Category Archives: Short Stories

Unlikely Justice

Detective Superintendent Ian Cudney lowered his bulky frame into his deck chair and slipped his can of cold Molson Canadian into a foam cozy. He sighed as he propped his pale, bare legs on a stool and gazed with satisfaction at his freshly mowed back lawn. His wife, Lois, slid back the screen door and poked her head out. “Ian, take it easy on that beer or you’ll be asleep before the second inning. Judy called and they’ll be here in about half an hour.”

Cudney stood 6’4” in his black dress socks and tipped the scales at an easy 250. He shuffled stooped over and, more than anything, resembled a bear shambling through the offices of the London police force. Behind his back they called him Columbo for his gentle style of interrogation, although he could be a scary bastard when the situation warranted.

“Alright,” he growled. Judy, their only daughter, was visiting for a Sunday barbecue. She and her husband, Craig, would bring along their two children, Ian and Lois’ only grandchildren.  Conner, the oldest at eight, planned to watch the Blue Jays game on TV with grandpa.

Ian took a satisfying pull on his beer when the phone rang inside. ‘Uh oh,’ thought Cudney. Sure enough, moments later Lois stepped on the porch and handed him the phone and said with a frown, “It’s the duty officer. Tell them to send someone else.”

Ian grabbed the phone. “This is Cudney!” he shouted.

“No need to scream, Ian. We have a perfectly good connection,” replied Assistant Chief Halstrom.

“Oh, sorry, Chief. Didn’t know it was you. What’s up?”

“I know it’s Sunday and all, Ian, but they just discovered a body over in Springbank Park and I want you on this case.”

“Can’t someone else handle it? I can get Traci on it. I know she’s home this weekend.”

“Get her out there, too. This is a clear homicide and it’s one of your favorite pedophiles. The newsies are going to be all over it and it’s going to be political.”

“All right, Boss. I’ll get a hold of Traci and beat feet out there. Springbank Park…. That’s off Commissioners Road, right?”

“Yeah. Call me on my mobile when you get a look and don’t let anyone make a statement to the press.”

“Got it.” He was about to dial Traci’s number when he noticed Lois standing there with her hands on her hips and a big frown on her face. “Got a murder and it looks to be sensitive. The Chief insist I’m on it. I gotta go.”

Lois shrugged with resignation, “Well, at least change out of those ridiculous shorts. If anyone gets a picture of you in those, it will be on the front page of every paper in Ontario.” Cudney glanced down at his blue, pink and white checked Bermuda shorts and replied, “I don’t know. I think these are quite becoming.”

“Yeah, and the black socks with the white runners are a nice touch.”

Detective Traci Whitequill slept peacefully with the hot afternoon sun sneaking through a
gap in the drawn curtains and doing battle with her aging air conditioner. Her shining black hair spilled over her pillow and her slender arm draped over the broad bare chest of her equally relaxed “friend” Pete Gerard.

Traci’s phone began to vibrate and ring like an old alarm clock on the coffee table in the adjacent living room. She groaned and threw back the sheet and headed for the phone. Pete rose on one elbow and admired her naked ass as she strode across the carpet. She glared at the screen and then answered the phone with a crisp, “Whitequill.”

“Yeah, Traci, this is Ian.”

“Hey, Ian.”

“Murder over at Springbank Park. It’s gonna be a big deal with the newsies and Chief insists it’s you and me, girl.”

“I’m without wheels, Ian. My car’s in the shop for a few days.”

“Have Gerard give you a ride. He’s there, right?”

After an awkward pause, “Ah, yeah,” she admitted.

“OK, soon as you can make it.”

She set the phone on the table and looked up at Pete who stared at her with a smile. “Up and at ‘em cowboy. I need a ride.”

Pete smiled at her. “You got a great ass, Whitequill. Are you sure you’re an Oneida? Looks like an Irish ass to me.” She stooped and grabbed her running shoe and flung it at his head. He ducked and it sailed harmlessly overhead.

“Get your hairy butt out of bed and get dressed. I got a murder to solve and I need a ride.” Pete swung his legs to the floor and grabbed his jeans.

Pete glanced over at Traci while they maneuvered their way through the downtown London traffic. He could not get used to her stunning beauty or that she would be interested in him, a beat up spec ops vet twelve years her senior. The blood of her First Nations ancestry gave her an exotic look that only enhanced her beauty.

Feeling his gaze she turned and said, “It’s not an Irishman who can take credit for my ass; my great-grandma married a Frenchman.”

“Ah.” Pete replied. “I should have known by the way you wiggle that thing that it was French. That and the small boobs. Still Celt, though.” Traci glared at him and then gave him a sharp punch to the shoulder.

He slalomed his five year old F-150 up the narrow park lane until stopped by a uniformed London cop. The officer peered in the window and spotted Traci in the passenger seat.

“Hey Traci. Ian said you were coming.” He pointed, “You can park over there. Follow that hiking trail until you see a yellow tape tied to a branch. Take a right. The body’s back in the bush about 20 meters.”

Pete followed Traci down the trail despite her assurances that Ian would be pissed. He said, “I was rudely awakened from a nap and conscripted to drive out here, at least I should see what all this is about.”

Traci called out to Ian when they started into the brush off the trail. She wanted to make sure not to trample evidence at the crime scene, but Ian assured them that the people that found the body had already made a mess of it. As they carefully approached the crime scene, Ian looked up and frowned at Pete. “You’re not supposed to be here.” Ian was willing to cut Pete some slack for he was a genuine hero in the military as a member of the JTF2, the Canadian equivalent of the US Delta or Navy SEALs. Also, he had taken out a disturbed young man who was committing mass murder, shooting up Christmas shoppers at a crowded mall last year.  Pete’s role in killing the shooter was not widely known.

Pete just shrugged and looked down at the body. It was pretty clear that the victim had been bashed in the back of the head. A large pool of blood had gathered on the leaves and was now attracting a swarm of blue bottle flies. The victim lay on his back and his trousers and undershorts were pulled down exposing his wrinkled genitals. He had a pair of high powered binoculars hung around his neck.

Traci peered through the trees and brush and found herself looking at a school with the playing fields between the woods and the school. Ian followed her gaze and remarked, “Middle school. I’m guessing he was spying on 11 and 12 year olds and masturbating while he did it.”

“Spanking the ol’ monkey. Looks like he’s been here before,” offered Pete as he pointed to several wads of discarded tissues in the nearby bushes.

Traci wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Who is this asshole and how did anyone find this body tucked back here in the bushes?”

“We received an anonymous tip is what I was told on my way over here. His name is Joseph Rafferty, age 46. He has multiple pedophile convictions. Been in and out of prison numerous times and was released three months ago.”

Traci stared at Ian. “You know this guy?”

“I put him away five years ago for molesting at least seven minors between the ages of five and eleven, although there were probably more.”

“Well,” Pete observed, “Looks like somebody decided to fix his problem for good.” Ian gave him a sharp look and Pete responded, “Hey, don’t look at me. I’ve got an airtight alibi.”

With little more Traci could do at the scene, she and Pete headed back to Pete’s truck leaving Ian to deal with the media. As they approached the parking lot they could see that the TV people had been kept well back but a few of the print media folks had slipped through. A skinny bottle blond with a skin tight outfit, unnaturally white teeth and a poised notepad stepped forward blocking their way. Aggressive, and clearly looking for a career move up from the weekly “Londoner”. Noticing Traci’s badge she tried to engage her with questions and received a terse, “No comment” for her efforts.

Spotting Pete in his casual clothes she slid in front of him, thrust out her augmented chest and insisted, “Who are you?” Pete ignored her and brushed past. The reporter hurried after him and stepped into his path again, repeating the question. Exasperated, Pete responded, “P.W. Reese.” Traci glared at him in alarm.

“And, what do you do for the London Police, Mr. Reese?”

“I’m Detective Whitequill’s chauffeur.”

The reporter hurried along beside them as Traci tried to tow Pete to the F-150. “And why, Mr. Reese, does a detective require a chauffeur?”

Traci was now officially panicked as Pete casually responded, “It’s part of the First Nations Assistance Programme.”

In the truck at last Traci was furious. “You asshole! What are you doing?!”

“Ah, don’t worry. I was just pulling her chain. No editor would be stupid enough to publish that bilge.” Pete, as it turned out, was mistaken about that.

Ian sat at his desk with a newspaper open in front of him, beet red and furious. He growled, took a deep breath and rubbed the stubble on his chin. Traci sat on a chair in front of him with her hands in her lap like a school girl caught cheating on an exam. Ian’s cursing and raging had run its course with an impressive string of expletives. Finally he said, “The editor of the ‘Londoner” was madder than a scalded bobcat. I’m not sure if he was more pissed at us or his dumb reporter for publishing that phony story without his approval. Every print journalist and TV anchor in town has phoned me wondering about the mythical ‘First Nations Assistance Programme’. God, that poor reporter is going to be writing for her college newspaper again.” Cudney chuckled and then, trying to stifle a laugh, broke into a hearty belly laugh. They laughed until the tears ran down their cheeks. Ian choked, “Tell that damn Gerard to keep his big mouth shut! Jesus, Pee Wee Reese!” He burst into laughter again. “Shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s!”

After they calmed down, Cudney observed, “It seems pretty likely that whoever bashed Rafferty is a friend or relative of one of his many victims. First thing Monday get that researcher, Mary, working on compiling a list. You and the new guy, Acting Detective Kelly, can start interviewing them and see if we can come up with some suspects…somebody with enough hatred for the guy to be willing to bash his head in.”

“That could be most of the parents of the victims,” observed Traci.

“True, but they would also have to be capable of following him out there and actually committing the act. By tomorrow we should have the autopsy report and anything the crime scene people come up with. When we get an idea of the time of death I can go over to the school and see what was happening at the school that turned Mr. Rafferty on.”

Pete sat at a table in the Tim Horton’s across from the police building sipping an iced tea and reading the sports section of the Sunday paper. When Traci emerged from the station, he dropped some cash on the table and joined her at his pickup. “All done for the day?”

“Yeah.  Not much more can be done until we get the coroner’s report and compile a list of all Rafferty’s victims.”

“Good. I need a shower and something to eat.”

Ian hung up the phone as Traci walked into his office at 10:00 the next morning. She dropped a sheaf of paper on his desk and said, “Did you know that 435 sexual offenders live in and around London, Ontario?”

“Is this all of them?” he asked, thumbing through the list.

“No. This is just the ones convicted of local pedophile offenses and free and living in the community. I just used the Ontario Sex Offender Registry since the public can’t see the private info on the RCMP’s national registry.”

“I remember the battle back in 2000 over Christopher’s Law. Six years of legal bullshit…. All the way up to the Supreme Court to get the right for the public to see the registry.”

“Yeah, we studied that in criminal justice class. Lots of heated debate. Seems like the privacy folks who opposed it have a point; we have a dead pedophile on our hands. Anyway,” she continued, “Mary found seventeen released S/Os living locally. The families who were victims of the S/Os are on the second set of sheets. Mary cross referenced the names with the DL and tax database for the current addresses and phone numbers.”

“Good work. Tell Mary I appreciate it.” Ian rumbled. “I just got off the phone with the principal of the school. He’s emailing me a schedule of who is using the playing fields during the weekends.”

“Ah, I forgot to mention that the preliminary time of death has been set at 1:00 pm.” Ian turned to his computer to check his email. “Yep, here it is. 12:30 to 2:00, junior girls field hockey. Bunch of little girls running around in short skirts. Enough to keep Rafferty’s attention while somebody snuck up behind him with a baseball bat.”

“Ah jeez, Ian. I hate this case already and we just started.”

“That’s why you’re getting the big bucks, Traci. Now get Kelly off his ass and start interviewing the families. I want alibis for Sunday and you guys make a judgement as to the ability and motivation to do it. Rank them zero to five. Zero is no chance in Hell. Five is guilty as sin.”

“Got it, boss.” She turned and marched out.

Cudney shook his head. He had been against making Traci a detective because he thought she was hired because of her looks or was a minority hire. She had slowly brought him around though. She was smart, hard working, and had unusual insight into human nature for someone so young. He could not understand, however, what the Hell she was doing with that nut, Pete Gerard.

He had a thought and grabbed the phone. When answered, he asked, “Mary, is there any way to know who might have accessed the OSOR? I mean, is there any record of that?”

“Hmmm. I don’t know about that, Ian, but I do know a guy over at Ontario Corrections in their computer section. He probably knows.”

“Call him. Get back to me.” He dropped the phone in the cradle.

Traci and Kelly organized the list of families by geography to avoid running back and forth across the city. John Kelly had made Acting Detective only three months previously. He was slender and stood just under 6 feet tall. Dark haired and quite handsome, the rumor that had followed him from the uniformed force was that he was hung like a donkey. Traci felt certain that he was gay. Heterosexual men behaved in a certain way around Traci. John Kelly was polite and displayed friendly humor around her, but was decidedly uninterested in her charms.

The first five people they interviewed so far all seemed to have good alibis for Sunday afternoon.  A minimal amount of follow-up would prove them out. Mary had thoughtfully included a short description of the crime and while individually tragic and traumatic for the victims, did not seem sufficient for a brutal murder in retribution. Traci had rated them all a “one”.

The next family on the list, the Kalcowskis, looked more serious. Ten year old Linsey Kalcowski had been grabbed off the street and thrown into a van. She had been vaginally and anally raped before being dumped at a suburban mall. Although Joseph Rafferty was the prime suspect, they did not have enough evidence to convict him. Linsey had been too traumatized to identify Rafferty, and there was no forensic evidence to link him to the crime.

Mary had added a hand written note at the bottom of the Kalcowski’s info sheet: “I added this family because two years after this incident, Linsey hung herself in her closet. Her father found her and has been known to have threatened Rafferty.

With Traci in the passenger seat, John Kelly pulled his battered unmarked police cruiser to the curb in front of a forty year old clapboard home in sad need of a paint job. The lawn showed the same neglect with weeds and brown patches. They climbed the steps and Kelly rang the bell. They saw the curtains move on the front window but nobody answered the door. He opened the screen and pounded on the scared inner door. “Open up, police!” he shouted.

The door opened to the security chain and a ruddy face peeked out. “Let’s see some ID.” She demanded. After examining the ID she unhooked the chain and swung it open.

Traci stepped forward and asked, “Mrs. Kalcowski, my name is Detective Traci Whitequill and this is John Kelly.  We’re from the London Police.  We’d like to speak with you. Can we come in?”

She backed away from the door and the two officers entered the drab and littered living room. A sagging chesterfield fronted an aging television and the scared coffee table held a pile of magazines, an overflowing ashtray and a half empty bottle of red wine. She motioned toward the couch and some wine slopped over the glass that she held in her hand. “Have a seat.”

“No, thanks.” Traci responded. “We just have a few questions.”

“OK.” Mrs. Carol Kalcowski was a tall woman and what would be referred to as ‘big boned’. Heavy, but not exactly obese. If anything, she reminded Traci of an aging Russian shot putter. She wore a shapeless, wrinkled dress and her shoulder-length dark hair, striped with grey, hung in greasy strands.

“Is your husband at home, Mrs. Kalcowski?” Kelly asked.

“Ha. He hasn’t been home in a couple of years.”

“Can you tell us where he lives now?”

“Sometimes he sleeps at The Mission. Sometimes on the street.”

“What’s the best place to find him?” Traci asked.

“Well, any of the bars around The Mission. His favorite is Gorky’s. You can probably find him there.” She glanced at the clock. “Too late though. He’s likely drunk by now.”

Traci glanced up from her notebook and asked, “Mrs. Kalcowski, can you tell us where you were yesterday around one o’clock?”

With eyes shifting from Traci to Kelly and back she responded, “Right here, watching Oprah.”

“All right, Mrs. Kalcowski. Thanks for your help.”

As they settled into the unmarked car, John exhaled and said, “Wow! That woman really needs a shower.”

As John started the car and pulled from the curb, Traci said, “Let’s take a ride down to Gorky’s and see if we can run into Mr. K.”

A dozen or so patrons hunkered over their pints at the bar and three gray haired men in their 60’s sat at a table playing dice. Conversations died out as the customers became aware of the neatly dressed and handsome young couple as they strolled in and approached the bar. The frowsy bleach blond bartender sauntered down and stuck out her ample bosom when she spotted the stunning Traci. “Help you?” she asked.

Traci flashed her ID and said, “We’re looking for a Mr. Stanley Kalcowski. We understand he hangs out here from time to time.”

“Stanley? Sure. He’s down there.” She nodded toward the end of the bar.

Traci strolled up to Stanley and stuck her ID in Stanley’s face and introduced herself. He turned with blood shot eyes and stared with confusion, back and forth between Traci and her ID. “What?” he slurred.

“Mr.Kalcowski, we’d like to ask you a few questions.” He wavered on the bar stool and nodded.

“Can you tell us where you were yesterday at one o’clock?”

“Hmmm. Yesterday….” He licked his cracked lips and scratched his week old scraggy beard. “Can’t say I remember.”

“Have you got a car, Sir?”

“Car?” he snorted. “I don’t even have a license anymore.” A bit of saliva escaped the corner of his mouth and disappeared into his beard. He swayed on his stool and closed his eyes, threatening to fall over. Traci gave him a gentle shake and Stan’s eyes popped open. Further questioning seemed pointless so the detectives returned to John’s car and decided to call it a day. They agreed to continue to interview the people on the list in the morning.

Traci opened her apartment door and was greeted by the tantalizing spicy aroma of Pete’s spaghetti sauce as it bubbled quietly on the stove. Pete emerged from the kitchen as Traci kicked off her heels and he handed her a glass of red wine. “Pasta night tonight, Sweetbuns. This fine chianti is the best $15 bottle they had.”

“Sweetbuns?”

“Simply a term of endearment. How’d it go today?”

She slumped in a chair and sighed, “Not great. We thought we had a solid possibility with a guy whose daughter committed suicide after being molested by Rafferty. But he’s such a hopeless alcoholic that he’s lucky to be able to button his fly let alone plan and commit a murder.”

“Well, it’s only day one. Go hop in the shower. I’ll start the noodles.”

After lunch the next day, Traci and John trooped into Ian’s office and dropped into chairs opposite his desk. “Well?” Cudney asked.

“Nothing.” Traci responded. “We interviewed all seventeen families and see no reason to bring any of them in for further questioning. Kinda at a dead end. The forensics guys come up with anything?”

Cudney responded, “Sorta. They determined that Rafferty’s skull was fractured by a round object about the size of a baseball bat.”

“Geez, there’s a breakthrough.” Traci muttered.

“They also confirmed the presence of semen on his hands.”

“Well, at least there is some justice in the world.”

“I’ll just pretend I did not hear that politically incorrect comment, Whitequill.”

“What comment, Ian? Here we have a dead scum and no murder weapon and no suspects.  What’s your next suggestion for this investigation?”

“Keep digging and get the Hell out of here.” Kelly scurried and Traci strolled to the door before turning.

“You know Ian, we are not going to figure this out until our culprit strikes again. This is not a one-off murder.” Ian waved her off in dismissal.

Paul, aka Pablo Zimmer, slowly maneuvered his three year old Lincoln Navigator through
the downtown traffic of London, Ontario. He was feeling quite full of himself. As a drug dealer and part time pimp, he had the best of his world… cheap cocaine and lots of young pussy. This life was way more profitable and fun than his previous job as a teacher at a native school in northern Saskatchewan. His proclivities had cost him eight years in prison for molesting his students and he had no interest in returning to that brutal prison environment. He loved the current situation where he had respect on the street, money in his pockets, and his young customers would do anything he wanted to get his drugs.

