Sunday, December 10, 2017

Billy Bragg

Jonathon William Bragg did not start out life trying to be a bad guy. Of course, not many people in the world are born mean. There’s been a few, Murdock recalled, one woman named Naomi Landers from up in Johnson County apparently never liked her parents or her siblings or the cat.

Billy Bragg wasn’t like that! He learned his hate in high school or there about. Someone called him a name, he took offense, a teen-age rumble started and 10 years later it ended when name calling got the better of him and this time he was bigger and stronger and had ten years to swallow his pride and the fight was over in about fifteen minutes with the bully’s head caved in and his brains on the floor and Bragg in the corner crying in his beer realizing at the last what he had done.

While the trial was ordinary the outcome was not. Bragg had pleaded guilty to the fighting and losing control and having 10 years of hatred unleashed but he did not plead guilty to manslaughter but to assault and battery, saying the death was not his intention or his fault. The coroner, the investigating detective, the court-appointed psychologist, felt otherwise. So did the jury.

Bragg changed his tune. He fired one attorney after another going into the appeal. He denounced his victim. He claimed his actions had been determined by God. The court was pondering a psychiatric review again and then, for any reason not known to the good folks of the town, he was let out on bond. He promised, he said, he promised, he promised, he promised, he wouldn’t leave town. And he didn’t. Instead he got himself a gun.

That was when Murdock found him, too. In the alley next to Murdock’s office. Johnny Murdock had been out late that night, late for him, at least, doing a bit of very close surveillance in an undisclosed back yard only to arrive to his office and find Billy Bragg waiting, loaded for bear, or at least loaded for Murdock.

Murdock had been on the defense team that could not get Bragg off and Bragg more than once swore his anger at Murdock and old Chester McClain, the lead attorney, but Chet was old and Bragg didn’t seem that was much of challenge.

What Murdock knew, though, and so did Chester McClain, was that Bragg was a bit different. They found by just plain luck that one time Bragg was eating at a local restaurant and for no apparent reason other than being altruistic (a word Bragg would not have used on himself) Bragg paid for the breakfast of an elderly couple who looked like they had seen a rough last few years. That didn’t seem to tie in with a young man who could erupt so quickly. Bragg’s landlady said the man was quiet, willing to help around the place, paid on time. He was polite.

He was polite. Which was sometimes, Murdock thought, an indicator of trouble.

And, Bragg drove one of his neighbors, an older man, to the grocery store seemingly whenever the old gent wanted to go, as if Bragg was willing to give up his time for the man. They weren’t related, the old boy was nice enough and had a pension but not much wealth, as far as Murdock could tell. Were these random acts of kindness. Bragg was always polite.

Until he wasn’t polite any more and when the warrant was issued for him because he violated his parole.

Bragg had a gun. Later it was discovered he’d purchased it from a private owner. Nothing fancy. A six-shot 38-caliber old-style police revolver and he only bought six bullets was not much of a weapon unless of course it was pointed at you.

Bragg’s politeness compelled him to call out to Murdock from the dark of the alley. Johnny Murdock about jumped out of skin.

“Hola, Murdock. You all right?”

It took Murdock a long heart-beat to recognize Bragg’s voice. In the next heart-beat he remembered that Bragg was armed.

“Billy, you going to shoot me down in the dark?”

“Of course not. You tried to help. Didn’t do much but you tried. You and old man McClain. You tried although I thought at times you didn’t try very hard, either.”

“We did what we could,” said Murdock.

“Right. I ‘spect you did. Just sometimes I think  it wasn’t very much. Didn’t have much to offer me.”

Murdock felt it was not the right time to explain to Bragg that his personality had left them few options. Nor was it probably the right time to express the idea that Murdock carried with him that Bragg might very well have been freed under supervision if the case had turned their way only slightly. But, it hadn’t.

“Look, Billy, there is the story going around you stole a gun. Don’t get yourself in to worse trouble. Let’s get down to the station and put this behind us.”

“Yeah, right, Murdock. No. I believe I can get behind all this with easier moves like why don’t you come done this alley with me.”

Murdock’s heart was beginning to pound ever harder if that was possible. Of all the alleys in town this was the darkest, for sure.

