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RPG Digest

April 2020

 

Copyright 2020 by the RPG Partnership

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Link to online version: http://alstonbooks.xyz/RPGDigest.htm

 

Appreciation

 

Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. Another spring photo from Betsy Breedlove.

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Brave Lone Red Tulip by Sybil Austin Skakle. 3

In the Spring by Laura Alston. 3

The Unseen Intruder! By Diana Goldsmith. 3

Fear by Tim Whealton. 4

The Easter Miracle by E. B. Alston. 5

Henry James by Rita Berman. 6

Southbound by Peggy Ellis. 10

Nemesis by Sybil Austin Skakle. 16

Galileo, Master of the Seven Arts by Randy Bittle. 17

Jerusalem by Sybil Austin Skakle. 19

Eggs by Marry Williamson. 20

A Brief German Beer Drinking Story by John Burns. 21

Winter Getaway by Howard A. Goodman. 22

Samuel Johnson’s Prayer. 24

Scary Forward Thinking by Aristotle. 24

The Ultimate Redneck Convention by E. B. Alston. 26

Postcards from the Road, Part 1 byJohn Burns. 28

Summary of How Different Countries Are Reacting to the Crises by John Cleese. 31

Lincoln Story 32

A Friend in Need by E. B. Alston. 32

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen by E. B. Alston. 34

Now You Know How I Feel by Howard A Goodman. 44

April in Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 45

The Diary of Samuel  Pepys. 46

Twilight for the Gods by E. B. Alston. 49

April Showers by Peggy Ellis. 55

Contributors. 55

 

 


 

Brave lone red tulip

among masses of bright green

in spring flower bed

 

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

 

In the Spring

Laura Alston

 

In the spring of the year, flowers will bloom.

Soft clouds will scuttle across bright blue skies.

Warmer weather will begin to settle in,

And kinder breezes will flutter newly growing leaves.

 

When spring comes, we will shed heavy coats

And choose lighter, brighter colors to wear.

The blacks, the browns, the gray colors of winter

Will be discarded for blues, yellows, and pinks.

 

Welcome spring, you're right on time.

You have a special beauty that soothes

Away the long winter bleakness of spirit.

You've come to take us to happier times ahead.

 

 

The Unseen Intruder!

Diana Goldsmith

No one has found me, I'm pleased to say. I'm quite comfortable where I am. I have all I need for the present but I do need more. I need to get on the move while there is time. It's really a war zone. I think we're winning now but I need to start going ahead. Soon there will be no room for all of us. I have produced a family of my own and they in turn have reproduced.

Soon we will find somewhere else to live and move on again. "The world is my oyster" so the saying goes so I don't have to worry about borders, wars, religion, colour or ethnicity. I am free and there are no weapons to attack me or that will kill me. I am a hidden force that can't be seen by eye but our effects can be felt! Sometimes we have deadly consequences and that is what we want - world domination. Our enemies used to blame each other and fight and war but no it's more simple- Viruses rule!

 

 

Fear

Tim Whealton

 

It paralyzes, defeats and destroys. It’s as natural as breathing but only makes things worse. It ranges from worry to panic but it’s still just plain old fear. Worst of all it makes us do dumb things. In my church I don’t see many that are victims of unreasonable fear. However, we all need to recognize unreasonable fear in ourselves and especially others.

Fear in others might even be easier to recognize than when it is in our own minds. We filter and rationalize what we tell our selves but that’s for another time. We will need to help others during times of need. That’s what Christians do. We must prepare ourselves to understand what others might be feeling before we attempt to help. When a person is in the grip of fear it doesn’t help to just say “Don’t be scared.” Remember, fear has made them dumb. You don’t attack someone dealing with fear. “That’s stupid, you’re crazy, that will never happen,” and other smart one liners will only make it worse. Slow down and think before you proceed.

First you have to gain trust. Ever notice how people that truly love you can say things that you won’t tolerate from others. Your Mom can tell you that you look fat, or sloppy, or you are being mean and you stop and look and look in the mirror. You don’t hate your Mom because you know she loves you. The love a person dealing with fear needs to see in you is not love the noun, (a feeling), it is love the verb, (action, doing something). You only feel loved when someone does something, not when they feel something.

This might takes some work, but good things usually do. Once you have trust you can start to ask the important questions. You will already know what has caused the fear so the important question will be “Why are you afraid?” It was what Jesus asked his Disciples.

Real fear is not a superficial emotion. It lives deep in the subconscious. Most of the time the real problem will be several why questions.

“Why are you afraid?”

“I might lose my job.”

“Why does that scare you?”

“I can’t make that much money elsewhere!”

“Why does that scare you?”

“If I don’t make enough money my marriage will fall apart.”

“What would that mean?”

“I will be alone” (Finally we get close to the root of the fear!)

Four why’s back is maybe an average. Sometimes more are needed.

 

I am not telling you to become a self-taught psychiatrist. I’m just saying we need to be careful, respectful, and considerate when we try to help. My mother was a great example of helping people.

She grew up in circumstances that make my life seem like a cakewalk. She was born in 1908. Her Dad died of the flu in 1918. She caught it and her condition was so bad they laid out a dress to bury her in. Her Dad’s death left a wife and seven small children behind. This was way, way before there were such things as food stamps and social services. She was the oldest girl and her older brother was the twelve-year-old man of the house. They ate what he caught and killed after my mother dressed it and cooked it. They had to step up because Grandmother had severe depression along with tending to babies. I grew up listening to my mother’s stories of her life.

The funny thing was those stories were always about how blessed they were. They were raised with Christian faith and whatever they got was a blessing. One story was when Grandmother heard that some fishermen had a big catch of speckled trout. She went with a bucket to ask them if she could have some for her children because they hadn’t had any meat in some time. The fishermen said no but she could have the guts. She brought home a bucket of fish guts. I asked if they were mad and she said NO! We fried up the air bladders and put the hearts and livers in a stew with wild onions and potatoes and faired like kings! That was an amazing woman.

My mother always seemed to know exactly what to do. She told me the most important thing when someone needed help was to simply show up. If she couldn’t do anything else she would write a letter. Just let someone know you care enough to ask if you can help. Most of the time it’s a hurt you can’t take away she would say but having an extra shoulder to help you carry the burden makes the difference.

We have heard people say “God will never put more on you than you can bear.” I hope you never use that phrase because it is a lie. There are burdens that no one can bear alone. That’s why we share the load and we make God’s plan work when we do. (And yes I am a preacher!). Even if you are not a God, Bible, Jesus, person you know from your experience this is true.

The other thing that’s true is the law of little by little. Sure, you show up in a disaster and save the day if you can but the one who gives the sustained effort over time will reap the largest rewards. Showing up in a big way says “I want everybody to see how good I am!” Showing up regularly and doing what you can to make someone else’s life better says I love you. Not a fickle love like romance, but a real genuine love like a parent has for a child. That love will be a verb. It’s not a feeling, its actions you take. Nothing proves I care about you except what you do. Saying it just doesn’t do it. Love without action (works) is dead. Your feelings might be warm and fuzzy but they won’t help anybody. Your actions will.

My mother also told me about epidemics. She said some would go away and hide but her family stayed and prayed and took care of each other. It was a time when smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria and polio took a heavy toll.  She told me her grandmother went to the black settlement to care for the sick when the epidemics came. That made her unpopular in her community because she might bring it back but she did what was right. Knowing the right thing and having the courage to do it are different and usually very far apart. Proud to have that blood in my veins!

As we go into this epidemic of covid-19 we need a winning mindset. We can’t let fear destroy us. We need to use our brains and our love for each other to the best. Show up, do what you can and leave a legacy your great grandchildren will be proud to share. Don’t be foolish and don’t let fear make you dumb. Use every precaution and help anyway you can!

 

 

The Easter Miracle

E. B. Alston

 

There were many miracles associated with the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, but there is one miracle that I have never heard mentioned. We modern people tend to think of the crucifixion as an isolated event and the execution of Jesus as an exclusive occurrence.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

From the time of Augustus until the destruction of the Temple, the Romans killed over 3 million Jews. Most were killed in battle, but over half were crucified. When Jesus was six years old, they crucified 3,600 over one incident. There weren’t enough crosses to go around and some of the condemned had to wait in line for someone else to die so they could take their turn on the cross.

In addition, there were many others who came forward at the time to claim the mantle of Messiah. After they were killed, their followers were prone to steal their bodies and claim they had risen from the dead. That’s why the Romans blocked Jesus’ tomb and placed guards at the site.

Over a period of 90 years, the Romans crucified an average of 47 Jews a day. If only three were executed on the day Jesus was crucified, it was a slow day.

Jesus’ fate was a common one during the time and His manner of execution demonstrates how completely He was one with us.

One of the great miracles of all time is that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus is the one we remember and celebrate at Easter.

 

 

Henry James

Wrote Novels, Short Stories, Essays and Literary Criticism

By Rita Berman

 

Henry James was born April 15, 1843, New York City. Died February 28, 1916, in Chelsea, England. He is buried in Cambridge, Mass, in the family plot.

Henry James came from a wealthy and intellectually prominent family. After he was born and given his father’s name, the family called him “Harry.”’ Henry James Sr, had inherited a considerable sum of money and spent his time in leisured pursuits of theology and philosophy.     

William James, Harry’s older brother, became a great philosopher and psychologist. Exposure to the guests in the James household, some of the most famous minds of the mid-nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and George Ripley, gave the children a broad outlook.

The James family traveled to Europe frequently and Harry was taken there in his first year of life. He had no formal education but had private tutors.

For 10 years he lived with his family in New York City and Albany, New York.  In 1855 the family returned to Europe for a period of three years and Harry continued his education in France, England and Switzerland with private tutors.

When the family returned from, Europe, the elder James decided to settle in New England. He chose Cambridge because this was the center of American intellectual thought.   This was the period when Harry James began his writings.

In 1862 he enrolled at Harvard Law School, but preferred reading literature to studying law. He published his first critical essay and first short story “A Tragedy of Errors” in 1864, anonymously.

In March of 1865 his first signed story as Henry James, Jr., a melodramatic Civil War romance, titled “the Story of a Year,” was printed in the Atlantic Monthly.

In 1866-69 and 1871-72 he was a contributor to the Nation and Atlantic Monthly.  In 1869 he made his first trip alone to Europe, over the next 14 years he traveled back and forth between Europe and New York to see the continent as an adult.  He was perhaps more at home in Europe than he was in America.

In 1875 he secured a position as the New York Tribune correspondent in Paris and moved to England later that year.  By 1878 he was writing and publishing at an incredible pace. His novels are concerned with a society of people who are interested in subtle ideas and subtle refinements. There are no really poor people in his novels.  When James creates a certain type of character early in his novels, this character will act in a consistent manner throughout the entire book. Faces with an unexpected situation they do not “act out of character”.  

He wrote 20 novels, 112 stories, 16 plays, travel essays and numerous works of literary criticism. Lyall H. Powers, whose book analyzed the writings of James, stated that “Henry James is clearly recognized as one of the foremost practitioners of the art of fiction in English.”

Henry James wrote two short novels that became his most popular works. The Turn of the Screw (1898) a ghost story, and Daisy Miller that was published some twenty years earlier (1878) which he later turned into a play.

James wrote two versions of his story Daisy Miller that was his first “best seller”. The first version called Daisy Miller: A Study, was published in England, in the Cornhill Magazine, in 1878, with an introduction by William T. Stafford along with critical reviews and editorials. 

Two American periodicals pirated the original story.  When it was published by Harper’s, 20,000 copies were sold in a matter of weeks. The royalties paid to Henry James were negligible. It was reprinted many times and then James revised it for the New York edition of his novels which was published in 1909.  This version was called simply “Daisy Miller”.  

In Daisy Miller the topic is the unfettered American girl abroad, American individualism in conflict with European sophistication.  Lyall Powers called it an “extreme case of aggressive American naivete.  Daisy Miller is a flirt, yet really not a bad sort at all.  She is terribly uninformed about how to behave in Europe, which is more formal than the States.  Her mother is useless as a parent or guide.”

Powers commented about James’ writing style as being oblique and indirect.  It does not make for easy reading.  “A James story does not promise a cheap and easy pleasure; the best things in life never do,” wrote Powers.

The names of the characters are important. Daisy, is youthful, fresh, flirtatious, but like the flower not a hardy bloom.  Fredic Winterbourne, so aptly named, an older man, long resident in Europe, jaded, worldly, emotionally closed. Winterbourne, through whose eyes we see Daisy, is not innocent.  But Daisy is. She is ignorant about social graces and has a clueless mother who permits her to go around without a chaperone.  

The DVD of Daisy Miller, in which Sybil Shepherd plays Daisy, was filmed in the actual hotel where Henry James stayed and wrote the story.  He set the story as taking place in 1876 in Switzerland. 

Daisy’s bratty kid brother comes across very well, he plays pranks in the hotel such as when the shoes have been put out at night to be polished, he switches them, takes someone’s cane, and says inappropriate things about Daisy.

In the movie, Daisy is presented as impetuous, feather-brained, and doesn’t pause in conversation or action. Winterbourne isn’t quite sure how he views her.  Is she ignorant about society, or flouting convention?

The Turn of the Screw begins with an unnamed narrator listening to a friend reading a manuscript written by a former governess who is now dead.  The governess who had led a sheltered life, one might say is an innocent, was put in charge of a young boy and girl whose parents are dead.

Strange things happen that the governess thinks are related to her predecessor, a Miss Jessel, and Miss Jessel’s lover both of whom died.  The children appear to be haunted by the ghosts of the dead.   This is a story with many interpretations and the reader is left to decide if the governess is a reliable witness or if she hallucinates, has an overheated imagination that leads to tragic consequences.

The Turn of the Screw has been filmed many times. One version in 1961 was co-written by Truman Capote, starred Deborah Kerr and was called The Innocents. Lynn Redgrave appeared in the 1974 TV movie; and Colin Firth was in the 1999 British TV adaptation.   These are only a few of the versions based on James’ story.

Henry James and Edith Wharton met at a dinner party in Paris in the late 1880s. After reading her first volume of short stories, he became interested in seeing her as an American, who like himself, was fascinated by Europe and whose first novel took place in Italy, as did his.

Their friendship ripened from master and pupil to traveling companions. Wharton found motoring a much nicer way of getting around than taking a train or riding in a carriage with horses to worry about, sometimes she was accompanied by Henry James.

To her annoyance Wharton was always being told that her work was imitative of James. Her short story Roman Fever also involves an event at the Coliseum, as does James’ Daisy Miller.

Although James was recognized as America’s great novelist it was Wharton who made more money from her books. According to Eleanor Dwight, when Wharton told James she was buying an expensive motor-car from the proceeds of her book, The Valley of Decision, he replied:

“With the proceeds of my last novel The Wings of the Dove I purchased a small go-cart or hand-barrow on which my guests’ luggage is wheeled from the station to my house. It needs a coat of paint. With the proceeds of my next novel I shall have it painted.”

With few exceptions most of his works deal with some kind of confrontation between an American and a European.

James was ahead of his time in his interest in psychology – in why people did as they did, rather than simply what they did. In his short stories and novels, he created characters of great psychological complexity.

The villains in James’s fiction are those who willfully interfere with the realization of another person’s potential.  In The Bostonians he presents Olive Chancellor manipulating Verena Tarrant to be the speaker for the women’s movement and Verena’s father who mesmerizes Verena, and one might say controls her. There is also Basil Ransom who wants to marry Verena because she is not like his sisters and mother, yet at the same time he wants her to stay at home and give up her outside interests.

Another of James’ stories, The Europeans was made into a movie by the Merchant, Ivory and Jhabvala team.  One of them said it was the first movie in which the period film reflected what people looked like in 1850.   

In discussing this movie, James Ivory said “he liked E. M. Forster and Henry James because their characters are self-aware…American films nowadays lack self-awareness.”

Henry James was a bachelor. Leon Edel, in his biography of James said “he followed his inclination: given his difficulties with younger women and his comfortable relationship with elderly widows and old ladies, he saw no reason why he should change his pleasant celibate status for one that might prove a threat to his art and his personal  sovereignty.” 

