Two Stories From The Concrete Jungle

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Long ago, city dwellers lost touch with nature, turning instead to concrete jungles more deadly than any real ones in nature.

Untold stories of the lives of millions of people unfold every day across the endless concrete highways of the North American continent. Strange stories. Sad stories. Stories with no endings. Stories of crime, and redemption. They are all acted out on countless miles of concrete, connecting generations that died in back alleys and highways. Concrete is the symbolic skin of America baptized in blood and progress. Here are two such stories for your consideration.

THE CHRISTMAS BONUS

1936 – Chicago, Illinois

Nervous sweat trickled down Alberto “Big Al” DeSantis’s forehead as he waited for his quarry behind a row of dipsy dumpsters in the dark alley.

The partial moon lent an eerie glow to the scene and shadows from rats and cats skittered across the brick walls. A homeless man clutching a paper bag walked over to the dumpsters and began flipping unlocked lids open and looking inside. When he got to the end of the row, he swore. There was nothing worth taking. He brought the bag – with a bottle inside – up to his lips and emptied it in one long gulp. Then he threw it against the wall near where Big Al was hiding. Another curse, and the man shambled off into the night.

Just as Big Al was getting ready to move, he heard footsteps and froze. His quarry came into view. The man quickly walked over to a row of crates stacked behind a bar – Jimmy’s Place – and lifted one up and looked underneath it. Just the way Big Al planned it. The note. The promise of dirt on an enemy. And that it would be in this particular alley. He reeled Morty “The Fixer” Weinberg in like a fish. A barracuda was about to meet a shark.

When Morty couldn’t find anything, his instinct told him he was in trouble. He automatically reached for his gun, but was too late. Big Al’s Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) barked and six massive slugs ripped into Morty’s face and chest! He was dead before he hit the concrete. As a small pools of blood formed next to the corpse, Big Al put the still warm weapon under his trench coat, and casually strolled away from the carnage he created.

It was Christmas, and he was looking forward to getting home and celebrating with his wife and children. The fact that he just murdered a man in cold blood didn’t put a damper on his holiday spirit at all. Just the opposite. The boss, Salvatore Lucchesi, had a contract out on Morty for months and no one was able to fulfil it yet. Until now. Big Al expected a good Christmas bonus when he stopped by the clubhouse to report the good news. He went out to the street to his car and opened the trunk. He gently lowered the powerful weapon down and covered it with a blanket.

A gentle snowfall dusted the concrete as he looked for a parking place. He found one a block away from the club. When he stepped inside the club, after being greeted at the door by a guard, he inhaled the succulent smell of fresh pasta and sighed.

“We almost didn’t think you’d make it tonight,” Lucchesi teased Big Al while inviting him with a wave to sit at his table.

“Not only have I come to pay my respects on this holiday, but I also bring good news with me!” Big Al proudly said.

“Bravo! Have some wine and tell me what it is.

After a waiter poured him a glass, Big Al took a sip and replied, “You no longer have to worry about that bastard Morty Weinberg. He’s burning in hell! I whacked him!”  

A silence settled on the table. Wise guys turned their eyes away trying to hide their expressions. Big Al was confused. Why wasn’t everyone cheering? Why did Lucchesi have that funny look in his eye?

“A contract is a contract. Louie! Get me 30 g’s right now! Big Al has it coming.

The tension around the table worried Big Al. He couldn’t figure out what the source was. When Louie returned a had a small zippered cloth bag that he gave Big Al. His normally smiling face was grim.

“I’m true to my word mio amico! Here’s the reward and a Christmas bonus.

“Grazie mille!”

“Merry Christmas!” Lucchesi said, and pulled out a revolver. “How were you to know we had a Christmas truce with Weinberg’s gang? I’m going to have to save face now…”

The wise guys around the table were already moving backwards when he shot Big Al in the forehead!

Taking Pappy’s Advise

1913 Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Clete Peterson had no idea that he would be part of making history when he got a job building the first asphalt concrete highway in America. He was a 17-year old husky country boy who was thrilled to be getting good wages in return for back-breaking work clearing big rocks, roots, and natural obstacles out-of-the-way to pave a new road.

There were two crews working on the 24-mile long road. The common laborers like Clete, and the specialized crew that made and poured the asphalt concrete with its bitumen binder. The paved part was 9-feet wide, and the laborers were required to clear a 12-foot path in preparation for the historic road.

On the first day of the job, Clete and the rest of the laborers, quickly learned that their boss, Charles Putnam, was an ignorant bully who got the job because he had inside connections. He was a surly alcoholic built like a bear. His sheer size intimidated many men. Every day he set the same goal, regardless of the obstacles that had to be removed. When something prevented the goal from completion he went crazy. Like when a whole work day was lost removing a rock that turned out to be a boulder of considerable size.

That night he walked through the camp picking fights with the exhausted labor crew. The only man there as big as Charles was Clete. When Charles aggressively came up to him he held his ground despite fearing the older man. Clete’s pappy always told him to stand up to bullies. No matter what. Charles saw the fear in the younger man’s eyes, but he also saw a determination that he wasn’t sure he wanted to test.

“Y’all better put more effort in your work Peterson,” he warned him. “Feller yer size should be doing the work of two,” he taunted after spitting out a stream of tobacco juice on his boots. “I’ll be watchin ya boy!” he assured him, and turned away into the growing night towards his campsite.

“Hey, Peterson!” one of the men called out to him. He looked over and saw three men sitting around a campfire passing a bottle around.

“C’mon over. Be sociable,” another man urged,  holding up the bottle for him to see.

Another lesson Clete’s pappy taught him was to be sociable, and not to take on airs. So, he joined them. He gratefully accepted the bottle when it was passed to him and took a gulp. It was his first taste of alcohol and went down like pure fire! His pappy was a preacher and if there was one evil he always went on about…it was drinking liquor. The devil’s brew. As he gasped for breath the others laughed so hard they were rolling on the ground.

