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.

A Hitchhiker on Death Valley’s Scenic Byway

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Hardin was driving east along SR 190, also known as the Death Valley Scenic Byway, when he spotted a man in a wheelchair.

The man held up his thin arm briefly, wearily cocked his thumb like he didn’t expect anyone to stop, then dropped it back to the wheel. With both hands he spun the wheels forward at a pace a tortoise might have overtaken on a good day.

It was the peak of the day, and a brain-frying 129 degrees. Heat waves shimmered off the highway like faraway lakes. Hardin had been driving in the relentless desert for hours without seeing man or animal. He was looking for his turnoff at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, near the settlement of Furnace Creek. He had important business to take care of there.

Furnace creek consists of a visitor center, museum, and headquarters for the Death Valley National Park Service. The tiny village, with less than 20 inhabitants lived in a nearby campground. Most who lived there made a living working at the Park’s major tourist facilities, the Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley. There were also few retired senior citizens living in the campground.

Hardin was so surprised to see a man in a wheelchair in the middle of nowhere, he passed him by. He went a mile before turning around and going back. After making another U-turn he was parallel with the man.

“Can I give you a ride Mr.?” Hardin called out after opening the passenger window.

“Reckon I could use one,” the old-timer replied and spat out a wad of tobacco. His long beard was stained with tobacco juice.

Hardin pulled ahead of him and off to the side of the road. He popped the trunk of his SUV and walked around to the back. He helped push the old-fashioned heavy wheelchair through the soft sand and to the passenger door of the SUV. The old man stood shakily and steadied himself with the open door. When he was securely inside, Hardin closed the door and pushed the wheelchair around to the back and loaded it in.

Driving down the road, Hardin tried to make conversation with his unusual passenger.

“Where you going out here, anyway?” he asked conversationally.

“Furnace creek.

How about that! That’s where I’m going.

After that it lapsed into silence, and Hardin refocused his thoughts on the business ahead. If all went well, he’d only spend a matter of hours in the hot hellhole. A day at the most. He prided himself on efficiency. Stopping to help someone wasn’t something normal for him. If he wouldn’t have been so surprised at the sight he might not have stopped. Plus, he was bored. But the old bastard turned out to be a lousy conversationalist.

At one point Hardin had to piss and pulled over to the side of the road. He asked the old man if he needed to go? He said he didn’t. As he got out he made sure to take his keys with him. Just in case. You never knew. He took his time and stretched his arms and legs afterward, trying to ease the dull ache of a very long drive.

It was getting dark when Hardin spotted the turnoff. He could see a few distant lights and followed the dirt road to a campground. “Is this where you live?” he asked.

“Yup.”

He stopped the car and got out. Two old men were sitting on rickety lawn chairs in front of an old mobile home. They watched him with curiosity as he unloaded the wheelchair and took it to the side of the SUV. He helped the old man out and into the chair. There was an awkward silence before Hardin finally said, “Well, here you go.”

The old man looked at him as if he were sizing him up and grunted, “Thanks.

Hardin got back in the car and drove over to the Inn at Death Valley. “Screw the ungrateful old bastard,” he mumbled out loud as he pulled up to the Inn. He’d reserved a room for the night, even though his business wasn’t expected to take him long. As he checked in the clerk gave him a sealed envelope with his name on it.

“This is for you sir,” he said, like Hardin couldn’t read or something. He went back out to the SUV and grabbed his overnight bag, and his gun from the glove department. It was all he needed. When he got to his room he opened the envelope. There was a photo with a man’s name written on it, and an address. The thought of getting a good night’s sleep was irresistible. He decided to take care of business in the morning when he would be more rested. The air conditioning in the room lulled him into a comfortable sleep.

The next morning after having a cup of coffee and a light breakfast he studied the note and photo again. The address was in the campground he was at last night. Driving over to it he thought about the old man in the wheelchair.

