The Secret Life of a Bat Man

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It was a hot humid night in Decatur, Georgia, when Sage Turnbull  bashed his neighbor’s head in with a baseball bat.

The first officer at the scene was stunned to see a seven-year old boy with a bloody baseball bat standing near the prone victim in his bedroom.

His parents were out partying, he told the social services worker who interviewed him. They partied a lot he explained. When Geoffrey, his 34-year old neighbor, opened the front door at midnight he was wide awake and heard someone enter. Not hearing his parents, but someone else moving around in the living room, scared him and he picked up his baseball bat to defend himself.

“Then what happened?” she asked him.

“He opened the door and came in. I was standing on my desk and brought my bat down as hard as I could! I hit him a lot to make sure he wouldn’t get up. Then I called 911 and waited for you.”

“Did you recognize that he was your neighbor?” she asked.

“It was too dark.

What struck the social worker about Sage was his calm demeanor. Most seven-year-old’s would be pretty freaked out by what happened. She looked at his frail frame and the blood spattered all over his pajamas and face. It was unnerving. He asked if he could have a drink of water? As she went with him to the kitchen she wondered what was going through his head. His dark brown eyes were serene and unreadable.

Later, when she talked with Sage’s parents, she shared her concern that he was bottling the incident up and should get some professional help. They agreed and sent him to a child psychiatrist for over a year.

To everyone’s surprise he acted like a normal kid and had a social life at school. His teachers all said he was a good student, but needed to focus on the topic at hand. He was caught day-dreaming numerous times. He participated in sports and student government. He wasn’t the most popular kid in his class, but he wasn’t an outcast either. He did his best to fit in, but not stand out.

What he didn’t tell his counselor, or parents, was he enjoyed beating Geoffrey to death!

It was the most exciting moment of his life. The feeling of power, as he repeatedly hit the dying man, was incredible. It changed his life. He realized that he couldn’t tell anyone about his feelings or they’d think he was sick in the head. He amazed himself with how easily he masked his real feelings. It was gift he decided, by the time he hit his teens.

His favorite sport was – no surprise – baseball. He was considered the slugger on his Little League team, the Dodgers. He was also a fan of comic books, especially DC’s Batman series. Unlike most of the super hero’s fans, Sage was not interested in chasing bad guys and seeing the good guy prevail. He just liked the many gadgets, and vehicles, Batman used. He loved his costume.

The urge to swing a bat and make contact with human flesh, came and went over the next couple of years. He eventually began trolling for victims at night, wearing a crude black mask and black clothes. One night he wandered into a new neighborhood, west of where he lived. He had no idea that it was gang turf.

A group of Mexican homeboys were sitting on a porch in front of one of the houses. Strains of No Me Chingues La Vida by Espinoza Paz, carried clearly in the night air. They were drinking and laughing. He considered turning around and going back up the block when he heard a wild whoop and turned around in time to see two of the gang members coming at him with broken beer bottles!

They must not have seen the black baseball bat he casually held by his side, because they ran right up to him cursing. He brought the bat up in one swift movement and smashed the closest man’s face in! The other drunken assailant barely had time to raise his bottle before Sage’s bat bounced off the top of his head! Two women screamed from the porch as Sage teed-off on the prone gang members. Lights starting coming on in the neighborhood. Shaking off his blood rage, Sage turned and ran into the night.

Rewards for “El Hombre Murcielago” who killed two of their members, were posted all over the barrio. No one knew who the new player was, but everyone in the hood felt it was a stranger. A loco one, at that.

Sage peeled his mask off as he ran home that night. The exhilaration from his encounter had his heart beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out of his chest. The sheer ecstasy he felt from pounding on human flash and bones far exceeded any other thing in his life. He didn’t know if he killed the men or not. It really didn’t matter. He had no moral code that he lived by. Despite loving parents he turned to the dark side a long time ago. Even before he killed Geoffrey.

After his success pounding two men with his bat he knew he’d have to go out again. Just in another neighborhood. The voice in his head, the one he shared secrets with, encouraged him to be careful while cheering him on. He had to be careful who he picked for a victim. So he decided that he would prey on gang members and other street thugs though out the city. Their deaths attracted a lot less attention than picking perfectly innocent victims. They were societies throw cast-offs. Just like him, but no one knew it.

He loved the irony of being compared to the Batman in the comics. El Hombre Murcielago who was no better than those he hunted, unlike the justice-seeking superhero. Irony was his spice in life. No one would ever think to go after a mild-mannered cub reporter thinking he was the notorious Bat Man of the barrios.

As It Stands, there is no right or wrong, only primeval feelings when we get right down to it.