“Well, damn boy. I dint know ya was such a cherry!” the man who handed him the bottle said.

“My paps a preacher,” he gasped, “I need me some water,” he pleaded. One of the men handed him a canteen. “You’ll do boy!” he said. His partners agreed. They approved of the big young man with good manners.

The next day.

While digging away trying to unearth a big rock, Clete was surprised when someone pushed him from behind! He stumbled forward and caught his fall with the shovel.

“What the…?” he stammered.

“I warned you last night Peterson. You better pick that pace up!”

Sensing violence, the rest of the crew stopped what they were doing and watched the scene unfold between Charles and Clete.

“Reckon you better say you’re sorry for pushin me like that,” Clete warned him in a calm voice.

Charles’s reply was to slug him with a sucker punch! But it didn’t move Clete who stood there defiantly. He threw down his shovel and reached out and grabbed Charles’s arm and pulled him toward him. A ham-sized fist smashed into Charles face and blood splattered them both from his broken nose! He recovered from the blow and grabbed Clete in a bear hug. They wrestled around until Clete broke loose and hit Charles twice with thundering blows to his head that dropped him to the ground,  nearly unconscious. Without pausing, Clete jumped on top of him and choked him with all of his strength. By the time the work crew pulled the enraged Clete off their boss, he was dead.

To a man, they agreed to hide the events that led to Charles’s death. Afterwards Clete admitted that his pappy told him to never start a fight, but if he’s in one to finish it.

The story they gave authorities was a group of unknown assailants attacked their camp in the middle of the night and their boss was killed. Some speculated that it might have been a group of disgruntled Cherokees objecting to the road going through their sacred grounds.

Afterwards, the locals decided to dedicate a one-mile stretch of the new road to Charles Putnam – “A hero who died in the name of progress.

As It Stands, there’s so many more stories to tell,  I’ll never be able to share them all in this lifetime.

The Great Goblin Invasion

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In an age of magic, long before mankind learned to walk upright and come out of trees, there was a fairy dynasty, The House of Nim, that ruled in an age of peace and posterity.

It was an era where warrior wizards roamed the land and fought evil where they found it. Goblins gathered in packs and hunted unwary travelers, often just killing them for the sheer joy of it. Forests were homes for ogres who fought one another when there was no one else to attack. The clannish brutes leaders were smart enough to keep their subjects concealed in the vast forests, and not to go looking for enemies.

One of the largest cities at the time, Shambhala, was in the Kingdom of Rathan, ruled by King Auth. It was a trading hub and a crossroad for other communities. The city was surrounded by a great wall and had a castle in the center where the king lived with his large family.

North of Shambhala, were the famously fertile fields of the fairy territory ruled by the House of Nim. They stretched out as far as the eye could see. Fairy’s had been cultivating it since the dawn of time. Most of the inhabitants were farmers who seldom used their wings. The royal family, and select members of the court, not only used their wings, but they also practiced ancient magic to protect their kingdom. They considered themselves warrior-scholars who stood up to enemies, but never sought them out.

Towards the end of the third millennium, before the great asteroid struck and nearly destroyed the earth, ragtag bands of thousands of roaming goblins became organized under a dark sorcerer named Zargot, whose mother was a rogue fairy and father a renown goblin warlord. The combination made him stand out among his peers, and most feared to even be around him. His temper was legendary, but his ability to organize achieved something never attempted before; a united goblin attack against a city, Shambhala. As far back as memory served, the goblins were hit-and-run road bandits with bad attitudes. The times were changing under Zargot.

In the Kingdom of Rathan, the royal family consisted of three sons, and three daughters. All were related to the fairy community of Nim, but did not have wings. Their grand wizards studied under the mages of Nim.

Among the royal children, there was one who was a rebel. His name was Tarn, and he always seemed to do the opposite of his siblings, a passive group. His aggressive personality worried his parents early on, but as he grew older he demonstrated that he could serve in the kingdom’s best interests. He was the only child that wanted to travel so his parents indulged him and made him an ambassador to the House of Nim. He insisted on traveling there by himself, secure in his ability to defend against any attacker.

He traveled light with only a forest green cape, over his plain brown tunic. With a short sword, and a water flask in his broad belt, he set on down the road. Tarn’s knowledge of fruits and plants made it easy for him to live off the land as he walked towards Shambhala. He meditated as he walked, a trick he learned from his master at an early age. The road he traveled twisted like a snake through fields of grain and flowers spread out across the massive plain. As the sun shrugged and slowly went down, Tarn heard something that instantly put him on alert. The sound of grunts coming from nearby were headed towards him! He got off the well-beaten path and slipped into a field of grain. Raising his hands over his head he muttered an incantation of disguise and stood still, becoming one with the tall stalks that surrounded him. Just in time. The goblin army had sent out scouts and they were everywhere. Some passed within inches of him, unwary of his presence.

Tarn listened to their grunts and made out enough to know an army was nearby and moving toward his city! He fought against his natural impatience until he was sure it was okay to suspend the spell, then turned around and ran back home as fast as possible in the darkness. When he approached the gates of Shambhala he called out to the guards, “Open up immediately!”

The commander of the guard doubled the sentries and made sure they were all heavily armed with axes, spears, and arrows. With the goblin watch set up, Tarn went to King Auth and asked for his advise.

“What shall we do, sire?

“We must see how large this army is. Our defenses are set and we are ready, my son. I’m so glad you’re all right, and were able to come back and warn us,” the old king said with pride in his eyes.