As a bachelor he lived modestly. He led a simple routine life. Began work without breakfast, then he would eat a substantial mid-morning meal, and write sometimes for five or six hours after that. At the end of his work day he paid calls, went to tea, or during free evenings went to his club to read the newspapers and then returned home for a solitary meal. After dinner he would chat with other men in the club or read in the library, or write letters.  He took a long walk before going to bed.

James lived another 15 years after Victoria’s reign ended in 1901. During this time he wrote The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) which have been praised as his three greatest novels. (Ref: World Book Encyclopedia 2007).

He also produced a travel book The American Scene (1907) and in his last years three volumes of autobiography – A Small Boy and Others (1913), Notes of a Son and Brother (1914) and The Middle Years which was published in 1917 after his death. 

In 1905 he went on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada, and a series of caricatures of him was published in the U.S. because of his tendency to talk at length. When he went back to England after his lecture tour he entertained visitors to tea in his house in Rye, Sussex. One of them was E.M. Forster, author of A Room with a View, who visited him in 1908.

Hugh Walpole, was a young novelist, just 24 years old, who cultivated the friendship of the 65-year-old Henry James and had dinner with him in February 1909 after which he wrote in his diary that James was “by far the greatest man I have ever met- and yet amazingly humble and affectionate.”  James Fisher described Walpole as “the last of Harry’s flames.”

Later that year James was concerned about his health and consulted a heart specialist who reassured him that although he had angina pectoris there was no reason why he should not reach the ordinary span of human life. James was 66 at that time.  He did not believe the doctor. His royalties were declining and perhaps worried about death he gathered his private papers, 40 years of letters, manuscripts, scenarios, old notebooks, and piled them on a fire in his garden. He said he felt easier in mind after that.

In 1911 he received an honorary degree from Harvard University. In 1912 an honorary degree from Oxford. He became a British subject in 1915. This was his protest at what he saw as pro-German American neutrality. (House of Wits, the James Family, by Paul Fisher, Henry Holt & Co, 2008).

On December 1, 1915 he suffered what one of his live-in maids described as “kind of stroke” It was after this that his mind began to unravel. His sister-in-law, brother William’s widow, sailed across the Atlantic to be with him. He recognized her and said, “Stay with me Alice.” And she did.  

He was awarded the Order of Merit by King George V. on New Year’s Day, 1916. He died on 28 February, 1916, and Alice smuggled his ashes back into the United States to be buried beside his parents William and Alice, in Cambridge Cemetery.

After his death, two unfinished novels were published. The Ivory Tower and the Sense of Past, as well as an unfinished autobiography he had called the Middle Years.

James had not destroyed the notebooks he began in 1878 in which he described works in progress and gave details about how he developed a story. These covered more than 30 years of his social life that sparked his creativity.

F. O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock spent many years editing James’ handwritten manuscripts and notes and eventually published the Notebooks in 1947.

 

End.  

 

Southbound

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

 

“What a wonderful day to be alive,” Andy Carpenter murmured as he tossed peanuts to a squirrel. Sun filtered through the leaves spread in a canopy above his head and a slight breeze brought the scent of late roses. He watched the squirrel eat the last of the nuts and turn toward him. Andy laughed aloud at the expectant expression on its face and then he rose to his feet. “That’s all for today, Bushy Tail. In fact, that’s all for quite a while because I’m heading south tomorrow.” The slender young man strolled away, leaving behind the scolding squirrel.

Next morning, Andy patted the steering wheel of the ’16 Honda as he left Hammond Street and eased into traffic on I95. The clouds moving in reminded him that winter was just around the corner. Florida would be better. He looked forward to being in the sunny south again but planned to take his time on the long drive from Maine to Jacksonville. It was later than he had planned to start, but he had overslept. It felt good to get up when he pleased, good to be out of that place after a year and good to be leaving Bangor and its memories.

Andy had been afraid that a year in storage would damage the Honda, but he breezed past Augusta and Portland without a problem and crossed into New Hampshire. Enjoying the freedom of being on the road, he whistled “Anchors Aweigh” and thought about being at sea. He stopped for gasoline in Portsmouth, stretching the stiffness out of his spine and running his hands over his new crew cut. They hadn’t let him have one in that place, so he had gone to the barber as soon as he got out.

A feminine voice penetrated Andy’s thoughts, and he turned to meet the admiring eyes of a petite blonde standing at the next pump.

“I’ve never filled a gas tank,” the breathless voice said. “Will you show me how?”

“A pretty little thing like you shouldn’t have to do such things,” he said as he began filling the tank of her car. He leaned against the fender, crossed his arms on his chest, and teased her. “You’re meant for decoration. Shouldn’t soil those pretty hands with work.”

Delicate color mounted her cheeks. “You probably say that to all the girls. Mother told me about sailors with a girl in every port.”

“What makes you think I’m a sailor?”

She pointed to the anchor tattoo on his arm. “I’ve never seen any man with one of those who wasn’t a sailor. You look too young to have already been discharged, so I just assumed you’re still in the Navy.”

“Oh. Yes, of course, you’re right,” he stammered. “I wasn’t thinking.” He replaced the gas nozzle into the pump and nodded to her. “You’re all set.”

“I hope I see you again some time.” She flashed her dimples at him and waited for his reply.

“I’m only passing through on my way to Florida, and doubt I’ll ever be back in this area.” He spoke over his shoulder as he swaggered away. “That’s my tough luck.”

“She thought I’m a sailor, and I should be,” he muttered as he drove down the highway minutes later. He tried to shrug off the bitter remark, but as he crossed the state line into Massachusetts, tightness started at the base of his skull. He needed to stop for a while, so he pulled into a hamburger joint and ordered a double with cheese and fries. They didn’t believe in fried food in that place, another good reason to be out.

While sipping a Pepsi, Andy felt the tension ease and, leaning back in the booth, he glanced around the almost empty restaurant. His gaze locked with that of an elderly man sitting in the next booth.

“Sailor. I’d recognized that rolling gait any place, even without the tattoo.” The old gentleman sighed with nostalgia, not waiting for a reply. “I served on the McDermutt in the big war. I still miss her.”

Rolling gait? Andy’s eyes had widened with surprise, but he recovered quickly and answered. “My grandfather served on the Yorktown. He used to tell me about the battles in the Coral Sea. Midway and those places.”

Tension was returning, and Andy knew he couldn’t stay there discussing Navy battles. He rose abruptly. “I have a distance to go yet today, so I’d better get on down the road.”

With a nod, Andy left the old man to his memories and returned to the car.

“I’m perfectly okay,” he muttered to himself. “That’s all behind me. I’m simply going to Jacksonville to visit my dad.”

Driving southbound, he concentrated on the scenery. As he neared the Lexington-Concord area, he thought about stopping to see the Minute Man statue. If he’d been allowed to go with the other boys it would have been fun, but it wouldn’t be the same now, by himself. He continued south.

Rhode Island. Brown University. “Mother had wanted … never mind what she wanted. I won’t think about her.” He started whistling “Anchors Aweigh” again and remembered a kid he’d known when they were stationed somewhere or other. This kid always had his nose in a book and spouted facts every time he opened his mouth. Wonder what ever happened to the Cranston Cranium, as they had called him.

Andy grinned at the memories, and his headache eased as he drove further south. His mood lightened and he stopped for another Pepsi. She hadn’t allowed him to drink Pepsi. Milk for breakfast and water otherwise. He didn’t ever want to drink either one again.

His lighthearted mood continued until he began seeing signs for New London, Connecticut, and the submarine base. Suddenly, he slumped behind the wheel, deflated and overwhelmingly tired. He intended to keep straight on 95, but at the highway 12 exit, he suddenly swerved onto the off ramp, ignoring the blaring horns and screeching brakes behind him. He checked into a motel and, after a brief mental struggle, drove to the base and parked near the main gate.

From the time he’d been a little kid, he’d wanted to serve on a submarine. He’d even practiced holding his breath under water. He briefly smiled at the memory. He’d actually believed people in subs had to do that.

He brooded and his muttering became more audible. “I could be there right now, with Harry and Bill. It’s her fault. She shouldn’t have done it.”

A movement caught his eye. A marine guard stared at him. He hurriedly returned to the motel, the headache now in full force. Back in his room, he paced the floor several minutes then pulled a cell phone from his pocket. A throwaway phone because he didn’t want anyone tracing him, didn’t want anyone interfering with his plans.

When he heard the familiar voice, he hardly recognized the guttural sounds that came from his own mouth. “You shouldn’t have done it!”

He clicked off the phone before she could speak. His headache climbed to new heights on the Richter scale. A beer might help.

Andy huddled on a stool at the end of the bar and ordered a Michelob.

“Okay, buddy, let’s see some i.d.”

Andy nodded and hauled out his wallet. He flipped it open to his driver’s license: Andy Carpenter, brown hair, brown eyes, 5 feet 7 inches, date of birth June 21, 1996. He was thinner now, but the picture was obviously him. With an answering nod, the bartender handed him a foaming beer and moved away.

Absently sipping the beer, not noticing as it grew warm, Andy sat in brooding silence, occasionally taking a cigarette from the pack rolled in his T-shirt sleeve. He stuffed the last one into the ashtray and asked directions to a pizza place.

He walked slowly down the street, his glance darting from one uniformed man to another. No MPs looking for him. He glanced around the crowded restaurant. More sailors. He quickly ordered takeout and returned to the motel, away from watching eyes.

Andy slept late on Tuesday morning, and, still tired, forced himself out of bed. He ran the electric shaver around his face and rued that he didn’t really have a beard to shave. Probably all the medication they’d forced down his throat for years. This past year had taken more out of him than he’d realized. He had a headache in earnest now and the sky looked as bleak as he felt. He took a long shower to get himself going and headed south after a quick breakfast.

He paid no attention to the scenery, but he managed a smile for the waitress when he stopped near Stamford. A cup of coffee and a short stroll around the area eased his tired muscles, and he re-entered the traffic on 95.

By sheer determination, Andy managed not to brood over what might have been if she hadn’t messed up his life. He had driven this route so many times he could ignore the highway signs. He stopped briefly somewhere in New Jersey for more burgers and fries and somewhere else for gasoline. He barely noticed as he negotiated his way around Philadelphia, and Delaware might as well not have been on the map.

As he bypassed Baltimore and approached the District, he remembered the years they’d lived there. He’d been about twelve then, a good age to be in Washington. He drove out Capitol Street to a motel near the Navy Yard, asking for a room at the back.

He methodically unpacked the duffle bag, absently running his hand over the Redskins emblem. The other boys’ dads had taken them to football games. His dad would have taken him, too, if only she had allowed it.

Finally, he could resist the window no longer. Ignoring the splashing and yelling from the swimming pool below him, he stared across the way at the Navy Yard. Only a ten-minute walk but light years away from him. It was all her fault. It wouldn’t be as good as serving on a sub, but it would have been interesting to work at the Yard. He’d always enjoyed photography and could have interpreted the infrared spy pictures as well as anybody.

While he stared out the window, he pulled the cell from his pocket. This time when she answered, Andy wailed, “Why wouldn’t you let me do it? Just tell me that!” However, before she could reply, he shoved the phone back into his pocket.

The following morning, he joined the southbound traffic on the beltway, hands clenched on the steering wheel. He’d never liked heavy traffic. It even made him nervous when he was a passenger. His head felt as tight as a balloon and his shoulders were almost rigid. Midmorning and no sun in evidence. He hoped it would clear up soon.

He’d gotten up several times during the night and stared out the window, wondering what would happen if he walked up Capitol to M Street and crossed over to the Yard, just to look around. He had gotten as far as pulling on his jeans before he thought better of it. He might get locked up again. Another strip search. Andy shuddered and crawled back into bed. He didn’t ever want to go through that again.

He hadn’t taken the time to eat before leaving the District and by the time he reached Fredericksburg, he was lightheaded. At a pancake house, he ordered a large stack with bacon and drank cup after cup of strong, black coffee. No espressos here, unfortunately, otherwise he would have had at least a double shot, probably triple.

Passing through Richmond, Andy steadfastly refused to notice the exits that would take him to Norfolk and Portsmouth. He’d lived on those bases, too, and remembered the catcalls. All her fault.

It was safe to stop near Fayetteville, he decided, because those were Army bases. Navy people were watching him; he had no doubt about that. He’d noticed it in New London and again as he left the motel this morning. It was not coincidental that the shore patrol stood across the street as he pulled out of the parking deck. He’d watched his rearview mirror closely but couldn’t detect which car was tailing him down the beltway. He knew it was back there though.

On the outskirts of Fayetteville, Andy drove into the parking lot of yet another burger joint and, just as quickly, drove out again. The tan sedan parked at the door had a Naval Air Station sticker on the bumper. He couldn’t miss that bright blue emblem even if he tried. Breaking into a sweat, he sped down the highway, his gaze almost glued to the rearview mirror.

Across the South Carolina border, he felt safe enough to find a motel and restaurant. He ate slowly, concentrating on each mouthful, and relaxing in the quiet atmosphere. He would have to decide what to do about her. However, that could wait until his head didn’t ache so much.

He dragged out the meal as long as he could, but the waiter began staring so he left. When he turned toward the motel, the tension started building again and he ran the last several yards to his room. He quickly double-locked the door and looked frantically around. Safe. He paced from the door to the window and back, again and again, his mind working furiously.

Finally, he gave in to an overwhelming need to call her. “It’s your fault!” Hysteria made his voice squeak as he continued, “If you’d been like other mothers everything would be okay!”

He threw himself across the bed, his fists beating a tattoo on either side of his throbbing head. Gradually, he became still and drifted off to sleep.

Andy woke with a start, looking wildly around. Who was banging on his door? He hurriedly pressed his eye to the peephole and saw a Marine pounding on the door across the hall. Andy stood as though rooted to the spot until a woman opened the door and welcomed the Marine inside.

Trembling, Andy returned to the bed where he opened the duffle and took out a small handgun. Thoughts racing, he turned it over and over in his hands. You can always get a gun if you want one. For a moment, he struggled to remember the name of that little pawnshop in Bangor then shrugged it off. Holding the revolver up, he sighted along the barrel toward the mirror then slowly lowered the revolver and held it straight out at arm’s length. Staring at his image, he pulled the trigger once, twice, listening to it click. Still staring at the mirror, he slowly raised the gun to his head. After a pause, he gently squeezed the trigger, the click sounding loud in his ear. He squeezed the trigger again.

A hysterical giggle escaped his mouth as he lowered the revolver and reached again into the bag. This time, he brought out a small box of cartridges and began filling the cylinders. He would have it ready, just in case. He stretched out on the bed, the revolver in his hand, staring at the ceiling, straining to hear the Marine.

Morning came too soon. He had slept with his clothes on and had wakened tired and irritable. After a quick shower, he shoved the revolver into the band of his jeans and hurried out to his car. Glancing furtively around, he placed the gun in the glove compartment. A few minutes later, he was on his way south.

He stopped near Florence for breakfast, hardly touching the bacon and eggs, but drinking cup after cup of strong, black coffee. He swallowed four aspirins and sat rubbing his forehead until the waitress brought more coffee. His head might feel better if the storm would break.

He drove steadily down 95, cautiously watching traffic. His shoulders relaxed slightly when he didn’t spot a convoy, yet his glance continued to dart from side to side. When he stopped in Walterboro for gasoline, he pulled his baseball cap down over his eyes and put on his windbreaker to hide the tattoo.

The farther south he went, the darker the sky became and the bongo drums in his head became more frenzied. Maybe another Pepsi would help. He’d drunk enough coffee to sink a battleship. No, don’t think about ships.

Andy stopped for burgers and fries after he passed Savannah. He was drinking his second Pepsi and had taken four more aspirins when he heard it. A helicopter circled the area and landed in the parking lot. He sat frozen, his jaws clenched, as military police entered the restaurant and looked around. There was no place to hide. He carefully averted his face, but watched them from the corner of his eye. They scrutinized the few customers then approached Andy.