When he got there, the two old men from the day before were sitting on their lawn chairs, talking with his hitchhiker friend in his wheelchair. He pulled out the photo again and got out of the SUV. As he walked up to them he called out, “Hi! I’m looking for Jude Grishom.”

He held the photo out and waited for an answer. As he looked at the hitchhiker something slowly dawned on him. He imagined him without his long beard. Like the shaved face in the photo. Instinct took hold and he pulled his concealed gun out and said, “Hey, Jude! This is from Harry Connell!”

To his surprise nothing happened when he pulled the trigger! Jude smiled at him and threw the bullets on the ground by his feet. He pulled out an old six-shot Smith and Wesson from a bag hanging off his wheelchair.

“You tell Harry that Jude said I’ll meet him in hell someday, but he’s going first!

Hardin spun around as the first shot caught him in the chest. The next three shots brought him down and he died in the sand.

“Well boys, old Harry ain’t ever going to quit sending these goons after me. I’m going to get tired of trolling the highway for ’em one of these days, and I’m going to hunt him down,” he said, as he stood up and stretched his legs.

As It Stands, every good favor doesn’t always warrant a reward.

Prelude To A Deadly Incident

Call centre in Newcastle.

Listen to this story as told by master story teller Otis Jiry.

Most of the people hired by the call center couldn’t find jobs elsewhere. They were society’s cast-offs. 

Each of the men and women in the call center had a story that led to their downfall in life. Being fired. Losing a job because of too much sick time. Losing jobs because of drugs. Petty criminals who never went beyond elementary school. Paroled criminals desperate for any job. Homeless people. Former street vendors who violated city rules and lost their licenses. Criminals. Gang members.

The one thing they all had in common was their need to make money.

So, they worked 12-hour shifts in a brightly lit warehouse dotted with workstations and only two ten-minute breaks. They read from scripts urging people to buy everything from insurance to vacation homes in the Bahamas. The products they promoted were generally scams. Supervisors roamed the floor like trolls, trying to catch someone not doing their job. The constant buzz of voices intermingling sounded like a colony of bees on a busy day. There was no air conditioning. The big overhead fans cycled so laboriously they threatened to spin-off their shafts.

Lucas felt his bladder bulging. When he could wait no longer he signaled for his last break of the shift. On the way to the men’s room he felt a growing anger with the world. After relieving himself and buying a bottle of water from a vending machine he went back to his workstation. The county health department kicked him out of the psychiatric program because he kept fighting with other patients.

Once released, he tried begging on street corners until he realized no one was going to stop for him. He figured it was his bald head that was festooned with tattoos of comic book characters. Whatever the reason, he had to try something else or starve. That’s when he saw the ad for the call center on a community billboard.

When he applied all they asked for was his name and social security number. His female interviewer did ask a few other basic questions, then outlined what his job would be. He half-listened to her while staring at her breasts. Nasty thoughts wiggled through his consciousness. He stuffed them down like snakes in a snake-charmer’s basket, trying to pay better attention to what she was saying.

“We pay $8.00 an hour. Do you have any questions?” she asked.

“Yeah…I don’t remember what you said about lunch.

“That’s because I didn’t say anything about having one. We don’t. Like I said before, you get two ten-minutes breaks every 12-hour shift. You can take them when you want to. That’s our policy.

“When can I start?”

“Monday. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re late more than twice your fired. I’ll see you then.”

Lucas spent the weekend going through back alleys behind restaurants in search of food. He slept on a bench in the community park, using old newspapers for a blanket. When Monday arrived he was ten-minutes early to his new job.

The day flew by and before he knew it, the week was over and he was given a paycheck. He had to pay to get it cashed. After state and federal taxes he was left with $365. It was like a fortune! The first thing he did was rent a room by the week as close to the call center as he could. It left him with $115.00 for food and whatever. For the first time in years he smiled. It hurt his face.

Three months later he was still in the same room. It was the longest he’d lived inside somewhere since he was in the county program. He was wearing new clothes and shoes, not cast-offs from other people.  He was able to take a shower everyday. He could afford to eat out a couple of times a week. And he wasn’t happy.

