THE BOY WHO COULD SEE TOMORROW

© 2018 Bill Murphy

People often ask writer’s how their stories come to be.  I my case, it’s usually that I first meet the characters – in my mind – as if meeting a flesh and blood person for the first time.  Then, these factious people tell their stories to me.  Their story simply unfolds. Such is the case of the boy who could see tomorrow.  I met his parents first.

Their story is, I’ll admit, a dark tale. It’s neither dark in the spooky sense, nor is it evil.  It’s just a story that we hope will never happened… period.  Some things, although not specifically sinful per se, simply should not be.  I’ll not ask you to enjoy this story.  Just think about it. 

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THE BOY WHO COULD SEE TOMORROW

Paula Wilson, the Mother –

Bucky was our middle child.  His birth was special, as was his life.  He was not suppose to be… and that in more ways than one.  His older sister, Connie, had a difficult beginning herself.  I was sick much of her pregnancy, and her birth was a long and difficult affair.  The small country hospital where she was finally delivered didn’t make matters much easier, on either of us.  Connie was a late talker and walker.  But when she blossomed, into a beautiful, radiant bloom.

The doctor’s told us that I’d probably not be able to conceive again.  That’s why Bucky was such a welcomed surprise.  We thought of him as our miracle child.

My pregnancy with Bucky went as smooth as silk, and his delivery also.  He was such a healthy baby.  We considered everything about him such a blessing.  He was always spot on with his developmental abilities – and even early with some.  He was an early walker and talker, much to our amazement.

His special ability, if I can call it that, was difficult to spot at first.  There were small clues to be sure, but when one is not expecting something like this, it’s difficult to grasp, and impossible to understand.  Looking back now, I think the first clues were those exhibited at feeding time.  Even as adults, all of us have differences in taste.  So it’s not surprising when a small child refuses strained spinach or squash.  Bucky was always a good eater. But when he didn’t like a food… say… beets – he’d turn his head away before he’d ever sampled it.  See what I mean?

By the time he was three, my husband and I knew that Bucky was different.  Evidence of his unique ability began to surface more frequently.  And it frightened us.  But Bucky was far too young at the time to discuss it with us.  And there were his frequent headaches. He whined and cried, holding his head.  They didn’t last long, but were frequent.  The doctors were baffled.  They could uncover no reason for them, none at all. Of course, we didn’t discuss with the doctors our growing knowledge of Bucky’s ability to seemingly peer into the future.

The first time Bucky seriously spoke with me about this was when he was 4.  He was having another of his headaches.  He’d crawled into my lap, cuddling close.  He turned and looked into my eyes.  “I don’t like the headaches,” he said.  “I don’t want to see tomorrow.”  Then his little arms squeezed me tightly, as if he was attempting to bury himself into my body.

I’ve never believed that seeing into the future could be a good thing.  And I’ve never believed in so-called fortune tellers.  I can’t see how this would be a natural and normal, in any form.  If it were possible to see into the future, it would open wide a door to opportunities ripe for corruption and ruin.  It would not be a blessing.  It would be a curse.  But somehow, my son was gifted with this curse.  He could see into tomorrow.

Franklin Wilson, the Father –

Bucky was the son I always wanted.  I was one happy camper at his birth.  I considered changing jobs when he was born, just to have more time with him.  Traveling like I did may have brought in more money, but then, money isn’t everything.  I missed the day he first spoke a recognizable word, and when he took his first step.  I missed a lot of his early days.  Perhaps this was why I was the last one in the family to admit the truth of Bucky’s unbelievable ability – or maybe that should be… disability.  It was a disability, for sure.  It set him apart from all of us, from everyone.  It made him different.  Our great love for him was intermixed with fear and dread.

Yes, I know that in certain cases, a glimpse into the future could be a reassuring and positive thing – but for the most part – personally, I have far too much stress coping with the present, to add knowledge of the future on top of that.  And this ability could be exploited – a unique tool to increase personal gain, wealth, influence, leverage.  But that would be like having the keys to every safe in town… and this could not be good.  The weed of temptation finds itself in every garden – there’s no point in watering and fertilizing it!

Once I accepted the unassailable fact that my son somehow possessed this dangerous ability, it shook me to the very core.  Oh what an tremendous responsibility had been give my wife and I – to raise and protect this ‘innocent’ child – a child who was of such great danger to himself, and to others.  Only a fool would think of it otherwise!