“Excuse me, Sir, may we see some i.d., please?” The older of the two uniformed men spoke quietly and waited until Andy pulled out his wallet.

“Is there some kind of trouble, Sir?”

The MP ignored the question and asked another. “Would you tell us what kind of car you’re driving?”

Andy licked his lips and ventured a glance in their direction. “It’s a ’16 Honda Accord, white, Maine license. It’s parked out there.” He nodded toward the side of the building.

He raised his head and looked the interrogator in the eye. “Have I done something wrong, Sir?”

The MP returned the driver’s license. “You tell me. You have guilt written all over your face.”

Andy managed a weak grin. “That isn’t guilt, Sir, that’s a headache. This weather is getting to me.”

With a nod and a wave of their hands, the MPs left him alone. Andy forced himself to sit quietly for another fifteen minutes before casually paying his bill and leaving.

“Guess I fooled them,” he muttered as he rejoined the traffic on 95. He heard thunder in the distance and the ominous sky hid the sun. He wished the storm would break. “Wonder who the MPs were looking for. They had no right to question me. I’m not in uniform. It’s all her fault. She probably sent them to spy on me. If she would leave me alone everybody else would.”

Hearing his voice, Andy clamped his lips shut and glanced around to see if anyone was watching.

Traffic got heavier as Andy traveled farther south, his hands grasping the steering wheel until his knuckles were white and perspiration beaded his forehead. The thunder was close and lightning flashed as he left 95 and maneuvered his way to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. At the main gate, he pulled out his old Navy identification card.

“I’m the son of Commander John Carpenter. I expect to visit him for a few days.” Andy met the eyes of the Marine guard who stared intently into his face. “I’ve changed some since that picture was taken, but I assure you that it is me. His voice cracked and he tried again, with a slight laugh. “Or I suppose I should say that I am the person in that picture.”

The guard hesitated a moment longer then waved him through the gate.

Andy breathed a little easier as he left the main gate behind and approached officer’s country. Driving slowly, he studied the house numbers then turned into the driveway of a white, two-story frame house. They’d lived here when he was a kid but in a smaller house. He sat for a few moments, clenching and unclenching his fists, then opened the glove compartment and removed the revolver, shoving it into his jacket pocket.

Standing on the top step, his shoulders hunched forward, he wondered if the thunder had drowned out the ringing bell. He raised his fist to pound on the door just as a young girl in a maid’s uniform opened it. Her eyes widened at his introduction, but she stepped back and allowed him to enter.

“Where is she?” he inquired tersely.

“In the living room,” she replied as she pointed the way.

“No need to announce me. Just go on with your work.”

He waited until she disappeared down the hall then turned to his right and opened the door. Stepping into the elegantly furnished room, Andy stood, hands in his pockets, staring at the woman there who apparently had not heard his arrival.

“Hello, Mother.”

“Andy, darling!” The petite woman jumped to her feet, hands outstretched. “How are you? Your phone calls have been, ummm, unusual. Sit down and tell me what’s wrong.”

“Don’t call me darling!” He was breathing quickly and his voice became shrill. “Everything’s wrong and it’s your fault. If you’d let me play with the other boys everything would have been okay. If you had let me cut my hair the other boys wouldn’t have made fun of me.”

He took a deep breath as he stepped closer to her. “I could have been like the other boys if you had let me! You wanted me to be like you. I’m not like you! Couldn’t you see that? I’m like Dad. I’m a sailor just like Dad!”

“But, Andy, darling,” she began.

His hysteria mounted steadily. “Don’t call me darling! If I could have stayed in the Navy, I wouldn’t have had to go to that place. You shouldn’t have talked the Navy into discharging me. It’s your fault. You never let me do the things I wanted to do.”

“Andy, …” she began again, but he ignored her.

“There’s only one way to fix things.” His voice became quiet, almost confidential as he took two quick steps toward her. “You see, if you’re not around to tell lies about me, I can do anything I want to do. So, I’m going to kill you. Then you won’t be around anymore.” He paused briefly. “You do understand, don’t you?”

He smiled at her horror-stricken face as she backed away from him, groping for the chair behind her. “But, Andy, darling …”

Hands clenched, he moved toward her and spoke with a deadly calmness, his eyes never leaving her face. “I told you not to call me that. You never listened to me. I’m not your darling; I’m a grown man. You’ve never wanted to believe that, but now I’m going to fix you, so it won’t matter anymore.”

He slowly pulled the revolver from his pocket.

When the door burst open, Andy carefully laid the revolver on a table and turned a smiling face to the newcomers. “Hi, Dad. I’ve gotten rid of her, see? She can’t make me have curls anymore, so I can join the Navy with the other boys. And I can drink all the Pepsi I want.”

Andy’s smile faded when he saw the expression on his father’s face turn from disbelief to horror. It was with a rigid mouth that he listened to the Marine guard.

“Commander, is this your son, Andy?”

“No,” came the bleak reply. “This is my daughter, Andrea.”

 

 Nemesis

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

The definition of nemesis is that it is not a foe but a rival. A man in a video said that his nemesis is sweets. The taste of sweet is prevalent, but I do not think of it as a nemesis. Most people do have a craving for sweet, salt, or sour. All of these! Only one! More! I do not feel entitled to claim sweets as my nemesis.  I believe I have had them. That I might be someone’s is disquieting. Sam Walter Foss’s (1858-1911) poem: The House by the Side of the Road, reflects and has been my sentiment for as long as I can remember:  

 

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellow less firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

 

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

 

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

 

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

 

Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

 

I am conscious of an inner struggle, personal and persistent, caused by my ego. Well, I suppose that’s what it is. Lee Stanley, to whom I was married for 9 months, but knew as a friend for several years, used to say: “I have an angel on one shoulder and a little red devil on the other. Both try to advise and direct me.” 

 

Might ego be considered a nemesis? It can cause me distress, injure my relationship with another, or destroy my confidence in myself. Pride may confront me at any time, any place, or be evoked by the opinion of another in a written commentary. It is insidious.

 

I know I am not immune. My wish is to help and encourage others to be their best, as I try to be mine. I cannot think of anyone or anything at this time that I consider my personal nemesis. Perhaps all mine have died. I have lived so long and grown so wise. 

 

            Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  Perhaps it is God! God is LOVE. Love destroys envy and desire for retribution.

 

The man who saw sweets as his nemesis, and I, who think mine may be my ego, are alike. Both he and I are aware of that which may undo us. Defeat, part of the human struggle, is not a pleasant emotion. It has its purpose. It teaches us compassion for others like us.

 

Galileo, Master of the Seven Arts

Randy Bittle

 

The seven Arts are Music, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Cosmology.  How better to demonstrate the seven Arts than to find one man whose genius enabled him to exemplify all seven?  Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was such a genius, with evidence of his abilities coming from numerous contemporaries, his own writings, Catholic Church documents, and subsequent biographers.

His father, Vincenzio Galilei, caught the eye of an established musician, who paid for his father’s musical training, including music theory and mathematics.  Vincenzio published an influential paper on music theory that emphasized the value of hearing when evaluating music, and not mere mathematics alone.  Galileo’s father taught him to play the lute and the organ at a young age.  He played them throughout his life, thus satisfying the Music part of the seven Arts.

For Grammar, Galileo began studying Greek and Latin around age twelve, also learning to read and write contemporary Italian.  By all accounts, he was gifted as a writer, a result of his appreciation for what he read and his desire to express himself competently in writing.  Galileo wrote numerous brilliant papers, pamphlets, small books, and letters of correspondence amply displaying his grasp of Grammar.

Simple Arithmetic was easily absorbed by his capable mind.  After he spent four years studying Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric in a monastery, his father sent him to the University of Pisa to become a doctor.  Medical schooling included mathematics and natural philosophy, the latter involving Aristotelian physics and Cosmology, both of which intrigued Galileo.

Through complex and fortunate circumstances, Galileo overheard a lecture on Euclid’s geometry by the court mathematician of the grand duke of Tuscany.  Not allowed to attend the court-sponsored course, Galileo developed a habit of standing by the door to overhear those lectures on Geometry.  He began to study mathematics and natural philosophy on his own time, driven by the quest to understand nature.  He skipped his University medical classes to spend more time learning about math and science.  Much to his father’s disappointment, he never became a doctor.  In 1584, he returned home to Florence as a twenty-one-year-old college dropout.

In 1589, following four years of unemployment but inspired and diligent independent study, Galileo finally gained a mathematics teaching position at the University of Pisa.  During his period of self-motivated study, he discovered Archimedes’ works and began to apply mathematics to physical reality, which appealed to him and influenced the direction of his work.

The teaching position at the University of Pisa ended by contract in three years.  In 1592, through professional references and demonstrated merit, he gained the mathematics chair at the University of Padua, where he spent the next eighteen years.  While at Padua, Galileo ran a boarding house in his home to help make ends meet.  Many informal conversations with students and professional people occurred there.  In these conversations and in his teaching position, he practiced and improved his proficiency in Rhetoric.

In 1608, a Dutch spectacle maker invented the spyglass, an instrument that made distant objects appear closer.  Galileo heard about it, and using his knowledge of mathematics and physics, quickly manufactured a more powerful spyglass.  The word telescope was not coined until a few years later.  Galileo turned his spyglass to the sky.  The course of his life, as well as the course of humankind, was changed forever.

He observed the phases of Venus, which convinced him that Venus orbited the Sun.  He saw the mountains on the moon, and calculated their heights by using trigonometry to determine the length of shadows they cast as a percentage of his best guess at the diameter of the moon.  These calculations were inaccurate, but the logical application of mathematics was innovative.  He discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter, whose movements clearly indicated to Galileo that they orbited the planet, traveling with it as it progressed across the sky through the years.

He was not unerring, as he thought the dark, flat areas on the moon were seas containing water.  He also thought the tides on Earth were caused by its daily rotation upon its axis, not by the gravitational pull of the moon.  But he was right about darn near everything else he speculated, including the Copernican view that the Earth moved around the sun.  Writing that the Earth moved got his book banned by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church forced him to recant his views.  He was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

The seven Arts—Music, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Cosmology--were seemingly invented to describe Galileo Galilei.  I recommend you read more about his life and works.  My favorite two books about him are “Galileo,” a biography by Mitch Stokes, and “The Essential Galileo,” a collection of his writings edited by Maurice A. Finocchiaro.  Both of these books are available for the Kindle.

 

 

Jerusalem

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

Every spring I go to Jerusalem!

When the snow has gone

And the grass is greening

Daffodils blooming

And birds are winging

Again my mind retraces the way

That took me at last to Jerusalem.

 

Every spring I go to Jerusalem

Fly again to New York City

Board a great Boeing 747

Remember a night flight o'er the ocean

 And the rare flash of the comet

  Streaking the moonless night sky

 This was the way to Jerusalem!

 

 

      Every spring I go to Jerusalem!

   Recall that morning pause in Paris

See the bird of strife, Concorde

Observe a Jewish holy man at prayer

    Wearing yarmulke and shawl

      And feel the warmth of the sun he faces

                            

  Every spring I go to Jerusalem!

 See plastic-covered strawberry fields

In the Valley of Sharon

Stop by Jacob's well

Every spring I go to Jerusalem!

Arrive at Tel Aviv, the new city

   With travelers from many countries

    Hear unfamiliar languages

    Await my turn in customs

Teeming with excitement and ask

    “How far now to Jerusalem?”

 

  And travel through Samaria

To the ruins of Jericho

I'm on my way to Jerusalem!

Getting nearer Jerusalem!

We stop for lunch outside Bethlehem

Mingle with other American tour groups

See Bethlehem from the windows there

Then we visit Church of the Nativity

And admire the ancient mosaic floor

Soon I'll be in Jerusalem!

 

At last we've entered Jerusalem!

Our day spent when we arrived at

Hotel Tirat Bat Sheva Shabat,

Where preparations are kosher

At last in sight of The Ancient City

Our eyes are dimmed by the present

Tomorrow we'll really see it

Tomorrow we'll be in Jerusalem!

 

Enter the Camel Gate of Jerusalem!

And see crowds at the Wailing Wall

Beyond up the hill to the temple site,

Occupied by Moslem mosque, Dome of the Rock

Have our picture made in front of it

Inside we see the sacrificial altar

And know we are in Jerusalem!

 

 

Eggs

Marry Williamson

The egg is the symbol for Easter. New beginnings. We give each other chocolate eggs and hide eggs in the garden for the children to find. Egg hunts are organised at Easter. When I was a child we used to garishly paint hardboiled eggs to give to our friends and family. Consequently everybody was eating egg sandwiches and egg salads for days.

The following is story about eggs.

The wife had decided. No eggs, no bacon, no sausages. After the little episode with his heart she watched him like a hawk. Anything that even faintly whispered of cholesterol was banned. Butter, full milk, cream, cheese, sausages, bacon and especially eggs. Unfortunately eggs were his absolute favourite food. He could eat eggs all day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, each and every day. He craved eggs. He dreamt of eggs. Eggs were the be and end all of his life and he was deprived of them. Giving up eggs was by far the biggest sacrifice of his life.

This particular morning he briefly thought about his wife with a pang of guilt as he negotiated the muddy, pot holed lane that led into the farmyard, carefully dodging the hens that ran along haphazardly by the side and in front of his car, panicky and crazy as chickens do. Running into his path rather than out of the way. He had been attracted by the sign on the road: ‘Farmhouse B & B, Vacancies’ Underneath swung another sign: ‘Organic meat from Farm to Fork.  Free range eggs.’ In his mind’s eye he saw a large breakfast with lots of fried eggs, rashers and rashers of bacon and fat plump sausages that oozed fat when you stuck your fork in them. His mouth was watering.

After two years of muesli, granola, low fat yoghurt and dry toast he reckoned he deserved a break. He phoned his wife to say that he was delayed at his last customer and had to call on another one in the same area so that he had to stop for the night. He winced at the well-meant warnings about eating healthily and promised (while crossing his fingers) that he would have a tuna salad for his dinner. He then switched off his phone and checked himself into the B & B. They asked if he required an evening meal and he ordered a four-egg omelette with cheese and bacon and a pile of fat, greasy chips smothered in mayonnaise. Sod the cholesterol.

The next morning he drove out onto the muddy lane, dodging the chickens, rested and satisfied. The breakfast had been wonderful. Three large fresh, free range eggs, fried of course, four rashers of bacon, four sausages and four rounds of toast slathered in full fat butter. All washed down with a large pot of proper coffee (a forbidden treat) and not the wishy washy decaffeinated version allowed by the wife. She would have been absolutely horrified. “Do you want to drop dead?” he could hear her say. He now felt very guilty and switched his phone back on.

The weather was foggy and murky. There was a persistent drizzle. He turned off the B road and joined the main dual carriage way. Back home tonight. Back to the granola, low fat yoghurt, dry toast, lean chicken, fish and steamed broccoli. As he was reminiscing about the eggs he had just eaten he did not see the two boys by the side of the road. He also missed seeing the stone they threw at his car, the shock of which propelled him across the road and into the path of a large articulated lorry.

The moral of this story? Never mind the cholesterol. Do not sacrifice and deny yourself. Just eat what you like. You never know when you are eating your last egg.

 

 

A Brief German Beer Drinking Story

John Burns

 

Peggy Ellis’ article in last month’s Digest, The Cologne Cathedral, World War II, reminded me of an incident that took place on the Rhine River some time ago. Cologne, or Kὃln in Germany, spans the Rhine some miles downriver from Bonn where the story begins.

We boarded the ship early for a one-day Rhine cruise upriver to Koblenz. The famous “Deutsches Eck”, where the Moselle joins the Rhine. It was the late in the season, mid October, and the days were quickly getting short. The last cruise before winter. And it was a glorious day, bright sun, warm weather. The River was splendid, a perfect end of the season cruise.

My friend and I were the only foreigners on board and were quickly adopted by our friendly German shipmates. It was beer drinking, singing songs and I fit right in with my years of studying German. Oh, it was a good time. They were toasting one another, toasting their American visitors.  The Chicken Dance. Toasting the ship’s captain and crew. Toasting the weather. Toasting life. Singing all the typical beer drinking songs that I’d learned in school.

