A Private Conversation

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Have you ever accidentally snorted Kool aid?

I poured a package into my palm once and started licking it when, for reasons unknown, I inhaled deeply. Wow! What a rush! I didn’t see colors, like when I tried LSD years later, but there were lightning flashes popping behind my young eyeballs for a few moments.

I won’t attempt to count how many dumb things I’ve done in six decades. That’s not the purpose of this piece.

I’ll get right on track here, and take you down the line to enlightenment and sharing.

I talk to myself…a lot. You don’t have to reply. I’m just sharing a part of my life right now.

The thing is, I see nothing wrong with talking outloud, now and then, to stay focused on a subject. I admit I have to be careful or people will start looking at me. So I talk in a low voice. A compromise designed to keep me out of the looney bin.

Let’s skip the part where you think I’m crazy. You should know I’m not alone. Lot’s of people find some solace saying what’s on their minds out loud without directly talking to someone. To be sure, I’m not talking about constant conversations with yourself to the point where the real world is blocked out.

There’s a fine line, okay?

I can remember being in a position of extreme danger when I was only 16-years-old. I was alone and hanging on for dear life from the side of a mountain. Loose shale kept giving away causing me to slide a few inches. I sank my raw fingers into the dirt and slowed down enough to get ahold of a large Manzanita root. It held.

At that moment I didn’t pray (I wasn’t raised with religion), I started talking to myself. I asked myself if I was ready to die yet? The answer, of course, was no. I berated myself for getting into such a dangerous position, calling myself names like “moron” and “dummy.”

The one-sided conversation calmed me down, because after a while my heart rate slowed and I was breathing evenly. I don’t recall how long I hung there before attempting to climb back up the way I came.

The hot sun beat down on me, hardening the mixture of sweat and dirt caking my face and arms. Foot-by-foot, I worked my way upward, carefully seeking secure spots where bushes and roots protruded from the side of the mountain.

When I finally reached the top of the trail, I crawled a few feet and then sprawled out,  gasping for water. My whole body was shaking uncontrollably. I was so light-headed I couldn’t stand up for at least an hour. Time is a tricky thing when you look back in retrospect.

You may be wondering why I brought this incident up. It was my moment of enlightenment when I realized no one could help me but myself. I talked myself through a life-threatening experience.

Since then, I try to be discreet in public, and mumble when I’m carrying on a one-sided conversation. At home I can talk freely to myself, and get this; my wife understands!

As It Stands, this essay is all I have to say about that…right Dave?

The Thing In The Leech Line

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“I charge double on the weekends. Are you sure you want me to come out today?” Ollie Winters asked.

The voice on the other end rose an octave…“Yessss!”

“Well…okay then. What’s your address? Hmmmmm….you must be on the west side of town near the city limits. That’s about 45 minutes from where I’m at. Yes…I’ll hurry,” he assured the caller.

Grumbling all the way, Ollie grabbed his baseball cap and jacket and headed out. Because he was unfamiliar with that part of town he had difficulty locating the house. When he did, he quickly realized it was on the wrong side of the street to have city sewers.

The old house looked like a prototypical haunted mansion out of a horror movie. It appeared to be in poor repair from what he could see of the outside. The cobblestone walkway leading to the front porch was overgrown with weeds. Two faded wooden rocking chairs sat next to the front door, facing away from the house.

A couple of raindrops followed Ollie to the front porch. There was no light and it was getting dark.  Ollie was already regretting taking the job when the front door suddenly opened and an old woman came out. Her dress was something out of a Victorian movie.

“You’ve come!” she said dramatically.

“You said something about your toilet being blocked,” he reminded her.

Yes! It’s terrible! The bathroom is a mess!” she said, sounding a lot like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.

“May I come in?”

“Of course. Follow me.”

He clutched his tool box tighter and followed the old lady through the parlor and to a small hallway that came to a dead-end with a door. The odor emanating from the room was foul. She sniffed in distaste and said, “I’ll leave you to it then. Let me know if you need anything.”

Hesitantly, he opened the door and saw raw sewage seeping out of the toilet. It occurred to him that not being on the city sewer line meant there was a leech line somewhere near the house with a septic tank that must be overflowing.