The Remorseful Enforcer

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It’s too late for me. As I sit here waiting to be killed, I have to admit, I wish I’d taken up a different calling in life.

Taking lives catches up to you eventually. I knew this, but still became an enforcer for the Genovese Crime Family. My name is Manfredi “Toto” Cafaro. For eight years, I’ve murdered men at Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria’s direction.

I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me. I’m facing poetic justice. No one to blame, but myself that I’m a hunted man. The only reason I’m scribbling this down on scraps of paper is to let my younger brother Louie know what happened to me. He deserves to know what mistakes his big brother made.

Maybe it’ll save him someday from making the same mistakes. It’s worth a shot (pun intended). Not that I think he will. We haven’t talked in too many years. I regret that, but I understand. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the mob, and if I was member, that included me.

To be fair, I didn’t start out as an enforcer. I was a 16-year-old errand boy for Vincent “The Chin” Bellomo, one of Masseria’s lieutenants for nearly four years.

But, because I was so big, six-foot-four-inches tall, and 220 pounds, Vincent introduced me to his collections department. I “visited” people who owed Masseria money. Most of the time there was no problem. My size had a lot to do with that. When people didn’t pay, or cheated the boss, I roughed them up…but stopped short of killing them.

I guess I was pretty good at my job. Good enough for a promotion, according to Masseria, who on my 20th birthday gave me one. It was a gift, he told me. I’d never want for money again. I was to be his new enforcer. Any doubts, or qualms, were quickly buried, as I thanked my boss profusely.

Who knows how many more years I might have had if it wasn’t for an incident that marked the beginning of the end? Here’s what happened.

Frankie Strollo, a cousin of Masseria, and I, got into a fight at a mob nightclub. I don’t even remember what it was about. We were both drinking heavily. I think a woman might have been involved. A waitress.

Anyway, Frankie was a “made-man,” and fought like a tiger! He almost cut my throat with a broken piece of glass, before I got my arm around his neck and snapped it backwards! I remember the screams of horror and the mobsters in the room looking at me, sizing me up. But not going after me.

I knew I couldn’t go back to my luxury apartment. The word was spreading like wildfire, that I killed a “made man” without permission. Worse, it was someone in Masseria’s family. The next day I took a big chance and went to my bank and withdrew all of my money. My life on the run had begun.

It’s not easy to blend into a crowd when you’re as big as I am. I tried staying in New York City, but after three attempts on my life, I went upstate to the Albany area. I didn’t know anyone there, and hoped no one would know me. But you don’t get a reputation like mine, without it spreading around.

I avoided going out during the day. When I did leave my hotel room, I was careful to bring my Colt-Army .45 pistol with me. It gets lonely on the run. After a week of laying so low I felt like a snake, I decided to go to a little nightclub down the street from where I was staying.

It appeared to be a legitimate place with no booze (damn prohibition anyway!), but I pulled one of the waiters over and asked him where the action was. He smiled when I handed him a twenty-dollar bill.

“Go down that hallway,” he pointed, “…and past the Ladies and Gentlemen’s Rooms to the Storage Room. Knock once. Count to ten, and then knock again.”

The back room offered booze, card games, and whores. In no particular order. I sat down at the bar and ordered a whiskey. When I took a sip, I could immediately tell it was rot-gut. Cut with something. I gently told the bartender to bring me a bottle of the good stuff, or I would snap his neck like a toothpick.

He returned with some good Canadian whiskey, and left the bottle in front of me. I was halfway through it when I saw a man slug a woman so hard her head whipped around, and she dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes! The room grew silent as the man looked around, waiting for someone to challenge what he just did. Everyone in the room, except me, looked the other way.

“You got a problem asshole?” he shouted at me.

That was a mistake. I took a good swig from the bottle and stood up.

“Real men don’t slug women like that!” I informed the creep. “Only cowards do!

The minute I saw him reach inside his jacket, I closed quarters with him, catching the hand that was grasping a gun he was drawing from a shoulder holster. The life and death struggle lasted minutes before I twisted his arm and forced the gun out of his hand.

He threw an awkward punch, which I blocked. I hit him square in the jaw with a good right hand, and heard the crunch of bones. He reeled around drunkenly, still cursing me, when I hit him again. He collapsed at my feet. I gave him an extra kick to the head to remember me by. No one in the speakeasy said anything when I left the room with the half-empty bottle of whiskey.

I bring this incident up hoping Louie will not think I’m all bad. I do respect women like our mother – bless her name – taught us. Whenever I see a beggar, I always give some money. I’m not a bully. Really. I’m not. I know what I’ve done in the past, but that was just business. I really like people.