He pulled into a parking garage and parked on the second floor. He lit a cigarette and strolled to the elevator. His customers knew that the fourth floor was his “store” and he was hoping that some of his 12 year old buyers would be short of cash. When he was horny, like tonight, Pablo was willing to trade for some sweet young pussy.

Zimmer stood about 5’6” and although skinny, he slouched and affected the arrogant walk of a Detroit hip-hop star. With a dyed black mop of slicked back hair and carefully cultivated soul patch, he closely resembled a bad-ass villain out of a Mexican soap opera. The elevator arrived and Pablo nodded to the other passenger in the car before turning and pushing the button for the fourth floor. As he did so, he felt a hand on his chin and a knife slashing across his throat. With blood spraying everywhere, Pablo Zimmer crumpled to the floor of the elevator.

He jerked, spasmed and desperately gasped for air through his severed windpipe as he quickly bled out. The passenger calmly stepped over him when the doors opened on four.

Pete and Traci sat watching a banal romantic comedy on Netflix when Ian called. “We got another one.” Ian intoned. “Body in an elevator in a parking garage on Dundas and Clark. Throat cut.”

“Shit, Ian, I am still without wheels.” Traci responded.

“Get a ride with the trained killer and get your butt over here.”

Pete had paused the movie. He may have given in on the selection but he was not relinquishing the remote. He looked at Traci questioningly. She said, “Let’s go Lover. I need wheels.”

Pete shut off the TV and got up. “Lover?” he thought. That’s a promotion from “Hairy Ass”. Progress.

Pete swung the pickup to a halt outside the perimeter set up by the police at the parking garage , Traci hopped out and sprinted toward the structure. Pete could not talk his way
through the police cordon so he leaned against the hood of the F-150, lit a small H. Upmann and waited. When Traci came out she looked pale and grim. “God Pete, what a mess. I have never seen so much blood! His throat was cut so deep that his windpipe was cut completely through. Whoever did this is strong.”

“Are you done here?” Pete asked.

“Yes. Until tomorrow.”

“OK, let’s go home. I’ll fix you a one of my wicked cocktails and after a hot bath, you’ll be fine.”

“Great, but don’t waste your time thinking romance tonight big guy. Not gonna happen.”

Traci sat in Ian’s office discussing ideas on how to proceed with the investigation when John Kelly knocked and stepped in. “Here’s the report from the Forensics Section. Afraid it doesn’t give us much to go on. Big knife; probably a common home kitchen knife.”

“No DNA?” asked Ian.

“Nope. Forensics thinks the killer surely wore gloves.”

“You guys have all read this turkey’s bio…. Not a nice man. But we can’t have vigilantes running around offing people, no matter how deserving.”  Ian tossed the report on his desk without looking at it and grumped at Kelly. “Check with Mary and see if she’s come up with any cross matches on victims of this turkey.”

The killer removed the big knife from the heavy plastic bag and carefully washed it with dish detergent and a brush. It then went in the dish washer for a final treatment to insure all of Zimmer’s DNA was washed away.

The clothes worn during the knifing presented a more difficult problem. Zimmer, with his wind pipe and jugulars severed, had sprayed blood all over the place in a fine mist and the killer’s clothes would certainly have been contaminated by it. Sending them to the cleaners did not look like a safe practical option and that meant the only solution left was to destroy them. Using gloves, the killer divided the clothing into three bags and taped them shut. They would be deposited in three dumpsters at different locations around London. The killer then drained the vodka, the ice cubes clinking against the glass, and headed for the shower for a thorough scrubbing.

The Tasmanian Devil inside the killer’s skull had awakened and was beginning to feed. The blinding, throbbing pain returned with a vengeance, bringing with it the certainty that the skull would explode. With shaking hands, the killer shook out two of the OxyContin tablets and gulped them down with a fresh glass of vodka. The doctor had cautioned against mixing the drugs and alcohol, but the killer said out loud with a rueful laugh, “What’s it gonna do— kill me?”

The statistics on the next sexual predator to be executed lay on the kitchen counter. As the drugs and vodka started to kick in and put the Devil back to sleep, the killer was once again able to concentrate on the file of Robert Boddington. He represented the worst of the first three sexual offenders the killer had chosen for elimination. He had been convicted of raping a developmentally disabled 33 year old woman with the mental age of 11. Although he was suspected in the rape of several other women, the prosecution had focused on the one case with overwhelming forensic evidence. Boddington got 12 years and served 6, the average in Canada.  He had been out of jail for nine months now, and the killer’s surveillance revealed that Boddington had been stalking women; he clearly planned to return to his life of rape. The killer planned to put an end to it.

Robert Boddington answered the knock on his door and swung it open just enough to peer out. He got hit directly in the face from a distance of two feet with a shot of bear spray designed to stop a charging 1000-pound grizzly. He staggered back into the room and fell to the floor writhing and screaming.

The killer stepped inside, quickly closed the door and swung the sock containing a nice, fresh Idaho potato. Robert awoke with a throbbing headache and blinded, burning eyes. His mouth was duct taped and realized he had been trussed bent over his kitchenette table with all four limbs tied to a separate table leg. He sensed he no longer wore clothes and his buttocks and genitals were exposed. The killer quietly described the process by which he would die, and Robert’s screams were muffled behind the tape and he struggled against his bindings to no effect. As the gruesome and painful process began, Boddington cried burning tears out of his damaged eyes and implored to the god he had forsaken decades before for forgiveness and mercy.

Traci and John Kelly arrived at the halfway house, nodded at the patrolmen stationed outside, and stepped under the crime scene tape. Boddington’s room was on the first floor and a uniformed cop stood guarding the door. “Were you the first one on the scene?” asked Traci.

“Yes.” The officer replied. “The manager let me in.”

“Touch anything?”

“Nope. Took one look and backed out. It’s a nasty one.”

“Good move. Thanks.”

Traci followed Kelly into the room and Kelly muttered, “Christ! Any more of these and I’m going back to traffic patrol.”

They slowly approached the body, being careful not to step in the blood that had pooled around the table. As they got close, they could see that the victim had been brutally sodomized with an enormous dildo. “Well, I guess we can see what killed him.” Offered Traci. Kelly shuddered as he realized that the bloody mass of tissue that lay in the middle of Boddington’s back was what remained of his genitals.

Ian studied the autopsy report on Robert Boddington. He paraphrased to Traci and Kelly, “He died from loss of blood and probably shock. Apparently he had been bear sprayed and then clubbed with something. He had a big bruise on the side of his face.”

“We interviewed all the other residents of the halfway house and nobody saw or heard anything.”

Offered Kelly. “No one saw any strangers entering or leaving the place.”

“Once again there’s damn little to go on despite the fact that we all believe it’s the same killer for all three victims.” Traci said.

Ian grumped, “We better figure this out soon. I’m getting heat from above and eaten alive in the press. The human rights people are screaming their heads off and the law and order folks are cheering. We gotta catch this guy and put a stop to this. Get out of here and find him!”

Traci strolled into Mary’s cubicle and dropped into the chair next to her desk. She sighed and asked, “Anything new, Mary? Anything to tie the Rafferty murder with Mr. Zimmer?”

“Not that I can find,” replied Mary. “As you know, Rafferty is home grown scum and committed his crimes in Ontario, but Zimmer was convicted for his molestations at the Big Island Lake Cree Nation school in northern Saskatchewan. No connection that I can figure out.”

“Alright. Thanks. Just thought I’d check. We’re kind of out of leads.”

“Oh, I almost forgot. Ian had asked if there was any way we could find out who might have accessed the Ontario Sex Offender Registry? Well, my computer nerd friend tells me there is no way to find out who but they can determine where in the provence the inquiries came from. He says the latest hits have come from the London Public Library, Central branch downtown. He has the dates and times of the hits too.”

Mulling that over, Traci thanked Mary and headed back to her own office.

That night over dinner of burgers and beer as she explained it to Pete he asked, “Gee, I wonder if they have security video in the computer area of the library?”

Traci halted a french fry half-way to her mouth and stared at Pete. “You know Gerard, every once in a while you come up with something that makes me doubt that you are the dumb Army grunt you claim to be.”

Her car was still in the shop awaiting parts, and her patience was wearing thin with the repair guys there, so the next morning, Pete drove her downtown to the public library, central location. Pete wandered off to the military history section while Traci met with the head librarian who had confirmed over the phone they did indeed have security videos.

“I’ve set up a TV where you can watch the security tapes of the dates you requested,” said the prim Ms. Donaldson. “You will have to fast forward through the tape to find the times you were looking for, however.”

“Not a problem. Thanks, Ms. Donaldson.” Traci dropped into the chair and cued up the first tape, running fast until about a half hour before the first recorded hit on the database. The camera was positioned above and behind the people at the computers, presumably to determine if any of the users were accessing porn sites. Also, the view was of the back of their heads. Traci would only get a look at their faces when they got up to leave. There were eight computers, four monitors arranged in two rows. All four in the front row were occupied by young men, presumably college students. In the row nearest the camera two were in use by older gentlemen, one by a young girl who appeared to be of high school age and the final seat held a gray haired, neatly dressed older woman. In all, they seemed an unlikely group to yield a multiple murderer.

A couple of the male students left and were replaced by other young males. Finally, five minutes after the time the data base had been accessed according to Mary’s friend, the gray haired lady picked up her notes and her purse and rose and faced the camera directly. Something about her looked familiar to Traci. Her hair and makeup had been skillfully done, her dress neat and expensive, if a little out of style, and she wore nice jewelry. Traci rewound and watched the woman rising and facing the camera several times before it dawned on her…. It was Carol Kalcowski! She looked nothing like she had when Traci and Kelly had interviewed her at her home. She ejected the tape and went looking for Ms. Donaldson to get permission to take the tape as evidence.

She found Pete lounging in a comfortable chair deeply engrossed in a book called Ghost Soldiers. “Off your butt, big boy. I’ve got an arrest to make.”

“Who?”

“Carol Kalcowski.”

“Really? I thought you said she was a sloppy drunk?”

“I think that was an act to get herself crossed off the list of suspects. She just showed up on the security tape at the precise time someone accessed the sex offender database.”

“That doesn’t prove she’s a murder.”

“Nope. But it does give us a reason to bring her in for some more extensive questioning and to get a search warrant for her house.”

Once in the truck with Pete headed for Kalcowski’s house, Traci pulled out her cell phone and called Ian. “Ian, I’m just leaving the downtown branch of the public library and headed to Carol Kalcowski’s house.”

“Why?” Asked Cudney. “I thought you crossed her off your list?”

“Yeah, but I just put her back on. The Ontario Sexual Predators Registry was accessed at the downtown London Library and I just saw Kalcowski on the security tape at the exact time it was accessed from the library. I’m going out there to arrest her and bring her in for questioning. Get a search warrant in the works for her house and car.”

“Good work, Whitequill. I’m sending Kelly out there to back you up. Don’t do anything until he gets there and keep your “chauffeur” as far away as possible.”

“OK, boss. See you shortly.”

Traci instructed Pete to stop a couple of houses down from Kalcowski’s. She insisted Gerard remain by the truck and strolled up the sidewalk while Pete waited for her to head up the steps before slipping out and gliding up into the adjacent neighbor’s yard.

As Traci reached the stoop Pete saw a figure speed past a side window. It appeared that Carol was making a break for the back door. He reacted instinctively and sprinted as best his damaged knees would take him to head her off at the back door. He skidded to a stop just as she burst through the back door. He put up his hands and shouted “Whoa!” She snarled and came at him with the butcher knife flashing in the slanting afternoon sunlight.

She slashed left and back right at his eyes. He stepped back as the blade whistled past and when she recoiled for another series of swipes he used his training and instinctively stepped forward, blocked her knife hand and clipped her with a chopping left hook to the jaw.

Lights out. Her brain suddenly short circuited, Carol Kalcowski slumped to the turf like a lifeless scarecrow. Pete shook the knife from her hand and let it lay on the parched lawn as Traci burst through the back door.

“Geez, Gerard! Can’t you ever follow instructions?”

“Well, I stepped out of the truck to have a smoke and I saw you going up the steps….. not following instructions, by the way. Then I saw somebody sprinting for the back door through the side window. I knew you wanted to arrest this woman and I figured you probably did not want to chase her through the neighborhood in those high heels which, by the way, do wonders for your calves and ass, so I thought I’d slow her down to help you out. I did not expect her to try to slice my face up with a butcher knife so I gave her a little love tap.”

Traci looked at the comatose Kalcowski sprawled on the lawn. “Love tap? She’d better wake up.”

“Oh, she will, but if I were you, I’d cuff her before she does. She seems the angry sort.”

“Ian is not going to like this.”

“So lie to him. Tell him you socked her, or Kelly did. By the way, here comes John now.”

Pete pulled out a cheroot, examined its firmness, chewed off the tip and sniffed it before carefully putting flame to the end. Puffing, he then strolled casually back toward the truck.

—————————–

© Richard Draper, August 2015

“Dedicated to my cousin Ken who passed away recently.  He was one of my small group of fans.  We were kids together up on Beech Hill on rocky, poor dairy farms that looked over into Pennsylvania from southern New York State.  RIP Ken.”

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Filed under Short Stories

Reluctant Hero – A Short Story

Detective Ian Cudney first heard of the mass murder at the Willow Tree Mall as he drove his unmarked police cruiser slowly through downtown London, Ontario traffic.
His radio crackled, “All units, respond to multiple shots fired at 1476 Willow Tree Circle. Unknown number of assailants. Automatic weapons fire reported.”
“Oh shit!” He muttered and grabbed his Fireball portable emergency light and slapped it on the roof. He thrust the plug into the cigarette lighter, flipped on his siren and slowed. As the traffic responded, Ian cranked the wheel, slid into a U-turn and accelerated in the opposite direction. He guessed he was fifteen minutes out with no hang-ups.
The vast mall parking lot was already clustered with police cruisers, Emergency Response Team vans, ambulances and fire trucks by the time he skidded off the access ramp and into the parking lot. He eased up to the perimeter being set up by some uniformed officers and parked. He tucked his badge holder into the breast pocket of his sport coat, grabbed his portable radio and headed for the nearest officer.
The Constable recognized him as he approached. Everyone on the force knew Ian, a twenty-five year veteran, often called Columbo behind his back because of his somewhat frumpy and shuffling manner. He looked nothing like Peter Falk, however, for he was tall and heavy with bushy grey hair and eyebrows. But, like Columbo, he displayed great patience coupled with meticulous attention to detail and keen intelligence. His success as an interrogator rested on his knack of being the genial and gentle bear or, when necessary, a large imposing bastard.
“What’s the situation, Constable?” Ian asked.
“Good news and bad,” he replied. “The good news is that the asshole is down. The bad is that he shot a lot of people before he went down.”
Looking grim Ian responded, “Who’s the ERT leader and what frequency are they on?”
“John Chu is in charge and they’re on Channel 9.”
Cudney nodded his thanks and lumbered toward the mall entrance that was now crowded with Emergency Medical Teams rushing in with stretchers and bags of equipment. He keyed the radio and called, “John, this is Detective Cudney. What’s your location?”
“Hey Ian, this is Chu. We’re about 50 metres down the first corridor on your right. Everything is secure. It’s a god awful mess, but the shooter is down.”
Cudney hustled down the corridor trying not to count the bodies while noting the wounded being treated by EMTs, ER team guys and some Christmas shoppers. Some of the employees and shoppers were peeking out of shops where the metal shutters had been activated. Others had been opened or perhaps never closed, and officers were herding dazed shoppers away from the crime scene toward the far end of the corridor.
He spotted John in full battle gear standing over a black clad body in the middle of the corridor. John was short, perhaps 5’5”, but extremely muscular and fit. “Hey, John, quite a mess, eh?”
“I swear to God, Ian, I will never understand why guys do this shit. This is where it ended.”
Cudney stared at the body, dressed all in black with a black ski mask covering his face. He lay in an awkward pose like he had been sitting and then knocked over backwards. Blood pooled wetly on the terrazzo floor behind his head. A Bushmaster .223 assault rifle lay just beyond his outstretched hand. Ian raised his gaze to the shop directly behind them where an EMT worked frantically over a prone woman. “How many so far?”
“Not sure of the final count, obviously…. But maybe 10 dead with many more wounded.”
“Who shot this asshole? Your guys?”
“Nope. He was dead when we got here. No one should have a firearm in this place. It’s a gun-free zone. There’s a mall cop here but he’s not armed. Haven’t found him yet.”
“Yeah. Well, it looks like two guys had a gun; this asshole and whoever shot him. Any ideas on how this went down?”
“Well, I’m waiting for the Forensic ID Section, but it looks to me like whoever shot him hit him first in the hip just below his body armor. He went down back there. You can see the blood…and he dropped the rifle. From those blood smears on the terrazzo, I’d guess he crawled toward the rifle and when he turned on the shooter, he shot him in the head. Looks like a handgun. Not enough damage for a hunting rifle.”
“Where was the shooter then?”
“Not sure. Up there, maybe,” John replied, pointing to the second floor.
“What? A guy shooting from up there with a handgun? A head shot? You gotta be kidding!”
“Got any other ideas?”
“I’m going up there for a look around.” Ian slowly ascended the stairs like a weary bear and ambled back toward the likely spot where the shooter must have stood. He glanced over the railing and spotted the crime scene crew hustling toward Chu and the fallen gunman. As he searched among the potted plants and trash receptacles he caught the gleam of light off the brass of a spent cartridge. Without moving it, he determined it was a 9 mm.
He peered over the rail and shouted down to Chu, “John, we got spent brass up here. Get somebody up here to preserve this area and send the Forensic Team up here when they’re done down there.” John turned from the CSI crew, waved and shouted at one of his men who came running over.
The young ERT cop jogged up to Ian, who expected him to snap to attention and salute, he seemed so military in bearing. Ian instructed him to protect the scene and not let anyone touch anything. The young officer glanced over the railing at the sprawled shooter, turned back to Ian and said, “Wow. That’s a long way and an awkward angle for a head-shot. Could you have made that shot, Sir?”
“Mind your manners, Son.”
Cudney turned and spotted a well-dressed, middle-aged woman standing in the lady’s lingerie shop behind him. As he started walking toward the shop to see if she might have seen anything, his partner, Traci, bounced up the stairs and hurried over to him. Ian glared at her and rumbled, “About time.”
“Hey, Boss, cut me some slack. This is my day off and I was in the tub when I got the call.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
“I talked to John downstairs briefly and he said somebody capped the bad guy from up here?”
“That’s the way it looks. I spotted some 9 mm brass over there by that planter. I was just about to talk to that women in there and see what she knows.”
Traci nodded and they walked into the shop both holding their badges in front of them. “Hi, I’m Detective Cudney and this is Detective Whitequill. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Sure,” the woman replied, shifting her gaze to Traci and recognizing her First Nations features and stunning beauty with raised eyebrows. They ignored it and Ian went on.
“Can you tell us what you saw?”
“Well, I didn’t see much, but…I heard shooting on the first floor. I thought it was fireworks or a prank of some kind. But then as it got closer and I heard the whistling sound like you hear in the movies with bullets bouncing off stuff.”
“Ricochets.”
“Yeah, like that. So, I ducked down behind the checkout counter and crawled in that cubby hole there,” she said, pointing to the space.
“Then what happened?”
“Then I heard two really close shots and I really got scared. But, then it got totally quiet and I heard someone walk in the shop. I was afraid to move. I heard some metallic noises over there by that table and then the guy walked out.”
“How do you know it was a guy?” Asked Traci.
“You know, men walk different. He had a limp.”
Traci nodded and walked over to a table marked with a ‘Clearance’ sign and littered with a pile of colorful bras and panties. “Hey, Ian! Check this out.” Cudney strolled over and discovered a handgun with the action open perched on top of a black camisole like a strawberry on a chocolate cake.
“Smith and Wesson Model 5946,” Traci murmured. “Standard police issue.”
“Yep, empty too. Clip’s gone.”
“So, somebody shot the gunman from over there, walked in here, emptied his handgun, left it and walked out? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah, and where’s the guy that owns it?”
On cue Ian’s radio screeched, “Ian, this is John.”
Ian keyed his hand held and answered, “Yeah, John. Go ahead.”
“We found the mall cop. He’s dead. On your floor, back toward the main entrance, near the top of the stairs. I’m headed that way now.”
“OK, see you there.” He turned to Traci. “Bag this pistol, get her contact info and then head down there.” And then to the clerk, “Thank you. We’ll be in touch.”
Cudney lumbered back toward the entrance hall and spotted a group clustered around a body lying in a pool of blood. John stood off to the side with his hands on his hips. Ian pulled up next to him breathing heavily and stared down at the body. “Shit!” he exclaimed. “It’s Barney Kaminski.”
“Exactly.” John replied. “Looks like our shooter hit him in the legs and vest knocking him down and then finished him off with shots to the head.”
“Same shooter as the guy laying down there on the first floor?”
“Sure looks like it. There’s .223 brass all over up here. Two dead in there, too.” John swung his head toward the shop behind them. Ian followed his gaze and noticed two bodies sprawled on the floor of the shop and a young woman hunched over sobbing near the entrance. “His firearm is missing,” said John, as he pointed to an empty holster. “He was not supposed to be armed but then Barney always did have trouble following the rules.”
“Hmmm? We found a Smith 5946 in a pile of ladies underwear back there.” Ian replied nodding his head in the direction of where the shooter lay. Chu frowned and stared at Ian.
“If that’s Barney’s side-arm…” He didn’t finish. “Shit. I’m glad I’m just the SWAT guy on this one and you can do that detective crap, Ian.” Traci hustled up and Ian grabbed her arm and guided her toward the shop.
Traci glanced over her shoulder at the body behind them. “That the mall cop?”
“Yep. Barney Kaminski. Poor sap thought he had a cushy job. Let’s go talk to that young lady over there and see if she saw anything.”
As they approached flashing their credentials, the girl stood up and wiped her eyes with a tissue. She was about 18 and painfully thin with her blond hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. She was dressed in what Ian thought of as the ‘teen/hooker style’ skin-tight top, too-short skirt, and high heels. “You work here, Miss?” asked Ian. She nodded and swiped at more tears streaking her makeup. “Did you see what happened?” She shook her head no.
“Maybe you can tell us what you know.” Traci interrupted. “First, what is your name?”
“My name is Lucy Martin.”
“Where were you when the shooting here happened?”
“I was, like, hiding back in the stock room.”
“How come the other girls didn’t hide?” asked Traci bobbing her head toward the two bodies now covered with sheets.
“I don’t know. The man, like, tried to get them to hide too but…”
“What man?” Ian insisted.
“My customer. He had just, like, picked out an outfit for his daughter for Christmas when the shooting started. He kinda pushed me toward the stock room and I heard him telling Heide and her customer to, like, run but they, you know, never came with me.” She started to sniff again as she thought of her friend and Traci put her arm around her shoulder.
“Take your time, Lucy. What happened after you hid in the stock room?”
“The shooting started in the shop and I could hear, like, screams and then they stopped. I could hear more shooting but it got further and further away and then it, like, stopped altogether. After a while, I, like, snuck out of the stock room and saw Heide and the other girl on the floor and had to, like, get out, ya know. All that blood!”
“What about the man…your customer?”
Lucy looked puzzled, “Gee, I don’t know. He was, like, gone.”
“Can you describe this man, Lucy? How tall was he?”
“He was, like, taller than me.” Lucy gestured with her hand over her head.
“How tall are you with those heels on?’ Ian asked.
“I’m, like, 5’6.”
“White guy?” Traci asked.
Lucy stared at Traci fearing she could make offense before responding, “You are, like, totally pretty.”
“Thanks, Lucy, but help us out here. White guy?”
“Yeah, just, like, an average older guy. Not, like, fat or anything; in fact he looked like he totally worked out, ya know?”
“Older guy?” Traci asked. “How old would you say?”
“Not, like, real old…..’bout the same age as my Dad.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s, like, 40…. Yeah, he’ll be 41 in July.”
“What was he wearing?” Ian jumped in.
“A leather jacket, brown, I think. A baseball cap from one of the American teams, ya know. And jeans.”
“Which team?”
“Um, I can’t remember. But I remember wondering if he was, like, an American but, he totally didn’t talk like one.”
“OK. Moustache? Beard? Long hair? Tattoos?”
“Not that I can remember. Just, like, an average guy. Nice guy though and he, like, totally saved my life.” With that she started to sob and Traci put her arm around her shoulder and waited patiently.
“It’s all over now, Lucy. Let’s find your purse so I can get your driver’s license and write down your info in case we need to talk again.” She led Lucy away toward the checkout counter leaving Ian stroking his chin deep in thought.
When Traci returned Ian said, “I don’t think the mall corridors have closed circuit TV recording, but see if they have it in this shop. Maybe we can get a look at this customer of Lucy’s. I have a feeling he figures in this somehow.” As they headed back to the corridor Cudney looked at Traci and said, “That poor cop was carrying a side-arm and it’s missing.” Traci stopped in her tracks and stared at Ian with a mystified look on her face.
“Maybe the ballistics test will clear this up but something seriously does not add up here.”
Cudney and Traci worked their way up and down the corridors trying to find any witnesses who might have any information but once the shooting started, panic set in and people were running in every direction. They headed back to the office and hoped the video surveillance system of the shops would provide something useful.