That settled it. He couldn’t work on it while it was raining. Besides it would require help pumping out the septic tank. Feeling relieved, he went back out into the parlor looking for the old lady…and heard voices and music coming from the living room.

Perplexed he followed the voices. When he saw a group of men and women decked out in antique clothes dancing and socializing while an old-fashioned record player sang “Bird In A Gilded Cage,” he became confused.

How could this be happening he wondered? As far as he knew, it was just him and the old lady. Where was she anyway? And what was with the period dress? Nothing made sense. No one seemed to notice him standing there with his white jacket that said “Ollie’s Plumbing” on the back.

He carefully backed out of the room and headed for the front door. Just before he got to it the old lady suddenly reappeared in front of it. She saw the look of mounting terror in his eyes and tried to soothe him, “It’s going to be quite all right good sir. Just a little case of time shifts. Happens all the time,” she said reassuringly.

Ollie tried to say something. Instead he let her lead him up the ornate stairway to the top floor. He felt like a zombie. Part of his mind said this wasn’t happening. The other part was panicking because it recognized a line in reality had been crossed.

She led him to a window and pointed down at the yard. A flash of lightning lit the yard up for a moment illuminating a giant tentacled nightmare with large baleful eyes crawling out of the sludge from where the leech line was.

“There’s the problem,” the old lady said conversationally, “That thing is mucking up my bathroom. I have a hunch it’s going to take more than one of those snake things I saw in your ad in the phone book, to get rid of it.”

Ollie dropped his tool box and backed up against the wall. The thing down there was something out of an H.P. Lovecraft tale.

“Why were you leaving when the job wasn’t done?” the old lady interrupted his thoughts.

He found himself explaining to her that he had to get a special truck to pump out the waste in the septic tank, and that it wasn’t  a one-man job.

In the blink of an eye they were back in the living room…alone. No signs of the party remained. He heard the rain increasing in intensity outside.

“Damn time shifts!” the old lady groused. “Oh! Pardon my language sir! Allow me to show you out.”

Ollie dumbly followed her out to the front porch. His eyes scanned the yard fearfully as she spoke, “I do hope when this rain stops you’ll come back and help me kind sir,” she said.

He nodded, and tried to speak, but she was already back in the house. That was the moment Ollie decided he was going to retire early.

As It Stands, have you ever wondered how you’d react to a supernatural experience?

Dog Boy’s Dream Come True

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You can also listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Manuel “Dog boy” Gonzales came into the world on January 15th, 1928, in Alabaster, Georgia.

His parents both took hard drugs, resulting in a rare condition for their child. He had Acquired hypertrichosis. In layman’s terms, he was very hairy everywhere.

He became a ward of the state when his parents were busted with a large amount of heroin in the car, discovered under Michael’s baby blanket in the back seat. He wasn’t in a booster seat. He was in a box, and the dope was his mattress.

Manuel, renamed Manny by his custodians, was adopted by a couple when he was three years-old. They didn’t mind that he looked like a little werewolf. Both had worked hard to retire in their early 60s, and wanted a child to dote on. But they found that it wasn’t easy to adopt a child at their age.

They never gave up trying. When they saw Manny sitting on the floor playing with a rag doll, their generous hearts melted. The fact that the staff didn’t think he’d ever be adopted, made them want him even more.

Bill and Lucy were unable to have their own children. Manny was a God-send to their way of thinking. His uniqueness touched them and they wanted to protect him from the world. They were thrilled when their application was approved.

As the years went by Bill and Lucy were faced with some harsh realities. No school wanted Manny in its student body. He was too much of a distraction. They took him to parks so he could play with other children, but were dismayed by their treatment of him. The other kids called him Dog boy, and mocked him by barking at him.

Lucy took it upon herself to teach him how to read and write. Bill took Manny on outdoor adventures like fishing and hiking. They did everything they could to make his life as normal as possible.

Still, it was hard on Manny who dreamed of traveling and seeing the world that he only experienced through books thus far. He was an intelligent young man, who at 18-years-old deeply loved his adopted parents, but thirsted for adventure.