He hated his supervisor at work.

Not because he was a homosexual. It was the fact that he wouldn’t stop hitting on him. He turned him down gently numerous times, but Lane didn’t seem to get the message, or he chose to ignore it. His constant sexual innuendos were grating on his patience. The fact that he was still there after three months was a testimony to how much he wanted to make money.

But he had limits. He exceeded those limits before and bad things happened to him. He was arrested and did short stints in different county jails. Lucas was a tall lean man without an ounce of fat on his frame. His sallow cheeks, thin aristocratic nose, and recessed eye sockets gave his face a skeletal look that was enhanced by his bald head. There was a look of wildness in his dark brown eyes that seldom blinked.

One day, while he was on his 10-minute break and taking a piss, the men’s room door opened and Lane came in. He walked up to the urinal next to Lucas and unzipped his pants.

“I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” he said coyly.

Something snapped in Lucas! The resulting carnage made the little room look like a slaughter house afterward. There were blood splattered walls, urinals, and stalls. Lane looked like a ragged doll with it’s face smashed into something unrecognizable. Lucas was covered in his blood when he stumbled out of the room and past the vending machines.

A woman in a nearby workstation looked over and saw Lucas. Her screams caused instant panic. A frightened herd mentality took over and 300 people left their stations at the same time. In the mass confusion, Lucas made it outside and ran down the street before anyone could stop him. He ran for miles through the city streets and alleys before finally stopping on the outskirts of town near a community forest.

He bent down, hands on his knees, and took deep gulps of air. His head slowly cleared. He touched the still-sticky blood on his shirt and knew he’d done it again. This time looked worse than the others from the amount of blood he had all over him. He suspected Lane was no longer alive. It wouldn’t be a county jail this time. Maybe prison for life. Maybe a death sentence.

He looked for a gas station with restrooms and washed his hands and face before the busy attendant could notice him. Still wearing his blood-soaked clothes he made his way down back alleys until he came to a service dock for the Salvation Army. There were bins of donating clothing piling up outside, waiting to be sorted and tagged. He went through the piles expertly and selected a long-sleeved shirt and pair of torn jeans. No one working there paid any attention to him.

He used the last of his money to buy a bus ticket to another state; Florida. He heard there were plenty of call centers there, and hoped to get a job again. Like always, he had to be careful another incident didn’t happen. He knew he was lucky to get away from the last one. As long as people didn’t mess with him, he knew he could lead a quiet and happy life.

As It Stands, I sometimes wonder how many Lucas’s live among us?

The Senator’s Wake

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They came to pay their last respects to a man they loathed and feared out of political necessity.

Harry R. Watlow knew where all the political skeletons lie. His vast sources unearthed dirt on everyone within his sphere…just in case. His spy net made J. Edgar Hoover’s secret lists look like child’s play. You didn’t mess with Harry in his home state of Georgia. He was more than just a senator. He was THE BOSS.

Then he turned up dead one day. The authorities said it was foul play. The police had their work cut out for them making out a list of suspects. They numbered in the hundreds according to a conservative estimate by the detective in charge of the case, Alan Wu.

Watlow’s body was lying in the State Capital Building in Atlanta where the public could walk through and view the man who once literally ran the state for 29 years. The line wasn’t very long. State politicians showed up long enough for a photo-op and then quickly left.

The wake was held immediately afterward at his Mediterranean Mansion in a gated estate in the prestigious Sandy Springs area.

An invite there was a political coup for any ambitious politician in the great state of Georgia. His family was there to greet quests. Old school mates and friends stood right alongside people who hated Watlow’s guts. Their insincere smiles were plastered on their faces for the sake of their career.

A parlor was set aside for the body. People could pay their respects and then join the rest of the mourners in the massive ballroom that was decorated in black and had old photos of Watlow in his younger years. Caterers discreetly moved about offering hors d’oeuvres to the somber gathering.