Ian had his feet up on his desk wishing he still could smoke in his office as he pondered the contradictions of the mall shootings. His boss, the Deputy Chief of Police, Graham Brantwell, swept into the room followed by a cloud of after shave. He dressed and carried himself like an ambassador and, in fact, harbored dreams of a glorious career in politics. He viewed his time in the police department as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. Tall and handsome with long wavy hair, he never missed an opportunity to get in front of the TV cameras or get his name in the newspaper. This shooting would get national wall-to-wall coverage and Graham drooled at the chance to become a household name. “The Chief has given me the responsibility of conducting the press briefings on this and I’ve scheduled one for 4:00. This incident is a perfect example of what’s going to happen more and more often now that the god damn Conservative government got rid of the gun registry. I expect to emphasise exactly that point in the press briefing. Anyway, Cudney, what have you got for me?” Graham asked.
Ian gave him a bemused expression and slowly swung his feet off his desk and rolled his chair up to his desk. He detested the man and his backstabbing, tyrannical methods. He pushed a sheet of paper forward towards the Deputy Chief. “Here’s the butchers bill. Seven killed, 14 wounded, four critically. Plus the shooter, of course.”
“What about the shooter?”
Ian opened a slim file on the corner of his desk and pulled out a sheet and handed it to Graham. “Brandon Norton, aged 21. We are still investigating, but it appears he’s the typical troubled youth, in and out of mental institutions and a series of minor run-ins with the authorities: drugs, fights, petty crime, and a rocky relationship with his family.”
“How about his parents?”
“His folks are divorced. The dad works up in the oil patch and Mum works as a waitress. She and Brandon had a falling out weeks ago and she claims not to have seen him since.”
“Has the Dad been contacted?”
“Yeah. He’s flying down from Ft. McMurray tonight.”
“What about the mall cop? I understand he was one of ours and retired.”
“Barney Kaminski medically retired after about 15 years. He was a bit of a loose cannon out on the street and was pulled in to ride a desk. Had some personal issues with alcohol and a divorce and was given a medical about four years ago. ”
“Well, I guess he’s the hero of the entire incident. I’ll be sure to build him up in my statement to the press.”
“Possibly. You will have to finesse the issue of why he was carrying a sidearm, I guess.”
Traci slid into the doorway and stopped abruptly when she spotted the Deputy Chief. “Oops, sorry, Sir.” She muttered.
Brantwell looked up with annoyance. “We’re having a meeting here, Whitequill.”
“Oh, lighten up Graham.” Ian interrupted. “This is not the Premier’s office.” Then turning to Traci he said, “Whataya got, Traci?”
She waved a sheet of paper and said, “Thought you might like to see the preliminary ballistics report.”
Ian beckoned her in and took the sheet from her while Graham glared at her. She smiled sweetly, understanding that his animosity toward her stemmed from her rebuffing his advances, telling him ‘to go home to his wife.’ Graham turned back to Ian as he said, “Well, that’s what we figured. The extractor markings on the shell casings we found on the upper deck match those from Barney’s handgun.”
“The slug that hit the shooter in the hip is still in the body and if it’s not too beat up, the ballistics guys should be able to make a positive ID that it’s a slug from Barney’s weapon.” Traci replied.
“How’s it going on reviewing the recordings from the shops?” Ian asked.
“Mary is working on sorting through them isolating the time of the shootings so we can review them without watching the whole recording. I’ll let you know when we’re ready to look at them.” She turned and headed out the door.
“Well, that settles it then. Barney is a national hero. He saved numerous lives and died in the effort. They’ll put his statue in the courthouse.”
“Not so fast, Graham,” Ian cautioned.
Graham ignored him and lost himself in the fantasy of seeing his face on every TV screen and newspaper front page in Canada. He turned and headed for the door. “I’ve got to go prepare my statement.”
“Hold it, Graham!” Ian said loudly. “There’s a problem here.”
Graham stopped and turned. “What problem?”
“Couple of problems, actually. First off, Barney was a lousy pistol shot. He couldn’t hit the broadside of a…..” Ian stopped himself from saying it. “I doubt that Barney improved as a shooter after retiring four years ago and whoever made those shots is a solid expert and knew exactly what he was doing.”
“Maybe Barney got lucky.”
“I doubt it. But there’s a bigger problem.”
“What’s that?”
“Barney’s 9 mm was in a pile of ladies’ undies near where the shots that took out the shooter were fired and that was about 50 meters from where Barney lay dead.”
“I don’t get it.” Graham looked puzzled.
“For Barney to have made those shots he would have had to rise from where he was shot–in the head–walk 50 metres down the corridor, kill the shooter, hide his side-arm, walk back down the corridor and die. He’d have to do all that without bleeding on the floor.”
“So you’re saying some shopper picked up Barney’s handgun and killed the shooter?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense.” Ian replied.
“That’s murder.” Graham mused.
“Well….. Yeah, technically.”
“Not technically, actually. You kill someone in Canada with a firearm and that’s murder two. You find out who did this and I want him charged with murder. You got me, Ian?”
“Yeah, I got it, but I wouldn’t tell this to the press this afternoon. Not until we sort this all out.”
“Yeah, I suppose. I’ll tell them we’re still investigating and that quick action by the police saved lives.”
“Yes, I’d leave out the murder idea. Emotions are a little raw right now and we need to be sure of what we’re talking about before we open that can of worms.”
Graham marched out hurried down the corridor. Seconds later Traci poked her head in the door again. “We’ve got the videos cued up if you have time to take a look.”
“Anything good?”
“Yep, I think we’ve found our mystery shopper anyway.”
Ian hauled himself to his feet and he joined Traci heading down the hall to the video room. Ian nodded to Mary as they entered. “What have you got for me, Mary?”
“First, here’s the video from Michelle’s, the shop where Lucy Martin works. It’s the one close to where Barney was killed.” Mary started the video and they could see the man described by Lucy ducking behind a rack of long dresses as a man in black carrying a rifle enters the shop. The silent black and white video did not soften the horror of the execution of the two women.
“Christ,” muttered Ian.
The man in the video slipped from behind the dresses after the shooter exited, checked the pulse of the two downed girls and then limped out of the shop.
“With that baseball cap pulled down, you can’t really see his face.” Traci said. “Detroit Tigers cap, if that helps.”
“If he made a purchase in the shop with his credit card there will be a record and we should have his name and address within an hour.” Replied Ian.
“I’ll get right on it,” answered Traci.
Mary interjected, “There another video of the lingerie shop where the handgun was found. Looks like the same guy but still no good look at his face. As the lady said, he’s got a limp.”

Ian and Traci drove through the near suburbs of London looking for the apartment complex on Huron Avenue. “You sure this is the guy?” Asked Ian.
“Well, he used his credit card in Michelle’s about the time of the shootings.” Traci answered.
“But you could find out nothing about the guy?”
“Not much. His name is Peter Gerard and it’s almost like he’s off the grid. Nothing on Google, Facebook or Twiter. Not listed in the phone book. He’s got a driver’s license and a cell phone account but no email address. I could find no social insurance number or any employment record. He’s got a couple of credit cards with BMO and a checquing account. That’s it.”
“So, what’s he do for a living? Sell drugs?”
“I have no idea but I think we better be careful with this guy until we find out what’s going on.”
They found the apartment building and circled around to the back parking lot just as a few snowflakes started to fall gently out of a depressingly gray sky. They walked up to the 2nd floor and found the apartment halfway down the corridor. Standing on each side of the door, Ian rapped firmly.
They heard someone move to the door and say, “Who’s there?”
“Police. Please open the door.”
The door opened to the safety chain and a man said, “Show me some ID.” Ian and Traci pushed their ID wallets to the opening and after a moment the man unhooked the chain and swung the door open. They entered and gazed around the small apartment. It was sparsely furnished but neat and clean. A small flat screen TV flickered in the corner where a hockey game was in progress. A two-foot artificial Christmas tree sat on a table by the window with coloured lights blinking a sad rhythm.
“Mr. Gerard, we’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“What about?” He replied.
“Mind if we have a seat?” Asked Ian. Gerard nodded and motioned toward a tired-looking couch. He remained standing.
Traci noted that he was of medium height, solidly built and in good shape, pretty much as Lucy had described him. He was in his early 40s with short and slightly graying hair.
“Mr. Gerard,” Ian began. “Were you shopping at Willow Tree Mall yesterday?”
“Yeah, sure.”
“Can you describe what happened?”
“I was in a shop picking out a gift for my daughter and some guy in black came in and shot up the place. I hid and then ran out after he left. He shot two of the girls in the place and I could see they were dead so I hauled ass away from the shooting.”
“Did you see Officer Kaminski lying in the corridor when you went out?
“Yes, of course, but I could see the holes in his head and guessed him to be beyond any help from me.”
“OK, Mr. Gerard, what did you do then?”
“I worked my way back to the entrance and got the Hell out of there.”
“You didn’t grab Officer Kaminski’s gun and run down and shoot the bad guy?” Traci asked.
“What? Why would I do a stupid thing like that?”
“Somebody did.” Ian interjected. “Somebody killed that guy and in Canada that’s murder.”
“How do you support yourself Mr. Gerard?” Traci asked quickly. “What kind of work do you do?”
Pete looked at her for a long beat and then said, “I’m on disability. I was injured and am no longer able to work.”
“Where did you work?”
“I was in the Army…. A supply sergeant and was injured in a vehicle accident. I was medically discharged.”
“You don’t look like a supply clerk.” Traci said, doubtfully.
“You don’t look like a cop. You look like a model.” Pete responded. Traci blushed in spite of herself.
“Look Gerard, if you don’t want to give us straight answers we can continue this conversation down at the station.” Ian replied angrily.
“What’s the point? I don’t have anything to add and nothing more to say.”
“We’ll just see about that Mr. Gerard.”
Pete said nothing on the drive down to the station and said nothing for the next four hours despite the various officers who took turns trying to get him to talk. He simply sat there and stared at them. Finally, as Traci came in to take her turn, Pete spoke at last. “I have to take a piss.” He said.
“Well Mr. Gerard, if you answer our questions perhaps we can then take a short break.”
“Bullshit. If you don’t unlock these handcuffs and let me go to the washroom I am going to piss my pants right here. Make sure you don’t delete the video you’re making of this interview. My lawyer will want it for the lawsuit. Last I heard, torture is not permitted in Canada.”
Ian entered the room, reluctantly removed the cuffs and led Pete from the interview room. As Gerard relieved himself with Ian standing behind him Pete said, “Look Chief, I’m done here. I gotta pick up my daughter after swim practice so I need a ride back to my car now.”
“You’re not going anywhere. We have credible evidence that you are involved in this thing and we want a statement from you.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it, Cudney. If you have evidence, charge me. Otherwise, I’m out of here. If you don’t give me a ride home I’ll take a cab.” Gerard walked out of the bathroom and headed down the hall to the elevators. Ian spotted Traci and motioned her over.
“Give him a ride home. He likes you. Maybe he’ll say something on the way.”
Ian sat brooding in his office when Constable Kelly poked his head in the door. “Good news Chief. Your idea paid off. We found the magazine from Barney’s pistol in the one of the trash baskets on the second floor. The techs are trying to pull some prints off it as we speak.”
“Excellent, Kelly! Let’s hope it’s not wiped as clean as the handgun.” Kelly nods and hurries out.
His phone buzzed and he heard the insistent voice of Graham as he answered. “What’s the progress, Cudney?” I hear that you brought in a likely suspect.”
“We got nothing out of him and had to let him go. But, we found the magazine from Barney’s gun. We’re trying for prints right now. Should know something by morning.”
“Good work. Stay on it. I want this murderer behind bars by the end of the week.”
“Yes, sir. We’ll stay on it.” But Graham had already hung up. Ian sighed and looked at the clock. Time for a couple of cocktails and dinner. This case was not how he had imagined his cruising into retirement.
The next morning Ian walked in to find Traci already at her desk. He growled at her, “Anything new?”
“Yes, we got one good thumb print off the magazine and have submitted it to the Automated Fingerprint ID System database. It came back without a match. We also submitted it to the FBI system in the US. The print’s not there either.”
Ian scratched his head. “If the print is Gerard’s or even Barney’s it would be in the database. All the Army guys are printed. Unless maybe the guys in JTF2 are not in the database.”
“JTF2?”
“You know, Canadian Special Forces… like the US Delta Force or Navy SEALs.”
“I suppose we could get Gerard in here and take his prints, see if we get a match.” Offered Traci.
“Yeah, but that would require a warrant and I don’t think we’re gonna get a judge to do that with what we’ve got now.” Ian headed for his office. “I’m going to get on the phone and start calling up the Canadian Forces. See if I can find out anything about our Mr. Gerard. You can stall Graham if he gets anxious.”
After three hours, Ian emerged from his office with anger and frustration clouding his face. He looked into Traci’s cubicle and said, “Let’s go to lunch and then drop in on Mr. Gerard.”
As they settled into a booth at Joe Kool’s and ordered drinks, Ian a pint of lager and Traci a diet Coke, Traci asked, “Well, what did the Army have to say?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I got bounced around and talked to lots of colonels, majors and many sergeants but essentially they were all telling me zip. Never heard of Pete Gerard. Or, so they said.”
“So what now?”
“Well, I’d like to drop it. The guy saved a lot of lives. Norton had over 300 rounds of .223 ammo on him when he got capped. By the time the ERT got there, a lot more people would have been dead.”
“Graham is going to insist that we pick up Gerard and bring him in for printing.”
“I know. I figured we’d do it right after lunch.”
When they got to Gerard’s apartment he wasn’t there and neither was his pickup truck. Nor was he there the rest of the afternoon and night when a patrol car cruised the parking lot. Gerard had seemingly vanished.

