One day my mother and I were home alone; I think I was about 9 years old. I was doing my homework and mom was cooking dinner when we heard someone knocking on our door. It was our neighbor Dotty Pessin who lived a few houses away with her husband and two teen-age sons. Dotty hardly ever stopped by so we were curious about her visit.
She and my mom made small talk for a little while then Dotty said in that whiney voice of hers, “So Nancy, I brought this record album over; I don’t know much about little girls so I hope you like it. It’s a record of kid’s songs. Why don’t you play it on your record player?”
Now this came as quite a surprise to me; it wasn’t my birthday or anything so I couldn’t understand why Dotty was giving me a gift. Even my mother was perplexed and said something like “That’s very thoughtful of you, Dotty” but Dotty just stood there smiling and watching me which was very surreal. Between you and me, I think she was a little simple-minded.
I removed the album from its jacket and placed it on my record player. I carefully lifted the arm and gently lowered the needle onto the record, then the three of us stood around listening to kid’s songs. I liked the record; I was 9 and they were kid songs. What’s not to like? After about four songs Dotty asked me what I thought of the record. I told her I thought it was very nice; I liked it a lot and thanked her for the gift.
I expected Dotty to say “I’m so glad you like it”, “You’re welcome”, “Enjoy it” or “You’re just the sweetest thing ever” – something along those lines. That’s not exactly how it went down. What she said was “Oh, it’s not for you! I bought the record for my friend’s 10-year-old daughter and I just wanted to see if you liked it. I figured if you liked it then she’d probably like it.”
Well, I may have been only 9 years old but I knew jive talkin’ when I heard it and I felt this whole scenario was pretty fucked up. My mother thought what Dotty did was rude, mean-spirited and misleading; I was just a little kid and mom gave Dotty a piece of her mind. My mother could really get medieval on someone’s ass when necessary. Dotty was bewildered and couldn’t understand why we were so upset. In a huff, she took the album and left. I think I may have cried; how would you have felt?
From that moment on Dotty Pessin became known as “Dotty Pessin, that Indian Giver” (which I realize today is totally un-PC and not acceptable).
But, come on; I ask you: who does that? After all these many years I remember that day like it was yesterday. Dotty-freaking-Pessin!
In response to my friends at Fandango’s One-Word Challenge, today’s word is “gambler.”
“So, kid, your ma says you wanna work on my horse ranch. Is that right?” Micah asked Billy Bob.
“Yes sir. I love everything ‘bout horses and I asked my ma if we can get one and she told me we couldn’t afford one so the only way I can be around horses was to come work on your ranch” Billy Bob answered, feet kicking up dust as he shuffled around nervously.
“What is it you love so much ‘bout horses, kid?” asked Micah.
“They’re the most beautiful animals I ever seen. I like the idea of taking a wild horse and workin’ with him every day, getting’ him to trust you” replied Billy Bob, his eyes lighting up with excitement.
“Breakin’ in a horse is one of hardest things I ever done, kid. Everything ‘bout being a horse rancher is hard. You ready for that?” Micah asked the kid.
“I reckon. All I know is I need to learn everything there is ‘bout horses, what makes ’em tick, how to train ’em to be the best horses ever. I can’t think of anything more excitin’ … except getting’ rich, that is.” Billy Bob answered. He had a burning in him that Micah saw clearly now.
Micah removed his Stetson, pulled out a bandana from his back pocket and wiped his brow. “Well, kid. You sure got the desire, needin’ to know everything ‘bout horses. But you gotta understand one thing ‘bout workin’ on a horse ranch: it ain’t gonna make you rich. That’s a real long shot!” Micah waited for Billy Bob’s reaction.
Billy Bob didn’t hesitate. “That’s ok, sir. I’m smart; that’s what everybody says anyway. I’ll learn right quick. Besides, I don’t plan on workin’ on a horse ranch forever. No sir. Once I know everything there is to know ‘bout horses, I’m gonna follow my dream.”
“And what’s your dream, kid” Micah asked, his curiosity aroused.
“I’m gonna be the smartest, most famous and richest gambler that ever was” Billy Bob replied with proud determination.
In January, 2021 I wrote a story with an unresolved ending called “On the Way”. It was one of several which I recorded and submitted to the BBC Radio show called Upload. When my story was broadcast on the air, the program host William Wright commented that he hoped some day I would write a follow-up. That comment stayed with me and fourteen months later I decided to do just that. That story was called “When the Fog Rolls In.” Recently I thought it would be interesting to combine the two stories by creating a new beginning and ending and tweaking sections within the body of the stories. Since then, I had the opportunity to enter a fiction writing contest; the call was for a 1,000 – 3,000 word mystery story. I decided to submit my reconstructed story. The word counter on my Microsoft Office page said the story was 2,654 words – not too shabby. I don’t enter many contests but every time I do I’m shocked by the number of writers who also submit stories. My stuff better be damn good if it stands a chance of winning against 400+ entries. Well, my story did not win but that’s okay; I tried my best and had fun creating this compilation. I am not deterred. The winning story was a masterpiece and deserved to come in 1st place so kudos to the author. Here is my story; I hope you enjoy ‘Screaming in the Night’.
“I can see it now! I can see it! Got to get it!!”
David Stapleton screamed in his sleep. He flailed about on his bed, entangled in a mass of sweaty sheets and blankets. David slowly started to come out of his stupor, stuck in a surreal and frightening dimension between sleep and wakefulness. His eyelids felt stuck together and his mouth was parched. His body was stiff and leaden, his breathing heavy, his heart beating rapidly. David wasn’t sure of his surroundings; was this real or was he reliving his worst nightmare?
Gradually David became more aware. Yes, it was as he feared – the uncontrollable, unstoppable dream, his nightly companion. He sat up in bed and reached for a cigarette. Flipping open his old, beat up lighter, he lit a Marlboro and inhaled deeply. He sat in silence, smoking and thinking, his thoughts spinning like a Vegas roulette wheel. Each night he crawled into bed exhausted, desperately in need of sleep yet terrified that the dream would come again.
David glanced at his alarm clock; 4:17 AM – ridiculously early but he knew he would not be falling back to sleep. He slipped on his sweatpants and shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee. While the coffee brewed, David stared into the oh so familiar fog. He lit another cigarette and thought about that night four years ago.
Four Years Earlier:
David drove home that dark and foggy night barely able to see the road ahead of him. An electrical storm that evening wreaked havoc with the streetlights on Route 718 causing them to flash at indiscriminate intervals. Even though his was the only car on the dimly lit road, the strobe effect from the lights was haphazard and dangerously distracting. There were shadows looming everywhere; David never saw the cyclist cross his path.
The impact was powerful yet made only a quiet thud like the subtle reload of a gun’s magazine. The visual impression, however, was appalling. The tableau switched to slow motion; David watched in horror as a mangled body performed a ‘danse macabre’ across the hood of his car while musical passages from “O Fortuna” screamed in his head. The cyclist soared through the air like an acrobat and landed in a twisted heap 20 feet or so away.
David sat motionless in his car; no other living creature was anywhere in sight. “What to do? What to do?” raced through his mind. He’d never had a car accident, not even a parking ticket. Now he had run someone down – an innocent cyclist. Was it a man or a woman? Surely this person would be missed by family and friends, perhaps his or her parents or – God forbid – their children. What a terrible fate, a horrible accident. Yes, David had a few drinks after work, just a few; the alcohol had to be out of his system by now. But wait; the cyclist wore no reflective clothing, not even a warning light on the bike’s handlebars or wheels. Out cycling in the night, alone; wasn’t that tempting fate? Maybe they got what they deserved.
Slowly David opened the door and looked around; the deafening silence was pounding in his brain, the absence of people other-worldly. With measured steps he approached the crumpled body. A gentle push of his booted foot confirmed what he already suspected: the cyclist was dead. A battered helmet sat near the edge of the road; the bright orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of the bicycle manufacturer in Austria stared at David accusingly. The longer he looked at the emblem the more he realized he had two choices: he could report the accident to the police and face the consequences or he could clean up this mess and get on with his life.
As he walked back to his car David knew what he had to do. A look at the front end showed very little damage, a small inconvenience he could deal with later. More pressing matters prevailed; first he had to extricate the bicycle from under his car. David sat in the driver’s seat, shifted the car into reverse and gently backed up. After a couple of seconds he could feel the car and the bicycle disengage.
The bike was a wreck but there wasn’t much debris on the road. Retrieving his leather jacket, David wrapped it around the top tube bar of the bike and carried it back to the dead cyclist. Taking a few steps away from the road he realized it would be easy to throw the bike over the edge, making it look like the cyclist had swerved off the road – if the body was ever found at all. He gave the bike a hefty toss and it disappeared into the woods below. With his foot David then rolled the cyclist’s body and helmet down the hill.
David walked back to his car and broke off a low hanging branch from a tree which he used to sweep the road clear of any pieces of glass or metal. Getting back into the car, he turned on the radio and cranked up the volume; his adrenaline was pumping.
“Ok” David murmured to himself. “It’s all gonna be ok. Just one last thing. Got to take care of that little dent in the hood of my car.” David kept driving until he reached a busy gas station. As he drove up to a pump, he intentionally smashed into a metal barrier; witnesses could attest to the fender bender.
David’s decision to flee the scene was fueled by fear and self-preservation. Now as he drove home he felt much more relaxed and confident. He reached for his jacket but it wasn’t there. His face went pale and he broke out in a cold sweat. Closing his eyes he could clearly see his jacket wrapped around the bicycle, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods.
Four Years Later:
Tom Delaney sat alone at his favorite bar sipping his third bourbon. Life had quickly gone down the shitter a few months ago when he bet big time on a “sure thing” that didn’t pan out. That was one of Tom’s biggest faults; he was always looking for the quick fix, the money angle, whether legit or not. Now here he was, a 38-year-old washed up ex PI with a huge chip on his shoulder, a failed marriage and no money.
When the bartender announced closing time, Tom begrudgingly slid off his stool and made his way to his car. He took Route 718 toward his parent’s cabin which they left to him in their will. With no other known relatives, Tom was totally alone trying to get his life back on track. So far he wasn’t having much luck.
The weather was changing and when the fog rolls in, driving on 718 gets hairy.
He wasn’t on the road very long when he found himself in pea soup conditions. Suddenly a deer appeared out of nowhere and Tom swerved, coming to a screeching stop. After a brief standoff, the deer gracefully bounded down the steep edge and disappeared into the thick woods.
Shaken, Tom settled himself in his car. The glow of the headlights picked up the reflection a shiny object in the thicket below. Being a curious type, Tom drove his car closer to the edge and grabbed a flashlight from the backseat. Gingerly he made his way down the side of the bluff landing on a heavily overgrown outcropping about 15 feet below. He walked around for a few minutes before his foot came in contact with an unknown object; whatever it was rolled a couple of feet away. Tom walked over and crouched down for a better look; the item turned out to be a battered helmet with the weather-beaten orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of a bicycle manufacturer.
Disappointed that his find wasn’t something valuable, Tom stood up to leave. He took a few steps and heard a strange ‘crunch’ under his Doc Martens. Shining his flashlight on his boot, Tom couldn’t believe what was buried under the leaves and debris.
“Holy shit! A human skeleton!” Tom immediately remembered the helmet. “Poor guy must have ridden his bicycle off the road. Wonder where the bike is?” Tom panned the area with his flashlight. He was about to give up when something caught his eye. “Well, well, what have we here?” Tom moved some leaves out of the way and discovered a fanny pack which he took, clipping it onto a loop on his jeans. Maybe he’d get lucky and find some money in the bag.