“In Munchen steht ein Hofbrauhau,s Eins, zwei, g’suffa!” Guzzle some beer.

“Da läuft so manches Fäßchen aus. Eins, zwei, g’suffa!” Guzzle more beer.

We were having a grand party on the deck of that boat under the Autumn sun.

And then, quiet. Everyone got quiet. No talking, no singing, steins down. I was worried. I thought that I’d done something to insult everyone. But they were paying me no attention. Each partygoer, man and woman alike, was staring at the shore.

So I look over to the east and I see two tall stone towers by the water side. That is what everyone was staring at. Two stone towers? Rhine River. And it dawned on me. The Ludendorf Bridge. We were passing Remagen and they were staring at the remains of the bridge which, thirty years earlier in March of 1945,  was captured by elements of the U.S. Army’s 9th Armored Division. Retreating Wehrmacht soldiers had failed to destroy it leaving the door wide open to the invading army. And in just ten days the Allies, using the bridge, pushed six divisions across and into the heart of the Fatherland before it finally collapsed into the river.

That’s what they were staring at. The remains of the Ludendorf bridge. And judging by the ages of the revelers in the group, many probably remembered that time well. A solemn and poignant moment.

Once we passed the site of the bridge, and the towers had passed behind our boat, the party resumed as if nothing had happened. More beer. More singing. “Du, du liegst mir im Herzen…”

 

Winter Getaway

Fiction by Howard A. Goodman

 

Mark had saved enough vacation days so that he could take off the week following New Year’s. Disinclined, he nevertheless packed a bag, tossed it into the minivan, began his drive from Raleigh to Harrisburg. When he reached the Virginia line, he decided he’d allow himself only one stop.

He exited Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg, midway along his drive of four-hundred miles, combined refueling with a pit-stop and fast food at one of the many Wawa Stores that dotted the highway exits. In less than half an hour, he was on the road again. Traffic around the Washington Beltway was fortunately moderate.

North of Frederick, Maryland, like background scenery in a video game the rolling foothills of the Catoctin Mountains nestled ever closer to his windshield. He was mesmerized by the snow. Since relocating to Raleigh, he’d witnessed only scant dustings or occasional ice storms.

The Mason-Dixon Line beckoned him across, and in less than another hour, he exited the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Harrisburg. The sunlight had already begun to diminish in the mottled sky. Thankfully, the trip had been uneventful.

He checked his watch. Record time. Eileen would have claimed another half-hour in additional pee stops. At the front door, Harriet opened her arms to him. "Come in, come in."

“Hi, Mom!”

Morris stood behind her. "How was the ride?"

"Fine, Dad" he replied, giving each of them a hug.

They were thrilled to see their guest, perhaps a reaffirmation that in spite of the loss of their daughter Mark still belonged to them.

The three settled in around the kitchen table over an impromptu dinner of do-it-yourself deli sandwiches and soft drinks, the latter from Morris’ beverage store. Conversation was light and innocuous. As Mark had anticipated, Eileen was not the focus of any of it. Long ago, the generation to which Harriet and Morris belonged had been taught by their Eastern European parents never to express too openly any feelings that would attract the attention of Kinne Ahora, the Evil Eye.

As afternoon faded, Mark began to feel the hollow of Eileen's absence more and more. He was certain his in-laws did, too. As time slowly passed, it became even more deafening.

Almost without fail, on the first day of each prior visit Eileen would perch herself on the couch in the living room after dinner and chat with her mom. Never able to make himself part of their special world and tired from driving the 400 miles, Mark would excuse himself and hit the sack early.

The following morning, Eileen would delight in taunting him. "I’ve never seen such a sleep baby!" And he had never been able to convince her, or she would never openly admit, that he had a perfect right to sleep in. It was he who had expended energy maintaining a steady focus on the road while she had done little more than read, listen to the radio, or doze off. Mark had decided not to attempt to act as surrogate for Eileen. Instead, he turned in early again. The following morning, he missed hearing her ridicule.

At four in the afternoon, the forest green armchair in the den, half a flight down from the kitchen, afforded Mark a temporary resting place. His stockinged feet were propped on the ottoman. Through the window, the waning light signaled the end of another early-winter day. The TV was on, its volume barely audible. Morris had just disappeared into the bar room. Mark could hear Harriet moving about the kitchen. He yawned. Hope I can hang on ‘til dinner. Maybe if I just let myself go for a few minutes...

<> 

Eileen drifts down the stairs, floats like a silky spirit in front of the TV, turns and vanishes down the short hallway. The scraping sound of the sticking powder room door reaches Mark ears. A minute passes. Suddenly, she calls for him to come to her. She sounds terribly urgent.

Mark is at the bathroom door, forcing it open. Eileen is facing the toilet, dazed, her panties down to her ankles. There are globs of excrement on the floor and the opposite wall. She appears upset, ashamed.

"What happened, Hon?"

"I don't know." She cries. "I turned around to put the seat down and then I... I just couldn't control myself." She appears disoriented, utterly helpless.

Mark and Eileen are now in the hallway of the bedroom level. “Mom,” Mark shouts. “Eileen's had an accident. Can you help her?”

Harriet bolts from her bedroom. “Oy, what happened?” Her empathy is cloaked with nervous laughter. “Let's get you into the bathtub.”

Mark is back downstairs. The adjacent laundry room yields a plastic pail, sacrificial rags, water. He reenters the powder room, begins to scrub down the painted brick wall before Eileen's discharge has had a chance to dry, then the vinyl floor. He stops, looks around, satisfied he’s gotten it all.

He is now in the back yard, emptying the pail. The muddy liquid burns a hole in the snow-covered lawn. In the chilly air, he can see his cloudy breath. Mark is back in the powder room. The odor of Eileen’s spontaneous discharge lingers. He tears several paper towels, saturates them with rubbing alcohol from a bottle pulled from the medicine cabinet, wipes down the entire area. An antiseptic aroma begins to dominate.

Eileen is plopped in his chair, freshly bathed, snug in her mother's worn green terry robe. “I don't know what happened,” she laments, half-smiling.

“Hon, it's okay.” He kneels down to hug her. “I like taking care of you."

At the doorway to the powder room Eileen inspects his work. “How could you even go back in there and clean that up?” Her words are fragmented between expulsions of laughter.

“Somebody had to do it. Besides, I love you. I would do anything for you.”

Tears invade Eileen's smile. “Oh, Honey, I've been such a burden.” They hug tightly again. Across the den, Eileen's mom smiles.

<> 

Mark opened his eyes to discover Harriet standing over him, wearing an apron. “Dinner’s ready.”

He lifted himself out of the chair, struggling to maintain his balance. He stretched, culminating in a dramatic yawn, then followed Harriet up the six steps to the kitchen. That time, Mark reflected, Eileen didn't fight me; just let her guard down.

He smiled demurely. That time, it had made him feel so good.

 

 

Samuel Johnson’s Prayer

When his wife, Tetty (Elizabeth), died, Johnson, in a piece beginning with, “Time, which puts an end to all human pleasures and sorrows,” wrote the following obituary for her.

April 26, 1752, being after 12 at night of the 25th.

O Lord,  Governor  of Heaven  and  Earth,  in whose  hands are embodied and departed spirits, if thou hast ordained the souls of the dead: to minister to the living, and appointed my departed wife to have care of me, grant that I may enjoy the good effects of her attention and ministration, whether exercised by appearances , impulses, dreams, or in any other manner agreeable to thy government; forgive my presumption, enlighten my ignorance and however meaner agents  are  employed,  grant  me  the blessed influence of thy Holy  Spirit,  through Jesus Christ  our Lord.  Amen.

Samuel Johnson

 

Scary Forward Thinking

Aristotle 384-322 BC

 

Slaves are animate tools and slavery in some form will continue until all menial work can be done by self-operating machines.

 

Liberty is no friend of equality. The strong grow stronger; the rich become richer, while the poor remain poor.

 

Individualism stimulates the able, degrades the simple-minded, creates wealth magnificently and concentrates it dangerously.

 

Demagogues arise to point out to the poor the inequality of human possessions and conceal from them the inequality of human economic ability.

 

Cleverness gets all it can and mediocrity gets the rest. The ignorant get nothing.

 

Economic freedom provides the means for personal success, which fosters public service and intellectual advancement that can bear without strain every extravagance except war. War is the ruination of all that is good.

 

Greeks might admit that honesty is the best policy but they try everything else first.

 

To be truly educated is to be in love with reason.

 

History remembers the geniuses and ignores the fools. Only the mountain peaks escape the obscurity of time.

 

In the debacle of the Athenian attack on Syracuse in 415, captive Athenians faced a living death as chained slaves in the Sicilian quarries.  Those who could recite passages of Euripides were freed.

 

The original name of Athens was Cecropia.

 

Beware of strong drink, good food, and bad women.

 

Only lunatics have original thoughts.

 

Beware of those who have nothing to lose.

 

 

 Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and   walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one   in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.   I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger

 

 

 We need a sarcasm font really bad.

 

 The Ultimate Redneck Convention

The Hickory Ground Hog and Egg Shoot

E. B. Alston

 

Gene-Alston-12 bw.jpg Gene-Alston-13 bw.jpg

 

For a number of years Barbara and I attended the famous Hickory Groundhog and Egg Shoot sponsored by Bullseye Sporting Goods in Vale, North Carolina. It is held in a field about a half hour southwest of Hickory, NC on the first Saturday in April. This year it fell on April Fool’s Day. This is the ultimate redneck convention

Gene-Alston-3 bw.jpgPrecision Shooting Magazine has called this match the most challenging rifle competition in the world and the finest test of rifle accuracy and marksmanship you can find anywhere. We have met competitors from the northeast, west, midwest, south and one even came from Hawaii to shoot ten rounds for record at 100, 300 and 500 yards.

It is the ultimate challenge for a rifle shooter. There are no sighting shots. Every course of fire is shot with a cold barrel without sighters.

The first course of fire is three shots at a life-size cardboard groundhog target at 100 yards.

For a perfect score of 45 you have to make three headshots inside a white dot the size of a dime. If you are so good that you can put all of your shots into one hole at 100 yards, it counts against you. The scorers have to identify three bullet holes.

Larry Willis runs a tight match. You have two minutes to shoot three times. The second course of fire is at the same target, but it is at 300 yards.

Gene-Alston-15 bw.jpgHe makes the distant shooting more interesting by varying the distances from year to year. If you are very, very good, you can shoot at the head again but not many shooters are that good. Barbara tried it one year and got a zero score for her confidence. Most shoot at the belly this time and the white dot is the size of a quarter. The perfect belly dot score is 30.

The third course of fire is that same groundhog target at a nominal 500 yards. Again Larry shows his wonderful sense of humor by placing the target at different distances. This year it was 287 yards according to somebody with a rangefinder. If you are very, very, very good and the gods are smiling on you at that moment, and you are lucky, you might hit the groundhog.

The final and most challenging shot is a cold barrel shot at an egg suspended inside a black painted box at the 500-yard line. For those of you who are unfamiliar with riflescopes, a fine crosshair covers an egg at 500 yards. Usually eight to twelve shooters out of 275 competitors hit the egg. If you hit the egg, your name is added to the Plaque of Fame for that year.

hes plaque bw.jpgMy name graces that august Emblem of Accomplishment. I hit the egg in 2001. I was shooting a factory Remington Varmint Special in 308 Winchester. Go out and buy yourself one right now.

Alas, Barbara and I didn’t do very well this time. Neither of us hit the egg although Barbara’s 500 yard groundhog group was good enough that we thought she had a chance. I didn’t even hit the groundhog at 500 yards. Maybe it was because my rifle had a new barrel. Maybe it was because Barbara shot a different rifle. Or, maybe it was an April Fool’s joke and the gods were frowning on us for missing last year’s competition. Who knows? But Barbara’s score was double mine.

Gene-Alston-1 bw.jpgFor the record, Harold Seagroves won the groundhog match with a score of 93 out of a perfect score of 135. This was fantastic shooting. I didn’t hear whether he hit the egg.  

If you want to test your marksmanship skills next year, call Larry Willis at Bullseye Sporting Goods in Vale, North Carolina, 704-462-1948, sometime in late March and get directions. But before you go, be sure to practice and get a good zero for your rifle. The guys on the left are Rich Naples, Frank Thomas and Jim Sizemore are regulars. Sizemore hails from “south” NJ.

 

 

Even under ideal conditions people have trouble finding their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I’ll bet everyone can find and push the Snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time every time.



Postcards from the Road, Part 1

John Burns

 

Deltiology: (from Greek δελτίον, deltion, diminutive of δέλτος, deltos, "writing tablet, letter"; and -λογία, -logia) is the study and collection of postcards. Professor Randall Rhoades of Ashland, Ohio, coined a word in 1945 that became the accepted description of the study of picture postcards.

*I was poor during my university career. The scholarship was just barely enough to get by and left no room at all for frivolous things. And I wanted to travel, to go places I had never been before. If I couldn’t catch a ride with a friend, I hitchhiked which was, in retrospect, a more interesting mode of travel. I went places that I wanted to see. The road and strangers took me there.

 

Card #1 Wilbur Hobby

Out on the Interstate, headed west. I don’t remember why or where I was going. Standing at the end of an on ramp, thumb out, looking for a ride when a Huge Cadillac, big fins, lotsa chrome, lead sled screeches to a stop smack dab in the middle of the ramp. I hustle up to the passenger side window which the driver lowers electrically. A big man is inside leaning toward the open window. A really big man. Heavy jowls, bald, or just about so. And I recognized him in a split second. Wilbur Hobby. Democrat candidate for Governor. Just the week before he had spoken on campus delivering his message to a small, amused crowd.

Wilbur says, “Boy can you drive this car? You got a license?”

Yes, Wilbur, I can and I do. “Hop on in. I’ve got work to do while you drive.” And with that he slid across the wide bench seat to shotgun while I ran around the Cadillac and hopped behind the wheel. Put that puppy in gear and zoomed onto the highway.

This was 1972. Nixon vs. McGovern. Wilbur, a Democrat, was running for Governor on a Populist platform, trying to earn the nomination away from the Party Bosses. “Let’s Keep the Big Boys Honest!” That was his campaign slogan. He didn’t stand a ghost of a chance getting his party’s nomination. Keeping the Big Boys honest was never going to happen. North Carolina was never going to select a Union Boss for Governor in 1972. Not in North Carolina. Democrat? Maybe. But Nixon’s coattails were awfully long and George McGovern was a sad, doomed candidate.

I drove for a while, Wilbur fussed with papers pulled from a leather briefcase. Mumbling to himself all the time.

“You a college student?” Wilbur was talking to me. Sure. I saw you speak on campus last week. “Whadda you think?” I don’t think you’ve got a chance in Hell of getting the nomination. Pensive, he spoke, “But I’ve got a message people need to hear.” Yea, but it isn’t going to happen.

After that he went back to his papers and I went back to driving. Wilbur looks up from his papers, “Elon College. Take this exit. It’s as far as I go. A speech at the college.”  I stop the big Caddy, say goodbye, hop out and Wilbur slides over behind the wheel. He drives off. Last I see is his bumper sticker, “Keep the Big Boys Honest”.

In 1972 Wilbur Hobby, and his Populist campaign, came in dead last in the Democrat primary. Only about seven percent of the vote went to Wilbur. Still, not bad for a Union Boss in the South. In the general election the governor’s race went to the Republican candidate. He was the first Republican candidate elected governor in the 20th century. Coattails.

Me, I just stuck out my thumb for the next ride.

 

Card #2 Popcorn

The same road. The same direction. A different time. Headed to the Smokies for a ten-day solo backpack. My thumb out, hoping for a ride. I want to get on the trail.

When a car slows down and pulls into the breakdown lane coming to a rather abrupt stop a few yards away. A Chevy Nova, brown, a Mom car. Or the one Mom gives to a child when she sees them off to college.