I want Louie to know I’m proud of him for getting out of the neighborhood when he could. I wasn’t that smart.

This page is the last of the hotel stationary paper pad in my room. Hope you can read my sloppy writing. Hold on for a moment!

Just looked out the window and a big black sedan pulled up in the front of the hotel. This looks like it. I see Vincenzo “The Shooter” Gigante from the Gambino Family, and Paul “Big Paulie” Ciccone from the Bonanno Family, getting out of it. They both have Tommy Guns. It looks like a five family affair.

Say a prayer for me Louie.

As It Stands, Manfredi had an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other. Who ended up with his soul?

Eyes of Love

Stanley Meltzer fell in love with a new waitresses eyes when he went to Woolworth’s one morning.

While sipping his strong black coffee, he couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was. That she had an outgoing personality was obvious, as he watched her take time to chat with every customer. Her name badge said, “Lisa.”

Lisa’s smile was sweet and innocent. Her most striking feature was her long brilliant red hair which cascaded down her shoulders like a crimson waterfall, until it met her thin waist and stopped. Her voice was pitch-perfect and mesmerized Stanley as she took his order.

Stanley was an accountant for Al Capone, the notorious crime lord who ruled Chicago after prohibition became law on January 17th, 1920.

Stanley was a mousey little man who wore a brown trench coat throughout the year. His diminutive five-foot presence often went unnoticed in public settings. A bachelor, he lived alone in a small apartment on south Madison Avenue. He paid a maid to come in once a week and clean it.

Stanley’s routine involved going to Woolworth’s every morning to get coffee and a donut. After the new waitress was hired, he started ordering breakfast just so he could talk to her longer. He got lost watching her eyes and movements.

He spent hours wishing he had the guts to ask her out. But he was too timid. He got tongue-tied around women, which wasn’t exactly an endearing trait to woo them with.

When Stanley was young, his mother often told him eyes were the gateway to a person’s soul. For the first time he understood what she meant. The waitresses eyes told volumes when she laughed at a customer’s joke.

Her green eyes twinkled merrily as she encouraged others to laugh. Innocence peeked out from the corners like a shy child. They were the eyes of a saint, or movie star. He wasn’t sure which.

Stanley had been around the block long enough to know that eyes can lie. They can deceive you, like Big Al’s dark eyes. They appear to be smiling, even when he shoots someone. Anger also illuminates Big Al’s eyes like a jungle cat’s. He’d seen that more times than he cared to remember.

It was important to be able to read eyes. Stanley, in his lonely existence, spent a lot of time reading other people’s eyes. When he finished a financial report, one of Big Al’s goons would come get it, and deliver it to his boss.

He’d look at the goon’s eyes, and would see a dangerous blankness in them. Like he didn’t have a soul. He suspected that he didn’t, because he killed people on a mobster’s orders.

One morning while Stanley was chewing on a piece of bacon, two tough-looking customers came to the counter and sat down near him. Their eyes were ugly with suspicion and hate, as each gruffly ordered a coffee.

Big Al had a lot of enemies. Instinctively, he knew these two new guys on the block were enemies of Big Al. This was his territory, and when new thugs came into the neighborhood trouble always followed.

His hand shook slightly as he lifted his cup and took a sip of coffee. The two thugs were laughing and boasting about their work when two of Big Al’s men entered with Tommy Guns!

Just before they opened fire, Stanley leaped over the counter and covered Lisa’s body with his own! A second later their machine guns were drilling holes into the two thugs bodies, and haphazardly tracking the rest of the counter.

Stanley felt both bullets hit him in the back!

He collapsed to the ground with Lisa beneath him. His blood soaked her, as the machine guns kept stitching the counter. Miraculously, three other customers who were at the counter weren’t even wounded, as they plunged to the floor to escape the hot lead.

Big Al’s boys calmly walked out, leaving chaos behind them. The two thugs bodies were riddled with bullet holes. The only other person shot was Stanley. He was barely alive when the ambulance crew got there and took him to the hospital.

Stanley heard voices. He tried to open his eyes, but they felt heavy. A doctor was talking with a nurse at the end of his bed. He heard snatches of conversation; “The next 24-hours will tell…has anyone contacted his family?..Try to keep him comfortable…”

When he woke the next day the nurse called his doctor in. He came in and checked his bandages, instructing the nurse to change them when he was finished.

“Mr. Meltzer,” the doctor said, “you’re a lucky man. One of the bullets that struck you almost hit your heart. It’s going to be a while before you recover. We weren’t able to contact any of your family members. You do have a visitor. She says she’s your girlfriend.”

