Jack Beasley was a singularly lonely individual who, despite past sporadic efforts to the contrary, largely kept himself to himself. His parents died some years ago and his only sister, now living abroad, visited him once every couple of years or so. He had no friends or companions and, as a result, for longer than Jack cared to remember he had suffered with the depressing thoughts that only the very deepest pits of sorrow and loneliness can produce. To put it simply, he’d had enough of life, or what little he could call it a life. The loss of his parents and utter lack of companionship had driven him to the brink and today, rather than fight it any longer, he’d decided to simply let himself fall quietly over the edge.
It was a Saturday morning and Jack, as with every Saturday morning, sat alone at his wooden desk in his small living room, browsing in solitude through the morning paper.
He was finishing up an article on a progressing and popular story he had been following for some weeks now - that of the infamous Anna Riley. Indeed, the stories surrounding her seemed to have captivated the public imagination to such an extent that only a recluse could fail to have heard the name ‘Anna Riley’.
Anna, according to the descriptions collated from various victims, was a good-looking girl of foreign descent, no more than 25 years of age. She was of medium height and slender build with dark hair. She didn’t dress ostentatiously, although doubtless she could afford it with the fruits of her deceptive labour. Finally, the descriptions concluded, her personality was genial and inviting, helpful traits indeed when gaining the trust and acquaintance of her victims.
She was on the run after having executed a string of common burglaries. The police believed her to be hiding out somewhere in East London, but beyond this their leads were few and far between.
Interestingly, throughout each story that had made its way into the news of the past weeks, the common theme within the victim’s statements had been the utter lack of initial persistence or pursuit on the part of Riley before executing her crimes.
For example, one of the victims – an elderly widow by the name of Mrs Peacock - described how she first met Riley after she dropped her parcels in the street and Riley, who happened to be passing by, gladly picked them up and offered to carry them for her. Mrs Peacock graciously accepted and, upon reaching the old lady’s house not far away Riley, having deposited the goods back to Mrs Peacock, insisted in a most kindly manner that she must depart. It was only because the old lady protested to this and insisted firmly herself that she stay for some tea and biscuits as a reward for her kind act that Riley was presented with the chance to steal anything at all. Indeed, had Mrs Peacock thanked her and let her be on her way as she was at first inclined, Riley would have persisted in the matter no further and the diamonds would remain in the elderly widow’s possession still.
Yes, indeed, she was a real professional, biding her time and striking only when opportunity presented itself with the least risk.
As Jack read on to the end of the article, it finished with a plea to the public to remain extra vigilant. This final paragraph made Jack sneer slightly as he thought to himself that only fools could be tricked by such, in his opinion, transparent schemes.
Jack finished the article, folded the paper neatly and placed it down on the wooden desk, the contents of which also comprised a pair of glasses and a 1983-model telephone and answer machine - the latter of which had been playing up for some days now despite being only a few years old. However, next to these familiar objects also stood another which had only recently been acquainted with the desk’s usual occupants - that of a loaded handgun.
The time had come. Jack wouldn’t find out whether Anna Riley would be captured and although he did take a mild interest in the story it was not enough to keep him from carrying out the ultimate self-infliction that was about to take place.
He lifted the gun to his head, aware of the coolness of the metal against his temple. His hand shaking slightly while turning off the safety catch. Somewhat nervously, he began to squeeze the trigger, his eyes closed as he took some small measure of comfort in the knowledge that it would all be over shortly. And then it happened, in an instant the acute silence was ripped open. However, the sound was not the sound of the gun releasing its deathly blow but rather the abrupt ring of the telephone. It startled Jack, almost irritated him with its disregard for interrupting his big moment. He could ignore it, he thought to himself, and just continue with his plan. No one would care anyway. But for some reason he lowered the gun back on the desk and picked up the phone.
“Hello?” Jack answered, slightly agitated.
“Beasley? Beasley, is that you?” came an even more agitated reply.
“Yes,” replied Jack, slightly taken aback by the sharpness of the voice down the line.
“Beasley, it’s Stones! Where the hell are you, man? I left you a message hours ago. We’re two men down and I need you to cover the shift. You do know you’re on a 24/7 call-out contract, don’t you? I don’t know what you’ve been up to and, frankly, I don’t care, but I need you down here! This is the second time this week you’ve failed to answer me, if it happens a third I’ll find someone else, so get down here now!”
With the final word still echoing in Jack’s ear, the man who called himself Stones hung up. He was Jack’s boss down at the factory. He started a year ago and it was quite clear that neither liked the other. In fact, Stones had barely attempted to conceal his desire to replace Jack, but until now he had no official reason to do so. The faulty answer machine, however, appeared to be giving Stones just the reason he was looking for. Jack cursed the machine for only letting every other phone call through and replaying messages hours after they had been received.
One would be forgiven for thinking that a person in Jack’s mental state wouldn’t care much about a faulty telephone and answer machine, and truth be told he didn’t, but nonetheless he didn’t want to give Stones the satisfaction of firing him and he certainly didn’t want Stones of all people to be the last person he ever spoke to.
Jack lowered the phone back on to the hook, sat back in his chair and stared at the gun. ‘Damn it,’ he thought. ‘Tomorrow.’
He stood up, deposited the gun into the drawer of the desk, slid his glasses over his nose, pulled on his coat and hurried out of the flat, heading in the direction of Mile End Tube station.
Outside, the weather was crisp and cold, and the low sun was flashing in the puddles that had formed the night before. Jack tilted his chin down and drew the collar of his coat up around his neck, thankful the station was at least only one road away. As the traffic light turned red, signalling to the oncoming cars to let the passerby’s on their way, Jack heard the sound of a train pulling into the station. He quickened his pace slightly as he crossed the road, his head still lowered, eyes following the footsteps of those in front, all moving forward in the same direction as he on the left while those coming in the opposite direction were traveling on the right side of the crossing. However, as he reached halfway across the road, he was knocked back by someone. Startled, Jack lifted his head up briskly, ready to dispense his reproval vigorously, when he realised at once that the opposite party had emerged from the incident worse off than he. Indeed, the person with whom he had unintentionally collided was presently laying on her backside, the personal effects of her bag scattered across the road, and the coffee she had purchased not thirty seconds prior half empty - the other half splattered across her clothes. She appeared dazed, almost as if unsure of how she found herself in her current predicament.
At the sight of this, Jack’s former anger parted immediately and he rushed over to the young lady, offering his apologies profusely as he speedily gathered up her personal items back into her bag. The items gathered and the bag returned, Jack looked at her properly for the first time. She had a small, thin face, possibly the result of being slightly underfed. Her hair was dark brown and fell to her shoulders in an almost messy manner. Jack couldn’t tell if it was usually arranged that way or the consequence of recent events. Her eyes were deep green and flickered in the winter sun, and through them Jack saw that not only was she very beautiful but in her confusion she had yet to really notice him there still.
Hesitantly, Jack said, “Uh, excuse me, are you okay?” Without waiting for a reply, he went on again, “I’m ever so sorry for crashing into you like that, I must not have been looking where I was going. Here, let me help you up.”
At this offer, the girl seemed to come to her senses and accepted Jack’s help politely. He walked her across to the side of the road where they proceeded to look at each other awkwardly. At once, they both started talking, and then stopped simultaneously. Jack bowed his head slightly, indicating for the lady to speak first, “Please excuse me,” she said softly, her accent clearly of European descent, but where exactly Jack could not place her. She continued, “I don’t really know what happened. I’d just bought a drink and was looking down for something in my bag at the same time and next thing I knew I was on the floor.”
“Oh no, no, no,” Jack protested as he waved his arms around, “it was absolutely my fault. I was looking down at the road and should’ve seen you coming. I just do hope I haven’t hurt you?”
“Not at all,” the girl replied reassuringly. “Aside from these clothes, I’m absolutely fine, thank you.”
She looked around but saw there were no clothes shops in sight, only a couple of public houses, tool shops and convenience stores, with flats located above each. Realizing the girl was wondering what to do, Jack insisted, “Please, my flat is just up there.” He pointed to the building behind them. “I have some of my sister’s old clothes, they’ll be slightly baggy on you but better than traipsing through East London soaked in coffee, don’t you think? She doesn’t live around here and anyway she wouldn’t mind in the least.”
The girl eyed him slightly suspiciously, but after a momentary pause, agreed to the idea.
Back in the flat, after redressing herself in the slightly baggy clothes, the girl reappeared from the bedroom, shifting across the hall into the living room where Jack sat waiting at his desk.
“Thank you, I guess,” said the girl shyly, her hair no longer a mess.
“Not a problem,” replied Jack, watching her attentively. As he did, he noticed again just how beautiful she was, but also sensed that he somehow recognized her from somewhere, although he was quite sure he had never met her before.
“Well, I really must get going,” she said, slowly edging towards the door, yet curiously still lingering, as if waiting for Jack to find a way to prolong her staying there.
When Jack said nothing, she turned, “Thank you, again,” she said, this time moving more clearly to the door.
At this, Jack blurted, “Would you like to meet up sometime?”
He didn’t know what came over him. Panicking slightly, he went into a verbose commentary about fate and how maybe there was a reason they crossed paths that morning, not that he truly believed in fate all that much. He let out a sigh.
The girl eyed him patiently. At the end, she simply replied, “Yes, how about Wednesday at 8 o’clock, walk along the Thames, meet me outside Embankment station?”
