The Pageant

 

Maximilian Panderpoop leaned forward and kissed the top of his daughters head as she sat in front of the mirror adding last minute touches to her face. It reminded him of his days in construction using putty, caulk, and other fillers to patch and repair.

“Oh, Daddy,” said Penny. “You’re gonna mess-up my hair.”

“There you go worrying again over nothing,” said Maximilian. “You’ve been painting on the perfect little princess face and hair for as long as I can remember; ever since your momma first allowed you to play in her make-up case.”

“Momma said old farts like you can’t remember stuff that far back,” said Penny, while making eye-contact in the mirror, “except perhaps when you had your first erection.”

“You know how filthy your momma’s mind is,” said Maximilian. “You see it every day as clear as the nose job on your face.”

“Touché,” said Gwen Panderpoop, as she came up and stood beside her husband and stared at her daughter’s progress. “But let’s forego the word war on cosmetic reconstruction or Penny will miss her entrance.”

“We can’t have that,” said Maximilian. “This is your year to win, Princess. I just know it.”

“You’ve said that every year, Daddy.”

“And it hasn’t happened yet,” said Gwen.

“But she’s gotten closer every year,” said Maximilian. “And this year I feel it in my bones.”

“You’ve had that condition for years, and you know it,” said Gwen. “Always acting like you’ve got one foot in the grave.”

“Stop picking on him,” said Penny. “At least he’s rooting for me.”

“Oh, honey,” said Gwen. “You know I’m rooting for you.”

“You have a funny way of showing it,” said Maximilian.

“I always want her to do good,” said Gwen.

Wanting her to do good, and believing she’s going to are two different things,” said Maximilian.

“I’m just a realist,” said Gwen.

“Would you two go to your neutral corners,” said Penny. “You’re not exactly creating a stress-free environment for me to prepare my perfect look.”

“You don’t worry about a thing, Princess,” said Maximilian. “Daphne, the only girl to beat you last year, isn’t even here today.”

“Oh, my god!” said Penny. “And did you hear what happened to her?”

“Spill it,” said Gwen, always in the mood for gossip.

“Word is that she went down on her boyfriend, Luther,” said Penny. “And the freakiest thing happened.”

“You mean she was the slut that maimed Luther?” said Maximilian.

“I heard they were both maimed,” said Penny.

“Dammit!” said Gwen. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Well, I heard that when she was doing the dirty deed she developed lock-jaw,” said Penny.

“No way!” said Gwen.

“It gets worse,” said Maximilian.

“Yep,” said Penny. “Luther didn’t realize she was in trouble, and thought she was just giving him the tightest B.J. ever, which really turned him on, and he got bigger than he’s ever been.”

“Don’t tell me he…” said Gwen.

“Yep,” said Maximilian, nodding. “It got stuck.”

“Ouch!” said Gwen.

“And that’s not the worst of it,” said Penny.

“That’s for sure,” said Maximilian.

“Dammit!” said Gwen. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Well it ain’t pretty,” said Maximilian. “He yanked.”

“And she yanked,” said Penny.

“Simultaneously,” said Maximilian. “And something was bound to give.”

“Oh no!” said Gwen.

“Oh yes!” said Penny. “She is jawless and missing her front teeth…”

“Awaiting reconstruction,” said Maximilian.

“And what about Luther?” said Gwen.

“He changed his name to Luthinia,” said Maximilian. “And she’s competing here tonight.”

“Dammit!” said Gwen. “Then how can you possibly tell Penny this is her year?”

“Because she’s prettier, smarter, and more talented than any other contestant,” said Maximilian.

“Yeah, Momma,” said Penny. “You always tell me I’m pretty.”

“Well, of course I think you’re pretty, Baby-cakes,” said Gwen. “But this is an election year and Luthinia is obviously going to get the politically correct vote.”

“Oh shit!” said Maximilian, looking forlorn.

“Daddy?” said Penny.

“Sorry, Princess,” said Maximilian.

“That’s not fair!” said Penny, staring at her reflection in the mirror. “I’ve worked my ass off recreating my new image.”

“We know it, Honey,” said Gwen. “But you know how these pageants work.”

“It’s just not fair,” said Penny. “How much reconstruction does a girl have to get before they finally give her what’s coming to her?”

“There’s always next year, Princess,” said Maximilian.

Penny dropped her head into her hands, and Gwen gave her husband a dirty look.

“Now you listen to me young lady,” said Gwen. “Don’t you dare give them the satisfaction of seeing you at less than your best.”