One of the many things he wanted to find out was if there were other people like himself. It would help him feel less alone in the world by just knowing that.

The only thing that held him back was his parents age. They were both frail and in their eighties. He could not leave them alone. They meant too much to him. Instead, he made the best of his time with them, helping them get through the rigors of old age.

One night, Manny was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of gunfire in the house! He sprang from the bed and ran out into the hall in time to see someone come out of his parent’s bedroom and dart into the living room.

For an instant he froze, deciding if he should go to his parent’s room or give chase to the invader. He went after the invader and managed to tackle him as he attempted to go out the wide open back door. Manny, who was strong for his small size, put a choke hold on the stranger, and squeezed with all of his strength!

Minutes sweated by as the life-and-death struggle continued. It finally came to an abrupt end and he released him, pushing his still-warm body away. His heart was still racing from the struggle when he got up and ran back to his parents room.

He saw Bill first. He was lying at the foot of the bed, still clutching half of his maple cane. A pool of blood was forming around his body as Manny looked on in horror. Tears were running down his hairy cheeks as he looked up at the bed. Lucy was propped up against the headboard of the bed staring blankly into space. Blood covered her torso.

He looked around the room and saw that Lucy’s jewelry box was lying on the floor. The closet door was open, and packages were strewn about like the invader was searching for something.

Manny was stunned. He simply didn’t know what to do. Hours passed as he sat on their bed and grieved. It was daylight before he stood up and went back out to the living room. The would-be thief was still lying by the open back door. A pillow case with his pilfered loot lay nearby. The gun flew out of his hand when Manny tackled him. It was resting on the wooden porch outside.

Two days later.

After hours of questioning the police decided Manny was within his rights to kill the intruder. The local newspaper had a field day with the double murder, and Manny killing the murderer. The photo that the newspaper ran wasn’t a very flattering shot of him, but sold newspapers like hotcakes.

He buried his parents in the same cemetery their parents were resting.

Manny could no longer stand living in the small community, and sold the house which his parents had bequeathed him in their will, and set out on the road. He bought a 1941 Ford, packed up his few belongings, and hit the road.

Months later, while he was in Florida, he came across his first Freak Show. As he paid admission the show’s owner came up to him.

“You wouldn’t be looking for a job would you sonny?” he asked, assuming Manny was just a boy because of his small stature.

“Well…” he stammered nervously, “I’m not sure.”

“What? You’re not sure? Then what are you doing here?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Looking. I never been to no freak show,” he admitted.

“You paid your admission ticket…so enjoy. If you want to talk about getting a job afterwards, let me know.”

Manny went inside the tent and walked from attraction to attraction fascinated with what he saw. He wasn’t even aware at first that people were staring at him as much as the so-called freaks.

It was starting to get uncomfortable and he looked around for the exit when he noticed a group of people laughing at something. He warily made his way thought the group to see what they thought was so funny.

He got the biggest surprise of his life when he saw a bearded lady! She had a beautiful flowing beard that went down to her knees. She was telling bawdy jokes to the men gathered there. If she noticed Manny she didn’t acknowledge him and went on with her act until it was closing time.

He was ushered out of the tent with the rest of the crowd.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The bearded lady and Manny fell in love and got married in a raucous ceremony that featured all of the freaks in the troop. Manny did his part and joined the show where he was featured as the “Dog Boy.”

The irony of his stage name never escaped him.

As It Stands, I believe there’s someone for everyone, no matter how they look.

Flights of Fantasy

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“The next flight will be in one hour,” a man’s voice blared from the speakers in the small airport’s lounge.

“How did you find out about these special flights” a young woman asked the elderly man sitting next to her. He straightened up in his seat, and said someone – a stranger – gave him a free ticket when he was wandering around the streets looking for eats.

“I’m a traveling man,” he said, as he ran his thin fingers through the silver wisp on the top of his head. “Been there, and done that,” the old man claimed with pride in his voice.

“That’s funny,” the young woman said. “A stranger gave me a free ticket too.”

After that they sat in silence as more passengers slowly arrived. The plane only held twelve passengers at a time. They were all there when a green light above the outside door – leading to the tiny runway that led to the waiting plane – blinked on and off.