Standing near an open bar, Detective Wu surveyed the room carefully, taking mental notes of who was there, and who wasn’t. Prior to that he was at the station working with a dedicated crew of cops gathering all of the information they could on the slain senator. Before he left he briefed his top computer guy, Max, to stay at his computer while he attended the wake. He wanted instant access to photos and information.

Wu had a reputation for quickly solving cases. His street instincts, vast criminal experience, and training in criminal psychology, made him a legend at the precinct. The senator was found in the house’s industrial sized kitchen. He was stabbed twice in the chest. By the time he was discovered in the morning, by the head cook, a dark pool of blood was congealing alongside the body.

It took Wu three hours before he released the body to the coroner. His forensic team tip-toed around the notorious grump. He didn’t like people talking when he went over a crime scene. It was his habit to take on each murder like it was a personal affront to him. When on a case Wu lost his usual sense of humor and replaced it with the determination of a honey-badger feeling threatened.

He spent the last week interviewing every family member and friend he could find. His team carried the search wider and looked up professional contacts, his personal Facebook account, and anyone who was part of his daily routine. The intensive search was at the urging of the Chief-of-Police who was feeling political pressure to solve the case quickly.

The F.B.I. had it’s own team in town. Wu put up with that reality, but he wasn’t happy about it. It was his case. The feds had a way of throwing their weight around that irked Wu. That’s why he didn’t let the them know that he was following up on a lead that he developed.

The lead took him to the wake.

According to his personal secretary (and mistress as it turned out), Amelia, the old reprobate was murdered by his wife when she found out he was cheating on her. No one found the murder weapon and no knives were missing from the kitchen. She wasn’t the most credible character. Wu also suspected there was more to her story.

She claimed she was there when his wife attacked him. The wife was supposed to be at a convention in Virginia, but came home early for some reason. She was in the downstairs bathroom when she heard the wife come in and an argument break out. She was also naked. Her skimpy nightie was on the kitchen table where he threw it after taking it off her minutes before.

She then explained that she opened the bathroom door and peaked out. She heard a scream of rage and it scared her, so she bolted for the front door like a deer. It was a humiliating and terrifying night she’d never forget, she told Wu.

Three things came to Wu after her story.

One. There was no nightie at the crime scene.

Two. There was no sign of any of the girlfriend’s personal belongings. She wore clothes there. Had a purse. A phone.

Three. There was no way he could see the senator’s tiny old wife attacking him with a knife.

There was also something else that bothered him. The senator’s relationship with his personal secretary was a secret. No one apparently knew that. If they did, they didn’t say anything when Wu asked them about her.

He saw Amelia talking with a group of people, and wondered what her motivation was for telling him that story about the senator’s wife. His bullshit meter was registering a ten-out-of-ten on the suspicion scale. What nagged him was the feeling that he was missing something. Motivation. Why would she kill her boss, and secret lover?

Two hours passed and guests were starting to leave. As the crowd thinned out he noticed the senator’s wife and Amelia huddled in a corner of the room. He discreetly watched as the went up the stairs together. He followed at a safe distance and saw them disappear into a room.

He looked around the hallway and determined no one else was there before going up to the door and pressing his ear against it. He was barely able to make out some words. What he did make out confirmed his suspicions. The two women plotted together to kill the senator.

He heard Amelia ask the wife for her money.

“I did my part,” Amelia said. “Do you have the money?” 

As Wu listened it occurred to him that Amelia was playing a dangerous game. She killed the senator for money, and was setting up his wife for the murder. He heard the wife say Amelia could have the murder weapon, which she was holding as insurance, as long as she left the country.

The conversation lasted nearly an hour. When the door opened Wu was standing there shaking his head. Before either woman could react he grabbed Amelia’s purse, opened it, and saw the knife.

“You two ladies have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…”

As It Stands, the best laid plans of mice and women, often go astray.