“You listen to your mother, Princess,” said Maximilian, making sure he didn’t put his foot in his mouth again.

“You go out there and show the rest of the world who the real winner is here tonight,” said Gwen.

“Damn straight!” said Penny, looking at herself in the mirror with confidence. “This is my night to shine.”

“And you won’t even have to break a sweat doing it, Princess,” said Maximilian.

“It’s not like she can anyway,” said Gwen.

 

“All contestants to the stage,” yelled the stage manager from the doorway.

 

“This is it,” said Maximilian.

“Do us proud, baby,” said Gwen.

Penny hugged her parents, gave herself a last minute scan in the mirror, and headed for the stage with her folks trailing behind.

Penny hit her mark just as the announcer began.

“Ladies and gents, and all the rest of you worm-eaten roadkill,” said the announcer. “I welcome you to this year’s Miss Teen Necro Pageant.” He began to walk along the line of females in their tattered evening gowns positioned on the stage. “As you can see the contestants are all eager to compete; and don’t be surprised if your eyes drop out like mine, because they are all Drop Dead Gorgeous!”

Family Fireworks on the Fourth

Jerry stunt #15

The Fourth of July party is taking place on the Boles farm. Half the town has turned out on the big spread to eat, drink, and be merry with traditional and nontraditional activities. Local chefs are keeping an endless supply of barbecue beef, chicken, and ribs available with six grills and an open pit going nonstop. Farm and ranch wives are trying to out-do each other with side dishes, salads, and desserts. There are inflatable bouncy castles, a church sponsored puppet theater, and several water activities for the children. There is a small carnival with booths and rides for the whole family. There is a stage to be used for local bands, a talent contest, and the high school drama class. And a larger stage for the evening concert that has two aspiring performers that are debuting their first albums, and the main act, an ex-A-list band that has not had a hit song in over a decade; but they are still fairly popular with the middle-age crowd. And there will also be a western show followed by a fireworks display.

Billy, now twelve, charges out the side door of the main house just as his mother, Kathlynn, approaches.

“Whoa! Not so fast,” she said. “We can sure use an extra pair of hands to bring out the rest of this stuff.”

“Ah, Ma!” said Billy. “I helped set-up the tables and the other kids aren’t doing nothing.”

“Don’t sass your mother, William,” said Ben, Billy’s father, approaching from the boy’s blindside.

Billy stops arguing immediately, lowers his head, and begins to fidget.

Ben points toward the house: “Get your butt back in there and do like she told you.”

Billy stares at the ground, stuffs his hands in his pockets, and heads back towards the door, scuffing his shoes every step of the way: even on the wood floor as he disappears inside.

“Must you always talk to him like you’re cracking a whip?” said Kathlynn.

“That boy’s on a mud-slick trail to nowhere,” said Ben. “And you know it.”

“Do you have to start that again now?” said Kathlynn. “This is supposed to be a festive day.”

Ben looks toward the corrals and sees Dalton surrounded by kids and several adults.

“I told you not to invite him.”

Kathlynn grabs her husband’s arm and turns him to face her.

“This feud is between you two,” she begins in a low stern tone. There are people all around and she was raised proper. “Once and for all, will you just keep Billy and me out of it?”

“I’ve tried for years to keep you out of it by keeping ya’ll away from him,” said Ben loudly, not caring a hoot for propriety. “But you’ve been the opposition to that.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” said Kathlynn as she glances toward Dalton. “All I see is a kind old man who is rough around the edges.”

“That’s cuz’ you don’t know everything about him.”

“Then tell me.”

They stare at each other, neither wanting to give an inch. It is just the most recent in a long line of stand-offs.

This time Ben gives in first. He huffs, turns, and heads over by a group of guys congregating around a few kegs of beer.

She wants festive, he thinks while grabbing a full mug. I’ll show her festive. He gulps down the beer in one long pull, slams the empty glass down, belches, farts, and grabs another.

 

A short time later Billy carries his final armload of plates to the tables near the open pit with a rotating side of beef, where the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lasso is slopping on his family recipe next to a worried looking chef.

Kathlynn ruffles her boy’s hair.

“Now was that so bad?”

She was hoping for a smile but it did not appear.

“Momma, why does Papa hate me?”

Her smile disappears as she hugs him tightly.

“It’s not hate,” she begins. “It’s not even about you really.” She wishes she can transfer all the love she feels into him through the hug.

“Grandpa?”

She nods.

“I don’t understand why,” said Billy.

“Neither do I, son,” said Kathlynn. “Neither do I.”