Stanley struggled to sit up in his excitement. “My girlfriend!” he said, like a parrot repeating a phrase.

“Easy now…you can’t move that fast yet. Do you want me to send her in?”

“Please! Yes, I’d love to see her.

When Lisa walked into the room she didn’t hesitate, and went straight to his bed and kissed him on the mouth.

“Thank you, Stanley” she said, with love in her eyes.

As It Stands, love can be sudden, and still last forever.

 

Fear

They met during the night like thieves planning a robbery.

But they weren’t thieves. They were some of the most prominent people in Elsdale’s population of 1,623. Community leaders led by the small town’s mayor, Jasper Corning, a corpulent man who found walking difficult.

Ever since the family of strangers moved in, people talked about how different they were. Of particular concern, they were Muslims. The two women wore hijabs that covered their head, hair, and necks.

The three men wore traditional Taqiyahs (round caps) and had long dark beards. To the white majority of Elsdale it was like being invaded by a foreign country. They spoke another language and lived by Sharia Law, which the townspeople feared would somehow take over the American system of justice someday.

The two women, Manahil and Eshal, went to the general store, and the post office, once a week. Every purchase they made at the store was scrutinized by the owners who shared their observations at the VFW bar every evening.

The postmaster worried every time a package came for the Muslims that it might have bomb-making materials inside. They got lots of letters in their post office box. It was always packed tight by the time the women came by for their weekly visit.

The Muslims lived in an old two-story house just outside the city limits. When they purchased the house – with cash – word quickly got around town. Very few people had actually talked with the Muslims. Mostly Manahil and Eshal when they were on their weekly errands.

Hector St. George, the towns only banker, talked with the three brothers, Aaban, Rayyan, and Zayan Azimi, while handling the transaction. The bank had repossessed the house years ago, and no one seemed interested in buying it.

Until then the Azima brothers appeared with lot’s of money. They even opened a bank account, which secretly thrilled St. George (he didn’t want the others thinking he was getting chummy with them) who worshipped money more than any god.

The towns sheriff, Roscoe Winters, a Vietnam veteran with undiagnosed PTSD, spends most of his time on a computer reading about conspiracies in America, and drinking too much at the VFW bar.

As the weeks turned to months, the rumors surrounding the Muslims grew like a malignant cancer. They held orgies; the men were secret ISIS members; there was a stockpile of weapons in the old house, and on it went.

Fear replaced curiosity in the little community after six months. When the women came to town they could feel the tension, as accusing eyes followed their every move. As the stares seemed to grow more malignant they told the men what was going on.

The three brothers were dismayed, but not surprised. They seen this kind of thing before when they bought their first house in upstate New York after immigrating to America five years ago.

When their parents were murdered by extremists in Iraq they took the family fortune and fled. Two of the brothers, Zayan and Aaban, were married to Manahil and Eshal. The eldest brother Rayyan never got married, because his childhood sweetheart was viciously murdered by thugs before they could.

Fear finally materialized into action.

That’s why the community leaders were gathered at night in the mayor’s house. The rumors had some of them fearing for their lives. The sense that one day they would attack the town with automatic weapons shouting “Allah Akbar!” swirled among the group, sending shivers down some spines.

“Okay boys…settle down. What are we here for?”

“Because you asked us too Jasper,” Larry Henderson, the general store owner, replied.

“Thanks Larry. Now that that’s established, what are we going to do about the Muslims?”

“I think we ought to search their house and see what they’re up to,” John Baker, the postmaster said.

“There’s one problem with that Johnny, it’s called a search warrant. I don’t have one,” Sheriff Winter said, after downing a shot of 20 year-old Scotch.

The group broke out into a babble of suggestions that were going nowhere when the mayor shouted, “Enough! We ain’t getting a damn thing done here crowing like a bunch of roosters with no hen in sight!”

The room settled down to inaudible grumbles.

“Here’s what we can do. Larry, you can say you overheard the two women talking about making bombs. The sheriff can go to the county judge tomorrow and get a warrant to search their house. How’s that sound?”

Murmurs of agreement echoed around the room.

“I’ll leave before noon tomorrow to go see Henry (the county judge) and get that warrant. Right now I’m going to have a few beers. Anyone with me?”

Everyone in the room, except the mayor who was sitting in his favorite office swivel chair, followed the sheriff out the door and into the night.

The next day.

Sally Yates, a waitress at the only restaurant in town, “Chuck’s,” was the first to hear the roar of motorcycles. The noon crowd had thinned down to two old customers who were known to spend most of the day there drinking coffee and talking.

The loud intrusive roar made her look out the window. Her pulse quickened in fear as the riders of six motorcycles dismounted from their Harley’s. They were all members of the Mongols, one of the most feared motorcycle groups in America!