London Chief of Police, Stuart Sims, rummaged through his top desk drawer looking for some antacids. Between the Mayor demanding an explanation for what happened at the mall and the ranting of Graham Brantwell, his stomach boiled with acid. His phone buzzed and his secretary announced, “Chief, there’s a Ms. Smith here to see you.”
“Who?”
“Ms. Smith. She says she has an urgent personal message for you from Ottawa.”
Stuart frowned. Now what? “Send her in.”
The woman entered briskly. Tall and slender, she dressed in a serious business suit with low heels. She wore little make-up and her hair was pulled back in a severe bun. After shaking hands she presented her ID wallet that sported a bright badge and picture ID.
“CSIS? What the Hell do the spooks want with me?” A pained look caused Sims to realize the offense and he quickly added, “Sorry, Ms. Smith. You just caught me by surprise. What can I do for you?”
“Perfectly understandable Chief. I’ll get right to the point. Your department is trying to get information on Peter Gerard.”
Sims nodded. “Yes, we have reason to believe that he was involved in the shooting at the mall two days ago.”
“Yes, we know and I’m here to deliver the message that the government wants you to drop your pursuit of Mr. Gerard.”
“What! Why?”
“What I am about to tell you is Top Secret and revealing any of this is a federal crime. Understood?” Sims nodded and Smith continued, “You may have noted that there is not a lot of history on Mr. Gerard. That’s because that’s not his real name. He was a highly trained member of JTF2 and involved in numerous clandestine operations in Afghanistan. In one highly successful operation, he rescued some very important British civilians who were on a humanitarian mission and were abducted by the Taliban. He was awarded the George’s Cross, their second highest award, by a grateful Britain.”
“Wow!” Sims said. “But why is he in hiding?”
Smith held up her hand. “Gerard killed several high ranking Al Qaeda leaders in a later operation and they issued a fatwa on him and his family. He was seriously injured at that time and retired from service as a result. He received the Cross of Valor from Canada for his actions. In secret, of course.”
“What about the murder charge? Sims asked. “I’m assuming from this that he did it?”
“Of course he did it. But, I think under the circumstances most people would consider what he did a tremendous service, don’t you?”
“Yes, but I’m not the problem. My Deputy Chief is a stickler and has political ambitions.”
“We’re well aware of that. I have a message from the Prime Minister for him. Why don’t we call him in and talk it over?”
When Graham entered the room and Ms. Smith introduced herself Graham looked at her with a haughty expression. He did not approve of the clandestine service or the military so her explanation fell on deaf ears. She produced from her slim folder a hand written note from the Prime Minister explaining the situation and requesting that he back off. Graham stood angrily.

“Ms. Smith or whatever your name is….. I despise this Conservative government and its militaristic ways! When I get to the House of Commons I intend to vote to eliminate your organization, cut funding to the military and re-instate the long gun registry! I will not back off of my pursuit of the criminal that committed murder in my town!”
“Sit down, Mr. Brantwell, before you have a stroke.” Smith pulled a phone from her pocket and punched a speed dial number and set the phone in the middle of the desk. “You’re a member of the NDP, right Mr. Brantwell?” She asked. He nodded as the phone rang. “Maybe you’d like to speak to the leader of your party?”
When the phone was answered Smith spoke loudly. “Hi, Tom. I’m here in London with Chief Sims and Graham who does not think too highly of the Prime Minister’s note.”
Tom sighed. “Hi, Chief. Look, Graham, I don’t agree with Steven on very much but on this subject, we see eye to eye. Gerard is a hero and if we expose the guy and subject him to this, we will do irreparable harm to the party. The Conservatives will beat us over the head with it and we will have the Queen on our ass. A couple of the people he rescued were close to the Royal Family. Graham, I know you have political hopes but I promise you this; if you push this or breathe one word to the media you will never get elected to anything. I will see to it personally! Do you understand?”
With a pout Graham mumbled, “Yes, I got it, Tom.”
“Good. I’ll see you at the convention next summer, buy you a drink and I’ll introduce you around. Gotta go, guys.”
“Thanks, Tom.” Smith chirped.
“Well.” Chief Sims said. “What now?”
“Simple,” Smith answered, “Call in the media and tell them that after investigating you have determined that Barney fought it out with the gunman and though gravely wounded managed to kill Norton before he could murder more innocent Christmas shoppers. Quite frankly, he’s a hero.”
Graham looked glum but the Chief beamed, “Let’s make it happen, Graham.” He then looked at Smith. “I’m going to have to explain to the detectives working this case what’s going on here. They know Barney did not shoot Norton.”
“Yes, you may but you should also remind them of the secret nature of this situation and that if this leaks out I will be back looking for the culprit.”

Epilogue

Three weeks later Traci exited her grimy, ancient Toyota sedan as Pete Gerard drove his beat up F-150 into his apartment parking lot. He looked mildly surprised as she approached him. “Well, Detective Whitequill, what brings you into this neck of the woods? Not here to arrest me I hope?”
She laughed. “You saw that Barney is up for the Cross of Valor?”
“Yeah, I saw that. I’ve got a TV and everything. He deserved it and it will make his family proud. Why are you really here?”
She blushed and said, “I wanted to see if you’d have dinner with me.”
“What?” He looked shocked. “Why? Detective, I’m old enough to be your father!”
“No you’re not. I’m 28, and you can call me Traci.”
“Geeze … ah Traci, a woman that looks like you shouldn’t have any trouble attracting guys like bees to the clover patch.”
“Guys maybe, but not real men. Guys I meet are too full of themselves, only want to get their hand up your skirt and get you into bed. Too many guys with multiple earrings and too many tattoos; guys who wear perfume and moisturize and can’t walk past a mirror without admiring themselves, or married guys looking for a little something on the side. Plenty of guys like that.”
“I’m pretty beat up, Traci. Damaged goods.”
“Hey, I’m just talking about dinner here.” As he stood there considering it, she continued. “You don’t have a daughter in town you have to pick up from swim practice do you?”
He laughed and she liked hearing it. “No, but I do have a daughter. She’s 12 going on 22 and she does swim. She lives with her mum quite far from here.”
“I’ll even buy.”
“Nah, can’t have that. Tell ya what though. I’m a modern guy; we can split the cheque.”

Gun Free Zone

© Richard Draper, August 2015

Post Script:
This story was prompted by my observation that the worst of the mass shootings that plague modern society seem to happen in “gun free zones”. Gun free, that is, for everyone but the armed psycho bent on killing as many people as possible. Like the muslim terrorists, they are essentially cowards and pick the softest targets they can find. Unarmed Christmas shoppers are as easy as it gets. I also wanted to write a story that takes place in Canada, a country with some pretty restrictive gun laws, and to my Yankee readers, some unusual spelling of certain words.
I was helped in getting my facts and terminology about Canadian police procedures correct by RCMP Officer Cst. Janelle Shoihet. True, I had to stretch a couple of facts to fit the story but mostly I think I got it right. And, of course, thanks to the Blogmaster, Karen, for her suggestions in getting the ‘teen speak’ in Lucy’s dialogue accurate and for her thorough editing. Hope you liked the story.
Thanks,
Dick

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Filed under Guns, Short Stories

Mill Hollow Whitetail and Chowder Society

In the fading sunlight, Sam Bailey pulled his battered Explorer off the tarmac and on to the gravel track leading to the headquarters of the Mill Hollow Whitetail and Chowder Society. After unlocking the substantial metal gate, he wound his way back to a large log and stone structure tucked into a grove of white pines. Sam struggled to remove the heavy shutters that covered the windows and slowly unloaded the truck. He started a fire in the cold stone fireplace and poured himself a dark scotch. He sat down before the fire to catch his breath.

As the darkness crept into the cabin with only the snap and hiss of the fire as companions, Sam’s thoughts also turned dark. He struggled to change his mood by remembering the old days and the good times: The deer camps with cards and laughter filling the cabin, along with wood and cigar smoke. The redolent odor of drying wet wool hunting clothes hanging everywhere and exhausted dogs dozing contentedly by the fire. The clink of ice cubes and whiskey-lubricated merriment had echoed off the log rafters.

Most of all, he remembered his friends. But one by one his companions had grown frail and died. Only Charlie remained, housed in a nursing home over in Racine, unable to even remember his own name.

They had all had believed that the next generation would take over the Society, but inexplicably, all the children of the next generation had moved away or were uninterested in hunting and fishing. His own son, Joe, his favorite hunting and fishing buddy in the early years, had too quickly grown and moved to California where he worked for a big software company. His daughter, Sue, had married a Navy pilot and was raising a family in Florida. The offspring of all the other members had similar stories, either moving away or uninterested.

But Sam’s biggest blow had been losing his wife, Martha, two years ago. He had been utterly lost since. He sighed, drained his glass and, struggling to his feet, shuffled to the kitchen area to prepare his supper. A second scotch was required for the meal and a third for the clean up and dishes. It had become a nightly ritual and his doctor didn’t like it one bit. Frankly, he did not give a “fiddler’s fart” as his Dad used to say, what a doctor half his age thought about his alcohol consumption. What was it going to do…. Kill him?

After coaxing the fire back to life in the blackened granite fireplace, he settled into a battered cherry wood rocker. He carefully placed the scotch bottle on the end table next to his Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver and propped his feet on the hearth. This had been his routine in recent nights. Sam was trying to find that elusive niche between inebriation and consciousness where he would find the courage to join his wife and his old friends from the Mill Hollow Whitetail and Chowder Society. He had yet to find it, but the night was young. Perhaps one more scotch?

***

Dad fly fisherman

I first met Sam Bailey on a sunny mid-May morning on the Big Green River in Southwest Wisconsin. The Big Green runs out of the oak and walnut forested hills of Grant County and into the Wisconsin River about 20 miles up from where it joins the Mississippi on the relentless journey to the Gulf. The limestone soil and outcroppings along the Green’s passage provide the nutrients to produce fat brown trout and also accounts for the impressively solid antlers on the local white tail bucks.

I arrived at the Green a little late that morning and as I approached my favorite hole I could see someone had beaten me to it. It soon became clear he was an older gent and he wore clothes of another era; a checked wool shirt topped with an ancient fishing vest, canvas waders and a battered felt hat. The wicker creel that hung at his side clearly cemented him in another century. I had never seen one of those outside of fancy hunting and fishing stores where they served as wall decorations. In the modern religion of catch-and-release, a creel represented a clear sacrilege.

He worked the water with the easy efficiency of decades of wielding a fly rod, and as I sat down to watch, I could see from the smooth, slow action that it was a bamboo rod. Some Blue Olives started coming off and Sam tied on one of the delicate mayfly imitations.

He quickly hooked and released a couple of smaller fish when he noticed a heavy rise near the far bank where I was sitting. It would be a long cast, perhaps 65 feet, but the old man didn’t hesitate. He stripped long pulls off his reel and made several double hauled false casts before landing the tiny, dry fly soundlessly in the back eddy next to the grassy bank. It disappeared in a slurp and as the line snapped taut, a dazzling shower of droplets were catapulted into the sunlight along its entire length. With the reel screaming and the rod bucking, the trout powered back and forth across the pool before turning and racing upstream like a charging bull. At the end of the pool, it launched skyward and seemed levitated in the sunlight, gleaming gold with black and red spots all surrounded by a halo of sparkling spray. And then he was gone.

Sam reeled in his slack line and carefully waded the river toward me. He plunked down beside me and I could see that his hands were shaking as he pulled a scared briar pipe and worn tobacco pouch from his vest and began the ritual of filling and lighting it.

“Big fish.” I offered in horrendous understatement. “Must have been 5 lbs.”

“Yep.” He replied. “Too big for that tippet anyway.”

“Too bad.” I mumbled lamely.

“Ah well, It was fun there for about 10 seconds.” “By the way, my name’s Sam Bailey.” He offered his big rough hand that bore the wear and spots of many years and too much sun.

“I’m Kurt Jensen,” I replied.

I could see him eyeing my Winston rod and Ross reel with interest. “Nice outfit,” he said. And then looking at me directly in the eyes, “Don’t see many Black guys out here on the rivers.”

He could see that I was a little surprised and annoyed and quickly said, “Ah shit, sorry. I guess you guys like to be called African Americans now.”

“No. Mostly I like to be called Kurt and referred to as a fly fisherman,” I replied a little offended.

He chuckled. “Sorry Kurt. That was rude of me. I apologize. What do you do…? I mean for a living.”

“I’m an attorney in Milwaukee with Bigelow, Linstrom and Meyers.”

“Sure. I know that firm. I used to do a little business with old Bill Bigelow. Good guy. I was sad to hear of his passing.”

“Me too. He was the man responsible for my joining the firm.”

“You hunt?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, love to hunt grouse. Got a setter at home. A few friends and I go out for deer each year.”

“Hmmm,” replied Sam. “Let’s see you wave that high priced piece of plastic, Son. I’ll just sit here and smoke for a bit.” Sam relit his pipe and watched as I waded out into the pool and started peeling off some line. I’ve been fly-fishing since high school and pride myself on my technique, but I must admit that I was a little nervous. After about 10 minutes, I hooked a nice foot long fatty, and after a brief but furious struggle, brought him in and released him. I looked over for some praise from Sam but he had already gone.

***

I was at my desk early the following Monday–as all law associates aspiring to make partner must be–when my intercom buzzed and my secretary, Lucy, announced in her strangled valley girl voice, “Kurt, there’s a Mr. Bailey here to see you.”

I happened to be working on a routine real estate deal at the time so, intrigued, I replied, “Fine, send him in.”

Sam lumbered in, slightly hunched over, and I stood and offered my hand. He was dressed in a brown tweed sport coat that looked like vintage 1980 complete with string tie and tan slacks. His long white hair was slicked back and accentuated his ruddy complexion. He sat and refused my offer of a coffee. After staring at me for a moment, grinned and said, “Surprised to see me?”

I nodded. “What can I do for you?”

“I checked you out this weekend. The Internet is amazing. We never even had a damn phone until I was in high school so I could never have imagined what we have now.”

I just nodded wondering what was coming next. “Go on.” I said.

“I did a Google search on you and checked out your Facebook and Linkedin page. You are an interesting fellow…. Your Dad was a 30-year vet of the Milwaukee police department and your Mom an elementary teacher, three successful sisters. You’re a lucky guy to be born in those circumstances with a family like that. A lot of black kids in Milwaukee are not so lucky.” He paused to see if I’d reacted and I tried not to look pissed. Sam continued, “To your credit, you didn’t waste it. You’ve done well.”

“You have impressive computer skills.”

“Yeah, well,” He chuckled. “Full disclosure, I called my son, a computer nerd, and he walked me through it.”

“That’s all fine, Sam. But why are you here?”

“I’ve got a story to tell you and then a proposition for you to consider.”

***

My phone rang promptly at 8:00 as I was hanging up my coat. “Hello,” I chirped into the phone trying to sound business-like.

“Man, you are so predictable. I could set my watch by when you walk in the door.”

“What are you talking about? I‘ve been here for half an hour working away at my desk.”

“Bullshit, Jeff. I’ve known you since the seventh grade and you never have been anything but perfectly on time in your entire life. Never late and never early. I couldn’t figure out how you always managed to do it.”

It was Kurt Jensen, my best friend for as long as I could remember. We had gone to grade school, junior high, high school and college at the University of Wisconsin together. We had parted in grad school when I took my MBA at Marquette and Kurt had gotten his law degree at UW Madison. We got reunited in Milwaukee when Kurt joined one of our biggest law firms and I started plying my investment banker trade with the money boys on Water Street.

I asked, “What’s up calling me so early?” I thought he might want to set up a game. He regularly kicked my ass in racquetball and I cleaned his clock in one-on-one basketball, a fact that our friends found hilarious since Kurt is black and I am as white as a person can be without actually being blue.

“Lunch? Kurt asked.

“Sure,” I responded quickly. “You buying?”

“OK. Jonah’s on the Water. 12:30.” He hung up.

“That’s odd,” I thought. No quibbling about who was going to buy. Nothing. I sat back wondering.

***

As I sat fidgeting at Jonah’s, nursing an iced tea, Kurt was, as usual, late. Finally, he swung through the door and waved as he spotted me across the crowded dining room. He looked, as always, like a GQ model suddenly set loose in downtown Milwaukee. He sported an impeccably tailored tan summer weight suit, brilliant white shirt and patterned brown and gold tie. It all complimented his smooth light chocolate completion. He carried himself with such confidence that he seemed bigger than his 5’ 10” that I knew him to be, and coupled with his looks and dazzling smile, he caught the attention of every female in the room. I shook my head for it was always the same. I used to tell him… before my marriage, of course…that I would just follow him around and pick up his cast-offs.

He slid into the chair across from me, grinned and asked, “Waiting long?”

“Nope, just the usual 20 minutes.”

“Sorry, Man. Busy, busy, you know.” Before Kurt could continue the waitress showed up and Kurt glanced down at my iced tea and frowned. “Tea is not going to cut it today,” he declared. “Let us have a bottle of the Sterling Chardonnay, 2009 and take this man’s tea away immediately.”

I looked at him curiously. “What’s up Kurt? Did you discover gold in your garden? Is Darlene pregnant again? What’s gotten into you? You never drink at lunch.” I said. “Did they make you a partner?”

“Nah, maybe next year on the partnership. I’ve got an opportunity for the two of us and a few of our close friends.” Kurt raised his hands to halt my coming questions as the waitress arrived with the wine.

We went through the ritual of opening, tasting and pouring the wine and as we clinked glasses in the traditional toast I said, “OK buddy, let’s hear it.”

Kurt started by relating his encounter with Sam Bailey at the Big Green last Saturday and then began, “So Sam shows up unannounced at my office yesterday at 9:00 sharp. He sits down in my office and without much preamble says, ‘You got 6 or 7 pals who are hunters and fishermen and have a few disposable bucks in their pockets?’ And, I say, ‘Sure, so?’ He then proceeds to tell me about how he and 7 of his friends founded the Mill Hollow Whitetail and Chowder Society 49 years ago.”

“The what?” I ask.

Kurt held up his hand to stop me, “In due time, son, in due time.” He also waved off the waitress who was hovering to take our order. “We’re going to enjoy our wine for a bit.” He squinted at her name tag. “Thanks, Eileen.” He gave her his 1000-watt smile and she blushed and scampered away.

“OK. Cut the flirting and tell me what this is all about,” I grumped.

Kurt sighed and began, “Sam tells me that he’s the last of the Society members still alive. The only other survivor died this weekend at a nursing home. He’s 85 and doesn’t seem to determined to live much longer himself.” Kurt paused and took a hit of his wine. “He tells me that our firm, specifically our founding partner, Bill Bigelow, did the legal work to set up the Society originally. It was started in the early ‘60s during the period when farmland prices, especially for marginal farmland, were in the toilet. Sam and his friends bought 400 acres of bottomland on the Wisconsin River and the surrounding hills for a song from a bank that had foreclosed on the property.”

I took a sip of the chard and raised my hand to slow Kurt down, “Where does this chowder and marching society come in?”

“Whitetail and Chowder Society. Pay attention.”

“OK. Proceed, Councilor.”

“Bill set up this society and made a deal with the Wisconsin DNR, under certain stipulations: That they would provide an easement for fishermen to have access to the trout stream that flows through the property; that they would do no actual farming or grazing on the property and that they would maintain it in a natural state. The society was grandfathered in on a reduced real estate tax rate but the kicker is…if the society ceased to exist the title of the property would revert to the state to turn into public hunting land.”

I sat there a little confused while Kurt let that sink in. “Why is he coming to you? What about the kids of the original members?”

“All gone. Some dead, many moved away and some not interested. I guess the members had a lot of girls. We better have the water supply checked out there,” he replied thoughtfully.”

“So why us? Or more specifically, why you?”

“Us. Sam wants the two of us to recruit 5 or 6 more guys our age to take over the…”

“Marching and Chowder Society?” I interrupted. Kurt gave me the Don’t-Be-A-Smartass look.