During the lull after lunch while most folks are lounging, napping, or enjoying the activities two groups are out passed the corrals in an open field making final preparations. One group is adding last minute touches for the fireworks set-up. The other group, on the opposite side of the field, under Dalton’s experienced leadership, is Billy and a couple dozen men and women finalizing preparations for a western action show that will precede the fireworks display.

“This’ll be the first time Pa’s ever seen me do a routine,” said Billy.

“It don’t pay to fret,” said Dalton while inspecting weapons. “Besides, you got the gift, boy. You’ll have your pa and all these folks spellbound when you get to shootin’.”

“I hope he likes it enough to let me tour with you.”

“I told you this life will bite you when you got the gift,” said Dalton while cracking open and inspecting the barrel of a side-by-side scattergun. Clean as a whistle and lightly oiled… perfect.

“It’s all I’m ever gonna do, Grandpa,” said Billy while spinning the cylinder on one of his two single-action Ruger Blackhawks: verifying it is empty before inspecting the cylinder and barrel for cleanliness. “Ever.”

 

A few hours later Dalton, Billy, and the performers from the traveling show take-up positions. The veteran entertainer gets the attention of the announcer and acts like he’s stretching something between his hands: letting the announcer know he needs to stretch the introduction so a couple of last minute adjustments can be made.

“That’s it folks, take your seats,” said the announcer, the town barber. “And everyone please remain on this side of the markers. We don’t want anyone getting hurt, especially today. And let the kiddies up front so they can see. That’s it, keep a coming.”

He glances toward Dalton and sees him nod and give the thumbs up signal.

“The sun is fading so we best get started,” said the announcer. “And don’t forget we got the fireworks show right after this event. But first, let’s give it up for our very own Dalton Boles and his Sure Shots for bringing us this free show on this blessed day of freedom.”

The crowd applauds. Dalton signals the troupe and they burst forth to begin their action-packed exhibition of riding, roping, shooting, fighting, and a few rarer talents like knives, hatchets, and bullwhips. It is a scaled down modern-day version of the western extravaganzas, like those put on by Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill Cody.

 

The show continues to entertain the enthusiastic audience as a little girl runs by Ben as he continues to intoxicate his wounded ego near the keg crowd: where he’s been all afternoon, except for piss breaks.

“Hurry, Molly!” said the little girl. “Billy’s in the show.”

Ben stops paying attention to the dirty jokes being told by keg connoisseurs, and tries to focus thru the beer-induced fog on the girls talking about Billy. He does not recognize the little girl but he recalls Molly. He believes she has been a friend of Billy’s for most of his life, though he is not certain of anything at the moment.

The little girl approaches Molly. Molly is the older of the two, by a few years. She is only a year younger than Billy.

“Billy… are you sure?” said Molly while darting off toward the field before her friend can respond.

The little girl takes off after Molly, but her shorter legs cannot keep the same pace.

“Yes, Billy,” said the Little Girl while huffing and puffing and lagging behind. “He’s with his grandpa.”

Ben startles the small group of people in the vicinity as he throws down his beer mug and storms off toward the field far behind the girls.

“That damn brat,” Ben mutters while getting angrier with each step. “Think he can disrespect me just cuz’ all these people are here, well…” He stumbles but remains upright. “He’s got another thing coming.” He pinches closed his left nostril and blows a hunk of snot out of the right nostril thinking it might clear his head some. But it gives him a head-rush and he almost falls again. “I’m gonna give that little sum-bitch the business end of my belt like he ain’t never had it before.”

 

On the field the bang-bang-shoot-um-up action has peaked and is beginning to decline as the performers begin to meet their staged deaths one-by-one in dramatic fashion: blown off a wagon, roped from the saddle, dragged by a horse.

Molly and her little friend stop near the other kids to watch and cheer. But Ben, intoxicated and fuming, does not care a hoot about what’s going on as he stomps passed the crowd and safety markers.

Surprise responses begin emanating from the spectators and catch the attention of Kathlynn, which up to that point was beaming brightly with pride for her son’s performance.

“No, Ben!” she yells, but knows it’s a waste of breath. Damn him! Damn him to hell!

Ben is so focused on punishing Billy he does not hear the crowd and charges head-strong into the choreographed fracas.

Several entertainers are becoming aware of Ben’s intrusion. Unfortunately, it is primarily the stationary ones already “dead” in the show: but now having instant resurrections. And most of the crowd is now aware of the situation, with a growing number becoming frantic.

However, Dalton, Billy, and two other performers are in the middle of a wild shoot-and-chase sequence, and have no idea Ben is in harm’s way as they come charging around some western town facades. And it’s too late.