Deciding to investigate a little more, Tom eventually came across the bicycle caught up in a large bush. It was a mangled mess, certainly of no value to him; nearby was a moldy leather jacket. Tom snagged the jacket and went through the pockets; nothing. Noticing a zippered inner compartment, he found an iPhone inside. Slipping the phone into his rear pocket, Tom slowly pulled himself up the cliff to his car and drove off. He left the scene with that uneasy, suspicious feeling he’d get while working on a case. Old habits die hard.
Once home, Tom reached into his rear pocket and retrieved the phone he found in the leather jacket. He emptied the contents of the fanny pack onto the kitchen counter: assorted crap, a wallet and an iPhone. “Hmm. Two phones. Why would one person need two iPhones? Maybe two people were there that night. What the hell happened? Was this the scene of an accident or a crime?” Tom’s PI sixth sense was working overtime now.
Both phones were wet. Drying them off, Tom placed the phones and SIM cards into two separate Ziploc bags filled with silica gel packets he had stockpiled. They’d have to dry out a day or two. Next he went through the wallet: $47 which he immediately pocketed, an expired debit card and a driver’s license. The license was issued to Joseph Barnes, 312 Ogden Terrace, Sparta, NJ. – a 90-minute drive from Tom’s cabin.
Tom broke out his own iPhone and Googled ‘Joseph Barnes, Sparta, NJ’; it took a little while as he scrolled down then BINGO! There it was – a missing person flyer dated January 2018. Last known location was Bethlehem, PA – a few miles from the cabin. There was a phone number to call. A picture of Joseph Barnes on a bike holding a KTM helmet smiled at Tom; the same face was on the driver’s license.
While the phones dried out, Tom spent most of the following day at Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem playing the penny slots with Joseph Barnes’ $47. He was on a roll and left the casino with $100 in his pocket. Tom couldn’t wait any longer and anxiously drove home to see if he could get the iPhones up and running.
He took the phones out of the bags, inserted the SIM cards and turned them on; both phones started up. To Tom’s amazement, neither phone needed a passcode. Checking ‘Settings’ on both phones, he found what he suspected all along: one phone belonged to Joseph Barnes and the other belonged to someone named David Stapleton from Allentown, PA.
“David, David, David. Why were you on Route 718 that night and what did you do to Joseph Barnes?” he thought. Tom realized that after four years David Stapleton could be anywhere with a different identity, job and phone number but there was only one way to find out. After his win at the casino, he was feeling lucky. This could be the big break he was waiting for.
Slipping the two phones into his pockets, Tom drove to his favorite bar. On the corner was an old phone booth with a pay telephone – the untraceable kind. Tom opened David’s iPhone; there were two different phone numbers for him. Tom hesitated for a minute thinking about his days as a PI.
Instinct took over, suggesting he ignore the first number on David’s phone and go for the second one. Tom reasoned that the first number was likely David’s cell number; there was a chance the second number was for a business or a house for David – anything that might provide a clue. It was worth a shot. After all, Tom wasn’t looking to talk to David just yet; all he wanted was a lead.
Tom dropped two quarters into the public phone slot and dialed the second number on David’s cell. The call was answered on the third ring. “Hi. This is David at Stapleton Plumbing and Heating in Allentown. We’re closed now but will reopen at 8 AM. Please call back then.”
Pay dirt! Tom Delaney may be down but he wasn’t out! He’d head back to the cabin and Google Stapleton Plumbing and Heating for an address. But first a little celebration – some pleasant company at the bar with his old friend Jim Beam.
Sipping his drink, Tom could practically smell the shakedown money he’d be raking in. As he drove home from the bar, the ubiquitous late-night fog rolled in. Tom was momentarily blinded by a pair of oncoming headlights and swerved right to avoid a collision. He turned the steering wheel sharply and his car plowed through bushes, bounced off trees, rolled over itself down the steep hill and crash-landed upside down in a ravine at the bottom of the cliff before it burst into flames.
Poor Tom. Just when things were starting to look up. Karma’s a bitch.
A few hours later David Stapleton once again found himself in the clutches of his bedtime companion – the ever-present nightmare. He woke up drenched in sweat and bolted straight out of bed, his heart racing. He felt nauseous and dizzy. Staggering into the bathroom, he grasped the edge of the sink staring at his sweat-soaked face in the mirror.
“How could you have been so callous leaving that cyclist? How have you been living with yourself the past four years?” This wasn’t living, he realized, knowing every day would end with the same hellish nightmare.
David stood in the bathroom and closed his eyes; he could clearly see his leather jacket wrapped around the bicycle he threw over the cliff four years ago, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods – the same dream that left him screaming in the night, every night, for the past four years. “I can see it now!” he sobbed. “I can see it.”
Overcome with fear, exhaustion and remorse, David walked out the back door of his apartment above the plumbing business. Barefoot and shirtless, he was unfazed by the cold and dense fog rolling in. Blindly he went down the damp rickety steps and walked deeper in the woods behind his apartment – unseeing, uncaring.
Suddenly David felt a searing pain in his chest. Gasping for air, he clutched his arm and fell to his knees, rolling down the wet, moss-covered precipice in the woods. Ten seconds later, David Stapleton was sprawled out in the shrouded morass 30 feet below, dead from a massive heart attack.
Was it a heart attack that killed David Stapleton or overwhelming guilt? No one will ever know for sure. David never knew that with Tom’s death he was completely in the clear of any crime; the only evidence – the phone that tied him to that horrible accident – was now in the jacket pocket of Tom Delaney’s incinerated body.
Tom and David – both dead on the same night a few miles apart – one hunting and the other haunted.
It was the middle of February, probably one of the coldest days of the year, but that didn’t bother me. I liked the cold; people just assumed my persistent runny nose and watery eyes were from the harsh weather when in reality the cause was yet another hit of cocaine – my constant companion, my best friend and my most insidious opponent.
I was waiting outside the NY Public Library in Manhattan for my guy to show up with that lovely little glassine envelope of blow. He was running late, as usual, and I was freezing my ass off, so I decided to wait in the lobby. At least it was a little warmer.
Just a few feet from the entrance sat a bench where I took up residence. I was starting to get agitated, my fingernails tap-tapping on the wooden slats. It had been several hours since my last snort – an eternity for an addict – and I couldn’t still my scattered mind. A prune-faced woman sitting on a bench opposite me kept looking from my fingers to my face, clearly annoyed. Self-consciously I put my hands in my pockets, immediately coming in contact with my little amber bottle with the attached spoon – what a clever design that was, although I must admit the one with the little golden spoon neatly built into the inside bottom of the lid was pure genius. You know the one I’m talking about. OK – this was a nice surprise! I’d completely forgotten about it when I changed jackets the other day; I always keep my stash in my backpack.
Elated, I wrapped my fingers around the bottle, delighting in the feel of the all-too-familiar smooth surface. I could just walk to the corner of the lobby and pretend to blow my nose while actually taking a hit. I’ve done it a hundred times. One quick glance at the bottle and I cursed; it was empty. Hoping against hope, I decided to check my backpack just in case I’d hidden a spare bottle.
I reached down to retrieve my backpack from under the bench when I caught a glimpse of a bright pink book, obviously forgotten or misplaced by a library patron. Being a curious sort, I reached over to check it out and my heart stopped; in bold black print was the title of the book – QUITTING COCAINE: YOUR PERSONAL RECOVERY PLAN. That book and I stared at each other for a full five minutes. Was this some kind of joke, a sign of divine intervention or just a crazy coincidence. Well, I’m not the type who believes in coincidences; everything in our lives happens for a reason, whether we like it or not.
My leg was bouncing up and down like a jackhammer – something that always happened when I needed a hit – so I put my backpack on my lap, crossed my legs and snuck a peek at the book. The first line was a blistering slap across the face: “Keep shoving coke up your nose and you’ll be dead by this time next year.” No “probably” or “there’s a chance”; just a flat-out death sentence, literally. I read the first chapter in five minutes; still no sign of my guy so I continued reading. Forty-five minutes later I’d read the whole book and still no delivery. But I realized my leg had stopped bouncing; when did that happen?
Slipping the book into my backpack I noticed the author’s name on the back cover: Dr. Arnold M. Washton, an internationally recognized psychologist and author specializing in substance abuse treatment. A little further down was a picture of the good doctor, an email address, phone number and the location of his office. Holy shit! This was definitely no coincidence. His office was about a three-minute walk from where I sat at the library.
For the first time in my pathetic and broken life I felt like I had a purpose. I left the library and walked straight to Dr. Washton’s office. I had no idea if the place was even open but I knew I had to take the chance. When I arrived I hesitated for a second, then rang the bell. Immediately there was a buzz and the door unlocked. As I entered I heard a man’s voice call out “In here” and I walked into a dimly lit office. It was a very calming room with the smell of leather and black cherry pipe tobacco.
Dr. Washton sat in a large over-stuffed chair next to a blazing fireplace reading a book. He took the pipe from his mouth and looked up at me; his eyes were warm and kind.
“I need help” was all I said.
“Then you’ve come to the right place” was his response.
David’s decision to flee the scene was fueled by fear, self-preservation and adrenaline. An electrical storm during the night wreaked havoc with the streetlights causing them to flash at indiscriminate intervals. Even though his was the only car on the dimly lit road, the strobe effect from the lights was haphazard and dangerously distracting. There were shadows looming everywhere; David never saw the cyclist cross his path.
The impact was powerful yet made only a quiet thud like the subtle reload of a gun’s magazine. The visual impression, however, was appalling. The tableau switched to slow motion; David watched in horror as a mangled body performed a ‘danse macabre’ across the hood of his car while musical phrases from “O Fortuna” screamed in his head. The cyclist soared through the air like an acrobat and landed in a twisted heap fifty feet or so from the car.
David sat motionless in his car; no other living creature was anywhere in sight. “What to do? What to do?” raced through his mind. He’d never had a car accident, not even a parking ticket. Now he had run someone down – an innocent cyclist. Was it a man or a woman? Surely this person would be missed by family and friends, perhaps his or her parents or – God forbid – their children. What a terrible fate, a horrible accident. Yes, David had a few drinks with friends after work, just a few; the alcohol had to be out of his system by now. But wait; the cyclist wore no reflective clothing, not even a warning light on the bike’s handlebars or wheels. Out cycling in the night, alone; wasn’t that tempting fate? Maybe they got what they deserved.
Slowly David opened the door and looked around; the deafening silence was pounding in his brain, the absence of people other-worldly. With measured steps he approached the crumpled body. A gentle push of his booted foot confirmed what he already suspected: the cyclist was dead. A battered helmet sat near the edge of the road; the bright orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of the bicycle manufacturer in Austria stared at David accusingly. The longer he looked at the emblem the more he realized he had two choices: he could report the accident to the police and face the consequences or he could clean up this mess and get on with his life.
As he walked back to his car David knew what he had to do. A look at the front end showed very little damage, a small inconvenience he could deal with later. More pressing matters prevailed; first he had to extricate the bicycle from under his car. David sat in the driver’s seat, shifted the car into reverse and gently backed up. After a couple of seconds he could feel the car and the bicycle disengage.
The bike was a wreck but there wasn’t much debris on the road. Retrieving his jacket, David wrapped it around the top tube bar and carried the bike back to the dead cyclist. Taking a few steps away from the road he realized it would be easy to throw the bike over the edge, making it look like the cyclist had swerved off the road – if the body was ever found at all. He gave the bike a hefty toss and it disappeared onto the woods below. With his foot David then rolled the cyclist’s body and helmet down the hill.
David walked back to his car and broke off a low hanging branch from a tree which he used to sweep the road clear of any pieces of glass or metal. Getting back into the car, he turned on the radio and cranked up the volume; the song was Euclid’s “On the Way”, his favorite revolutionary political heavy metal band.
“Ok” David murmured to himself. “It’s all gonna be ok. Just one last thing. Got to take care of that little dent in the hood of my car.” David kept driving until he reached a busy gas station. He drove up to a pump, intentionally smacking into a metal barrier; witnesses could attest to the mishap.