“Well, here’s the catch. Sam’s proposing that we agree to use some of the time during the summers to turn it into a sort of camp for under privileged kids from Milwaukee.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, not completely. We have to take over the taxes and maintenance plus continue to follow the obligations of the original agreement with the state.”

“This deal goes on in perpetuity?”

“Nope. It’s a 100-year deal. Expires in 2062.”

“Holy shit! I can think of five guys off the top of my head who would jump at this deal.”

“I can too, but let’s consider carefully because we will be stuck with each other for a long time in this deal.” Kurt refilled our glasses and started to tick off some names. “By the way, he wants to meet us out at the property on Saturday morning at noon when he gets back from trout fishing.” He waved his hand at Eileen who had been keeping her eye on us and she came running.

***

Kurt and I followed Sam’s directions to the driveway of the Mill Hollow Whitetail and Chowder Society property. He was waiting for us at the end of the dirt track in his dusty Explorer. He started up his truck and motioned for us to follow him.

The classic log and stone house had the look of a structure that had been built in many stages over the years by people who had vastly different architectural theories. Sam unlocked the substantial oak door and swung through the door to turn off the alarm system. “We had a few burglaries and vandalism incidents over the years so we installed a very sophisticated system of video cameras, motion detectors and alarms.”

“Does it work? This place is pretty far away from any police service.” Kurt asked.

“Pretty much. The system rings up a couple of the neighbors who we keep on our good graces with some generous Christmas gifts and word gets around.”

We walked into the cavernous main room, dominated by a huge, rustic stone fireplace that was adorned by a mounted moose head. “You shoot that sucker on this property, Sam?” I asked nodding toward the moose.

“Sure.” He grinned. “I’ll show you the spot up on the ridge later.”

The log living room seemed to be the original cabin with a kitchen and bedroom wings tacked on at a later date. Mounts of huge whitetail bucks, mallards, wood ducks and grouse with a few duck art painting interspersed formed the decorating theme. “You two can wander around and see the rest of the place while I dig out some of the paperwork.” Turning to my buddy, he said, “Kurt, did you bring along the original legal documents setting up the club?”

“Yep. Got them out in the truck.”

“OK, after you’ve had your look around we can sit down and go over everything.”

Ten minutes later we gathered around the dining room table and scattered various files and books between us. “Kurt, you have the signed agreements from the new members, right? These fellows presumably understand their legal, financial and moral obligations that are spelled out in the charter. In addition, here are the Society rules and traditions.” Sam slid a thin, leather bound book across the table at us.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“These have evolved over the years by consensus. Not legally binding, but hopefully things the new members will continue to honor.”

I opened the book and glanced at the first page. “I see the first entry is about gun safety.”

“Yep. Other than failing to hold up your financial end or screwing another member’s wife, violating the gun safety rules is the one thing that can get you kicked out of the Society. Accidental discharge of a firearm, bringing a loaded gun into the cabin, or carrying one in a vehicle are grounds for automatic expulsion.”

Kurt and I looked at each other and nodded. “Sounds good to me.” I said.

“The rest of the stuff is in there and you can read it and pass it on to the other new members. By the way, in the back is the recipe for our traditional chowder. Each year a designated guy has to prepare a large vat of the chowder for the opening day of deer season. It’s for lunch. I’ll show you the hidey hole where we keep that book and some other stuff too before we leave.” He rose and headed for the door. “Come on, I’ll show you the boats and ATVs.”

A large metal pole building stood a short distance from the cabin. Inside stood a substantial pile of fireplace wood, four Lund aluminum fishing boats and three ATVs of various vintages. Sam waved his hand to the corner where three 25-horse Mercury outboards stood on a rack. “None of those have been used in several years so you should probably have them serviced before you let anyone go out on the river. While you’re at it, oughta have the ATVs checked too.”

“Can we get a look at the river access?” Kurt asked.

“Sure. Good idea. If you’re going to bring kids out here this summer there’s pretty good walleye and bass fishing and a nice swimming hole. Probably be a popular spot.”

We strolled about 100 yards down the path leading to a grassy clearing on the bank of the gently flowing Wisconsin River. A rolling dock stood well back from the sandy beach and the deep hole beyond. Sam pointed to one of the wooded islands that checkered the wide river and said, “Those islands out there have some potholes that the mallards love during the migration and you can get some great wood duck shooting early in the fall.”

Sam led us back to the cabin and we stood in front of a large map on the wall. He pointed out another gate on the other side of the county road and the trail leading up to the hardwood covered hills that had been the ancient river bank during the glacial floods. “Nice campsite here by the creek. When you bring kids out that might be a good place to set up. There are some pretty good brown trout in the creek, although it’s tough to fly fish it. The kids used to do well drifting a night crawler down into the deeper holes.”

I pointed to a number of red stars scattered across the map. “What are these, Sam?” I asked.

“Permanent deer stands.” He replied. “You can see there’re not too far off the ATV trails that run throughout the property.”

Sam showed us where all the keys were stashed, gave us the security code and the names of the neighbors and left us to fire up one of the ATVs and take a tour of the property. When we got back, he was gone.

***

We traveled in convoy. Kurt rode with me in my Suburban in the lead and the other six members of the Mill Hollow Whitetail and Chowder Society followed in two SUVs. Kurt hadn’t said much until we got past Madison and were passing by Barneveld, the site of a nasty tornado that wiped out the town back in the early 80s. “Sam came to me and had me re-write his will shortly after we took over the society.” He said.

“You read the will when his kids were here for the funeral, right?”

“Yep. But he also included a letter to me and that’s the reason we are all going out to the cabin today.”

“I was wondering what all the mystery was about. No wives, no kids, no dogs and all members present on a nothing happening Saturday.” I replied.

I turned on to the country road that paralleled the Wisconsin River and slowed to follow its narrow, winding course. As we passed the entrance to the upland part of the property Kurt glanced up at the sign above the gate that read SAM BAILEY YOUTH CAMP. “I’m glad Sam got to see us get a bunch of kids out here this summer before he passed.” He said.

“Me too. I think he got a real kick out of seeing those kids swimming in the river and learning how to fish. By the way, it was a master stroke getting your Dad and his retired cop friends to do the bulk of the work.” Kurt flashed me a grin with those dazzlingly white teeth of his and popped his seat belt as I turned into the driveway that leads to the cabin.

Twenty minutes later we were all clustered around the foot of the dock that extended out into the river. Kurt carried the urn and a bouquet of daisies and I held a polished wooden box. He stepped up on the dock gazed at us and began, “Sam asked me to bring us all down here after the funeral and consign his ashes to the river. He figured they would eventually make it down to the ocean and get back into the food chain. He also said he was looking forward to joining his wife. I’m not sure how exactly those two things work together but that was his wish and we’re honoring it.”

“Sam told me he was glad that all the new members of the Society were joining at the same time and were about the same age. He thought we would develop our own traditions but hoped we’d keep some of the old ones.” He nodded at me. “Jeff.”

I opened the box and started passing out small crystal glasses and then a dark bottle of Hennessey brandy. As I poured a generous shot in everyone’s glass Kurt continued, “Sam explained that somewhere in the early days of the Society they had purchased this bottle and the idea was to open it when the last of the original members died. The thinking was that the Society would be adding members as they went along. Since that didn’t happen it’s up to us.”

He raised his glass. “To Sam Bailey and the Mill Hollow Whitetail and Chowder Society!”

To a chorus of “Here, Here!” we all downed the amber liquid and grimaced. Fifty additional years of aging hadn’t done it any favors. It might be useful for lighting fires. Kurt handed me his glass and walked to the end of the dock where he opened the urn and began spilling Sam’s ashes into the river. The light breeze scattered some of the dust and Kurt tossed the daisies into the rest. A small swirling eddy of current caught the ashes and flowers and sent them spinning toward the shore.

“Looks like Sam’s in no hurry to leave,” quipped Mike. We all stared at him for breaking the solemn mood and then we all burst out laughing. As we trooped back down the path to the cabin I thought, “Sam would have gotten a kick out of that.”

***

Copyright 2014 Richard Draper

Alert readers may notice that this story is told from different Points Of View as it goes along.  It was intentional.  I had written several short stories before I purchased a book on ‘how to write a short story’.  I’d never really thought about it much…. just did it.  It’s kinda like a golf swing, if you think about it too much you can’t do it.  Anyway, I found the chapter on POV interesting and decided to play with it a bit in this tale.  I did not read far enough in that chapter to find out if switching POV back and forth in the same story is a no-no.  Probably is, but who cares.  Let me know if you find the flipping back and forth confusing or if you think the story is crap.

DD

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Duck Hook

Doug Smithwood stood on the sixth fairway of the Deer Hollow Golf Club gazing up at a red tailed hawk carving lazy circles in a perfect azure sky. He was not so much interested in the hawk as in not looking at his playing partner’s swing. John Stein was a client and played golf with him once a week. It was a big sacrifice, but to keep John’s business, a painful necessity.

John’s swing, which was only slightly better than Charles Barkley’s, annoyed Doug but he also played so slowly that Doug nearly went mad waiting for him. His pre-shot routine surpassed that of the pros playing the final hole of the US Open.

He carefully lined up each shot, plumb bobbed the fairway, took four or five practice swings and waggled and re-gripped like Sergio. Then the mighty lunge at the ball, that invariably screamed down the fairway about eight inches off the ground, usually winding up anywhere but the short grass. Then the same thing all over again for each-and-every-shot. The one good thing you could say about John’s game: his pre-shot routine stayed consistent. A fast round for the two of them was about 5 1/2 hours. The golf club usually left five or six tee times open behind them to prevent mayhem on the course. John spent heavily in the bar and had donated the engraved granite tee-box signs so everyone made allowances.

Doug endured this torture because John had all his personal and company business with his insurance firm, and John, ever cautious, had a lot of insurance; life, health, disability, fire, theft, auto and liability…lots and lots of liability. He even had a ridiculously expensive policy to pay off the IRS estate taxes to preserve his fortune for his two lazy and ungrateful children. A meteorite could strike his Cadillac Escalade in the club parking lot and he would be well covered.

Doug played a pretty fair game of golf, except, of course, when he played with John. His usual handicap of 10 swelled by a dozen strokes on these dreaded Tuesdays, meaning that even with the strokes he had to give John, he still wound up buying dinner and drinks. Doug wrote it off as “client golf” but nonetheless suffered the weekly ritual.

While some might dispute it, Doug thought of himself as a reasonably good-looking man. At least he told himself that each morning as he gazed into the mirror. At just under six feet and lean, or skinny, depending on the light, he tried to imitate the casual stroll of Freddie Couples. He had sandy hair that at 45 showed some thinning. A careful comb-over disguised the worst of it. A lot of days on the golf course in summer and three weeks in Florida in winter, not to mention the odd trip to the tanning salon gave his somewhat irregular features a healthy glow. A weak chin and close-set eyes torpedoed any hope of making the sexiest men of the year list. The eyes he simply covered up by wearing sunglasses rain or shine. The chin? Well, not much could be done about that. He tried a beard, but it grew in clumps, like bunch grass in the high desert. He practiced jutting it out in front of the mirror. It didn’t help. As he often said to himself, “Well, you’re no Hugh Jackman, but you’ll do.”

The towns folk found his vanity harmless, if a bit amusing, and he was generally liked and regarded as honest; an essential character trait for a small town businessman. His insurance business thrived on that opinion and perhaps more so because of his sexy office manager, Melanie.

On this Tuesday, as he stared unseeing at the hawk, he thought wistfully about the lovely Melanie. In the midst of this revelry, a ball struck by the beefy arms of Dr. Eberley, the town’s veterinarian, screeched in a nasty arching hook from the adjacent fifth fairway and collided with Doug’s skull. Witnesses later remarked that it sounded like it had hit one of the substantial oaks that lined the fairways of Deer Hollow. Some uncharitably thought that “oak” pretty much described the consistency of Doug’s head. The impact caused the instant liquefaction of his skeleton and he flopped to the turf like a jellyfish tossed on the shore.

John, of course, missed the whole thing. The loud thwack occurred in the middle of John’s backswing and subconsciously altered his swing such that he struck the ball perfectly. It sailed high and straight, landing softly on the sixth green and rolled to five feet from the pin. Clearly, he had just executed the best shot of his entire life. He screamed with joy and began leaping in the air, waving his arms like a Zulu warrior. After several moments of wild celebration, John turned toward Doug to receive his praise. Only then, spotting his friend inert on the ground, did he realize he probably should go see what was up. But, first things first. He retrieved his divot, stomped it into place, carefully wiped off his five iron and placed it in his golf bag before climbing into the cart to drive over to Doug.

By that time, Doc Eberley and his playing partner, Joe, were already sprinting toward Doug’s lifeless body. Doc was in the lead and the ground trembled as the ex-Notre Dame offensive guard lumbered to the fallen golfer.

“Call 911!” gasped Doc as John’s cart skidded to a stop beside them. Doc gently rolled Doug onto his back, checked his pulse and peeled back his eyes for a peek.

“What happened?” Asked John.

“I hit a duck hook and apparently hit Doug in the head. Look at that lump on the side of his head.”

“Uh, oh,” muttered Joe. He, above all, knew Doc attacked the golf ball like he would a home invading terrorist and that when he got his 320 pounds behind a shot, anything in the path of the ball was in danger. “He gonna live?”

“I dunno. I’m a vet not a doctor, you asshole.”

“Hey look”, exclaimed John. “There’s your ball Doc! I think you have a pretty good angle to the green from here.” Doc swung his huge head toward John, his beefy face red from exertion and stress. He opened his mouth to speak and then turned his gaze back to Doug and shook his head in disgust.

They all turned in the direction of the clubhouse as the sound of a siren carried on the wind. “They’ll be here soon”, Doc said. He bent down to check Doug’s pulse and breathing again.

“Hey guys, you want to join up to finish the round after they haul Dougie away?” asked John.

“You must be kidding. We got a guy here who may die ‘cause I hit him with my golf ball and you want to keep playing?! He’s your friend, for Christ’s sake!”

“Well, shit, I’m layin’ two up there on number six and I don’t get many chances at a birdie.” John gave a stubborn pout and turned away.

“I’m going to the hospital and I’m going to call his wife… Maryanne, is it?”

“I’m going to the bar,” Joe mumbled.

The ambulance careened into view, lights flashing and sirens blasting. It fishtailed alarmingly as it accelerated toward them. The ambulance raced up the middle of the fairway and skidded to a stop, tearing up 20 yards of turf. The two EMTs jumped out and ran up to the group. “Whataya got, Doc?” the tall driver asked.

“Hit in the head with a golf ball. Hasn’t moved since. Pulse weak and eyes dilated,” replied the vet.

“OK, you guys stand back. We’ll take it from here.” The golfers moved off to watch the EMTs check Doug’s blood pressure and pulse before loading him into the ambulance, and with sirens wailing, stormed back down the sixth fairway. Three golf carts pulled up containing the head pro, marshal and several clubhouse hangers on. They all strode quickly up to Doc.

“What happened?” They all shouted in unison.

“I wonder how many times we’ll get to tell this story?” muttered Joe.

“I’m outta here guys,” shouted John as he mounted his golf cart and drove off in the direction of the sixth green and the inevitable three putt.

Doug lay inert in a hospital bed with a Circuit City inventory of electrical equipment beeping and flashing behind him. A nurse was checking his pulse when his wife, Maryanne, swept into the room like an overweight model from the Mother Earth Catalogue. “Is he going to live?” she demanded.

The nurse turned, both startled and curious at the substance and tone of the question. ‘It almost sounds like she’s hoping for a negative response.’ She thought. “Sorry Mrs. Smithwood, I’m not allowed to discuss the condition of patients. You will have to wait for the Dr. Tyabji. He should be here in a couple of minutes.” Maryanne started pacing impatiently up and down at the foot of the bed. Nurse Jones found it odd that Mrs. Smithwood never once looked at her husband or went to his side. She stole sidelong glances at the wife to size her up more carefully. Maryanne stood about 5’6” with a stocky build tending to fat. The auburn hair cut in a short, straight pageboy framed her chubby face that was devoid of make up. The mannish clothes didn’t do her any good, the nurse mused…. ‘Sorta looks like Kathy Bates.’

Dr. Tyabji burst into the room like a greyhound out of the gate, startling them both. “Ah, you must be Mrs. Smithwood!” Tyabji said. His face weaved in a broad grin and his glasses slid dangerously down his long slender nose as he spoke. “I think I have good news.” Nurse Jones noticed a slight frown ghost across Maryanne’s face like the shadow of a vulture before a weak smile creased her chunky features. “Yes, indeed,” continued the doctor in his crisp Indian accent. “We have given your husband an extensive series of tests including a CAT scan, and while he has a slight skull fracture and some minor brain swelling, which we are treating, of course, we are quite confident that he will make a full recovery.”

“But Doctor, he’s still unconscious.”

“Yes, quite. However, you must remember that he has received a severe blow to the head with some minor brain swelling, as I mentioned. When the swelling subsides,” (a difficult word for the good doctor) “he will regain consciousness. I would estimate within 24 hours he’ll be back with us.”

“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll be back tomorrow.” With that, Maryanne turned and stomped from the room. Tyabji turned to the Nurse and they both shrugged.

The next morning Doug’s best friend and personal attorney, Larry Corcoran, sat in Doug’s room talking quietly with Melanie Kulkowski, Doug’s office manager. For the last two hours Larry had been trying his best not to look at Melanie’s shapely legs clearly displayed by her very short skirt. She liked to wear them short and tight, and favored open toed high-heeled sandals. Melanie also preferred to show ample amounts of her considerable cleavage. Thus, whenever he shifted his gaze from her cornflower blue eyes, Larry was confronted with tempting glimpses of Melanie’s considerable assets. Despite her stunning body, Melanie came up a surprising dollar short of being beautiful. It was something about her face that no one could quite figure out.

With her long blond hair and preference for revealing costumes, it would be easy to conclude that Melanie was just another witless bimbo. Larry knew otherwise. He knew that behind the façade of the ditzy blond lurked a shrewd intelligence and keen judgment. She ran Doug’s office with the efficiency of a Chief Boatswain’s mate and the charm of an English hostess. She was obviously very concerned about Doug and every few seconds glanced his way as she twisted a damp wad of Kleenex in her lap.

Doug mumbled something incoherent and began thrashing around in the bed. Larry and Melanie jumped up simultaneously and nearly knocked each other over. “Get the doctor!” Larry shouted as he lunged for the bed to restrain Doug. Even as he grabbed him, Larry watched Melanie’s magnificent derriere bunching rhythmically under the snug skirt as she rushed to the door, high heels clattering. He gave a guilty sigh.

Doug had his eyes open and stared up at Larry in confusion as Dr. Tyabji and the Nurse Jones rushed into the room with Melanie right on their heels.

“Ah, Mr. Smithwood, I see you have decided to rejoin us,” beamed Tyabji. Doug, mouth agape, shifted his eyes from one person to another in obvious confusion. “Calm yourself, Mr. Smithwood. You are in the hospital. You were brought here from the golf course where you were struck on the head by a golf ball. Do you remember playing golf?” Doug slowly shook his head no.

“Do you recognize me, Doug?” asked Larry.

Doug studied him carefully as if he were studying mug shots. His brow creased in concentration for a long moment before he shrugged, “No idea.”

“I’m your best friend, Larry. We went to school together… K through 12. I’m also your attorney.

“Sorry. No clue. My name is ‘Doug’?”

“How about me?” Melanie piped in, thrusting forward her unforgettable chest. “I’m your office manager.” Doug’s eyes traveled from Melanie’s face to her generously filled blouse, down to the ringless fingers gripping the bed rail, and back.

