Dirty Pigtails

Intro

Writers often use word ‘prompts’ to prod their imagination. These can be single words or short phrases. I enjoy writing from prompts. Last night the words “Dirty Pigtails” came to mind, quite out of the blue. That thought was soon followed by this fictional story. Beware: it’s not an altogether happy story. It’s more tragic than most things I write.Pig Tails

 

DIRTY PIGTAILS © 2017 Bill Murphy

Today is the anniversary of the death of Katy Winstead. I think of poor Katy often, especially on this date. I always have, and always will. She’s been gone since 1962, when we were in the 6th grade.

People might ask, “Did you love Katie.” Of course I did. But not in a boyfriend/girlfriend sense. We were only 12 at the time, far too young to understand what true love was all about. Yet I loved her still, as much as a friend as anything.

Had she lived, and we’d continued to grow up together, then our relationship might have morphed into something more serious. We’ll never know.

Katie came from what we called back then, ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ Katie’s father had abandoned the family when Katie was 5 – forcing her under-educated mother to go to work to support the family of 4. Katie was the middle child. The other 2 were boys.

Life was hard for Katie and her family. If something wasn’t broken or in short supply, then it had been stolen from some heartless neighbor. Katie never wore brand-name clothes – it was either thrift shop, garage sale, or do without. I would say that at least Katie was always clean, but I’d not be truthful. She and her clothing always bordered between dingy and dirty. Perhaps there was not enough hot water, or not enough clean clothes, or not enough time. Who knows. Like I said, life was hard for Katie.

Most people at least bathe more than they wash their hair. So Katie’s hair washing was far less frequent than most of us. Katie’s hair was auburn, but most often looking more like brown. And, she always wore it in pigtails.

Katie and I were friends – close friends. We ate together in the lunchroom, hung out together on the playground, and walked to an from school together – at least as far as where our paths intersected. We spent even more time together in the summer, much to my mother’s dismay. She said that our relationship was ‘unhealthy.’ When she said that, it was like she was referring to Katie’s personal hygiene, and I resented it. I always stood up for Katie.

I’m really not sure what drew us together. Our backgrounds were so different. They say that opposites attract, so perhaps that explains it. And like I said, perhaps, just perhaps, Katie and I would still be a pair, if it were not for that terrible night that October.

It was Wednesday night, and I was in church with my family. Katie sometime went with us. Truthfully, Katie would simply ‘just show up.’ But that was because I’d asked her to. But this night – her mother had to work especially late, her older brother was spending the night with a friend, so Katie had to stay home with her younger brother.

The evil, heartless character broke down the back door and walked in. According to her brother, the man grabbed Katie, and took her.

Katie’s neighborhood was nothing like Mayberry of TV. It was a rough and tumble neighborhood. And just over the back tumble down fence, was a sprawling junk yard. The perfect place for vermin like Katie’s captor.

Precious time was wasted before police finally arrived to ‘investigate the situation.’

Katie’s crumpled body wasn’t found until the next morning. The police were amazed by the terrific way she’d fought back. We heard later that her fingernails on both hands had been broken or bent backwards – where she’d clawed fiercely at him over and over again. There was as much of his blood on her as there was of her own.

Her assailant was never found. Perhaps he was from out of town.

But somewhere today, there may still be an evil character walking the earth who looks for all the world as if he’d been mauled by a grizzly bear. Katie didn’t go down without a fight.

Such was Katie – sweet, innocent, Katie. I miss you girl! I do.

 

~~~

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A Giant Problem

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©2017 Bill Murphy

Once upon a time a weary traveler stopped at the little hamlet of tiny Lilliputberg, home of the little people. “Please, may I have but a small drink of water, for I am parched,” the exhausted traveler asked.

“Would that we could,” the diminutive mayor of Lilliputberg replied, “But our water here is magical. It is all that’s required to sustain us. It’s our bread, meat, and drink all in one. Who can say what it might become to you! No, good sir, we fear to allow you to drink of it.”

So the weary traveler, a normal sized man of no more than 5 feet at most, trudged out of town.

But he hid himself behind a hill. After darkness fell, and all of Lilliputberg was fast asleep, he crept back to the magical well. Using their thimble sized water bucket, he drank, and drank, until he could hold no more. Then he crept back over the hill and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, when he tried to stand, he could not, for he was he exceedingly weary. So he fell asleep again. He slept the whole day through, and all of the night.

This happened day after day for six more days. And each morning, he fell fast asleep once again.

The morning of the 7th day, the tiny people of Lilliputberg beheld a very strange sight. On the opposite side of the hill, a new hill had appeared, one that was blue and white in color, with a unusual black stripe angling across the top.

The town-folk raced up to the summit of the first hill, and were stopped in their tracks by a most unbelievable sight. Outstretched on the ground before them, lay the stranger who had asked for water just the week before. But now he was immense in size!

To them, he had been a giant of a man at only 5 feet when they first saw him, but now – he was well over 300 feet! The magical waters had caused him to double in size each night.

“It’s a good thing that his body lies East and West,” said the Mayor.

“And Why?” asked the Mayor’s wife.

“If he lay North and South, soon his body would block out our beautiful evening sunsets,” said the Mayor.

“True,” replied the Mayor’s wife. “He must have drunk from our well after all.”

“Truly he must have,” said the Mayor sadly. “Why wouldn’t he listen to our warnings? I hope he’s happy now. There’s no fool like a big fool!”

The moral of this story is: Only a fool listens only to his own council. This foolishness leads to foolish decisions. And foolish decisions lead to giant problems.


~~~~

A Place I Always Try To Avoid

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© 2017 Bill Murphy

When I first heard this topic, my immediate thought was – Across the table from my wife when she says, ‘We need to talk.’ That being interpreted as – ‘I need to hold a mirror up to you.’

We’ve had mirrors in some form or fashion since mankind first discovered vanity. The first primitive type was no doubt simply still pools of water. Then we progressed to polished stone and metal, perfecting this all important device with the invention of glass.

Yet the best mirror that money can buy, be it from Bed, Bath, and Beyond or Neiman Marcus – is imperfect. They all have a common flaw. The image we behold in the mirror is not what other’s see. Our image is reversed.