David drove home feeling much more relaxed and confident. He reached for his jacket but it wasn’t there. His face went pale and he broke out in a cold sweat. Closing his eyes he could clearly see his jacket wrapped around the bicycle, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods.
“Horizontally is the traditional position, Tom. I’m not sure how I feel about this. And you springing it on me after all these years!”
“I know this may seem a bit out there, Laura, but honestly – people have done weirder things.”
“Maybe so, Tom, but standing up?Let’s face it – this ‘thing’ is really huge and you know it! How will we keep from falling over?”
“You’ve never been a scaredy cat before, Laura. You’ll be well protected, wrapped in my loving arms just like a fuzzy little caterpillar in a cozy cocoon.”
“But Tom, what will other people think? I can just imagine the look on my sister’s face when she hears about this.”
“Other people, Laura? Who cares what they think?! Why should the things we do and the decisions we make in the privacy of our own home matter to other people? Donna and Joe will probably be jealous they didn’t give it a whirl themselves.”
“You’re right, of course, Tom, but let’s consider Donna and Joe for a minute. They’ve been in our lives forever. Don’t you think they‘ll be rather shocked?”
“Only if you tell them, Laura. And by then the deed will be done! Hell! They might even want to join in. Donna IS your twin sister, after all; I kinda like the idea of that! The more the merrier! Lord knows, we have plenty of room. Let’s step out of that damn box and throw caution to the wind.”
“Thomas Hastings, you’re such a devil sometimes!”
“And you love it! What do you say, Laura? You ready to give it a go?”
“As usual you’ve talked me into it. I can’t resist you and your wild ideas. Let’s do it, Tom!”
“Fantastic! You will not be sorry, Laura. Just get yourself nice and comfy. Hang on, baby. Give me one little second. OK, I’m in!”
“Hello. Thank you for using the live chat app at Tower of Memories. This is Melissa. How can I help you?”
“Melissa, this is Tom Hastings. Laura and I have talked about your proposal and we’re ready to take the plunge.”
“That’s exciting news, Tom! You won’t regret choosing vertical burial plots here at Tower of Memories.”
Despite great wealth and prominence, nothing could save Andre Deloitte’s wife Claudine.
The year was 1910. Andre, Claudine and their ten-year-old son Henri lived on Breakneck Lane in the exclusive Garden Heights section of New Orleans, Louisiana. Their majestic manor, “Mon Rêve”, was Claudine’s dream home but she detested the foreboding name of the street. Andre reassured Claudine she was just being silly and superstitious and the family happily settled into their home. The popular couple hosted extravagant parties and entertained the rich and famous from all parts of the world.
Andre owned the illustrious Deloitte Jewelers. His clientele was elite – oil tycoons, judges, entertainers, governors and successful entrepreneurs such as Miss Lulu White, “Queen of the Demi Monde” and madam of the elegant bordello Mahogany Hall in Storyville, the infamous red-light district of New Orleans.
It was during one of their lavish soirees when the Deloitte’s dreamworld turned into a nightmare. Claudine was making her usual grand entrance down the marble staircase when the heel of her shoe became entangled in the hem of her gown. She fell, landing at the foot of the stairs like a mangled doll, her lovely neck snapping like a twig; she died instantly. Claudine’s apprehension towards Breakneck Lane wasn’t so silly after all.
Andre was devastated by Claudine’s death and threw himself into his work. Henri was left in the care of the household staff and a kindly au pair named Josephine. The boy missed his mother very much but thrived under the tutelage of his caregivers. As he grew into his teen years it became obvious to Josephine that Henri needed his father’s guidance more than ever. Andre decided the best course of action was to bring Henri into the family business.
Henri enjoyed being in the shop with his father and soon became quite knowledgeable about gems and precious metals, even demonstrating a flair for designing jewelry. Andre told Henri he had a highly regarded client located across town who was interested in buying several one-of-a-kind pieces. Andre urged his son to accompany him to his patron’s residence where they would display Henri’s unique creations. The cient was Madam Lulu White.
Mahogany Hall was home to “women of the night”. Girls lounged on sofas, their unfastened robes revealing supple naked bodies. Others wore filmy shawls with intriguing thigh-high striped stockings with high heels. Henri blushed when he realized a few of the girls were eyeing the bulge in his pants – something that bewildered yet excited the inexperienced teen.
Henri spoke to his father about the allure of Mahogany Hall and his desire to return. Andre realized there was no stopping Henri and smiled knowingly as he drank his cup of Bowdoin Chicory Coffee. “Just don’t fall in love, son” was Andre’s advice.
Fascinated by everything about Mahogany Hall, Henri returned the next day. As he walked around the estate he became aware of soft music and followed the sound to a small parlor. There, at a spindle leg table in the middle of the room sat the most alluring creature imaginable. She sipped a glass of Raleigh Rye, her lacy manteau barely covering her breasts. There was a hint of a smile on her face and her eyes fluttered in a dream-like state. Sensing Henri’s presence, she looked up and smiled. Placing her glass on the table, she slowly removed the pins from her hair. Her eyes danced seductively as waves of chestnut hair cascaded around her shoulders. Mesmerized, Henri could not control his burgeoning erection. He smiled back.
“Enchanté. I am Henri Deloitte.”
The girl replied “I know who you are. I hoped you would ask for me. I am Isabelle Badet.”
Despite his father’s warning, sixteen-year-old Henri fell hopelessly in love.
For the next year Henri was a frequent visitor at Mahogany Hall. He made his wishes clear to Madam Lulu that Isabelle was to see no other men; he was happy to pay dearly for the luxury of having her exclusively to himself.
In November of 1917 the government abruptly shut down Storyville and Mahogany Hall was forced to close its doors. Henri searched frantically for Isabelle but Madam Lulu and all the girls were gone. Despondent, Henri joined the army, fighting overseas in World War I. The young lovers never saw each other again. The birth of Evan Deloitte the following May was Isabelle’s most treasured memory of her blissful love affair with Henri.
On a whim my husband and I decided to ride our bicycles to Shrewsbury. The village was not far – a little over four miles. We would stop for lunch at one of the charming cafes.
It was a lovely Spring day, comfortably warm with a few wisps of clouds. Horses and cows grazed contentedly in the fields. A pond sparkled radiantly in the sunshine. Two swans performed a graceful ballet, their cygnets following closely. An elderly couple cheerfully waved at us as we rode by.
Shrewsbury appeared as we rounded a bend in the road; carefree diners were arriving for lunch. We leaned our bicycles against the fence of a nearby school and walked to a romantic-looking cafe. After a delightful meal we happily strolled to the school to retrieve our bicycles for the ride home.
This was without a doubt the most perfect day we’d ever had!
Without warning the sky started turning grey and the wind began blowing. Arriving at the school we were shocked to discover our bikes were gone; we had no choice but to walk home. Suddenly thunder and lightning crackled in the foreboding sky and heavy rain began pouring down on us. We trudged on, cursing with every step we took.
We were drenched, our shoes covered in mud. Exhausted, we argued terribly about who forgot to bring the bicycle locks. Everything turned into a total disaster and we stopped talking altogether.
This was without a doubt the worst day we’d ever had!
Resemblance can be a freaky thing. Supposedly everyone has a doppelgänger; someone out there is a duplicate of you with your mother’s eyes, your father’s nose and that annoying mole you’ve always wanted to have removed. Apparently there’s a 1 in 135 chance that there are several pairs of clones walking around, each completely unaware of the other’s existence.
Speaking of doppelgängers, my husband has an identical twin – exactly the same in every way except their political leanings and choice in women. All their lives people have called Bill by his brother’s name and the same is true of Jim. Even our sons look more like brothers than cousins and have been confusing people for years.
In his late teens Bill had a cyst just below his right eye. After surgery he was left with a tiny, almost imperceptible scar. At last, something to differentiate the twins! A few months later while doing repairs on a boat, Jim turned his head abruptly, banged into a pipe and cut his face. He now has a tiny, almost imperceptible scar in the exact place as Bill. Identical right down to their scars!
My cousin Franco has lived his entire life in Sicily. The first time my family traveled to Europe I was about 14 years old and met my cousin for the first time. The strong resemblance between us was undeniable. We could easily pass for fraternal twins or, at the very least, siblings. It was simultaneously amusing and disconcerting for both of us. Everyone referred to us as “I Gemelli” – “The Twins” – so named for the thin tubes of pasta twisted around each other. Fifty-plus years later and our resemblance remains strong; however, Franco has a mustache and beard and I, fortunately, do not!
It’s been said, and scientists concur, that the longer people have a pet the more they begin to resemble that pet. Pure-bred dogs have been matched to their owners by strangers time and time again. I wonder if the same can be said about husbands and wives or perhaps even friends. Apparently, that phenomenon is true. I can’t explain it – I’m not a scientist, just a writer of stories. However, the possibility became quite real when events unfolded at my son’s wedding.
There were many people in attendance, friends and family alike. My sister Rosemarie was one of the guests as was Debby, my next-door neighbor and best friend for the past 35 years. I should point out at this time that while Rosemarie and I have some familial similarities, we really don’t look alike.
Time arrived for the family photo session. The music was playing, people were dancing the Macarena and mingling about. Janet, the wedding photographer was scrambling around trying to wrangle immediate family members for photos. Craning her neck for a better look into the crowded room, Janet turned to me in surprise and said, “You’ve been keeping secrets from me!”
I was rather perplexed by that comment and asked Janet what she meant, to which she replied, “I know your husband has a twin brother but I had no idea you have a twin sister!”
Then it hit me: Janet was talking about my friend Debby who does indeed look a lot more like my sister than my real sister! Many people have said we look like twins and it just so happened, totally by coincidence, that Debby and I were wearing the same dress that day; the only difference was I wore deep purple while Debby chose black.
I laughed and said to Janet “I really hate to burst your bubble but she’s not my sister; she’s my best friend.” I spotted Rosemarie in the crowd and pointed her out to the photographer. “See the woman in the cream-colored dress? That’smy sister.”
It took a lot of convincing for Janet to accept the fact that Debby wasn’t my twin sister; I think she may still be somewhat skeptical. I wonder: would the same people who matched the pet owners with their dogs match me and Debby as twins?
It all came about one day in April. Newly divorced, I had recently moved into a house in the country and was enjoying my morning coffee on the patio. Birds of many different varieties flitted about the bushes and fruit trees in the yard next door. Even a couple of deer and a few rabbits were contentedly munching on the grass. I felt like I was in the middle of a Disney movie and wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the animals started singing!
Looking around my property I couldn’t help but compare my landscaping to that of my neighbor Marjorie. Hers was overflowing with every sort of plant imaginable while mine had a paltry number of pitiful-looking bushes on the verge of death. Right then I began to envision my very own Garden of Eden; there would be shrubs and trees and flowers everywhere, even a few statues and perhaps a water feature. My yard was going to be even better than Marjorie’s!
Perhaps her ears were burning or it was just a coincidence but at that very moment Marjorie turned in my direction. Even from thirty feet away I could see her beady eyes squinting at me. A rather obese woman, she was sweating profusely as she labored in her garden, her ridiculously small bonnet providing little shade to her balloon-like face. I waved to her but she didn’t wave back; either she didn’t see me or she chose to ignore me. Marjorie wasn’t all shits and giggles. Her husband left her for another woman (no big surprise there!) and her grown children lived far away. It seemed like her only joy in life was gardening.
Being a city boy I knew nothing about gardening so I called the local nursery where one could get anything from a watering can to a majestic pine tree. One of the workers came by a few hours later and walked through the property with me, making suggestions as we went along. I told him how much I wanted to spend and gave him free reign to plant whatever he thought best – the more impressive the better.