So I hustle down the road and see, as I near the car, that the driver is a woman about my age alone in the car. Fairly unusual but not unheard of, a lone woman stopping to pick up a hitchhiking stranger, but, hey, a ride is a ride. Going places. I want the ride so I open the passenger door and instantly notice something really strange about the driver.

The woman at the wheel looks oddly weird, ashen grey, like she just saw her own ghost. Eyes red like Christmas tree bulbs. Her hands gripping the steering wheel so tight that her knuckles look like popped corn kernels. Obviously agitated, shaking visibly, she turns to me and asks, “You’re not going to kill me are you?”

You gotta understand, this is not a question I get asked every day, so I freeze, my head in the car, feet on the pavement. Slick dude that I am, all I can say is, “Huh?”

Again, “You’re not going to kill me are you? I’ll give you a ride, but……”

Already I’m backing my head out of the car, leaving the door open, taking little baby steps, making no fast moves. I figure that this woman is a nut case. She’s sweating bullets and I swear, if she squeezes that steering wheel any tighter I’m going hear her knuckles start popping. So I begin easing the passenger door closed figuring that a strategic withdrawal is called for.

She barks, “NO! Don’t do that!”

NO means NO, so I freeze. I’m really spooked. I’m starting to sweat bullets and you need to know that I am probably twice her size. I could easily throttle her, toss her limp body in the woods and drive off with her car. But I’m frozen, there’s something scary in her voice.

“Lady, I don’t think you really want to give me a ride. Why don’t I just shut the door, and off you go?” I can move again, so I’m back to baby steps. Moving away from the door.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She breaks. “I’ve just never picked up a hitchhiker before and I’m so tired, and I need somebody to talk to.” Color is returning to her knuckles. She’s not sweating. I don’t see anyone in the back seat of the car waiting to stick a knife in my back so I get in.

An hour later and sixty miles down the road I know everything about her, and her ex-boyfriend, or is he her current boyfriend soon to be the ex-boyfriend. And how he slept with her best friend. And how they broke up. She’s headed back to her school, her life is a shambles. A woman wronged. A cheating man. A country song.

She turned off the highway, stopped and let me out, drove off. I stuck out my thumb. Relying upon the kindness of strangers. The Smokies were calling.

 

Card #3 Red Convertible

West again, headed west. On Highway 2 outside Spokane, WA. This is dry territory, a semi-arid steppe. Not the rich rain forests of the coasts. Deserts. Thumb out, facing the sun when a big red convertible, lotsa chrome, spits gravel as it pulls to the shoulder. Two guys are in it, drinking beer from long neck bottles at this early hour.

The usual. “Where you headed?” Seattle. “Get in we’ll take you down the Road.” Okay by me, sitting in the back seat, dry desert air swirling about, listening to the tunes on the stereo, drinking beer, conversing about this and that and the other. A good ride, big red convertible, beer. Making good time.

Eventually we begin to slow, the passenger turns to me: “We’re going to see Grand Coulee Dam. You want to go with us?” No, I’ll stay the course to Seattle. So they stop the Caddy at the intersection, let me out, and turn north toward Coulee Dam. Off they go, chrome shining in the sun.

Getting my bearings, I take a look around. Nothing. Empty road. Rolling land to the horizon in all directions. And it’s gotten pretty warm. I wait.

And I wait. And I wait. No traffic. No cars. No farmers going to town, No farmers going home. So I wait.

The sun rises and it gets hotter. Sitting on my pack in the sun is not cutting it so I move to the shade of the sign pointing to Coulee Dam. And I wait.

I get bored. Toss some rocks. Wait some more and then notice that the back of the sign has scribbles on it. So I take a look.

Oh crap! Other hitchhikers had stood here too in the shade of the sign.

“This is the worst place in the world to get a ride.”

“I died here!”

“I’m in Hell waiting for a ride out.”

And more. None of it encouraging. Just the opposite, so I set to thinking, asking myself just how far am I going to walk before I find anything resembling civilization. And I wait, wishing that I’d gone to see the dam in the red convertible drinking long necks.

The sun creeps across the sky, the shade of the sign moves across the ground. I follow trying to keep cool. I swear it’s getting hotter. And I wait. Two, three hours pass.

And I see it. A car, approaching from the north. It’s a red convertible. Lotsa chrome. At the intersection it turns toward Seattle and stops beside the sign, beside me in the shade. “Still here, huh?” Yes I am. “Should’ve gone with us. It was cool.” I guess. ”Hop in. Have a beer.” And we speed off down the Road.

 

Card #4 Brother-In-Law

On the side of a busy highway going back to school. Thumb out. Approaching me is a blue car, a Dodge. It looks familiar, but then again a lot of cars look the same. It nears, it passes. I recognize the driver. It’s my brother-in-law. He doesn’t see me, or intentionally ignores me, or only sees a hippie on the side of the road bumming a ride. He goes by.

Blue car disappears down the road.  My thumb goes out again.

 

 

Students in an advanced Biology class were taking their mid-term exam.  The last question was, 'Name seven advantages of Mother's Milk.'  The question was worth 70 points or none at all.  One student was hard put to think of seven advantages. 

He wrote: 1) It is perfect formula for the child. 2) It provides immunity against several diseases. 3) It is always the right temperature. 4) It is inexpensive. 5) It bonds the child to mother and vice versa. 6) It is always available as needed. And then the student was stuck.  Finally, in desperation, just before the bell rang indicating the end of the test he wrote: 7) It comes in two attractive containers and it's high enough off the ground where the cat can't get it.


He got an A+.

 

Summary of How Different Countries Are Reacting to the Crises

John Cleese

 

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to the recent virus threat and have therefore raised their threat level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, the level may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.”  The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. 

 

The virus has been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada. 

 

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let's Get the Bastard.” They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years. 

 

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability. 

 

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.” 

 

The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.” 

 

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels. 

 

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy. 

 

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its alert level from “No worries” to “She'll be alright, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far, no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level. 

 

The Russians have said “It’s not us”

 

 

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.

Samuel Johnson

 

 

Lincoln Story

 

In many stories the President responds to a problem with his ready wit or with an appropriate anecdote.

When he first came to Washington he was inundated with office seekers. One day he was particularly afflicted; about twenty place­hunters from all parts of the Union  had  taken  possession  of his room with bales of credentials  and  self-recommendations ten miles long.

The President said: "Gentlemen, I must tell you a little story I read one day when I was minding a mudscow in one of the bayous near the Yazoo. Once there was a certain king," he said, "who kept an astrologer to forewarn him of coming events and especially to tell him whether it was going to rain when he wanted to go on hunting expeditions. One day he had started off for the forest with his train of ladies and lords for a grand hunt, when the cavalcade met a farmer, riding a donkey, on the road. 'Good morning, Farmer,' said the king. 'Good morning, King,' said the farmer. 'Where are you folks going?' 'Hunting,' said the king. 'Lord, you'll get wet,' said the farmer. The king trusted his astrologer, of course, and went to  the  forest, but  by  midday  there  came on a terrific storm that drenched and buffeted the whole party, When the king returned to his palace he had the astrologer decapitated  and  sent for  the farmer  to  take  his  place. 'Law's sake,' says the farmer when he arrived, 'it ain't me that knows when it's goin' to rain, it's my donkey. When it's goin' to be fair weather that donkey always carries his ears forward so.' 'Make the donkey the court astrologer!' shouted the king. It was done. But the king always declared that that appointment was the greatest mistake he ever made in his life."

Lincoln stopped there.

"Why did he say it was a mistake?" we asked him. "Didn't the donkey do his duty?"

"Yes," said the President, "but after that time every donkey in the country assembled in front of the palace and wanted an office."

 

- Leslie's Weekly, 1863 .

 

 

A Friend in Need

E. B. Alston

 

For most of my adult life I have been on a steep learning curve about my fellow man. Some of this was curiosity. My positions during the latter part of my career at the telephone company required that I pay more attention to why people acted the way they did. I thought I was a pretty good judge of character.

But this incident proved that there are some men I don’t understand. I know that judging a person’s face is often unreliable. However, the face is the generally part we depend on when we first meet. We draw our conclusions from the shape of the jaw, the look in the eyes, and the contour of the mouth. In my experience these opinions are more often right than wrong. 

The reason many novels and plays are untrue to life is because their authors have not studied their fellow humans. They tend to make their characters all alike in an attempt to make them believable. Actually, we, as in real people, are self-contradictory. We are an unbelievable, haphazard bundle of inconsistent qualities.

In books on logic they say it is absurd to say that yellow is tubular or gratitude heavier than air. A fictional  mixture  of  incongruities that makes  a person yellow and may  just as  well be a horse  and  cart  and  gratitude  the  middle  of next week.

I stop paying attention when someone tells me that their first impressions about people are always right. They either possess little insight or are unbearably dull-witted. I learned early that the longer I knew people, the more they puzzled me. I admit that I don't know very much about my oldest friends.

What got me thinking along these lines is I learned that a man I met many years ago in Los Vegas had died. His first name was Edward. I don’t want to tell you his whole name and I’m sure there were many Edwards living in Vegas in the 1980s.  You will understand why at the end of this account. He was a financier and he had been in business in Vegas for many years.

I was in Vegas to make a presentation to a regional telephone company conference. I was invited to speak at many of these meetings because I had written an evaluation of an electronic telephone cable tester that got published in a trade magazine.

Edward and I shared a table one morning at breakfast in the very crowded hotel restaurant. He thought my southern drawl was intriguing. The conversation got me an invitation to dine with him at his club, the Reflection Bay Golf Club, the day after my conference ended.

At dinner that evening, he told me a most amazing story.  If I had not heard the story from his lips I would have never believed it. Nobody could have made this up and I still find it hard to believe he did what he told me.  And, after reflecting on what he said, I suspect that he felt a need to finally get this off his chest to someone who was a total stranger.

His story: “Years ago one of my card-playing buddies was a man named Burton. Burton enjoyed playing cards and having his cocktail. He told good jokes and spicy stories. I thought he had been something of an athlete when he was young. He didn’t have a job. I thought he was well-off financially and had made it himself.

He was a likeable fellow, always well dressed and smart looking. He had curly blonde hair. Women thought he was handsome. They liked him so much he never considered marriage because he could get all he wanted without commitment.

We never became friends. To me, he was just another gambler in a town loaded with gamblers. Sometimes he acted like a teenager. I also thought he drank too much.” 

He received a good size payment every quarter and he made a little more at the card tables here. We played sometimes here at the club and he won a lot of my money, I know that.”

Then he sort of dropped out of sight for a while.

I was surprised sometime later when he showed up at my office and asked me for a job. He said he had no more money coming in and he needed to work. I asked him how old he was.”

“Thirty-five,” he said.

I asked. “What have you been doing all these years?”

“Gambling mostly, not much else,” he replied.

I laughed and told him I didn’t have anything to offer him at the time. I told him to come back and see me in another thirty-five years, and I’d see what I could do.

He went pale as a ghost and didn't move.

Then he told me that he had been having tough luck at cards for some time. He hadn't stuck to bridge. He'd been playing poker, and he'd gotten cleaned out. He didn’t have a penny. He had pawned everything he had. He couldn't pay his house rent and nobody would give him any more credit. He was down and out. If he couldn't get some money he'd have to commit suicide.”

After he told me that, I knew why he was all to pieces. He looked fifty. Women wouldn't have thought much of him if they'd seen him then.

“There must be something you can do besides play cards?” I said.

“I can swim,” he said.

“Swim!” I couldn’t believe my ears. That was a stupid answer.

“I swam for my university,” he explained.

I knew of quite a few former athletes who were little tin gods at their university. I was not impressed.

I said I was  a  pretty  good  swimmer  myself  when  I was young. I swam over three miles in Lake Superior.

He still looked upset and didn’t comment. Then I had an idea.

“If you're such a good swimmer,” I said. “I’ll give you a job if you swim the length of Lake Los Vegas.”

“I'm not in very good condition,” he replied.

I shrugged my shoulders.

He was quiet a moment and then he nodded. “Okay. When do you want me to do it?”

I looked at my watch. It was just after ten.

“Now. The swim shouldn't take you much more than an hour and a quarter. I'll pick you up where the lake ends at Lake Los Vegas Highway at twelve thirty. I'll bring you back to the club to dress and then we'll have lunch together.”'

“Deal!” He said.

We shook hands. I wished him luck and he left. I was busy that morning and didn’t make it to the lake until almost one but he didn’t show up.

“Did he back out at the last minute?” I asked.

“No, he didn't.  He actually started. I guess he'd ruined his constitution so much alcohol. The swim was more than he could manage.  It was three days before his body was found."

I was so shocked I didn't say anything for a minute or two.

Then I asked Burton,  “When you made him the job offer, did you think he might drown?”

He chuckled and looked at me with those honest and candid blue financier eyes of his, rubbed his chin with his hand and said, “I didn’t have a vacancy at the time.”

 

 

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen

 

Chapter Eight

 

Swede and Thaddeus arrived at the suite at nine on the dot. Clare let them in and showed them the refreshment table with steaming coffee, hot tea and sandwiches. Jack had taken his place at the head of the table with four stacks of papers. After Swede poured his tea and Thaddeus poured his coffee, Jack motioned for them to take their seats at the table. When he sat down, Swede had a mischevious grin on his face.

“How was your stay?” he asked innocently.

“Not much fun,” Jack replied.

“What happened?” Thaddeus asked, also with a suppressed grin. “Did you have a problem developing a viable plan?”

“No,” Jack replied. “We learned that somebody else is aware of our presence.”

“Another spy?” Swede asked. 

“Yeah.”

“What did you do?” Thaddeus asked.

“We caught him and brought him up here. We planned to keep him with us until this meeting was over.”

“Is he here now?” Thaddeus asked.

“No. He escaped through the bedroom window and slipped down the fire escape.”

“Did you discover who he worked for?” Swede asked.

“No. But we kept his cell phone and we have some people investigating the numbers in the phone’s incoming and outgoing call records.”

Swede became visibly upset. “Who?” he asked.

“That is confidential.”

“But we are your partners!” Thaddeus, exclaimed. “We must trust each other.”

Clare laughed, “Trust? You? We don’t know you.”

Swede cleared his throat, then he confessed. “Chester was our man. We wish you hadn’t given out his call records.”

Jack stared at him for a few moments before he growled the word “stupid” to nobody in particular. Then he gathered up the stacks of papers.

“Pack up, Cornelia.” Then he stood and ordered Swede and Thaddeus to get out of the suite.

“Please don’t leave,” Thaddeus pleaded. “It was Swede’s idea.”

Swede was at a loss for words until he finally admitted it was a bum idea. “If you two quit, we won’t have anything for the meeting. Lord Phillip will have our hides.”

“Good!” Jack mumbled while he stuffed papers into his briefcase.

“We only wanted to be sure about you,” Swede pleaded. “It was the only thing we could think of. We’re new at this sort of thing and we were afraid of getting caught.”

“You probably will,” Jack agreed.

Swede put his hand on Jack’s arm, “I’m sorry, Cecil. It was stupid of me. Please don’t cut out. Think of the mission.”

Jack paused as if he was reconsidering.

“Cecil,” Clare said. “He’s right. We must not allow this to jeopardize our mission.”

“Yes, yes,” Thaddeus chimed in. “The mission is of utmost importance. We must not allow petty quarrels to compromise the mission.”

“There’s a big difference between a petty disagreement and utter stupidity,” Jack growled. He hesitated before he finally relented, “Okay. We’ll show you what we have. If you don’t trust us, we don’t trust you. If we don’t trust you at the end of this meeting, it will be the end of our participation and you two are on your own.”

“You have our undying trust,” Thaddeus exclaimed.

Jack gave Thaddeus a skeptical glance.

Thaddeus continued, “Without you, we have no chance of success.”

Swede nodded his head emphatically, and offered his hand to Jack. “Shake on it, Mate,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Jack reluctantly, and unsmilingly, shook Swede’s hand and began to remove the papers from his briefcase. Swede and Thaddeus breathed a sigh of relief. Jack and Clare’s eyes met and, if you looked carefully, their suppressed smiles would make you think they had pulled one off.