“Billy, what are you going to do? Huh? Something really awful? You kill me won’t get you any better off. The cops are looking for you. You make it tough on them and they’ll just respond worse.”

Magical interruption? Luck? A car pulled up to there end of the alley. Murdock could see it was Estep. When he turned his attention back to Bragg, he sensed Bragg had moved farther into the dark. Murdock held up his palm, indicating to Estep to stay where she was next to the car. Bragg had slipped further into the dark, unnoticed. Murdock ventured into the glow of the street light to stand by Estep.

“What’s up?” she said. The cop in her voice was demanding. “Is Bragg back in there?”

“Yeah. He’s looking for a fight, I think. With me.”

“Not going to allow that.”

“I know but about we can do is wait for daylight.”

“Won’t happen,” she said. “He’s not that kind.” She made police noises into the radio microphone. “Backup is on its way, Murdock. Let’s don’t do anything stupid.”

“I don’t he’s the kind to come out guns blazing, either. We’ll have to go get ‘em.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard,” said Estep. “He’s liable to do anything.”

“Murdock!” Bragg called from deep in the dark of the alleyway. “Murdock? You still out there?”

“Yeah, Billy, I’m here.”

“I’m a mixed up kind of guy, Murdock, I know that! At least you tried to help. I appreciate that. Some where along the way a screw came loose. You know what I mean? Faulty wiring finally broke down.” He laughed. “Is that what you educated people call a bad analogy? Faulty wiring breaking down. Like I’d rubbed off a spot of insulation and shorted myself. What a joke.”

“It’s not a joke,” said Murdock.

“On me, it is. Murdock?”

“Yeah, Billy. What?”

But, Billy Bragg didn’t answer. The hum of the city answered the silence. The cicada, which had not been bothered yet by the loud talk, screamed ever so louder. Taking a cue from the silence of the alley, Murdock’s imagination perked up at the tone of Bragg’s voice, at the instant recognition of what the boy was thinking. Murdock stepped away from the relative safety of Estep’s car and took two or three quick strides into the treacherous dark trap before Estep ordered him to wait.

“Billy?” Murdock’s voice disappeared into the empty of the dark alley. “Billy?”

There was one shot. It disturbed the dark and the reasonable quiet of this part of town. The cicada went quiet, too. Murdock froze in his tracks. A half-a-moment passed while Estep fished a flashlight out of the trunk of her car and they worked their way down the alley. Thirty or forty feet in, where there was a dumpster and broken furniture, in a doorway to one of the businesses out on Hamilton Street, they found Billy Bragg.

The cicada returned.

Billy Bragg lay sprawled in the dirt and trash of the brick path of the alley. He’d swallowed a bullet. While Estep was cop-cautious approaching Bragg’s body, Murdock leaned against the brick wall, disappointed and sick to his stomach. It had not needed to end this way. Whatever made Bragg tick was now lost and could not be undone or corrected. The finality of it all was ever so much more difficult to accept. Murdock wanted to argue with Bragg which took him a moment or two to realize that futility. He was angry at Bragg for not wanting or trying to correct his life. Murdock felt someone or something was a fault here but he wasn’t able to get to an answer.
###

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Over Coffee, Late in the Morning, at Phogg’s Grill

“You smell bad,” said Johnny Murdock to Connor.

Sergeant Connor had just stepped inside the front door of Phogg’s Grill. He stopped in mid-stride, looked around the interior of Phogg’s Grill for support but finding none, sniffed his sport coat.

“Yeah,” he said, “ode due pine studding accented with a fine ordure of singed fiberglass.” He enjoyed his joke for the moment. “Don’t you think?”

“How’d that happen?”

Connor politely ignored the two other customers and general background noise of Phogg’s, secured himself heavy porcelain mug, and following that helped himself to a cup of the free coffee of the day (Kona Craft Dark Roast). Connor the cop was not easily transformed into Connor the coffee expert. Connor dabbled a couple of drops of creamer in the cup and stirred it with the blade of his butter knife.

“Don’t you ever use a spoon?” said Murdock. “Did you miss that lesson at the dining table with your mom?”

“Buddy, my mom got me started doing this. I don’t know why. It was just a kooky thing she did.”

“‘Kooky’? Did you say, ‘Kooky’?"

“Yeah, so? It’s old fashioned. Like you and me. Huh?”