In the followings days, thousands of goblins surrounded the city walls. Their numbers increased daily as the defenders looked on. Finally one day the sorcerer Zargot appeared in front of the main gate. He called out to King Auth to surrender and for his subjects to become his vassals. The king, surrounded by his children and wife on the main palisade, drew his sword and waved it high.

“Leave here, with your ridiculous demands, and go back where you came from!” he warned the sorcerer.

Zargot spread his arms beneath his black cloak and flew up to the top of the palisade and hovered in front of the royal family.

“This is your last chance. Resist me, and I’ll share your flesh with my minions!” he roared.

Tarn raised his bow and notched an arrow as Zargot flew back to his goblin army. When he let go of the arrow Zargot turned and caught it in mid-air. He cast a spell and the arrow flew from his hand with a life of its own, back towards the front gate, striking one of the king’s son in his throat! The queens wail of grief was drowned out by the masses of goblins screaming war cries as they ran toward the front gate and the two side gates at once.

The rear wall faced a forest populated with ogres. The stretch between the forest and the rear wall was the distance that a good archer could shoot an arrow. It was a neutral area avoided by travelers, and contained large quicksand pits. Even the animals avoided the area.

The goblins threw themselves at the walls, raising hundreds of ladders and scurrying up them like giant worker ants lusting for blood. The carnage went on until the sun set and darkness descended like a cloak over the countless bodies. The goblins breached the wall twice during the battle, but were turned back both times by counter attacks led by Tarn.

That night a council was held by the royal family and the kingdom’s three wizards. They knew they couldn’t continue to have so many casualties. Over half of the defenders were dead, including two of the king’s sons and one daughter who fought fiercely on the palisades with the warriors. It was decided that Tarn would leave immediately for Nim to get help.

He had to sneak out by the back wall. The other three were too heavily populated with the goblins army. It meant he would have to travel through the forest and circle around towards the Kingdom of Nim. He slipped out a secret door and stopped long enough to cast a simple spell that illuminated the areas where there was quicksand. Passing by them he entered the forest and set a steady pace while listening and looking for ogres.

He heard them before he saw them. The ogres were arguing about something around a campfire. Twice the size of goblins, ogres were powerful but slow. Their fierce appearance was enough to intimidate smaller foes. There was also one other thing about the ogres, they had an excellent sense of smell that was highly attuned to fairy folk and goblins. The same time he saw then, they smelled him and came to their feet. He backed up to a tree and cast a spell of invisibility just before they lumbered past him. Drawing his sword, and relaxing the spell, he came up behind one of them just as he turned around and plunged the blade into his massive chest! His death cry brought the other two over before he had time to disappear. One of them threw an ax at him and barely missed. Tarn charged the ogre before he recovered from the throw and drove his sword into his heart. The last ogre grabbed Tarn by the shoulders and threw him like a doll at a tree! Blocking the pain, he got up and ran for his life. The ogre soon gave up chasing him.

By the time Tarn got out of the forest it was daylight. His whole body ached, but he remained focused on his mission and headed towards the fields of grain that led to the Kingdom of Nim.

The mages of Nim were waiting for Tarn when he arrived.

“We know what Zargot has done. Know then, that he was once one of us many eons ago. But his dark side got the better of him and we forced him into exile on the Island of Narta. However, he grew strong enough in the passing of time to break the spell bonds holding him there. What is happening now is his revenge. We hope you and your people will forgive us for what’s happened. We go now, my fellow mages and I, to confront Zargot and stop this invasion of your city.

“Can I go with you?”

“No. The high magic that’s going to be involved would kill you outright. Instead, lead our warriors to confront and destroy the goblin army that threatens your great city.”

And, so it was.

The great goblin army was destroyed, and the evil sorcerer Zargot was defeated by the mages of Nim. But the story doesn’t end there. Tarn goes on to more adventures and becomes a legend in his time.

As It Stands, I just had to get my fantasy on here. Hope you enjoyed it.

The Marble Champion

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Every kid in the school yard at California Street Elementary in 1955, was watching the marble match.

A third-grader named Billy, was challenging a fifth-grader, named Jack, in a game of marbles. It wasn’t just another game. It was for the annual unofficial marble championship. Both put up all of their boulders, common cats eyes, aggies, and steelys. It was winner take all. Both contestants had captured hundreds of marbles during the semester.

The winner was the first to capture fifty marbles in a three-round contest. Each round featured 30 marbles – fifteen from each contestant. They used their prized aggies, confident that their special marbles would give them a winning edge.

A coin was tossed to see who went first. Jack won. He knelt down and bent over the circle in the sand. Then he calmly lined up his aggie using his thumb and forefinger, and let it go with a force that scattered the marbles in the center of the circle. Two rolled out of the circle. He picked them up and put them in the coffee can next to him. An excited chatter came from the spectators. The game was on.

Jack lined his aggie up again, and sent it careening into a small cluster of marbles near the line. Three were knocked out of the circle. He got to fifteen before he missed his first shot. Billy took up his position and drove his first marble out of the circle while staying inside with his sticker. He finished off the first round with 15 marbles. They were tied, but Billy got to start round two. He lined up his bumblebee sticker, and fired it into the center mass. Three marbles excited the circle so hard they flew into the crowd! A roar of approval went up. Jack looked on nervously as Billy ran the entire circle! As one of the judges drew a new circle for the last round, Billy’s classmates were patting him on the back in admiration. The shy kid in the classroom had finally earned the respect of his fellow students. And at the expense of the school bully!

Before they could play the last round, the bell rang signaling recess was over. According to their rules the game would be played the next day at recess. Billy went back to class feeling better than he had all semester. He was accepted. One of the guys now. His young heart sang with happiness. He spent the rest of the school day thinking how his life was really turning around.