A few days later the nursery truck arrived at my house. I caught a glimpse of Marjorie peeking through her curtains as my purchases were unloaded and carried into my yard. The landscapers got to work planting everything from small flowering shrubs to walls of bamboo. They put in a birdbath and several animal statues as well as a Japanese-inspired water feature. Before my eyes the once barren desert was now a flourishing oasis. Take that, Marjorie!
My new bountiful yard only spurred her on to do even more planting; every time she added something new, so would I. It became a childish game of retaliation.
Returning home from shopping one day I was shocked to see a police car and an ambulance outside Marjorie’s house; she had suffered a fatal heart attack while working in her garden. Well, there certainly was no love lost between us but I never wished the woman any harm. I hoped whoever moved in next door would treat Marjorie’s yard with the same tender loving care.
A few weeks later I woke up to the screeching sounds of power tools. Unable to see through my dense hedges, I walked to Marjorie’s old place; all her marvelous landscaping was being leveled to the ground! After everything was hauled away a bulldozer began digging a huge hole for a swimming pool. Week after week work continued on the pool. Occasionally I’d see two attractive women talking in the driveway, obviously the real estate agent and the new homeowner.
Finally one August day all was quiet; the pool construction was complete. I had asked my friends Charlie and Frank to come over to help me install my new 80″ flat-screen TV. Afterwards as we sat on the patio enjoying burgers and ice cold beer we became aware of the sound of splashing water and girlish laughter.
“Damn kids!” I grumbled, rolling my eyes.
Charlie nearly spit out his beer. “Don’t tell me you don’t know!”
“Know what?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You dumb son of a bitch!” Frank howled. “You got two super hot chicks living next door to you! You could be savoring some girl-on-girl action right now if it wasn’t for that damn bamboo curtain!”
“You mean those two women are a couple?” I asked Frank in disbelief.
“Oh yes, my friend. Very much so!” Frank replied cracking up.
Damn! I just couldn’t let old Marjorie win. Hoisted by my own petard!
Death comes suddenly to some; for others it takes a lifetime.
It was Good Friday of 1946; Kathleen O’Brien walked through a narrow cobblestone passage way to St. Brigid’s Church. She hated walking by Sully’s Bar with its overpowering stench of booze and abundance of seedy characters hanging around but she was late for services (a terrible habit) and this was a convenient shortcut. She was twenty-two years old – no longer a kid – yet she’d rather die than admit to her mother that she missed the Veneration of the Cross. It was bad enough she was late for everything.
Seeing an unfamiliar man drinking a beer and leaning against the wall outside Sully’s, Kathleen quickened her pace. She heard him chuckle and say “What’s ya hurry, toots?” She walked even faster, opening the side door of the church; it creaked loudly. The elderly priest paused in mid-sentence and made a grand gesture of looking in Kathleen’s direction; he stared at her over his glasses, giving her a withering scowl. Embarrassed, she quickly found a seat at the end of a pew next to Mrs. Callahan who huffed at having to make room for this rude latecomer.
As is the tradition on Good Friday, everyone remained after services for a period of silent prayer. It was a time to reflect and meditate, one of Kathleen’s favorite parts of Holy Week. When the ushers opened the church doors the sense of peacefulness and solemnity was instantly shattered by the loud music and drunken laughter emanating from Sully’s Bar. “Some people have no respect” thought Kathleen angrily. “An Irish pub shouldn’t even be open on Good Friday!“
As she began her walk home Kathleen noticed the same man from the bar standing at the corner. Had he been waiting for her or was this just a coincidence? Warily Kathleen took a step when suddenly the man started walking right toward her. She was taken aback as he stood in her path and extended his hand. “Name’s Harry Selkin and you’re one fine lookin’ dame. Ya need somebody like me to walk ya home. It can be dangerous for a good Catholic girl like yourself to be alone in this neck of the woods.”
“Where do you get off saying something like that to me?” Kathleen snapped. “And how do you know I’m a good Catholic girl anyway?”
“Well, I ain’t no Einstein but I seen ya practically runnin’ to St. Brigid’s like ya pants was on fire and I’m guessin‘ yaain’t no altar boy – not withthem gorgeouslegs.” Harry replied in a very ‘Bogey’ sort of way. He smiled and his tough guy persona became surprisingly charming. Kathleen found it hard not to laugh just a little at this roguish stranger and she shocked herself by allowing him to walk her home.
Harry and Kathleen were as different as a gorilla and a swan but there was an undeniable chemistry between them and they started falling in love. No one was more surprised than Kathleen; Harry was like no man she had ever met. Sure, he was rough around the edges but she loved how his face lit up like a kid whenever he ate dessert, especially his favorite – homemade apple pie. Kathleen was known for her baking skills and would make a pie for Harry every couple of days.
They had a whirlwind courtship and Harry popped the question, much to Kathleen’s delight – and her parent’s chagrin. At first they tolerated the relationship thinking it would blow over, but the more serious it got the more concerned they became. There was a major obstacle her parents couldn’t overlook – the fact that Harry was Jewish. Kathleen’s father was dead set against Harry, calling him names like ‘Christ killer’ and ‘kike’. He was enraged when Kathleen announced that she and Harry were going to get married with or without his blessing. Her mother was crushed. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Can’t you see he’s no good for you? I don’t trust him at all, Katy girl, not at all!” she warned, crying into her apron. Kathleen hated defying her parents but would not be dissuaded; she was in love! Her father said she was a blind fool and if she married “that good-for-nothing bum” she was dead to him. With a heavy heart Kathleen closed the door of her childhood home behind her and never looked back.
Harry and Kathleen got married in city hall, the judge and his clerk their only guests and witnesses. After a weekend honeymoon in Niagara Falls the couple settled into Harry’s tiny apartment – a walk-up on the fifth floor and almost within arm’s reach of the elevated train. Kathleen was startled by the scream of the locomotive but Harry said she’d get used to it.
The dilapidated condition of the apartment shocked Kathleen but she was determined to turn it into a lovely home for them. She sewed curtains and towels for the kitchen and bought bed coverings from the thrift store. She also bought sacks of apples from the fruit stand to make Harry’s beloved apple pies. She read in her cookbook that it was alright to freeze apples until you were ready to use them – a handy tip Kathleen didn’t know.
Harry worked the graveyard shift as a printer at the local newspaper, seven days a week from midnight till 8:00 AM. His fingers were permanently stained with black ink. The first morning he came home from work and saw the newly decorated apartment, he got angry at Kathleen for spending his hard-earned money on unnecessary things. Uncaring, he left ink stains on the bedspread when he sat down to remove his shoes. However his mood lightened considerably when he eyed the sacks of apples and Kathleen forgave his angry outburst when she saw that boyish grin.
While Harry slept during the day Kathleen cleaned, shopped and cooked. She wanted a vacuum cleaner but Harry said it was too expensive and the noise would keep him awake so she settled for a carpet sweeper. Their only chance to be together was at breakfast and dinner time – and of course for coffee and dessert. Kathleen suggested a few times that it would be nice if Harry worked during the day so they could be like a normal couple and spend more time together but her words fell on deaf ears.
She also longed for a baby. Each time she thought she was pregnant it turned out to be a false alarm. She saw a doctor who wasn’t very encouraging; he shrugged his shoulders, gave her ambiguous explanations and performed a couple of routine tests. He told her it was just one of those things; not all couples could get pregnant. When Kathleen finally got up the nerve to mention to Harry what the doctor said, he laughed and said it wasn’t his fault she couldn’t get pregnant; “Just ask that sweet little Frenchie I knocked up during the war” was his mean-spirited reply. Kathleen felt like she’d been kicked in the gut. When she cried that she needed something else to fill her lonely days Harry yelled to “go get a job and start earnin’ ya keep around here! Who needs another mouth to feed anyways?” Kathleen was reeling; how could he say such hurtful things? Heartbroken, she eventually gave up on having a baby and found a job as a presser in a shirt factory. The work was exhausting and she still had to maintain the apartment and cook for Harry.
What happened to the guy she married? Harry was constantly annoyed about something or other and drank more now than usual. He got mean when he drank and and Kathleen bore the brunt of his anger. When he demanded sex every night before going to work, she kept her mouth shut but she was silently screaming. This was no way to exist, like a piece of property and not a person. She’d lie awake at night remembering her mother’s warning words. The only thing in her God-forsaken life that she truly enjoyed was baking and she did it all for Harry. She would fantasize about how lovely it would be to have her own little bake shop; she’d make lots of delicious cakes and pies for her large following of loyal customers – not just for her selfish husband. She knew she could do it if she only had the chance.
A few weeks after Kathleen began working she started complaining about backaches and being very tired – probably from constantly lifting the heavy pressing machines at work. Harry, as usual, was unsympathetic and said she better toughen up because no way was she giving up that job.
One morning Kathleen asked Harry if he could bring down the mixing bowl she kept on top of the fridge so she could make an apple pie. He was tired from working all night and wanted to get to sleep but he obliged her at the prospect of dessert. Harry put down his bottle of beer and got the step-stool out of the closet. As he started to climb, Kathleen hoisted a five pound sack of frozen apples, wincing at the pain in her back, and bashed Harry as hard as she could on the back of his head. He fell backwards onto the kitchen floor, his lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling.
Kathleen hurriedly tore open the sack of apples and dumped them into a pot on the stove. She shoved the empty apple sack into the garbage bag, bunched it all up and threw it down the incinerator chute outside their apartment door. Placing a new bag in the garbage can, she looked at Harry’s body and felt sick to her stomach, vomiting in the sink. She washed her hands and face, then placed a call to the police.
“HELP!” Kathleen screamed into the phone. “My husband fell! I think he’s dead!” Then she calmly sat at the kitchen table and waited, crying over misspent years. The police and ambulance arrived quickly; after examining Harry, he was officially declared dead. Blunt force trauma, they said, obviously from smashing his head on the kitchen floor. Everyone was very conciliatory and sympathetic and they respectfully removed Harry’s body. “If there’s anything we can do, Mrs. Selkin, please let us know” the officers said as they left Kathleen alone in the quiet apartment.
Kathleen cleaned up the kitchen and called her boss at the shirt factory to say she wouldn’t be able to work that day. Her boss barked that if she didn’t come in to work she shouldn’t bother coming back at all. Kathleen simply said “Goodbye”. She put the pot of apples in the fridge and after changing her clothes she went to the funeral parlor to make arrangements for Harry.
When she got home she received a phone call from her doctor. “Mrs. Selkin, I’m calling because your test results came back; you and Mr. Selkin will be thrilled to know you’re pregnant. Congratulations, Mrs. Selkin!” Kathleen swayed in stunned disbelief and grabbed onto the edge of the table. She managed a weak “Thank you” and hung up the phone. “Pregnant” she whispered in awe and her slight smile slowly grew into a broad grin. She gently touched her belly, truly happy for the first time in years.
The next morning Kathleen baked a large apple pie with the same apples she used to bash in Harry’s head. When the pie was done and still warm, she placed it in a box and delivered it to the nice policemen. On the way home she stopped in the little bakery near her apartment and inquired about a job. It was a start, a new beginning for her and her baby.
Rachel and Paul had been together for six years. They assumed one day they would marry, have kids – the whole nine yards – but life has a funny way of taking twists and turns. Their romance and dreams just fizzled out but they remained very close and relied on each other for guidance – from the job scene to the dating game.
One night Rachel texted Paul: “Hey, babe. Ella & Sam set us up with blind dates for Fri. U in?”
Paul: “Y not? No plans anyway!”
Rachel: “Great! Emilio’s @ 7. Glad U R my back-up!”
Paul: “Ditto, babe! C U there.”
Both kicked themselves for calling the other “babe”. Old habits die hard.
Friday night the foursome met at Emilio’s. Paul and Rachel exchanged looks; her eyes were screaming “WTF!” Dinner was quick.
As soon as Paul got home he called Rachel: “What just happened?!”
