As the parents of four young children, Kay and Michael Morgan wanted nothing but the best for their kids – 7-year-old twins Jack and Luke, 3-year-old Ella and baby Ivy. After meeting in college in Philadelphia and living there for the past twelve years, the couple had recently moved back to their hometown. It was great reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.

Kay and Michael wanted to send the boys to a good summer camp and everyone recommended Camp Dino-Mite. Not only did the camp offer a broad variety of indoor and outdoor activities ranging from chess to archery and just about everything in between – it was an easy ten-minute walk from their house.

The Morgans were looking forward to orientation day when the boys would meet their counselors and the other kids in their groups. The day turned out to be great fun with games for the campers and a barbecue lunch for everyone. Before heading home, Kay and Michael stopped at the main office to buy camp t-shirts for the boys and pay their registration fee.

They were just about to pay when Michael heard an unwelcome voice call out “Is that you, Morgan? Well, the Boy Wonder has returned! Ain’t that just Dino-Mite?!” Michael cringed; it was his old childhood nemesis Rex Tirano. Michael suddenly realized why the name of the camp was so familiar; “Dino-Mite” used to be Rex’s favorite expression. Apparently, it still was. Slowly Michael turned around to face his one-time foe.

Let’s just say the aging process for Rex did not go well. He had become a caricature of himself – a living, breathing buffoonish cartoon character – and Michael bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Rex was pasty, prematurely balding and terribly overweight; he looked ridiculous stuffed into a camp t-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. Rex was the complete opposite of the stereotypical tanned goomba high school bully with slicked back hair that Michael remembered; the only things unchanged were his pushy attitude, big mouth and cold, forbidding eyes.

“Rex” Michael replied coolly. “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, I heard ya was back in town, living in a nice big house with your Wall Street job and your perfect little family. Must be nice being you, Mikey Boy – Mr. Quarterback, valedictorian, prom king big shot. Ain’t ya gonna introduce me to your wifey? Hiya, sweetie. What’s your name?”

Michael had always been intimidated by Rex – everyone was – but he wasn’t about to apologize for being successful and he certainly wasn’t going to allow his wife to be insulted or let his kids see him cave.

Where are my manners? Rex, this is my wife, Kay. Honey, this is Rex Tirano. We went to school together.”

“Kay and Michael – just like from The Godfather. Ain’t that precious? Well, you got yourself a Dino-Mite little lady there, Mikey. A real looker.”

Trying desperately to avoid an unpleasant scene, Kay greeted Rex cordially. “Are those your children, Rex?” Kay asked.

Rex nodded enthusiastically; his kids were almost as big as him and just as neanderthal. They were porcine, slovenly nose pickers practically bursting out of their camp uniforms. Rex beamed proudly as he introduced his kids. “Yeah, this here’s Bruno, then Gino and my little angel Claudia. My wife’s around here somewhere, meetin’ and greetin’.”

Aren’t you a little old to be wearing a camp uniform?” Jack asked innocently.

“And big?” Luke added, always unable to resist stating the obvious.

Michael wished his sons hadn’t said anything but they was just kids; he had to admit he was curious himself. Well, the cat was out of the bag now and there was nothing Michael could do about it.

Rex glared at Michael. “Whoa, Captain America, don’t tell me there’s something you don’t know!? Dino-Mite!! Allow me to explain: I own this camp! That’s right, Mr. Touchdown, hot shot class president – this is all mine” Rex boasted loudly, stretching out his arms causing his t-shirt to rip under his sweaty pits.

By now Rex’s crowing had attracted a lot of his attention and people rushed over to see what was going on.

Luke whispered to Jack that Rex looked David Banner about to transform into the Incredible Hulk. That was too funny for Jack and both boys started laughing at the sounds of ripping cloth and the sight of huge sweat rings under Rex’s arms.

Why you little smart asses! Looks like your daddy forgot to teach you some manners so I guess we’re gonna have to. Bruno, Gino, let’s show these two skinny little bean poles what happens when they don’t give proper respect to Rex “Dino-Mite” Tirano.”

Kay started to take a step forward but Michael blocked her; no way was he going to let anything happen to her. Besides, he’d been waiting for this chance for a long time.

“Listen, Rex. We didn’t come here looking for trouble. We just wanted a good camp for our boys where they could be with respectable people with decent attitudes. Apparently we made the wrong choice. You’re right – I didn’t know you owned this place. If I did, we wouldn’t have wasted our time coming here. You may have gotten larger, Rex, but you certainly haven’t grown up!” And with that, Michael turned his back on Rex and began to lead his family out of the camp.

Before Michael could take two steps, Rex grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around and took a swing at him. Michael ducked and Rex’s big flabby fist landed squarely on Kay’s face. Everyone gasped loudly and people immediately ran to help Kay. Michael stood protectively in front of his children. A group of men held Rex back while someone yelled for the police; within minutes camp security and the police showed up.

Rex was cuffed and hauled off to the police station; he was charged with assault and battery as well as endangering the welfare of children. Michael was asked if he wanted a restraining order against Rex. “Oh, hell yeah!” said Michael. “I don’t want this beast anywhere near my family“.