Jack, unsure if she had thought of the details while he was chattering away or had them pre-planned somehow, simply nodded his assent.
The girl left, and Jack suddenly realised he didn’t even know her name or anything else at all about her.
‘What if she decided not to meet, most likely he would never see her again?’ he thought to himself with some anguish.
He sat there, staring transfixed at the spot where the girl had been not five minutes earlier, when suddenly the answer phone beeped. It was a message from Stones from three hours earlier, the one he’d missed, or rather, the one the answer phone failed to play, telling Beasley he was two men down and needed him in urgently.
‘Damn!’ thought Jack. He rushed out. Stones would not be happy, but Jack didn’t much care, he had other things on his mind now.
Wednesday came, and Jack arrived promptly at Embankment Station. Not five minutes later the girl came into view, strolling towards him from Victoria Embankment Gardens, one of a series of pleasant, tree-lined strips of well-kept gardens built some 100 years prior to the north side of the river Thames.
The evening was particularly cold, as evidenced by the visibility of people’s breath in the air as they walked by. The girl was wearing a crimson-red coat, around her neck hung a white scarf. She looked splendid, so Jack thought.
The pair meandered easterly on the path adjacent to the Thames, passing slowly through the illuminations created by the black, orb-headed lamp posts which sat every few meters on the wall separating the pair from the river below. The sky was clear and the air crisp, and soon any signs of initial awkwardness dissipated for the pair were engaging in flowing conversations about the area and the history.
After a few minutes, Jack turned to the girl and confessed, slightly embarrassed, that he did not know her name. “Jane,” replied the girl, “and you?”
“Jack, that’s a nice name, I like it.”
She smiled and, after this somewhat second introduction, the pair strolled on quite leisurely.
“Let’s play a game,” commented Jane after a while. “I’ll ask you questions and you say the first answer that comes into your mind.”
“Oh, excellent, like a quick-fire dating quiz,” exclaimed Jack excitedly.
He pulled back, she turned and eyed him, smiling, “Ah, so we’re on a date?” she teased.
“I…I didn’t mean…well…I guess I hoped that perhaps it would be something like that,” stumbled Jack.
The girl carried on without reply, smiling. “Ok, ready?”
“Cat or dog?” asked Jane.
“Dog - I’m allergic to cats,” replied Jack.
“Me too!” stated Jane. “Ok next, vanilla or chocolate?”
“Chocolate, every time,” replied Jack.
Jane laughed, “Ah, sweet tooth. I’m more of a vanilla girl – plain.”
“You are anything but!” replied Jack, vehemently.
The girl smiled once more. “Music or film?”
“Film - I often go to the pictures by myself.”
Jane’s expression turned sympathetic. “Oh, I don’t like the thought of you being there alone. We’ll have to go together sometime.” She continued, “Ok…um…favourite food?”
“Lasagna – it reminds me of when my mum used to make it every week, I haven’t had it since she—” he broke off, unable to finish the sentence.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” replied Jane, quietly.
“No, don’t worry, you weren’t to know, it happened some years ago now.”
They walked on in silence. After a few minutes, Jack said, “I’m glad we played this game.”
The girl placed her arm through his and suffice to say the rest of the evening went as well as Jack could have hoped. He found out much about Jane. That she was originally from France although moved around a lot when she was younger, she had scarcely any family and worked mainly as a backing dancer at the theatre but also did some part-time modelling and the like when a job from the agency came her way. He figured he must’ve recognized her from some play or poster one time advertising some product or another, although she didn’t much elaborate. Finally, he learnt that she simply loved crime fiction. In fact, she was in the middle of trying to write her first novel, although she didn’t think it any good for she couldn’t decide on a definitive plot.
At the end of the evening, Jack was positively glowing. He had never felt such a connection to another person. For the first time in years he actually felt alive again. However, despite his enthusiasm, he was also conscious of scaring Jane off by appearing too eager. Nonetheless, he had to know if she wanted to meet up again. As they were making their adieu, thanking each other for a pleasant evening, he tentatively asked if Jane was free on Saturday. She wasn’t. His heart dropped, he’d misread the signs. No matter his effort, he could not conceal the disappointment in his face. Fortunately, this proved only temporary, for Jane followed promptly, “It’s not that I don’t want to, but I’m going away on holiday, to Florence. I go once a year you see, always somewhere different, always alone.” These last words Jane mumbled, almost to herself. She looked at Jack, her lips parting as though she were about to say something more, but then she hesitated. Her lips closed and she looked down.
Jack, however, grabbed his new-found energy for life by the horns and, without hesitation, replied, “This probably seems a bit forward, but what if I came with you on your trip so that you’re not, you know, alone?”
Jane looked up and beamed, and he knew her answer before her voice reached his ears, “I don’t know why, I’ve only just met you, but why not?”
“I’m going to the travel agent on Friday to book my ticket, I’ll book yours then too.” She hesitated, “Only, there’s one thing, it’s a little embarrassing you see, but I’m afraid I can’t just go ahead and book your ticket as I’m a bit short of money at the moment. You see, backing dancers don’t earn a whole lot and the modelling business is always slow in the New Year.”
“Of course,” replied Jack. He looked around and then said, “Ah ha!” and wandered across the road. There he found a cash machine and withdrew £500, a substantial portion of his savings, but enough to cover the cost of the ticket and hotel for the week.
“Are you sure?” asked the girl as Jack handed her the money.
Jack turned to her, his brow twitching slightly as he wondered if there was anything behind her question. He composed himself quickly though, “Of course, why, you’re not going to run off to Italy without me, are you?”
The girl smiled but said nothing.
Saturday morning arrived. Jack had not heard from Jane but took it as a good sign to meet her at the airport as they’d agreed on Wednesday. He arrived promptly, but after 45 minutes was beginning to worry as Jane had yet to appear. He went to the check-in desk and inquired as to his flight. Strangely, the attendant had no information of either Jack or Jane whatsoever.
Jack left the attendant on the desk and wandered slowly over to a seat, one of those hundreds of seats at airports that are all the same. There Jack stayed, fretting unbearably, until finally the flight he and Jane were supposed to board departed. Jack couldn’t understand. ‘No information on this flight whatsoever,’ Jack repeated to himself vaguely the words of the attendant at the desk. Mystery shrouded the affair.
He looked down at an old, battered newspaper lying on the floor a few seats over and all at once his eyes widened and his heart sunk, he racked his brain over the events of the past week and realised what was happening. Indeed, what had already happened. The girl from the paper - Anna Riley - the slim, dark haired young woman he’d read about not five minutes before meeting ‘Jane’. Her foreign descent. The ‘unintentional’ meeting of the victim. Her gentle, subtle nudges that culminated in him parting ways so easily with a substantial amount of money, all the while thinking it was his idea.
‘She never even planned to go away,’ Jack thought as he shut his eyes in anguish. He had just become one of the victims he’d read about in the paper and mocked for being so, in his opinion, gullible. He felt crushed, not because of the money, but because he genuinely thought they shared a connection - a companionship. But then again, so did all the other victims most likely.
He left the airport, wandering aimlessly. Eventually, by the early afternoon, he found his way back to his flat and sat down at the small wooden desk.
He felt empty - painful emptiness. The high he felt over the past week was nothing compared to the pits of sorrow her betrayal engendered now.
He took a long look at the walls of his small living room - those plain white walls illuminated by the already setting sun - and thought to himself numbly, “Always did need a bit of colour; red is as good as any - crimson-red, like Jane’s coat.”
He pulled the gun out of the drawer, lifted it to his head and felt once more its cold metal against his temple. This time there was no unsteadiness, no wavering or hesitation. He squeezed the trigger, the sound of the shot reverberated throughout the apartment and then died away, soaking into the memory of the now-stained walls.
Silence reigned, but only temporarily. The answer phone beeped, signalling a voicemail had been received. It was from last night and had only just come through. It was Jane’s voice, she spoke excitedly, “Jack, hi, it’s me, Jane. I really hope you don’t mind but I need to re-book our tickets to tomorrow evening instead of the morning. Don’t worry, I’ve not had a change of heart or anything like that, in fact I simply cannot wait for us to go away together. Although I hardly know you, there’s something about you that makes me feel, well, like I’ve known you forever. Maybe it’s because we both know loneliness or something, having no family nearby and all that. That probably sounds silly!
“Anyway, the reason I need to move our tickets is because I was asked today by the agency to do a line-up at the police station tomorrow morning. You know, one of those things where five people who look alike stand in a line and the victim has to pick out the criminal from the line-up. Well, I just couldn’t refuse because you know who it was I was asked to line up next to, don’t you? Only Anna Riley herself! That’s right, they caught her, Jack, and they asked the agency for a lookalike and I was recommended. Apparently, she was just walking along the street and someone recognized her and phoned the police. Funny thing, really!
“Anyway, you know how much I love crime fiction, I just had to be a part of that line-up to, you know, soak in the atmosphere, maybe even speak to her for a minute or two if I get the chance, I don’t know. I just feel like it will really give me some inspiration for my book! Oh, I hope you’re not mad at me? I’m sorry again about postponing. We’ll book the tickets when we’re at the airport, I find they always have some spare seats on these planes and we might even get a deal. Anyway, I’ll come over tomorrow lunchtime with some food to make it up to you and tell you all about it, and then we can head over to the airport together after. I’ll see you soon, Jack. I can’t wait for the trip. I know it’s silly, but I’m missing you already! Bye.”
The answer phone declared the end of the message. Jack remained there, still and silent.