Murdock snorted and smiled. He and Connor were not close buddies. Not overly friendly to each other but they did respect each other’s profession. Connor the cop, a small town cop, who had over the years arrested his high-school pals, delivered the bad news to his life-long neighbors, been to automobile accidents of horrific chaos only to discover a friends’ or acquaintances’ child in the rubble, still was sane enough to get up in the morning and do the right things. Murdock just didn’t ever expect Connor to smile. Sometimes smiling was a dishonest comment.

Murdock had simply existed. He had gone from job to job, from career to career, for over twenty years or more until finally making a living, a good living, as a man who would help you with your inquiries about a spouse or employer or employee or girlfriend or boyfriend. Without any particular effort on his part, his older female clients seemed to outnumber all other clients by three to one.
Both men were of average looks and weight. Murdock dressed a tad nicer with a tie and belt and socks that matched. Connor dressed for the day’s unknown. When he could, he ditched his sport coat. A long time ago non-uniformed cops were expected to be respectably dressed. He was. He was finally getting annoyed at having to wear a sport coat in August. The new fashionable vogue for modern, hip, male detectives was a badge on the belt and an automatic on the hip, white shirt, and tie.

Murdock didn’t dress well but dressed better than average with better than average manners and upbringing. He knew to take off his hat when he ate. He knew to keep his nose out of the plate. He knew to say “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Ma’am” like he meant it. He showed an old-fashioned respect for the older folks. He remarked one time that they’d been through what he still had to go through and for that he was grateful.

It was an hour before lunch-time trade, a little after 11:00. The earliest arrivals would be either those who had skipped breakfast or those facing a long afternoon with no hope of a nap. Or those bored by 11:00 in the morning and wanted nothing else but to eat. Phogg’s lunch special was on the board (meatloaf sandwich w/ pickle, tomato, lettuce and potato salad) which Murdock was thinking of ordering once he finished his coffee and a pass through the newspaper. He had read it once at breakfast but again a second time at lunch for no reason other than to read the paper as if this were the act of a gentleman. He had arrived here a few minutes earlier, ventured a romantic “Hello” to Lola LaVentura, the lovely and consummate chef and bartender whose shop this was, and settled into a corner seat to the left of the front door where the front wall met the partition between the restaurant and the bar, and enjoyed the next moment watching the next customers walk in and then Connor commanding the view from the doorway. At the moment there wasn’t much to command.

“So,” said Murdock. He twisted his coffee mug moving the handle from one side to the other and then for no apparent reason twisted his coffee mug moving the handle back to its original side. “What happened?”

“You’re just dying to know, aren’t you, partner?”

“I guess I could see if it is on the evening news. Would they interview that gorgeous redhead that is now in the ranks?”

“Wrong there, pal. She quit.”

“Quit? Why?”

“Didn’t like all the blood. Went off to Virginia to college. Again.”

“Didn’t like the detective type? Wanted a college man?”

“Probably. She was more trouble than she was worth.”

Murdock opted to not inquire about the woman’s worth. He sat patiently, chin in hand, twisted his coffee cup one more time.

“So,” said Connor. “Want to know what happened?”

“Not any more,” said Murdock. Then he smiled.

Connor let out a sigh and said, “Dude decides to break into this man’s garage about daybreak today.”
“Broad daylight? That’s brave.”

“Dude is neighbor to the man who owns the garage. The man who owns the garage had already left for surgery at med-center.”

“Oh, that’s cruel.”

“Yeah, well, it got really interesting. Mr. Break-in dude busts the lock on the door which was alarmed but the alarm was off. Don’t know why. Too late to worry about it. Apparently dude had not really coveted his neighbor’s property much or might have to known about the alarm. Inside he finds little of value and he is not smart enough to understand what he has found. To cover his tracks he started to pour some gasoline underneath the man’s 1967 Austin Healey, a classic worth bunches. Unknown to this poor sap the car has had some problems and one of those was a grounding problem.”

“Oh, oh.”

“Where the story goes strange is our garage owner is also a man with a checkered past. On the wall, behind Dude, is an assortment of manhole covers several of which are five or six feet up on the wall.”

“Manhole covers? Stolen? Collected?”