After Jack distributed the documents, he began. “What you are trying to do is both easy and complicated. It will require substantial bribery in high places and a high order of chicanery. It’s easy because agricultural technology is in such an advanced and complex state that a couple of decimal points the wrong way will accomplish your mission.”

“What are you proposing?” Thaddeus asked.

“You don’t have to destroy the world’s entire grain crop. A two-decimal point reduction will accomplish your mission. In any given month, a forty-five day supply of food grains is all that is available. A ten percent reduction in yields would cause a lot of strife because grain-producing countries will become alarmed and hoard their production. Within twenty-four months, wars will be fought over grain supplies. Also, if some of the grain is contaminated, people will become suspicious and may destroy good stocks because they won’t know if it’s safe to consume. Grain buying countries will distrust grain exporting countries and chaos will reign.”

Jack then picked up a twenty-page document from the top of their pile. “This is our proposal to reduce the world’s food supply to cause international strife. You can read the details later. We suggest that this document receive minimum circulation.

“Wheat is the most widely planted crop in the world. It provides over twenty percent of the calories consumed by humans. The most devastating disease of wheat is wheat rust.  It was thought to have been eradicated in the 1950s when a crossbreeding experiment produced a rust resisting gene in wheat grown for seed. The same variety of seed is responsible for the dramatic increase in wheat yields called the green revolution. Then, in 1998, a research station in Uganda discovered wheat rust in a new stand of hybrid wheat. Since then it has spread to Africa’s great lakes, South Africa and as far as Iran. It seems wheat rust has defeated the rust resisting gene. Scientists have developed a new group of genetic modifications, but who knows how long it will take for the rust to bypass these fixes.

“Claviceps purpurea is a fungus that grows on ears of wheat, rye and other related cereal plants, although it doesn’t normally affect oats. Consuming bread, or even the grain, that is contaminated with this fungus, kills by affecting blood circulation and neurotransmitters of the central nervous system. The scientific name is ergot sclerotium and it causes ergotism in humans and animals.

“The disease cycle of the ergot fungus in connection with epidemics among people and animals was reported in a scientific text in 1676. The ergot sclerotium contains the alkaloid ergotamine, a molecule consisting of a tripeptide-derived cyclol-lactam ring connected via amide linkage to a lysergic acid, moiety, and other alkaloids that are biosynthesized by the ergot fungus.

“It is called ergotism and its effects are pathological in humans and animals that eat it. It was called ‘St. Anthony's Fire’ during the Middle Ages because its symptoms are severe burning sensations in the limbs. Ergot constricts blood vessels which causes gangrene and loss of limbs.

“During the Middle Ages Europe suffered from human poisoning caused by eating bread made from ergot-infected grain. It is thought that the hysterical symptoms of young women that spurred the Salem witch trials were caused by consumption of ergot-tainted bread. The last known ergot poisoning case attributed to bread was in 1951 at Pont St. Esprit in France.”

“Terrible, terrible!” Thaddeus interjected. “How is it controlled today?”

“Mainly by crop rotation and chemicals,” Clare replied.

“Are you suggesting that these diseases be deliberately reintroduced?” Swede asked.

“It’s easier than causing droughts and floods,” Jack replied dryly.

“How?” Thaddeus asked.

“There are two options,” Jack replied. “Wheat rust is the easiest path to success. Punjab is one of the world’s largest wheat producing areas. Scientists already fear that it’s only a matter of time before the resistant version reaches the Punjab. That alone will be devastating. And a little distrust sown by radical environmentalists could persuade farmers to plant the wrong kinds of seed.”

“What is our second option?” Swede asked.

“The other is to genetically alter seed grain to be resistant to the poisons currently used to control ergot. It could be selectively used in unsophisticated developing countries. At the same time, spread the misinformation that the ergot fungus has been eradicated and there is no longer a need to rotate crops. Simply ceasing crop rotation would bring it back. It would have the added effect of concealing the genetic modification. You could also engage the environmental groups to campaign against the use of poisons used to control ergot,” Jack replied.

“How would we do that?”

“By writing a ‘scientific’ paper emphasizing the hazards of the poisons. All poisons, no matter how beneficial, contain elements that, if widely known, would cause an outcry against their use.”

“What about rice?” Swede asked.

“Rice provides about the same number of calories for human consumption as wheat. It is fortunate for our purposes that so much human welfare depends on these two crops. This plan introduces a species of Fusarium fungi that produces trichothecene mycotoxins in rice crops. This fungus is abundant in soil but most species are harmless in soil commonly used to grow rice. Outbreaks of Fusarium sporotrichoides poisioning in rice caused mass casualties in the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 40s. The Soviets developed a biological warfare agent from it called trichothecene T-2 mycotoxinthat. They called it ‘Yellow Rain’ and it has a 60 percent mortality rate. It also affects cocoa plants in South America and some strains of the fungus have become resistant to poisons used to control it.”

“How does rice infected with this fungus affect humans?” Thaddeus asked.

“It causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, chills, myalgia and internal bleeding.”

“Terrible!” Thaddeus observed with a shudder.

“How could it be introduced?” Swede asked.

“Contaminate the poison used to control the fungus with poison resistant spores of the disease,” Clare replied.

“By more bribery and chicanery?” Swede asked.

“It’s the only way,” Jack replied.

“I don’t like it,” Swede blurted out.

“It meets your specifications,” Clare retorted.

“I know. You two have done a great job,” Swede replied quietly.

“We consider our job finished,” Jack said.

“Oh, no,” Thaddeus interjected. “You two must accompany us to the meeting in Casablanca.”

Apparently Thaddeus’s urge to please Lord Phillip overrode his urge to be in Casablanca alone with Cornelia.

“Why?” Clare asked.

“Lord Phillip will ask us questions that neither of us can answer. You two must go with us.”

“Okay,” Jack said reluctantly. He paused. “The information we just gave you is very dangerous. You cannot allow it to leave your possession for any reason at any time.”

“We understand,” Swede replied solemnly. Then he looked at the clock. “Lunch time. My treat.”

“Where are you taking us?” Jack asked suspiciously.

“McLards Barbeque Restaurant,” Swede replied with a grin.

The very name oozed of hog drippings, Clare thought, as she went to get her purse.

While Swede drove them a few miles out into the country to the restaurant, Thaddeus directed most of his conversation toward Cornelia. It was evident that he was smitten.

Jack pretended to ignore his advances while Clare played little devious word games, which Thaddeus interpreted as her having a favorable attitude toward him.

The meal was much better than the restaurant’s name implied. When they dropped Cecil and Cornelia off at their hotel, Swede and Thaddeus bid Cornelia a fond farewell and said they would meet again in Casablanca.

 

 

“Cecil” and “Cornelia” flew out of Perth that evening for the long trip back to Langley.

“I didn’t like what went on back there,” Jack said while they were waiting to board their flight.

“It was very strange,” Clare replied.

“Surreal is a better word.”

“You’re right,” she agreed.

 

Part Three

 

The Second Horseman brings War

 

Dave Quigley and Jim Travis

The Second Horseman rides a fiery red horse. He is given power to take peace from the earth and make men slay each other. To him is given a large sword, the symbol of the terrible warfare in the end times.

 

blackwater.jpg

 

Blackwater

 

Chapter Nine

 

Dave drove down the winding road toward the Blackwater facility west of Moyock, North Carolina. He stopped at the guard shack and handed the sentry his job offer letter. The guard asked for his driver’s license and took the letter and his license inside the shack where he made a telephone call. After a brief conversation, the guard returned the letter and license, handed him a weeklong parking pass and waved him through saying, “Report to the administration building.”

Dave drove down the two-lane blacktop in this facility east of the great Dismal Swamp, through some of the flattest terrain he had ever seen. He passed helicopter hangars, driving courses laid out to train men and women how to drive when being shot at, pistol ranges, ship mockups, and a 1,200-yard rifle range. A squad of men in foreign military dress and full field gear marched across an open field.

“Quite a setup,” Dave thought, as he turned the corner by the Black Bear Inn, and parked in front of the administration building.

When he walked inside he noticed that, while the dress was civilian, the atmosphere was military.

The lady at the counter took his letter and directed him to have a seat in the lobby area. Then she dialed a number. “Mr. Quigley is here.”

A few minutes passed before a tall, athletic man in civilian dress with a military bearing introduced himself as Colonel Masterson. He led Dave to a sparsely furnished office on the second floor with a 60s vintage olive-drab metal desk. The nameplate read Col. “Bat” Masterson.

Masterson took his seat behind the desk, opened a manila folder and motioned for Dave to take a seat.

“You have an unusual résumé, Mr. Quigley.”

“How so?” Dave replied.

“I see that you once worked on military projects for AT&T.”

“I was director of a unit that installed telephone cables and equipment for the Continental Command.”

“Why did you leave?”

“Got a better offer.”

“It says that you now work for a small investigative firm owned by Mr. M. H. Spade.”

“I’ve helped him out on a few cases.”

“What kind of cases?”

“A DEA project that targeted a Philippine drug dealer a few miles west of here in Columbia, another case where we recovered a historical artifact that had been stolen from a Russian museum, a case where the model, Venus, was kidnapped and taken to a fortress up the Amazon River.”

“I heard she was kidnapped but I never heard how she was rescued.”

“They tried to keep it hush-hush.”

“They? The Brazilian government?”

“Her family is internationally prominent.”

“Oh. That’s interesting. Mr. Spade seems to have high profile clients.”

“The last case was for the British Government.”

“What for?”

“We were hired to locate a British aristocrat who was missing in South America.”

“Did you?”

“Sort of. She’s dead.”

“Quite interesting,” Masterson mused. “We had never heard of you or Mr. Spade until we received orders from the Pentagon to hire you for this case.”

“Hammer is a low profile guy.”

“He must be. There are only four people in his office in Durham.”

“He’s got this top-notch woman managing his business. She’s worth ten ordinary managers.”

“Our investigator noted that when he scoped the place out. He also said she was a most attractive lady.”

“You ought to see her sister.”

“Does she work for the firm, too?”

“Naw. She’s the model, Venus.”

Masterson was surprised. “There seems to be many odd connections surrounding Mr. Spade.”

“Venus is Hammer’s girlfriend. Her real name is Alonia.”

“That is an old-fashioned name. I take it that Hammer is Mr. Spade?”

“Yeah.”

Masterson changed the subject. “We have information that you have been to Somalia.”

“Yeah. It was on the Russian case.”

“Did you travel to the interior?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you have any trouble?”

“Yeah, we were lucky to get out in one piece.”

“Would you go back to Somalia?”

“I left Somalia to come here. When I’m not working for Hammer, I work for an Englishman who owns a big farm.”

“In Somalia?”

“He’s an unusual guy. Nobody messes with him.”

“I’d like to meet a man who can farm unmolested in Somalia.”

“He does pretty well for himself.”

“Could you work in the Middle East?”

“Sure. I’ll work anywhere.”

“Have you heard of a conspiracy called The Four Horsemen?”

“Yeah.”

“What have you heard?”

“That they plan to disrupt governments all over the world in an attempt to bring down western civilization.”

“Our government views this as a serious threat and they want you to infiltrate the Second Horseman arm of the organization.”

“The Red Horse: War?”

“Yes. You and your new partner.”

“Partner?”

“His name is Jim Travis. You’ll meet him this evening.”

“What will I do?” Dave asked.

“Right now they want you to infiltrate the organization to discover if it’s as dangerous as it sounds.”

“Do they know who to contact or how I can find him, or her?”

“His name is Alain Binoche, a Frenchman and Georgi Dimitrov who is Bulgarian.”

“Where can I find them?”

“Oran, in Algeria. They have rented a warehouse in the port area.”

“A Frenchman would choose Algeria,” Dave mused.

“We believe they plan to stir up trouble in the Arab world.”

“If I was assigned to start a war, that’s where I’d go,” Dave agreed. “Will Jim and I be armed?”

“Yes. Jim was chosen because, like yourself, he is an accomplished marksman. You’re in charge because of your travels and experience in foreign countries.”

“What kinds of weapons?”

“A service pistol and a sniper rifle.”

“I’ve still got the rifle and pistol I was issued for the last case. The rifle’s performance was outstanding.”

“We will issue you two M-40s.”

“This is a blue-printed Remington Varmint Special with a Krieger barrel, a Jewell trigger and a Weaver T-24. It’s nothing but a civilian M-40.”

“It would be highly unusual to allow you to use your personal weapon on assignment for us.”

“It’s not mine. It’s British Government issue.”

Colonel Masterson frowned. “That makes it even less desirable.”

“Whatever you say,” Dave grumbled. “You’re in charge.”

“I’ll speak to the Pentagon about it,” Masterson replied.

“What kind of sidearm?” Dave asked.

“An M-92F.”

“I’d rather have a 1911.”

“We can arrange that without a problem.”

“What’s the drill for tomorrow?”

“After we get Mr. Travis signed up, you two will have to be qualified with the rifle and pistols you are issued.”

“You’ve got a nice range here.”

“Yes, we are quite proud of our facility. After you’re qualified with your issue weapons, you’ll take our combat driver’s course and practice a couple of building and shipboard assaults.”

“This sounds heavy duty.”

“The Pentagon requires that you be prepared for any contingency.”

Colonel Masterson looked at the clock. “We’ll call it a day. You and Mr. Travis are assigned to a room in the inn.” He handed Dave a plastic card with a barcode on it. “Use this at the inn and to pay for your meals at the mess hall. There are restaurants in town if you prefer to eat off base. Report here tomorrow morning at 07:00. Mr. Travis is supposed to arrive this evening.”

With that, Masterson rose, shook Dave’s hand and said, “Welcome aboard,” with a sly grin. Mastertson motioned for Dave to leave, and then closed the door as Dave walked down the hall.

 

▲▼▲▼▲

 

Chapter Ten

 

The Black Bear Inn on Puddin Ridge Road had a rustic exterior and lobby. When Dave opened the door to the room, he saw two military style bunks and remembered that Colonel Masterson had said “room”, not “rooms”. He threw his luggage on the bed closest to the bathroom door. When he opened the door, he saw a sparsely furnished bathroom with a white sink, commode, a shower and another door. When he opened that door, he saw another room identical to the room he was assigned.

This was nothing but a military barracks and the facility was nothing but a civilian military base, he thought to himself.

He took a shower, dressed and drove off base for dinner at the Southland Restaurant in Moyock.

At 21:45 that evening, Dave answered a knock on the door. When he opened it, there stood a tall, athletic looking man carrying a suitcase and a hard rifle case.

“You Dave?” he asked.

“Yeah. You must be Travis,” Dave replied. He pointed to the other bed. “I guess that’s for you.”

“They could have given us separate rooms,” Travis grumbled.

“Makes me feel like a private again,” Dave replied.

“Hope we’re not here too long.”

“Colonel Masterson didn’t say how long we’d be here but the parking permit is for a week.”

“Mine is, too. What’re we gonna do?” Travis asked.

“Qualify on their rifle and pistol ranges and do a few practice assaults.”

“I’ve heard your name somewhere. Where are you from?”

“I grew up in New Jersey. I’ve got a place on the New River south of Galax, Virginia.”

“You ever been to New Bern?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Do you know anybody from there?”

“The only man I know from the New Bern area is Tim Whealton.”

“Tim!” Travis shouted. “Good to meet you, Dave! Tim’s my old shootin’ buddy from way back.”

“Small world,” Dave mumbled.

“I’m Tim’s relationship advisor.”

“That so?”

“Yeah. One time when we were driving to a rifle match at Butner, he got to talking about how his wife was giving him a hard time.”

“And what advice did you give him?” Dave asked with a sarcastic edge in his voice.

“I told him he had his best gun with him, he didn’t need to go back home.”

“Did he take your advice?”

“Naw. He went back and they made up.” He paused. “What are we gonna do when we finish here, Dave?”

“Don’t know. Maybe they’ll tell us tomorrow.”

“I brought my match rifle.”

“I doubt if they let you use it.”

“Why not? They ain’t got nothing as good as my Model 70.”

“Winchester?”

“Yeah. What do you shoot?”