Our first ‘scare’ came when Bucky was almost 5.  I’m not sure what we were thinking at the time, but to give the lad as much ‘normalcy’ as possible, we enrolled him in a local daycare/kindergarten.  Bucky loved it!  By this time, we’d talked to him about the fact that no others ‘saw tomorrow’ as he did – and that they would be alarmed if they thought that he did.  We strongly urged him to keep his ‘visions’ or what ever they were, to himself.  What were we thinking?  Bucky was only a kid!

Bucky’s group was scheduled for a field trip on Friday.  They were going to the Municipal Opera House, for a tour, and hear the orchestra practice.  Friday afternoon, when his mother arrived to pick up Bucky after school, she was directed to the principal’s office.  Something very strange had happened concerning Bucky.  It seems that there had been a change in plans for the field trip.  The orchestra’s conductor had fallen ill – so the Opera House tour was off.  Instead they’d gone to the zoo.  This was not known until after school on Thursday.  The conductor was hospitalized late Thursday afternoon, and the school notified after the end of the school day.  It was then that the plans were changed – to take the kids to the zoo instead.  Thursday night, the principal called Bucky’s teacher, and told her the change of plans.

Then Thursday morning, as Bucky’s teacher greeted each child as they entered the building, the first thing out of Bucky’s mouth was, “I’m glad we’re going to the zoo today instead.  That opera stuff is boring.  I can’t wait to see the elephants, they’re so neat!” How did he know?  The change in plans had not as yet been announced to the children.

Monday, the daycare was called, and told that Bucky was ill.  And the family made plans.  This scare of discovery had been too close!  Bucky never went back to the daycare. Within 3 weeks we moved to Birmingham… 500 mile away.

Connie Wilson, the Sister –

Bucky was born the summer before I started 1st grade, which would have made me six, barely old enough to be somewhat of a help with Bucky.  Dad was ecstatic when Bucky arrived.  He’d wanted a boy, and Bucky was the answer to all his prayers and dreams, or so it seemed.  I admit to being thoroughly jealous, up until the newness of the new baby wore off.  Neither Mom nor Dad had any siblings, and where we lived, so far out in the country, meant that neighbors were few and far between.

I was not often around other babies or small children for comparison, but Bucky seemed to me to be just like what others were like.  We went to church, but not on regular basis.  Dad traveled in his work.  Although it was only a two state area, it was the states of Iowa and Nebraska, meaning a lot of driving for little business.  Dad needed his down time at home on weekends.  But we still considered ourselves Christians.

The first time I remember seeing Bucky using his – strange ability, was when I was in 4th grade.  It was a school day, and I was walking to the front door to board the school bus, when Bucky stopped me.  “Don’t go,” he said,  “I don’t want you to get hurt.”  But I pushed past him, laughing.  Little did I know – that he knew.

At recess, Moli Trent applied greasy sun-screen to her arms, and then climbed the jungle-gym.  I was behind her, my hand slipped when near the top wrung, and I fell – breaking my arm in two places.  Bucky knew it would happen.

This awareness of future events happened more and more often.  But even once a month was too much for me.  They frightened me.  Bucky frightened me.  And then we moved to Birmingham, I thought that things might be better.  They weren’t.

Paula Wilson, the Mother –

After the day care scare, my husband and I had a long delayed pow-pow.  What to do about Bucky?  We were both in agreement that Bucky’s gift was laced with danger, and not just to himself.  We where forced to look at the big picture.  His ability posed a threat not only to our family, but – if we were honest about it, to all of humanity.  I’m forced to agree that in some specific cases, a peek into the future could be a positive thing, but on the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, this unique ability could adversely cause great havoc.  Yet – think about it – if one knew what tomorrow will bring, can one still alter tomorrow and make it different?  I think not.  And I was not about to test this hypothesis with some hair-brained experiment.

This was way over our heads.  This was an issue, a problem, out of our league.  But still, try as I might, I could see no reason to believe that Bucky’s strange talent was anything but a curse, an unwanted and unneeded freakish ability.  It could serve no positive purpose.  But it could propel him, and our family, into great turmoil and danger.  But what were we to do?

For starters, we decided to homeschool Bucky.  We thought about moving to some remote and desolate location, to live off the grid, to hid ourselves from the world.  But we are not off the grid type people.  We moved to Birmingham to get away from the daycare fiasco, to distance ourselves from the fallout we feared it would bing.

Birmingham is definitely not off the grid, but at least, no one knew us, or knew of us, there.

Franklin Wilson, the Father – I’m not sure what the founding fathers of Birmingham were thinking when they turned over that first spade of soil.  There’s actually a lot of level ground in Alabama… but not in Birmingham.  And yes, we did buy a home in the suburbs of that great city, where it is much, much hillier.