“Would seem an odd collection but no, these are all classic covers from various years used by the city. Tailor made. Purposely different just to keep a nice look to the sewer system, I guess. Ask the guys at Public Works. I don’t know.The gas goes up in the man’s face. Fire chief says it was like an explosive cloud. Our accident prone suspect is caught away from the doors, in danger of inhaling a fireball. The inside lights up like a Roman candle. Too much paint. Too much gasoline and solvents. Just the right amount of oxygen, and poof, he’s scorched, trapped, and scared. The building goes up like a ball of dryer lint.”

“How long did it take for the fire department arrive?”


“I hear someone with lawsuit on their mind?”

“No. But I remember hearing about one for that same reason.”

“That the fire was in the alley didn’t help. Truck got turned into the alleyway and then stuck so they had to man-handle the hose up about halfway up the block. God, that looked like a lot of work.”

“Didn’t save the man or the garage?”

Connor shook his head.

“Are you kidding?” Connor said. “The wall probably barely supported itself let alone some crazy reason to hang manhole covers on it. He wasn’t about to dig his way out from under a couple of hundred pounds of iron. The only thing left was the foundation and half-dozen manhole covers.”

“Anything left to the Healey?”

“I couldn’t tell you if it made any difference.”

“And the garage owner?”

“The manhole covers are all numbered, on the bottom. Did you know that? I helped the robbery boys take the inventory. Damn things are heavy. We served him with an arrest warrant for the manhole covers as soon as he came out of surgery. Made his day.”

“I wonder what his surgery was for?”

Connor just smiled and took a big drink of his coffee.
###

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Haircut

It was time to get the shaggy look trimmed up. In my retirement one thing that changed was I stretched the time between haircuts. So at times I am a little bit ragged around the ears. The hat hair seems to get worse but I don’t mind. Over the cooler months it feels good. Over the warmer months it has to be trimmed back.

My barber likes to mow. He likes to mow his yard. He likes to mow my hair. He even mows my eyebrows which tickles. But mostly, he is a gentleman and a scholar and we have some very interesting conversations.

Most people think all we talk about is golf or politics. They think that for a reason, of course. I found quite by accident that we’ll talk about anything as long as it’s clean and fun but not politics.

One time, I don’t know how, funeral practices came up in the conversation. The tale went something like: Have you heard of this practice?

Which practice he was referring to I couldn’t tell.

“What?” I said

“Have you heard, I know you know all this kind of stuff, but have you ever heard about going to a graveside and sort of reburying someone by putting pieces of blacktop and concrete on the grave?”

“Never," I said. "Someone must have really wanted to make he or she never came back to life. Must have read too many stories about people in the old days that weren’t really dead but got buried anyway.”

I hadn’t heard that particular tale but I was glad I did. I was in the middle of writing a story and there was a scene with a graveyard and since this was a detective-fiction it needed, it called for, it yearned for such a weirdness as someone who further buries someone just to be sure they don’t come back.

Today at the shop wasn’t much different. I had gone in on a Wednesday after lunch. The shop was almost empty. One of the barbers was just finishing up with another gent so I was next and not ten minutes later the second barber comes in from lunch break. The third barber was on vacation. A golf match was on the television. The paintings along one wall and the fish mounts on the other wall did not seem to ever go together. Maybe that was why they were on different walls.

We got to jabbering about food. In particular, kraut. I don’t know how we got there. Usually we start with polite stuff like “What do you think of this weather?” But somehow we worked away towards some kind of food that I don’t recall talking about and ending up with sauerkraut. The path probably had something to do with gardens then farmers market then longed-for favorite foods. Or maybe it something the wife cooked yesterday that was like what my mom used to make but my sister didn’t like and then it was served at a family meal and he found he liked it!

That was me, I thought. When I was a kid, if I can remember rightly that far back, my mom couldn’t get me to eat kraut on a bet. I apparently have changed.

I think I started eating kraut on corned beef a few years ago for something different from other than another variety of ham or beef or turkey sandwiches and then made the slide to adding kraut on hot dogs. At the farmers market (back when it was a tent city) there was a food cart with the most delicious hot dogs that I found could be genuinely enhanced by sauerkraut. Don’t ask me how it got started because I don’t remember but I was glad it do. 

