Relentless

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He made a mistake in not finishing the job when he tried to kill me.

It was a tactical error assuming the bomb in the living room of my house permanently put my lights out. He should have checked closer. Gone through the rubble after the fire died down. But he didn’t, and a police dog discovered me (barely breathing) as the authorities were going over the crime scene.

I spent the next two years going through painful plastic surgeries designed to make my face look halfway human. In addition, I suffered through countless skin grafts for my chest, arms, and legs that were also severely burned. The end result, when they released me, was that I looked like something out of a horror show. But I was alive. Motivated by all-consuming hate, and the opportunity for revenge.

I’m going to back up here for a moment, and give you some background.

My brothers Will and Steve, and I, started a computer software company ten years ago. Against all odds our little start-up was successful and we were barely able to keep up with all the business that came in. We all worked endless hours to make the company a success for three years. By the fourth year we decided to add a partner to the company. He promised to take us to the next level in marketing. The fast-talking computer whiz’s name was Dan Bob Binion. He was already a successful businessman when he met my brothers and I. By that time, Steve and Will were married and homes of their own. I owned a house and had a live-in girlfriend. We sold the house that we were living in and put the money into the business.

Binion was a greedy little weasel that often struck me as a modern-day Ponzi. If it wasn’t for his marketing expertise we never would have brought him aboard. He did have a lot of industry connections and the Midas touch when it came to making good deals. In his first year with us, our profits soared over the year before. The following year my brother Will died in an auto accident. Steve and I mourned him, and set his wife Sally up for life. I remember what a tough year it was to celebrate our profit with Will gone. Binion, who always kept to himself, continued to open up new markets for our latest digital products, a line we started the year before.

In the eighth year of our partnership, Steve was the victim of a hit-and-run in the parking lot of our business building. Despite cameras, the police couldn’t find the gray sedan that struck him. When I found out what happened, I fell into a deep depression and stopped coming to work. Binion kept things going for months as I grieved for my last sibling.

One day I felt good enough to go back to the office and see how things were going. As soon as I opened the door, my office manager (Sally’s sister Trish) got up from her desk and led me over to my office. Closing the door behind her she asked me to sit down. She came right to the point; “Binion ran Steve over!” she hissed.

I was shocked but quickly recovered and asked her if that were true why didn’t she tell the police? She candidly admitted she was afraid of what Binion might do.

“How do you know it was Binion?” I asked.

“Because he owned a gray BMW just like the one in the video. He didn’t drive it into work everyday though, preferring his Corvette. I saw it once before, about six months ago. He pulled it up by the red curb outside and took a box out of the trunk and set it down on the sidewalk. I remember wondering what was in the box.

“You didn’t tell the police this?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m afraid of him. He’s always given me the creeps. Especially when he first started hitting on me. I asked Sally what to do? She said she’d speak to Will and not to worry about my name coming up in the conversation.

“What happened?

“I’m not sure. Will never mentioned it to me.

As Trish spoke, a thought formed in my mind and I asked her when the incident happened? Her reply made my blood run cold. It was just weeks before Will died in an auto accident. Once that connection was made the ramifications hit me squarely between the eyes. Binion was taking over the company by murdering all of us. It was a simple but scary conclusion that made sense. It also made sense that I was going to be the next victim.

I stayed on high alert for weeks, waiting for him to make a move. Our paths crossed twice, during meetings with our department heads. That he could look me in the eye and smile, told me he was a sociopath (at the very least.) I changed my routines, sometimes canceling appointments at the last minutes. It was a deadly game of cat and mouse and I should have gotten the police involved. I thought I could handle the little weasel now that I knew his intentions. I’d stay a step ahead of him. That was my mistake. It was nearly my last one in this world. When that bomb went off I thought it was. But the gods of revenge didn’t desert me, they only disfigured me.

As I went through my surgeries I imagined that little monster was concerned that I could somehow pin the bomb on him. He tried to visit me twice, but was turned away by the doctor and the guard posted outside my door. When I was finally healthy enough to be released, I rented a room in a luxury hotel near my office and business.

That brings us up to right now.