The two pretend outlaws take the turn wide, with Billy and Dalton cutting the corner, hot on their heels.

Ben sees the first two horses and, drunk or not, realizes he’s in deep shit. He jumps to his right… right into the path of Billy.

Without hesitation Billy yanks the reins to the side and back – knowing what it means for himself and his horse – in a heroic effort not to plow over his father. The young boy and his hard-charging mount crash into the nearest façade, tearing thru the wall, and tumbling over the props and braces. The volatile sounds of impact, along with a young boy’s yell and the animal’s painful snorts and whinnies, tears at the heart of every sober onlooker.

Kathlynn screams the soul-piercing scream of a mother watching her boy go down hard.

Dalton is just far enough behind, and to the side of Billy’s mount, that he’s able to jump over Ben’s sprawling form.

Performers and audience members begin to rush toward the impact site, while Dalton and the two other riders slow their mounts and backtrack to the impact point.

Dalton, still in the saddle as he approaches, can see Ben being helped to his feet, but there is no sign of his grandson near the spot where some men are trying to calm the wounded horse.

“Stop your pawing,” said Ben to those trying to check him for injuries. “I just stumbled. Ain’t you ever seen anyone stumble before?”

The people near enough to hear and smell Ben begin to move away from him with expressions of disgust.

Dalton dismounts and brusquely pushes through the growing crowd. The sight that befalls him as he nears the shattered façade sparks concern. The injured black and white Pinto is frantically trying to rise from atop a broken blank. And there, underneath the cracked four-by-eight plywood plank, Dalton can see his grandson is pinned: only half his body is visible. And, though Billy is trying to remain brave, the pain is evident.

Kathlynn cannot stop the tears as she does her best to cradle Billy’s head while the struggling horse and men trying to calm it continue to rock the plank atop his body.

“Do something!” she yells.

Dalton shoves people out of the way.

“If you ain’t needed and don’t know what the hell you’re doing, back-off.”

Sheriff Wyatt follows Dalton through the crowd and stops beside him: a few feet away from the frantic struggle.

“I need to borrow that,” Dalton said while gesturing for the sheriff’s weapon.

Sheriff Wyatt, realizing Dalton’s weapons are filled with blanks – not to mention what this is going to do to Billy – gratefully hands his .357 caliber Smith and Wesson to his friend.

“Do what you got to do.”

Billy looks at his grandpa with soulful eyes, imploring him not to.

Kathlynn tries to shield her son’s eyes and turn his head away, but he won’t allow it.

“We got to, son,” said Dalton. “Little Joe’s busted up bad, and you can see the pain he’s in.”

“I’m busted and hurting,” said Billy, “and you ain’t shooting me.”

Dalton kneels beside the animal and strokes its bloody neck and mane.

“Look at him, boy,” said Dalton. “Your head and heart know what’s right.”

Dalton continues to stroke the wounded animal while raising the pistol, aiming, and cocking the hammer back. He then looks at his grandson.

Billy’s heart breaks as he nods approval and he can no longer hold back the tears.

Knowing that prolonging it only adds to the hurt, Dalton squeezes the trigger. The loud report silences the crowd as quickly as the bullet silences the heart-wrenching struggle of the injured horse. With one difference, the crowd noise re-emerges, led by the sobs of the sensitive members; like Molly and her little companion as they are turned away by nearby adults. And many of the folks keep going, to their vehicles and off the property, not caring if the fireworks show is cancelled or not.

Dalton hands the pistol back to Sheriff Wyatt. He holsters it and gives his friend a nod for the hard task completed.

Dalton twirls a finger at the two performers still mounted. Both men toss the loop of their ropes to their boss while they secure their ends to their saddle-horns. Dalton fastens the loops around the carcass: one around the neck and the other around the front legs. The mounted pair ease their horses rearward, trying to maintain a steady non-jarring motion as they drag the dead horse off the plank. And as soon as the burden is removed, Dalton and Sheriff Wyatt heave the large piece of wood off Billy, while a few crowd members with medical training begin to assess the boy’s condition as he lies helpless in his mother’s arms.

Ben pushes his way thru the remaining onlookers.

“Where’s that boy?” he yells. He sees his father blocking the path. “Damn you! Where’d you hide that brat?”

Dalton turns sideways, as if allowing Ben a clear view of the activity around Billy. But to everyone’s surprise he was just positioning himself in order to cock back his arm.