Rachel howled: “A TOTAL FREAK SHOW!! Your date was downright scary! She looked like Vampira and I swear her eyes were red! She wore a black cape – with a hood, for Christ’s sake and her steak was so rare it was practically throbbing!”
“And what about YOUR date?!” Paul exclaimed. “Wrist-to-neck tattoos, facial piercings, boots with spikes and a ‘Carcass’ t-shirt! He downed a bottle of beer in two gulps and belched like a bloody Viking!”
“I’ll never let Sam and Ella play matchmakers again. I’m sure they thought it was hysterical” Rachel quipped. “So … my mother set me up with her friend’s son, ‘The Doctor’, for next Saturday. If you get a date maybe we can try this again.”
“Sure. Nothing could be as bad as tonight” Paul replied. “I’ll call ya.”
A few days later Paul called to say he had a date for Saturday – a friend of his cousin. “But she said ‘drinks only’ and she’ll take a taxi.”
“Fine” Rachel agreed. “If it’s another debacle we can all go our separate ways.”
Arrangements were made to meet at ‘The Aviary’ in Central Park. Rachel’s date was Wesley, a gynecologist/obstetrician. He was handsome, tan and suave. Paul’s date was Ginger, a salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret with modeling/acting ambitions. She was a vivacious redhead with mischievous green eyes.
The hostess seated them at a semi-circular booth; Ginger smoothly slid in between Wesley and Paul. With each sip of her martini Ginger inched closer to Wesley, asking risqué questions about his practice; he was more than happy to oblige. Before long they were blatantly flirting, leaving Paul and Rachel dumbfounded. Giggling, Ginger excused herself to use “the little girl’s room”. The trio sat in awkward silence until Wesley’s pager beeped. He announced he had an emergency at the hospital, apologized and left.
“Well, there’s no point in me hanging around” Rachel said glumly. “Ginger should be back any second.”
As Rachel got up to leave she glanced out the window and saw Wesley and Ginger getting into his car. “What the hell, Paul! We’ve been dumped!”
Arm in arm Paul and Rachel started the slow walk of rejection through Central Park.
“Do you think we’ll ever be as happy as when we were together?” Paul asked quietly.
“I don’t think that’s even remotely possible” Rachel sighed.
In the loneliness of the park they held each other tightly, sharing a warm familiar kiss in the moonlight.
“Why the hell did we ever break up, Paul?”
“I have no idea” he replied wonderingly.
“Take me home, babe” Rachel whispered. “I miss us.”
Fingers entwined, they climbed the stairs and went inside, locking the door and the world behind them.
Originally the Chelsea Piers evening boat tour was scheduled to depart at 6:00 but was cancelled due to dense fog. Disappointed, Emma consulted her tour guidebook for something else to do. She read:
The Vortex. Not your father’s watering hole. Located at 15 Christopher Street in the heart of Chelsea. Smoking prohibited in accordance with the New York Clean Indoor Air Act. Other than that, anything goes!
“Hmm. Now that’s intriguing” Emma thought “and it’s nearby.”
After a brief stroll Emma arrived at The Vortex, a secluded and rather alluring place. Finding a seat at the bar she ordered a dirty martini. Reflected in the mirror behind the bar was the image of a retro-looking poster. Sliding off her barstool she casually walked up to the poster for a better look. She snapped a photo and returned to the bar.
More people were in the place now – gays, heteros, bisexuals, interracials. Emma found it all so exciting and very New York! When the bartender brought her drink, Emma commented on how electric the atmosphere was and asked “Can you tell me something about that poster?”
“Sure! It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” he replied. “The Vortex is a play written by the literary giant, Noël Coward. It premiered in London in 1924 garnering Coward great critical and financial success. It’s a story about a nymphomaniac socialite and her cocaine-addicted son. Many thought the drug was a cover for homosexuality. As you can imagine it was considered pretty shocking back then. Rumor has it that Princess Margaret owned the original poster for a while. She was a free spirit and loved a good lampoon, especially those directed at the upper classes and British aristocracy.”
“That’s fascinating!” Emma exclaimed. “Something tells me there’s more to the story.”
“Oh, there is” the barkeep agreed. “During the run of The Vortex, Coward met an American director and producer named Jack Wilson. They ran with the same crowd where drugs, booze and homosexuality were prevalent. Wilson became Coward’s business manager and lover. We thought The Vortex was a cool name for the bar. My mother recently brought me that poster; there’s a showing of the play this week.”
“Your mother!” Emma remarked with surprise. “Sounds like you might have a personal connection to this story.”
“Yeah, in a circuitous way I do. My great-great-grandmother was once a chorus girl and she got on famously with Jack Wilson – so much so that she and her husband named their first baby Jack Wilson Morrow and asked Jack to be his godfather. The tradition continued through the years; lots of my relatives were named Jack Wilson so-and-so. In fact, my name is Jack Wilson Connors.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jack Wilson Connors” Emma laughed as she extended her hand. “I’m Emma Louise Kennedy and you have officially blown my mind!”
“I like you, Emma Louise Kennedy! Always nice making new friends. How about another drink – on the house?”
Emma blushed a little and said “Yes, I’d love one.”
While Jack was preparing Emma’s drink all sorts of thoughts were running through her head … he’s cute, friendly, great personality, no wedding ring. I wonder – should I?
“For my new friend, Emma. One perfect dirty martini” Jack said with a flourish.
Trying to sound nonchalant, Emma said “You know, Jack. There’s a performance of The Vortex tomorrow night. How about we make it a date?”
“I’d really love to, Emma, but I’m married and I don’t think my husband would approve.”
Why do you continue to invade my dreams in the stillness of the morning’s early hours? I awaken and for a moment I believe the dream to be true. The feel of your smooth yielding body next to mine, the tenderness of your kiss. I reach for you but you are not there and a tear slowly emerges from the corner of my eye.
Somehow I manage to get through the disorder that is my life but without you I am not truly alive; I merely exist. You asked so little of me and brought unimaginable joy to my lonely world. How I loved treating you like royalty; you were my princess dressed in satin and lace, your shining blue eyes sparkling with excitement whenever I brought home a gift for you. You delighted in each present, whether a bottle of perfume or a book of poems which I would read to you every night.
Yet, in all honesty, those steamy sensual sex games we played are what I miss the most. You were insatiable, your beautiful mouth smiling with desire, your lithe body as malleable and compliant as the branches of a willow tree. Those intimate times we shared together in our apartment are etched in my mind forever.
Leaving you in the morning to go to work was torture. Knowing you’d be there waiting for me when I returned was the only thing that got me through the day. I’d race home to see you, to embrace you. But that all ended one year ago when I found you lifeless on our bed. You were so beautiful that morning as you slept I didn’t have the heart to wake you. I placed a single rose on your breast for you to discover when you awoke and quietly closed the door behind me. Oh, the dreadful nightmares constantly invade my sleep! How could I have left you alone like that? I’m sorry, my darling Hope.
Today I walked to the park. When I realized it was our anniversary all the air left my body and I felt empty inside. The children in the park were playing with kites and balloons, laughing with glee as the wind lifted their playthings higher and higher. Suddenly one of the little girls cried out in dismay as the string escaped her hand and her balloon slowly floated out of sight. The poor child was inconsolable. I thought of you and called your name. The little girl’s mother bought her a new balloon and gently tied the string around her daughter’s wrist; she ran off laughing, carefree once again.
That’s when I realized I had two choices: continue living the life of a lonely, broken man or find someone to share my life. That, my darling Hope, is when I chose the latter. I truly believe you would want me to find happiness again, to fill this void in my wretched life.
I slowly walked home, retrieved my mail and sat on the couch, dejected. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the tip of a familiar publication. Could it be? On our anniversary? Yes, it was– Johnson Premium Dolls with a large banner advertising 40% off discontinued sex dolls. With trembling fingers I flipped through the pages until I found you, my dearest Hope. I was overcome with joy and placed my order immediately.
Tomorrow I will insert this letter into a balloon, inflate it and release it to reach you in heaven. And never again will I buy you even one thorny rose.
Otis sensed it before Sam even heard it – tires crunching through the snow on the driveway. Otis growled, knowing instinctively it wasn’t Chris and the kids. It was much too early; they weren’t due back until around 10:00. “It’s ok” Sam whispered soothingly while reaching for the handgun hidden in the cupboard and slipped it into the pocket of an oversized Washington Wizards sweatshirt. Sam squinted at the clock – 5:40 – too early, even for regular customers. Tapping at the other pocket Sam was relieved to find the cell phone.
Cautiously approaching the door Sam yelled out “We’re closed. If you need help the police station’s half mile down the road.” Good bluff.
“I know. I just ended my shift there” came the voice from outside. “Trooper McGinty in from NY. Saw a light on and wanted to make sure everything’s ok.”
“We’re fine but thanks for checking.”
“It’s my duty. I’d still feel better if you let me take a look around.”
”Mind showing me some I.D.? Just slip it under the door.”
“No problem.” Surprisingly a laminated I.D. card slid across the floor.
Glancing to make sure both deadbolts were secure, Sam quickly retrieved the I.D. and checked it out in the glow from the cell. Calling 911 confirmed the trooper was telling the truth – and he was no stranger to Sam.
“Son of a bitch! State Trooper Daniel McGinty!” Switching on the bright kitchen light Sam strode across the diner floor, flipped back the locks and swung open the door.
“Hi, Sam” grinned the trooper.
“Danny McGinty! It’s really great to see you!”
Laughing, the two friends greeted each other with a giant hug. “Sam, you look fantastic. Damn, I can’t believe how the time has flown by.”
“You too, man. You look terrific! Grab a seat and I’ll make us some coffee. You still like it strong?”
“You remember! Good to know some things don’t change. I just got off shift and was heading home when I saw a light on. You work here?”
Sam paused and looked up from the coffee pot, smiling. “You could say that. Chris and I own the place. We met in the
police academy, got married and now live here with our kids. We’re the cooks and ……”
“Whoa! Back up. You’re married?? You always said being a cop in NY was all the family you needed. What happened?”
“Chris is what happened, Danny. When the right one comes along, that’s it. Chris was the one. When we decided to start a family we knew it was time for a safer place for our kids and we couldn’t be happier out here. What about you?”
“Yeah, I took the plunge, too, but things didn’t work out. We really tried, Sam, but we were just kidding ourselves. Besides Newark is like a war zone. So like you I moved out west and I’m engaged to an ER nurse at St. Joseph’s.”
“That’s great! I’m happy for you, Danny. You look peaceful.”
“You too, Sam. And this place is fantastic!”
“What time you picking up this nurse of yours?”
“Chris is coming home from skiing around 10:00. The diner’s closed today; let’s meet back here for breakfast. You in?”
“You bet, Sam. This is great!”
Everyone arrived at the same time. Sam’s twin boys squealed “Mommy, Mommy” and Chris gave her wife a sweet kiss.
“I missed you, babe” said Chris.
Danny approached, smiling. “Sam, say hello to my fiancé Roger.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Roger. Guys, this is my wife Christine.”
Gregory Tomlinson stretched out on the top bunk, smoking his Lucky Strike cigarettes, watching the cloudy vapors swirl around the dimly lit corner of his berth on the U.S.S. Arizona. Some of the guys exchanged letters and snacks from home, showing off photos of their wives and girlfriends. Others played cards and cursed at their wireless radios saying “This news is a bore! Turn it off and find some Glenn Miller!” And the men all laughed like boys at summer camp.
“Hey, Gregory” whispered Leo Becker from the lower bunk. “Can I ask you a question?”
Gregory chuckled. “I think after eleven months trapped in this can you can ask me anything!”
Leo hesitated for a second then said “Ok, here goes. How come you never get any mail?
Gregory didn’t answer and Leo could have kicked himself. Lighting another cigarette, Gregory inhaled deeply and blew a precise smoke ring.