“Nope. Nothing. Sorry.”

“Well,” interrupted Dr. Tyabji, “Temporary amnesia is not unusual in cases like yours Mr. Smithwood. You received a nasty crack on the noggin, as they say. Your memory will return in a day or two and then you will be as good as new. For now, that’s quite enough. I think you two should move along and let Mr. Smithwood get some rest. You can come back tomorrow. The nurse will give you a little something to relax, Mr. Smithwood. I will look in on you later.”

Larry and Melanie reluctantly moved to the door and were nearly run over by Maryanne and one Stephen Cotter, Pastor of the New Hope and Commitment Church. Tall, serious, sporting a graying van dyke and ridiculously slender sunglasses, Cotter nodded a greeting at Larry and Melanie. ‘Asshole’, thought Larry. Doug had confessed one night after a few too many beers that he thought the church was a cult. On one of those drunken evenings he’s said they should call it “The Church of What’s Happening Now”.

Maryanne had joined five years ago and had become obsessed with the place, spending all her time there. She had let herself go, gaining 50 pounds and refusing to wear feminine clothes or make up. Their sex life regressed from “not too often” to “never”. And, as Maryanne gave increasing amounts of money to the church, the battles over money escalated to epic wars. Larry had grilled Doug repeatedly on whether he was bonking the charming Melanie who obviously held more than feelings of respect for her boss. Doug had vehemently denied ever touching Melanie and said he respected his marriage vows. Larry believed him. Doug held out the hope that she would get over this fixation with the church. Larry, being the cynical lawyer, remained convinced that Maryanne was doing more on her knees than praying with the slimy pastor. He thought Doug likely shared this suspicion.

Maryanne glared at Melanie and growled, “Out of my way, Ms. Kulkowski.” They’d known each other for eight years and never managed to get beyond the formal form of address.

“You shouldn’t go in there, Mrs. Smithwood. He’s awake but the doctor wants him to rest now.”

“Bullshit!” Maryanne swept Melanie aside with an effortless swing of her thick arm and lurched through the door. She immediately collided with the slight Tyabji knocking him on his backside. As he skidded to a stop on the polished floor, his stethoscope spun to the floor, his glasses dangled from one ear and his careful comb over flopped over his eyes. He uttered a loud expletive, probably in Punjabi, and gave Maryanne a black scowl.

“M-M-Mrs. Smithwood, you must leave. I will speak to you in the hall.”

Maryanne ignored him and stomped to the foot of the bed. “So, you’re awake.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m your wife, Turkey. Don’t pretend you don’t know who I am.”

“Get out of my room. I have no idea who you are.”

“Mrs. Smithwood,” Tyabji pleaded, “I must insist. Your husband needs no stress at this time. You must leave at once.”

“Butt out, Dr. Curry Powder!” Maryanne shouted.

Pastor Cotter eased up next to Maryanne and gently grasped her arm. “Let’s go Mary. He needs to rest.” She relaxed, shot Doug a final glower and then let Cotter lead her out the door like an obedient dog. Tyabji looked at Larry and Melanie standing stunned in the doorway and raised his arms, palms up in the international sign of “beats me”.

“Mary?” Muttered Melanie, “That’s weird!”

Larry and Melanie strolled down the hospital corridor heading for the exit. “She hates my guts,” observed Melanie. Larry stood a head taller than Melanie even in her high heels. It afforded him an excellent angle to admire the delightfully mysterious valley between her breasts.

“Why’s that?” he asked without much interest.

“You’re staring at my tits, Larry…”

“Sorry, Melanie.” He flushed a bright crimson and cleared his throat in embarrassment.

“I think you’re gaping at a couple of reasons.” She replied dryly.

Doug awoke when the first glimmer of dawn brightened his window. He tried to open his mouth and discovered his tongue felt and tasted like a dried buffalo chip. He turned and reached for the plastic cup of water on the side table and the motion provoked a headache that pounded like a huge Japanese drum. After taking a few gulps he lay back on the pillows and began to think.

Where am I? Hospital. Golf ball. Check.

Who am I? Douglas R. Smithwood. Check.

Where do I live? 527 Maple Grove Drive. Check.

What do I do? Own an insurance agency. Check

Who is my wife? Maryanne. Check.

Who is my best friend? Larry. Check.

Who is Melanie? Hmmm. Check.

He closed his eyes trying to ignore the throbbing pain and feared that his skull was about to explode. As he pondered his circumstances and his current situation, a crude and diabolical plan started to take shape. Despite the pain, he smiled.

The next morning Doug had just pushed aside his breakfast tray when Dr. Tyabji walked into the room followed by Maryanne. She was attired in her usual costume of bib overalls, a green, waist-length, cloth coat and work shoes. Doug stared at his wife, his eyes wide and his mouth twisted in the distorted oval of horror. “Good morning, Mr. Smithwood,” chirped the ever-cheerful Tyabji. And, seeing the look on his face, “Are you alright?” Doug gaped open mouthed at Maryanne as the doctor continued. “I have great news, Mr. Smithwood. We are discharging you this morning. You can continue your recovery at home. I am confident that your memory will ret……”

Doug broke him off with a scream. “Noooooo!!! She wants to cut off my legs!” He flailed and thrashed as his screams assaulted their ears. The breakfast tray went flying sending plate, cup and silverware scattering in all directions. An IV stand next to the bed crashed to the floor and skidded to Tyabji’s feet as Doug continued screaming at the top of his lungs.

“Out, Mrs. Smithwood,” shouted Tyabji. “Out, out, out!!” Maryanne bolted for the door, narrowly avoiding another head on collision with a nurse and orderly that were rushing in. All three grabbed Doug who went limp once Maryanne had left.

“She wants to cut off my legs!” He moaned as tears welled in his eyes. “She wants to tie me to the bed and cut off my legs! She’s crazy! Keep her away from me…. Please!”

“Now, now, Mr. Smithwood. Everything is fine now. You just relax.” He nodded at the orderly who jabbed a needle in Doug’s arm. In seconds the drugs delivered Doug to a quieter world.

The doctor left the room muttering with his head down in deep thought. As Nurse Jones approached he asked, “Is Mrs. Smithwood still here?”

“No, Doctor. She ran straight out the door.”

Dr. Tyabji walked briskly down the hall to his office. He punched in a number on his phone and sat back in his chair. “Dr. Goldstein, please. Thank you.” He waited. “Ira. Ashok here. Fine, thank you. Look Ira, I have an unusual case here and was hoping you could stop by this afternoon? Sure, 4 o’clock would be fine. Yes, thanks.”

At mid-morning the next day, Larry and Melanie sat in the waiting room of the hospital as Dr. Ira Goldstein approached. He was dressed in a natty checked suit, tailored white shirt and a red bow tie. The bushy mustache and dark rimmed glasses vaguely reminded Larry of a younger and better-dressed version of Joseph Stalin. After introductions and identifying himself as the clinical psychiatrist called in on Doug’s case, Dr. Goldstein got down to business. “Mr. Corcoran, I am told you are Mr. Smithwood’s attorney?” Larry nodded. “Do you have power of attorney?”

Again, Larry nodded and added, “Yes, I do.”

“Good. Well, here’s the situation. Mr. Smithwood seems to have developed a case of trauma induced paranoid schizophrenia.”

“What?!” they both responded in unison.

“Yes, regrettably. He seems to have developed an unnatural fear of his wife. I met with his wife and I think I have discovered the root of these fears.” Larry and Melanie leaned forward. “I noticed that she bears a striking resemblance to Kathy Bates as she looked in the movie ‘Misery’.”

“Huh?” exclaimed Larry.

“You know, Larry. The movie with James Caan. Bates kept cutting off body parts to keep him around,” Melanie explained.

“Precisely, Ms. Kulkowski.” Replied Ira, sneaking a peek at the restless puppies undulating under Melanie’s sheer silk blouse. “The amnesia is blocking his normal memory, so his deep subconscious fears are coming to the surface. Apparently the movie made a lasting impression on him. However, given time for Mr. Smithwood’s injuries to heal and treatment, I think we can manage a full recovery for him. Umm, he does have adequate medical coverage, I assume.”

“Yes, Doctor. He’s an insurance executive,” said Melanie.

“This hospital is not a suitable environment for treatment of this type of illness. I would like to recommend the Greentree Rehabilitation Center over in Avalon. It’s an excellent facility with plenty of activities and a first rate staff. No high maintenance patients, if you know what I mean. I think he would be very comfortable there, and quite convenient for me to continue his treatment. What do you say Mr. Corcoran? Shall we sign the paperwork now and get Mr. Smithwood on his way to recovery?”

“What about Maryanne… his wife?” asked Larry.

“Well Mr. Corcoran, since Mr. Smithwood is incapacitated and you have his power of attorney, you are tasked with the responsibility of acting in his best interests. His wife really has no say in the matter.”

“OK. I guess long term care is what’s best for him,” Larry replied sadly. “Can we see him and explain this to him?”

“Of course. I think that would be appropriate. I’ll see you in the waiting room when you are ready.”

Larry and Melanie slipped quietly into Doug’s room. He was awake and watching a baseball game on TV with the sound muted. “Hi Doug,” said Larry. Melanie waved. Doug just nodded. “I suppose you don’t remember us?” He shook his head. “Look Doug, the doctors think you’d be better off in a place where you could relax and get well, some place other than this damn hospital. That OK with you?” Doug simply nodded. “Alright, buddy, we’ll take care of it. We gotta run now so you just take it easy, man. We want you to get well soon.”

As Melanie followed Larry out the door she turned back to look at Doug. Tears blurred her vision as she stepped out the door. She stopped, stood motionless and thought, ‘Did he just wink at me? Nah.’ As Larry headed down the hall to meet with Ira, she turned back and opened the door, peering around it. Doug was grinning at her… a big shit-eating grin. He waved and winked again. She shut the door and said aloud, “Damn!” With heels clicking on the hard floor, she pulled out her Blackberry and typed, “Larry, we gotta meet.”

Maryanne sat across from Pastor Cotter in the curiously over decorated living room of his rectory house. She was garbed in her usual costume while Cotter sported a carefully tailored dark suit, custom made shirt and red Hermes tie.

“That asshole Corcoran signed the papers to get Doug committed. He’s going over to Greentree in Avalon.” Spat Maryanne.

“What’s the diagnosis?” asked Cotter.

“Paranoid schizophrenia from the crack on the head. At least that’s what the Jew psychologist, Goldstein, thinks.”

“Psychiatrist.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Look, maybe this is the answer to your prayers. Let him sit there for a few months and then file for divorce on the grounds of loss of companionship and sexual services.”

“Ha. What sex?” Maryanne snorted.

“Hear me out. Whether he recovers or not you can still claim the same grounds. Keep in mind that his insurance and settlements for his injuries, plus his other assets will amount to a considerable amount of money. You should be able to get at least half, especially with the right attorney.”

“Go on. I’m listening.”

“We have an excellent lawyer representing the church. I’m sure I can convince him to take your case free of charge, assuming, of course, that you would go ahead with that large donation to the church we discussed.” Cotter looked up with a benign expression.

“Deacon Mary?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“You’re brilliant, Stephen! I love this plan.”

“Wonderful. I’ll call Eldridge in the morning.”

“Er, Stephen…. Right now I’m so excited I think I need something to relax.”

“Were you thinking a drink or something more ah, physically relaxing?” Cotter made an obvious effort to adjust the bulge in his trousers. She caught the move and smiled shyly.

“Do you think we could change into the white silk prayer robes? The sensation of the silk against my skin makes me feel very spiritual.”

“Of course, Dear. Let me fetch them.”

Judge Harry Blackburn lumbered into the conference room like the big bear that he resembled. He carried himself with the round-shouldered slouch of large, heavy men. Peering over the glasses perched on his prominent and very red nose, he twitched his Groucho-like eyebrows and rumbled, “Good Morning, folks. I am Judge Blackburn and we are here today to consider the matter of the divorce between Mr. and Mrs. Smithwood and the disposition of assets in that divorce. All parties have agreed that my decisions will be final. Correct?” He glanced around the table for agreement. They all nodded in agreement.

“You folks will have to answer verbally so the steno can record your answers.” They all responded with a muted ‘yes’.

“Mr. Corcoran, I understand you will be acting for Mr. Smithwood who is indisposed and currently residing at Greentree. I have a copy of the power of attorney authorizing you to do so among the other documents provided to the court in this matter.” He glanced at Larry who voiced his agreement. The Judge flipped open a file and hummed to himself, his eyebrows bobbing like two mating marmots as he shuffled the papers within.

“Mr. Eldridge, in addition to representing Mrs. Smithwood I understand that you are also the attorney for the New Hope and Commitment Church. Are you here representing any interest for the church in this matter?”

“Oh no, Your Honor. As you know, an attorney has many varied clients. The church’s interests are not an issue here.”

“Then you see no conflict of interest with this case?”

“No, of course not, Your Honor.”

“Good. Then in the interest of full disclosure I should state that I had my grand daughter abducted from that same church and sent to deprogramming. I am happy to state that she is doing well now and is a sophomore at Colgate. This presents no problem for you I expect, Mr. Eldridge?”

“Ah…..” Eldridge hesitated and frowned. Thinking.

“Come, come, Mr. Eldridge. We both have a past experience with the church but it is in no way connected to this case. Right?”

“No, certainly not Your Honor.” The judge glanced over at the court stenographer who nodded slightly. Maryanne shot Eldridge a worried look.

“Very well, then. I have read the doctor’s reports on Mr. Smithwood’s condition, especially the extensive file submitted by Dr. Goldstein who has been treating Mr. Smithwood for the past six months. It appears that his condition has not improved and the prognosis is that he will remain as he is now for the balance of his life.” He again glanced at Larry who responded.

“Yes, Your Honor, all medical authorities recommend permanent long-term care. Therefore, I….”

“It’s bullshit!” Maryanne interrupted. “He’s faking it. He just wants all the money and that won’t leave any for the chur–OOOOPH.” Eldridge had jabbed a sharp elbow into Maryanne’s ribs. She glared at him with angry porcine eyes.

“What my client means, Your Honor, is that she feels the division of assets, as proposed by Mr. Corcoran, are unreasonable and will not allow her to live in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.” Eldridge smiled at the Judge who was frowning skeptically.

“I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here,” offered the Judge. “Why don’t we let Mr. Corcoran lay out the assets in question and his proposals and then we can have that conversation? Proceed, Mr. Corcoran.”

“Thank you, Your Honor. As you know from the report, Mr. Smithwood had two insurance policies for disability: one for a catastrophic occurrence, i.e. his total inability to function; and another under his medical policy for long-term care. In addition, there is the award from the suit against Dr. Eberly for his errant golf ball and the settlement with the golf ball and club manufacturers as well as the Deer Hollow Golf Club. Since he can no longer manage his insurance business, I have negotiated the sale of that business.”

The Judge smiled. “You have been busy Mr. Corcoran.”

“Yes, Your Honor. Everyone seemed quite happy to settle this matter quickly.”

Maryanne jumped from her chair and slapped away her lawyers restraining hand. “You assholes are being conned. Doug is no nuttier than I am,” she shouted.

Judge Blackburn slowly raised his pale blue eyes and stared at Maryanne. “That seems to be a matter for some debate, Madam. Now sit down and kindly shut up. Continue, Mr. Corcoran.”

“Thank you, Your Honor. I have proposed placing these assets in the trust fund established for Mr. Smithwood’s care. He is quite a young man and the costs of hospitalization and treatment over many, many years will be considerable. A projection of these costs prepared by a firm specializing in this area is attached to my proposal.”

“I object,” interrupted Maryanne’s lawyer.

“You can’t object, Mr. Eldridge” the Judge responded. “This is not a courtroom. You have no jury to impress with theatrics here.” Eldridge slumped in his chair.

Larry continued, “I have further proposed that Mr. Smithwood’s other assets; his house, summer cottage, two automobiles, boat, stock portfolio and 401K be allocated to Mrs. Smithwood. The value of these assets is in excess of $1.5 million dollars and should sustain her comfortably for the rest of her life..”

Maryanne howled in protest, “This is robbery! He gets nearly $8 million dollars and I get screwed! This is a scam!”

The Judge turned his steely gaze at Maryanne. “Mrs. Smithwood, I should point out that it was YOU who petitioned for divorce. Now then, I have carefully studied this matter and thoroughly reviewed the figures with full consideration of Mr. Smithwood’s requirements. I am entering a ruling that the divorce is final and the assets distributed according to Mr. Corcoran’s outline. This matter is concluded.”

Maryanne pivoted in her chair and cuffed Eldridge on the back of the head knocking his careful hairdo askew. “Idiot! You said I’d get at least $5 million in cash, then I could give the church a million!” Eldridge ducked another swing at his head.

“Control yourself, Mrs. Smithwood or I shall call a deputy!”

Larry casually strolled barefoot down the white sand beach relishing the warm sun and the views of the swaying palms and the sparkling Caribbean waters. He carried a tall, sweating glass and was dressed in a floral Hawaiian shirt and swim trunks. With dark sunglasses, he scanned the long stretch of beach looking for his friends. He finally spotted them on lounge chairs in the partial shade of a tall palm tree and approached. “Hi, guys. You look comfy.”

“Hey, Larry. Looks like you’ve gone native already. When did you get in?” asked Doug.

“Last night. Hi, Mel, you look ravishing. I wasn’t aware that they made swim suits smaller than my sunglasses.” The microscopic blue bikini defied the laws of physics and any pretense at modesty. The jewel in Melanie’s perfect navel transfixed him as it twinkled in the sunlight.

“Eat your heart out, buddy,” Doug laughed as he followed Larry’s gaze.

“Any problem getting out of Greentree?” Larry asked.

“Nah, remember you set it up that I was in there at my own request, so I just packed up and walked out.”

“Excellent. I went over to the bank this morning. I transferred your trust fund to the Caymans Bank and Trust. I also signed the papers creating the “International Rehabilitation & Treatment Center”. Your care will now be under their auspices. It’s a numbered company with Melanie as the only director.

“My, my,” Doug exclaimed. “You’ve been a very busy boy since you got to town.”

Larry acknowledged the compliment with a modest bow. “So Melanie, what kind of treatment does the famous IR&T have in mind for our Mr. Dougie here?”

“We’re thinking that an extended European tour might do him a lot of good,” Melanie responded.

“No doubt.”

“I will be going along to insure his care is adequate.”

“Totally appropriate, I’m sure.”

“By the way Larry, we have a tee time at 9am tomorrow,” Doug interjected. “You’re gonna have to give me at least ten strokes. Due to the long lay off, I seem to have developed a nasty hook.”

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The Knife

By Dick Draper

 

I wrote this story a very long time ago and discovered it recently when I was looking through some old files. It’s so old it was written on a typewriter. (You may remember those things.) It’s not much changed from the original.

Like a lot of stories, this one has some basis in fact. Many years ago when our son, Mike, turned one year old, he received a Buck knife in the mail from a SEAL teammate as a belated baby gift.  The letter with it said pretty much what the one in the story says. Over the years I have continued the practice, sending Buck knives to the young sons of friends. The last one went out about one year ago.

Let me hear your comments–good and bad–about this tale.
Dick

 

Nick shifted his weight carefully on the narrow board that served as his seat. He was already restless and a little cold but he had trouble sitting still anytime, let alone on the opening day of his first deer season.

The woods were perceptibly brighter now. He could almost make out the nearest clump of birches directly in front of him. An hour earlier, he had left the dirt fire lane following his Uncle Joe into the total blackness of the Minnesota pre-dawn. Uncle Joe had led him unerringly to his tree stand on a small knoll overlooking Hanlon’s Slough, a 100-yard wide depression of swamp grass and brush that appeared to have little, if any, water. The 50-yard strip between his stand and the edge of the slough was a maze of head high buck brush and young birches.