Our conversation got to going about eating kraut and which brands were better than others, when we first had kraut, and who made the best homemade and what goes best with it. I am not one to buy kraut at the store but apparently one brand is so good, apparently sour enough to make your jaws lock up!

I wish I could remember that brand name. It’ll be a month before I stop by for a hair cut and then I’ll have to remember to ask.
###

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Malone Saves the Shady Lady

Perk Malone hadn’t visited “The Duck” very often in his years as a patrol officer or as a private investigator. The place had been there, for sure, he just never had the opportunity to grace it with his presence. But in the last couple of years he had, indeed, gone there, had a few beers, met a few people, and avoided the few fights. Generally. In Madison City, a fight, where the cops got called, resulted in a fine for the business and enough fines the business was gone. It was a contested ordinance, but it was still an ordinance.

Today was not much different than any other time. He and one other guy were at the bar. The oversized televisions were on, on mute, highlights of last night’s baseball games. The barkeep had propped the door open to let in some fresh air and it must have been working since the interior didn’t overwhelm with the smell or sweat, beer, or cigarettes. The Duck was two blocks from the interstate and it’s rumblings filtered through the open door, too, along with a draft of fresh spring air.

The other gentleman at the bar paid no heed to Malone and Malone returned the favor. It was a nice afternoon to have a cold one, even if it wasn’t a craft brew, and the place was relatively quiet and dark.

He had his chin resting in the palm of his hand, elbow on the bar when he sort of felt the presence of someone behind him and then next to him.

She let her knees slightly brush his hip as she slid onto the bar stool. Her name was Hazel something-or-other. He’d met her at the justice center, one time, when he was waiting to be called as a witness and she was waiting to be called to the DA’s office. Malone hadn’t quite understood what that was supposed to mean. He didn’t remember much about that encounter but he did remember she was bull-legged.

“Hey, sailor, buy a girl a drink?”

He smiled with his chin still in his hand and with the other hand waved the barkeep to bring the lady a cold, tall one.

“How are you,” she said.

“Good. You?” He could talk well enough with his chin in his palm.

“Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“Always, my dear. Always.”

Now he slightly turned his head to look at her. She was half brunette and half redhead, tanned, eyelashes the size of tent awnings, and eyeshadow that looked like something a five-year old might have applied, and one very obvious shiner under her left eye.

“I fell down the stairs,” she said.

“Okay.”

“No, really, I fell down the stairs.”

“I believe you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do. I do! Drink your beer.”

She wore a grey hoodie with the arms ripped off and faded blue jeans and tennis shoes. Her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed since winter solstice. She took a long slug of her beer. He had hardly touched his. She took out a crush-proof box of fags and a gold lighter.

“Nice lighter,” he said.

In Tennessee, if under-18-year olds were prohibited from the establishment then smoking was allowed. The Duck was one of those establishments. She didn’t look anywhere near 18-years old. More like 50, thought Malone.

“Thanks, it was a present.”

“You know,” said Malone, “I never did learn why you were at the jail to talk to the D.A.”

“Probably, because it was none of your business, sweetie.”

“Can I ask another stupid question? What does this oak leaf on the lighter supposed to mean?”

“I think it’s the brand name.”

Perk Malone nodded as if he understood. What he understood was different from how she might have interpreted his nodding. He knew, as did most of people in his line of work, as did most of the detectives he knew, that the oak leaf was a signature emblem for the area’s highest ranking importer of pills, marijuana, and women although the Mary Jane side of the business was about to get the kibosh from the legislature. His name was simply Ralph Rose. He was Caucasian, educated, locally born and raised, “free range” one attorney liked to call him, behind his back, but generally not a nice person.

The word was that Ralph Rose (nobody called him “Ralphie” either) did not take fools, women, or enemies kindly. Everyone was potentially an enemy which Perk Malone understood. His respect for Rose did not include kowtowing but it also did not include being foolish. But, for Perk Malone, one thing that had remained true for the years of the rise of Ralph Rose, Perk had never seen the man in real life nor could he recall seeing a picture of Rose. Also, at one time Ralph Rose had portrayed himself as some kind of Mafioso, dressing in a suit, talking tough and mumbling, letting hints drop he wanted to be called “Ralph the nose.” No one knew what to do about that and Rose’s nose wasn’t particularly interesting. It was just a nose. “Rose the Nose” was the inevitable very hush-hush joke.