An airline employee opened the door and gestured for the group to come over and hand her their tickets. This was done quickly and efficiently. Fog was settling in as the group followed a waiting guide with a flashlight towards the plane. They could hear it’s props whirring in the growing dusk.

The passengers approached the temporary stairs leading up into the plane. Two workers stood on either side with flashlights, waiting to roll them away after the last passenger boarded.

One-by-one they walked up the steps and disappeared inside. There were no stewardess, or stewards. The pilot’s voice came over the inner com and asked everyone to buckle up their seatbelts. A moment later he appeared from the front cabin, closing and locking the passenger door.

“Seems odd that we’d take off this late and in the fog,” the young woman said out loud.

Someone in another seat said, “Don’t worry about it! It’s better than the alternative. Am I right?” he asked the passenger next to him, a frail man with nervous eyes.

“Yes…I suppose so,” the thin man meekly agreed.

“Doesn’t anyone wonder how we ended up here?” the young woman asked the old man next to her.

“Most know,” he replied. “Some are slower to accept what happened, however.”

“What happened?” the young woman demanded.

“That chap that gave you this plane ticket was death granting you a final fantasy before taking you forever into his gloomy realms.” 

“I still don’t get it. What’s my fantasy then?” she asked.

“The same as all of ours. To escape death even though we know we’re going to die someday. These flights of fantasy help keep us grounded up here,” the old man said, while pointing at his nearly bald head.

As It Stands, I think we all secretly harbor the fantasy we won’t die.

One Last Drink

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Bobby O’Reilly raised his shot glass of fine Irish whiskey and toasted the devil who wearily raised his in recognition, and tossed it down in one gulp. 

Being a clever lad, Bobby knew the devil was coming after him, and had come up with a plan. He may have been somewhat of a rascal, truth be told, but his superhuman ability to consume alcohol made him a legend in the local pub and around the countryside.

Bobby reasoned that the first place the devil would look for him would be the pub where he was known to spend most of his day drinking and gambling. When the devil showed up one muggy afternoon, Bobby waved and invited him to take the empty chair across from him at a table.

“A fine day to you Lucifer,” Bobby began, “I’ve been waiting for your sanguine presence. Bar keep! Send one of your lasses over here with another shot glass will ya?”

“Now, aren’t you a fine piece of work,” the devil chuckled. “Are you really so eager to forfeit your soul this day?”

“Not at all. I’m just a poor man wondering if you have the guts to make a deal with me? I’ll put up my soul. What will you offer, should I win?”

A bar maid set down a shot glass in front of the devil who was considering Bobby’s audacious offer. Bobby picked the bottle of whiskey up and poured the devil a shot. The devil tossed the shot down and then laughed so loudly everyone in the pub looked over at them.

“You know that’s an interesting offer O’Reilly. I enjoy someone who has the gall to try to trick me. But what’s to keep me from ignoring your offer and taking you to straight to hell with me right now?

Bobby poured himself a shot, and refilled the devil’s glass.

“Because I’ll pray to God to take my soul, and will confess and repent for all the evil I’ve ever done the moment you make a move on me.”

“There’s no guarantee it’ll work for you boyo. You’re quit the sinner. That’s why I’m here. But I’ll tell you what. To avoid having to wrestle with God over your miserable soul, I’ll take you up on your offer. If you win, I’ll take you off my list until Judgement Day arrives. At that time we’ll see what God decides to do with your wicked soul.”

“Fair enough,” Bobby agreed.

“What’s the challenge,” the devil asked.

“You have to drink me under the table. The first one to pass out loses.”

The devil raised his glass and casually tossed it down with a twinkle in his eye. They were still drinking after the bartender closed at 2 a.m. He left a light on near the two drinkers and hoped his friend Bobby would be okay as he locked the doors up and left.

To the devil’s surprise Bobby seemed to get stronger as the night wore on. He told bawdy jokes and rattled off limericks gleaned from public loos. When the bartender opened up the next morning there were empty whiskey bottles scattered around the floor and Bobby was opening a new bottle.