Then a knock at the door broke the silence while the smell of lasagna – Jack’s favourite - wafted in pleasantly from the hall. After a minute of no answer, the handle turned and the door opened. Upon entering, Jane sailed radiantly down the narrow hall, excited to surprise Jack. She edged round the corner into the living room and gasped a sharp intake of breath, her green eyes widened and delicate hands clasped her mouth as the lasagna dropped and spread across the floor like the blood across the walls.
The answer machine beeped and shut down for the final time.
Jake Collins is a writer who lives in West Sussex, England.
Jatra Leaves, by Kidd Wadsworth
Exhausted after a fourteen hour day, I step into the kitchen and my breath turns to fog. I touch the radiator, it’s barely warm.
Grann, in her slippers, robe and winter coat, clues me in. “Frank just left. He got the boiler working. I figure it will be another hour before the house warms up.” She’s standing by the ancient stove, only two of its four electric burners work, those are both fire engine red. The cracked chartreuse linoleum floor, the avocado colored refrigerator struggling in the corner and a hole where the dishwasher should be—I’m the dishwasher—reveals our kitchen’s vintage. With age has come dementia, every mechanical contraption from the coffee maker to the ice maker periodically forgets how to work. At least the sink doesn’t clog. No, that would be the sink in our bathroom. And just in case you’d like to take a shower, be advised when you pull the tab on the tub spigot only about forty percent of the water will meander on up to the shower head. The rest just keeps pouring out the spigot and goes right down the drain. Wanna hear about the rats?
I hang my keys on a hook, kick off my shoes and head to my bedroom. In three minutes, I’m back.
Grann looks at the huge book in my arms. “It’ll go wrong on ya.” She shuffles over to the coffee maker and pours herself a mug of Columbian dark roast. “Always does.”
Struggling to hold the tome in one hand, I put Grann’s medications, the napkins, the sugar, the salt and pepper, and the hot sauce on the side counter next to Grann’s landline, and lay Mom’s leather bound book with a skull on the cover on our small kitchen table. As I head down to the basement, Grann’s voice echoes after me. “Leave that poor thing alone.”
In a corner under fourteen grow lights, in a beat-up pumpkin-orange pot is Mom’s Jatra tree. Barely four feet tall and not as wide, I know I’m going to hurt it, so I give it a drink of fertilizer laced water. Not for the first time I mumble something about leaving and planting us both in the tropics.
I harvest four of its pathetically small leaves. On the floor beside the pot is the jawbone of a large human male. Yup, I’m gonna need that too.
Back in the kitchen I place the leaves in the jawbone and the jawbone beside the book.
Grann bangs shut the cabinet door. “You’ve been working that Ju Ju all your life. You know it only brings trouble.”
“I should have gotten the promotion. I should be a lieutenant. It’s gender bias and you know it.”
Her old eyes reach out toward me. “Sweet thing please—”
I cut her off with a single look.
As her bedroom door shuts, I gaze up at the photograph of Mom on the wall. She’s wearing a bright red turban and a white ruffled linen top pulled down to leave one shoulder bare. Celadon green sea glass earrings dangle from her earlobes. I remember her laugh, the twinkle in her eyes, the sway of her hips when she walked. “Shhh,” she’d whisper, “they don’t need to know what’s coming. Let ‘em think they’ve won.”
I rub my forehead trying to erase the pain that lives between my eyes. I’ve already taken the holy trifecta of headache medicines: two Tylenol, two Advil, and half a coke, but my head is still pounding.
I’ve got more collars, fewer complaints, more years on the job…
A tear slips down my cheek, splashing onto the dry, cracked cover of the book. With my finger I smear the liquid watching as it darkens the old leather. Outside lightning flashes across the night sky. Inside—inside me—rage crackles deep in my gut. My voice is whispered thunder. “They promoted that moron over me?”
I open the book, breathing in the dust and mold that floats up from it, and close my eyes. The rain, the lightning, even the incessant hum of Grann’s old fridge fads into silence. I chant the cursed, hungry words, inviting them in, knowing they will eat a part of my soul.
When I open my eyes, a voodoo veil covers my face. I see the kitchen through a black shroud. With a scratch, I ignite the match and touch the yellow flame to the Jatra leaves. A harsh, cruel scent fills the kitchen, burning the delicate tissues of my nose. Recoiling, I reach forward to snuff out the leaves when the fog comes, like oxycodone. Yes, yes, the sweet fog, the no-one-will-ever-know fog, envelopes my mind.
“You’ve got to have a special place,” Mom taught me. “Choose well. There the Ju Ju will come.”
What can I say? I was five years old. I liked story time at the library.
Three days later my cell rings at 5am in the morning. This is the case I’ve been waiting for.
The next day I walk into the south side branch of our public library. Their daily schedule hasn’t changed in fifteen years. At 10:30 the quilters meet. At noon, the diehard readers show up to turn in their books and hastily check out more, all on their lunch hour. At 3:45pm, the after-school tutoring program begins. But at 1:30 in the afternoon, the lunch “crowd” is gone, the students haven’t arrived, and at least two of the staff are on break. I walk into the empty lobby, my police notebook in my hand. The librarian, busy at the computer, barely looks up.
The murder mysteries are shelved along the back wall. I stand at the end and whisper.
“Victim: male, white...”
About fifty books slide halfway out.
“fifty-three years old, stockbroker, rich”
Half of the books reshelve themselves.
“murdered with a knife in the back at approximately 1am last night.”
More of the books whisper back into place; I count eight still sticking out.
“The son was home from college.”
Two books slide back.
“The daughter left after dinner but could have returned later.”
One book reshelves itself.
“The divorced wife was in Barcelona.”
Another book slides back.
“The family has two live-in servants, a butler, and a cook.”
Three books glide back into place, leaving only one remaining. I grab it, check it out, and leave, clutching it to my chest.
Back in my car, I call the precinct. “Travis, I’m running down a lead, I won’t be back in today.”
“Ty’s not going to be happy—”
I interrupt. “He won’t say a thing, when I solve this.”
“What have you—”
I hang up. I park under the Oak Avenue bridge—no cameras—and begin to read. Five chapters later, I can’t keep the grin off my face. Every detail is the same, as if the author had written the book while standing beside me, staring down at the knife sticking out of the guy’s back.
Flipping to the back of the book, I eagerly read the last page.
The old butler, a purple bruise swelling his left eye, limped into the visitor’s area, his once perfectly erect posture, stooped. He’d aged ten years. His face brightened as he saw the kid. He sat and picked up the receiver.
“Why did you do it?” the kid asked, a tear quivering and spilling down his face. “Why did you do it?”
“I did it for you. I was there when the Misses brought you home from the hospital.” He looked down at his battered hands. “All these years. All these wasted years.” Raising his head, with his tired eyes he asked for forgiveness. “After his cruelty drove your mother away, he turned on you and little Elizabeth. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
The kid put his hand on the glass, openly crying.
The butler mimicked his gesture. But for the glass, they were palm to palm. The butler’s voice was ragged as if rubbed raw from years of swallowing his own words. “I love you. I couldn’t love you more if were mine. I just wish I’d done something, anything, sooner. I did it for you, son.”
What? The butler did it?
Riffling through my notes, I find the single word “son” underlined. Beside it I’d written: Nervous. Doesn’t make eye contact.
When I’d asked, “Who inherits all this?” and pointed to the room and the crystal chandelier, he’d said, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Ahh...no. How could I know? Well, I guess it’s probably me and Liz. Yeah, that’s right. But really, I’m not thinking about that right now, because my dad’s been murdered.”
As a chill creeps into the car; goosebumps race up my arms.
“I could have sworn it was the kid.” I say, talking to nobody. “This can’t be right.”
Flipping back a few chapters from the end, I start to read when a single bolt of lightning flashes across the night sky. Inside the car, the smell of Jatra leaves has my head spinning. I pull a lever and the seat falls back. For the first time since Bill stole my promotion, the tension leaves my neck, my headache vanishes. Whoa does this feel good.
The next day I bring in the butler for questioning.
“Did you kill Mr. Wellington?”
“What?” He looks confused. “No.”
“You know, I thought it was Robert Jr.”
His head jerks back; his eyes open wide. “No, it wasn’t him. He’s a good kid.”
“Really? Suspended twice. That’s hard to do when your father is an alum and a major donor. I hear the new economics building is named after him.”
The guy turns puke green. A little more yellow and his complexion would’ve matched my kitchen floor. With my foot I scoot the trashcan over, within vomit range.
He bangs his fist down on the table and shouts, “He...Did...Not...Kill...Mr...Wellington!”
I stare at his wide, frightened eyes, his shaking hands. The day of the murder, this man had greeted me at the door at 6am with, “It really is kind of you to come out this early, can I make you an espresso?”
“And how exactly do you know he didn’t do it?” I ask. “Maybe, I should haul Punk Jr. in. I’m thinking he won’t last five minutes.”
I walk to the door. “Yup, not five minutes.” I turn the knob.
“I did it.”
I grin. Tingles run up my spine. “Why?”
He looks at his hands clenched into fists on the table in front of him. “Mr. Wellington mistreated those kids, belittled them, never gave them a chance. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. He was threatening to disinherit Bobby.”
The butler pleads guilty. He gets thirty years; I get promoted. Some months later when I’m cleaning out my car, I find the murder mystery I’d checked out from the library. I take the book back. As I hand the librarian a ten—yeah, I have a hefty fine—she says, “That was a good one.”