When the last bell rang, Billy and two new-found friends walked home together. They went about a block when Jack stepped out from behind an oak tree accompanied by two of his friends. He towered over Billy, and outweighed him. In a menacing voice he warned Billy that he better lose tomorrow or he’d beat him up! The smaller boy looked up at him, his heart beating like a jack hammer, and said, “I’m not afraid of you. I’m going to do my best to win tomorrow.”

“What did you say pipsqueak? You’re not afraid of me? Bring it on punk!”

“I don’t want to fight.”

“Of course you don’t, mommy’s boy! You just want to go home and put a dress on!”

Jacks friends laughed so hard they were patting each other on the back in glee. They knew what was going to happen next. Jack pushed Billy hard. He stumbled for a moment and then did the unexpected, he lunged at Jack and hit him in the face! Gasps went up from the onlookers. Jack gave ground and held a hand up to his face. His nose was bleeding. Infuriated he waded into Billy and slugged him repeatedly, knocking the smaller boy to the ground. Then he repeatedly kicked him. Billy stayed in a fetal position but didn’t cry out. Finally Jack’s buddies pulled him away from the barely conscious boy. Billy was bleeding from cuts to his face and his right hand – his marble shooting hand. It was swollen because Jack had stomped on it. The fingers were already twice their normal size.

“See you tomorrow loser!” Jack told him before walking away. Billy’s two friends helped him to his feet and walked the rest of the way home with him. His mother was horrified when she saw Jack. Both of his eyes were swollen shut and he had bruises all over his thin body.

“What happened?” she asked him and his friends. Jack was silent. One of the boys told her a bully, a fifth grader, beat him up because he was winning a marble contest.

“Is this true, Billy?”

He mumbled something in answer, and went past her and into the house and his room. When his father got home he went into Billy’s room and sat down on the single bed next to him.

“Tough day?”

“Yea…”

“Your mom told me what happened. You were brave to stand up to the bully.”

“How do you know that?” he wondered.

“Apparently your friends told her everything that happened. What are you going to do tomorrow son? Should I contact the principal?

“No! Don’t do that! I’m no snitch. I’m going to school and I’m going to win the marble contest!”

“Okay, son. Take it easy. Have you iced that hand yet?”

“A few hours ago.”

“Do it again before you go to bed, okay?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“One more thing…I’m proud of you son.”

The next at school.

The word was out. Every kid at California Street School squirmed in their seats that morning waiting for the lunch recess. The big marble game came with an additional element this year. Nearly everyone knew Jack beat Billy up yesterday. The tension created by a possible fight went through the classrooms like electricity. When the lunch bell rang there was a general charge out to the farthest corner of the playground where the marble contest would resume.

Jack confidently made his way through the crowd and stood next to the circle and the two judges. Billy slowly (and painfully if you really paid attention) walked to the circle. With his left hand he took out his prized Bumblebee and knelt down next to the circle. A murmur of surprise rippled through the crowd when he prepared to shoot…with his left hand! Not his normal shooting hand. He only had to capture five marbles and he’d be the champ. One of many things his peers didn’t know about him was he was ambidextrous.

When he shot the marble and it slammed into the center mass, there was a cheer as two marbles exited the circle. He made the next three look easy. The crowd broke out into happy pandemonium as they cheered Billy’s victory. No one noticed Jack, who slung away with no friends in tow.

As It Stands, this tale is a bit of nostalgia sprinkled with marbles and bullies.

The Last Shaolin Monk’s Story

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1928 – A Shaolin Temple in Henan province, China

Jian held his hand over the bullet hole in his side and watched helplessly as the temple’s master, Miao, was hit by a hail of bullets from one of the warlord Shi Yousan’s sons rifle.

In spite of his pain, he used his mastery of kung fu, closing the gap between him and the shooter in one swift move, disarming him. Still moving in the Explosive style of kung fu, he kicked the mans head! He dropped, dead before he hit the ground. Jian ran through the burning temple looking for other survivors. The seven main halls were burning and scattered with the bodies of his fellow monks. Finally, before the smoke could overcome him, he stumbled outside into one of the three gardens the temple was famous for.

May 1, 1928 – London

It was a grand day of celebration, and Detective Edward Blaine was feeling optimistic, a state unusual for the notoriously grumpy senior detective who ran roughshod over Scotland Yard.

Crowds gathered to watch the inauguration of the North Eastern Railway’s Flying Scotsman, a steam-driven express train. It connected the 393 miles between the East Coast Main Line from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh. It was a celebratory crowd that kept growing long after the train steamed away accompanied with well-wishes from all. They slowly drifted apart into the pubs or went home, content that they’d witnessed history.

Detective Blaine day was coming to an end as he casually strolled down a street, when he heard a cry for help! His trained eyes and ears took him to a nearby alley where four thugs were attacking an old man with clubs. Pulling his “Billy Stick” as he ran, Detective Blaine slammed into the group! His ferocity held them off at first while he got some good solid blows in, but their superior numbers began to tell. He took a shot to the side of his head that almost dropped him. Reeling, his vision blurry, and bleeding from the head, it looked like his career was going to end in a stinking alley.

Then there was movement in the corner of his eye and his attackers turned away to  direct their attention to a small Chinese man who moved like a demon and was kicking their asses! In minutes it was over. The thugs were unconscious. Spread about on the cobblestones like broken puppets. The Chinaman came up to Detective Blaine who was slumped against the brick wall and asked, in broken English, if he needed help?

“Blimey! I never seen anything like that. I’ll be fine. I need to check on the old man,” he gruffly replied.

As Blaine kneeled over the man and checked his pulse, he asked the Chinaman his name.

“Jian.”

“That’s it? Jean!”

“Jian,” he corrected him.

“What are you doing this time of night Jean? Most people have gone home or are still in the pubs.”