For whatever reason, the woman now decided to leave. She picked up her purse, package of cigs, and headed straight for the door, not saying “Adios” or “Kiss my Grits” or anything. Perk Malone’s eye flowed from watching her hips wiggle to the old man at the bar as he turned, too, to leave, leaving a half-glass of beer on the counter, and Malone’s eye caught the brown of a pistol butt stuck in the man’s waistband of his grey slacks against a white shirt. Underneath he was dressed a little too nice to match the beat up sport coat and scruffy bearded look on the outside.

Perk Malone had always, and he would emphasize “always,” carried his 32-caliber five-shot in a holster. One, it was required by his license. But, two, he’d been around too many gunslingers who thought a heater in their pocket or belt was way too cool until it caught on in the stitching or belt loop or he managed only to grab the butt not the trigger guard which Perk had seen a cop one time draw his night stick and wallop some youngster across the forehead when the kid tried to quick-draw from his hip pocket only to grab a chunk of wood and not much else.

The two times Malone had used his pistol he knew to get up close, jam the barrel in to where ever you want to hit the man, and then pull the trigger. Both of them survived but both were still spending their nights and weekdays and weekends in west Tennessee courtesy of the state.

Perk Malone wasn’t sure what was going to happen, now as the man really seemed to follow the woman out the door, but he felt he ought to go check it out.

He’d just closed the door behind him, stepping into the sunshine, and breath of fresh air, when he heard the pop of a heavy pistol. A woman screamed, terrified, and then a man screamed, a wounded dog sound. At the back of the parking lot with only five or six cars (for four people), Perk Malone could see the blond head over the roofs. Not sure what to do he instinctively scurried to one side and came up on the man, sitting on the pavement, back against a car, a pool of blood already forming under him. The blonde stood, bent over, hands to her face, now silent screaming. The man’s hat had fallen over his face.

“Oh, God,” she said. “Ralph? No?”

She jumped as Malone approached.

“I didn’t do anything,” she was saying. “It went off by itself. I swear. Oh, God! He’s dying!”

Malone knelt down and put his hand on the man’s chest. His breathing was slow and his heart was hammering. Blood spurted from his left thigh. There was the faint odor of cordite and Malone could easily see the butt of the pistol still peeking out from the waistband. The man had obviously gone for his gun, managed to set it off, and drilled a hole through his upper thigh, the femoral artery, and now his life draining away onto the pavement. The man had a blank look on his face. Malone guessed that he was in shock already from the pain of the bullet and the heat of the discharge in a place where such discharge was not a common thing, but almost instantly his body began to shut down. He was past first aid and past a tourniquet. The next stop was last rites.

Malone grabbed the blonde by the arm and shoved her away telling her to get in her car and leave. Don’t look back, he told her, and don’t come back.

There in the sunshine Perk Malone watched Ralph Rose, Ralphie, Rose the Nose, die. He called 911 but by the time he got through with all the questions before they asked where he was or what had happened, Ralph Rose had pumped out most of his blood and the last was draining by gravity. His chest was still. His heart had stopped. Malone told the 911 operator she probably ought to also call the cops and medical examiner, too. She asked if he needed the fire department rescue squad. Had there been a wreck, were there other injured?

Malone thought about the “others,” not so much the girl, but anyone who had a run-in with Ralph Rose. It took him a moment to get his thoughts back to the parking lot.

He said, “No. No others. No wreck.”

There was nothing left to rescue.
###

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Blonde in a Corvette

“It’s not mine,” she said.

That’s what they all say. It’s the boyfriend’s. It’s the husband’s. Or the ex-husband’s.

She had skidded to a halt in the parking lot of my church on a very brilliant, coolish, fall day. The sky was October blue, the leaves were beginning to turn, the air was cooling. Football weather. I was putting a second coat of paint on the front door when she rolled in. Our church fronts a fairly busy street. The railroad tracks are two house lots over, running perpendicular to the street, and this street was one of only three streets in three miles for crossing the tracks. So we got a lot of traffic. On Sundays, we don’t have enough congregation to need a cop to direct traffic but I have always stated that would be a good problem to have. Some day we would get to that level.