Sheriff  Winters had a shot of bourbon with Judge Henry Goodnight in the judge’s library. The judge had signed the warrant without question.

Back in town.

The bikers took over the restaurant and chased the two old men away. They were having fun baiting Sally who gamely tried to pretend everything was all right while taking their orders. The fun and games finally stopped, and their leader assaulted Sally!

Later the bikers roamed around town looking for more trouble. They went into the general store, and when Larry tried to stop them from helping themselves to whatever they fancied, they beat him and left him for dead!

Then they helped themselves to the hand guns behind the counter in locked cabinets. They broke the lock off with ease, and the leader passed them out to the others. He located the ammunition and gave each a box.

Armed, they went back out and headed for the VFW Hall. By now, people had seen them and were running for cover. The main street was deserted by the time they reached the VFW Hall.

The patrons inside didn’t have a chance. They were caught unawares and herded over into a corner of the room, while other gang members looted the bar. The group settled in for some serious drinking.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Winters didn’t even notice the main street was deserted. It was getting near dark and his first thought was to go to the VFW Hall for a quick drink, or two.

The room went silent when the sheriff walked in. Someone dropped a bottle on the floor and the shooting began! Rosco was hit immediately in the left arm, but he manged to draw his service revolver and return fire!

One of the biker’s spun around and fell to the floor, bleeding from a chest wound. Bullets sprayed the room like angry bees as everyone tied to get out of the line of fire. Rosco was hit again in the right side of his chest but kept moving and somehow got out the door and into the street.

A lone biker followed him and popped off two misses. Rosco turned and calmly fired back at him. One of the bullets found its mark and the biker staggered back inside the VFW Hall, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

Rosco summoned up the last of his strength and headed towards the nearby general store. Larry lay near the doorway, battered beyond recognition and barely alive. Rosco went to him and looked for a pulse. He was alive. Rosco’s wounds weakened him so much that he passed out.

Manahil and Eshal felt more uneasy than usual when they got to town. The streets were deserted. They went inside the general store and found Larry and Rosco passed out on the floor. Larry’s wounds soaked his shirt with blood.

The women quickly checked them out and found gauze, band aids, and tape, and treated them both right there. Eshal was looking at Larry’s wounds and easily recognized them as bullet holes. She had seen her share in war-torn Iraq.

Manahil went to the phone on the counter but only got a buzzing. Someone had cut the phone lines. Making a bold decision she told Eshal that she was going for the men. She knew Rayyan would know what to do.

He had fought in the Iraqi armed forces until Saddam Hussein took over, and he had to run from the purge that followed. He was a captain in the special forces. The other two brothers had no military experience, but grew up in hard times when they had to use weapons to survive the government’s attacks.

Rayyan listened calmly as Eshal told him what she found. Nodding he turned to his brothers and said, “We cannot let these people be slaughtered by those men. Allah would never forgive us.”

The brothers both nodded, and the three of them headed for town.

When they got to the general store they found Manahil listening to the sheriff’s heart. She looked at Rayyan and said, “He’s barely alive. We must get a doctor.”

Meanwhile Zayan and Aaban were behind the counter picking a lock on a chain that covered a row of rifles. There were repeating Winchesters, hunting rifles, and two AR 15’s. They took the two AR 15’s and asked Rayyan what he wanted.

“The Winchester is fine,” he said as they rummaged for ammunition.

As the three men set out to find the bikers Rosco woke briefly, “The VFW building,” he croaked and passed back out again.

The biker’s Harley’s were still parked in front of the restaurant. Rayyan started one up and gunned the engine! He drove it down the street and sat outside the VFW Hall. Zayan and Aaban both pulled up next to him, and they all three revved their engines.

Inside, the sound immediately caught the biker’s attention. One of them was dead, and another was badly wounded. Three innocent hostages were killed by errant bullets. The remaining four Mongols roared in anger and charged out the front door…into a hail of gunfire!

The next day.

Sheriff Winter’s got help in time by the town doctor, who was able to stabilize him and have him transported to the country hospital in nearby Turnsville. County police and the FBI were all over the town talking to witnesses and processing the crime scenes.

Mayor Corning was visiting Rosco when he handed him a piece of paper. It was the warrant.

“What about this,” he asked.

Rosco took it, and tore it in half.

“It’s about time we quit letting fear rule our lives,” he said.

As It Stands, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

Night Missions

I hate it when people interrupt me.

It makes me crazy sometimes.

I live alone in a small one-bedroom house in east Los Angeles. I’m retired Marine Gunny Sgt. Alan Todd Singleton. I try like hell to lead a quiet life. I go to the VFW Hall every afternoon for a beer…or two.