60+ years ago my childhood pal, Buddy Gorday, asked this thought-provoking question: ‘Since our image in the mirror is reversed, why isn’t it also flipped upside down?’ Of course the answer lies in the physical mechanics of optics.

But putting physics aside, don’t we all too often attempt to see an opposite and upside down image of ourselves?

There have been countless comic movies centered around the naturally aging woman of 50 who dresses, acts, and attempts to believe that she’s still 18. Yes, she uses mirrors (and plastic surgery) in her promotion of this false image. But it’s all smoke and mirrors. For all of time, time has relentlessly marched onward.

The biggest lies we tell are those we tell ourselves.

But the mirrors we use, the one from Bed, Bath and Beyond and that figurative mirror we use to see our inner self – can both expose our self-deceptions.

But like the woman in the movie, we can deceive ourselves only up to a point.

And then the wife says, “We need to talk.”

That’s an easy conservation (with the wife) compared to the one where the inner self finally awakens – or an outside spiritual entity slaps you in the face with reality and truth – and you are led to that uncomfortable place where you sit across the table from yourself.

The room is bare except for an empty table and two chairs. A bright light hangs from above, the room is thick with tension. And then the uncomfortable interrogation begins.

This will be uncomfortable.It may be painful, but believe me – it is a very, very GOOD thing. Robert Frost said it best:

Wad the gift the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us.

Only when we are given this gift of perfect vision – can we finally see ourselves as we really are! And only when we accept this precious gift – can we understand and know!

We can know who we are.

We can know what we are.

And we can see and know what we can be!


 