“Yes, it was.”
She hands me my change. “I mean, the cop was so sloppy. You just knew it was the son that did it. What a brat! But the old butler loved him, and the cop, that stupid idiot, was just looking for a promotion.”
“Are you going to read the sequel?” she asks.
The pungent scent of Jatra leaves wafts by my nose.
She leans forward, her eyes twinkling. “All I’ll say is this: that cop, she gets what’s coming to her. Afterall, the killer’s still on the loose.”
Kidd Wadsworth has people in her head and likes to work in her pajamas. Her career choices were limited: write or commit herself to an asylum.
Rosamond, by James W. Morris
Gerard Soest, “Portrait of William Shakespeare,” c. 1667
William Shakespeare. Snoozing in a red plastic chair in the row directly across from mine at Judy’s Suds ‘n’ Go.
I knew the man was not the original of course but he did appear to be an exact replica of what the original was supposed to have looked like. Must be a reincarnation I thought.
The new version appeared as a frail itinerant who had ventured into the laundromat in order to shelter from the cold mist outside. He was damp and dirty and his eyelids fluttered.
Here’s a big coincidence. I was holding a slim well-thumbed volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets in my hand at the time. I had read in an advice column that a single guy reading poetry at the laundromat appears interesting and not at all creepy to young ladies who might be present.
There was a portrait of the poet centered on the back cover of my book and I raised it into my line of vision. The guy across from me was Shakespeare all right.
I folded my clothes and stacked them still pleasantly warm in the green mesh laundry bag I use. Then I paused in front of Shakespeare to get one last look before leaving. My proximity seemed to wake the little man up though. Taking my friendly assessment as a sort of invitation he rose and followed me out of Judy’s.
On the street I stopped and told him I enjoyed his poems and plays but I preferred to be alone. He nodded but continued following anyway matching me step for step along the puddled sidewalk.
I stopped once more. No I said. Go away.
His head bobbed again. But there was no real understanding in his eyes.
What was the proper thing to do? Push my diminutive accoster away violently? Run? The rain dampened my laundry while I pondered the question.
I looked the man over again top to toe. He was skinny and filthy. His eyes were brown.
I thought of myself as a cautious person but decided there wasn’t anything threatening about Shakespeare since I was twice his size physically. And I was curious to learn how it was that he’d been reborn after so many years.
That’s how I ended up taking Shakespeare home with me that day.
And he never left.
He liked soup.
That was a blessing since I soon learned a spoon was the only utensil he manipulated with any dexterity. If you put a knife and fork into his gnarled little hands the utensils were as likely to end up stuck in his nose as his mouth.
I could not decide what to call him so I just referred to him as Old Man. Or Shaky.
Sometimes when my guest was slurping his soup an odd feeling came over me while I was sitting at the wobbly kitchen table across from him. I tried to imagine the reincarnated brain living inside his head.
How many people had made more profitable use of their intellect than he had?
How many had brought more beauty into the world?
How many were better able to capture and express what it meant to be human through art?
So go ahead Old Man I thought. Slurp your soup as much as you like.
He liked polyester.
The clothes Shaky was wearing when I discovered him were just rags. Searching his pockets before discarding the old gear I found nothing. Not a penny or scrap of paper.
I conferred some of my own clothes on him but the Old Man was so small compared to me he practically disappeared wearing them. Finally I went out and purchased a pair of inexpensive polyester jogging outfits. One was crimson and one powder blue. Both sported eyebrow-thin white piping along the arms and legs.
Shakespeare loved those outfits. They were lightweight and comfortable and he actually looked quite spiffy in them though I must admit the sight of the Bard of Avon swishing around my apartment modeling the lowest in Kmart fashions took some getting used to.
He liked television.
On days I had to go out I planted him in the chair in front of my set before leaving the house and when I returned home later I always found him still there raptly watching the same channel.
I fretted about exposing such a magnificent brain to so much cultural crap though. It was the psychological equivalent of a parent who fed his kids nothing but Cheetos.
Shaky’s emotional responses to the aforementioned television programs often seemed inappropriate. Watching those ubiquitous Law & Order reruns with Jack McCoy waggling his head in righteousness at some sneering just-nabbed murderer the Old Man was likely to burst into riotous laughter. When he saw the episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry broke up with a woman because she ate peas one at a time the Old Man wept. Great sobs racked his puny body and hot tears cascaded down his worn and withered face.
I thought at first Shaky was displaying symptoms of advanced senility. I imagined he was a sad old man who was misapprehending the culture of modern society. Then I thought about it and decided he might have understood the world better than I did.
Geeze. I forgot to mention that he didn’t talk.
Actually I should say that he didn’t converse. The Old Man could use his voice when he wanted to. I often caught him jabbering but couldn’t quite make out the words. Most communication therefore occurred through his use of wildly variable facial expressions. In this language Shaky was most articulate. He was able to reveal even the subtlest of wants through tiny alterations in the set of his mouth or eyebrows.
I attempted different strategies to provoke Shaky into interacting on a verbal level since of course I’d be glad to have a reborn genius pontificate a bit and illuminate poor moronic me with his well-reasoned insights into the nature of the human condition.
Direct questions were ineffective. A wry smile was his only reply to any query I posed even those constructed purposefully to offend him into response. I understand Christopher Marlowe was twice the man and the three times the poet you were I said. How do you live with your obvious inferiority?
As an experiment I tried reading his work aloud. I supposed that reminding an artist of his noblest achievements might inspire him to speech since I knew even the shiest of writers was likely to be expansive on the subject of himself. But there was no real response from Shaky. If I recited his sonnets he looked at me blankly. If I acted out one of his plays he fell asleep before scene ii.
One day at breakfast feeling a bit bored I held up the sugar bowl in front of him.
Sugar bowl I said.
Sugar bowl he immediately answered echoing my pronunciation exactly. There was a broad smile on his face. He liked the way the words sounded.
Sugar bowl sugar bowl sugar bowl he repeated savoring each phoneme as he rolled the phrase around on his tiny tongue.
I’d broken through!
I held the cereal box up in front of him.
Cereal I said.
Sugar bowl he replied.
I decided upon a strategic U-turn to get my guest to reengage the world and perhaps talk spontaneously. Why didn’t I see it? No person could be more disenchanted with a set of characters than the writer who fretted over and agonized about and finally worked through those characters’ stories centuries before. To Shaky his plays had simply and permanently worn out their welcome. And modern American television was no substitute. His titanic intellect was tuned to a finer classical wavelength.
What I needed to do therefore was challenge the man afresh. Put a pen in his gnarled little hands and demand he produce a new play.
It would also prove he was who I thought he was.
The idea seemed to me an insight of rare brilliance. My companion might become a vital part of the world again. And the world as reward for its wait would have a newborn play by Shakespeare to add to its treasures. I could see it. Performances worldwide. Scholars nitpicking the hell out of it without appreciating its true beauty. High-school students everywhere cursing his name. Just like the others.
I cleared my tiny kitchen table. I sat him at it and stacked fresh white paper in front of him. I presented him with my best pen.
I said The Globe needs a new play right away. Go to it!
At first Shaky seemed interested only in the stack of paper. He inspected several pieces on both sides as if expecting to see writing already there. Then he examined the pen. He unscrewed it and took out all the parts. He played with the little spring. Then he put his head down on the stack of paper and fell asleep.
The next day I was still hopeful. Rome wasn’t built etc.
I repeated the preparatory procedure of the previous day almost exactly thinking a ritualistic approach to the project might convey the importance of the activity. Then I put the pen in Shaky’s hand and put his hand to the paper.
Write! I commanded.
He took the pen apart like before and examined its guts. I took those pieces away. I handed him a cheaper pen that didn’t unscrew and he spent five minutes trying to unscrew it. Then he dropped the pen onto the slanted tabletop and watched it roll onto the floor. This seemed to delight him and he repeated the action several times.
I couldn’t help but think little progress was being made.
I had an idea that night. Shakespeare didn’t write with a ballpoint pen. Putting a modern instrument in the Old Man’s hands aroused his curiosity but didn’t excite the vestigial memory of the manner in which he used to make plays. Luckily our city had a colonial past and the next morning at a dingy souvenir shop in the Olde City Shopping Mall I was able to obtain quill and inkwell.
I rushed home with my purchases eager to bestow them on the Bard.
I sat him at the table in front of a pile of paper like before. I wrenched open the squat-shouldered bottle of ink and handed him the quill.
The look on his face! I admit I became a bit teary-eyed when I saw it.
Write! I said.
He dipped the quill and made a small mark on the paper before pausing and reclining in his chair thoughtfully. Then he moved forward again and made another mark but shook his head in dismay at the result.
I watched him from my seat on the sofa.
A thought broke free at last. Shakespeare bent to the paper with renewed vigor and wrote some large confident letters in the center of the page before virtually collapsing onto the tabletop exhausted.
Being a genius was apparently quite tiring.
After a few minutes I tiptoed around the table and lifted the diminutive poet into my arms to carry him to bed. I put my best blanket over him and made sure he was tucked in tight.
Then I stole back into the kitchen to see what the great man had written.
He had written the words sugar bowl.
The next day was Tuesday. My regular day to play chess in the park. I decided to leave the television turned off when I went out and instead placed Shaky in front of his now-familiar stack of paper. When I returned home I found the Old Man dozing in fading golden afternoon light using the stack of paper as his pillow. I made soup and woke him. When he lifted his head there was no writing on the paper beneath yet I noted that his hands were stained with ink.