Just as Leo was about to apologize Gregory summersaulted off his bunk landing perfectly on Leo’s. “That is an excellent question, my friend.”
Leo was stunned. “I, a homely handyman from Reedsport, Oregon is your friend?? With your Tyrone Power charm and good looks you probably have a girl in every port! All I have is this box of letters and photos from home.”
“Ha!” snorted Gregory. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Your box is very special, Leo; even if I had a box I’d have nothing to put in it. When I was 15, my parents were killed in a car crash and I was left alone – a family of one. No siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – no one. I took off and made the Navy my family.”
“Now I have a question for you, Leo” said Gregory nonchalantly. “How many nights have we sat on your bunk poring over the contents of this box?”
Leo rubbed his chin thoughtfully, mumbling “eleven months, 30 or 31 nights give or take a few here or there .. I’d say between 330 and 345” Leo calculated.
“How many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he held Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, nonplussed. Gregory continued “How you said “hi” to her the day you were painting the chancery and knocked over a can of paint. You said she had the sweetest disposition.” Gregory sighed. “You said she didn’t get mad or anything – how you really liked her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories, Leo? Because I felt all alone but now I felt like I had two friends, you and Jenny.”
Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, followed repeatedly by non-stop bombings and eruptions. The Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. Leo quickly stashed his stuff into his backpack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The torpedo attack lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker.
Upon Gregory’s medical discharge, he was called to the admiral’s office and handed a box which he recognized immediately as Leo’s. Gregory’s name was written on an envelope attached to the box. When he opened it he found a letter inscribed “To my dear friends Jenny Warner and Gregory Tomlinson – Open this box together. Gregory, I wish you could have seenyour face light up whenever I talked about Jenny. And Jenny … you must have asked about Gregory in every letter you wrote to me. If ever two people belong together it’s you. I love you both and you two love each other, too – even though you haven’t met yet. You belong together.”
A smaller note was also enclosed in the envelope; it read: “Gregory, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this note. It will make me eternally happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other.”
Born on the same day at the same time in Mercy Hospital were two beautiful baby boys. Both had gossamer flaxen hair and skin the color of translucent Easter lilies. The nurses marveled at their incredible likeness, remarking in their sing-song Irish accents “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would ya look at that! These babes could be twins!”
One baby was born to the sovereigns of high society, Carlton and Evelyn Winslow of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The couple were like bookends – fair skin, blond hair and bright blue eyes.
The other baby was the illegitimate son of Rosa Guarinos, an impoverished cleaning lady from the slums of East Harlem. Her complexion was creamy, hair light brown and eyes green like her ancestors from ancient Persia.
It was fate that brought these two women from such divergent stations in life to the same hospital on the same night.
Evelyn’s luxurious penthouse was located across the street from Mercy Hospital; she had reserved an entire suite in the maternity ward of the hospital where she was currently in labor under the watchful care of a team of doctors and nurses.
Rosa was sweeping the floors of Ken’s Tailoring; the little shop where she worked was adjacent to the hospital. It was there that she also went into labor. Her kindly boss Ken Siegel gently and attentively escorted Rosa to Mercy Hospital; she was brought to the public maternity ward where she labored with other women of her lowly station, alone and frightened.
Five days later the new mothers were discharged from the hospital. Evelyn and Carlton Winslow brought Maxwell home to their posh apartment where his elaborately decorated nursery awaited him. A specially trained nanny took care of Maxwell’s every need.
Ken drove Rosa and her baby Victor to her basement apartment in Harlem. Ken offered his help getting Rosa and Victor settled but she declined saying he had already done so much for them. In the corner of the basement Rosa found some canvas tents and set them up to create the illusion of separate rooms. One tent was their bedroom; Rosa slept on a cot and Victor in an old borrowed cradle. Another tent became a makeshift washroom, enclosing the toilet, sink and wash basin. Yet another tent became a work area where Rosa could iron clothes and prepare meals while Victor slept in the ‘bedroom’.
The identical babies grew into identical toddlers. The Winslows celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday with a spectacular party at Tavern on the Green attended by their many acquaintances. Rosa and Victor marked his first birthday with a simple cake, Ken and a handful of trusted friends.
When Victor was two years old Ken proposed marriage to Rosa; he had always been in love with her and Rosa knew he was a kind and decent man and she cared deeply for him. She believed in time she would grow to love him. They got married and the family moved uptown where Ken had expanded his small tailoring shop into a successful men’s clothing business. Their lives improved significantly and they were very content.
The years went by; Maxwell and Victor were now teenagers, entirely unaware of each other’s existence even though they lived just two miles apart. They attended different schools and their paths never crossed. They were both happy, well-adjusted boys yet sometimes Maxwell felt an inexplicable void in his life – something he couldn’t understand or dismiss.
One day Carlton brought Maxwell to Ken Siegel’s shop for a new suit. “We’re closing early today – it’s a family matter. I’m sorry but you must come back tomorrow.” Ken stated nervously.
“Oh, come on, Ken. You always make time for me.” replied Carlton. “I brought my son Maxwell in for a suit. Are you trying to get rid of us?”
“Please, I really must close now!” Ken insisted.
But it was too late for just then Victor and Rosa emerged from the storeroom. Maxwell and Victor stopped short, staring at each other in amused bewilderment, unable to deny or explain their identical appearance.
Upon seeing each other after so many years, Rosa became faint and Carlton gasped in shock. Rushing to Rosa’s side Ken whispered “I’m sorry, my darling. I tried to keep them away.I never wanted him to see you or Victor and I failed you.” Rosa reached up and tenderly caressed her husband’s face, now wet with tears. “Oh, my darling Ken. This day was inevitable and you are not to blame.” Rose whispered.
Composing himself, Ken stood up proudly and addressed Carlton. “Mr. Winslow, as you know seventeen years ago I ran a small tailoring shop. After Victor was born, I was able to acquire this lovely store where you have been a regular customer. Rosa has worked as my assistant, sewing and ironing in the back rooms since day one. We fell in love and have been married for fifteen years. Sir, Victor is my adopted son and he’s very precious to me. I love Victor and Rosa dearly but even someone as self-centered and obtuse as you would know at first glance Victor is your biological son.”
Carlton stammered “Rosa, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant? I loved you!”
“Because you were married and you never would have accepted us as family” Rosa cried.“
“But you deprived me of a son and Victor of a father! I could have provided for him.” Carlton argued.
“Victor is MY son. I lovingly and happily provided for him and Rosa!” shouted Ken.“I don’t believe you would have done so even if you knew about Victor. You and your kind always take the easy way out. Now I must insist that you leave!”
“Victor” Carlton said haltingly, “I didn’t know. I hope some day you can forgive me.” Victor simply stared impassively at Carlton and said nothing.
“Maxwell” said Carlton. “It’s best we leave here, son. Let’s go home.”
“No, dad. I don’ want want to but you can go” Maxwell said. “I just found the missing piece of my life. I’d like to stay and talk to my brother, if that’s ok with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.“
Rosa, Ken and Victor looked at each other and nodded in agreement. “You’re always welcome here, Maxwell” said Ken.
Carlton made no further attempt to reach out to his son Victor or embrace this new-found family. Instead, he left the store and walked home, wondering how he could ever explain all this to Evelyn. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d figure something out. He always did.
Newly married financier Alexander Eaton and his wife Margaret had recently moved into their lavish estate in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. As was the Eaton family tradition, Alexander’s father Samuel presented the young couple with what had become a treasured family heirloom – an impressive painting of the ship The Mayflower. The painting had been in the family for generations and had been authenticated as an original oil on canvas created in 1630 by Sarah Eaton, Samuel’s ancestor and a passenger aboard The Mayflower. The painting itself was magnificent but it was the impressive ebony frame with 24 carat gold stenciled details that was the pièce de résistance.
Alexander and Margaret proudly displayed the painting above the marble fireplace in the grand ballroom of their mansion. It was the focal point of every soirée held at Eaton Manor, especially during the festive Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons and at the debutante ball of Alexander and Margaret’s only child Constance. Alexander imagined hosting a grand fete when Constance graduated from Harvard – another Eaton Family tradition – but that was still a few years away.
Alexander was furious when Constance chose to attend Boston College over Harvard. While there she caught the eye of Tom Stewart, a nice guy from a middle class family but Tom kept his distance thinking Constance was a spoiled rich girl. Constance proved Tom wrong when she asked him out for coffee and surprised him when she said he should call her Connie instead of “that pretentious-sounding Constance”.
Tom and Connie fell in love, became teachers and got married. The idealistic young couple were determined to make it on their own and refused any money from her parents. Connie’s father angrily renounced her but her mother insisted The Mayflower tradition be continued and passed the painting on to the couple. Tom and Connie reluctantly accepted and chose to hang it on the rear wall of the den where it wasn’t quite so obvious. Connie knew they really didn’t need the extravagant painting and all it was worth; she had been secretly saving money every month for whatever unforeseen circumstance might come their way. Their rebellious eighteen year old daughter Ivy disapproved of the ostentatious painting “and all it represented”. She preferred to hide herself away in her room listening to The Concert for Bangladesh.
Ivy was working as a barista at Starbucks when she met Will Connors, an aspiring musician. They started dating and one night at dinner she announced to her parents that she wasn’t interested in going to college and planned to move in with Will. Tom asked how she intended to survive on a barista’s salary. Ivy shrugged and replied “we’ll manage”. Tom and Connie knew trying to dissuade Ivy would only make matters worse so they begrudgingly gave their blessing.
The following month Ivy moved into Will’s tiny studio apartment and Connie happily presented them with The Mayflower. Ivy was furious but Connie pleaded with her to accept it as a housewarming gift. “Change the frame to a plain one but please take it” Connie said. Ivy put the painting in a closet where it stayed for a few months. Finally she decided it was hers to do with as she wished and tossed it in a garbage dumpster.
Little did Ivy know that Connie had removed the rear panel of the frame and meticulously replaced it after taping an envelope to the back of the painting containing all the money she had saved – one hundred crisp $100 bills – meant to help the struggling couple. Maybe Ivy should have changed the frame after all.
Mid-August in Alabama is about as hot as hell’s back kitchen, or at least that’s what folks like to say. It was just me and ma making do as best we could since my pa got himself killed in some place called Vietnam. I don’t recall much about the day we got the news. Couple of soldiers in fancy uniforms came to the door and mama started wailing like she was being skinned alive. Ma never really got over that. Some folks said she went plum crazy that day. She’d sit on the porch in that rickety old rocking chair staring straight ahead, just mumbling to herself and fidgeting with pa’s dog tags like they was rosary beads.
I sorta became invisible to ma so I started spending my time down by the watering hole mostly swimming and fishing so we’d have something to eat. I went hunting one day, surprising ma with a rabbit and we cooked it up for dinner. Ma hugged me tight and put pa’s dog tags around my head. Next morning I found her hanging in the barn and started screaming till the neighbors came running. That’s when I began living with the Jenkins Family. I was six years old.
The Jenkins’ was good hard-working farm folk and they treated me real fine. They had a truckload of kids – six boys and two girls but they didn’t think twice about taking me in. Ma Jenkins always said “What’s one more mouth to feed?”
At first the days moved slow as molasses in February. I knew right quick that farming wasn’t for me but I did my share every day. When I was about fifteen or so Ma Jenkins said I sprouted into a handsome devil, the spitting image of my pa. Right about the same time I started taking up with Nell Jenkins. Two years older than me, she was all legs, boobs and big sky blue eyes. We made love every night and she taught me stuff I didn’t think was possible. Somehow we never got caught. We was crazy for each other but I wasn’t looking to get hitched. I knew if I didn’t get off that Alabama farm I’d die there. One night while Nell slept I placed my pa’s dog tags on her pillow and slipped out. I was 19 years old.