We got a fantastic deal on the place!  The home was in foreclosure, and we bought it, as is, from the bank.  The former owners had gone thru a bitter divorce.  The struggling, weak willed mother, who got the house, was left with two traumatized teenage daughters.  She allowed the two girls to redecorate the house, any way they wanted.  The colorful result was a cross between psychedelic brothel and carnival fun house.  And the girls painted it themselves, in what looked like one weekend.  You’d have to have seen it to believe it.

It took us several weeks to restore the place to its original sanity.  The house was set on a hill, a very steep hill, especially in back.  The backyard had no problems with drainage, the 25+ degree slope took ample care of that.  The driveway was on the left side of the house, with a large parking pad beside the house, where it opened into the garage/basement area.  The front of the house and entry way, were at ground level, with steps leading upstairs to what for all practical purposes, was the ‘first floor.’  This contained the den, dining room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.  All were large and spacious.

Just off the rear of the house, and at ground level to the house, was an addition – a small ‘mother-in-law‘ apartment with 3 rooms.  This apartment could be accessed from steps inside the garage and leading down, or directly from an outside door on the rear of the house.  A small, brick and stone patio wrapped around two sides of the apartment.  Above this patio, a small narrow balcony had been added off the master bedroom upstairs.  It was almost 20 feet from the balcony to the patio below.  The view of the backyard from this balcony was breathtaking.

Connie, who was eleven at the time we moved, begged to have the sub-basement bedroom.  But we thought she was too young at that time.  We promised it to her when she turned sixteen.  Until then, Paula and I would share it as our office/hobby/crafts area, and where she would homeschool Bucky.  Connie then asked for the first bedroom off the upstairs hallway, and we agreed.  Bucky’s room was just down that short hallway and directly across from their shared bathroom.

Within a month, we’d settled in to our new normalcy.

Connie Wilson, the Sister –

It’s been six years now, since that terrible night that changed our lives forever.  I seems more like sixty.  Gone are the happy days with a happy family.  Gone too is the crazy house in the hills of Birmingham – at least it’s gone from my life – as is Bucky.

That night, Dad was downstairs in the hobby room, working on his electric trains.  Mom fell asleep watching TV in their bedroom.  I thought Bucky was in his room.

Because mine and Bucky’s bathroom was right across the hallway from his bedroom, all he had to do was crawl out of his bed, and walk in a straight line, out his door, across the hallway, and into the bathroom.  From Mom and Dad’s bedroom, if Bucky got up from Dad’s side of the bed and walked straight, he’d walk through the sliding glass door that led out onto the narrow balcony directly over the stone patio below.  This patio had a wooden railing.  Whoever built it, didn’t use pressure treated wood.  The railing was rather rickety, and Dad had not as yet gotten around to replacing it.  Mom left the patio door open that night.  She enjoyed the cool night air of Autumn.  Bucky’s death was a terrible accident!

The investigation dragged on for over two years.  No charges were ever filed.  The authorities were divided over what had actually happened.  The lead investigator was of the opinion it was an accident.  He theorized that Bucky had gotten into bed with Mom, then later, groggy with sleep, walked off the balcony thinking he was going to the bathroom.

The chief of police believed that either Mom, or Dad, had actually staged this accident, and pushed Bucky off the balcony.  But he had difficulty proving it, because he could never uncover a possible motive.  He flatly refused to believe our accounts that Bucky could see into the future.

Bucky’s death, coupled with the trauma of the long drawn out investigation, took their toll on Mom and Dad.  It changed them, hardened them, stole from them their very joy and joy of life.  They drifted farther and father apart.  I now live six months with Mom, and six with Dad. The divorce was finalized in March.

For many months, the investigators attempted to pit me against them, wanting my assistance in extracting the truth from each.  To be completely honest, I have no idea what to believe.  Both Mom and Dad clearly loved Bucky, although they hated his unusual ability.  But I can’t believe that this would bring either one, or both, to kill him.  I hope it was just an accident, an awful accident.

A few months before the divorce, one of the officers even asked if I had done it.  He said that sometimes children love their parents so much, that they can do unbelievable things for them.  I loved, and still love, both my parents, that much I know for sure.  I know I do.  But if I did do it, I can’t remember that.  I don’t think that I could do it.  If I did, then I’ve pushed that memory far, far away.

I loved Bucky too.  I really did.

 

 

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THE ULTIMATE BUG

Spider 1

© 2018 by Bill Murphy

It was a strange bug indeed, very strange.