The loud fist to jaw impact startles the people nearby, and sends Ben toppling backwards like a felled tree: its lights out before he hit the ground. Dalton returns to his vigil near his grandson. And everyone close by is equally content to leave Ben lying unconscious in the dirt.

Within a half-hour the ambulance is on-scene and Billy is stabilized, prepped, and loaded. Kathlynn jumps into the vehicle to accompany her son, as the attending EMT continues to monitor vitals and relay information to ER staff.

Sheriff Wyatt helps clear a path through the remaining crowd as Dalton heads to his truck.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” said Sheriff Wyatt. “I’ll supervise the clean-up here.”

“You set them fireworks off first,” said Dalton while climbing into the truck cab.

“Ain’t nobody in the mood for that.”

“It’s Independence Day, damn you,” said Dalton. “You set them off and light up that sky.”

“Dammit, Dalton,” said Sheriff Wyatt. “What the hell difference does it make now?”

Dalton gestures toward some families gathering together and a congregating group of kids.

“Cuz’ I don’t want their last memories of this day being the shame of my family, the pain of my grandson, and the death of his horse.”

Sheriff Wyatt can tell by Dalton’s clenched jaw and piercing gaze that any further discussion on the subject is useless. So he nods agreement, watches his old friend back out and speed down the drive, and he turns to fulfill his promise. And by the time Dalton reaches the main highway to town, a couple miles away, the first colorful projectiles are exploding in the clear night sky above the fields.

 

In the ambulance, while the EMT relays vitals to the ER staff over the radio, Billy looks at his mother.

“Momma.”

“Yes, baby?”

“I can’t feel my legs.”

 

HorseShadow1

 

Life’s a Bitch!

SmithWesson2

 

Mike is sitting on the couch in his living room. It is the only undamaged piece of furniture remaining. The stylish ranch home he spent fifteen years remodeling into the perfect dream home took less than six hours to destroy. The ax and sledgehammer he used lay on the floor beside the sofa.

He is drinking heavily. There are photos of him and Dell, along with several stacks of money, scattered atop the cracked and leaning coffee table to his front. There is also a pad of paper.

“You fucked me, now I fuck you.”

He begins to write what he says.

“And a system that continues to reward… No. Scratch that. Continues to pay-off whores long after their services cease, will reap a whirlwind of hate spawned… Nope. Scratch, scratch, scratch… A whirlwind of revenge inspired acts by those seeking justice. And blood will flow freely in this cesspool of society.”

He pours another drink and gulps it down, then throws the glass at a wedding picture on the mantel. Both shatter and rain down on the hearth and bounce on the carpet. Just like his dreams and memories. As he stares at the freshly torn picture he recalls the day he carried her across the threshold, in this very house. Now, the pictures and the house are nothing but the shattered reminders of so many broken dreams.

He grabs the bottle and points at a picture of Dell.

“You and the system screwed me.” He almost falls sideways, and has to right himself. “Well, you dirty stinking two-faced whore, how do you like this?”

Mike tosses the stacks of money into a metal waste basket. He pours some whiskey into the container, grabs a lighter, flicks on the flame… after a few tries, and drops it in. The contents immediately ignite.

“Y-you and the Gestapo and that fucking lawyer you’re screwing won’t get any future payments either—cuz’ there won’t be any.”

Mike reaches down by his leg and retrieves a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver.

“W-who has the last laugh now?”

He lifts the gun to the side of his head, and without hesitation pulls the trigger.

He hears the click… but nothing happens.

“Shit!”

He looks at the weapon, places it back to his head, and pulls the trigger again.

Click!

“Damn!”

He looks in the cylinder.

“Fuck!”

He looks at the waste basket where the fire is slowly going out; all the contents are burned.

“Now I don’t even have enough money to buy bullets.”

He looks and points at the picture of Dell.

“You make me so mad, bitch, I can’t even think straight,” he said. “I can’t even plan my escape from your money-grubbing clutches.”

He stands, staggers, but regains his balance.

“What the hell am I going to do now?”

He takes a long swig from the bottle.

He turns, catches his foot on the broken coffee table, and crashes down atop it and the junk strewn about. And his head hits the sharp corner on the way down.

Mike heard the cracking of his skull. He saw the splatter of his blood. The bottle falls from his hand, hits the floor, and the remaining fluid begins to drain onto the carpet. And his last conscious thought was simply: Ain’t life a bitch!