The devil was a little pale, but still smiling and listening to Bobby’s blather. The hours flowed by until it was dark again. Bobby was no longer telling bawdy jokes and the devil was starting to look downright haggard.

The devil got to thinking about how many souls he could have captured if he wasn’t locked into this damn drinking duel for the last 48-hours with this crazy Irishman. He decided Bobby wasn’t worth the effort right now. He knew he could outdrink him, but wasn’t sure how many more hours (and lost souls) he wanted to waste.

“That’s it O’Reilly! I’ve better things to do with my time. We’ll meet again somewhere down the road, I assure you. For now, your safe you weasel.”

“Oh, c’mon mate!” he mocked, “One last drink!”

As It Stands, this tale is a testimony for good Irish whiskey; my favorite liquor.

The Color of Truth

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I grew up seeing colors when people spoke.

It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. I also see emotions in color. When I was little, I saw my mom in shades of blue when she talked with me. Blue is the color of truth, by the way.

If she was mad at me she didn’t have to say a thing. I could see the red glow and avoided her. I quit talking about colors to my mom and dad when I went into First Grade. They fluffed off what I was telling them about colors so I kept – what I then thought was a super power – to myself.

Little did I realize what that power would mean to me, and others, when I got older.

By the time I was out of high school, I was seeing brighter colors and more variations. For example, I knew when a person was depressed because they’d be surrounded with a gray highlight.

Sadness is purple. Anger is red. Green means someone is untrustworthy. Yellow is hope. Orange is love. Lies are black. Only I see these colors. No one else sees anything them. I’m cursed, or blessed, depending on how you look at it.

Here’s the kicker: when I’m around a lot of people it’s like tripping on some good LSD. The colors are fantastic! They blend into subtle tones that any artist would envy. Going through high school I seriously considered art as a career, but didn’t do anything about it when I graduated.

I briefly studied law at a local junior college thinking that with my ability to see truth or lies it would come in handy for a job – say as a judge. Being a cop, or detective, was another consideration, but frankly I preferred to avoid violence if possible.

In the end, I got a degree and became a 7th grade history teacher. I found the experience oddly satisfying even though it meant sometimes dealing with kids who were jerks. I admit to sometimes amusing myself with the smart guys in class by calling them on every lie they told. Pinning them like butterfly’s to a board, was a humbling experience for bullies too.

Overall, I had a good bond with most of my class. Students knew I was fair and that I didn’t believe in homework. There were always a select few who thought it was their duty to disrupt my class however.

There were two ring-leaders in particular who challenged me from the first day of the semester. Robbie McGinn, and Mike Hunter. Neither showed any interest in learning. They were aloof from other students, preferring their own company, and sitting apart from other students in the cafeteria.

I saw a green glow on both of them that seemed to grow fainter as the weeks went by, morphing into a new color – somewhere between green and black. I also noticed that their colors shifted rapidly at times. I started seeing brilliant flashes of red on both of the boys that would come and go in minutes.

One afternoon, after class let out, one of my students asked to speak with me. He heard a conversation between Robbie and Mike that disturbed him.

“They were talking about killing people here at the school,” the student, whose name was Paul, said. “I was in a toilet stall and heard Mike say they were going to have a kill count higher than any other shooting in the nation!”

I watched Paul speak and noted the color blue engulfing him before taking him to the principal to repeat his story.

Tom Blount, the principal, listened politely as Paul told him what he heard. I sat next to him in front of the principal’s desk. He thanked Paul for coming in and dismissed him, asking me to stay.

I noticed a green glow surrounded Blount. I was surprised and disappointed when he basically wrote off Paul’s warning.

“These kids,” he said condescendingly, “They’ll say anything. He probably had a gripe with one or both of the boys. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I told him that wasn’t the way I saw it, but he brushed me off too. But I couldn’t let go of it. Not in this day and age. So I called the boy’s parents in for a conference. I talked with Mike’s parents first. That was a fiasco.

Instead of being concerned that their son might be plotting a massacre, they turned on me like rabid dogs! Both were glowing red, like two twin fires, as they accused me of bad-mouthing their kid.

Robbie’s parents were calmer. After repeating the bathroom conversation to them the father spoke up.