Before setting Shaky in his place at the table on Wednesday I counted the sheets of paper in the stack. One hundred twenty-five.
Upon returning Wednesday evening I found the Old Man asleep very much in the same way as before. After dinner I counted the paper. One hundred twenty. Shakespeare wrote five pages. Or perhaps he ate them. All I knew was that five pages were gone.
A pattern was formed. I left him alone in the mornings and went out into the world to do whatever chores needed doing then returned home to find some paper missing and Shaky asleep.
I did no exhaustive search of my apartment during that time though I was curious about where he was secreting the work-in-progress. Be strong and restrain yourself I thought. One does not disturb Shakespeare in his writing.
Several weeks passed and Shaky and I settled ourselves into a routine as dull and predictable as that of an old married couple. On weekdays I found an excuse to leave him alone then returned home to make soup before we watched television together for the rest of the evening. I knew he was working because the paper and ink were disappearing with perceptible regularity. On weekends we skipped work and went to the park.
I thought the best thing to do was remain mum about the play writing project until the finished work appeared. It is said writers are as superstitious as ballplayers. Don’t mention the pitching of a no-hitter until the game is over.
What worried me was that the state of Shakespeare’s health appeared to be deteriorating. He appeared physically frail since the moment we met of course yet there was at that time in his eyes an inner light. He still ate his soup and laughed at McCoy and cried at Seinfeld but I thought his light was dimming. Perhaps he was not strong enough for the stress of trying to produce a new play after four hundred years.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I was afraid I was killing Shakespeare.
One day on my way home from the library I found cans of soup on sale at the local supermarket. Two for the price of one. I therefore bought more than usual and had quite an ordeal carrying the surprisingly heavy bags home.
I reached the apartment and clunked the bags down upon the cement stoop with barely strength enough to knock on the front door. Most of this soup is for Shaky I thought. The least he can do is help me inside with it.
There was no answer to my knock but this was not unusual. Shakespeare was generally to be found asleep at this hour either sitting at the table or stretched out nearby on my tattered sofa.
I sighed and dug out my key to let myself in.
When the door yielded I saw that Shakespeare was on the sofa peacefully oblivious to my entry. I went past him to the kitchen cabinet and put most of the soup away and stacked the excess on the counter. Then I turned and was on my way back to wake the Bard when I noticed a bundle of papers on my kitchen table centered upon the ink-spotted area he used for writing. The bundle was tied up with a bit of string.
Shakespeare had finished his play.
I rejoiced inwardly but decided to tease him a bit in case he was actually awake and surreptitiously watching for my reaction to his accomplishment. For the next few minutes I found excuse after excuse to walk around the table tidying the abbreviated space laughably known as my kitchen. I pretended all the while not to have seen the packet he’d left there.
Then I got a terrible feeling and turned to look directly at Shakespeare. After a moment I walked to the sofa and put my hand on his brow. His skin was stone cold.
Shakespeare was dead.
After a minute I rose and faced the bundle on the table. I realized then that his play was his goodbye note.
The night Shakespeare died. What a night that was.
I take medication for my disability and am not allowed to drink alcohol but decided to buy some anyway so I could toast the Old Man. At the liquor store I bought the cheapest bottle of whiskey they had. The label featured a drawing of a mule kicking a guy in the head.
At home I sat on the floor and filled a juice glass with whiskey. I silently toasted my dead friend on the couch then threw the brown liquid down my throat. As an inexperienced drinker I fully expected to choke and cough and sputter the way inexperienced drinkers do in the movies. Though my eyes burned a bit I didn’t do that. I liked it.
My grief had three layers. The first was a sort of generalized mournfulness I felt on behalf of the world at large which had just lost a reborn version of its greatest playwright.
I also experienced a rueful pang for the man himself. He was an uncontested genius who died in diminished circumstances stretched out on a wheezy sofa. Alone.
Mostly I felt sorry for myself. Shakespeare was my friend. Due to circumstances I won’t describe here he was the only real friend I’ve ever had. The pain was piercing and exacerbated by the knowledge that I wouldn’t be able provide my friend with the funeral or recognition he deserved. I simply didn’t have the financial means or the social skills and emotional wherewithal to deal with arranging a proper ceremony to acknowledge Shakespeare’s passing.
And the world believed he had lived only one life and that one ended four hundred years ago. I’d have a hell of a time convincing people that the body in my apartment belonged to anyone but a bum I found on the street.
That’s when I decided to look at the play.
I sat at the table and undid the string. I was not so overburdened with grief that I was unaware of History standing at my shoulder.
I riffled through the pages and examined through numerous cross-outs and smeared blots of ink the Old Man’s cramped and spidery scrawl.
As you may have guessed the play was utter gibberish.
I awoke with a start a few hours later then inwardly congratulated the manufacturer of the whiskey for adhering to truth in labeling regulations. I definitely felt as if a mule had kicked me in the head.
Nonetheless I drank some more. The bottle was mostly gone when I decided to look at the play again with less expectant eyes. Surely there is something worth salvaging in it I thought. The fact that that old man had written it at my behest endowed the work with value even if it held none in a literary sense. Or even a sensical sense.
I would analyze the manuscript word by word. What else did I have to occupy me?
First the title centered on the top page. It was not Sugar Bowl. A single word beginning with an R.
Rorschach? Ravioli? Ringworm?
No. Ringworm by William Shakespeare? I thought not.
I let my eye trace over the script without judgment attempting to take the word in as a whole.
Yes. The more I peered at it the more certain I became. The title had a nice ring to it though I was ignorant about what it might refer to.
I have no computer or internet so I looked up the name Rosamond in the index of one of my old English Lit texts and found it in a bibliographic list of titles composed by Swinburne. A blank verse drama. This was either a coincidence or a not-unprecedented outright steal although since Shakespeare lived both before and after Swinburne which author would be considered to have stolen from which?
In any case I returned to the work Shaky left me and to my great surprise quickly deciphered the setting. Ancient Italy in the days of the Teutonic invasions.
With growing excitement I realized the play was not gibberish. Far from it.
I got no more sleep that night. I spent hours un-encrypting the text and during that span made remarkable headway. I transcribed the play in its entirety and learned among other things that Shakespeare was a rotten speller and whimsical punctuator. Nonetheless the words fell into place and I believe I recognized about ninety percent of them.
I will summarize the story of the play.
The princes of two rival Teutonic tribes meet by chance in a rural mountain pass and they fight. Alboin of the Lombardi slays his rival but forgets to carry away the other man’s bloody armaments afterward for trophies as is the custom of the day. Alboin’s father the King therefore refuses his son a seat at his banquet table upon his return to court. To restore his honor Alboin takes forty warriors to the castle of the rival king and demands his spoils.
Alboin’s boldness pays off. He is solemnly presented with the dead man’s armaments. But while amongst his rivals Alboin spies another treasure he covets. Standing silently near the banquet table is Princess Rosamond. The enemy king’s daughter is tall and blonde and blue-eyed and fierce. The Teutonic ideal. Taking his bold imposition a step further Alboin impulsively demands her hand in marriage. The rival king is now outraged and refuses. Determined but outnumbered Alboin pretends to return home only to sneak back alone to the castle. After bribing a guard to be alone with Rosamond his awkward and ineloquent attempt at wooing her fails. Outraged by Rosamond’s rebuffs and overcome with lust he takes the princess’s virginity by force.
A bloody war ensues and Alboin kills Rosamond’s father in battle. Afterwards Alboin thinks it the height of proper etiquette to have the dead king’s skull gilded so that the trophy can serve double duty as a rather large drinking cup. He also takes Rosamond as war booty and marries her just after his own father dies. Now Alboin is king and Rosamond is queen of the Lombardi.
One cold night Alboin hosts a particularly rowdy drinking banquet which is not a surprise since it is the chief feature of his government. He decides it might be funny to have his new wife drink some wine out of her dead father’s skull. Rosamond refuses. He forces the issue at knife point saying that his queen must “rejoice with her father.”
Next comes what I would deem the signature moment of the play. Rosamond reluctantly takes hold of the skull filled to the maxillae with sloshing wine and with her hands trembling raises it to her lips. She also utters a quiet prayer which is really a curse. Alboin will pay for his insult with his own life.
When the castle is quiet Rosamond lets an assassin into the royal bedchamber where she has attempted to exhaust the king with lovemaking. Sensing a trap Alboin wakes and reaches for his sword. But Rosamond has secured it in its scabbard. Alboin is slain.
In the days that follow it quickly becomes clear Rosamond does not have the wherewithal to hold the Lombardi kingdom together after her bold act. She flees the outraged populace and takes with her as protector a clod named Helmichis whom she impulsively marries. The couple hides out with a rich neighbor named Longinus who also yearns for r the beautiful Rosamond. Rosie likes Longinus too and decides she might as well use him to trade up from her current kinda boring spouse.
Still disturbed by the bloody mess of her first husband’s slaying Rosie this time decides to try poison. As Helmichis is exiting the bath next morning she is waiting by the tub and hands him a deadly cup of wine. Helmichis is an oaf but he is a well-traveled oaf and knows what poison is said to taste like. Though aware that it’s too late to save his own life Helmichis grabs his nearby dagger and holds it to his wife’s lovely throat. Rosamond can either drink the rest of the poison herself or be stabbed to death.