I think he suspects that I know he tried to murder me, but is puzzled why I haven’t done anything about it yet. That’s good. I want him to worry. To have sleepless nights wondering when I’ll strike. Wondering if I even suspect him of trying to murder me? I want him to suffer. I’ve got a special location set up for him. It’s in a warehouse that I bought. It was once a slaughterhouse. It still has the hooks hanging from the ceiling where the sides of beef hung and rows of butcher block tables stained with years of blood.

I’ve made arrangements for Binion to be kidnapped today. A couple of friends of Will volunteered to deliver him to me at the warehouse. No questions asked. I’m in no shape to overpower anyone, or I would have done the job myself. It’s a challenge for me to even walk. I can’t wait for them to bring him here, and to see his fear when the blindfold comes off. I’ve got all the time in the world and a set of butcher knives Trish gave me.

What’s that?

Oh! It’s my guest! They’re bringing him in right now! You’ll have to excuse me because I’m going to be busy chatting with Binion as I butcher him!

As It Stands, revenge is best served…slowly.

The Last Patriot

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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.

Hunting for ‘X’ In All The Wrong Places

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He watched the government agent loitering outside the bank. Waiting for him. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the agent’s private number. When the agent answered his phone there was a loud explosion!

A CIA bunker somewhere in Virginia.

“All right! Listen up! As you know you’ve been selected to be a part of a task force to take out X. I will tell you that you’re not the first team we’ve sent out for him. Two others have failed.”

“What happened to those teams?” one of the new members asked the instructor.

“They’re dead. Does that scare you Adams?”

“No, sir. Just curious.”

“Good! Now that you know, keep your trap shut and listen to the intel I’m going to be giving you, and the rest of the team in the coming weeks. Your lives depend upon it. We’ve learned from our encounters with X. He’s an international player with no country or cause that we can tell. He kills, and steals, for huge sums. He’s a master of multiple martial arts. Speaks dozens of languages, and has no family or friends that we can find. I hate to admit it, but we don’t even know what he looks like.

“How could that…?” Adams started to speak, then saw the instructor’s frown and stopped.

“Our quarry is a master of disguise, even going so far as to using mechanical exoskeletons to change his height and body size. We were able to confiscate one of the exoskeletons when we discovered one of his hiding places in Germany. No manufacturer’s marks. Our tech team thinks he built it himself.”

In the ensuing days of training the instructor, Major Jim Langhorn a longtime operative himself, put the recruits through their paces, challenging them mentally and physically until they were exhausted by the end of each day.

The major taught them all he knew about CIA spy craft tricks and inventions. There were code classes and classes on criminal psychiatry. Every crime that could be traced to X was studied intently. Hours were spent with profilers. They learned that no clue was too small. Above all, they were taught to never underestimate their quarry. He managed to elude authorities worldwide for over a decade. He was a legend in the spook communities.

The six-man team consisted of volunteers from various Special Forces units from the Army, Marines, and Navy. They were all in the top of the classes. The most-outspoken was Army Ranger, Jason Adams. He was the de facto leader of the team. After six weeks of intense training the team was told to be on 24-hour standby to respond to any intelligence the CIA or other US agencies might come up with.

A week passed and the men were becoming bored and listless. Then the call came. Major Langhorn told them they had a tip X was going to assassinate the new prime minister of Bulgaria. They were briefed on the flight over and arrived at a government airfield in Plodiv at noon local time.

Adams met with the local law enforcement who went over the prime minister’s schedule for the rest of that day and the next. He was due to attend a gathering of friends and family for his birthday at a private country estate the next evening. By the time Adam’s team deployed around the perimeter and joined the local special security units, it was starting to grow dark. Whoever thought that X would appear, took all precautions, including bringing the American team in.

Every person at the estate, including servants, were heavily vetted. No strangers were going to crash the prime minister’s party.

A black shadow flitted from tree-to-tree silently. It snuck up on one of the American team and engulfed it! The shadow kept prowling and killing for hours. Walkie talkies and phones didn’t work. Frequencies were blocked. When the shadow broke away from the tree line and ran up to the house, no one was there to see it. The guards were dead. Loud music played inside the large estate building. People could be seen dancing on an ornate ballroom floor made of marble.