You know, of course, that you’re slandering my son with this tale of yours?”

He suddenly was bathed in a luminescent green. Once again, I found myself surprised and shocked by a parental reaction.

“I’m a lawyer Mr. Smith, and won’t allow anyone to speak badly about any member of my family. Robbie is a good boy, perhaps spirited, but that’s totally normal for a boy his age. I trust he won’t have a problem in your class now after this accusation?”

As they got up, I tried to say something, but they were both reflecting red flashes intertwined with a protective orange glow. It was useless. I sighed and gathered up a stack of papers to correct, and put them in my briefcase. I left the light on because the janitor was next door and my room was his next stop.

A week later, Robbie and Mike jumped Paul during recess on the playground, and beat him up. I happened to be the teacher on duty at the time and was distracted while arbitrating a verbal argument between two girls.

I did see the two culprits appear from behind the handball wall, walking fast with their heads down. They were both bathed in a brown light that I’d never seen before. I instantly knew that it meant mean and menacing.

By the time I got to the other side of the handball wall Paul was trying to sit up. His nose was bleeding and one eye was already swollen shut. I helped him stand up and offered to take him to the school nurse.

“No! I’ll go alone,” he said, and I saw him covered in a purple glow as he walked away. When I reported the beating to the principal he agreed to call the parents in and talk with them about their sons.

The next day I stopped by the principal’s office to hear about the result of the meaning. I was stunned when he said the parents told him their boys did not beat anyone up! And, that when he questioned Paul, he denied it was them who hit him. 

I noticed he looked down guiltily when he told me that one of the fathers was on the verge of suing me for harassing his son. It was a direct warning coming from a cowed school official.

As I mentioned before, I don’t like violence. The only gun in my house belonged to my great-great grandfather, a Smith and Wesson revolver in remarkable condition. When I went home that night I pulled it out of the little safe I had under my bed and found a box of .38 shorts inside too.

I never had a premonition before. It was scary. Something urged me to bring my gun to class in my briefcase. I popped it open and looked down the barrel. It looked squeaky clean. The pearl handle was weathered with time and had a thin crack on one side. I fired it once when my dad and I went up to a small firing range in the hills and tested it. He said the barrel was a little warped, but could be compensated for. I was twelve years-old at the time.

I felt nervous and uneasy the next day when I got to school. I kept looking down at my briefcase underneath the desk and thinking about the revolver. As the day wore on I forgot about it.

After taking the revolver to work with me for a month, I began to doubt my instincts and considered putting it back into the safe. When class started I made a mental note to leave it at home tomorrow.

Ten minutes into the study plan, Mike and Robbie burst through the door, each carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The students screamed and dropped down to the floor as they sprayed a hail of bullets just over their heads.

I dropped down behind my desk as they stitched a deadly pattern in the chalk board behind me. I opened my brief case, grabbed the loaded revolver and took a deep breath. The firing stopped and I heard empty loaders drop to the ground as they reached for replacements.

I looked under the desk and saw their legs. Without thinking I fired twice! There was an angry curse as Robbie fell down, dropping his weapon, and grabbed his bloody ankle. Mike fired a burst into the desk hoping to hit me, but I was already scooting out from underneath.

I stood up and saw Mike point his weapon in my direction as I fired the first shot! Something spun me around and my shirt was suddenly soaked in blood! As I collapsed in slow motion, I fired the last three shots in Mike’s direction before passing out.

When I woke up in a hospital three days later my elderly parents were at my bedside. A guard standing outside the door to my room looked in and saw that I was awake, he began talking into a radio on his shoulder.

Minutes later two police detectives arrived and asked my parents for some time alone with me. I repeated everything I could remember twice, before they were satisfied and left. They informed me that I killed Mike, and wounded Robbie…and that all of my students were safe because of my heroic action!

Then, as they walked out the door, a stream of my students filled the room with a brilliant combination of orange and yellow! I felt weak from my wound, but happier than I’d ever felt before.

Then a bright white light caught my eyes, and I became one with the universe.

As It Stands, some of us are gifted with the power to see beyond words through means that remain a mystery to the rest.