Rosie waffles a bit in a beautifully phrased speech. Then she chooses the poison and drinks it. Attention scholars. Note the parallel between this scene and the one in which Rosamond is forced to drink from her father’s skull.
It is at this juncture that the acute reader will realize the play is ending since in typical tragic Shakespearean fashion the stage is now decorated with dead bodies.
I awoke later that morning in very much the same position I regularly found Shakespeare. Sitting before a stack of paper at the table with my head resting on my hands. When I rose I realized how remarkably terrible I felt. My head pounded with pain. My neck ached. My mouth felt full of cotton. The mule was still at work.
No more drinking for me I decided. Never again.
I spent some time contemplating the remains of my friend. The problem of his final disposition plagued me. In the end I decided to put off a decision on how best to proceed until a time when I thought my head would be clearer.
I’ll distract myself by reading the play one more time I thought.
When I sat down to look at the pages I quickly realized that during the night something extraordinary had happened. Shakespeare’s version of Rosamond had once again become mere gibberish in my eyes. It was all scrawls and inkblots. The whole thing was utterly illegible. Even the title. How in the world did it ever seem coherent to me?
I hesitated a moment before taking up my transcribed version fearing a similar revelation. I discovered that the pages I penned were intact.
Many months have now passed Shakespeare died. The play he left behind is my most treasured possession. The more I read it the greater the amazement I feel regarding my small part in producing it.
How did an isolated innocent man such as myself extract such a lovely thing from meaningless marks on a page? The plot and the characters and perhaps even some of the more felicitous turns of phrase I might conceivably have invented however unlikely the prospect. But the inwrought sensuality and the monstrously beautiful humanity of the play? Well it’s clear those were given as gifts. The sorts of things I am sure I could not have conjured on my own.
James W. Morris is a graduate of LaSalle University in Philadelphia, where he was awarded a scholarship for creative writing. He has published dozens of short stories, humor pieces, essays, and poems in various literary magazines, and worked for a time as a joke writer for Jay Leno. His first novel, RUDE BABY, was recently published, and is available worldwide. More info at www.jameswmorris.com.
Visitation, by Richard Stimac
Photo by Vicki Schofield on Unsplash
The cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Knee-high grass hide the flat veined-granite markers that tripped drunk teenagers at night. Someone had cracked open the skull of a concrete angel to expose the solid core beneath the chiseled locks of hair. The upright stone stump markers of the Woodsman of the World appeared healthier than the moribund oaks and maples. Here and there a small mausoleum or cenotaph attempted to stand upright, like an old veteran at the burial of a comrade. Rain streaks from oxidized copper ornaments marred their marble walls. At the gate, set on Ionic columns, harpies held watch, lest the ineligible enter, or depart.
But no one in the line of cars noticed any of this on their way to the St. Veronica’s basement. The funeral procession took thirty minutes longer than normal. The state was widening a length of interstate between the cemetery and the church.
Like tutelars, Delores and Trista waited on them. The two were the last of the Women’s Ancillary who prepared food for funerals. In the past, family and friends returned to the church with a feast waiting for them: fried chicken; roast beef; mashed potatoes; corn; green beans; two or three different salads. And homemade cakes and pies. Along with sweet lemonade and tea. Today, Delores and Trista stood behind a store-bought sheet cake and three-liter bottles of store-brand soda. The air conditioner was set high. They wrapped their shawls tightly around their shoulders like angels would their wings.
“That’s a nice cake you bought,” Delores said.
“They have discounts on Tuesdays,” Trista said. “Lucky the funeral is today.”
Maybe two dozen people, at the most, wandered into the church basement.
“Remember when funerals filled this hall?” Trista said.
“You’d see people you hadn’t seen in years,” Delores said. “Or the last funeral.”
“The funeral for what’s-his-name—”
“The rich man?”
“He’s the one. We had to set up tables in the breezeway for the kids.”
“Funerals used to be a real time of coming together.”
“People need to come together. Now, I don’t know.”
“You are a wise woman.”
Two old men, older than either Delores or Trista, stood before the table and examined the squares of sheet cake, each on its own halo-like white paper tea plate.
“Chocolate or white?” Delores said.
“You want a corner?” Trista said. “There’s more icing.”
One of the men grimaced.
“Too much goddamn sugar,” he said and hobbled away.
The other man seemed to be bending over the table, but, in fact, his spine wouldn’t straighten.
“Try this,” Delores said. She held a plate up to the man.
“Something to drink,” Trista said. She offered a Styrofoam cup of soda.
He took a piece of chocolate and of white from the table. He winked at Delores, then at Trista, as he stooped away.
By this time, the children, few that there were, settled in chairs at the far unlit end of the basement. Each one had a phone. The glow of the screen faded their faces to a pale embalmed hue.
“Fact is,” Delores said, “we’d have so much food left over Frank and me would eat it for nearly a week.”
“And that was after everyone else took a plate home.”
“You made the best coleslaw.”
“The trick was putting in both raisins and grapes.”
Trista rubbed her hands.
“The arthritis?” Delores said.
“Just thinking about cooking makes my hands hurt.”
Father descended the steps from the sacristy. Some people turned towards him. Some, a bit too obvious, continued their conversations. He spoke to the immediate family. They nodded. He blessed them. Positioned in the front of the hall, Father placed his palms together in front of his chest. Most bowed their heads. A few, again, a bit too obvious, looked at the floor with glances about the room, as if they expected to find one of the faithful cheating. When the priest finished, nearly everyone said, “Amen.”
“Father always does such a good job,” Trista said.
“I always liked him best of all,” Delores said.
The first of the guests began to leave. Delores and Trista plastic wrapped pieces of cake and forced them on those remaining who refused, but, in the end, submitted to the will of the old women.
Father came by the table.
“You two are saints,” Father said.
Delores and Trista blushed, hushed the man, waved him off.
“It’s true,” Father Frank said. “The Church would be at a loss without women like you.”
“The Church doesn’t need women like us,” Trista said.
“Oh,” Delores said. “Don’t.”
“It’s fine,” Father said. “Sincerely, thank you.”
Then he, too, went his way. Barely twenty minutes after the reception began, the basement of the church was empty.
“I hate to throw all this away,” Delores said.
“I’ll take some for the grandkids,” Trista said.
Delores drug a large gray plastic garbage can next to the table.
“There’s no lining,” Trista said.
“They don’t use linings for these things.”
“It must get filthy.”
“They wash it out.”
With that, the entire sheet cake smeared down the inside of the can.
“What about the soda?” Trista said.
“The cafeteria woman will do something with it.”
Trista began brushing crumbs into her hand.
“Leave that, too,” Delores said.
“I hate to leave a mess for others,” Trista said.
“We’ve got our work. Let others have theirs.”
Delores turned the lights off. In the near darkness, lit only by the soft red from the exit signs, the old woman moved like shadows, almost flitting to the door.
“Ride?” Trista said. She sat inside her thirty-year-old sedan.
“I still only live a few blocks away,” Delores said.
“I worry about you still living in this neighborhood.”
“It’s not safe.”
“I’ll be ok.”
“I’ll call you when I get home.”
Content, Delores smiled. Trista turned her car towards the newer part of town.
Each one went, alone, to their own home, and to their own private grief.
Richard Stimac has a full-length book of poetry Bricolage (Spartan Press), a forthcoming poetry chapbook Of Water and of Stone (Moonstone) and published over thirty poems in Burningword, Clackamas, december, The Examined Life Journal, Faultline, Havik (Third Place 2021 Poetry Contest), Michigan Quarterly Review, Mikrokosmos (Second Place 2022 Poetry Contest; A.E. Stallings, judge), New Plains Review, NOVUS, Penumbra, Plainsongs, Salmon Creek Journal, Talon Review, and Wraparound South. He published flash fiction in BarBar (2023 BarBe nominee), The Blue Mountain Review, Book of Matches, Bridge Eight, Bright Flash, Drunk Monkeys, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Good Life Review, Half and One, LEON, New Feathers, Paperbark, Prometheus Dreaming, Proud to Be (SEMO Press), On the Run, Scribble, Talon Review, The Typescript, The Wild Word, Your Impossible Voice, and Transitions Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Anthology (Hawkeye Press). He has also had an un-staged readings by the St. Louis Writers’ Group and Gulf Coast: Playwright’s Circle, plays published in The AutoEthnographer, Fresh Words and Hive Avenue Literary Journal, a screenplay in Qu, and an essay in The Midwest Quarterly. A screenplay of his is in pre-production. He is a poetry reader for Ariel Publishing, Clepsydra, and a fiction reader for The Maine Review.
Forfeit, by DL Shirey
The Rolling Stones fade to silence. I tap my earpiece to answer the call, "Yes."
"The Stooge is leaving the office." Client 352 has a raspy, smoker's voice.
Stooge is my word, not his. I insist on using it instead of target or mark when I'm not sure if the phone call is snooped. Which means I use the word constantly.
"Leaving his office or leaving the building?" I ask.
"The office. Second floor."
"Yes," 352 says, "and his car is on the top deck of the parking structure next door, 4242 South B Street."
I had scouted the locations. I knew the addresses. I knew the Stooge's reserved space was on P5. "Got it."
"And I'm supposed to wait by the phone for your call when it's over?"
"No. My handler should have been clear about this. You will be on the phone when the job takes place. During, not after."
"Yes. Right. I forgot." His voice wavers. "That is what Ellen told me."
"I'll call you when the Stooge is in view," I said. "You don't answer by the third ring, the job is forfeit."