The prime minister was in the center of the dancers, happily waving a goblet of wine and trying to dance himself. No one noticed the red dot on his forehead. But when the bullet went through his skull the woman behind him noticed and screamed when she was splattered with blood and brains! Pandemonium broke out as the guests charged for the doors.

The sun was slowly rising in the gray sky as authorities flooded the estate grounds the next morning. Adams escaped the night’s carnage, but four of his team didn’t. They were murdered at their posts. That just left him and the Navy seal, Gary Stevens. As they flew back on a government transport the two men talked about what happened. It was a classic X hit job in spite of the extraordinary precautions that were taken. It seemed almost supernatural the way he eluded his pursuers every time.

“It probably won’t make you feel much better, ” Major Langhorn was saying, “but you two are the first team members that X didn’t kill on a mission. We’re not sure why he bypassed you. Do you have any theories?”

“I’m not sure,” Adams replied, “but Stephens and I had changed our initial positions to adjust to the terrain better. We both felt exposed.”

 “Meaning...?”

“I think someone knew where everyone was going to be deployed,” he suggested.

“That’s normally the case. You’ve studied the others enough to know that.

“Yeah…I just can’t figure out how he does it. I’ve never been part of a more secure operation than this one, yet it went terribly wrong. It just doesn’t make sense.

Major Langhorn, Adams, and Stephens stopped talking and sipped their coffee.

“You know, coffee usually wakes me up,” Stephens said, breaking the silence.

Adams was having a hard time hearing Stephens. His words seemed to be slurred. He was having trouble keeping his eyes open and an alarm finally went off.

“Something’s wrong with the coffee!” he stammered, and tried to stand up.

Stephens was already sinking to the floor unconscious. Adams tried to focus on Major Langhorn’s face but it was blurry. He seemed perfectly all right. Unaffected by what was happening to him and Stephens.

“I’m sorry. I’m usually more efficient than that. You two escaping made me look sloppy. I’ll hand you that. I must be getting old. Maybe it’s time I retire, ahead of the game I’ve played all these years.

As It Stands, maybe there is really such a thing as perfect crimes.

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 Taxidermist’s Dream

 

 

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Bodie Hank was a taxidermist and an artist with a dark dream.

He dabbled in unorthodox forms of traditional taxidermy such as anthropomorphic mounts and composite mounts where two or more animals were spliced together. When friends and visitors asked him about his odd exhibits, he explained that he was a follower of the Rogue Taxidermy art movement.

His studio, and personal museum, in Cactus, Texas, took up half of the small city’s main street. Everyone in town knew Bodie. Not everyone liked him, but he did have some friends. His artist’s ego was hard to be around unless you did like him. If you could set aside the fact he only wore a worn sleeveless leather vest (that did serve to show off his tattooed torso), and ragged cargo shorts all the time, he was a good conversationalist.

For those that were interested, he explained his art was a form of mixed-media sculpture and not necessarily figurative. It could be abstract and didn’t have to resemble a real animal. Of course, a good part of his work was figurative and done by using the traditional skin-mount method (it paid the bills). His more artistic pieces had a cult following who collected his works.

His dioramas of weasels, squirrels, and Norwegian rats, dressed up and put in scenes like pool halls and factories, were very popular. His attention to detail created an eerie alternate world where things were similar to reality, but just coming short of it. Let’s face it, not too many weasels know how to operate a drill press, or to play pool.

Half of Bodi’s museum was off-limits to the public. The other half was sparingly shown, and then only to a few friends. He kept his most controversial work there, where he used synthetic materials combined with animals to create fantastical creatures. Some standing ten-feet tall. Some were even animated – a new hobby he took up over a year ago and that he was catching on to fast.

He was almost finished with what started out to be a grizzly bear, but now looked more like a mythical werewolf that writers have used to scare readers with for centuries. It was his tallest exhibit to date, at twelve-feet high.

The material he used for the teeth and claws was a synthetic bone he painstakingly carved himself. After going through his marble eyeball inventory, he settled on a pair of pale green orbs that would give the look he wanted. He lengthened the arms and legs by using baling wire and wood and covering them with fur. He was able to keep the original skull and sculpted it using potter’s clay to resemble a traditional looking werewolf.