He noticed it quite by accident, when he thought he saw movement on the carpeted steps leading to the upstairs bedroom.  It was tiny, hardly 1/2 inch long, and beige in color.  It blended perfectly with the carpet.  He snapped on the stairway light, and leaned to have a closer look.

It appeared spider-like, but this bug had 6 legs.  Two long antennae poked from the head, giving the illusion of an 8th set of legs.  For a brief moment, he thought the thing had turned to look at him.  That’s when he stepped down on it, hard – and continued on up the steps.

Paul Nelson had packing to do.  He‘d pick up the dead bug when he returned downstairs – with a wad of tissue in hand.  That morning, before reporting for his shift as a 911 operator, he’d taken the time to lay socks, underwear, and pajamas on the bed.  Two suits, dress and casual shirts, and pants, on hangers hung on a rack attached to the back of the bedroom door.  Soon, his suitcase and hand-up bag were packed and ready.

Grabbing a length of toilet tissue from the upstairs bathroom, he headed back down the steps, careful to watch where he stepped.  The bug was on the 4th step from the bottom. But it was not where Paul Nelson had ground it into the carpet… it was a full 18 inches closer to the wall… and still crawling.

He stepped down on it again, harder this time.  Lifting his foot, he saw that it was again, obviously dead.  It looked dead.  He continued down the steps and into the kitchen.  The kitchen trash, where he knew he’d find an empty soup can, sat in the corner near the steps.  He returned to the steps, picked up the bug with the wad of tissue, and stuffed both into the soup can, which he crammed back into the trash can.  There!  That takes care of it.

He returned upstairs, took the suitcase off the bed, and sat it beside the bedroom door. He then took the hang-up bag downstairs and hung it by the front door.  He would have taken the suitcase downstairs also, but he still needed his shaving bag in the morning, so he’d add it to the suitcase then.  On his return upstairs, and as he walked past the kitchen trash can, he didn’t hear the soft scratching sounds coming from deep within the trash.

He set the alarm for 5.  One of his co-workers would be picking him up at 5:45 to take him to the airport.  His flight to Washington DC would be leaving at 7:45.

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Paul Nelson had a strange dream that night.  At least he thought it was a dream.

The alarm rang 5:45.  He pulled himself out of bed, and seemingly by rote, completed his morning bath ritual, and dressed.  Next he packed the shaving kit into the suitcase, and took it downstairs – and waited, until he heard the honk of a car horn.  Picking up the clothes bag and suitcase, he exited the front door.  It was a short walk to the curb, where his co-worker sat waiting in his vehicle.  Paul Nelson placed the luggage on the back seat, and then sat in the front, staring ahead.

“What’s wrong Paul? You look funny – troubled, or something,” said his friend.

“No, I’m ok. Let’s get to the airport,” replied Paul.

“I’ll bet you’re just nervous.  I know I’d be.  I’d be as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room filled with rocking chairs.  Golly, and meeting the President too.  And getting that award – Paul Nelson, 911 Operator of the Year.  How lucky can one man be!”

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Paul Nelson didn’t have a strange dream as he thought he did.  It was real.  It was very real.  He only thought he was dreaming – that is, while he could still dream, and while he remained in possession of his own brain.  He thought he was dreaming about the strange insect crawling into his ear, and into his brain.

But it wasn’t an insect.  And it wasn’t a dream.  Paul Nelson is now no longer thinking for himself.  The mind of Paul Nelson has ceased to exist.  It has been hijacked, and replaced.

It is less than 40 feet from the kitchen trash can to Paul Nelson’s bedroom upstairs.  It is approximately 400 miles from Paul Wilson’s home to Washington DC.  And it is close to 4 light years across the milky way, to the home base of the mechanical insect-like drone.  Tomorrow the drone will made its final journey, an undetected transfer from Paul Nelson into the most power and influential leader on this element-rich planet.

The President is known to be a hugger.  4 inches is all that is required for the transfer… for that final journey.

The rest, as they say, will be history.

 

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PONIE

Horse copy© 2018 Bill Murphy

I was 12 the day that Ponie walked onto our property and into our lives. I was the first to notice the dirty, yet beautiful colt which came from who knows where, and was to alter or lives forever.

Ours was small dirt farm/ranch, mostly dirt, of 30 something acres, nestled in a small valley surrounded by low mountains. We were the only homesteaders in the valley, our closest neighbors over the hills were at least 30 miles distant. But we loved the simple farm-life, and quiet isolation. It was as if our family was alone on the earth.