“I’ve been using a tricked out Varmint Special, but Colonel Masterson told me they wouldn’t let me use a personal weapon.”

“That sucks!”

“Tell me about it. We’ll have to get zeroes all over again.”

“It’s a great looking range.”

“Yes, it is,” Dave agreed.

“They gonna issue us pistols?”

“Berettas, but he said I could have a 1911.”

“I’d rather have a 1911, too. We ought to have the same type of gun so we can share ammo.”

“That’ll probably be the idea,” Dave agreed.

“But if you shoot up all your ammo and don’t hit nothin’, don’t expect me to give you any of mine.”

“Don’t worry.”

“I’ll wait to see how you do on the range.”

Dave grunted an unintelligible reply and wondered if this was going to get any better. By the time Travis had taken his shower, Dave was sound asleep in his bunk.

 

▲▼▲▼▲

 

Chapter Eleven

 

While Colonel Masterson interviewed Travis, Dave completed the paperwork, coached by a woman named Mavis.

“You’re subcontracted to us by a man named Delius,” said Mavis.

“Subcontracted?”

“All the layers spread the risk.”

“We live in a lawyer’s paradise,” Dave mumbled. “If the country was sane, I’d be activated and under military intelligence supervision.”

“Quite right,” Mavis agreed, “but those days are long gone.”

“Yeah, with current military rules of engagement, I’d have to kiss ’em before I shoot ’em and then tell ’em I was sorry and it wasn’t their fault.”

Mavis laughed and handed him another document to sign.

When Travis came to fill out his paperwork, Dave asked, “Did he let you keep your Model 70?”

“Heck no! Colonel Bat ain’t a very flexible guy.”

The secretary came and escorted Dave back to Masterson’s office.

“How was your room?” Masterson asked.

“I felt like I was back in the Army.”

“We try to maintain a military atmosphere here.”

“You’re doing a good job. It would discourage civilians.”

“I’m placing you in charge of this project. You will outrank Travis and you will operate under military rules.”

“That’s the way Spade operates.”

“So he’s a detective who operates in a military fashion?”

“Yeah.”

“Interesting.” Masterson paused, “After HR finishes with Travis, you two will draw your equipment. Go to the armory building first to draw weapons, then to supply to draw ammo and shooting gear if you didn’t bring any with you.”

He phoned a number. “Quigley and Travis will draw equipment, ammo and shooting gear next. You can meet them at the mess hall at 13:00.”

Masterson then turned to Dave.

“I’ve put Mr. Hodges in charge of your familiarization process and to get you qualified with your weapons. We expect this to take about a week. Do not leave the area during training except to visit Moyock for groceries and restaurant meals during the evening. Do not venture out of the city limits except to return here and do not get into any trouble.”

This sounded pretty serious to Dave. He was relieved that Colonel Masterson allowed them to go into town.

After drawing their equipment, they spent the rest of the week getting zeroes for their new rifles and practicing on the pistol range. Hodges was a crusty old retired Army master sergeant. Travis got under his skin a few times and Dave thought that in the old days Hodges would have given him punishment pushups. Once, while Travis was getting into firing position at the 600-yard line, Travis muttered something derogatory about the old soldier. After he finished firing and stood up, Hodges handed Travis his hearing protectors and told him to put them on. When Travis put them over his ears, he realized they were electronic hearing protectors with volume controls and Hodges had heard everything he said.

Travis apologized. “Sorry ’bout that, Sarge. I’ll try to remember where I am when I run my mouth in the future.”

“Where you’re headed, that would be a good idea,” Hodges replied.

Travis was the best rifle shot and Dave was the best and quickest with the 45.

On their last evening, before shipping out, they had dinner with Hodges at the Mill Run Tavern and Restaurant in Moyock.

“What do you think of the M-40?” Dave asked Travis.

“I can’t complain. I don’t think I shot any worse with it than I do with my Winchester. The Winchester’s better at rapid fire but I doubt if we’ll be doing any fast shootin’ over there.”

“I doubt it, too,” Dave agreed.

“Travis,” Hodges said, “you run your mouth too much. If I was going over there, I’d overlook that. You’re a good shot and if I was goin’, you’d be a good man to have by my side when the going gets tough.”

“Thanks, Sarge. I don’t mean to irritate people, but when I think of something, out it comes.”

“You had better curtail that over there. Those people will cut your throat if you say the wrong thing.”

“Amen,” Dave agreed.

They spent the rest of the meal discussing rifles, pistols, ammunition, shooting positions and the arcane aspects of judging the effect of wind on 30-caliber bullets at 1000 yards.

When they turned in, Hodges wished them good luck and a safe return from whatever it was they were doing.

They would receive their final briefing on Monday. On Tuesday they would leave for Oran, Algeria, on a classified military flight.

 

Continued Next Month

 

Now You Know How I Feel

Slice of life by Howard A. Goodman

 

I happened to look out the kitchen window, and there she was again, predictably. An adult neighbor from down the street, whom I barely knew. A woman who looked to be in her fifties, yet despite her somewhat diminutive height and a tendency toward chunkiness knew how to carry herself quite attractively. Accompanying her were two small dogs, both tethered by long leashes. I continued to observe as the trio rounded the corner to the side of my home considered to be the front. No doubt, I mused, they were headed for the natural area by the overflow pond, down the street and across Cornerstone Drive, just outside the subdivision.

I began to wonder whether they—the dogs, that is—would be tempted to make a pitstop along the way. I didn’t have to wait very long for action to precipitate. Suddenly, one of the four-legged house dwellers made a sharp detour onto my front lawn and, his head lowered, sniffing around the grass a bit, finally deciding the precise spot where he was going to do his business. It was then I decided I’d had enough.

I made my way to the front door and, quickly considering what I would say to her once I made contact, stepped outside onto the porch. I didn’t want to come across as crass; after all, she was my neighbor. Now I am not particularly a quick-witted person. However, at this moment a sub-story dialogue from an episode of Seinfeld suddenly came to me that I believed would prove handy in this situation. By the time I reached the sidewalk I had my version pretty near all figured out.

I shrugged. “Why do you even bother walking your dogs all the down the block to the natural area? Before she could respond, I added, “May I offer you a suggestion? Why don’t you just let them do their business on your lawn?”

The woman looked at me squarely. “Sir, if I allowed them to go at my house,” she replied, her tone as serious as classical music, “my lawn would be destroyed in less than a week.”

Immediately, I snapped a huge grin, having just gently coaxed from her the precise response I wanted to achieve. I gestured down at the grass of my lawn, then offered my reply. “Well then, now you know how I feel.”

 

April in Moccasin Gap

Brad Carver

 

            So, it’s April. Easter is in April.  I remember when I was a little boy playing in the streets of Moccasin Gap, the dirt streets on the other side of the tracks,  Easter was always a time to get new shoes.  Every Easter I got new shoes. Exactly what new shoes have to do with the rising of Jesus is beyond me. He walked out of the grave and before that He walked on water. So I’m getting new shoes. Guess I’ll do some walking of my own. How nice.  And what exactly does the birth of Christ have to do with chopping down a Christmas tree? I could never figure that one out either. And mistletoe? Come on, it’s the birth of Christ for God’s sake. 

            Moccasin Gap is close to Durham, NC, so every Easter when I was little we visited Duke Gardens and the flowers were always so purty. That’s NC for pretty, in case you’re wondering. And by the way, where did a rabbit laying eggs come into play? Is this Easter or Alice in Wonderland? April is also National Grass Month. We celebrate that around here. If you think it’s about your front yard, you are wrong. 

            April is also Pets are Wonderful Month. I have two cats that leave a wonderful mess everywhere they go. House cats are so arrogant and I think I know why. See what you think of this analogy. I believe it’s because out of all the cat species, the house cat is the only one who has found a way to cohabitate with the human species. And since they’re so cute and cuddly, they use that cuteness to manipulate their owners to get anything they want. It’s not because the other cats want to cohabitate with humans, it’s just that the other cat species are happy being the cats they are.  Every other cat species, (the lynx, the bobcat, leopard, lion, puma, tiger, panther, every one of them), likes being a free carnivore. They like hunting their own food and running wild. They like being cats. They really like it. They’re cats, they’re macho; they’re tough. But the house cat has become a wimp. Even the black house cat is a wimp. And I’m not saying that because I’m a racist, I’m saying it because it’s a fact.  When you’re sitting on the front porch in Moccasin Gap, you have a lot of time to think and this is the kind of stuff I think of.

            I used to think of politics but that was too depressing. Besides, when you’re white and say something bad about Obama, you’re racist. I knew several black people who didn’t like Bush, but we never called them racist. Why is that? Why is the race card always thrown at white people? Just something else to think about while sitting on the front porch.  I really need a job. Oh, that’s right. There are no jobs. Our government is too concerned with Obamacare.  The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, whatever that means, and I’m sitting on the front porch in Moccasin Gap sipping on a Pabst Blue Ribbon and thinking incoherent thoughts.

            Life is fine here. I hope it stays that way. By the way, April is also VD Awareness Month. Maybe you should think about that while your government is screwing you. Get involved America. It’s your life and it’s your money.

 

The Diary of Samuel  Pepys

Complete and Unabridged

By Samuel Pepys

Edited and Formatted by E. B. Alston

Editor’s Notes

 

Note 1: I found an online copy of Pepy’s complete diaries. Years ago I bought and read with fascinated interest a small collection of his comments. I worked for days converting the complete set to publish it myself only to learn that many others had beat me to the punch. So, you, the readers of the magazine, can reap the benefits of my wasted effort.  

 

Note 2: Historically, this begins early in the Restoration after Oliver Cromwell was unseated and imprisoned.

 

Note 3: In seventeenth century Europe, hygiene, fashions and sexual behavior were radically different from ours today. I’m not sure politics has changed very much. Europe was just emerging from the dark ages and “civilization” was rough. It was believed at the time that bathing was unhealthy. And, to be frank it was a lot of trouble. No, as in zero, plumbing, Lamps were not available. It was candlelight, or nothing. Those exceedingly fancy dresses and men’s suits were never washed or cleaned except to brush off mud collected while walking on unpaved streets and roads. There were no deodorants either. Samuel Pepys was probably lustier than most of the men of his day and, being sophisticated enough to exercise his intellectual advantage, he seduced, and was seduced by, several prominent women.  Probably “many” is more appropriate than “several.” I don’t believe he ever scored with one of the King’s favorite mistresses, “my Lady Castlemaine,” but he sure wanted to. At any rate, Samuel led a very interesting life, had an outstanding career as what became the Minister of the British Navy, was socially prominent and had a grand time with the ladies.  Plus, although he told us everything in his diary, he never mentioned that he took a bath.

Note 4: Sanitation in 17th century London - Streets and walks were not paved. There were no municipal codes and a fine house might be next to a slaughter house. Most houses had chickens, pigs and a cow or two. For transportation, you either walked, rode a horse or rode in a horse drawn conveyance. There was no piped running water and no sewers, no trash pickup. Streets were covered in manure, mostly horse manure but people also dumped their trash, dishwater and household chamber pots in the street. At the time motor vehicles were coming into use, a London Times editorial commented that gasoline powered vehicles would save the city from being covered in 18 feet of horse manure.

In 1959, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India still used chamber pots in his English castle.

This is a most extra-ordinary document.

 

Samuel Pepy

1659-May 31 1669

 

Samuel Pepys was an administrator of the navy of England and Member of Parliament. He is most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. 

Born: February 23, 1633, London, United Kingdom Died: May 26, 1703, Clapham Town, London, England

Spouse: Elisabeth Pepys (m. 1655–1669)

Children: Judith (Born 1625) and Richard (Born 1626)

 

Introduction

 

Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain, but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe Yard, having my wife, and servant Jane, and no other in family than us three. The condition of the State was thus; viz. the Rump, after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, sufficiently known by his services as a Major-General in the Parliament forces during the Civil War, and condemned as a traitor after the Restoration; but reprieved and banished to Guernsey, where he lived in confinement thirty years was lately returned to sit in Parliament again. The officers of the Army all forced to yield. Sir John Lawson, the son of a poor man at Hull, rose to the rank of Admiral, and distinguished himself during the Protectorate; and, though a republican in his heart, readily closed with the design of restoring the King. He was mortally wounded in the sea fight in 1665 and lies still in the river, and Monk is with his army in Scotland. George Monk, afterwards Duke of Albemarle. Only my Lord Lambert is not yet come into the Parliament, nor is it expected that he will without being forced to it. The new Common Council of the City do speak very high; and had sent to Monk their sword-bearer, to acquaint him with their desires for a free and full Parliament, which is at present the desires, and the hopes, and the expectations of all. Twenty-two of the old secluded members having been at the House-door the last week to demand entrance, but it was denied them; and it is believed that neither they nor the people will be satisfied till the Parliament House be filled. My own private condition very handsome, and esteemed rich, but indeed very poor; besides my goods of my house, and my office, which at present is somewhat certain.

 Mr. Downing, master of my office. (George Downing, son of Calibute Downing, D.D. and Rector of Hackney). Wood calls him a sider with all times and changes; skilled in the common cant, and a preacher occasionally. He was sent by Cromwell to Holland as resident there. At the Restoration he espoused the King's cause, and was knighted and elected M.P. for Morpeth in 1661 afterwards, becoming Secretary to the Treasury and Commissioner of Customs, he was in 1663 created a Baronet of East Hatley, in Cambridgeshire. The office appears to have been in the Exchequer, and connected with the pay of the army.

 

JAN. 1, 1659-60 (Lord's Day). This morning, we living lately in the garret, I rose, put on my suit with great skirts, having not lately worn any other clothes but them. Went to Mr.  Gunning's chapel, Peter Gunning, afterwards Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, and successively Bishop of Chichester and Ely: ob.1684. He had continued to read the liturgy at the chapel at Exeter House when the Parliament was most predominant, for which Cromwell often rebuked him. Then at Exeter House, Essex-street in the Strand was built on the site of Exeter House. where he made a very good sermon upon these words:-- "That in the fulness of time God sent his Son, made of a woman," &c.; showing, that, by "made under the law," is meant the circumcision, which is solemnized this day. Dined at home in the garret, where my wife dressed the remains of a turkey, and in the doing of it she burned her hand. I staid at home the whole afternoon, looking over my accounts; then went with my wife to my
father's, and in going observed the great posts which the City workmen set up at the Conduit in Fleet-street.

 

2nd. Walked a great while in Westminster Hall, where I heard that Lambert was coming up to London: that my Lord Fairfax was in the head of the Irish brigade, but it was not certain what he
would declare for. The House was to-day upon finishing the act for the Council of State, which they did; and for the indemnity to the soldiers; and were to sit again thereupon in the afternoon. Great talk that many places had declared for a free Parliament; and it is believed that they will be forced to fill up the House with the old members. From the Hall I called at home, and so went to Mr. Crewe's [John Crewe, Esq., created Baron Crewe of Stene at the coronation of Charles II. He married Jemima, daughter and co-heir to Edward Walgrave, Esq., of Lawford, co. Essex. (my wife she was to go to her father's), and Mr. Moore and I and another gentleman went out and drank a cup of ale together in the new market, and there I eat some bread and cheese for my dinner.

 

3rd. To White Hall, where I understood that the Parliament had passed the act for indemnity for the soldiers and officers that would come in, in so many days, and that my Lord Lambert should
have benefit of the said act. They had also voted that all vacancies in the House, by the death of any of the old members, should be filled up; but those that are living shall not be called in.

 

4th. Strange the difference of men's talk! Some say that Lambert must of necessity yield up; others, that he is very strong, and that the Fifth-monarchy-men will stick to him, if he declares for a free Parliament. Chillington was sent yesterday to him with the vote of pardon and indemnity from the Parliament. Went and walked in the Hall, where I heard that the Parliament
spent this day in fasting and prayer; and in the afternoon came letters from the North, that brought certain news that my Lord Lambert his forces were all forsaking him, and that he was left with only fifty horse, and that he did now declare for the Parliament himself; and that my Lord Fairfax did also rest satisfied, and had laid down his arms, and that what he had done
was only to secure the country against my Lord Lambert his raising of money, and free quarter. [Thomas Lord Fairfax, Generalissimo of the Parliament forces. After the Restoration he
retired to his country seat, where he lived in private till his death in 1671.]