A pause on the other end, then the snick sound of a cigarette lighter. "I'll be here." A coughing fit strangles his last word and the call ends.
My playlist kicks in again, but I turn off the music. No distractions now. From my vantage point on the adjacent rooftop I have an unobstructed view. It's late on a weeknight, most restaurants have closed, and just a scattering of cars are parked in the downtown office district. There are only two other cars on P5.
ETA six minutes. The Stooge will take the office stairs down, the carpark elevator up, and unlock his car as soon as he sees it. Subaru Forester, white, cargo box on roof rack.
I consider phoning Ellen concerning 352's confusion about his participation, but the question will answer itself if he doesn't pick up my call.
Client involvement is something I demand. I don't know how other freelancers work—it's not like we have union meetings or social clubs where notes are compared—but in my experience, shit and fan rarely meet when the client has skin in the game.
The Stooge I know from photos, but the client I do not. I've never met 352. That's Ellen's job. She's my middleman, I mean handler. Ellen hates the word middleman so I don't use it around her. I think misgendering Ellen's occupation should be the least of her concerns since she sets up assassinations and makes sure my clients are legit.
I screw up her pronouns too, but she gets twenty percent of my fee for putting up with stuff like that.
I like Ellen. We've worked together for a long time. She's usually rock-solid in terms of fielding clients, background checks and money transfers. She's been distracted by a family matter recently, so her ducks might not be perfectly rowed. We'll discuss it at the debrief and I'll get her impression of 352 after the fact. We already have half his payment, forfeit or not.
I redial 352. After one ring he picks up and speaks. "He's not up there yet. He's just getting on the elevator."
"You're following him?" I ask, almost a growl.
"Yeah, to make sure no one else is around. No one to get in the way or get hurt."
"Let me worry about that. You just back off." Another thing to talk to Ellen about. "Stay where you are and stay on the line; it's time to start the process."
"Process? What process? I already—"
"You and Ellen did the business part. This is the me part, where you convince me that you're serious about this assignment."
"This is a joke, right?" He sounds nervous.
"Ellen didn't tell you about this?"
"She did. But given the circumstances—"
"Whatever got you here is not my concern. The only thing that matters is how you answer my questions," I say. "Two questions. And if you don't answer by the time the Stooge gets to his car, the job is forfeit."
On the other end the phone muffles and clicks silent. I look at my phone to see if the call ended. Still connected. I hear the phone click on again.
"Did you just put me on hold?"
"Sorry," 352 says, "I wanted to make sure I was alone."
This job was starting to feel a little hinky, but I've gone through this before. Some clients are dead calm, some freak out. It's the very reason I ask them questions.
The elevator doors on P5 open and a man walks out. I pull the scope to my eye and verify the target. He's on the phone, so his face is half hidden. He's got a skinny build, like the photos, and the hair's right. Got to be the right guy because 352 watched him leave the office.
"He just exited the elevator," I say, "Time is short. Two questions."
"Go ahead," 352 replies.
"Number one, how long you know him?"
"The Stooge, how many years you know him?"
There's always a pause. Admittedly, it's a weird question to throw at a client at a time like this, but it accomplishes two things. First, it makes the client think about his relationship with the Stooge. Second, I'm curious if the pattern holds true; a longer pause usually means a longer relationship.
352 is quick with a response. Not with an answer, but with a question I hear more often than not, "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Means nothing to no one but me." The headlights flash on the Forester and I hear the distant beep. "He's unlocked the car. Answer the question."
I can hear 352 breathing: labored, nervous, wheezy. He still doesn't answer, which probably means a longer, more complex relationship. 352 might even be doing a little soul-search while he's counting back the years. But time's tight, the Stooge is halfway to his car.
"Answer or forfeit. He's almost there and I still have another question.
"Okay, okay. I've known him all my life."
Sounds sincere. All his life, could mean it's family. No wonder 352 is struggling. This is the very reason I ask these questions. I want clients to have second thoughts before I complete the contract. I want any feelings of guilt, remorse or regret to surface now. Festered emotion can lead to vengeance and payback. I look over my shoulder enough as it is.
"Question two." I usually pause for dramatic effect, but there's no time. "Do you still want the job completed?"
No pause. "Yes."
I still can't see the Stooge's face because of that damn phone. I wonder if he's making a business call, wrapping up loose ends on an upcoming deal. Or maybe it's a call home, letting the wife know he'll be stopping at the store. I'll give the Stooge two seconds to finish the call or I'll finish it for him. I target the phone's camera and the man's temple behind it.
"The next sound you hear is your completed contract," I tell the client. Without moving my trigger finger, I thumb the safety button off.
"Wait," came a reply. A different voice on my phone.
My aim does not vary but my concentration breaks. I'm confused, I never patched her in. The client must have done it. The Stooge reaches the car and opens the door.
"Russell, wait," Ellen says, "I'm here.
I pull away the scope and scan the rooftop. A woman emerges from the stairwell next to the elevator. The Stooge pivots around, looking for her, finding her.
"Where are you?" Russell asks.
I press the scope back to my eye. Ellen, all four-foot nine of her, is waving, fast walking on her tiny legs. Sweatsuit and tennies, quite a departure from the usual skirt and jacket. Her black hair is pulled back so I can see her earpiece. She taps it and disconnects from the call.
Ellen and Russell embrace. She pushes away, gripping his cardigan just below the shoulders. The Stooge drops his hands to Ellen's hips. He's still holding the phone and I hear it rub against her clothes. Their conversation is muffled, so I can't make out what they say. Russell looks up to the sky, tries to free himself from Ellen's grip, but she holds tight.
Finally, he nods and they embrace again. She steps back and he hands her his phone. Ellen turns around, walks two paces and pulls Russell's phone to her ear
"Go ahead," Ellen says to me, "Client 352 is now on the line as requested. Same Stooge, same contract."
"Ellen? What the hell."
"Please," she whispers, "My brother's dead in a few weeks anyway. He wants to go out on his terms, while he still has strength."
"This is not what I signed up for."
"Sure it is." Ellen pauses. "Here are the answers to your questions: I've known him since I was two, and I'm sure he wants to go now. To spare himself and the family from the next few, horrible weeks."
I hear a violent bout of coughing. I nudge the scope toward Russell; he is bent over, holding on to the Forester's door for support. The coughing continues for a few moments, then he stands up again, wiping his mouth and eyes with a handkerchief.
"Treat it as another job," she says, "as a favor to me."
I move the scope back to Ellen's profile, her back still toward her brother. She raises her head and straightens her spine.
"Please. Don't forfeit," she says, "Russell wants it this way and so do I."
Without hesitation, I put the scope back on target. Russell is facing me now, still leaning on the open door of the Forester. A sad smile crosses his face and he closes his eyes. My thumb slips up to the safety button but it's already off.
I take a breath and hold it.
DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon under skies the color of bruises. Occasionally he lightens up, but his dark fiction can be found in Confingo, Zetetic, Liquid Imagination and in anthologies from Truth Serum Press and Literary Hatchet. Short of listing them all, visit www.dlshirey.com and @dlshirey on Twitter.
Photo by Norbert Tóth on Unsplash
"’Thou art a creature of the magicians. Return to thy dust’.”
(TALMUD: Sanhedrin, 65b)
“Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness …
a better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist …”
(Jorge Luis Borges)
“Your assistant is remarkable, Mr. Ashe,” the customer commented before he paid for his books and left. “He knows where everything is. He never hesitates and can locate anything in the store, no matter how obscure.”
He regarded me over the top of his eyeglasses before continuing.
“Just a few moments ago, the young man located a 1904 first edition of Runeberg’s Krist och Judas from deep in your stacks, as well as Pierre Menard’s masterful translation of Don Quixote. You’re fortunate. It’s so hard to get good help these days.”
To call Menard’s Quixote a mere ‘translation’ was, of course, blasphemous, still, the man was right in at least one regard. I had gone through numerous assistants over the past few years and Gus was easily the best. I owned a large antiquarian bookstore specializing in metaphysics and, well. the esoteric, and thus couldn’t offer much by way of pay or benefits. Frankly, I made just enough to keep body and soul together by catering to a small but devoted clientele. By no stretch of the imagination, however, could I compete with the large chain stores such as Barnes and Noble or the Internet behemoths like Amazon … that abomination!
But then, the people who frequented my shop weren’t likely to find what they were looking for in those places in any case. To be sure, anyone who went to work for me had to be willing to do so for far less than what they most certainly would have been offered somewhere, anywhere, else. Not only was Gus good at what he did, he did it for next to nothing. You might even say that he was heaven-sent.
Gus had what could only be described as an eidetic memory as to the placement of every volume in the shop, and that was something considering that I had books stacked upon books and crammed in every nook and cranny of the two creaking floors that make up my aging establishment. Just last week, for example, a South American collector dropped by looking for an early edition of Marcelo Yarmolinsky’s History of the Hasidim. I knew I had a copy of that learned rabbi’s work … somewhere. I was about to ask the man to call back in a day or two, thus giving me a chance to hunt it up. Gus, however, had the book in a matter of moments.
I should also say that Gus did his work efficiently and without hesitation. No matter how menial or how daunting a task was set before him, Gus got to it without complaint. He was virtually tireless and, at times, would work for hours (literally!) without so much as looking up.