I got me a job as a long distance trucker; hard as it was it beat the hell outta farming. Shit! I been trucking for 16 years. I’m 35 years old and dog tired. I been thinking a lot about Alabama lately, maybe getting a job in a hardware store. A few days later I quit and went back to where it all began.
Wiley’s Diner was still there. I went in and sat at the counter. A girl appeared from the kitchen and asked what I’d like. “Coffee, please” I said and found myself staring into big sky blue eyes. She was a pretty little thing and my heart skipped a beat. Around her neck hung dog tags and I knew. Lord Jesus! This is my baby girl! I asked if her ma’s name was Nell and she smiled, saying “Yes. Do you know her?” I said I did a long time ago. I don’t know what possessed me but I scribbled down my name and number, asking her to kindly give it to her ma. She said she surely would. Choking up a bit I said goodbye to my daughter.
Dear God – after so many years and thousands of miles Nell just might forgive me.
“Papers! Not one, not two but three papers all due on Monday!” exclaimed Hannah in exasperation. “One on the assassination of JFK, another on the Scopes Trial and…..”
“Let me guess” interrupted Hannah’s brother Eric. “A 1,000 word book report on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.”
“How could you possibly know that?!” questioned a puzzled Hanna. “You must be psychic!”
Eric laughed. “Hardly! Mr. Cavanaugh hasn’t changed his assignments in years. I bet he still says the same thing.”
Brother and sister looked at each other trying not to laugh as they simultaneously did their best Mr. Cavanaugh impersonations – “Remember class, the quantity of your work is second only to the quality!”
Eric and Hannah cracked up laughing.
“Well, kiddo, good thing our folks are at the cabin by themselves this weekend and I’m going to ‘Ozzfest’ with Kyle. You’ll have plenty of peace and quiet to get all your work done. Good luck, sis!” Kyle laughed as he waved Hannah goodbye.
“I’m gonna need it!” she groaned. “My grades haven’t been very good lately.”
Hannah went to the den where she and Eric always did their homework. First she read her emails, then went on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. Bored, Hannah got up to stretch her legs, perusing the multitude of books in the den. Her mother saved everything from when she and Eric were babies – albums of photos, drawings, assignments, awards and diplomas.
On one bookcase there were neat rows of black binders from her birth to present day as a Junior in high school. On another bookcase were tidy rows of grey binders from Eric’s birth to his current class – a Freshman in college. Running her fingers along Eric’s binders Hannah stopped abruptly at a section labeled ‘ERIC’S HIGH SCHOOL ESSAYS’.
“Hmm … I wonder?” Hannah asked herself. She looked for the binders from Eric’s Junior class and found the tab that read ‘MR. CAVANAUGH’.
“OMG!” Hannah gasped. “Let’s see what we have here.”
With anticipation she ran her finger down the list of Eric’s essays, her eyes almost bugging out of her head when she spotted ‘JFK Assassination’. Further down the list she found ‘The Scopes Trial’.
“This is too good to be true!” Hannah exclaimed. “Two out of the three essays I need are here! I’m sure Eric’s book reports are here, too … fingers crossed.”
Sure enough Hannah found another binder labeled ‘ERIC’S BOOK REPORTS’. Opening the binder she located Eric’s Junior year section and poured over the titles. “Bingo!” she shouted gleefully. “There you are! ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Three for three!” Thank goodness her mother saved everything!
Taking all three of Eric’s assignments, Hannah sat at the computer station where she scanned and forwarded all the papers to herself. She then changed the dates, margins and fonts so her work wouldn’t look identical to Eric’s. Finally, changing his name to hers, she printed out the papers, returned the originals to the binders and put everything back on the shelves.
“Done!” she crowed, feeling quite pleased with herself. “And I didn’t have to do any work. Now that’s what I call being one smart cookie!“
Hannah spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with her friends at the mall and watching movies on Netflix. On Monday she confidently turned in her assignments. On Friday Mr. Cavanaugh handed Hannah a large folder. To her shock inside were her reports as well as Eric’s reports. All Eric’s papers were marked with a big red ‘F’; hers were marked ‘FC’.
“Obviously you had no idea that I save all my students work. You also did not know that Eric failed his assignments” Mr. Cavanaugh reprimanded Hannah. “By copying his work you not only failed, you cheated. Therefore, young lady, I’ve given you the grade of ‘FC’ – ‘F’ for ‘Fail’ and ‘C’ for ‘Cheating’. Your parents have already been informed of this. I hope you have learned your lesson.”
Hanna felt sick to her stomach; she never saw this coming. Her parents were going to be furious. Would they ever be able to trust her again?
“Looks like this smart cookie’s plan completely crumbled” Hannah thought regretfully.
“Grundy, you old son of a bitch! What the hell are you doing here?” exclaimed Ian Simms.
“Same as you, Ian, and your brother, Carter. Attending the reading of your father’s will. May he rest in peace.
“Carter, look who’s here!” declared Ian to his twin. “It’s the one and only Grundy!”
“It’s been a while, Grundy. I can’t even recall the last time I saw you” remarked Carter.
“I believe it was your sixteenth birthday – the day before your mother deserted your father and shipped both of you off to military school.”
“You know, Grundy, there was a time when you showed a bit more respect to me and my brother. You used to call me ‘Master Carter’ and my brother ‘Master Ian’ – back when you were my father’s lowly valet.”
“Yes indeed – when you behaved like the spoiled crowned princes of Palm Springs. I’d say we’re on equal footing now, Carter.”
“Watch your mouth, old man” snarled Carter. “Remember you were just a servant!”
“Were being the operative word. Here’s your father’s attorney now. Let’s get on with this, shall we?”
“Good afternoon, everyone. Please be seated. I’m Lester Garrison, Mr. Simms’ attorney, and we’re gathered here today for the reading of his will. All right then, let’s begin.” Garrison cleared his throat:
• “I, Franklin Theodore Simms, being of sound mind and body declare this to be my last will and testament.
• To my former wife, Gloria Morrow Simms, I leave a dildo so she can go fuck herself. I’m sure she didn’t have the decency to attend today but there was never anything decent about her.
• To my sons Carter and Ian I leave both the amount of $19.79 which represents the year you were born. Perhaps if you had bothered to call or visit me just one time in the past 24 years the amount would be substantially higher; however that is not the case. You reap what you sow, boys.
• To the San Diego Zoo I leave $2.5 million dollars because animals are infinitely nicer than humans.
• The remainder of my estate, all my worldly possessions and $18.5 million dollars I leave to my one true friend – Samuel Grundy. Sam, you were never just my valet; you were my brother. You were the only one who remained when my family abandoned me. And when I became sick, you cared for me, refusing any income. We spent many hours in the garden by the weeping willow tree playing chess, sharing memories, baring our souls.
• A note to my sons: if you hadn’t been so self-centered you would have known Mr. Grundy’s first name. Instead you treated him like chattel and called him simply ‘Grundy’. Shame on you both!
• My lawyer already knows that I don’t want a funeral. I’m to be cremated and my ashes buried under the old willow tree where I spent my final days with Samuel Grundy.
• See you at the tree, Sam. The rest of you ingrates can go to hell.”
Grundy sat in his favorite spot: a dilapidated bench on the boardwalk at Coney Island overlooking Brighton Beach. He was celebrating the sixteenth anniversary of his divorce from Cathy, the “Crowned Cunt of Canarsie” as he called her. And he was getting drunk as he did every night.
His routine never changed. After his shift at McDonald’s, he’d grab a Big Mac, walk across the street to the Liquor Loft, buy a $7.49 bottle of Old Crow Kentucky Bourbon and a pack of Camel cigarettes, then stroll over to his bench and settle in.
Grundy’s Bench … his home away from home. Well, not literally. Thanks to his cousin Marcy and her husband Phil, he had an actual roof over his head. Grundy was real close to Marcy, growing up together and all, and Phil was as nice as they come, humble but with the bearing of a prince. Grundy lived with them and their three kids and all Marcy asked was for Grundy to cook Sunday dinner for the family. Hell, he’d cook dinner every night for those precious people if he wasn’t always shit-faced after work.
“Pretty sweet deal” Grundy thought as he took a swig of his Old Crow. “I’m a freaking loser, an embarrassment, yet they treat me with a love I don’t deserve.” He had his own room, a TV and Marcy did his laundry. He mostly kept to himself, getting home late. He had the day shift, breakfast and lunch included. The pay was lousy and so was the food but it beat a blank.
How the fuck did he end up here? Carl Grundy, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, working in some of the finest restaurants in the world … once one of the best chefs in New York … now a burger flipping drunk in Brooklyn.
So what happened? Bourbon happened. He wasn’t much of a drinker – an occasional beer – but one night after a particularly ugly argument with Cathy, he surreptitiously chugged a shot of the restaurant’s finest bourbon. It was ambrosia and he had another. Before long it became a ritual, then a habit and finally an addiction. He got caught, fired and the cycle began. Land a new gig, drink their booze, get sacked. Eventually the only job he could get was at Mickey D’s and Old Crow was all he could afford.
Out of nowhere he recalled the words of some televangelist his mother used to watch: “Your decisions cause your circumstances”. Damn straight! He didn’t even realize he was crying. Well, enough reminiscing for one night.
Grundy gave his beloved bench a pat and stood up to begin his walk to Phil and Marcy’s. Suddenly he felt a searing pain in his chest and crumbled to the ground.
“Oh, Lord! I’ve made a fine mess of things” Grundy gasped. “I’m hurting and I want to go home. Mom and Dad are waiting for me.”
He died alone that night, his hands still clutching an empty bottle.
I guessed that something was wrong as soon as I saw the look of shocked disbelief on my husband David’s face.
“Babe, what’s wrong?”
With tears in his eyes David whispered “I lost my wedding ring!”
It was our last night in Cape Cod. After dinner we went for a walk on the beach. There was a lot of seaweed in the ocean from a storm a few days before. We walked along the shore, teasing each other with clumps of seaweed; that’s when the ring must have slipped off his finger. But exactly where we had no idea. We crawled around searching but it was dark and we couldn’t see anything. David was devastated.
“Hon, I know your wedding ring means the world to you but we can always replace it.”
“I know, Jess, but it just won’t be the same.”
Dejected, we returned to our room and went to bed. After hours of trying to get to sleep, I grabbed my laptop and Googled “Will a ring wash ashore after falling in the ocean?”
Almost immediately there was a *ding* on my laptop … a response from “TheRingFinders.com”. It read: “We can help find any lost metallic object on the beach or in the water. Enter your zip code and we’ll get back to you ASAP .”
I entered the zip code for Cape Cod and 10 minutes later I heard from Rick at “RingFinders”. After explaining our situation, Rick said he’d be at our B&B at 7:00 AM to start his search. Thank God for the Internet!
True to his word, Rick was already on the beach at 7:00. We ate breakfast on the veranda, never taking our eyes off Rick as he searched everywhere with no luck. It was almost checkout time when he trudged up to the B&B.
“No luck, folks. You’re gonna get socked in traffic if you don’t leave now. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m not giving up. I’ll keep in touch with you either way.”
Disheartened, we checked out and loaded up the car. Taking one last look at Rick, we waved goodbye when we realized he wasn’t waving goodbye … he was waving in excitement. He ran up the beach with his arm in the air, hand clenched in a fist.
“I found it, folks! I found your ring” he shouted.
We ran to meet him and he grinned as he placed a wet, sandy ring in David’s hand.
Thering was under 11 inches of water and seaweed!
Overjoyed, David hugged Rick and we asked how much we owed him.
“This is a free service we provide but we gladly accept donations” Rick explained. “Its very rewarding to see the joy on people’s faces when they’re reunited with their precious lost items.”
I don’t remember how much we gave Rick … that’s not important. What I do remember is David glancing at his ring all the way home and smiling.
What an experience and certainly an incredible act of kindness. Thanks, Rick!