 

~~~

Dream A Little Dream Of Death

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© 2017 by Bill Murphy

THE DREAM

It was a most unsettling dream. The penitent is nervous and hesitant as he enters the confessional booth. His back is toward you, so you cannot see his face. He carries a small stack of books and a notebook in his arms. From what little you see of him, you assume he’s a student, or teacher. As he begins to kneel he fumbles with the books and several fall noisily to the floor.  From the other side of the screen, you see the priest, also from the back. He yanks his face toward the screen, angrily shouting at the man, questioning the noise and profane confusion caused by the dropping books.  Back to the penitent and still viewing him from the back, his face is still obscure. But you feel his shock at what he is hearing from the irate priest. Now back to the priest, his angry (unseen) face is inches from the screen. His tirade continues, shouting at the man on the other side of the ornate screen. Again to the penitent, who raises himself, his face also within inches of the screen. Anger has welled within him, distorting his unseen face.  Now you see the wooden screen, inches from your eyes, as you would see it by either priest or penitent. But you know not what side of the screen you’re on. You study it, pondering, questioning – when suddenly the scene is shattered by an ear splitting gunshot – and the confession booth screen is splattered with blood. Shocked awake by the gruesome, impossible image, Doug Hastings’ whole body body quakes. Deeply disturbed by the vision, he sat up in bed, his sweaty face in his trembling hands. “Not again,” he muttered to himself. “Not again.”

ASSISTANCE

Doug Hastings waited until 10 the next morning to make the call. By that time he’d done his homework. He learned that the chief of police of their little town of Glenn Meadow, population just under 10,000, had spent 18 years in the detective division of the St. Louis Police Department, before ‘retiring’ to Glenn Meadow. “I’m thankful to be here,” he’d said. “Police work here is like retirement compared to St. Louis!” Perfect. He’d know what he was doing.

Doug didn’t explain why he was calling, only that he needed to speak with the Police Chief. “Anytime after 2 or 2:30,” the voice said. The Chief would be in a meeting all morning.

The Police Department was on Main Street, a typical mid-american downtown and showing it’s age. On a glass storefront window in the 3rd block of the 5 block central downtown area, gold leaf lettering in block type proclaimed GLENN MEADOW POLICE DEPARTMENT. He parked two doors down, and walked back to the entrance.

The office was not exactly what he’d expected. It still had the look and feel of the 1920s when the building was completed. It was perhaps 30 feet wide at most. The rear wall had two doors hiding who knew what. The ceiling was a least 12 feet high, and was covered in ornate metal tiles as per that time period. A single open door on the shiplap wall to the left revealed a stairway leading to the floors above. Various calendars, dry-erase boards, cork boards, photographs, and a few merit awards covered the walls. A wall to wall counter was set back a few feet from the front wall. On the other side of the counter and behind a cluttered desk, sat a large man of around 60. He had a rugged Clint Eastwood look. But this man was completely bald, and smiling broadly.

“May I help you?” he asked.

YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS BUT –

“Yes, I certainly hope so. I’m Doug Hastings. I called you this morning.”

“Oh yes,” said the chief, rising from his chair. “Chief Burns, Harvey Burns. Nice to meet you. Most folks around here are more casual than you may be accustomed to,” he said. “Just call me Harvey.”

He walked to the front counter and raised a small walk-through section, allowing Doug to enter the office proper. “You were a bit vague when we spoke this morning, so let’s hear what you have to say.” He motioned for Doug to have a seat.”

“Well,” Doug began, “I’m here on an official matter, and I’d be a lot more comfortable calling you Chief Burns, if that’s OK with you.”

“If that makes you happy, it makes me happy.” The Chief leaned back in his chair. “What say we start at the beginning.”

Doug intwined his finger across his chest, breathing deeply, he hardly knew where to begin. “I’m a writer.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I’ve lived here in Glenn Meadow just over 3 years now.”

“I know that also,” replied the Chief.

“That’s good. I’m glad you’re on top of things. That’s what I need. That what’s Glenn Meadow needs.” Now the Chief leaned forward, interested.

“Continue.”

“I came here, to Glenn Meadow, to write. I love the small town, laid back, uncomplicated atmosphere. It’s very conducive to thinking clearly – and writing.” Doug paused to gather his thoughts again. “Writer’s get their inspiration from many places. I get some of mine from dreams. I dream every night. I always have. My dreams are vivid, active – often a strange jumbled up mixture of people, places, and events from my life. You might say that some are Alice In Wonderland like with their confused content.” The Chief sat back, somewhat confused himself as to where this might be heading.

“A couple of months after moving here, I had a dream – a dream about a murder. You don’t have very many murders around here do you?” asked Doug.

“Hardly,” said the Chief, “Let’s see – we’ve had 2 – in the last 8 or 9 years.”

Doug slid a thin file folder across the table to the Chief. “Skim over this for a moment and see if you recognize anything.”

It was the rough draft of short story written by Doug entitled, “A Small Domestic Murder.” Doug had omitted the date. Chief Burns read. After a few moments, he pushed the folder back to Doug.

“Excellent writing. Really. It’s not only engaging and interesting – but I recognize it as being the Franklin murder, several years back – when Paul Franklin killed his wife in a fit of jealousy.”

“Are the details correct?” asked Doug.

“Spot on,” replied the Chief.

“I wrote that before the murder,” said Doug.

“Ok. I see where this is going. It’s an old scenario. It’s happened before. A writer writes a story – some misguided soul reads the story and acts out the crime – and the writer bears the responsibility for ‘causing‘ the crime. It’s not your fault Mr. Hasting. It’s not! Paul Franklin acted on his own accord.”

“I waited until now to tell you the whole story. Otherwise you’d probably have laughed me right out of here. You see, Chief, yes – I did write this story before the murder. I wrote it based upon a dream I’d had. I wrote it, and did my own first proof-reading. But Chief Burns, these words were still on my computer, unpublished, and seen by no other eyes but my own – before Paul Franklin shot his wife! I’ve never let anyone, other than you, see this story.”

Chief Burns stared blankly at Doug for a long, heavy moment before speaking. “Before?”

“Yes.”

“From a dream?”

“Yes.”

“And no one else knew?”

“No. I swear.”

“Oh.”

“There’s more,” said Doug. “Here’s another folder. It describes the Clark murder of last year. It was written the same way, under identical circumstances, and also never seen by other eyes until today.” Then he pushed the second folder across the table. And Chief Burns read.

He only read a few pages before pushing them back to Doug. “Do you really expect me to believe your story? Really?”

“I hope so,” said Doug. “I certainly hope so. Another life may depend on it!”

Doug leaned forward, his eyes staring intently into the Chief’s eyes. Then he spoke, his soft voice heavy with sincerity. “You see, I had another dream last night. I saw another murder. And I don’t want another person to die – not because I dreamed it. I will not write this story, and I refuse to. But – and this is what frightens me – I’m afraid NOT to do something, – something to – to – prevent this dream from becoming real also! But I can’t do it alone. I don’t know how. Only you can help – help me – and help Glenn Meadow. Help me save the life of some hapless soul.”