“You ever ridden in a Corvette?” she said.

The ‘Vette was new. I don’t know the models any more. Couldn’t afford one and so I knew as much about Corvettes as I knew about a Rolls-Royce. Except for one.

I stared for a moment if only because I was still taking in the scene. I was standing there in the sun shine, in a sleeveless Georgia Tech t-shirt and paint-dribbled bluejeans, roller brush in one hand and a rag in the other.

She was blonde. Always is. Riding with the top down and with no kerchief her hair was wind blown in every direction. Big smile, big hair. She had on a blue-on-white striped sailor’s shirt.

I hadn’t even spoken to her yet and she had already said the ‘Vette wasn’t hers. I guess I should have known it wasn’t. It never was.

Yes, I had ridden in a Corvette. In my younger days I had a friend who worked magic with a wrench. He’d married (if I could ever remember the details right) a ’65 StingRay bac kend with a classic ’63 Corvette front, like the one from the television show. Don’t ask me how he did it. What I also remembered was we took her out for a spin and it was probably a bit of luck we made it back home alive. I lived in Illinois then, in the flat, corn country, and we shot out of town headin’ south on a warm summer’s night, as they say, hauling the mail. It was a convertible and the interior (although I don’t which interior it was) was in good shape and all the right parts worked and we flew down the highway, straight and level for about five miles. I had to go out behind the garage to relieve myself when we got back home. So, yes, I’d ridden in a ‘Vette. Next question?

She had a big smile. Lots of teeth. Tanned face that looked a bit drawn perhaps from too many cigarettes. Her voice seemed strained and hoarse. But her attitude was cheery and light hearted. She struggled a bit to climb out the car. It was too low slung and she was too tall.

My mind shot back to wondering why it was young women never seemed to own the hot sports car or the big tall truck. Income? Social pressure? Maybe part of our culture demanded she earn the privilege to drive his car. I was glad my wife was not like that.

In the background noise I could hear the rise and fall of a police siren.

The young woman bounced on her feet. Giddy, like.

“You work here?” she said.

“I’m the pastor. So, yeah, I work here.”

I did my best to smile, being very warm from the heat and the work, and standing in the sun.

“I don’t go to church,” she said.

“Sorry. Any particular reason?”

“No. Just not my lifestyle, I guess.”

I wasn’t immune to other church goers, even some in my congregation, who saw church as a lifestyle. I sort of wished there was a better articulation but I didn’t argue.

“Nice color,” I said.

When you’re painting a door basic white a convertible in royal blue looks pretty spiffy. The sirens were getting closer but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Because this was one of the few railroad crossings made this a busy route for EMS, the cops, and the fire department. It was not unheard to have a siren go racing by in the middle of the prayer requests. I didn’t pay an overly amount of attention to the squad cars as they raced by us, this time, sirens in full throat, neither apparently noticing a blonde and a Corvette at the front of the church talking to a man holding a paint roller.

The blonde didn’t seem to notice the squad cars going by us. She continued to smile and I could see her lips move but couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. When I visit some of more elderly congregates who talk very quietly, I’ve learned to watch them talk and then smile and make an intelligent reply.

“Nice church,” she said.

“Thanks.”

It was still in nice shape and an attractive building for being well over 35-years old. Prior pastors and congregations had worked hard to keep it fresh and alive, inside and out.

“I should go to church,” she said.

“Wouldn’t hurt,” I said.

“I’ve done some things wrong, you know?”

“Who hasn’t,” I said.

“Would you forgive me?”

“Not my call, actually. But if you behave I reckon we’d let you stay.” I smiled by best pastoral smile. Oh, some days, I thought, some days, it would be so nice.

The two squad cars returned, one to each entrance to our parking lot. The officers didn’t jump out with weapons drawn. They didn’t shout orders or make demands. Almost casually they walked towards the the blond standing next to the Corvette.

“It’s not mine,” she said.

“Yeah,” said one of the cops. He was older, had all the braiding of a veteran cop. “We know.”
###

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Donahue Eats Brick

[THIS IS A SCENE MAYBE FROM THE NEXT NOVEL. I LIKE TO TRY OUT SOME THINGS JUST TO SEE WHERE IT LEADS.]