The crowd of people started murmuring among themselves. No one really wanted their kids going to Camp Dino-Mite; they were just intimidated by Rex and he bullied every other camp owner into shutting down. He was the only game in town. Now people were no longer afraid to show Rex how they really felt; they tore up their registration checks and pulled their kids out of Camp Dino-Mite.

Michael didn’t give a damn about Rex – it was time he got his due – but he felt awful about what happened to Kay. An ambulance had taken her to the hospital; she had a broken nose and a nasty black eye which she wore with pride. She told Michael it was worth it to bring down a prehistoric galoot like Rex. The kids were in awe of Kay; in fact, everyone was in awe of both Michael and Kay for doing something no one else had the nerve to do – stand up to Rex Tirano.

It turns out the restraining order wasn’t necessary but it was worth it just to see the expression of Rex’s face. After losing the camp and the power he held over people, Rex had nothing left and Kay convinced Michael not to press charges. Rex moved his family to New Jersey, his tail between his legs.

That was the end of the “Tirano Menace” and it didn’t even take a meteor shower to bring him down. No, it was a woman, a manasaur – the so-called “feral, dirty and sweet little girl” who knew how to bare her teeth, show her claws, bang a gong and get it on – since time immemorial! 🦕

NAR © 2022


Becoming a stripper wasn’t my life’s ambition, rather a steppingstone while I figured out what to do with myself.

I was attending classes at NYU during the day and working at a dive bar in New Jersey at night. It was a grueling job with very little pay, lousy tips, sticky floors and lots of pervs hitting on me. After much thought, I decided to take a break from school and look for more desirable employment. I was a class act – clean, pretty and always dressed to the nines. I deserved better than a sleazy Jersey joint.    

While looking through the classifieds, I came across an ad that read “High-end cocktail lounge seeking hostesses”. No name was listed but the address was well-known – Billionaires’ Row, the wealthiest and most exclusive section of Manhattan. I called the number in the ad; it turned out to be “The Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club”, the most elite lounge in Manhattan. I went for an interview the next day and started working that night.

Everyone from the kitchen staff to Luca, the manager, treated all the girls with dignity and respect – a far cry from the dumpster in Jersey. The clientele was equally gracious. I’d been watching the dancers here interact with the guests. The Sapphire was a one-way contact club; the girls could touch the customers, sit in their laps, etc. but the men could not touch the girls.

After a few nights Luca asked if I was interested in dancing. I knew I could make a lot of money so I agreed. When he told me I’d need a stage name, I chose Blaine, my hometown in Ohio. “I like it!” Luca said. “How’s this for a catchphrase: ‘Come make it rain for Blaine!’?”

My first night on stage was thrilling. The house lights dimmed and Luca announced me. When the spotlight hit me, I was standing with my back to the room; I wore stiletto heels, a sparkling G-string and nothing else. A hush fell over the room. As Journey’s song “Lovin’, Touchin,’ Squeezin” began to pulsate, I grabbed the pole and peeked provocatively over my shoulder at the crowd, my long auburn hair cascading down my back. I danced with total abandon and money rained down.

Luca told me a prominent customer requested I join him at his private table in the darkened balcony. I froze; this was not what I bargained for. Luca was quick to calm my fears saying everything would be alright and a bodyguard would be discreetly positioned two feet away.

Julius, one of the bodyguards, escorted me upstairs. I was surprised to see an elderly man at the table; he looked and talked liked an older version of Mr. Rogers. I whispered “Hello” not sure what to do next. I resisted the temptation to call him “Fred”.

He looked at me and smiled. “Blaine, lovely to meet you.” He stood up, removed his suit jacket and wrapped it around my naked body. “My name is Walter Ashcroft. Please join me”.  

A waitress appeared with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. I declined saying it was against company policy to drink while working. “Oh, I don’t think Luca would object” Walter said. “After all, I own this establishment. In fact, I own every building on this street.”  

I glanced up at Julius who simply nodded once in agreement.

“What do you want me to do, Mr. Ashcroft?” I questioned, curious as to what would happen next.

“My dear, I realize I’m old enough to be your grandfather but please call me ‘Walter’. All I want is someone to talk to. Tell me about yourself. You are an enchanting entertainer but I don’t think this is all you want to do. Tell me, Blaine. What are your goals in life?”

I found myself telling Walter about my life in Ohio, college, New Jersey, my dream to someday own my own business. I even divulged my real name: Doris Freeman. He listened attentively, encouraging me to continue talking. After about an hour he announced it was time for him to leave. I returned his jacket and he took both my hands in his. After Walter left I looked down; there were five $100 bills nestled in my hands!

This went on for one week. I found my talks with Walter to be the highlight of my night and it wasn’t because of the money; I genuinely liked him. He spoke very little and hung on my every word. He was the epitome of the perfect gentleman.

Finally one evening Walter asked me a question: “So, tell me, Blaine. What is this business you’ve been dreaming about?”