Dad said that Ponie looked to be about a year old, give or take a few months. Obviously, she was well accustomed to people, because she approached us willingly. It was as if she was seeking us out. No doubt, she’d walked away from her own home. But who’s?

Trips into town were few and far between, and then a 2 day trip. On Dad’s next trip into town he inquired about any missing colts, but learned of none. He left a description of Ponie at several locations, taking care not to give too much detail, lest someone, using details they didn’t previously know, might come claim and take Ponie from us. There were never any inquiries.

We all loved Ponie. I thought her eyes were her finest feature… they seemed to be unnaturally large. ‘Cow eyes,’ Mom called them. But perhaps Julia, my older sister by 3 years, loved Ponie best. The two bonded quickly.

Julia had a soft and tender heart. Perhaps it was because of her frail and sickly early years. They say she spent her first 2 years almost constantly in Mom’s arms. Julia was a voracious reader, and wrote the most beautiful poems. She soon developed the habit of taking tablet and pen, and riding Ponie off into the hills to think, write, and as she put it: ‘to become’ – in peace and solitude.

Early on we learned that Ponie had one unusual trait. She was afraid of thunder – and terrified of lightning, especially if both were close. The first storm which visited our humble farm after Ponie arrived, reviled this. That summer night, over the thunder, we could hear her wails coming from the barn. Julia and I raced to her side. We found her cowed in the corner, trying to bury herself under the hay. Oh how our hearts broke at the sight. We snuggled next to her until the storm passed.

It was a freak storm which changed our lives. Far stronger than most, it roared over the hills to the northwest as if out of nowhere, suddenly, and with unbelievable strength. It ripping our land with terrible winds, while heavy rains plunged daylight into darkness. Yet this night appeared to flash into day – with every brilliant explosion of lightning. The accompanying thunder was deafening. And – Julia and Ponie were out there somewhere! Hours earlier, she’d ridden out to her writing place.

Dad grabbed his heaviest coat, and his lantern, and headed toward Julia’s spot. He was gone for hours, or so it seemed. The storm was just beginning to wain, when we saw Dad’s lantern thru the rain. Ponie followed close behind. As they drew neared, we saw Julia, draped across Ponie’s back. Dad stopped yards from the house, and shouted for us to stay inside, but Mom raced past me and to Julia’s side. I’ll never forget her agonizing screams. I thought they’d stand there in the rain forever. Looking back, I’m glad they did. The rain bathed most of the blood away.

Soon, Julia’s lifeless body lay on the table. She looked as though she was sleeping. It was the first time I’d witness a lifeless person, and this was my beloved sister! As I stood over her, not knowing what or how to think, I noticed the deep imprint of a horses‘ hoof on her forehead – Ponie’s.

I’d not noticed that Dad had walked away. There was another crack of thunder, but I quickly realized that it was the sound of a shotgun blast. I raced to the door, to see dad standing over the body of Ponie. I’d lost two of my closest companions that awful night. Mom and Dad were never the same again. They seemed to age daily, right before my eyes.

I was too young then to understand, but looking back now, I can see why Dad took Ponie’s life that night. We all do what we believe is best. We all act and react to events beyond us, and beyond our ability to change. Even Ponie had.

Julia had been compelled to ride out to her hallowed spot, to put on paper her thoughts, her desires, her plans, her hopes, and her prayers. Her keen focus on these things, I know, blinded her to the fast approaching storm.

Ponie surely reacted in terror to the sudden storm that summer afternoon, and in her inability to cope, she had somehow struck Julia. It was not something she would have done otherwise. Her action was simple in-bred reaction.

And Dad, in his helplessness to face the being which had taken his beloved Julia from him, had forever removed Ponie from his sight.

I now know that each one involved, Julia, Ponie, and Dad, were each simply doing that which they were apt to do, that which they were compelled to do, that which their hearts and lives led them to do. There was no right or wrong involved, no guilt or innocence. They were simply doing and being themselves.

It was a painful lesson for me to learn. We each have our personal lives, our unique dreams and ambitions.  If we were all alike, this would be a most boring world. But sadly, many people never learn this simple lesson. When I am just being myself, someone want me to be like them. They never realize that I perhaps, might wish that they were like me. Can’t we just be ourselves?

I miss Mom and Dad. I miss Julia. And I also miss Ponie. While it lasted, Ponie brought joy to all our lives.

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The illustration above that I chose to use for Ponie was painted by me, for my grandmother in Carthage, Mississippi in 1953, when I was 12 years old.  Bill Murphy 

 

 

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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

giant

©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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