“Mr. Hastings, it appears you leave me no option.”

FIRST STEPS

The Chief walked over to the dry-erase board and wiped it clean. “Let’s see. And he began writing at the top – CONFESSIONAL BOOTH – a wide space then – PRIEST – followed by – MAN WITH BOOKS. In smaller lettering under the books heading he made a column beginning with ‘student,‘ and followed by ‘teacher, librarian, bookseller, editor/publisher, avid reader.’

“Can you think of any more?” asked the Chief.

“Writer. Writers are associated with books.”

“Are you adding yourself to the list, Mr. Hastings?”

“It appears so, doesn’t it.”

The Chief then stepped to the left, under Priest, and began another column. ‘priest, any minister, any catholic, religious fanatic.‘ He turned to Doug, asking, “What else?”

“Altar boy.” They both chuckled.

Moving to the confessional booth heading, the chief paused. “I’m kinda at a loss here. Were you aware that there’s no Catholic Church in Glenn Meadow? Not a one. Not in 20 miles of here. So, does it mean a Catholic Church – or any church? If it means a real Catholic Church, your crime scene won’t be from around here!” Both men stared at the chart for long moments.

“As for the booth screen, is it some symbol of separation – an extreme difference between the two viewpoints, two individuals, two directions? Or maybe ‘guilt.’ It could represent guilt. Isn’t confession a means of ridding oneself of guilt? Any idea?”

“Not really,” said Doug. “I wish I did.”

For the moment, the confessional booth column remained blank. “What say we start where we might have the best chance of success, in the books column,” said the Chief. “I’ve a feeling this search should center close to home, so the education area of our search shouldn’t be all that difficult, as there is only one school here in Meadow Glenn, K thru 12.” The Chief glanced up at the clock on the wall. “Hmmm, 3:30. The last classes were dismissed at 3:15. Let’s give the halls a few more minutes to clear before we go. Let’s go the Bird.”

They walked across the street to the Red Bird Diner and enjoyed a slow cup of coffee. “Zeke Boykin’s the principal of the school. You’ll like him. He’s got his act together.”

“So you’re not thinking he might have a trigger finger?”

“Definitely not!” remarked the Chief, “Not Zeke. He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

“Ted Bundy fooled a lot of folks, for a lot of years,” said Doug, and took another sip from his cup.

“And – YOU. You could just be covering your tracks – hiding in plain sight – working the system.”

“Touché”

DOING SOMETHING

The school building was huge – and old – yet clean and well maintained. Doug was impressed. A brass plaque in the hallway next to a trophy case proclaimed the structure was dedicated in 1937. A large doorway, sans door, opened into a large office. A deep counter stretched almost from wall to wall. A small space on the left allowed access deeper into the office. No one was behind the counter, and none at the desk to the right. Filing cabinets and various office machines lined the walls. On the back wall were 3 doors, offices for the principals – Kindergarten, Grammar Grades 1 thru 6, and Senior Grades 7 thru 12. Zeke Boykin was principal of the senior grades and also Senior-Principal. His door was open, and he was on the phone. He didn’t appear to notice the two men – or appear to be enjoying this phone call.

The Chief and Doug waited behind the front counter. They heard the sound of the receiver on the cradle. The principal sat at his desk, his head in his hands, his fingers rubbing his tired eyes. Then he looked up. “For crying out loud. What’d she do – call YOU before she called me?” The principal was clearly agitated.

“Whoa, Zeke. What’s going on? Nobody’s called me,” said the Chief.

“That James woman. Timmy James’ mother. She didn’t call you?”

“No. She didn’t. Why? Why should she?”

“It’s a long story, a crazy store, a stupid, typical ‘James’ story. So – why are you here?”

“Well – that’s a long story too,” responded the Chief. “But first, what’s up with Jeanette James?”

“That’s gotta be the most paranoid woman in Brent County. At least once a month I get a call about something else ‘fishy’ she claims is going on at school. There’s always something adversely affecting her darling Timmy. Last month it was gluten in the pancakes we serve in pre-school breakfast. The month before, our crayons are laced with toxic chemicals. Now she claims the new school custodian made what she called ‘goo-goo’ eyes at Timmy. What next?

“So you’re not concerned about it?” asked the Chief.

“Positively not. My only concern is that we’re facing 12 more years of Timmy’s mother around here! Now – what brings you to our fine temple of learning today? And, is this fellow here with you a gluten inspector or something?”

The Chief laughed hardily, as did Doug. “Sorry, I didn’t introduce you. Zeke, this is Doug Hastings. He’s fairly new to Meadow Glenn. He’s a writer. And Doug, meet Zeke Boykin – pardon, Dr. Ezekiel Boykin, senior principal of Glenn Meadow Academy.” The principal motioned for the two to have a seat.

“Zeke,” began the Chief, “I can’t go into any details at this time, but we think there might be plans in the works here in Glenn Meadow, to commit a serious crime. We have cause to suspect that the person involved might possibly be connected to education in some way. We’re wondering if you have any knowledge, however minor, however ‘out there,‘ of any suspicious goings on lately?”

“No. Not that I can think of. Nothing. Nothing that is – except for Jeanette James.”

The Chief looked over at Doug, then back toward the principal. “I think we can rule out Jeanette.” Then the chief remembered something. “Zeke, didn’t you mention a new school custodian? What happened to Mr. Lyle? He’s been here for as long as I can remember.”

“That’s the problem Chief,” replied the principal. “His age. And his health. He’s been sick a lot lately. Some weeks he could only manage 2 or 3 days here at most. 3 weeks ago, he finally retired – 5 years past retirement age.”

“I need to check in on him. He’s a good man, always so kind, so generous,” said the Chief.

“And the darnedest thing,” continued the principal with his story, “The day after Mr. Lyle’s little retirement party, in walks Ben Nicholson, looking for work. Heaven-sent, I’d say. The best worker who ever walked on two feet.”

“So, tell me about him,” asked the Chief.

“Really not much to tell. He’s new to the area. ‘Claims he’s looking for a place to settle. He’s – 49 according to his application papers, hails from out west, on the coast, a small town south of Portland. ‘Says he has no family to speak of, never married, and lost his home repair business due to a careless employee – resulting in a law suit.”

“Can I get a copy of those papers?” asked the Chief.

“Sure. Just say the words ‘police business‘ and I’ll feel better about it. You know how I am Harvey, just trying to follow the rules.” They both chuckled. “May I have a copy of your new custodian’s employment application – for police business?”

The principal stood, and walked over to the center filing cabinet. Pulling out the second drawer, he thumbed through a few folders, then pulled out a thin file. “Just a sec and I’ll have your copies for you.”

The Chief and Doug stood, preparing to leave. The copies ejected from the printer, and Zeke handed them to the Chief. Looking over the freshly printed copies, the Chief made a hurried scan. “Nothing indicates religious preference. Don’t you folks ask that?”

“No. It shouldn’t matter. Should it?”

“Guess not,” the Chief replied. “You don’t suppose he’s – catholic – do you?”

“Don’t know,” said the principal, “He never said. I never asked.”