“I was sleeping over there,” he pointed to some trash cans in a nearby alley, “When I heard a man cry out for help. So, I went to see if I could offer assistance.”

The old man was awake and sitting up with Blaine’s help.

“Are you here illegally?”

“I came here in a ship as a deckhand. I had to leave my country or the warlord Shi Yousan would have taken my head and put it on a pole, along with my dead Shaolin brothers.

Blaine finally thought to blow his whistle. Within minutes, bobbies were swarming the area. He instructed them to take the old man to the hospital and to take down a report. The thugs were hauled off to jail.

When everyone was gone, Blaine thanked Jian again for helping him.

“It’s brass monkeys outside. We can’t have you freezing to death, now can we? Why don’t you grab your belongings and I’ll take you to my flat.

“I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you, sir.” Jian said.

“No problem. I’m a bachelor and live alone. My couch is comfy enough, I warrant. Stop calling me sir. My name is Edward.”

“I have no belongings…Ed..ward,” he said, bowing his head slightly while following the burly detective into the night.

One year later.

Jian lived with a Chinese family in London’s Chinatown, located in the Limehouse area of the East End of London. The entire Chinese population in England set up businesses, houses of worship, and neighborhoods in the area. Chinese sailors often frequented the Docklands (the old river front and docks), looking for prostitutes and opium dens. In this bustling little community Jian found his niche as a teacher of Zen Buddhism. He chose not to pass on his mastery of kung fu to eager students. He did give demonstrations of his power sometimes in an entertainment setting. People came to him however, for his sage advise and knowledge of Zen Buddhism.

Among his many visitors, was detective Blaine who came by often to discuss cases and to just visit with Jian. The two had become unlikely friends. Blaine lived in a very racist world where Chinamen were considered beneath the English race. They were tolerated however, and said to make good servants in fine homes throughout the country. In spite of the stiff societal norms, Blaine respected Jian as a wise man, and warrior. They formed a firm bond over time.

One day Blaine came by to give Jian a warning.

“Listen up, mate. My snitch down at the docks says there’s some blokes looking for you. Chinamen. He’s not sure how many there are. They’re going around the East End asking about where you live. They’re also offering a reward for you dead, or alive.

“They must be warlord Shi Yousan’s men,” he said with a resigned note in his soft voice.

“You’ve mention this warlord before. Why does he want you so badly?

“I killed his son,” he replied.

“How can I help mate? You know you can count on me.

“Many thanks my friend. You honor me. But I will take care of it.

“I owe you a life Jian.

You owe me nothing. If you wish to honor me let me deal with these men. I know they are deadly assassins skilled in martial arts. Few can stand up to these rogue warrior/assassins that I’m sure Shi Yousan has hired. Short of shooting them, you won’t be able to stop them. And you, Ed…ward, don’t even carry a gun.

“I can’t just stand by and let someone threaten you. There must be something I can do. I have a lot of good men who can come running to help no matter where I’m at…and that includes Chinatown.

“Forgive me…this is your country and laws. Perhaps you can keep me informed with your snitch as to where these men may be found. I must warn you, and your men, these assassins who seek me can kill with their fingertips. Their whole body is a weapon. Use numbers if you confront them.”

After Blaine left, Jian went back to his humble room and meditated. When he was done it was dark outside. He blew out the lone lantern in his room, and stealthy entered the night.

He went up and down the alleys where he lived, like a cat seeking it’s prey. The three assassins looked like gray ghosts in the fog. Jian, whose senses were supernaturally keen heard then before he saw them. When they saw him they fanned out without a word, forming a semicircle in front of him. He recognized their golden silk robes with dragons emblazoned upon the back. Shi Yousan’s personal bodyguard.

A stray dog barked, and a cat screeched while streaking across the dirty lane where the four men stood silently looking at one another. Jian wore his orange monk uniform.

“Go away now, and never come back. I don’t want to kill you,” Jian said as he slipped into his fighting stance.

“We will avenge our master!” they cried out and rushed towards Jian.

The ensuing battle was deadly and ended in minutes. Jian was ready for their move and jumped high in the air, coming down with hand chops on two of the men’s necks! Bones cracked! The third attacker kicked Jian’s chest, shattering his ribs! He backed up but didn’t go down despite the severity of his wound. His brain blocked the pain and he wheeled around and caught the third attacker with a kick to his head, shattering his skull. The short but deadly fight did attract attention and soon bobbies came running to the scene.

When Blaine arrived Jian was stretched out on the ground and two ambulance drivers were preparing to load him onto a stretcher.

“Whooo there laddies! Is this man dead, or alive?

Before they could answer Blaine’s question one of the bobbies came over to him.

“He’s barely alive govnur. Those blokes have croaked,” he explained while pointing at the bodies lying nearby with sheets on them.

“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” Blaine shouted out to the ambulance driver.

Eight hours later.

“Doc says your going to live mate!” Blaine said happily when Jian regained consciousness.

Jian tried to rise up in the hospital bed but was too weak and slumped back down.

“Take it easy, me bucko,” Blaine chided him. “You got all the time in the world. The threat is over now.” 

“I wish it were so Ed…ward. But as long as my enemy lives he’ll send men after me. I must disappear to a place where I can live alone, and in peace. Out of sight of others. Is there not countryside like that in England where I could go?”

“Yes, there is somewhere mate. When you heal up I will take you there. It’s not far.”

“May I humbly ask for a favor?” 

“Of course mate! anything!”

“Will you report that four Chinamen died last night?”

“Consider it done.”

In Henan province, peasants still talk about the last Shaolin monk and how someday he may return when the time is right.

As It Stands, this is my humble tribute to the martial arts.

The Last Patriot

CIA-Agent-Building-Rapport

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

Prologue:

Walter waited for a year for just the right moment to kill Captain Karl Gisborne.