Urgency

shadowlover3

Humans and animals often go to great lengths when the urge takes hold or the need arises. He never looked my direction, just made a beeline for you. I had a bird’s eye view from start to finish. He took the dominant role quickly. You lay prone, submissive, as he hovered beside and over you for ease of access. You were already naked below the waist with a fragrant helping of morning dew on the landscape. He watched your reaction as he ripped open your blouse. The buttons flew in all directions. Then one slice with the knife and your bra was no longer an obstacle. I wondered if you felt the cold steel. Your skin was already flushed. He covered your mouth with his in an impassioned urgency for life and the adrenaline rush. Your breasts undulated like the swells of a stormy sea under the forceful manipulation of his hands. Your eyes had the glassy distant stare of extreme pleasure or pain: ecstasy or death. As one guy watching another I had to admire his ability… and resolve. But, naturally, I was a bit jealous. Yes, just a bit. After all, he’s the second guy I saw you with today.

The first bled out.

Now that the lust of you and he is nearly sated… my blood-lust burns.

staring eyes1

© JW Thomas

Outlaw Poet

[excerpt of work in progress]

cowboy-and-sunset

Dalton pulls up next to the main house, exits his truck, and notices the porch is dark.

“Damn bulbs never last as long as they’re suppose to,” he said as he moved toward the steps. The distance from town, rare visitor history, and chirping crickets keep him at ease. So he unknowingly walks passed Dante, who then steps from the shadow.

“Evening Old Timer.”

Dalton begins to turn, the first hint of alarm bristling up his spine, but it’s too late, Dante cold-cocks him with the butt of his gun.

Consciousness returns fairly quick to the tough septuagenarian. But he discovers he’s already bound, gagged, hooded, and being manhandled into a vehicle.

An old eighteenth century outlaw materializes, walking out through the ranch house wall, and eyes Dante enter his vehicle, slam it into drive, and stamp on the accelerator. The elder Boles, great-great grandfather of Dalton, whistles for his mount, and the buckskin companion appears while galloping up to him.

Dante speeds away as the old outlaw mounts, and the spectral pair take-off like the wind after the departing vehicle.

 

Ben, who usually commands the most respect in his joint, is practically falling all over himself, in his own office, because Carlo Giovanni, a well-dressed local under-boss, presently sits across from him flanked by two goons.

“The go-ahead has been given,” said Carlo.

“Thank you, Mr. Giovanni,” said Ben. “I won’t let you…”

The office door unexpectedly opens, and Giovanni’s bodyguards go into action. As Dante begins to enter he catches a glimpse of unexpected movement, sparking him to quickly draw his weapon. And the few second mutual surprise ends with the goons aiming at Dante, and Dante drawing a deadly bead on the seemingly unruffled under-boss.

“No!” said Ben. “He’s one of mine.”

No one moves, though Giovanni and his goons become aware of another figure bound and hooded in the outer office.

“You’re people don’t knock?” said Carlo.

“He’s contracted,” Ben said. “Did a job.”

“So I see,” said Carlo, and he motions for his guys to lower their weapons so the new arrival will stop aiming at him – it works. “I don’t like problems.”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” said Ben.

Carlo rises and begins to exit, but stops inches from Dante, who doesn’t give an inch.

“Make us money and you’ll be treated royally,” Carlo said to Ben without removing his gaze from Dante. “Bring us trouble and you’ll go down faster than this boy can draw.”

Carlo exits without looking back.

Ben sinks back into his overstuffed chair, as Dante closes the distance with a bemused look.

“Nice friends,” said Dante.

Ben closes his eyes; waits for the adrenaline to subside, and wonders for the umpteenth time, will I ever become a heavyweight, or just weighted down with cement?

 

Dalton soon found himself bound to a chair, with Dante standing menacingly beside him, as Ben leaned forward on his desk. The hood and gag was removed, and Dalton, though not about to show it, was surprised his son would go this far. He knew he was amoral, but never thought he had the guts for this level of play.

“Always knew you were a snivelin’ little pecker-head who couldn’t do anything without help,” said Dalton.

Ben just smiled and glanced at Dante, who punched Dalton three times in rapid succession: smiling bigger with each punch.

Dalton took it without a peep, and glared back at his punisher; as if oblivious to the pain while spitting a mouthful of blood onto Dante’s gator skin boots.

“Still trying to be the big man,” said Ben. “But you’re just an old man now. So the next time you get the urge to put on your little costume and write poetry – don’t.”

Dalton returned his gaze to his son.

“Yer’ as dumb you are weak,” said Dalton. “I weren’t even in town that day.”

“Deny it at all cost, huh?” Ben said. “Just like last time. Well, suit yourself. But my business associates wouldn’t respect me if I let anyone get away with stealing from me. And that includes you, old man. So I’ll give you a choice; pay me twice what you took, or pay it in medical bills.”