In order to keep the business running, Bodi had two assistants. They handled the business end; from taking care of the studio and other half of the museum’s sales and shipping, to walk-in customers. Their names were Jack and Gary, and they were brothers. They worked for him for more than a decade, proving themselves trustworthy and hardworking.

They were familiar with the whole museum. Little was kept from them. Only Bodi’s dream. He didn’t share that with anyone. Over the years, his dream seemed to become more intense. His desire to realize the dream began to interfere with his daily activities. He was having trouble staying focused on his projects.

One day, after closing up the studio and museum, Jack and Gary were walking back to their house just outside the city limits. They didn’t have to walk, they had a perfectly good truck, but prefered to walk the two miles for the exercise. They made exceptions when the weather was bad. But this night was cool, and the clear sky twinkled with a million stars. There was no traffic on the road coming and going into town. It was past time for most of the city’s work force to go home. Businesses closed up early in Cactus.

The only places in town, beside the restaurant and the two fast-food joints that were still open, were the two bars. One had exotic dancing with an admission fee. The other was just a bar with two pool tables and a juke box. A burly bouncer threw out an unruly patron into the street from the bar with nude women. His was drunk and mean, but didn’t have enough guts to take on the bouncer who was a foot taller. He staggered to his old Pontiac Firebird, and somehow unlocked the door and got in. He had to sit for a few minutes before his head stopped spinning.

Gary and Jack were getting close to their house and were engaged in a deep conversation when the Pontiac Firebird hit them from behind! It didn’t have its lights on and the men didn’t have a chance. They both flew into the air and came down like rag dolls on the cement road. Dead on impact. The drunk driver from the bar got out and looked at them. He saw they were both dead. Looking around, he didn’t see anyone. Without a word he went back to his car and drove away as fast as he could.

When the news hit the town the next day, Bodi was shocked, stunned, and saddened. Because the brothers had no family that anyone knew of, he handled their legal work and took care of their funerals. The coroner released their bodies to Bodi, who said he was taking them to Abilene where other family members were buried.

But Bodi didn’t take them to Abilene. His desire to fulfil his dream was going to happen. He respected Gary and Jack. Now he would honor them, and make his dream come through.

There was a spot in the secret museum that Bodi had worked on for years. It was replica of an old Western town complete with saloon and jailhouse. It only lacked two things. A pair of gunfighters dueling in the street. When Bodi finished preserving Gary and Jack’s bodies he dressed them up in western outfits, complete with drawn guns and fancy holster rigs. He sighed with satisfaction as he looked at his work.

His dream had come true.

As It Stands, this tale shows how dreams can come true under the right circumstances. No matter how dark they may be.

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?

Taffyman, The Terror of Trenton

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Once, Trenton New Jersey’s claim to fame was that it was (briefly) the Capital of the United States. Since the Taffyman first appeared in 2024, that positive moment in history has been overshadowed by one of terror stalking the city.

It was two teenage boys that first saw the Taffyman in downtown Trenton, near the Mill Hill neighborhood where they lived. The boys were riding their bicycles home from football practice and it was getting dark when they saw a tall thin figure down the road beneath a street lamp.

It was dancing in a little circle while laughing happily. They slowed down, until they stopped about a block away. The man, they could make out his yellowish skin stretched across his round face now, stopped his dancing and looked at them.

For days after the incident all the boys could talk about was his eyes. There were no pupils. They looked like the soulless eyes of a shark.

As they watched he smiled and reached out one arm that kept coming towards them! It reached an exaggerated length when both boys stopped being mesmerized by the impossibility. They turned their bicycles around and pedaling away with all of their strength.

People laughed at the boys when they first told their story. Some wits even called the boys boogeyman, the Taffyman. Ditties like “The Taffyman can..” became popluar at their school.

A week later a drunk from Louie’s Bar bumped into the Taffyman. It was 2 a.m. Closing time. The drunk, Jerry Burkhart, wasn’t in a good mood because the bartender kicked his ass out. He took a swing at the tall thin man in front of him who simply moved his head back…without taking a step. His suddenly long neck wobbled for a moment then returned to its normal size and place.