I have a few close friends who own businesses, and they are forever complaining about how much time is wasted by their employees; taking cigarette breaks, making personal calls and otherwise frittering away the hours on their personal devices. The fact that Gus did none of those things made it easier to put up with his other eccentricities. For one thing, Gus couldn’t talk; he was mute save for the ability to make a grunting sound which served, most of the time, as a means of expressing agreement or compliance.
Then there was his appearance, which could only be characterized as disheveled. That effect was further reinforced by his shambling gait. Arguing that the image of the store was in some regard dependent on how he looked, I took the liberty of buying him some clothes. Nothing Gus wore, however, seemed to fit him properly. Everything hung off him in a vaguely disturbing fashion. The only thing that didn’t look strangely askew or out of place on him was the back watch cap that he always wore no matter the weather.
Having no family or friends to speak of apart from me and no where to live, Gus stayed in a small room located to the back of the shop on the first floor. I trusted him and was more than happy to have someone on the premises at all times. When people questioned me about our rather strange arrangement or, as was more often the case, asked where I had managed to find Gus – who seemed simply to appear in the store one day – I explained that he was a distant relative from Eastern Europe. His parents had been killed during one of the numerous ethnic conflicts that simmered continually below the surface of life in that ancient and tribal part of the world and which were fanned into flame from time to time even in our own day. The peculiarities that beset Gus, I would continue, were the result of the consequent trauma and deprivation he experienced as a child.
“It’s so nice of you to take him in like that, Ashe,” a long-time client said once after I finished recounting Gus’ story. Gus, had, by the way, just fetched the 1939 edition of the ill-fated Jaromir Hladik’s The Enemies from somewhere on the second floor for the man. And so it was that, in very little time – and no doubt in part owing to his uncanny ability – most of my customers accepted Gus without further inquiry and certainly without complaint. Many of my patrons whose tastes, admittedly, ran toward the eccentric and the arcane, undoubtedly also felt that the presence of someone like Gus added a certain charm, or more accurately, a degree of rather outré character or ambience to the establishment.
And that, I think, is where the trouble started. One or more of my competitors, of which there were a handful, fed up with the antics of their own employees and searching for that certain je ne sais quoi with which to set their shoe-string operations apart from the pack in these tough economic times, must have approached Gus in an attempt to lure him to work for them. Obviously, that was something that I simply could not allow.
The change in Gus was quite subtle. Indeed, anyone who did not know him as well as I would probably not have noticed anything untoward. Yet both his work ethic and, so far as it could be established with one so singularly uncommunicative by nature, his attitude, took a decided turn for the worse. His background notwithstanding, I was stung by his lack of gratitude considering everything that I had done for him. In fact, it would not have been an exaggeration to say that everything he had become – such as it was and given his incredible limitations – had been because of me. That a creature like Gus could fall prey to something akin to ambition was, well, remarkable, unprecedented even.
As the days and weeks passed, it became clear to me that drastic measures had to be taken. The thought of Gus turning on me or, worse, being lured away by an unscrupulous bookseller was more than I could bear. Besides, explaining why it would be unthinkable (impossible, even!) for Gus to work for anyone else would have been uncomfortable in the extreme. Although deeply regretful of my subsequent decision, I knew precisely what had to be done.
One night while Gus was sleeping – or while he was doing what for him passed as sleep – I returned to the shop and let myself into his room. The fact that he lay with his eyes open only made matters even more distasteful. When I lifted the watch cap off his forehead exposing the word Emet that was written there he, of course, offered no resistance. “I’m truly sorry, my friend,” I said. Then quickly, reluctantly, I erased the first letter of the inscription. With that the dread term Met resulted and Gus gave a shudder. In a matter of seconds, all that remained of him was a pile of the dust from which he had been formed.
Explaining the sudden disappearance of Gus to my customers, who are in general a credulous lot, has been far simpler than finding someone to replace him. Once again, I’ve hired, fired or received resignations from one assistant after another. I have a particularly prickly buyer waiting to receive a promised copy of the extremely elusive Volume XLVII of The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia from 1917. I know it is around here somewhere. If things continue like this, I’ll have no choice but to bring Gus – or someone very much like him – back. The problem is, I can’t remember the formula. I’ve spent what little free time I now have searching for a tome by R. Eleazar ben Judah of Worms which contains his famous Commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah but so far, I can’t find it. If Gus were here, though, he’d be able to put his misshapen hands on it in an instant.
Author’s Note: All the texts mentioned in this story, save the Talmud and the Commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah are, so far as I know, non-existent; they are the invention of the great Argentinian fantasist, Borges.
James C. Clar is a teacher and writer who divides his time between the warmer climes of Honolulu, Hawaii and the much more inclement wilds of Upstate New York. His work has recently been published in the Potato Soup Journal, the Sci-Phi Journal as well as in other Internet and print publications.
I was sitting with Snatchko in Mumbai Masala, wolfing down as much of the buffet as $11.99 would get me, when the couple walked in. Or maybe they weren’t a couple. Co-workers, classmates, former inmates of the same institution. They came in, sat down behind us, and she immediately says, “I just don’t know how much more I can take.” Then the monstrous sigh.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” Snatch tells me. “People are fools to go into nursing homes. We keep them geezers so zoned out they don’t know which end is up. They can’t even plan an escape. The ones that wander off are looking for the living room of a house they lived in in 1968.”
“There’s got to be something you can do, some recourse,” the man responded.
“I’m going back in,” I announced. “Cover me.” When I returned, heaping plate in hand, I saw the two ordering from the menu. This was how the financially solvent lived, ordering off the menu when the buffet would see them into the next day. Or maybe I was a bitter peon. Or maybe it really was a dire strait she was in, and at times like that you don’t worry about an extra seven bucks when you’re miles from shore and the bilge has risen past your ankles. I resumed the assault on my digestive tract with the paneer makhani which, like myself, was a bit salty.
“I filled out the forms, I jumped through all the hoops,” she continued. “They just don’t let you say you’re sorry! Doesn’t everyone make mistakes?”
“So. I tell the nursing supervisor that there’s old folk not getting their meds, other old folk getting too much, and half the staff is wandering around blasted on the narc that gets lost in the shuffle. You know what she says to that? She asks me if I like working there. The implied threat, all that.” Snatch gestured with a skewered pakora. “I got the message.”
Outside, the sky was trying to decide whether or not to vomit. The air out there left condensation on you the moment you walked out the door. I reminded myself to be grateful for this air conditioned oasis with its fantastic cuisine and, oh, there’s the handsome young server now, refilling my water glass. The secret to happiness is realizing you’re already in heaven. The falafel was (were?) delicious, lightly breaded, and taken out of the fryer the moment they were done. I held a bite in my mouth, letting it slowly disintegrate. Through the window I could see the horizon turning the faintest shade of green. Hurricane weather.
“So I’m starting over. Thirty years old next month and I’m beginning all over again. It really feels like it’s too late.” Another sigh, this one though her mouth, using her cheeks as bellows. That’s a great stress-reducing technique, but she could have been blowing into the mainsail of the Santa Maria for all the good it did her.
“If you wind up at Happy Acres, it’s your own damned fault.” Snatch was angry now. No spring chicken, mortality was evidently tugging at his dentures. “You were either nasty to your children or you raised selfish jerks or you didn’t have kids and didn’t plan. Not me, man. I’ve got a .357 magnum. The trick is not waiting until it’s too late to make your decision, to make your move.”
Behind us, the poor woman finally disassembled. Her voice wailed in a whisper.
“It was my last appeal...”
Outside, thunder gave us a round of applause.
The poetry and prose of Robert L. Penick have appeared in well over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, Plainsongs, and Oxford Magazine. His latest chapbook is Exit, Stage Left, by Slipstream Press. The Art of Mercy: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming from Hohm Press, and more of his work can be found at theartofmercy.net
Photo by Umar Farooq on Unsplash
Slow burning roadside mulleins
signal with a dim yellow flame,
poor, compacted soil.
Consider also Queen Anne’s
thigh high lace beside butter
and eggs that wink like old neon.
Chicory caps the mood:
petals a blue men wish to find
in women’s eyes they are fool enough
to skid to stops for.
Sunrise shovels and picks
disturb shoulder earth:
that never take
to the straight and narrow.
Thomas M. McDade is a 77-year-old resident of Fredericksburg, VA, previously CT & RI. He is a graduate of Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT. McDade is twice a U.S. Navy Veteran serving ashore at the Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center, Dam Neck Virginia Beach, VA, and at sea aboard the USS Mullinnix (DD-944) and USS Miller (DE / FF-1091).
Mid-Rats, by Thomas M. McDade
The soup made
standing the mid
watch worth it.
so small as
of a knot
you were trying
to master for
Thomas M. McDade is a 77-year-old resident of Fredericksburg, VA, previously CT & RI. He is a graduate of Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT. McDade is twice a U.S. Navy Veteran serving ashore at the Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center, Dam Neck Virginia Beach, VA, and at sea aboard the USS Mullinnix (DD-944) and USS Miller (DE / FF-1091).
Lecturing grave and monument
flames are pilot lights
rekindling what guilt dictates.
And the fiery auto wrecks
work too, their drivers
urges to switch stations
did them in but not
railing on and on wearing
the sturdy radio waves
like grace or asbestos.
Thomas M. McDade is a 77-year-old resident of Fredericksburg, VA, previously CT & RI. He is a graduate of Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT. McDade is twice a U.S. Navy Veteran serving ashore at the Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center, Dam Neck Virginia Beach, VA, and at sea aboard the USS Mullinnix (DD-944) and USS Miller (DE / FF-1091).
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