One long year of huddling in bad weather outside of buildings, restaurants, and sky scrapers. One year of following him in taxis, and rental cars around the world. One year of trailing him when he walked in Central Park, and down the sidewalks of New York. Watching. Looking for that perfect opportunity to murder his mentor.

Today, would be that day.

Five years prior.

Camp Peary, Virginia, also known as “The Farm.

After graduating second in his class at CIA University, Walter Molter, did his finishing school at The Farm where he was taken under the wing of Captain Karl Gisborne. He saw something in the young man that he liked. Unquestioning loyalty. Walter felt like he was a patriot, and was honored to serve his country in the best way he could. The thing he liked the most about Walter was he did what he was told without question.

Captain Gisborne personally shepherded him around the international spook community introducing him to contacts in foreign governments and underground groups. He accompanied him on his first assassination attempt.

The target was a German politician suspected of plotting a coup against the current government with the Russian Mafia’s help. The current Chancellor was aware of his adversaries and didn’t want any of his men involved in an assassination attempt. Instead he called on his CIA connection, Captain Gisborne, to eliminate his enemy.

That task became Walter’s assignment. Two days later the German politician came staggering out of a local beer house with two friends after celebrating his birthday. It was dark and there was no one on the street as the three men laughed at their efforts to walk. They never noticed Walter step out from a dark alley and come up behind them. The silencer on his custom 9mm pistol made a slight puffing sound three times. Each bullet striking its victim in the back of the head.

Afterwards, Captain Gisborne joked about getting three for the price of one. “We must have standards,” he chuckled over a shot of Scotch. In that way Walter understood that “collateral damage” could happen, and it would be all right.

One thing Captain Gisborne recognized early on with Walter was he truly believed he was one of the good guys. One of the chosen to protect democracy wherever his country, and Captain Gisborne called on him to go. In order to keep him thinking that way he constantly indoctrinated him – assuring him the country was safer because of his efforts; and how lovers of freedom throughout the nation prayed for men like him.

Walter lost count of how many men, and women, he killed after three years. He lost touch with his parents and siblings and lived alone in a hotel. He had no possessions other than necessary things like clothes and hygiene products. He didn’t read magazines, or books. He seldom watched TV, unless there was a news event on he was interested in.

In Walter’s profession, there was always the chance things could go wrong and he’d get killed. It was a given he lived with. The law of averages finally caught up to Walter, but not quite the way he would’ve guessed.

He found a hand-written note that was slipped under his door when he woke up one morning. He recognized the script as Captain Gisborne’s. It instructed him to meet him in Central Park that night at eleven o’clock. Walter’s inner radar buzzed. This was the first time he ever contacted him with a note under his door. It was out of the norm and his suspicious mind chewed on it like a dog with a tasty beef bone. Up until now, it was always a phone call that summoned him.

He arrived at Central Park at six o’clock, giving him time to explore the area before the meeting at eleven. He was dressed entirely in black with a black watch cap that could be pulled down and had eye holes to see out of.

When he was within seeing distance of Cleopatra’s Needle, a red granite obelisk that stood 69-feet tall, he hid in some dense bushes without anyone noticing. There were just a few people lingering in the cool evening. A man and woman sat on a bench, staring in awe at the mighty obelisk that once stood in the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis in Ancient Egypt around 1450 BC.

Lying down, he made himself as comfortable as possible while keeping a sharp eye out for Captain Gisborne. The note troubled him. He tried to think why he chose that instead of calling. “Calls can be traced,” his suspicious mind suggested. It was after ten o’clock when Captain Gisborne showed up with another man. They stood in front of the obelisk and talked quietly. No one else was around. Beneath the old-fashioned street light at one corner, Walter could see their faces…and read their lips. A skill he picked up years ago.

“Why now? The stranger asked Captain Gisborne.

“He’s become a liability.”

“How, so?” 

“The Russians are on to him. I’m told they have enough information on his assassinations to start a couple of investigations with the French and the Saudis governments. They will try to put him on public trial, and it will be very bad if our “special unit” comes under the scrutiny of the American people.”

“Can’t we hide him? He’s a true patriot and doesn’t deserve this.

“A true patriot,” Gisborne mocked the man, “You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s no patriots nowadays. Just specialists. That bullshit went out of fashion decades ago. You just need to do your job, Clancy.”

Walter saw enough and got up on all fours, pulling out his 9mm sans a silencer. He watched the man called Clancy go over to a tree and hide behind it. He circled around him and shot him in the head before he knew he was there. The shot brought Gisborne to his feet. Clancy was supposed to have used a silencer. When Walter stepped from behind the tree Gisborne didn’t hesitate. He popped off a short series of shots and hit Walter twice! He returned fire and stumbled off into the nearby forest. He almost died that night. If it wasn’t for a Park Patrol officer finding him he would have bled out.

He only stayed in the hospital for a day before leaving despite doctor’s orders. He had one slug removed from his left shoulder and another passed through his chest without hitting a vital organ. A police officer was stationed outside his room, waiting for the doctor’s okay to interview him. He knew it was just a matter of time before someone came looking for him. Despite the pain, he got up, unhooked his IV and got dressed. The officer was talking with a nurse down the hall when he peaked out the door. They were still talking as he casually walked out and went in the opposite direction. He went unnoticed by the busy staff, and made his way out the front door and into the growing darkness.

As he was healing he stayed in a small motel outside New Jersey City. It gave him plenty of time to think about getting his revenge and what being a patriot meant in the 21st century. He thought about all the things Captain Gisborne had told him over the years about what it meant to be a true patriot. He found himself, to his utter disgust, comparing his unquestioning loyalty to Gisborne to the Germans who fought for Hitler in WW II. He thought about the Nuremberg Trails. He grew up believing in the American way. He was a boy scout. A quarterback for his high school football team. So much promise. Then he went into the CIA.