The Arabian Theatre Murders

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The head usher, James Cooper, found the body next to one of the real palm trees in the lobby of The Arabian Theatre.

He wasn’t the kind of person who panicked easily, especially after serving with the Army during World War I, and seeing his share of combat; which helped earn him the rank of Sergeant-Major before mustering out. He only had minutes before the movie ended and thousands of waiting customers would pour into the lobby for the next showing.

The Arabian Theatre, built-in 1927, rivaled The luxurious Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Both were picture palaces that Chicagoans could escape to, away from the hard realities of the 1930s.

For a quarter, movie-goers could sit in the courtyard of a Moorish or Spanish palace. Before the movie even came on they could look up at the sky and marvel at the twinkling stars (recessed lights) and flowing clouds on the spacious ceiling. 

The Arabian Theatre covered 52,000 square feet and seated 6,000 patrons. The decor was something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lobby that featured pillars that ascended seven stories to an elaborate dome ceiling.

Over 150 people worked there, including a 38 musician in-house orchestra. Most of the rest of the employees were ushers who were essential cogs in managing some 20,000 people who were moved in and out of The Arabian Theatre in just one day.

As you can imagine, that required great organizational skills. The Arabian’s owner hired  Cooper, who had the skills to keep everyone moving in two directions in the space of one half hour. That’s all the time there was between shows.

Usher uniforms of the day were sharp-looking and reflected a theatre’s theme. In the Arabian’s case that meant wearing a fez with their colonial-style outfits, complete with a yellow sash hanging from a wide belt on their navy blue trousers. Their white jackets had gold epaulettes and stitching down each sleeve.

Cooper called two ushers over and had them carry the bleeding body over to a storeroom. He called out for another usher to get some wet rags and helped him clean the trail of blood off the expensive marble floor.

No sooner did he stand up and straighten his jacket before the front doors were thrown up to a long eager line outside. Cooper watched the traffic flow while standing outside of the storeroom where the body was.

He waited until the movie started before going to his office and calling the police. There was no use in starting a riot by letting the theatre-goers know a man had been murdered. When they arrived the head detective was less than pleased with Cooper’s decision.

“In other words, you cleaned up the crime scene right?” the angry detective asked while looking down at the dead man.

“I did it to prevent…” he repeated.

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear that excuse again damn it! I’m going to need your cooperation to solve this case so don’t hold anything back that you know about the deceased.

“Certainly, I’ll get his employment file right away,” Cooper said and started to head for his office.

“Hold on pal! Not so quick. I want to ask you a few more questions.”

While they huddled outside the storeroom talking, an ambulance arrived and the driver and his assistant took the body away, after a beat cop quit taking photos of the victim.

“How many people work here?” the detective queried.

“About 150. I’d have to check my files to be sure.”

“That’s fine for now. Any trouble-makers? Maybe a fight between employees?”

“Listen…I only manager the ushers. They’re all I can account for, and as far as I know there’s no bad blood between any of my guys. You’ll have to talk with the manager, or the owner, about the rest of the staff.

When the detective left, after getting the dead man’s personnel file, Cooper sat down and sighed. His desk was cluttered with files, notes, and messages nearly burying the mahogany humidor for his good Cuban cigars. His one vice. He opened it, took one out, and lit it with a finely carved silver table lighter the manager gave him last year for Christmas.

The only thing he knew for sure was the victim was stabbed in the heart. He’d have to start with that as he conducted a personal investigation into the murder. Despite being a tough disciplinarian, Cooper was also known for being fair to all of his employees. He expected everyone would cooperate with his search. 

The sensational headlines the next day did little to discourage movie-goers who turned out in even greater numbers than usual for a Wednesday, which always featured lowered rates for women to attract customers.

During the last show of the day, one of the women who worked at the ticket windows came running out of the Ladies Room screaming her lungs out! Cooper who was counting receipts in his office, heard her through the closed-door.

He jumped up and ran outside seeking the source of the scream. An usher and a bartender from the lounge were trying to calm down a woman when he got there.

“What?” he shouted over her wails. “What’s wrong?” he pleaded.

“Dead woman in one of the stalls,” she sobbed.