A young woman found him. She worked late at the Lazy Dog Tavern as a waitress and had taken this route before just because she didn’t usually meet strangers in the dark of one o’clock in the morning. The alley was lighted at the ends, of course, by the street lights and by the parking lot lights but the remaining stretch between the street and lot was dark. The city didn’t allow the dumpsters to be parked there just to reduce the number of hiding places for attackers or street bums. During the day the alley was moderately presentable and used by folks as a short cut.

Donahue had probably walked this alley day and night for more times than he could remember. He’d been in this office in the Jefferson Building for about 10 years and had never once been accosted in the alleyway.

There was always that first time.

Donahue’s view of the world, at the moment when the young woman came upon him, was a flat one, that stretched from his left eyeball, tilted 90-degrees from upright, out over the bricks and ruts of the alley. In a sepia tone view of the rolling landscape he noted for the first time the rise and fall of particular loose bricks and long groove of the previously-thought-of shallow rut. But, this turned-over world was upsetting too if only because he’d never quite so closely examined the alley’s deck.

The brick was cool, at least. He lay in a crumpled pile. He had one arm under him and one leg folded back about half-way. He could feel his knee sitting on a sharp corner of a brick and he could feel the slight trickle of blood from his temple and from his nose. And one foot felt cool as if he was missing a shoe. His breathing was slow and even. He’d been hammered, for sure, by pros, but purposely left in a reasonably good shape perhaps as if to indicate that he was lucky.

He was lucky the girl found him and even luckier she had the where-with-all to call 911.
Donahue’s brain took several long minutes to realize he was on his right side and the corner of the brick was poking him in the right temple and his right eye was half-open staring hard at another brick half-an-inch away. He could see the girl, standing off to one side, back lighted by the lights in the parking lot or were those street lights?
He was confused.

She didn’t get any closer than she had to. She could see he was alive and moving in pain, a body trying still to protect itself even though the attack was over. She had seen enough horror shows to know two things: never, ever back up in a dark alley or hallway; and never get within arm’s reach no matter how dead the guy looked.

He’d been ambushed. Caught unawares like some amateur, play-time P.I. Two of them. From behind without hardly a hint of the rush. One with a punch like a hammer. He’d hit Donahue hard enough, Donahue bounced off the wall. Reflexively, Donahue had thrown a wild right hook that missed and only opened him up to a punch to the ribs. The ambush was just about over that soon. A kick to a knee. A hard smack to his chin. A quick stomp on his hand and they were gone. But the lights had stayed on, for the most part, and the hand stomper had worn a very old pair of wingtips that even in the bad light he could tell really needed a re-dye. He had wingtips but they didn’t look as bad as that pair.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Steele Bends

[THIS COULD BE A FINE BEGINNING TO ANY NUMBER OF STORIES. TAKE IT AND GIVE A WHIRL!]

Derek Steele stared at the 45. In the hot, white spotlight from overhead he could see a trace of gun smoke leak from the muzzle, and he could see a wisp of smoke from the ejector slide. Steele looked down to his right side and inspected the hole his sport coat. The most recent round from the 45 had yanked his coat to one side and burned a hole in the cheap polyester-cotton blend ugly coat.

Crap, he thought, and I just got this coat from Goodwill.

He slowly looked behind him and saw where the second-most-recent round from the forty-five went. It was buried in the chest of his business partner, Jesus Jones. Jesus Jones had a surprised look on his face, slumped as he was across the vinyl and chrome sofa. It was the best they could do for office furniture. A small dribble of drool was forming in the crease of his lips. The bullet had plowed into Jonesy dead-center in the middle of his tie, an especially ugly and garish paisley tie now darkened with powder burn and blood, through the shirt, and shattered Jonesy’s breast bone, drove shrapnel and bone through his heart. His shirt front was soaked with blood. Jonesy might not have died right off but he was certainly dead now.

Steele carefully returned his look at the gun. He could see the dull-black 45 and the slender white hand that held it and the bright-red finger nails, and the slim wrist, and most of a forearm, covered with fine hair, and then see nothing as the arm left the light.

His face, his eyes, stung from the heat of the blast. He was about ready to mess in his pants, he thought, and he desperately wanted a drink of water. For the moment his hearing was gone.

Derek Steele was scared.
###