But today was the day he would get his revenge. Gisborne dismissed his bodyguard, a former Seal, and joined other mourners gathered at Arlington Cemetery to honor a former CIA chief from the Bush administration. After the ceremonies Gisborne went to his car, but the driver wasn’t there. Once a spook, always a spook. He realized at the last second that something was wrong as Walter slid out from beneath the Black SUV and pointed a gun at him.

“For America! For honesty and decency!” he shouted while pumping Gisborne full of lead. Before he died in a hail of bullets from the Washington DC police, he cried out once more…”For America!”

Newspaper headline the next day:

“CIA Legend, True Patriot, Assassinated By Rogue Agent.”

As It Stands, the question of what patriotism really means can become muddied by history and reality.

What Happened to ‘Popskull’ Watkins?

3449583706_9022b00836 (3)Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Sheriff “Popskull” Watkins was a poster boy for corrupt southern law enforcement in Georgia during the turbulent 60s. His good ‘ol boy charm was only present when he was around Whites. The genial smile disappeared when dealing with Blacks, who in his beady mind, were dumb brutes to be kept in line.

One morning ‘Popskull” whose birth name was Dewey, was driving his official police car down a rough country road when his front right tire blew! He bumped along on the rim for a hundred feet before finally coming to a stop in the middle of the crude dirt road. Because he seldom got any exercise (and ate like a starving black bear), he was overweight and had high blood pressure.

He grudgingly got his girth out of the car, took off his straw Stetson, and wiped a river of sweat from his forehead while looking at the flat tire in utter disgust. He was a long way from town. At least a two-hour drive. There was no way around it. He’d have to change the tire. Something he hadn’t done since he was 17 years-old running moonshine with his cousins. It was during that time he earned the name “Popskull” because he always delivered the best moonshine in the valley, and he could out drink an adult.

As he opened the trunk to get the jack out someone said, “Can I help you, sir?

Surprised, he wheeled around and reached for his gun.

“No need of that. I’m just offering to help you,” the Black man said.

Relaxing, Popskull asked, “What you doing out here boy? No one lives in these parts.”

“Did you bump your head on the steering wheel when the tire went? Sounds like your vision isn’t quite right. I’m, no boy. I’m an adult college professor.

“Don’t you go sassing me now boy! Where did you get that fancy suit?”

“It looks like it’s time to give you an education, Mr. Popskull Watkins. You may call me Professor Lincoln.

Popskull moved angrily towards the professor who took a small device out of his jacket and pressed a button. That was the last thing Popskull remembered before waking up wet on a well-trimmed front yard with sprinklers noisily doing their job. He looked over to the front of the house and saw the professor sitting on a chair and drinking what looked like Long Island tea in a tall thin glass.

He awkwardly got to his feet and looked around. The professor held his glass up and gestured for him to come over. He walked up to the porch and sat down on a chair near the professor who acted like it was perfectly normal for him to be sitting there soaked to the gills.

“I trust you’re okay? The first time someone goes through the transition it can cause disorientation and even a bad headache.

Where the hell am I? What’s going on?”

“Yes…I understand. So many questions, and so little time to answer them all. For now, you’re in the future. It’s January 2008, and the country just elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama.

“African-American? You mean Black? There’s no way this country would let a darkie run it!”

The professor sighed and handed him a copy of Time Magazine, and a current newspaper. Popskull looked at them skeptically, but the professor could see the mounting panic in the corner of his eyes as he looked them over.

“Please, step inside, and I’ll get you something to drink and you can watch the TV.”

Groaning, Popskull stood up and stretched his aching bulk and followed him inside. There were two leather lounge chairs in the living room directly across from a big screen TV. The professor told him to pick one while he got him a cup of coffee. When he returned, Popskull was watching the TV with his mouth open in obvious awe.

Look at the color! It looks real! Is this something I can look forward to getting in the future?”

“That, and much more. I’m glad you know where you are now. There’s more things I want you to see. But drink your coffee right now, and we’ll go to breakfast after this news segment is over. 

When they got out of the professor’s new Cadillac, and walked up to a restaurant, Popskull stopped outside the front door.

“I reckon there’s a side entrance for you.”

The professor opened the front door and a white maitre d’ meet them with smiles. Popskull couldn’t believe his eyes and numbly followed the waiter they were assigned. He suddenly felt terribly out-of-place in his sweaty sheriff’s khaki shirt and pants. He had no idea what happened to his hat. Looking around he could see people of all races dining comfortably. The meal was the best food he’d ever had. When they returned to the professor’s house he was full and relaxed.

“We’ve only got one more day, and there’s still a lot I want to show you. I suggest we go to bed early. You can sleep in the guest room downstairs.”

That night Popskull had nightmares. He saw men in white robes (his fellow Kluxers) hanging a black man from a tree and setting him on fire! They were dancing around the body like devils frolicking in hell. He was glad when morning finally came.

The next day they went to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The professor gave him a tour, like the ones he given to many others, and explained how the world changed from 1960. He realized that he was a racist because it was all he knew. He was raised that way. He grew up with stories of his ancestors fighting for the South’s rights. He grew up in a black and white world where there was no respect for people different from him.

When they went back to the professor’s house Popskull was conflicted. He didn’t think he was a bad man. But after seeing the things he did with the professor, he realized he couldn’t keep living a life degrading others, and told the professor that. The professor smiled and pulled out the same device he first saw him with…and pushed the button.

After Popskull changed his front tire he pulled out a sealed mason jar from under the front seat and took a few healthy swigs. His world was turned upside down. When he got back to his office he saw an old black man sitting in a chair in the corner, obviously being ignored by the staff.

He went up to him and asked, “Can I help you…sir?”