He didn’t wait to hear more, and ran to the women’s restroom. Bursting through the door he immediately saw a body sprawled out in one of the stalls. A pool of blood was forming near the head.

Cooper got up close and saw her throat had been cut, from ear-to-ear. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, and he guessed she was an attendee. The shit was really going to hit the fan now he thought, as he carefully stepped back and then out of the room. He posted an usher outside the room and called the police.

“It’s a damn good thing you didn’t touch a thing this time…right Cooper?” the detective was prattling as he stood there in a daze.

“This is bad,” the detective kept repeating, as the photographer and medical personnel entered the room. Two regular beat cops stood guard outside of the lady’s room as the detective tried to get Cooper’s attention.

“You got a killer working here somewhere,” he assured him.

“You don’t know that,” he pushed back.

The newspapers went wild after the second murder. One headline writer suggested the killer might be a Phantom of the Opera copycat, reminding readers of the 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney as the phantom.

Two weeks went by before the killer struck again. A stagehand was found hanging from a prop in the backstage storage area. His stomach was slit sideways, exposing his intestines which hung from the terrible slash.

The public’s reaction to the murders was mixed. Some people (especially the owners of the Uptown Theatre) demanded the Arabian be closed until the killer was exposed. Others showed up every day like nothing happened. Ticket-sales remained steady despite the headlines.

The Arabian’s manager, American born Herman Mueller, and Cooper spent hours every day talking with employees, seeking clues, and cooperating with the police and the mayor’s office, which got involved after the second murder. Mueller and Cooper both had several things in common. One being their hated of Hitler, and what he was doing to Germany.

Hans Ziegler, the owner of the Arabian, spent his time between Germany, where he had another palatial movie theatre, and Chicago. He was a mystery man who was born somewhere in Europe (most likely Austria), and was reputed to have business ties worldwide. He was also an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler, who assumed the Presidency of Germany after the death of President Hindenburg in 1934.

Wealth, and growing political power through Hitler allowed Ziegler to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies; killing innocent people for no good reason other than to experience the thrill. He was also a master-of-disguise. Few people really knew what he looked like.

Ziegler honed his hunting skills in his movie theatres across the world. Moving from one property to the next, he easily eluded the police. His current hunt at The Arabian was entertaining enough to stay around for a fourth victim before moving on.

He decided to make this kill more challenging. His head usher’s combat experience from World War I, would be a step up from his usual helpless victims. The thought intrigued him. Cooper wasn’t a real big man. He stood five-feet, nine-inches tall, and weighed about 145 pounds. According to his resume he was 38-year years old.

Ziegler was ten years younger and larger; at six-feet, 190 pounds. He felt confident he could overwhelm the smaller and older man. After eight years of killing people off like flies he finally got the urge to up his game.

But that didn’t mean he was going to play fair.

One night Ziegler decided to make his move. He sat through the last movie and when the audience headed out to the exits he went back inside the theatre, passing inquiring ushers with an excuse of looking for his wife, and went down the hall off the lounge where Cooper’s office was.

He expected Cooper would be alone and counting the night’s receipt’s and money as was his custom at this time. He was partly right.

Ziegler knocked on the door and when it started to open he thrust his body against it, driving the person on the other side into the wall! 

Cooper, from behind his desk, saw Ziegler push past Mueller, waving a knife and growling like an animal! He picked up the heavy wooden humidor on his desk and hurled it at Ziegler, hitting him on the side of his head.

Mueller, who had recovered, threw a wicked right cross and connected with Ziegler’s chin. He dropped like a rock. 

It took five days before Ziegler’s identity was finally revealed and the story made the national headlines. Cooper and Mueller were hailed as heroes, but were soon out of a job when The Arabian was shut down.

“Maybe we ought to try something different in life,” Mueller said as they drank coffee at a local diner and looked for jobs in the newspaper classifieds.

“What do you think about being private eyes?” Cooper asked while dunking his donut in his steaming cup of black coffee.

“What do you know about the job?” Mueller asked.

“Not a damn thing,” Cooper grinned. 

“Oh…well count me in!” Mueller said.

As It Stands, Cooper and Mueller may emerge again in a future case.