Sometimes the language gets salty when too many beers are consumed and a fight breaks out during these afternoon outings. I’ve lost track of how many morons have interrupted my conversations in the last year, and how many tough guys I punched out for the offense.

But, I have to be careful these days because the management is threatening to ban me if I get in another fight. I’ve taken to drinking at the bar now, and not at a table with others. I banter with the old Marine bartender, but avoid getting into any lengthy conversations with him.

The only reason I go to the VFW is to remind myself that I can be sociable. A normal guy. It’s a way to keep in touch with the human race without getting too intimate with anyone. I have too many secrets. Too many things that burden my conscience.

It’s the nights that are really bad for me.

Things happen. Violent things. My memories of my night excursions are almost always vague the next day. A convoluted series of snapshots and conversations. Sometimes I have to clean blood off my arms, face, and clothing – which I usually just burn.

One thing is terrifyingly clear; I hunt humans at night. I never stopped after coming back from my third tour-of-duty in the Nam. That was in 1970, and this is 2018. I’ve lived all over the United States these last few decades.

You can see why I would have to keep moving. Too many deaths in one area over a period of time attracts too much heat. The cops set up taskforces and the pickings get slim. Then it’s time to move.

I’ve managed to last a year here in east LA, but I suspect my time is coming to an end. Maybe forever. Skill and dumb luck will only take a man so far. I’ve beaten the odds thus far. I know that.

Especially after last night. The weird thing is I remember almost everything that happened.

I was walking aimlessly on North Eastern Avenue near the Santa Ana freeway, when three home-boys stepped out of a front-yard and blocked my path on the sidewalk. They laughed and flashed gang signs at me.

I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I never took Spanish in high school.

The volume of their curses rose and they all three pulled out their switchblades – slowly swaying them in front of me. I grabbed the first wrist, twisted it, took the knife, and slashed the gangster’s throat!

It wasn’t like I moved that fast, but I never wasted a move, and immediately grabbed the arm and wrist of the second assailant, twisting and breaking it like a twig. The third attacker lunged, as I threw the second down one down with a judo move.

I moved sidewise and let his momentum carry him by me…off balance. Then I tripped him and watched him hit the concrete sidewalk with a thick thud. His neck was twisted at an odd angle and partly hanging off the curb, when I turned my attention back onto the last remaining attacker.

He was crying and holding his broken arm, and didn’t put up any resistance when I put him in a chokehold and snapped his neck like a dry branch. No one came out of the houses. I was alone with three dead men, and thinking, “Mission accomplished.”

I think it’s time to go. The media is blasting about last night’s murders. Cops are as thick as fleas in my neighborhood this morning. Groups of  angry, and probably scared, gangsters are patrolling the hood…looking for answers. Looking for me.

A week later. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

It was easy finding a VFW chapter with it’s own hall here. Lots of old military farts like me come to retire. Ex-Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force. We all like living in the sun. Keeps our old bones warm.

I wonder if there are any others like me out there that still carry out night missions?

I’ll tell right now…I wouldn’t be surprised if there were. I haven’t met one yet, but it seems like I can’t be the only trained killer in America that continued his craft after leaving the military.

I don’t mean by going to work as a mercenary or glamor bodyguard. I mean regular guys like me that chose to stay out of the limelight…and hunt. Guys who don’t need an audience when they slay their prey.

True hunters, like myself. Think about it.

As It Stands, as a veteran, I’m always exploring issues that deal with the military.

Saturn’s Annual Shoot-A-Thon

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Mars circa 3328

“Do you really think you’re ready?” Ob’s brother asked again for the hundredth time.

“I’ve practiced all my life, as you well know brother. Am I not the best shot on Mars?”

“There’s a big difference between competing with the rest of the solar system, or just on Mars.”

“Listen Hu, I subscribe to the Milky Way Shooter’s Guide and my scores are as good as anyone else’s in this solar system. Otherwise they wouldn’t have accepted my application.”

Venus circa 3328

Keimie shot the eyes out of the manikin from 100 yards with naked sights. She was just warming up for another afternoon of practice when her father called out, “Keimie! I’ve got news!”

She lowered her rifle – a standard SX Solar System carbine – and watched her father cross the field with something in his hand. As he drew near she could make out an envelope in his hand.

She read its contents and smiled. “The Saturn Shooting Association has approved my application to compete in the annual Milky Way Star Shoot-A-Thon!”

“I knew they would, but now I may lose a daughter.”

“Don’t worry Daddy. It’s the only way I can get our family out of these hard times. It’s what I’ve prepared for since you gave me my first training rifle.”  