“Thanks, Zeke. Say hello to Mildred for me, OK?” said the Chief.

On the drive back to Police Headquarters, the Chief made his pitch.

“So – Mr. Doug Hastings – are you ready to get into this little investigation with both feet?”

“I’m all in Chief. 100%”

“Good! You’re a writer. And writers research.” The Chief paused for a long moment. “Researchers do most of their researching on their butts in front of a computer. Now I’m best on my feet. On the street. Face to face with real flesh and blood people.” He paused again, as if to allow Doug to digest what he was saying. “So, Mr. Hastings, I’m suggesting that you do your investigating at headquarters. And – with the law enforcement sites we have access to – you’ll be surfing files few civilians ever see. Whata ya say?”

“As I said Chief. I’m all in.” They agreed to begin the next day.

DOWN TO WORK

Doug arrived at the station at 10, as Chief Burns asked. “G-morning, Doug. Ready to get your hands dirty?”

“Ready. Just tell me what you want me to do – what direction in which to look. And – am I allowed to have my coffee mug within reach?”

“First things first pardner. We have a bit of ‘official business’ to take care of first. I did a small bit of research myself – on you – and I see that you’re a US citizen, honorably discharged from the Marine Corps – and have no arrest record or outstanding warrants. So – what I need to know is – is your record still clean – as of this moment.”

“Squeaky clean. Actually, I’m a rather boring fellow. Ask my dates, what few of them there are.”

“Good. Then raise your right hand.”

“Why?”

“So I can deputize you.”

“Is that necessary?”

“Somewhat. It’s a precaution, a technicality – so I won’t get my butt in trouble for giving you access to some of the files you’ll be rummaging through. Just call it police business.” Doug dutifully raised his hand and was sworn in by the Chief.

“Do I get a badge?” asked Doug.

“This is Glenn Meadow, not the wild west. If you want a badge, you can get one at Dollar General. Toy section.”

The Chief instructed Doug on the ins and outs of proper police protocol, how to log onto the computer he’d be using, a few other passwords he’d need, which sites might prove to be the most useful, and where to add files concerning their investigation. It was a lot to take in. Several times Doug asked refresher questions, but slowly, he was beginning to get the hang of it, and the ‘police way’ of doing things. Soon it was lunchtime. They walked across the street to The Bird. “Is lunch on the city’s tab?” asked Doug, a big grin on his face.

“Don’t push your luck buster. But maybe we can score a donut at Danny’s later this afternoon.” The Blue Plate Special at The Blue Bird Cafe was truly remarkable. Both men ate hungrily, in silence. Both cleaned their plates. The Chief picked up the tab.

Back at their desks, Doug got down to work. Using the custodian’s employment application copies, he got to work. On the first site of his search, he typed in NICHOLSON, BENJAMIN ROBBIN, the custodian’s name. The work was slow, at least Doug was slow with the work. He was, after all, on a learning curve. He was meticulous, careful. At first, he thought he must be doing something wrong. He didn’t want to ask the Chief for help, not wanting to appear incompetent. He took another track. But this too hit a dead end where there should have been no dead end. By his third attempt, from yet another direction, he still came up empty. He pushed back from the desk, and turned toward the Chief. “Houston – we have a problem.”

TROUBLE IN PARADISE

“What’s the matter Doug?”

“This application, or rather Benjamin Robbin Nicholson – is bogus.”

“How so?”

“He doesn’t appear to exist.”

“How about the Social Security Number?” asked the Chief.

“Belongs – or maybe belonged to – a Randal Boyd Johnson, listed as a missing person, missing for the past 12 years.”

“Missing from where?” “Chicago.”

“You suppose that’s our janitor?”

“No way. Mr. Johnson’s taller, far younger – and black.”

“Dig a little deeper into this Johnson fellow. Look at the missing persons reports. That might give us a link to Nicholson, or whoever he is.” Doug continued to search. But his search lead nowhere.

Their school custodian was definitely hiding something. He stared at the screen until his eyes burned. His back ached. He was on his 4th mug of coffee. But nothing.

The while researching missing persons for the 3rd time, something caught his eye, the word ‘priest.’ How catholic could you get shy of the pope.

“Got something,” exclaimed Doug. A priest by the name of Father Fredrick Boyd Givings was reported missing also. He too was reported missing from upstate Illinois.

By 3 PM he was thoroughly searched out. He turned to the Chief. “We need to talk with our bogus janitor. Something’s definitely not kosher.”

The Chief agreed. He made a call to the school. “Hello, Gloria. Is Principal Boykin available?” There was a long pause. “Hello Zeke. Say – we’ve been doing a little research into your new custodian, and we’ve found some a few suspicious things on his application. I’d like to come back out to the school later this afternoon, and chat with him. Being the school custodian, I assume he’d be there until – what – maybe 4 or 4:30?” There was long silence, as the principal responded. “Great. Say around 4:30. It shouldn’t take long. And Dean, don’t tell him I called, or that I’m coming,” the Chief said. “There’s no need to put him on the defensive unnecessarily. Thanks Zeke. We’ll see you at 4:30.”

The Chief turned to Doug, satisfied that they now might be making progress in this the strangest of cases. “Zeke says they’re having a middle school basketball tournament beginning at 6:30 tonight, so they’ll be at the school for the duration. He says that from 4 until around 5 or so, he and the custodian should be the only ones at the school, getting ready. The coaches and players will be going home for supper before 4.”

“Does that mean I can have a break from the eye-strain machine?” asked Doug.

“Sure. Stop and have a cup of coffee.” Then the Chief walked over to a large metal cabinet on the side wall. Unlocking the cabinet, he removed a holstered revolver. He checked the weapon to assure that it was loaded, then removed a small box of extra shells from a upper shelf. Turning to Doug he said, “Here Mr. ex-Marine. Strap this on. If necessary, I’m sure you know how to use it.”

“I’d rather have the badge instead,” replied Doug, “but if you insist.”

THE TRUTH REVEALED

The two men arrived at the school at 4:30. The building appeared empty, eerily silent. They proceeded to the office to meet with the principal, but the offices were empty. They walked toward the gym. Still 20 or more yards from the gym, they heard the sound of voices. It didn’t sound like a pleasant, chit-chat conservation.

The voices were not shouting, but were distinctly harsh. The Chief stopped, and placing a hand on Doug’s shoulder, ushered him back to the corner they’d just rounded. The Chief spoke in hushed tones, “I don’t know what’s going on in there, probably nothing, but let’s split up. You continue on down the hall to the second intersection. That’ll lead you to a short hallway with an outside door. Walk down the outside of the gym, and you’ll find a back door, 2 actually. Go in the second door. It leads into a hallway which parallels the rear wall of the gym. If you’re careful, you can peek around the inside door and keep an eye on the goings on inside. Now go!”

With that, the Chief continued toward the door and the voices – voices which now sounded much more calm. Not wanting to make the custodian unduly suspicious, the Chief chose to enter the gym peacefully, casually, and with his weapon holstered. He took a deep breath, and pushed open the door.

“Oh – hi Chief. What are you doing here?” asked the principal.

“Hello Zeke. Looks like you’re getting ready for a ball game. This won’t take long. I just wanted to chat a moment with your new custodian, Mr. Nicholson.”