Nick wiggled his toes in his felt-lined Sorrels and flexed his fingers on the 30-30 Marlin cradled in his lap. It seemed an eternity since Joe had wished him good luck and with flashlight bobbing disappeared into the darkness. Nick hadn’t been too keen on locating his stand here. Hanlon’s Slough was named for Jack Hanlon, a crazy Irishman, so he was told, whose stand had stood not ten yards from where Nick now sat. Jack had died, Joe said, 4 years ago and no one had hunted in this location since. Ha, I’m a Polish/Scotsman and Hanlon’s a ghost; quite a pair of hunting buddies, he thought. But his Dad and uncle Joe had persisted and he did not want to think of him less than brave, even if he was only twelve years old.

A flicker of movement to his left snapped him out of his thoughts and started his heart to thumping. Trying to hold his head stationary, he rolled his eyes to the left and held his breath. He caught the movement again and recognized the object of his excitement; a tiny, fluffy “snow bird” that was flitting from branch to branch. He silently watched the bird as it continued the solitary task of examining buds. Since he seemed not to eat any, Nick concluded he must have been looking for the perfect bud.

Nick swung his gaze back to the front and realized he could now make out the nearest side of Hanlon’s Slough, and therefore the 1998 Minnesota deer season was now officially underway. In the distance, a single rifle shot echoed over the forested hills, and from further away, a series of four rapidly spaced shots. “He missed,” Nick mumbled.

After a few moments, Nick returned to his thoughts. He knew that this was a significant day, not only for him as his first deer hunt, but also for his Dad and uncles. Today he was crossing the threshold of Manhood in the eyes of the men in his family and he realized that they would never treat him in quite the same way. Nick had awaited this day, seemingly forever. The Knife symbolized it all. He leaned back against one of the two stout birches that supported his seat and pressed the Buck knife against his hip, comforted by its presence. The Knife had been his for nearly 12 years but this was the first time he had been allowed to carry it.

It had been given to him by his Uncle Joe as a baby gift and the letter to him said that the knife was to serve as a reminder to his Dad of his responsibilities as a father to, “….teach him the ways of the woods and to take care of his gear.” The letter also talked about how the knife, as it got moved from drawer to drawer, would remind his Dad that despite business and time pressures, he should “remember the simple and important things.” Nick could not say with certainty if the knife had caused his Dad to spend more time with him, but his father had taken him along on fishing and hunting trips since he was about four or five. Except for deer hunting.

He was lucky, he knew, for many of his friends at school did not get to do many of the things he enjoyed. His uncles had also taught him much. Uncle Dan, his Dad’s brother and the official trout-fishing champion of the family, had taught him all his tricks. Uncle Joe had showed him all his grouse coverlets and how to sit quietly in the hardwoods for squirrels. Joe Dolan wasn’t really family; he and his Dad had been friends for years despite their age difference. He had always been “Uncle Joe” to Nick and he knew that Joe loved him like a son.

It was fully light now, and from the bright glow in the east, Nick knew the sun would be up soon. It promised to be a glorious November day. With no wind, the woods were silent. An occasional shot could be heard but they were distant and certainly not by anyone in Nick’s group.

Nick’s eyes kept returning to a shape on the far side of Hanlon’s Slough. It sure looked like a deer standing in the tall grass! The more he stared at it, the more certain he became. Once again, his heart started to thump. Slowly, he raised the carbine and pressed his cheek against the polished walnut stock. Scanning the area with his scope he could not locate the deer, so using the open sights beneath the scope, he lined up the deer and then peered through the scope. His “deer” turned out to be a patch of brush and the trunk of a blown down willow. He reminded himself of Uncle Joe’s advice, “Don’t focus on objects. Just scan with your eyes and look for movement,” and “Listen:  your ears are your best allies.”

The momentary excitement and the morning chill were causing Nick two kinds of discomfort. He desperately wanted to stretch his legs, and the pressure in his bladder could no longer be denied. He took one careful look around and rose slowly to his feet, feeling the carpeted platform under his feet and the gentle swaying of the birches that supported his stand. After relieving himself, stretching and treating himself to a cup of steaming cocoa, he resumed his vigil, happy that a buck had not appeared during his break. He had heard many stories of huge bucks that chose awkward moments to appear.

The sun’s rays slanted through the trees now, turning the branches and dead leaves on which the frost had gathered during the night into dazzling patterns of reflected light. The kiss of the sun quickly melted the frost and droplets of moisture gathered on the brush. Nick watched intently as a drop of moisture grew on a twig near his head, distended and fell silently. “Like a tear,” he thought.

There had been a few tears last night, and Nick was still a bit mystified at the emotional outpouring. He wondered if it might have something to do with the ancient bottle of brandy that Uncle Joe had produced to toast the hunt and celebrate the little ceremony when his Dad had given him The Knife. Uncle Joe had quickly left the cabin during the ceremony and it was a long time before he returned with the armload of wood he had gone to fetch. Joe’s eyes had been rimmed with red. That had reminded him of something Uncle Joe had once said to his father, “An Irishman cries when he’s happy or sad. A Scotsman only cries when he has to pick up the check.”

The rustling in the leaves off to his right brought him back to the present and his eyes followed his ears to the source of the sound. A lean, gray squirrel was digging around among the leaves either looking for something or burying it. What ever he was doing, he made a lot of noise. It sounded like a whole herd of deer!

Nick leaned back and glanced again in the direction of the two small white pines about 40 yards away on his left. His Dad and Uncle Dan had located a scrape there when they were constructing his stand yesterday morning. They told him to keep an eye on it, as the buck might be back to see if a doe had left him a calling card in his absence. He was keeping a close watch on that area. He hadn’t heard any shots for some time now and the woods were again silent as the squirrel had moved on.

He started to think again about the events of last night and Uncle Joe’s reaction. He remembered that Joe had a son…Pat wasn’t it?  Yes, Pat. And he had died when he was about Nick’s age… hit by a car… riding his bike. Yes, that must be it. Uncle Joe must have been thinking about his son, although Nick had never heard Joe mention his name. Nick had overheard his Mom and Dad talking about it once, and even at his young age, figured that the loss of his son had something to do with Uncle Joe’s affection for him. He had never dared question Joe about it, and since no one else mentioned it, guessed it was one of those taboo subjects. He made a mental note to ask his Dad about it the next time they had one of their “talks”. It was about time for another one. He had heard some incredible things about sex at school that he wanted to get clarified.

Nick’s senses suddenly went on alert. He had heard something he was sure, but couldn’t locate the sound, as if it were on the fringes of his consciousness. There, he’d heard it again! The sound seemed to be coming from the other side of Hanlon’s Slough in the direction of Uncle’s Joe’s stand, was about a quarter mile away. While watching intently in that direction, he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his left eye and swung his head quickly to the side. “Damn!” he cursed silently for he knew he’d moved too fast. He froze and his eyes picked up the dark shape of a deer moving silently toward the two small pines. The deer had its head down and glided slowly through the brush. Nick could not get a clear view to determine if it was a buck. At about 50 yards distant, the deer stepped into an opening, stopped, raised his head and looked directly at Nick. It was a buck! And, Nick was certain; at that range the buck would clearly hear the wild thumping of his heart. Nick was almost overpowered by the urge to snap his rifle to his shoulder and shoot but he knew he would never make it. The buck would be gone before he could get off a shot. He also had been told many times that a deer can look right at you and not see you–if you don’t move. Suddenly the buck looked back over his shoulder in the direction of Uncle Joe’s stand, dropped his head and continued walking toward the two pines. When the buck’s head was momentarily hidden behind some thick brush, Nick slowly raised the 30-30 and thumbed back the hammer. His heart thumped like a drum, his eyes were misting with excitement and the end of the rifle weaved alarmingly. Nick wondered if he could hit the buck if he ever did step from behind the pines. And then the buck came into the open, stood looking at him and was perfectly broadside.

The roar of the carbine as it slammed against his shoulder surprised him, not only because the sound crashed through the silent forest like a sudden clap of thunder, but also because he could not consciously remember aiming or pulling the trigger.

Photographed in his mind forever would be the image of the deer crouching and leaping over the small knoll after his shot.  He knew in his heart that he had missed, confident that his sights had not been on the buck when he shot. “Shot, hell!” he muttered. “It went off.”

Nick’s hands shook alarmingly so he put the rifle down. He began to get dejected at the thought he’d blown his opportunity. Buck fever. He wondered what kind of ribbing he’d take from his Uncles for blowing his chance? His Dad wouldn’t say much but Uncle Dan would surely let him have it. He realized he wasn’t going to have much time to think about it when he spotted a splash of orange moving through the hardwoods and down the hill toward Hanlon’s Slough. Uncle Joe would be at Nick’s stand in a matter of minutes. Joe walked steadily in that rolling gait of his until he stood directly below Nick. He looked up and whispered, “Well?”

“A b-buck. I missed him,” replied Nick.

“How do you know?” asked Joe simply.

“Well, ah, he ran off.”

“So why don’t we go take a look?” asked Joe. “Hand me your rifle. Is it loaded?”

Nick looked sheepish as he realized he had forgotten to eject the spent cartridge. He was grateful that Joe remained silent as he unloaded the rifle and handed it down. Nick’s heart still thudded and his knees shook as he climbed unsteadily to the ground. “Deer frequently run, even if fatally shot. You know that, Nick,” said Joe. “Where was he standing when you shot?” Nick pointed toward the pines and they both slowly made their way in that direction.

Searching the ground for sign, Joe stopped and pointed. “Here’s his track. See the splayed tracks where he jumped?” exclaimed Joe. Nick was about to tell Joe the direction the deer had gone but Joe was already moving on the trail like a bloodhound. Nick remembered that his Dad had once said that Joe was one of those guys who could track a trout up a rapids. That certainly seemed true because Nick could not imagine what Joe was following over the leaf-covered ground. Every few feet or so Joe would stop and carefully search the area around the tracks. Nick knew he was looking for blood and the failure to find any filled him with dread that he had completely missed the buck. He knew the razzing he would take from his Uncles and the rest of their party would be unmerciful.

After an agonizing 30 yards, Joe stopped and said with a touch of excitement, “Here we go!” Nick hurried over and following Joe’s finger saw a single spot of bright crimson gleaming on an oak leaf. Nick’s hopes crashed. One tiny spot in all that distance? Maybe he had just wounded the buck. That would be worse than a clean miss. But Joe was encouraged. “Lung shot, I think.”

They pressed on. The tracks were slanting downhill now toward a small brushy slough. They found another blood spot, then another, then a large gleaming blotch and finally, at the edge of the slough in a small open area they found the buck. To Nick it looked huge with thick solid antlers shining in the morning sunlight.

“Congratulations, Nick! That’s a fine six point. Good job!”

Joe relieved Nick of his rifle and moved over to a log where he slipped off his pack and sat down. He pulled his thermos from his pack and fished his pipe from his pocket. It was clear that Joe would only be a consultant in the next phase of the operation. Nick struggled out of his orange coveralls and rolled up his sleeves. He knew he must field dress his own deer…he wanted to and still dreaded it. He hoped Uncle Joe would help him.

He reached for his Buck knife and slid it from the stiff leather sheath. The gleaming blade caught the light and momentarily blinded him, and the knife seemed warm and alive in his hands. Nick glanced up at Joe and was startled by the anguish on his face. Tears streamed from his deep blue eyes, coursed through the stubble on his ruddy cheeks and dripped off his chin. Nick stood poised, legs apart, with one hand holding the buck’s leg, the other gripping the knife. And then Nick knew, knew with the certainty that comes when finally seeing the obvious. “This is Pat’s knife, isn’t it?”

“No, Nick, it’s your knife,” Joe replied evenly. “True, it was Pat’s but as you know, he never lived to use it.”

Nick felt a little angry, a little disappointed and a little afraid. The knife seemed alien in his hand. He had to fight the impulse to toss it into the leaves. “Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Nick.

“Well, I’m not sure exactly. Never found the right time or the right words, I guess. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll tell you the whole story? Maybe then you’ll understand.” Nick plopped down on the leaves and laid the knife between them.

Joe wiped the tears from his stubble-covered cheeks, thumbed the crumbs of burley into his pipe and relit it before beginning. “When Pat was one year old, nearly 25 years ago, a close friend of mine who served with me in the Navy sent Pat the knife as a baby gift. The letter with it said pretty much the same as the letter I sent you. As you probably remember, it went something like this: ‘This baby gift arrives long after most of those that arrived on time are either outgrown or forgotten. This one will wait around for you to become a man. During those years as it gets shuffled from drawer to drawer, it will serve as a reminder for your father to teach you the ways of the woods and what it means to be a man. As the years pass, your father will be a busy man and this knife will remind him to remember the simple, important things. A young man’s first knife is a symbol of maturity and trust. May it serve you well.’

“As you might imagine when Pat was killed in the auto accident shortly before he was to receive it, I was crushed. My wife and I were so overcome with grief that our marriage went on the rocks. I got heavily into the bottle and was well on the way to losing everything. At that time you had your first birthday and I got the idea of passing the knife on to you. Getting involved in your life and watching you grow into a fine young man….well, it helped me. No, it saved me. Can you understand? I’m sorry I never got around to telling…”

“No,” said Nick. “It’s OK. It’s an honor and thank you for giving it to me.”

Nick picked up the knife and with a solemn expression rose and walked to the buck. He lifted the buck’s hind leg over his shoulder exposing the snowy white underbelly and glistening in his hand, the knife cut for the first time.

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Draper

 

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LAST RETRIEVE

with guest author, Mark Cudney

British Columbia and its lakes Minnie, Stoney and Corbett. The Douglas Lake Ranch and “world class fly fishing.” Where the deer and the free range cattle roam beyond the quintessential ranch gate that greeted us after driving miles of gravel road through a mountainous grassy landscape. We came from Whistler over the pass where there was snow on the peaks the first day of June and a mud slide blocking the road. There were five in our party: Dick Draper and I in one truck; Rob Pomroy, his young retriever Hurley, and John Alexander in another. Both trucks and the boat that Rob was towing were packed full of camping and fly fishing gear for our week long stay at the yurt on Minnie Lake.

This was the last leg of my journey which began driving the dirt road from my rural home in Western New York to a stop over at my son’s home near Buffalo. He and his family then drove me to Toronto, Ontario where I caught a non-stop to Vancouver and a rendezvous with Dick, John and Rob. It was a journey begun, oddly enough, by my vicarious sharing of a poignant moment with two men and a dog. A few degrees of separation with common ties to Western New York figured into my role in the event, as the artist commissioned to recapture that moment in paint. The dog was an aging Labrador Retriever called “Sedge” and Rob was his owner. The event took place while hunting ducks near Vancouver. It was a threesome that morning¾Rob and Sedge and Dick¾waiting in their blind for that special mallard to come within range. Sedge was in the twilight of his days; Rob and Dick’s purpose was to allow him an opportunity, one last time, to retrieve a fallen duck. The moment happened and what resulted so moved Dick that he contacted me the next day and I agreed to begin work on the painting paying homage to Rob and Sedge. (View the painting and read Dick’s full account of the event at www.MarkCudney.com under “Sedge’s Last Retrieve”).

Dick and I had not met but we had been corresponding via email, sharing a mutual interest in creative writing, fly fishing, and the out-of-doors experience in general. Our degrees of separation were founded in Dick’s friendship with my cousin Jim, going back to their days of being roommates at Cornell and in the fact that Dick had grown up near Hamburg, New York not very far from my boyhood home. Jim had sent Dick a gift of a print I had produced along with some of my writing samples and so, our correspondence began.

Once the painting was finished and received by Dick in Whistler, BC, he then arranged for me to join him, Rob and John at Minnie Lake. “We’ll send you your round trip tickets. All you need to do is get to Toronto and WestJet Airlines. Rob and I will see to the rest,” Dick told me in words to that affect. Now, I’m known among my family and friends as one who avoids travel as much as possible, that it takes some prodding to get me “off the hill.” Especially during the prime spring time fly fishing season on my home water. But this time I was easily persuaded. When the words “British Columbia, fly fishing for rainbow trout and camping in a yurt on the Douglas Lake Ranch” were used to convince me, the phrase “no-brainer” came to mind. So I set to the task of making a gear list and happily shopping, during the months beforehand, for those items necessary for my trek to BC.

Journal Entry: Arrived at the ranch around one p.m. Chilly. Intermittent rain. Unloaded gear at the yurt and went fishing. I learned quickly that with these guys, there’s no dawdling when you could be fishing. I was still absorbing the scenery¾the vast stretches of open range surrounding the yurt¾and trying to organize my gear. With haste, we readied the trolling motor powered boats as it began to rain. I joined Rob and Hurley while Dick and John manned one of the ranch’s skiffs. We were hardly underway when, trolling a sinking line, Rob had a fish on. ‘Already?’ I thought. ‘Wow! This looks good!’ It leapt forty feet or so in front of the boat and Hurley, inspired to retrieve, leapt off the bow. He swam toward the splashes while Rob did his best to maneuver the boat and control his line. Thanks to Rob’s angling and boating skills, a meeting of fly line, dog and trout was avoided. Rather than try to heft him over the gunwales, Rob made Hurley swim alongside the boat to shore where he was able to come aboard unassisted. We then set off again and trolled sections of the lake with Hurley on watch in the bow. Thereafter, he maintained his cool and stayed in the boat, although he needed to inspect every fish brought to net. All of them that day caught by Rob, I might add.

J.E.: I thought it odd to troll with a fly rod and found it awkward to cast, when it was necessary, a sink tip line sitting in a boat with a dog. Lots of fish jumping. I was having trouble finding my rhythm and felt clumsy. This was a whole new world of fly fishing, having spent my time wading the streams of New York and Pennsylvania dry fly fishing for brown trout with an attitude. I hadn’t fished, trolling from a boat, since my childhood. Rob was getting hits left and right and netted a few of those rainbow trout while Hurley and I sat in the bow, waiting for one with my name on it. After all, trout were jumping wherever you looked! Undiscouraged¾rather enjoying the catching and releasing by Rob, the leaping trout and just being there in British Columbia¾I remained ready for that first fish. Hurley, on the other hand, eventually became bored with the inaction up front, dismissed me with an air of disdain and went aft to be near Rob and further close encounters with fighting fish.

J.E.: Not off to a great start. Got my line entangled in the prop. Struck too quickly at trout hitting the fly. Unfortunately the former was to become repeated “burr-under-the-saddle” moments for me over the next couple of days, during the time we spent trolling. Rob actually had to disassemble the prop at one point to untangle my line. Now, Rob is an exceptional young man, an exuberant fisherman, a lover of dogs and the outdoors. Easy to know. You couldn’t ask for a better fishing guide and companion. He wanted me to do well. Throughout his experience with me in the boat, he exhibited the patience of a saint. However, there came a time when I believe that he may have wished me overboard and swimming to shore, so that he and Hurley could fish unencumbered. Maybe it was the latest prop incident or my missed strikes. May have been the time I managed to coax a trout close to the boat only to break it off before the net. More than likely it was the time, when using one of his favorite “hot” flies, I mis-played a beautiful rainbow and it broke off under the boat, taking that fly with it. No, it must have been the morning we were fishing Corbett Lake, near Merritt, BC.

It was our second to last day of the trip after we had left the Douglas Lake Ranch to drive to a cabin on Corbett Lake. There was the promise of some dry fly fishing to be had during afternoon hatches, not to mention some hot chironomid fishing. I was looking forward to not trolling. The pair-ups in the boats remained the same. I think Dick was happy to leave me to Rob since he too had experienced one of my prop mishaps the one time we fished together: a windy day on Minnie Lake with whitecaps, when we also lost motor power and had to row back to the yurt.