Dalton had no fear of his son, but knew the hired muscle was both capable of, and probably enjoyed inflicting pain. He likewise knew that if their positions were reversed, Ben would not hesitate to rat out Billy.

No greater love hath man than this, thought Dalton, that he lay down his life… And he began sniffing the air.

“Damn, if I don’t recall that smell,” said Dalton. “Ain’t it time for yer’ diaper change, boy?” He steals himself for the inevitable and doesn’t have to wait long.

Ben motioned to Dante, and the hired-gun stepped forward and unleashed his sadistic side.

 

The eighteenth-century grandfather clock in the foyer, by the stairs, struck two bells past the witching hour as the old outlaw materialized within the family farm house. The elder Boles slowly walked upstairs, with spurs jingling a solemn melody in tune with their owner’s countenance. The dark interior presented no obstacle to a past patron of Purgatory, and one who has seen the depths of Hell; though his present task is obstacle enough. As he stepped through the closed door – foregoing the usual wish to have had this power while still alive – he found Billy asleep beside Molly. And, though he had a task to perform, the fresh scent of woman, and the lingering aroma of the young couple’s pre-slumber passions filled the specter with torturous recollections of his past life.

Nothing less than a Herculean effort cut short the rising flood of loves found, and loves lost, and the paralyzing effect such recall has on a spirit outside the boundaries of Paradise. But the task needed doing, and the elder Boles never allowed obstacles to deter him.

To ensure there would be no mix-up, the old outlaw abstained from the usual ethereal smoke, opting for a stronger connection, as he placed his hand on Billy’s forehead. Manipulation of neurotransmitters within the mind of the living is a rare trait, mastered only by fearless spirits with unwavering focus.

In REM sleep when the connection was made, Billy restlessly began to stir. His mind’s eye was adjusting to the new and varied visions. In the surreal world of the subconscious Billy found himself attempting to escape a maze that has a lifetime’s worth of memories projected on the walls. Belittling memories of his pa were on one side, and uplifting memories with his grandpa on the other side. Then, in the imaginary blink of an eye, he finds he is young again, and riding hell-bent for his father with a voice chanting, “Run him down. Run him down.” But no collision is seen, and the scene shifts, and Ben’s visage distorts, both appearance and voice, and he begins to motion like a music conductor orchestrating Dalton’s vicious beating by Dante.

“One, two, and then punch,” said the ethereal Ben. “Three, four, and punch some more.”

Even subconsciously Billy tries to stop the brutal beating. He screams at his father, only to watch in awe as every word is literally sucked into the surrounding blackness. And as he begins to run forward this scene too – fades. It is quickly followed by an irritating strobe light effect. With each random illumination a shotgun is seen within the glow, and a shell is ratcheted into the chamber. The distinct sound of schick-schick during each illumination foretold the inevitable.

The flashing abruptly stopped, replaced by the solitary image of Billy’s grandpa; though Billy couldn’t help comparing his grandpa’s face to tenderized ground-round.

Dalton’s eyes sprang open and he yelled, “Billy!”

The penetrating gaze and earnest exclamation shot straight to the core of Billy’s soul… and the shotgun fired – Kaboom!

Billy catapults upright in the bed, sweaty and agitated.

Though he knows it was a dream, he also knows something bad has happened to his grandpa. And for the first time Billy knows he can take the life of another man; in fact, two. Though he is a bit surprised to realize one of his first kills will be his own father.

Cazzi’s Wake-Up Call

Once again the luminous glow of Edenger’s nightlife gives way to the radiant rays of another day. Flotation pods, hover crafts, sky-rails, and various other modes of transportation appear to instantly triple in number among the highways and skyways to insure on-time arrival of the populace.

Many miles from the opulence of the palace the Administrative Staff Billets is located. A picturesque complex that could easily be mistaken for a resort: stables, tennis courts, swimming pools, and various other recreational distractions, allowing the hardworking inhabitants to experience the benefits of their continuous servitude to the High Order.

A funny, somewhat childlike robot, named Squeaker, opens the curtains on the balcony doors of a fifth floor apartment on the west wing.

“Cazzi Roo. Cazzi Roo. Wakey. Wakey.” Squeaker began in his comically distinctive voice. “It’s much, much past time for you. Time for buns outta’ bed, and buns on the run. Fun! Fun! Fun!”

On the opposite side of the rest chamber is the target of the unusual wake-up announcement. Cazzi Roo; nineteen, a pixie-like young lady with sparkling eyes; yet presently looking about as disheveled as she can lying in her rumpled bed.  She obviously does not want to get up.