The custodian stood still for a long moment. His coloring seemed to change before their eyes.

His face paled to a chalky white, then slowly reddened until it was almost glowing. Slowly, he took a small step back, his arms dangling by his sides, as if useless. His lips quivered, muttering something under his breath which sounded like ‘no, no, no.’ His head dropped downward, until his chin nearly touched his chest. He presented the image of a crushed and shattered wretch. He appearance was one of total defeat.

Then began twisting his body, right then left, slowly at first, then repeating the motion over and over – his arms still dangling. Now as his arms swung loosely to and fro, his hands traced a slow and stead arc from side to side. The arm on the back swing, each time disappeared behind his back. He continued to mutter, “No – no -no,”

Chief Boykin was about to speak when – In the blink of an eye, the man’s head jerked erect. Just as suddenly, both men were staring down the barrel of an ugly black pistol.

“I – I suppose I always knew the end would come,” he said. “I guess it had to. But why now? Why when life was so peaceful here – so happy?”

“Why should it have to end?” asked the Chief.

“Because you – you – you county mounty – would soon uncover my whole nasty story, that’s why. Something told me not to come here. I shoulda listened.”

“Look, Ben – can I call you Ben? A little bogus employment application is really no big deal, not at all. What can be the worst that could happen? Zeke would probably fire you and send you packing. – maybe you’d lose a few weeks pay. That’s it. Come on – relax man.”

“Just pointing this gun at you, that means jail time, and we both know it. Let’s not kid ourselves officer. Then you’d really dig up the dirt on me – the truth – the dirty, nasty truth.”

“Then will you answer one question that’s been bugging me?” asked the chief, “Are you catholic?”

The custodian laughed. “You’re jerking me around, aren’t you? You KNOW I’m catholic! And you probably know that I was a priest for crying out loud! You know. It was stupid of me to use Randal’s social security number, that was my big downfall. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t. It was a way of feeling close to him again. Oh how I loved that man, that dirty, scheming, cheating, worthless man. He tried to blackmail me he did! He didn’t love me, he was using me, the worthless tramp! But I still loved him – why?”

“Where’s Randal now?” asked the Chief.

“Naperville. Naperville, Illinois. They were building a sidewalk at the apartments where I lived, around in back, out to the new trash dumpsters. They had the ground all dug up, and the wooden forms in place. I dug his grave in the sidewalk. It took me most of the night to do it. Man oh man was that work – almost as much as it was strangling him. But I got him in, and smoothed over the surface. No one knew any better the next day – when they poured the sidewalk. I guess he’s still there.”

The Chief and Dean Boykin looked at one another. “And you two are one more mess I’m forced to clean up.”

Suddenly the custodian raised the weapon directly toward Chief Burn’s head.

Instantly a shot rang out from across the room. A strange look crossed the custodian’s face, his knees buckled, then he toppled to the floor.

“Chief! Chief, are you OK?” It was Doug, running towards them.

“Nice shot deputy Hastings!” exclaimed the Chief, a look of pure relief on his face. The principal stood trembling, trying to restrain the strong impulse to empty his bladder.

“Paul, if you hadn’t taken that shot when you did, I’d be a goner right now. Thanks.”

“If I’d had my Marine rifle, I could‘ve shot the gun out of his hand instead. But it’s been years since I shot at anything – and pistol’s aren’t accurate,” he said, looking at the small weapon in his trembling hand. “I needed a larger target.”

“Not to worry Doug. You didn’t kill a man today – you saved 2 – you saved me – and my friend Zeke. Hey, you might get that badge after all!”

The Chief was reaching to shake Doug’s hand when he paused, “You also cleared up a mystery today deputy.” The chief made a sweeping motion with his hand, toward where the priest lay crumpled on the floor. “There’s your priest. And –  it looks like you were the book-toting repentant shooter after all!”

 

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A Bridge Goes Missing

bridge© 2017 Bill Murphy

During the night, in a small hamlet in upstate New Jersey, a bridge went missing. No, this was not a collapse. The bridge simply up and vanished – lock, stock and barrel.

Where the day before stood a heavily traveled arched iron bridge over a small river, now there was nothing. Not a trace. The roadway simply ended a few dozen yards from the river bank – cut off as clean as if done with a jeweler’s saw.

What made it all the more strange was that there was absolutely no evidence left that there had ever been a bridge there! Right up next to the pristine ends of the old highway, grass and wildflowers grew – as if they’d done so for decades.

It cause quite a traffic jam for morning commuters, and kiddies on school busses. It didn’t take long before head-scratching municipal authorities arrived to investigate this strangest of phenomenons. Needless to say, they were at a complete loss, as were county and state inspectors when they too arrived on the scene. One brave soul speculated that it was snatched away by UFOs.

Soon it became a media circus. Before 9 AM there were more news vans (they had to park blocks away) than stranded motorist and school kiddies. By 10 any news anchor worth their weight in salt was either on site, or well on their way – with several charter flights madly racing across the oceans.

Of course, there were ample residents to interview. “No, I never heard a thing during the night,” said one. “I swear I heard a huge ‘swooshing‘ noise, like a great wind or something,” said another. “I was up letting the cat back inside, around 1, when I heard it – must-a scared Felix, my cat. Scared me too!”

Around 3, Fox News interviewed a sweet old lady who lived within 40 yards of where the bridge once stood. Yes, she told them, she knew what happened to it. She knew exactly what happened to it.

According to Bela Doukas, she made the bridge ‘go away.’

Her story aired across the nation that evening on Fox News. No other news agency spoke with Bela. She explained that she’d lived “There,” as she pointed towards her house, for almost 60 years.

“Me and my Mom immigrated here from what was left of a tiny village in the mountains of northern Greece, in 1946 it was. First the Germans tore the place up, then the British made a further mess of it trying to push out the Germans. Them American boys didn’t exactly treat the town nicely either, but I married one of ’em. We didn’t have much left after the war. No need to stay. Came here with the hubby.”

She paused a moment to catch her breath. Bela Doukas‘ health had seen better days.

“Mama died before she could complete her citizenship here. All of us had good jobs, and we bought the little house there.” And she pointed to it again. “Like I said. Lived here since then. Saw a lot of changes. Most of it noisy – like the war. Boom, boom, boom. All the time. Build this. Build that. Then tear it down and build something else. Boom, boom, boom. And that bridge – it was the noisiest of all. Garbage trucks going back and forth, big trucks hauling who knows what, busses, endless cars – and every one always blowing horns. I got sick of it. So, last night, I put a hex on the bridge, you know, poof be gone – and it was GONE!”

With a huge grin on her face she exclaimed, “Now I can have peace!”

Of course, fewer people watch Fox News that ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and NPR. So who really knows what happened to the bridge! But Bela Doukas claims she did it, and the fact remains – the bridge is GONE!

 