Rob and I had anchored near shore first thing in the morning and were setting-up our chironomid rigs. It was a nice morning and we were both looking forward to catching some trout. But when I went to cast, the fly I was holding and didn’t let go of became deeply embedded into my index finger. I looked at my finger in disbelief then glanced over at Rob who was involved with his rig and hadn’t noticed what I’d done. I took my hemostat and tried to work the hook free. It wasn’t working. The last thing I wanted to do was to spoil Rob’s day. I tried to think of a way to keep on fishing. I kept on trying to work the hook through the other side of my finger to cut-off the barb and make it easier to extract. Yep, shoulda pinched the barb down beforehand, but it was too late now. No good; most of the hook was buried and I was “wimping-out” at the pain. I thought I might be able to wrap a couple of bandages over the protrusion near the hook eye and worry about it later. In the end, I showed it to Rob and was surprised he kept his cool. My respect for his tolerance for this ugly American grew even stronger. Dick and John were nearby so we motored over to their boat where Dick assessed the situation, offered to try and extract the hook then decided it best not to. Long story short, John offered to drive me to the Merritt Medical Center so that Dick and Rob could continue to fish. We exchanged boats and headed to Merritt.

J.E.: A painless extraction and last chance to catch a trout from Corbett Lake. Redemption on a dry fly. The doctor on duty at the Emergency Room in the small, one story center informed me that what with my inadequate insurance, I was looking at a $900 bill for hospital services. I thought then that a half bottle of scotch and a pliers back at the cabin looked like the way to go. Reading the discouragement evident in my body language he added, “There is another option. If you’re agreeable I can take care of this in a minute out in the parking lot, off the books, but,” and he spoke directly to the nurse receptionist holding my admittance form, “mum’s the word.” I agreed. She ripped up the form. Once outside and standing near his car where it appeared not to be a doctor tending to a patient¾we could have been friends comparing fishing gear, the Doc his forceps and me the lure¾he numbed the finger, yanked the fly out, handed me two bandages and said, “The rest is up to you.” And, no charge! Giddy with gratitude, my finger dripping blood, I about kneeled down and kissed his shoes. He saved the day. John and I were able to get back to the lake and in the boat for the rest of the afternoon.

The next morning, our last before heading back to Whistler, found Rob and I and Hurley together again. I can only surmise that Rob was on a mission to better my luck. Hurley may have been looking forward to my next mishap or he may have gained an air of empathy towards me since he stayed near me in the bow. But up until then, I half expected to be relegated to a lodge boat by myself with a pair of oars during the time we had left. It turned out to be the most exciting few hours of fishing for me since the day on Stoney Lake when we all caught countless rainbows on chironomids, dragonfly nymphs and trolling. This morning on Corbett, we anchored in the shallows at the end of the lake and fished midges below a strike indicator. The water was looking-glass clear; a loon appeared underwater near the boat chasing a trout. There were so many fish rising and jumping in the cove it was dreamlike. Rob assisted me in gauging leader length and fly size and we both caught a bunch during the chironomid hatch. Then a mayfly hatch began and we switched to dry flies. Rob caught two or three before I had re-rigged my rod. I selected an Eastern dry fly pattern I had in my box and tied it on. Time was getting short. We needed to get back soon and hit the road. The rises had let up and Rob was preparing to lift anchor and I began to reel in and call it a day. I was happy with the action we had and the fact that Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) wasn’t with me this day. There was a rise form just then and I thought I’d try one more cast. I managed an accurate presentation and the trout hit the fly. With the hook set, I had another trout on, but this one was more special than the rest, taken on a March Brown dry fly from my own fly box. This was the fishing I was used to: sight casting to rising trout. It jumped and ran and dove and then jumped again near the boat. Twice it took a run below the boat and twice I led it out. It finally relented and came to the net. I believe that Rob was just as happy or even moreso than I was. Of the many trout I did catch there in the lakes of British Columbia, this was the one I’ll remember most vividly.

J.E.: The good outweighed the bad: The weather was uncooperative much of the time with wind, rain and a cold night or two requiring a wood fire. Most of the time, unsheltered Minnie was choppy due to the wind and we opted to fish nearby Stoney Lake. Even so, it was comfortable there in the yurt what with a wooden floor, wood stove, bunk beds and small kitchen area. Even a heated outdoor shower. Following a day of fishing, there were steaks and other food prepared over an outside fire. In the mornings, a hearty breakfast. One evening as a late dinner was being prepared, a storm blew in with wind, rain and hail. When it had passed, the clouds opened and a vivid double rainbow arced across the full extent of the sky. We all paused in what we were doing, awestruck. I thought it apropos to end the day that way: a rainbow above the water with all those rainbows beneath the surface. It was as if all the vivid colorations of the trout inhabiting the lake were drawn up into the very sky.

There were numerous occasions such as that which made the small misfortunes seem insignificant. There were the evenings at the campfire when the coyotes sang; the call of loons; the sight of eagles; the beauty of the rainbow trout and so many to be seen rising and jumping. Hearing of Dick’s and John’s many catches including the special trout of theirs that tail danced on top of the water. There was the unforgettable scenery of the open and rolling range land around the lake with mountains as a backdrop. Simply breathing in the high mountain air. The morning I walked up the draw behind the yurt and saw two mule deer. The friendly people of Merritt and the Lodge at Corbett, the generous Doc, my new friend John Alexander. My more than generous hosts, Dick and Rob, who arranged for me to join them. Finally, that “last retrieve” I made on the trout on a dry fly. It wasn’t as poignant as the retrieve that Rob’s old dog Sedge made on their last hunt together and which proved to be the catalyst for the events that led to my being there in BC, but it was an act that seemed to make the whole of the experience come full circle. Sedge got to do it one more time and so did I.

Left to right: Rob Pomroy, Hurley, Dick Draper, John Alexander, Mark Cudney

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Tom

The sun was well up and the frost melted by the time the old man loaded his gear in the Jeep and pulled out of the driveway. He had lingered over breakfast, taking a second and a third cup of coffee. Millie left him alone, knowing he had to do this at his own pace and feared that if she talked about it, she might lose her tenuous grip on her own emotions.

The knobby tires hissed and sang on the damp blacktop as the old man headed east into the countryside, passing woodlots and stubble cornfields, pasture and the fallow fields of the CRP Program. He drove slowly dreading the three-act play he had scripted for this day.
The small brass bell on Tom’s collar tinkled as he attempted to rise. He whimpered with the anticipation he always showed when they were going hunting. But, this time his whines were tinged with pain. Tom’s hips had deteriorated badly in the last couple of years. The old man had started giving him aspirins imbedded in soft cheese after each hunt. It helped.
But now, the cancer thing …. The vet tried to break it to him gently, “Hell, Tom’s twelve years old—nearly thirteen. That’s old for an English Setter.” Then he said, “You’ll know when it’s time to bring him in.”
Tom struggled to his feet and shuffled unsteadily forward until he could rest his chin on the old man’s shoulder. He choked back a sob. They had often traveled like this, with Tom whining in his ear, seemingly urging him to drive faster. The Jeep swung into a tight curve on the narrow country road and Tom lost his footing and toppled over. The old man swore, “Dammit. Lay down, Tom. Stay!”
In the month since the visit to the vet Tom had gone downhill fast and the old man knew it was time. Hated it, but knew. The vet said he’d wait for him.
He’d hunted alone in the early season leaving Tom behind. The dog had not appreciated that. Over the years he always knew that when the hunting coat and boots came out, it was time to go hunting. Even if sound asleep at Millie’s feet in the sewing room, he would come bounding into the hall like a three year old hopped up on Sugar Pops. Not wanting to torment Tom, the old man had started sneaking his gear out to the truck at night when the dog was zonked on his bed by the fireplace. Full of painkillers, Tom never noticed.
Hunting without your dog, he found, was like dancing alone. He’d enjoyed the brisk autumn days walking the hardwoods for grouse and stomping the ditches for pheasant, but it was not the same. His bag was lighter too. He had cursed two weeks ago when he lost a downed rooster. Tom, even a year ago, would have found that bird. He always did.
He braked the Jeep and swung into the farm drive way. Past the white clapboard house and around behind the weathered barn, he turned on to a dirt lane angling up the hill. He slipped the Jeep into four-wheel drive and slowly made his way up the rutted track. At the crest of the hill he spotted a battered white Chevy pick-up parked about 100 yards ahead.
Joe, the owner of the farm, crawled out of the truck smoking a cigarette. They were old friends and the old man hoped Joe would forgive him for being late. Joe waved as he pulled the Jeep up and parked on the verge 40 yards short of the pick-up.
Stepping out of the Jeep, the old man watched Joe signal the direction of the wind with a sweep of his arm and he waved in acknowledgement as he felt the light breeze on his face. Joe went to the back of the pick-up and reached into a wooden crate and after a bit of a struggle, extracted a rooster pheasant. Cradling the pheasant in his arms, Joe started walking down into the field of grass and low brush. He stopped at a thick bush about 20 yards in and after tucking the bird’s head beneath his wing, spun the bird in a circle half a dozen times. He then tucked the pheasant down into the bush and started back toward the truck.
“He’ll sit there a little while,” thought the old man. He opened the back gate of the Jeep and reached for his tattered hunting coat. As he shrugged it on Tom made his way to the back and started wagging his tail. When the old man reached for his gun case Tom gave his face a couple of wet licks. “Ready to go, buddy?” He asked. Tom waved his flag-like tail in response.
The gun was an old Fox side-by-side in 20 gauge. The bluing had long ago been worn off and the stock had plenty of dings, but the sheen of oil spoke to how well the old man took care of his gear.
He lifted Tom gently out of the truck and set him on the road. Snapping on his lead and grabbing the shotgun the old man and his dog entered the field. They angled across the wind. The old man wanted to get directly downwind of the bush that held the pheasant. Tom, though unsteady, had his head up, sampling the wind and working that trademark white flag of a tail back and forth. When they were directly downwind and 15 yards from the bird they did a left turn. He reached down and unsnapped Tom’s leash. “Find the bird, Tom,” he said.
Tom moved forward, staggering slightly, but he had caught a whiff and was closing in. Three feet from the bush Tom froze in a classic point, head and tail high with his left foot up and curled. “Whoa,” said the old man quietly. He dropped two shells into the open Fox and snapped it shut. Walking forward slowly past the dog he said “whoa” once again. He gave the bush a vigorous kick. Nothing. He kicked again and took a couple of steps. With a cackle and roar of wings the pheasant burst from the grass 10 feet to his left. The bird had run when he walked in and now was angling back the way they’d come. He brought up the double barrel swiftly and swung, fired and…. Missed! His second shot brought the bird down in a puff of feathers. “I guess we’re both getting old Tom,” he muttered.
Tom had seen the bird go down and was struggling through the thick grass in that direction. The old man quickly overtook the dog and snapped the leash on again. “Easy Tom. We’ll find him.”
The rooster lay in plain sight, gleaming in the fall sunlight, its gaudy colors a stark contrast to the dull brown grass. Tom gently picked it up and they started slowly back to the Jeep. He looked up to wave his thanks to Joe, but the pick-up was gone. He’d have to phone later with his thanks.
Halfway back to the Jeep Tom stopped. He could go no further. He tried to get Tom to release the bird, but Tom would not let it go. “All right you stubborn shit,” he said and picked up the dog. He carried Tom back to the Jeep with the bird dangling from his mouth. Only when the old man had set Tom in the back of the Jeep did Tom release the bird. He then lay down on his blanket, guarding his prize.
The vet was waiting when the old man carried Tom into the office. The place was deserted, as it was Sunday morning. Another debt to be paid. “You ready?” asked the vet.
“Yeah, I guess,” replied the old man. “Shot a bird over him this morning.”
“So I see,” replied the vet with a slight frown, noting the old man’s muddy boots tracking up his spotless floor.
Tom lay calmly on the stainless steel table. He knew the vet and the old man rubbing his speckled head and scratching his black ears soothed him.
“This won’t hurt him,” assured the vet. “He’ll get sleepy and then it will be all over.” The vet slipped the needle into Tom’s paw and the dog jerked at the sting.
The old man gripped Tom’s head and stared into his eyes. “So long old friend” he choked. And then it was done.
The vet said nothing as the old man gathered up Tom’s limp body and carried it out to the Jeep. Tears ran down through the gray stubble on his cheeks and dripped off his chin as he wrapped Tom gently in his blanket. He climbed in the Jeep and drove slowly away.
The Jeep followed the narrow country road lined with hardwoods gaily displaying their fall colors in the bright afternoon sunshine. The old man took no notice. Turning on to little used dirt track the Jeep continued diagonally across the ridgeline, coming to a stop at a small clearing. The old man picked up the blanket wrapped bundle from the back of the truck and set off following a faint game trail through the trees. After 100 yards he emerged into the open. To his right a large meadow sloped down the hill, to his left an extensive stand of second growth hardwoods and mixed pine blanketed the ridge. At the edge of the field stood an ancient and massive birch tree and beneath the protective branches of the birch loomed an open grave. Next to the grave a large pile of stones and small boulders stood like a sentinel.
The old man paused at the edge of the hole before gently lowering his burden into the opening. He removed a dog collar from the pocket of his hunting coat and buckled it around a low hanging branch before removing his coat and grasping the shovel leaning against the tree. He began filling the hole.
Brushing the dirt from his gnarled hands on his jeans, the old man sat on a log and studied the pile of stones. “Those rocks should discourage any coyotes from messin’ with you.” He said. The old man fished a crusted briar pipe from his pocket and stuffed it with dark tobacco from a worn leather pouch. When he finished the ritual of lighting the pipe, he wrested a can of beer from his hunting coat. Popping the top and flicking the foam off his fingers he raised it in a silent toast toward the pile of stones. “I guess you know why I picked this spot, Tom. This is where you finally figured out we were supposed to do this hunting thing together. In those early days I was thinkin’ about renaming you 5K, ‘cause where ever I was, you were about 5K somewhere else.”
Taking a long pull on the beer, the old man continued, “When you pointed that ol’ ruff cock bird right under that birch and brought him back to me with your teeth chattering in excitement, a light bulb went off in your head. You’d figured out that we were doing this as a TEAM. Things got lots better after that.”
The old man drained the beer and relit his dead pipe. “I won’t say you were the world’s greatest setter, but you were a good one. You were a sweet and gentle dog, and Millie loved having you around the house. Jeff loved you too. Hell, the two of you grew up together learning how to hunt. I’m sure he’ll be stopping by once he gets back from Iraq.”

He stood, shook the dregs from the can and stuffed it in his battered hunting coat as he slipped it on. He picked up the shovel and came briefly to attention. “Semper Fi, old pal.”

And with that the old Marine turned and limped back the way he had come.

© 2008
Author’s Note: This is my first attempt to place some fiction on the blog. Certainly a departure from my “right wing rants” as one of my readers so charitably puts it. If you like “Tom”… great. If not, feel free to offer constructive criticism or suggestions on an alternative hobby. Don’t recommend golf. I’ve already proven I’ll never be any good at that damn game.

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Smart Mouth

I guess we have all said or done something impulsively without forethought and instantly regretted it. As the old saying goes, “Please start brain before engaging mouth”. I have probably committed this crime more than most having been cursed with a “smart mouth” and an atrophied sense of restraint. Herewith a few examples:

 

I was seated next to woman friend…. more my wife’s than mine… at a dinner party. Trying to make conversation, I leaned over and asked, “So, when is the baby due?” After a long pause while she glared at me she replied, “It was born two months ago. Asshole.” I deserved that.
*****

Attending the first business luncheon with the entire management of the company that had just hired me to take over their construction department, I nearly committed suicide. The founder of the company was a born again Christian and his son who ran the day-to-day operation also professed deeply held religious beliefs. About a dozen of us sat around the table in suits and ties in this “get to know you” lunch.

 

The company manufactured, among other things, precast concrete mausoleum crypts and the chief salesman had just returned from a cemetery convention. He was describing a management training exercise he’d attended there where each attendee had to speculate on their manner of death and what their eulogy might sound like. People around the table were offering their own theories on their demise and it seemed to be my turn to offer something on the subject. I blurted out (obviously without much forethought), “I guess I’d be found shot in the back with my pants around my ankles.” During the long pause that followed and as I took in the open mouthed stares around the table, I had visions of receiving my walking papers immediately after lunch. Finally, and to my great relief, the old man laughed. Everyone else joined in and I finally exhaled.

*****

In another luncheon experience my staff and I were entertaining a couple of clients at a local restaurant. There were a half dozen of us gathered at a round table and ordering post lunch coffee. My CFO was one of those people blessed with the metabolism of a hyperactive hummingbird. No matter what he ate he never gained an ounce. Those of us then firmly in the grip of middle age and not wanting to order new trousers every six months had to watch what we ate. He always ordered desert and that would have been OK except he always had to rub it in.

 

He was sitting directly across from me with his back to the windows, our clients on either side of him. They set his desert, a pudding of some sort with a healthy dollop of whipped cream and a perky red cherry perched on top, in front of him while the rest of us watched. He said something like, “Nothing for you guys? Heh, heh! I always have desert. Gotta have my sweets.”

 

I thought, “Screw you” and quietly picked up my spoon. I looked over his shoulder out the window and said, “Wow! That’s the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen!” This guy was a bit more of a letch than most, so naturally, he spun around to see this short skirt. When he turned I stood, reached across the wide table and with my spoon plucked that cherry neatly off the top of his desert. It left a nice divot in the whipped cream. Popping the cherry into my mouth I quickly sat back down and tried to look innocent as he turned around.

 

“I don’t see any…” he started before seeing all the startled expressions around the table. He then looked down at the gouge in his whipped cream and said, “Hey!” The clients laughed so no harm done there.

 

I should have fired that guy. He later cost me a lot of money.

*****

When we got back from the Gemini XI recovery (described in an older post) the six of us, the “frogmen” who had done the recovery, were being interviewed by a local TV station. They were filming the thing and planned to show it on the evening news that night. As I described, Denny Bowman and his two guys had the primary recovery job and my two guys and I were the back up and also tasked with the recovery of the R & R module. The interviewer asked me. “What were you thinking about as the astronauts were coming down and you were about to leave the aircraft carrier?”

I replied, “I was hoping Denny’s helicopter would not start.” Not sure if that made the news or not. I didn’t watch it.
*****

When our business started doing well in the late ‘80s we bought a second home on a point looking west on Lac LaBelle in Wisconsin. When my neighbor agreed to sell me 150’ of waterfront adjoining our two properties, we decided to tear down the house and build our dream home. The old place was actually pretty nice, especially compared to the cottage next door, but the two lots together were now worth more than the house. It had to go. I hired a guy with a bulldozer to nuke the place and left on a business trip.

When I got back to the airport I drove straight out to the house where the old grizzled operator was just climbing down off his D-8 Cat. The house was now a pile of rubble and the guy must have been looking at the old cottage next door as he tore our place to pieces. I walked up to the guy and said without a bit of preplanning on my part, “Where in the f*** is my house?!”

Well, I thought the poor man was going to have a heart attack. He turned white, then red, then kind of purple. His mouth flapped open and shut with nothing coming out and I thought, “Shit, I’ve killed this poor guy.” It took me about 15 minutes to calm him down and assure him that he had nuked the right house and everything was just fine. Felt bad about that one. The devil made me do it.

Of course, I’ve got a few more instances where my mouth started well before my brain. But, a mixed crowd reads this blog and I don’t want to offend anyone more than absolutely necessary.

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