Mercury 3328

I don’t care what you say! I’m competing this year. Here’s my letter of acceptance,” said prince Ymir.

His mother, the Queen, pulled at her hair dramatically and wailed like a lost soul.

“What if you don’t win my precious son? We could not bear to lose the heir to the throne!”

“I need to prove that I’m the best shot in the solar system. Nothing else means more to me right now than that. The throne and the riches are inherited. I didn’t earn them. This is something I must do.”

As the king walked down the drafty corridor of the castle he heard his wife’s wails. “Sounds like the letter of acceptance has arrived,” he mumbled to himself.

Neptune 3328

Arie took the last lap at full speed. As soon as he crossed the finish line he grabbed one of the .308 caliber carbines off of a nearby gun rack and trotted towards the high grass to take up a shooting position.

As he wedged himself into a hedgerow he carefully took the scope out of the pouch from around his neck, and attached it. His targets would range from 100 to 800 yards.

He was the most accomplished sportsman on the planet. As an avid hunter he collected trophies of his kills from throughout the solar system. His shooting ability was legendary.

The Saturn Shooting Association had talked him in to competing by promising he could keep the heads of his kills.

“Release,” he said to the watch on his wrist.

He saw the first target at 1000 yards. When the slave from Uranus got within 800 yards he squeezed the trigger. The slave was spun around by the shot as he fell.

Earth 3328

Jay Standers finished polishing the carbine parts and put them back together in seconds. He was once a Navy Seal team member, but got kicked out for fighting with his squad leader, breaking his jaw and three ribs.

After completing his time in prison he hooked up with an old high school buddy with mob connections. He quickly became one of the most feared hit men in the business. After that he hired out as a mercenary in Africa.

While teaching Nigerian soldiers how to set up ambushes, Jay got a phone call from the United States. It was from mob boss Big Arnie Giordano;

“How are you doing Jay?” he asked.

“What’s up? I haven’t had anything to do with you guys for eight years. Since Tony Rizzo tried to rip me off.”

“Yeah…about that. His son says you ripped Tony off and he wants twice the amount – $100 Billion dollars!”

“You gotta be kidding me.”

“It’s no joke Jay. Lucky for you, I found a way you can get that much money and even have a little left for yourself.”

“Screw you! I don’t have…”

“Oh yes, you do! Tell him Dad!”

“Son…you mother and I aren’t hurt. These men..” 

“That’s enough pops. So here’s the thing Jay, I sent your qualifications in to the Saturn Shooting Association for next months annual competition. Guess what? You were accepted! Isn’t that exciting?”

“I’m going to kill you Arnie!”

“No you’re not. I’ll kill your parents if you try. You better brush up on your shooting skills Jay.”

Saturn 3328

Welcome to our annual Shoot-Off. This year we couldn’t find any eligible contestants in Uranus and Neptune. Maybe next year! But today, we have the best shots in the solar system competing in a do-or-die competition. 

“The winner takes home a huge cash prize and a trophy proclaiming them the Best Shot in the Milky Way. As always, the losers will become next years targets.” 

As It Stands, who do you hope wins?

Dreams for Sale

Employee-reaching-for-dreams

The piece of paper on the bulletin board in Woolworth’s said, “Dreams For Sale – 212-2641-0977.”

Alfred Oates blinked through his thick glasses and took his new Reynolds Rocket ballpoint pen out of his jacket pocket.

He carefully wrote the phone number down in a little notepad he kept in his other jacket pocket.

The year was 1947, and America was bursting with opportunities for clever men and women. Good jobs were available all over the country. Everyone was making money, one way, or the other.

Alfred made a lot of money, but had a peculiar problem. He couldn’t dream. He abruptly stopped dreaming when he became a teenager. Since then, he read everything he could find about his problem. There was precious little on the subject.

He wasn’t sure why he bothered writing the phone number down. It was probably some con man. But he had to admit, it was a clever way to get someone’s attention. He lit a Cuban cigar and leisurely strolled down the street until he came to the brownstone he was living in.

A black doorman in a tuxedo greeted him with a smile and opened the door. He walked into the luxurious lobby and headed straight for the front desk to get his mail. There were two letters. He took them with him, and went up the elevator to his room.

When he got to his room he put his ear on the door for a moment then inserted the key. He could never be too cautious in his line of work. The elegantly appointed room had a small desk and chair near the large picture window.

The first letter was from his brother who stayed in the Army after the war and was stationed in Germany. The second letter was business.

He memorized a street address in Manhattan, and carried a small black-and-white photo of a well-dressed young man in his shirt pocket. His hat was tilted slightly forward in the photo and made him look dashing.