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Love At First Sight

 

earle-may

© 2016 by Bill Murphy

Uncle Earle’s really a sentimental ole coot. But he doesn’t want that common knowledge. So I was surprised when he told me about falling in love with Aunt May.

They were not much more than 11 or 12 at the time, sixth grade, Conger County Elementary. They were in the same grade, but not in the same class rooms. He had Mrs. Rattliff (Mrs. Rattle-Trap they called her) and May was in Miss Love’s room. (We won’t mention what they called her!) Also in the sixth grade were twins, the Ewegly sisters, daughters of the Reverend and Mrs. J. Paul Ewegly (pronounced Ewe-Glee), of the Holy Ghost Home Fundamentalist Church. He was pastor. She was organist.

School kids called the twins ‘The Ugly Sisters.’ If ever a name fit, their name did. Ewe-glee those girls were! I dare say never two uglier (ewe-gleer) specimens of human-kind ever walked the earth! Because the school board felt it unwise to have brothers and sisters in the same room, Grace Ewegly was in May’s class, and Hope Ewegly in Earle’s.

It was the time of the Ewegly sister’s birthday. Their little house was far too small to host two classrooms of over-active twelve-year-olds, and – their refrigerator/freezer was on the blink. (No ice cream.) So Aunt May’s kind hearted mother – having that big rambling farm house – invited the Reverend and Sister Ewegly to have the party there. It was quite neighborly of her.

In the fall evening comes early. It was almost dark when the party started. Although Uncle Earle had seen Aunt May around school, this was his first time to be ‘up close and personal’ with her. And he liked what he saw. Little did he realize just how close and how personal that would soon become.

There were about half of each class in attendance, a pretty good turn out for the Ewegly girls. Perhaps the good attendance was due to Aunt May’s mother’s famous cat-head sugar cookies. The house was full of sugared-up, hyper active 12 year olds. After the cake had been eaten, the presents opened, and yet another bowl of ice cream spilled, Aunt May’s mom ushered the rowdy bunch outside to play. There was lots of outside lighting around the place. Aunt May’s mom believed in light.

It wasn’t long until they had a game of hide and seek going. May volunteered to be the first ‘it.’ Uncle Earle found a good place to hide around back of the house, behind the butane tank. All the other kids found places off to the right near the barn, or to the left in the corn field, and some in the bushes lining the long front porch. May came a-looking.

One of the Ewegly girls was hiding not too far from Earle, behind a tractor parked in the back yard. May spotted her right away. The Ewegly girl made a mad dash to ‘base,’ with May in hot pursuit.

In retrospect, Earle supposed that May must have forgotten why the tractor was parked in the back yard. It was to pull the concrete lid off the septic tank. The septic men were there that day to clean out the wretched pit, but had to knock off early because of the party. So when May cut across the yard to head off the Ewegly girl, she simply forgot about things septic. One second May was there, and the next she was gone – waist deep in poo-poop-pee-do.

May yelled. And Earle froze. He had never seen anything quite like it! It was oh so funny. But he dared not laugh – this was MAY in trouble – waist deep in you-know-what.

He was just about to get up and rush to the aid of this fair damsel in distress when – May’s mother came crashing out the back door screaming and cursing a blue streak! “May, you stupid oaf,” she screamed – among other un-printable things. Now Earle was frozen with embarrassment for May. If he came out of hiding, May would see that he saw her miserable state. He simply couldn’t do that to May! He stayed hidden.

No sooner than you could say “Jack Robinson,” than the Reverend and Mrs. J. Paul Ewegly gathered up their daughters, the presents, the few remaining crumbs of birthday cake – and shooed the other kids down the road toward their respective homes. Aunt May’s mom was left to take care of May and things septic.

Now Earle was trapped! Alone. Alone that is, except for a very mad woman, and a very, very, stinky young girl. Peering from behind the butane tank, Earle now saw May’s mother stomp from around the corner of the house dragging a garden hose. “Crawl outta there and strip girl!” she barked. “Strip and throw them nasty clothes back in the pit!”

Now Earle was completely frozen – frozen with fear. Frozen with dread. Frozen in anticipation! His eyes as big as saucers, took in the sight of nasty garments being shed – one by one. And then came the bright splash of crystal water washing away all that filth – all in the brilliant light of the back yard. Washed clean, now stood a trembling, totally naked, May. May in the flesh. All of the flesh. In nothing but the flesh. “So help me, she looked like a goddess,” he said. It was the most wondrous sight his young eyes had beheld!

Long after May’s mother had ushered her naked daughter into the house, Earle still crouched transfixed – frozen to the spot. Truly, a thing of incalculable magnitude had happen here this night. It had happened to him. It had happened FOR him. And deep in his young heart, he knew it was all for a reason!

You see, Uncle Earle, for all his seemingly wild tendencies, is thoroughly tame and tender at heart. His thinking is ‘old school.’ To Uncle Earl, May’s very honor had been compromised. Howbeit accidentally, it had happened. And he, Earle, was the one who had inadvertently compromised her honor. And now it was his duty to make things right – to ‘avenge’ her honor as it were.

His thinking took this direction: Because her honor, her glory, her every image had been revealed to him in such a magnificent way, he and he alone, was destined to share in that revelation ever again. His mind was set. Made up. Firm. Someday he would, he must – marry that girl. And he did!

Uncle Earle told me he didn’t relate the story of that night to May until 10 years after they’d been married – and even then – she slapped him.

 

 

 

 

Another Place In Time, Part Three

cover-time

THE COST

“Miss Sylvie,” said the old woman, pointing toward the room off to the left, “Would you mind stepping into my bedroom there, and fetch my Bible. It’s on the nightstand beside the bed.”

Amilee looked at the old woman quizzically. “What, child,” responded the Dark Mama, “Are you surprised I read the Good Book? I told you I ain’t a witch.”

Sylvie returned with a large, very old and very used large print Bible. “Thanks child.” She began thumbing through the pages. “Now this is talking about the Kingdom ‘a Heaven, but the principle’s the same.” And she read: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.”

The old woman stared into Amilee’s eyes. “What you want is a treasure dear to your heart. But nothing’s free in life, child. Any fool knows that. The Good Book says you got to be willing to sell all in order to have the treasure. Are you willing to do that for your treasure, child?”

Amilee looked at the old woman quizzically. “Are you talking about how much I must pay you to help me?”

“Lawd no child! Haven’t you heard anything I’ve been telling you? Yes it’ll cost you! But you don’t pay me child – you pay yourself!”

INSTRUCTIONS

For the next half hour the old woman outlined certain specific, and detailed procedures that Amilee was to follow – to the letter – if she wanted to claim her treasure. “I know this might all sound silly to you child,” the old woman said, “But I can’t stress strongly enough – that you MUST follow these procedures EXACTLY as I’ve told you. Nothing more. But nothing less. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said Amilee, rather weakly. “But I don’t understand. What will following this – this – this ritual do for me? It all sounds so spooky, so magical almost!”