Even drunk, Jerry knew something wasn’t right. The man’s arms grew like snakes and struck out, engulfing Jerry’s body! They wrapped around his torso and squeezed like twin Anacondas! Jerry passed out from lack of air. When he woke up on the sidewalk his ribs hurt. He still had his wallet, so whatever he ran into wasn’t interested in robbing him. When Jerry told his story he was confronted with skepticism. His reputation preceded him.

Thus far the early encounters with the Taffyman were relatively harmless. But one day a hunter (who fired before properly identifying his target) saw him in the forest dancing wildly and fired two quick shots at him! One bullet hit him below his right eye and he shrieked like a banshee! He ran away before the hunter could fire at him again. The hunter, convinced he’d hit his target tried to track him down, but had no success. He still wasn’t sure what he shot at, and idly hoped it wasn’t a man as he drove back to Trenton.

That night, unbeknownst to the hunter, Taffyman followed him home – loping in the growing darkness behind the hunter’s pickup truck. Taffyman could see the hunter and his wife through the front window sitting in reclining chairs. They finally turned off the lights and went to the bedroom. It was time.

Taffyman climbed up to the roof and went over to the chimney. He effortlessly slid down it and reformed in the dark living room. There was a puckered hole beneath his eye where the bullet passed through him with no effect other than a localized pain. It was enough to anger him. He moved confidently in the dark until he found the right room. They were both in bed. He went to the hunter’s side and put his rubbery hand over his mouth. His eyes opened in terror. He picked him up like a baby and carried him into the living room.

With one extra-large hand engulfing the hunter’s face, he couldn’t scream when he pulled his right arm out of the socket! Then the left. After that he twisted his legs so hard the kneecaps shattered as he wrenched them out of their sockets. He was busy twisting the mans head around when his wife walked in and screamed! There was a snapping sound as he let go of the man’s head. He got up and left through the front door without looking back.

The wife’s story made the murder go national as reporters from all over the east coast sought interviews with her. The authorities didn’t know what to think about her story. The coroner was perplexed by a few things as he examined the body during the autopsy. Rumors grew like mushrooms in bars, as people debated if the killer would reappear somewhere else.

After that, every unexplained murder was attributed to the Taffyman. It was during this period that old-timers say he no longer was seen dancing or laughing. His attacks became more frequent and the bodies accumulated over the years. Baffled authorities never gave up trying to catch him, but they were helpless to predict when he’d strike next.

They knew nothing about the killer. The newspapers and media picked up the derisive nickname Taffyman, after hearing about how the two teenage boys were ridiculed by community members after the first sighting. The name stuck.

The Taffyman’s decision to stay in Trenton was a curse the old city didn’t deserve. But, that changed one day after a casual encounter.

After years of revenge he was growing weary. Thoughts of moving on became more frequent. His anger was gone.

He was walking through a community park early one morning when he saw a young girl bumping into things. She looked to be about 12-years old, and was pointing her arms out in front of her. He watched her barely avoid a trash can and turn towards a pond where several ducks were calmly floating. She was heading in that direction and was within two steps of the water, when he shot his arm out and grabbed her by the elbow. She was startled by the touch and cried out, “Help me. I’m blind and lost!

Something turned over in his heart as he said, “I’ll take you home.”

No one seemed to notice the tall thin man with the little girl walking along, holding hands. She gave him her address, and told him her name was Bonnie. He was familiar with most of Trenton and didn’t have trouble narrowing down her neighborhood.

“What color is your house?” he asked.

“Brown, and white.”

“How do you know?

“My parents told me in case of an emergency. I wish I knew what colors looked like,” she added wistfully.

He looked down the block and saw a house fitting her description. As he walked her over to the house, he asked how she came to be so far from her home?

“I went for a walk, but must have accidentally turned on the wrong street. I have a regular route that I take. When I took too many steps, I realized something was wrong. I panicked. But thanks to you sir, I’m home,” she said while opening a little white gate leading to the front door of a brown-and-white house.

“Would you like to meet my parents,” she asked.

The smile that crept onto his round face felt good. “No, but thank you for asking. I have to go.”

“Can I ask you, what’s your name?”

He grinned playfully. “Taffyman. My name is Taffyman,” he replied, and went into a little dance.

As It Stands, this tale of revenge, and redemption, is a theme that goes back to ancient times.