“Box it, Squeak!” she commands. “Or I’ll have ‘P’ chips for breakfast.”

“A futile threat indeed, indeed from one who has already missed A.M. feedbag, Cazzi-cakes,” the robot responds in its sibling-like banter. “So shake it, shake it, or your superior break it. And no more snazzy Cazzi for with Squeak to speak.”

“Yeah, yeah, you already ruined my dream anyway,” Cazzi replies yawning, while reluctantly beginning to rise. “So what’s on the agenda?”

In perfect unison, befitting their years together, Squeaker gets everything ready for Cazzi at the precise moment she reaches for it, while simultaneously giving her the rundown of the day’s activities.

“Fem-defense, but too late, too late,” Squeaker began. “Pod-Q training. Oops! Could’ve hovered, but it’s over. One case, two case, debate, debate. But still too late to make the date.”

And as usual Cazzi gets impatient: “Okay! What haven’t I missed?”

Squeaker shows his normal, though minute, disapproval of his ‘ladyship’s’ rude habit of never letting him finish any lengthy accounting of things she, herself asked for.

“Presently,” he begins in a huff, “though missed times nine, Joket Alon sends on-line. On-line ten he sends again.”

“Then can it, and cue him up,” she insists.

Squeaker’s monitor pops on, and the face of Joket Alon appears. He is young, handsome, especially in his Ad-Spec (Administrative Specialist) uniform, but gives off a slight air of insecurity.

“I’m awestruck!” Joket exclaims. “Only a mere ten sends today.”

“Don’t wad my knickies,” Cazzi replies. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Then you’d better get a rapid mood job,” announced Joket in a serious tone, “because the 1st Consul sent an ‘Immed’ for you fifty minutes ago.”

“Shatbat!” claimed Cazzi, quickly stepping up activities. “Why wasn’t a P.S. dispatched?”

“I tried three priority sends,” countered Joket, “and they were terminated.”

“Squeaker!” yelled Cazzi, visibly agitated. And the droid gave her his full, though unconcerned attention. “You terminated three priority sends?”

“Your zero-three amending,” began Squeaker, as if reminding a child, “specified no sending. Not any kind, under any condition. ‘No way’, you say, or Squeaker pay.”

“Not too brainy for someone on-call for the week,” claimed Joket over the monitor.

“I might have been under the influence of whisbon at the time,” Cazzi replied in her defense, as if some clouded recollection was occurring.

“If Cazzi need to clarify,” interrupts Squeaker, “I can surely verify. For sure, for sure, a lot of whisbon was in her.” Which send the sibling-like banter and gestures into over-drive.

“Gag it, sensor-dick!” Cazzi commands.

“With dyna-lube, flesh and blood itchy bitchy,” counters Squeaker.

“Electric-stroker,” Cazzi verbally parries.

“You never complained before,” Squeaker jabs back, “even when it made you sore.”

“Squeaker!” screams Cazzi, embarrassed, remembering Joket is still on the monitor.

“I hate to break up your pillow-talk,” Joket interjects, “but aren’t you forgetting the 1st Consul?”

She had forgot.

“Oh yeah, right,” Cazzi sheepishly remarks. “It’ll take half a shake.”

“Just get it in gear and get it here,” insists Joket. “I’ll blame it on com-probs (communication problems).”

Squeaker’s monitor shuts off, and Cazzi glares at her metal companion while on her way to the hygienic chamber.

“Com-probs,” Cazzi remarks, “there seems to be a lot of that going around.”

Squeaker ignores her, locates the frequency to his favorite music station, cranks it, and continues on with his morning routine while be-bopping to the tunes.

Case of the Missing Ring

[*Years ago my step-son (9-years-old at the time) asked me if I could tell him about one of my private investigative cases for his class project. Well, I never spoke of my real cases outside of work, but I didn’t want to let him down, so I came up with the following micro-story on the spur of the moment… and it got him an “A”]

 

I was hired to find a missing ring at a bell factory.

I was told that no one had been allowed to leave since the ring came up missing.

So I had every worker hold up their hands, and the missing ring was not on any of their fingers.

Then I had them empty all their pockets, and still the missing ring was not found.

So I had every worker shake their bells, and every bell went “ding-ding.”

Then I had each worker jump up and down while shaking their bells, and quickly discovered the culprit, since they all went “ding-ding” except one. It went “ring-a-ding-ding.”

A detective must be open-minded to all possibilities. Had I been looking only for a missing finger ring I never would have solved the case.