“Just you do it!” And you do it EXACTLY,” the old woman added. “Do you want the truth Missy? Then I’ll tell you the truth. Right now, right this minute, you don’t stand a ghost of a chance of claiming your treasure. You stand a better chance in becoming the Pope’s wife! But – if you follow my instructions, if you follow them seriously, follow them earnestly, follow them reverently, and follow them faithfully and to the letter – then this silly ritual as you call it will prepare you heart, your mind, your body, and your spirit. Then perhaps, just perhaps, this little so called ritual will have made it all worth while. I hope so child. I hope so for your sake!”

RITUAL SUPPLIES

First, there was all this stuff to purchase. New this. New that. Crystal, not glass. Linen, not some man-made blend. Everything had to be brand new – and there must have been dozens of items. And – the old woman refused to let her write anything down. That was a part of the ‘ritual.’ It had to be done from memory.

It was already late when Sylvie and Amilee left The Dark Mama’s place. Fortunately, that put them even closer to Oak Branch, and the large shopping mall. The Dark Mama had stressed, “Don’t waste you time trying to find these things at Wal-Mart, child. Treasured desires require treasured offerings. Top quality my dear. Nothing but top quality.” Oak Branch Mall would have them all – if only they could get there in time.

PREPARATION

As per instructions, Amilee locked the doors on returning home, unplugged the land line, and turned off her cell phone. Next she closed all the drapes and blinds. She was not to be disturbed for anything. Then she began of arranging the assorted ritual items, each in its specified place. Two candles in the bedroom. Two in the hallway. And eight in the bath. A candle at each corner of the bathtub, and the others equally spaced around the room. She stripped the bed and replaced the sheets with the crisp, new linen ones. One pillow… with a crisp, new linen pillow case. She folded the plain, white, full length nightgown, and laid it neatly at the foot of the bed. She almost forgot to cover the full length mirror in bathroom. Then she began filling the tub with water, as hot as she could stand it. As the tub filled, she emptied the small bottle of Lilac bath oil into the water. Amilee walked to the bedroom and closed the closet doors. Next she lit the candles there, and turned off the light. In the hallway, she lit those candles and turned off that light. She entered the utility room. There she stripped off all her clothes, placing them in the hamper on the washing machine, and switched off the light. She walked back into the bathroom naked, closing the utility room door behind her, and the door from the hallway to the kitchen. Now only the bedroom, hallway, and bathroom remained opened to one another. The rest of the house was blocked off, eerily darkened and quiet. Finally she carefully lit the candles in the bathroom, and switched off the overhead light. This area of her home was now a special sanctuary, illuminated by the soft glow of candlelight. The scent of Lilac filled the room. It was time to begin.

THE RITUAL

By now the tub was filled with hot, steaming water. Amilee stepped in. She arranged the new tub pillow behind her neck, and slid deep into the water until only her chin was above water. She’d been told to relax. Even amid the recent calamities, surprisingly, it was not too difficult to relax. The sweet lilac water, soft and hot on her skin, enveloped and cradled her as if she were back in her mother’s womb. If felt secure. It felt good. She closed here eyes – and for a while – she thought of nothing. How long she remained in that blessed state of security and serenity she did not know. For once in many horrible hours, she was at rest and at peace. Just as her body lay buoyant in the steaming water, her spirit floated above the chaos that had become her life. Her very mind was being bathed and cleansed. Slowly, her thought processes began to return. A deep and urgent dream for normalcy and peace flooded her being.

A phrase the old woman had used kept reappearing over and over with her head – “Treasured desires require treasured offerings.” Amilee now treasured the concept of peace in her life more than anything. She’d been such a fool to take that peace for granted while she yet possessed it. Never again. Never again would she be lax in holding tight to peace – never again. She was digging deeper into her resolve. She was digging deeper into a true understanding of self and self worth. She was digging deeper toward that buried treasure. The heat of the water melted away her fears. The wetness washed away her doubts. The sweet aroma of Lilac filled her heart with hope, like the hope which naturally comes with Springtime. Amille was willing to make what ever offering was necessary.

MORNING

Buzzzpt. Buzzzpt. Buzzzpt. A sleepy arm groped across the nightstand, desperately trying to silence the horrid alarm clock. Get up, she willed herself. Amilee shuffled to the small bathroom and folded her nightgown. She stepped into the shower, even before the warm had kicked in. She stepped from the shower and toweled dry, catching a glance of her image in the over-sized mirror. Not bad she thought. She toweled her hair dry and ran a brush through it in half a dozen rapid strokes, then reached around the doorway for her skirt and blouse. They were not there! Drat. She’d have to iron.

When dressed – she headed for the door. Amilee was holding an important press conference for 10:30 this morning. As per usual, she was running a bit late. She usually ran late for everything. But being late this morning was not an option. Now behind schedule, she rushed out the door. With a thousand thoughts running through her hyperactive mind, Amilee pulled into the street. “Ok Amilee,” she said to herself, “Relax. The cameras are only machinery.” Amilee was more worried about her appearance than her answers to the media.

30 – 35 – 40 – 45. Amilee’s eyes were on the road ahead although she hardly saw what lay ahead. Even if she’d seen the climbing numbers on the speedometer, chances are it wouldn’t have registered… or mattered. She was late. And she was focused. Today was a big day. Today was a big day indeed.

A sudden flash of Red ahead! A bike! It all happened in a split second.

The image of the Red bike looming before her had hardly registered on her brain when natural reflex kicked in. Amilee jerked the wheel to the left – right into the path of an approaching truck. The Red bike skidded to a harmless stop right in the spot that Amilee’s Buick had just occupied. But Amilee’s speeding Buick and the huge, heavy trash collection truck couldn’t possible occupy the same spot. There was a tremendous crash.

AFTERMATH

The next day the newspaper proclaimed: Candidate Killed In Crash – Wilson was likely winner of race for governor. Clouster County News by Harvey Phillips: Amilee Allen Wilson, candidate for governor was tragically killed early this morning in a head on crash with a county trash collection truck. There were no witnesses other than the driver of the truck and 12 year old Billy Frye. “She swerved into me to avoid hitting the boy,” the truck driver said. The tearful lad told reporters that he was temporarily distracted when a strap broke on his school bag. “I didn’t see her coming,” he said. According to the truck’s driver, he didn’t believe that speed was an issue. Ms Wilson is being hailed as a hero for avoiding the lad. “It was a great sacrifice,” said Sylvia Turner, her longtime friend and assistant. Pollsters say that that Ms Wilson was favored to win next year’s race for governor. “She was a shoo-in if you ask me,” remarked Joshua Stone, “She was the right person for the job. We will truly miss her!” Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.

 

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