Authors Note: Every word of this story is true and Theringfinders.com is a real organization. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!
Born in Bethlehem, mother was Mary, father was Joseph. Well, let the record show he was actually my ‘foster father’’. My real father is the big man upstairs. Crazy, right? What with Him and me and the Holy Spirit being Three in One, It’s complicated – kinda like the Fab Four only not. Damn, those boys are good. People say they’re even bigger than me.
Oh, please, no need to introduce yourselves. I’ve known you since you were in your mother’s womb. Actually, since before that. Again – it’s complicated.
I’d like to address a few things. That ‘questionable relationship’’ between Mary Magdalene and me? Yeah, it happened and let me tell you – once you’ve had your feet washed by Mary’s tears and dried by her long brown hair, there’s no going back. But I digress.
Do you people think I really wanted to come to earth, take on human form, and die for your sorry asses? You know Matthew quoted me as saying ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cuppass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’ You all saw the picture of me in the Garden of Gethsemane. I was sweating blood. Hell, I was crying blood.
I never asked for it – roaming the desert, preaching, choosing my disciples, performing miracles, being adored on Palm Sunday [ok, I have to admit the miracles and adoration were pretty cool] but the tempers that raged? No piece of cake.
The denials and betrayals by those I loved most. The badgering by Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. The humiliation by the Roman soldiers. My unimaginably agonizing crucifixion – looking down from the cross to see my mother a broken woman.
And for what?! Look at you! Have you learned nothing in two thousand years? Oh, there are some good ones among you, thank God, but most of you make me sad, regret giving up my life so that you could be saved. Eternal life! How many of you deserve eternal life?
Let’s take a quick look around. The deceit, corruption, lies, immorality, hatred, killings, greed, war, the democrats, the republicans, the Arabs and Jews (still!), Brexit, Russia, China, COVID, quarantine, vaccines, anti-vaxxers, the WORLD!
What have you done to this perfect Garden of Eden my Father created? Our collective trio of hearts is breaking.
As my sweet George likes to say:
‘Isn’t it a pity?
Isn’t it a shame
How we break each others hearts
And cause each other pain?
How we take each others love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Isn’t it a pity?
Some things take so long
But how can I explain
When not too very many people
Can see we’re all the same
And because of all their fears
Their eyes can’t hope to see
All the beauty that surrounds them
Lord, isn’t it a pity?’
Get your acts together, people, before it’s too late. Love one another as I have loved you. And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.
It was Deirdre Diamond, Doctor of Pharmacology and loathed next door neighbor. I’m sure she’s the one who poisoned my koi pond. And I know why she did it, too. It’s because I mowed over her nasty thorn-encrusted wild rose bushes that constantly grow over onto my property. I had every right to do so and my physical body never trespassed onto her property – only my lawn mower– yet she sought her revenge by killing my beautiful fish. And why would she do such a thing? Because Deirdre Diamond is just plain nasty, hard-hearted, unsympathetic and more than a bit demented.
We’ve had arguments for years now, mostly because she refuses to honor our property boundary lines. She loves to complain about my dog, Roscoe – a lazy old bloodhound who barely barks and never wanders off but Deirdre calls him a “vile nuisance”. If anyone on this earth is vile it’s her! She also grouses about my wife Judy sunbathing topless on our upper deck, telling other people she looks like a heifer. The truth is a peeping Tom would need binoculars to see Judy all the way up on the deck so Deirdre had to have gone out of her way to snoop on my wife, then blab about it. How typical of Dr. Evil!
But this – the poisoning of my beloved koi fish – was senseless and I’m not going to let her get away with it! I don’t know if or how I’m going to be able to prove she did it but I’ll come up with something. She thinks she’s so slick, getting away with anything. Well, we’ll see about that, Deirdre! Yes we will!
Later that week as I lay in bed during the wee hours I couldn’t help but stifle a giggle when I heard the long-anticipated sirens of the approaching fire trucks. Then that afternoon when I heard the news in town that Deirdre’s garage had all but burned down during the night, I feigned surprise and bit my tongue to keep from laughing out loud. Spontaneous combustion. Imagine that! Well, I guess old Deirdre’s got no choice now but to get rid of those gardeningchemicals and what’s left of the badly damaged garage before something worse happens. One never knows, does one?
The next morning I asked my wife “Judy, have you seen Roscoe?” as I stood in the kitchen holding his bowl of dog food. Judy replied that she had not but he might be snoozing under his favorite weeping willow tree. He does love his naps. I went out to look for Roscoe and did indeed find him under the tree, but he wasn’t sleeping; the poor old guy was dead. Not a single noticeable mark on his body. Probably meant to look like old age did him in. Never sick a day in his life and now he’s dead – or should I say murdered? And by that lunatic Deirdre, I’m sure of it. She hated Roscoe just like she hates everyone and everything. This has gone way too far and she’s got to be stopped. Dear Roscoe. How I wish he would have ripped out Deirdre’s throat but the sweet guy wouldn’t even hurt a fly. Why Deirdre ever became a doctor I can’t say for sure but it certainly wasn’t to help people or do no harm.
Well, I may be naïve but I won’t let Deirdre intimidate me. However, it is a pity that someone accidentally left the gas on in her oven. It’s not like her to be so careless. She could have died of asphyxiation or imagine if the whole house had exploded, blowing her to kingdom come! What a hoot that would have been! If she knows what’s good for her, Deirdre will keep her threats to herself and stay off my property. She killed off all my pets. Now it’s just me and Judy and Deirdre’s presence is unwanted. Her very existence disgusts me.
An unusually peaceful weekend went by and Judy convinced me to visit my brother in New York for a few days. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and Judy was going to be tied up with preparations for the church yard sale so I agreed to go. I was only there for two days when the call came. Judy was dead! Apparently she never showed up to help with the yard sale – very untypical of her – and friends came to the house looking for her. I flew straight home and learned Judy was found in our bed, dead from an apparent heart attack. There was no trace of foul play, no apparent marks, no poison. But I knew better. Only a maniac like Deirdre could pull this off. She killed my wife and I’m going to get my revenge if it’s the last thing I do.
Who says revenge isn’t sweet? I watched the whole thing unfold from behind my bedroom curtain, binoculars at the ready. Deirdre getting into her car, turning the key and then BAM! BAM!!BAM!!!Seeing little bits of Deirdre strewn about her driveway was spectacular! She had no idea I was a demolitions expert from my days in Vietnam. This was by far my greatest detonation dance of death! No one could prove it was me who did this, just like no one could prove Deirdre did what she did.
This calls for a celebration – a toast to my deeply despised and not-so-dearly departed nemesis, the maniacal Doctor Deirdre Diamond. I think that nine hundred dollar bottle of bourbon will fit the bill nicely.
Ah, so sweet! So smooth and warm going down. Sweet as revenge. Finally I can relax.
“Wait a second. What’s happening to me?” I wondered anxiously. “My throat and chest are on fire!” I clawed frantically at my shirt collar. “No! This is not possible … Deirdre poisoned my bourbon!!” I underestimated just how diabolical she could be.
“Instantly Irresistible” read the label on the perfume bottle at a shop in Bangkok. I was, shall we say, drawn here after several misunderstandings with the Sydney Police Department. I called it “gaining a profit”; they called it “pickpocketing”.
Contrary to the Sydney Police, my parents and my friends, I’m not a complete loser – just a partial one. I worked in a book store back home but got canned when I ‘borrowed’ a few dollars from the register. The shop owner called the police on me, even though “he really liked me and hated doing it” . Then there was the ‘incident’ which brought me here.
Now I’m washing dishes for a restaurant, just barely getting by. The waitresses, all sisters, live together downstairs in a shoebox of an apartment near the supply room. I sleep on a cot in the basement and use the grungy bathroom – better than nothing. There’s a basement window which I crawl through when I get home late and the restaurant is closed. Only the owner and the eldest sister have a key.
Sometimes when the sisters are working I’ll go downstairs for supplies, take a small detour into that shoebox and help myself to their tip money. I’m wondering – can I be considered a ‘housebreaker’ if the door isn’t locked?
I have a clandestine girlfriend, too. She’s a cleaner at the tailor shop nearby. I saw her through the shop window and she looked up and smiled. One dark night after work I waited for her outside the shop and asked if I could walk her home. She agreed but said only half way – her family would not approve. She lives with her parents and 11 siblings. All of what she earns goes to her family. She owns only a few clothes and a ragged cloth pouch. I surprised her with a bottle of perfume which I found in a moldy wood crate behind the shop. She smiled happily and slipped it into her pouch. Her name is “Piti” and she calls me “Sam” which isn’t even my name but that’s ok. No one knows I exist.
After dark the next night I waited for Piti but she never showed. Disappointed, I skulked home. The same thing happened the next two nights and on the fourth day during my break I glanced in the tailor shop window only to see a different cleaning girl. “Where was Piti?” I wondered, becoming concerned.
Several days later I overheard the sisters talking. Piti had become deathly sick – an apparent toxic reaction to old perfume from a bottle found in her pouch. She had been in quarantine, but died this morning.
I was reeling. I did this to Piti. I killed her! She was a perfect angel, the sweetest part of my life. Everything I do hurts someone. In the course of three weeks I’ve gone from petty thief to murderer. Everyone is right. I’m a complete loser. I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself.
Mike, the cabbie, was relieved. He just dropped off his last passenger and was going to pick up his wife, then head home. And not a moment too soon, he thought to himself as a nor’easter was headed their way.
Suddenly the wind whipped Mike’s cap off his head and he chased it down the steps. Turning back to go to his cab, he spotted a figure huddled in the corner. Another drunk, no doubt, but then he heard crying. He inched closer and the streetlight revealed an old woman wrapped in a shawl.
“Oh, shit! I swear I got the worst luck in the world!” Mike muttered under his breath. Knowing his wife Laura would kill him if he didn’t help the old lady, Mike called out over the wind – “Excuse me. Are you ok?”
A weak voice replied “I’m lost and scared and forlorn. Please help me!”
“I can take you to the police station” suggested Mike. “They can help you.”
“No! I need to see my son. Please take me to my son.”
“Look, lady, I wanna help you, I really do, but my wife’s waiting for me and the weather’s bad.”
The old woman started sobbing and it was too much for Mike. “Okay, I got an idea. What’s your son’s address. If it ain’t too far, I’ll take you – otherwise, it’s the police station.”
Immediately the lady responded. “Renwick’s. That’s where my son is.”
“Your son’s at Renwick’s!? Laura works there! C’mon … we don’t want to be late!”
“Jack is very patient. He knows I’ll be there” replied the old lady.
“Well”, said Mike, “my wife ain’t so let’s skedaddle.”
The woman had a little box which she placed on the back seat next to her. The rain and wind were terrible as Mike made his way to Renwick’s. He called Laura to let her know he was coming and filled her in on what was going on. The old woman hummed softly in the back seat, as in a trance. It sounded like a haunting lullaby, tender and sweet yet mournful and lonely.
Finally they arrived at Renwick’s. Laura was waiting under the awning but she was alone and the store was dark. Mike flashed the lights and Laura made a mad dash for the cab. Laura turned around to greet the mysterious little old lady but the back seat was empty.
“Well, where is she?” asked a surprised Laura.
“Where’d she go?” stammered Mike. “I was here the whole time. No one left this cab!”
Laura reached for the box. On the outside was scrawled Jack McGuire, Pediatric Unit, Bed #27 and the note inside read – “For my precious baby boy, Jack. Sorry I made you wait so long. My work is done. Mommy’s finally coming.” Inside was a tiny gold lantern with glass panels etched with cherubs.
“OMG! You’re not gonna believe this, Mike. This was once the site of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital. A lot of people died from smallpox, especially babies. So many helpless babies – God bless them. This is a sign, Mike. I believe you were touched by an angel.”