GOING ON IN HERE?”

That scream awoke me from a very sensual dream that happened to star Peggy Sue, and it took me a few seconds to realize what was going on. Then I heard Peggy Sue and Charlie screaming, and Mom screaming, and Dad come out of his bedroom to join in the screaming.

Not exactly sure what to do, run or rescue, I chose to rescue, and bounded up the stairs to my bedroom.

Mom was in the middle of the bedroom flailing her arms at Charley and Peggy Sue, who were cowering behind the top bedsheet on his bed, and Dad was behind Mom, not sure where to look.

I walked in and Mom turned to me, possessed by a demon.

“WHAT IS YOUR PART IN THIS, YOUNG MAN?”

Not good. Her saying “YOUNG MAN” was not only high drama, but meant I was in deep doo-doo. But once again, as when Charley was being crushed and pummeled under a stack of bullies, I stepped in. Captain Rescue.

“It’s my fault, Mom. I set this up for Charley because of – well, (I looked quickly at Dad) – you know …”

“NO! I do NOT know! Because of what?”

I kept nodding my head toward Dad, not wanting to stress him with the revelation.

“You got a tick, Boy?” Dad said, his eyebrows arching close to his widow’s peak hairline.

“BECAUSE OF WHAT?” Mom demanded.

I looked over at Charley, who had closed his eyes and was slowly shaking his head.

“BECAUSE OF THE LEUKEMIA!” I exploded, tears bursting from my eyes. Peggy Sue also began to cry while Charley slowly crawled under the sheet.

“LEUKEMIA? WHAT LEUKEMIA?” Mom and Dad shouted in unison.

Then there was the pregnant pause.

My parents looked at me, and I and Peggy Sue looked at Charley, who was now bent over on his knees on the bed, covered by the sheet – except for his white behind, which was partially uncovered. That struck me hilarious in the moment, and while the seventh repetition of “Stairway to Heaven” ended and the scratch, scratch, scratch of the needle on blank vinyl began to repeat in the background, I started to laugh.

“Your ass is showing, Charley,” I said, a fit of laughter overwhelming me, so contagious eventually everyone in the room was bent over.

Somehow over the next few hours, after Charley and Peggy Sue had dressed themselves (she in the bathroom, and he under the covers), the truth unravelled. Only Mom and Dad were innocent. And, thank God, Dad didn’t keel over with a heart attack when he heard the word leukemia.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

Epilogue

All of us survived the experience, although Dad did finally drop dead on his desk at work a few years later. Mom remarried when she was older. A nice guy. A vegan.

Peggy Sue graduated high school, worked her way through a local college, and ended up running an auto tire place and making very good money. She married and had six children – all girls. I wonder if they were anything like she was. One can only hope.

Me? I fractured my hip during my sophomore year of college in a game against State, and paid the rest of my way through college making pizzas at Dominos. I ended up selling insurance, and doing pretty good. I’ve got a daughter and two sons, and do the “dad thing” – ball games and proms and – well, you know.

Charley? Charley was like the ugly duckling who transformed into quite a handsome guy in his 30s. He went to Duke on scholarship, and ended up on Wall Street, where he cleaned up, financially-speaking. He lives on the Upper East Side with his wife and one son. I think his skill at coming up with angles benefitted him and kept him in such good stead that he came to the attention of one of the biggest money moguls in Manhattan: a guy named Bernie Madoff. He has done incredibly well, and keeps begging me to come to New York and work with him.

As yet, I haven’t done so. I don’t know, maybe I’m not smart enough – and maybe it’s dumb not to take him up on it. But after that experience with him and Peggy Sue? I’ll stay here and be content with what I got. Besides, a Southern Boy in New York City? Nah. I’ll leave that to Charley and his angles. He’s more suited to the big city.

By the way, have you looked at whether or not you have enough insurance, lately?

 

The End.

BREAKING NEWS … !

20 Apr

BREAKING NEWS: Animal Federation employs MOAB* to send message to imminent domain residents.

SUGAR MTN, NC — The Western North Carolina Chapter of the Wild Animal Federation sent a definite message to residents of Chestnut Ridge in Sugar Mountain last night.

The message? GET OUT!

“We were here first,” said chapter spokes-“person” Pogo, an opossum elected by the Wild Animal Federation to represent their complaints.