A Voice In The Dark

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The voice only comes in the night.

I’m not sure why that is. You’ll notice I said “voice,” as in singular, not plural. It’s a woman’s voice. I don’t know if she’s a demon or a guardian angel. Just so we’re clear here; I’m not some wacko hearing voices. Okay?

I started hearing the voice a year ago after my wife died. Don’t jump the gun and assume I murdered her, and it’s her voice that I hear. It’s not. I have nothing to feel guilty about. She died from natural causes. Okay?

Sometimes the voice sounds like famous women actors. I was almost convinced that it was Lucile Ball that I chatted with last night. But after hearing Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Goldie Hawn, and Oprah Winfrey in the same week you get jaded. Most of the time it’s just a female voice that I can’t attach a face too. Okay?

The voice has given me good…and bad advise. It’s about 50-50, I’d say. I have to admit it makes for some interesting scenarios. Seeing as you’re here right now I suppose I could share a couple of examples with you. Okay?

Look, I’m no ladies man. It’s hard for me to talk with strange women, or men to be fair. But the voice told me that I was going to score big time the next night if I went out to some gentlemen’s clubs. So, I went to a strip joint, doing research on the naked female body don’t you know, when one of the dancers finished her number and came over to my table. We talked and went to her place. Okay?

After a wild time, we both fell asleep on her waterbed. I woke up at one point, it was still dark, and the voice insisted I kill her. I’ll tell you flat out. That voice sure can be convincing. I went into her kitchen, found a plastic trash bag, and used it to smother her to death. No big deal. The voice gets a little crazy at times, but there were reasons. Okay?

I get lonely sometimes and miss the touch of a woman. Since my wife died, I’ve dated six women who all ended up like the stripper. It’s kinda discouraging not having a real relationship, but as the voice has pointed out so often…it’s no big deal. Okay?

So there’s your 50-50 example. I’m not a complex guy. You should know that. I accept the good with the bad. Usually, the voice just likes to talk about interesting things. I don’t have to say anything. The voice knows I can hear it. It’s good enough for a relationship based upon mutual boredom and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. Okay?

Lately, the voice has been on a violent streak. It’s hard to say why. There’s a lot of frustrations in this old world. I can relate to the pent-up fury that sometimes needs an outlet. It just makes sense to scratch that itch when it bothers you. It’s understandable. Okay?

During the day I find my own voice and try to engage with people as much as possible. I have the most encounters in coffee shops and waiting in lines. I enjoy talking with strangers. As a mailman, I have a set route every morning greeting the regulars who come out to get their mail. I lead a quiet life. Okay?

I like seeing the regulars at the coffee shop. It’s a little mom and pop café. Not one of those big impersonal chains like Starbucks. People of all ages gather there before getting on with their busy day. I know a couple by name. They call me Jack. Not by my real name. Going by Jack is more comfortable for a few reasons. Okay?

I really never know what to expect from the voice. You might say that’s fine, but sometimes we argue. I’m not saying it happens regularly. Slow down. I’m not some loon ready to go off the deep end here. Every now and then, the voice and I disagree. Haven’t you ever disagreed with someone? Get off of your high horse! Okay?

I’m not sure why I’m writing all of this down. The motivation came out of nowhere. I haven’t sat down and wrote anything since I filled out my job application for the Post Office ten years ago. This sudden desire to write is just a little bit odd. Okay?

I think I know what’s going on now.

Last night the voice came up with a whopper. It told me to get my AR-15 and go to my favorite coffee shop today and slaughter everyone there. So I did. The authorities quickly traced me back to my house and now it looks like an army outside. When that black armored truck that said S.W.A.T., pulled up on my front lawn I knew my time on earth was coming to an end. Okay?

I have nothing to apologize for. That’s why I wrote this. It’s crystal clear now. I won’t be hearing the voice any longer. That’s about it. It’s time to go outside and try to take as many of those cops down with me as possible! Okay?

As It Stands, insanity is invisible.