That was the day his staff, and folks in town, thought Popskull lost his mind.

As It Stands, awareness of other races history is one way to fight bigotry.

You Better Watch Out!

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CNS Reality Show – You Better Watch Out

Episode 10What an Ugly Surprise 

Lester the Jester was slowing down. His two giant pursuers meanwhile were still methodically following him. They were much slower. The only hope they had of catching him was their unreal endurance. They never stopped plodding after him. Day, and night. He’d run far ahead of them to get a few minutes rest before moving on again.

The cameras didn’t miss a detail, offering viewers split screens with close-ups and panoramic shots. The giants, two Ekons from Mars, were making their television debut and already had a legion of fans after nine episodes. This tenth installment featured a new character for the giants to chase and kill. Lester the Jester, as the promoters called him, was an earthling who volunteered as a way to get out of prison and a life sentence. He didn’t complain when the director made him wear a silly court jester costume complete with floppy hat. He was ready for a quick death and although it was unlikely, possible freedom.

All he had to do was kill the giants before they killed him. Although he wasn’t given any weapons to start with, the show’s creators did hide a few weapons in the valley where he was headed. They were careful to add to the drama by giving Lester a chance to survive. Thus far, every character that the giants went after they killed. The victim’s demise was always gruesome.

After scaling a series of hills, Lester came down into a valley. Halfway down the last hill he stopped and surveyed the rough terrain ahead. There was a river running through the center of the valley which was heavily forested as far as he could see. The giant redwoods looked like silent sentinels as he entered the forest which was bathed under the light of a full moon.

The mighty Sequoia sempervirens stood as high as 350-feet, and seemed to reach out into the night sky and embrace the stars. There was no doubt that he’d be harder to detect in the heavy undergrowth. He knew the Ekons were famous for their sense of smell, and he couldn’t count on hiding in one place too long. Instead he focused his energies into looking for hidden weapons. Hours later he sat down at the base of one of the trees feeling discouraged when he noticed a glint of light reflect off of something in a massive root. It was a hunting knife. His joy was short lived as he realized the knife wouldn’t do him much good against one, let alone two, Ekons that were eager to chew on his bones.

But, it would help him sharpen broken tree limbs that could be used in traps. As a hunter, Lester traveled the world and solar system before running afoul of earth’s hunting laws and killing a game warden. That was his ticket to prison and now perhaps a grisly death. It was an accident, but it didn’t matter. The court ground him up and spit him out into a harsh penal system for life. When the producer of “You Better Watch Out!” came to visit him, he recognized it was his last chance. He knew he never could break out of the prison.

The Ekons were brothers. Both Martians stood 12-feet tall and were heavily muscled and so dense they each weighed over a ton. In addition, earth’s gravity slowed them down. But once they got their hands on someone it was over. They felt confident that they’d get through their last challenge easily to win the grand prize. When they ascended to the valley they were surprised to see a new type of terrain. Neither had ever hunted in such an imposing forest and both were in awe at first. They bent their heads back, squat necks straining to look up, and marveled at the great heights.

The Econs were there for the glory and the money. For Lester it was all about survival. There was no longer a need for him to run. He could now try to turn the tide with traps and some luck. He started off with a basic trap. A punji pit. It required digging a hole and lining the bottom with sharpened sticks. He picked a place a few yards in front of one of the trees and went to work digging the soft loam with his knife. As he placed the last stick he heard a voice. The Econs were coming. He nimbly scrambled out of the four-foot by six foot-deep trench and back up to the tree’s base, holding his knife up defiantly and waited.

It didn’t take long. The younger brother appeared first and quickly spotted Lester. He let out a happy shout and moved steadily towards him. For a moment, he thought the Econ was going to sidestep the trap, but suddenly the giant’s legs plunged down and were impaled by the stakes. He roared in agony as his brother appeared. Not wasting a moment, Lester ran up to the giant and slashed his throat as he was thrashing about in agony! His brother roared in rage and reached out, almost grasping Lester before he eluded him and ran deeper into the forest.

After a few minutes he quit running and slowed down to a walk. He didn’t hear any pursuit. The older brothers wail of grief and anger boomed through the forest and he picked up his pace again. Along the way he picked up sticks to sharpen later. He noticed a CNS Drone with camera hovering over him as he continued to stealthily stalk through the thick underbrush. He was exhausted. Only the adrenalin coursing through his veins kept him moving. Fear was a great motivator.

To his horror, the older Econ was making up ground on him. He could hear his beastly grunts as he thrashed his way through the forest. Even fear wasn’t going to keep him moving forever, however. Then he saw a spear sticking out of a tree straight ahead. He had to jump to pull it out and was gasping for air when the older Ekon appeared a few yards away.

The two enemies stared at one another as the CNS drone hovered nearby. The Econ was the first to move forward. Lester waited for his slow motion charge and braced the spear on the ground by his foot for leverage. It barely pierced the giant’s scaly hide over the heart. As the Ekon pulled it out, he let go, pulled his knife out and threw it at the giant’s head. The blade penetrated his eye and stuck in his skull. His screams were terrible as he gripped the knife to pull it out. Lester recovered the spear and ran it into the giant’s other eye! A thick arm caught him as it thrashed around, and sent him flying for a few feet. He landed with broken ribs from the force of the blow.

As he lay gasping for air the CNS drone hovered overhead and he could hear the announcers voice.

“Viewers, we have a winner! Lester the Jester has defied the odds and earned his freedom.”

“All right! Now get someone here to take me to a hospital,” Lester said to the drone.

“I’m sorry,” the announcer’s voice replied. “You don’t seem to understand. You’re free to go, but transportation isn’t provided in your contract. Good day Lester, and from the folks at “You Better Watch Out,” good luck!”

As It Stands, the devil is in the details.