“These interlopers, not to be confused with cantalopers or antelopers, forced their way onto our reservation without so much as a how-do-you-do. It’s gone on way too long. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to put up with it any longer!”

Bud, the bad-ass black bear who is the Enforcer of the group, volunteered to do the deed, which was under the cover of night.

“Sure, come sneaking up in the dark. Pretty cowardly if you ask me,” said one of two year-round residents.

“Fine with me,” said the other year-round resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “I got my 30-ought-6 loaded and at the window if they want to test me!”

“It’s not only the bears,” said the first residents. “Deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and crazy-ass Robins have colluded to make this serene and picturesque area a place of potential carnage! What we NEED is a wall to keep these critters OUT!”

Both sides have been reluctant to come to the bargaining table.

“Just look at me!” complained Bud, the alleged perpetrator of last night’s melee. “I’ve put on 183 pounds this month due to all of the sugar and fat these humans have tossed! It’s not only unHEALTHY for ME, it’s a cruel kind of baiting I think has got to stop. Look at all the damn bird feeders, for crissakes! There’s not a wren or a titmouse for miles around able to fend for themself anymore. They’ve all become dependant. It’s like — here’s some free and easy bird seed — come and get it! Then, in the winter, these snowbirds fly south and take their birdfeeders with them! That’s as bad as giving away a free hit of heroine, if you ask me!”

The decades-old battle between squatters (how the animals refer to the humans) and animals is not likely to find resolution any time soon.

“They are just not like us,” murmured Bud under his garbage breath.

“Animals is what they are!” replied one of the year-round residents.

*Mother of all Bears

 

Garbage carnage as a result of MOAB attack during last night’s raid

 

Expectations of the Anticipatory Kind

2 Nov

Expectations of the Anticipatory Kind

By L. Stewart Marsden

He stood in an awkward way,
Fidgeting with the watch in his pocket,
Rubbing his thumb over the smooth glass face and the protruding stem,
And remembering the words to the telegram,
Now indelibly etched in his memory:

Coming.
Stop.
Taking the 511 out of Philly 3 Oct.
Stop.
One trunk of clothing.
Stop.
Three day trip unless delays.
Stop.
There is no turning back now.
Stop.
Jane.

He leaned back and closed his eyes.
The late afternoon sun warmed his lids red from the inside.
He was reminded of a trip to a beach when he was young back East.
He lay on the sand, bathed in radiant heat from the sun.
Nearby waves crumbled onto the shore, creeping ever closer.

Notice:
Retired school teacher looking to relocate to the midwest.
Single, unmarried.
No children.
No emotional baggage.
Reasonably attractive.
Hard worker.
Marriage or companionship, preferably the former.
Respond to Box 14-U, …

And over the year, a conversation by mail.

I don’t know your name …
Jane
But if you don’t mind a small and simple house
Small and simple is fine
And a man who is straight-forward
I prefer an honest man
Who is sober
I do not drink whiskey
And is content to live within his means
I own two dresses and a ring my mother gave me, that is all
Then perhaps you will consider my proposal
Without a doubt!
To continue writing in order to know one another better
As you wish.
I was married before
I am fine with that. I have never been married.
But she died during the birth of our son
How heart-breaking!
And I have been making the best of life since
Perhaps a good woman might help fill that empty place?
As you can tell, I am not a man of letters
I prefer a simple man
And I am not inclined to attend church on Sundays
I understand. I can read my Bible by the fire.
But do, on occasion, go into town for levity and square dancing,
I have been known to dance on occasion myself.
I have 16 acres of land adjacent to a creek, which provides water
It sounds delightful
And I raise 20 or so head of cattle which I calf and keep along with the milk cows
Very pastoral! You could teach me to milk the cows?
Other than my best bull, the rest are sold and I make out okay
Again, I am not a presumptuous woman
I keep chickens and a few hogs, and have a small garden
You are a self-sufficient man, indeed!

The iron steam engine hissed into the station, coming to a gradual stop.
Porters and baggage men hopped into action, aiding and unloading passengers and luggage.
He stood straight up, pulled off his best hat, and spit-smoothed his hair along the sides of his head.
He yanked his britches up, and tightened his belt.
The end tip of a laced parasol appeared from the steps of one of the passenger cars, and a porter reached up from the platform.
A gloved hand next extended to take the offered help.
He stared, and held his breath.