“You know the Russian Tea Room, right? An important man like you, of course you know it! Someday I want to own a place just like that – a haven of fine cuisine and decadent desserts, especially elegant afternoon tea for ladies of high society. Crazy, isn’t it?”

“Not at all. There’s nothing crazy about dreaming big. How do you think I got here?”

That was the last time I saw Walter; he suddenly just stopped coming into the club. When I questioned Luca, he sadly informed me that Walter had passed away. It sounds ridiculous but I cried like a baby. I had become quite attached to that man, strange as it may seem. And I know he genuinely cared for me. As the days went by I tried not to think about Walter but I just couldn’t forget him.

Things just weren’t the same after that and even though I still enjoyed my job, something was missing. I’d find myself glancing up at the darkened balcony hoping to see Walter, knowing that was an impossibility. Several weeks went by and I was still in a funk. Why could I not forget that man?! I seriously considered quitting the club and going back to school. I had some money saved up so I knew I’d be okay until something came along. The last thing I wanted was to become a career dancer. Did I really want to do this for another fifteen years only to be replaced by younger girls when my looks started to fade? Or should I take Walter’s advice to dream big?

One night Luca approached me and said a messenger had dropped something off for me. He handed me a little flat leather box which contained a business card for Hamilton Barrow, Esq. On the back was written very neatly “Dream big, Blaine. Hamilton is expecting your call. Affectionately, Walter.” I’m not embarrassed to admit seeing Walter’s name felt like a warm hug from an angel.

That afternoon I called Hamilton Barrow; he was very British and quite proper. “Ah, yes. Miss Freeman. It appears that Walter Ashcroft named you as a beneficiary in his will.”

“That’s incredible! Walter was such a sweet old guy but I don’t understand why he’d name me.”

“Well, Miss Freeman, it’s not our place to wonder why. In any event, I believe what I’m trying to say is that ‘sweet old guy’ made it rain. Can you come to my office this afternoon?”

Bewildered, I agreed. When I arrived at Mr. Barrow’s office, he handed me a thin grey linen envelope. Inside was a check made out to me. I nearly fainted looking at the number of zeros.

“There must be some mistake” I mumbled.

“I assure you there is no mistake, Miss Freeman. Walter Ashcroft did not make mistakes. He left you a considerable amount of money, a fortune some might say, with the instructions to ‘Dream Big’.”

This was my chance to see my life’s ambition come true. “God bless you, dear Walter. I won’t let you down. And no matter how successful I become I will never forget you.”

“Good luck, Miss Freeman” Mr. Barrow declared.

“Thank you, Mr. Barrow. Tell me: how does the name ‘Ashcroft’s’ sound to you?”

Quite appropriate, Miss Freeman. Quite appropriate.” I even detected a slight twinkle in his eye.

And for the first time in weeks I felt truly happy.

NAR © 2022



This is a follow-up to my January 2021 story, “On The Way”. To see how it all began, click here first:

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 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 grudgingly slid off his stool and made his way to his car. He took Route 718 toward a friend’s cabin which he was using until he got his life on track.

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 revealed a shiny object in the thicket below. Being a curious type, Tom drove his car closer to the edge, grabbed a flashlight from the backseat and gingerly made his way down the side of the bluff settling on a heavily overgrown landing about 15 feet below. He walked around for a few minutes before his foot came in contact with something hard. Crouching for a better look, he discovered 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 shoe. Shining his flashlight on his foot, Tom couldn’t believe what was buried under the leaves and debris.

“Holy shit! It’s a human skeleton! Poor guy must have ridden his bike off the road. Wonder where his bicycle is? What have we here?” Tom moved some leaves out of the way and discovered a waist bag which he took. 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 climbed up to his car and drove off. He left with that uneasy, suspicious feeling he’d get while working on a case. Old habits die hard.

Once home, Tom emptied the contents of the waist bag: assorted crap, a wallet and an iPhone. “Hmm. Two iPhones. Why would one person need two cells? There had to be two people there that night. What the hell happened? Was this the scene of an accident or a crime?” Tom’s PI sixth sense was really kicking in now.

Both phones were wet. Drying them off, Tom placed the phones and SIM cards in 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 Drive, Sparta, NJ. – a 90-minute drive from the cabin.

Tom broke out his own phone and Googled ‘Joseph Barnes, Sparta, NJ’; it took a little while then BINGO! There it was – a missing person flyer dated January 2021. Last known location was Bethlehem, PA – a few miles from the cabin. There was a phone number to call. A picture of Joseph on a bike holding a KTM helmet smiled at Tom; the same face was on the driver’s license.

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. As he suspected, one phone belonged to Joseph Barnes; 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?” thought Tom.

Tom realized that after 14 months David Stapleton could be anywhere with a different 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 David’s phone into his pocket, Tom drove to his favorite bar. On the corner was an old phone booth with a pay telephone – the untraceable kind. Tom opened ‘Settings’ on David’s iPhone; there were two different phone numbers for David. 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, a house or a place where David used to work – 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 Dave 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 David’s business, maybe get an address. This called for a little celebration – some 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 and crash-landed upside down 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.

NAR © 2022