Alfred went to his hotel’s parking lot and got the keys to his brand new 1947 Blue Hudson from the attendant. There was always someone on duty 24-hours a day to watch over the expensive cars.

It took nearly a pack of cigarettes and six hours before the man in the photo showed up. As the man approached the front door of his hotel Alfred got out of his car, screwed the silencer on his pistol, pulled up a handkerchief to cover the lower part of his face, and walked up to him as the doorman was greeting him.

Two quick shots to the head instantly killed the man. The doorman was spared. He shrieked with horror, as Alfred calmly walked away. Contract filled. He walked for a few blocks then turned around and took a different route to his car.

When he got back to his place he used the phone in the lobby to call the mysterious phone number.

Hello,” the deep baritone voice said.

“Hi. I’m interested in buying dreams. I saw your ad.”

“My room is located in Harlem. It’s in the Historic Harlem Duplex down the street from Columbia University. When would you like an appointment?”

“Yeah…sure.”

“Are you busy tomorrow?”

“I could work a time out,” Alfred said.

“Go to Room 13, at 1:00 o’clock.”

Alfred got a dial tone before he could agree with the time. As he left the ornate phone booth he felt silly. How could he logically think someone could sell dreams? If nothing else he’d whack the quack for trying to fool him.

The door opened after the third knock. A tall skeletal looking black man in a three-piece suit greeted him, “Good Day, Mr. Oates! Please come in.”

“Odd,” Alfred thought when he looked around the room. There was only a large desk and two heavily padded chairs. One behind the desk, and the other in front of it. Where was the bed he wondered?

“Please…have a seat,” the tall man urged him. Alfred sunk into the padded chair while studying the man as he went over to the other chair.

My name is Moses Gardener. I sell dreams. Been doing it for a long time. You are probably thinking I’m a fake trying to take advantage of you. Don’t worry, I deliver the goods.”

Moses opened a drawer and took out a small bottle made out of purple glass. He sat it down on the desk between them. Alfred’s eyes were riveted to the little flashes of light it emitted.

Carefully, Moses pulled the stopper out and tilted the bottle until a single round yellow pill came out. He laid it down in front of Alfred and closed the bottle.

“Because you’re a new customer, I’ll only charge you half of what I normally charge; one hundred dollars.”

“What guarantee do I have this pill will work? Your asking for a lot of money.”

“You know where to find me Mr. Oates. Take it, or leave it.”

Alfred paid him.

“Make sure to take it when your tired and ready to go to sleep. This is not a sleeping pill,” Moses advised.

Alfred sat on the edge of his bed and looked at the pill. Once again he wondered if this was worth it? What if the pill was poison? Then Moses wouldn’t have to worry about getting a visit from him.

Suddenly he didn’t care. He had no family. No friends. He really wanted to dream again. Closing his eyes he popped the pill into his mouth and chased it down with a shot of expensive bourbon.

When the dreams came they were convoluted. Faces flashed by. He was a boy again playing baseball in a dirty sand lot. Swimming in a pool. Playing stick ball in the streets. Falling in love with his 5th grade teacher.

The next morning Alfred woke up with a sense of sadness. He wanted the dream to continue. After getting dressed for the day and eating breakfast he called Moses.

“That’ll be two hundred dollars,” Moses said as he pulled the purple bottle out of the desk drawer.

“How do you do it? Where do you get these pills? I sure wouldn’t mind in investing in them,” Alfred said, as he peeled two one-hundred dollar bills out of his wallet.

“It’s a family recipe,” Moses answered.

Alfred hurried back to his place, eager for the night to fall. This time he didn’t hesitate to pop the pill.

His dream started out with his first kill. The owner of a restaurant who owed money to the mob. He saw the man’s shocked look as he shot him. But instead of falling down, the man grinned at him. His sharp white teeth gleamed with an unnatural light!

Then a crying woman appeared. Pleading for her life as he leveled his gun at her. Children were crying for their murdered parents. Blood ran down the walls in his bedroom.

He couldn’t wake up. He knew he was asleep. That knowledge terrified him. Two men suddenly attacked him with billy clubs! He felt the blows and the pain shocked him. Then he was stumbling around in a graveyard, and saw a headstone with his name on it.

When he mercifully woke up the next morning he was trembling, sweaty, and angry. Moses didn’t say anything about nightmares. He wanted his money back.

But Moses wasn’t there. The hotel staff said there was no room number 13. It was an unlucky number. Didn’t he know that?

That night, to his utter horror, the dreams came back and most of them were bad.

As It Stands, there’s a fine line between dreams and nightmares.