 

5th. I dined with Mr. Shepley, at my Lord's lodgings, [Admiral Sir Edward Montagu, afterwards Earl of Sandwich, uniformly styled "My Lord" throughout the Diary.] upon his turkey pie. And so to my office again where the Excise money was brought, and some of it told to soldiers till it was dark. Then I went home, after writing to my Lord the news that the Parliament had this night
voted that the members that were discharged from sitting in the years 1648 and 49, were duly discharged; and that there should be writs issued presently for the calling of others in their places, and Fairfax were commanded up to town, and that the Prince's lodgings were to be provided for Monk at Whitehall. Mr. Fage and I did discourse concerning public business; and he told me it is true the City had not time enough to do much, but they had resolved to shake off the soldiers; and that unless there be a free Parliament chosen, he did believe there are half the
Common Council will not levy any money by order of this Parliament.

 

6th. This morning Mr. Shepley and I did eat our breakfast at Mrs. Harper's, (my brother John being with me,) upon a cold turkey-pie and a goose.

 

Continued Next Month

 

 

Twilight for the Gods

E. B. Alston

Part 4

 

It was dusk when I made my way back to my room to dress for dinner. I was headed for the ground floor entrance when I heard a cry. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red fall from the walkway above and I heard a sickening thud to my left. I looked up and saw Jorge standing in front of Christina’s room. 

He was surprised to see me. “She fell,” he said. “I’ll be right down.”

When I ran to where she was I was sickened and terrified by what I saw. She had fallen on her back across a low masonry wall and one of her legs was at an odd angle. Her head was in a shrub. She was still alive because I saw her moving her arms. The shrub had saved her life. If her head had struck the pavement, she would have been killed instantly.

“Christina,” I said. She looked at me, first in surprise, then in recognition. “Can you tell me if anything is broken?” I asked. 

“I can’t feel my legs,” she said. “I think my back is broken.”

“What can I do?”

“Get me off this wall. It is killing me.”

“I ought not to move you if you think your back is broken.”

“I don’t care. Get me off. The pain is killing me,” she insisted. I looked around for Jorge. He was taking his time about coming. Christina had great courage because I knew she was suffering; yet she didn’t cry out or scream. 

Jorge still hadn’t arrived and nobody else seemed to be around. Christina was in great pain. I knew if I moved her it might kill her but I couldn’t stand to see her suffer. 

“I’m going to try to get you off the wall,” I said.

She nodded in agreement. I straightened out her leg. Her hip was broken and she didn’t feel any pain when I moved it. That was a bad sign. I carefully lifted her shoulders and pulled her off the wall where she could lie flat on the grass. Then I folded my sweater to make a pillow and put it under her head.

“I’ll go for help,” I said.

“Don’t leave me!” she pleaded. “I don’t want to be alone.”

“But I’ve got to find help,” I replied in anguish.

She tried to smile, “Dear, sweet American friend, it is too late to help me. Please stay and comfort me with your presence.”

She was going to die and she knew it. I was horrified and sick with grief but I controlled myself, humbled by her courage and daunted by her fatalism.

“What can I do?”

“Find my red purse. It fell with me.”

I found it in a nearby shrub and brought it to her.

“There’s a bottle of pills. Find it and put two in my mouth.”

I fumbled around in her purse, found a pill bottle. I showed it to her and she nodded her head. I took two small white pills and placed them on her lips. She crushed one with her teeth and swallowed.

“They work faster if I crush them,” she said.

I didn’t ask what kind of pills they were. I sat beside her and waited for the pills to work.

Jorge finally showed up and looked down at her without saying anything.

“You killed her,” I said.

“What of it?” he replied. “What’s it to you?”

I thought of a thousand answers and no answer but I didn’t reply. Jorge reached down and lifted her leg and then he let it fall to the ground. He stood up, having found out what he wanted to know, lit a cigar, and started towards the entrance.

“Thank you for staying,” she said quietly. There was no bitterness in her voice.

“I’ll stay beside you as long as you want me too.”

“Would you mind lying beside me?”

I lay down beside her.

“Put your arm under my neck.”

I did.

“This is nice,” she said. “Put your other arm across me.”

I laid my other arm on her trying not to put pressure on her.

“Hug me. It won’t hurt.”

I hugged her gently and kissed her cheek. She was quiet while the seconds ticked by.

“Would you mind kissing my lips?”

I kissed her and tasted the bitter residue from the pills. We lay quietly together. I heard her crush the other pill with her teeth and swallow it.

“Don’t forget your promise about Maria.”

“I won’t forget.” A few more seconds passed.

“Maria is a good person. She will be good for you.”

“I’m sure she’s a good person.”

“And she will be good for you,” she repeated with emphasis on “you.”

She shuddered and grimaced with pain. “Give me two more,” she asked.

I almost cautioned her about an overdose but remembered the circumstance. I placed two more pills on her lips. She crushed one, then the other with her teeth and swallowed.

“Kiss me again,” she asked. 

I kissed her gently.

“Hug me tight.” I held her as tightly as I dared. She seemed to savor the moment.

“I like this,” she whispered. Then she smiled. “You should have loved me when you had the chance.” She paused again as if it was difficult to speak. “Now it’s too late.”

Before I could think of a reply, she grimaced and went limp. 

She was gone.

I closed her eyes and stood up. The moon had risen. She still looked beautiful in the moonlight, lying on the grass with one arm across her waist, looking as if she was asleep. If she had opened her eyes and smiled at me it would have seemed natural. 

The horror of what I had just experienced began to creep over me and I started to shudder. Then I heard the sound of a pistol shot coming from the room Jorge had just entered. I removed my sweater from under Christina’s head and placed it over her upper body, covering her face

Then I went upstairs to my room.

 

 

Jorge and wine-breath came for me at dawn.

“The plane has arrived. Come with me,” Jorge ordered.

“What are you going to do with me?” I asked.

“You are being deported.”

“You’re throwing me out of the country?” I asked incredulously. I figured I was about to be shot.

“I am giving you the opportunity of a lifetime.”

He motioned me to follow them to the limousine. Ten minutes later we were airborne. I watched the resort disappear under clouds and wondered if I could ever erase the horror of what I had seen and experienced there. I would never visit that place again.

After the plane leveled off, Jorge closed the doors to the cockpit.

“I’ll tell you what I had to do and why,” he began.

“Ours is a poor little country. We cannot afford the things that big, rich countries can afford so we must do things differently. Your friend was starting to have too much influence on our government with her talk of helping the poor and fairness for all. Carlos came under her spell and quite a few legislators too. Her great popularity with the people became a big problem. They listened to her and believed in what she told them. Our poor country cannot afford such luxuries. She had to be stopped.”

“So you killed her.” I said bitterly.

“It had to be done.”

“For the good of your country,” I observed sarcastically.

“That is correct. For the good of our country some must be sacrificed.”

“What if the people revolt when they find out what you have done?”

“They won’t find out. That’s where you come in. This is your chance of a lifetime.”

“You mean you brought me along, knowing from the first that you would kill her, in the hope that I would play ball with you afterwards?”

“That is exactly what I planned.”

Rage filled my heart and I wanted to jump up from my seat and strangle this fiend but I was immobilized by the horror of the cold-blooded, pre-meditated act and the casual attitude of this man.

Jorge continued. “I had taken certain precautions to prevent an unsatisfactory response by Carlos. A trusted member of his staff had been assigned to hand him poisoned wine if he reacted unfavorably when I told him what had happened to Christina. When Carlos got upset he always asked for a glass of wine to settle his nerves. 

“When I told Carlos about his girlfriend, he went berserk. The stupid fool actually loved the little whore. The staff member was about to hand Carlos the glass but he must have had a sudden guilt attack, withdrew the glass and drank the contents himself. When he fell to the floor in paroxysms of death, Carlos got out of hand and we had to shoot him.”

“So last evening you caused the deaths of the president, a trusted member of his staff, and the most popular woman in your country.”

“It had to be done.”

This must be a nightmare. Or I was watching a very bad political movie. This couldn’t be happening anywhere else in the world. It was beyond comprehension. I wanted to wake up and go home.

Jorge continued his explanation. “The vice-president is a reasonable man. He will assume office this afternoon. The public announcement will say that the most beloved woman in the third world has died after she had a tragic accident and our president, the man who loved her most of all, committed suicide in sorrow over his loss.”

“What about the ‘trusted’ staff member?”

“He had an allergic reaction to a wine he unwittingly drank due to his great stress over two tragedies at once.

“The president and Ms. de La Rocha will be given separate state funerals and the government will tell the world of Ms. de La Rocha’s greatness, her love for her people and how her memory will never fade.”

This was unbelievably callous, cruel and dishonest. “Exactly what is this opportunity of a lifetime that you are offering me?” I asked.

“You have been chosen to write the story of this tragic time in the life of our country.”

“Me? Why me?”

“You have credibility in your country because you have written many newspaper articles critical of our government. If you write the story as I outlined it, the public announcement will be believed and prevent the asking of unwanted questions by those who are our enemies.”

“Now why would I do something like that?”

He handed me a folded piece of paper. “We have opened a Swiss bank account in your name. This piece of paper has bank information, whom to contact, user name and password. You can transfer money wherever you wish. When we see the article I have described in your paper we will deposit one million American dollars in this account. On that day you will become a wealthy man. You are a good writer and I’m sure you will be able to provide many touching details of this national tragedy.”

“And if I don’t write the article?”

“You will remain poor. And in any case, you can never return to our country.”

“Suppose I write the truth?”

“You will meet an untimely end.”

I put the paper into my pocket. “I’ll think about it.”

The plane started its descent and landed at the same airport we left what seemed like ages ago. A limo was waiting. Jorge motioned for me to get in. He and wine breath joined me and Jorge ordered the driver to take us to the international terminal. 

When we got to the passenger unloading area, we got out. Jorge handed me airline tickets and my passport. The driver took my luggage they had brought from my apartment out of the trunk and handed it to me.

“If you do as I asked,” said Jorge, “you can have any kind of life you desire. Remember that when you write your stories.” Jorge turned on his heel and got into the limo with wine-breath. They drove away leaving me standing outside the airport entry.

Checking in and boarding the plane was a blur. I hadn’t slept in thirty hours. I was seated in first class and was asleep before the plane took off.

I dreamed of Christina and me on a magic carpet flying towards heaven. I dreamed she was sitting beside me at the dinner table. We danced the flamenco while she wore nothing but her panties. She stood again before me in her room and kissed me and offered her love to me. 

Then the dream turned into a nightmare as I saw her fall from the balcony in slow motion and heard the thud when she fell on the wall. I relived over and over, like a film loop, those last precious minutes when she lay dying before my eyes. In my dream all of our words were replayed over and over as if the words themselves were seeking a different ending. I dreamed that after she died, she sat up suddenly, giggled, and told me it was all a joke.

I woke up with a start. The stewardess saw me wake up and offered me coffee. With the first sip, I remembered how long it had been since I had eaten and I was suddenly very hungry. This airline served meals and I asked the stewardess for breakfast.

I thought about Christina while I ate. She had affected me more than I realized. I thought of her as a child in that slum in a tiny house with a dirt floor. Who but God himself could have foreseen the future that was before this blue-eyed blonde street urchin running barefoot along a dirt street? I bet she was the only blonde haired, blue-eyed child in her village and wondered if she had been somebody’s love child.

What I liked most about her was the way she looked at life. She made the best of everything that happened to her. She thought of everything in the best light. When she met Carlos she knew she was not in a position to refuse his romantic advances yet she chose to remember it fondly as a romantic fairy tale episode.

She wore her glamorous life gracefully and with a former street urchin’s humility. A lot of women in her position would have been insufferably vain and haughty. She could have acted like a tart. I marveled at her upbeat attitude, her effective use of her attractiveness as a tool for advancement, how she exuded a practiced air of aristocracy and culture.

She felt an obligation to present herself and those around her in the most favorable light. I admired her savvy in making the most of opportunities presented to her. She played the cards that life dealt her with admirable skill and courage. She was a woman who took chances with a smile on her face.

She had been sexually amoral but somehow she even made that appear inconsequential and it did not make her life seem unwholesome. I did not think ill of her because she so casually offered herself to me and said it meant nothing to her. Even now I thought of her goodness as angelic although she would have laughed at me if I told her.

Her heroism after the fall humiliates ordinary mortals. Knowing that her death was imminent, she bore her pain quietly. She didn’t complain that her enemies caused her to suffer. She didn’t blame God. All she asked was that an American stranger keep her company in her last moments. In total character of her concern for others, she extracted a deathbed promise from me to take care of someone she felt responsible for.

Ms. Christina de La Rocha loved life. She was a famous actress, mistress to a politician, honest, kind, generous, gentle and above all courageous. She was a heroine for the ages.

When I got off the plane in Miami, I remembered it had been a long time since I visited my parents and made my way to the ticket counter to buy a ticket to Raleigh-Durham Airport. I got something to eat while waiting to board the plane. I slept a dreamless sleep on the flight to Raleigh. 

It was drizzling rain when we landed. On the shuttle to pick up the rental car, I took the notes out of my pocket and opened the one Christina had given me with Maria’s address. I had a good friend at the American Embassy who knew how to arrange things under the official radar. I’d give him a call tomorrow.

I opened the note Jorge had given me. Somebody had hand written that the username and password were in small cap letters. I stared at it a few minutes and put it back into my pocket.

When I got to my rental car, I stopped, took Jorge’s note out of my pocket and tore it into tiny pieces. Then I flung the pieces up into the air as hard as I could. A gust of wind picked them up and blew them back toward me where they fluttered down like flakes of snow onto the wet pavement. 

First I would get Maria safely out of her country. Then I would write an account of what happened that would make men who thought they were gods tremble.

As I drove away, I remembered Christina’s last words. “You should have loved me when you had the chance. Now it’s too late.”

She was wrong. It’s never too late to love someone.

 

 

But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and
Days
Hither and thither moves and checks and
slays
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
Omar Khayyam

 

 

A Famous Scene from Antigone

 

In the cavern’s vaulted gloom, we saw a maiden lying there, a cord of linen tied about her neck. And, hard beside her, her lover lay, bewailing his dead bride. Entered the king, “My son, my son, what mischance has reft of thy wisdom. Come, my son, thy father supplicates.”

The boy, mad with grief, pulls his two-handed sword and swings at his father flying backwards. Then, in mad desperation, he falls upon upon it, his dying breath incardinating her pallid cheek.

And there they lay, two corpses, one in death.

 

Note: I read Antigone in 1954 when I was in the army. I was the battalion commander’s jeep driver so I had a lot of time to read when he was in his office or in meetings. Army colonels attend a lot of meetings. The base at Fort Bragg had a magnificent library. I read most of the classics. I have not read Antigone since and wrote the above from memory.

 

April Showers

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

April showers bring May flowers - or so somebody said. Unfortunately, the main thing the rain does is beat down the heads of my March-blooming daffodils. During this time, I think longingly of how William Wadsworth must have felt when he penned one of my favorite poems in 1815. 

 

                                                I wandered lonely as a cloud

                                                That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

                                                When all at once I saw a crowd,

                                                A host, of golden daffodils;

                                                Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

                                                Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

                                                Continuous as the stars that shine

                                                And twinkle on the milky way,

                                                They stretched in never-ending line

                                                Along the margin of a bay:

                                                Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

                                                Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

                                                The waves beside them danced; but they

                                                Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

                                                A poet could not but be gay,

                                                In such a jocund company:

                                                I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

                                                What wealth the show to me had brought:

 

                                                For oft, when on my couch I lie

                                                In vacant or in pensive mood,

                                                They flash upon that inward eye

                                                Which is the bliss of solitude;

                                                And then my heart with pleasure fills,

                                                And dances with the daffodils.

 

Contributors

 

E. B. Alston: Author, columnist, literary critic, and sometimes poet. His work has been published in various newspapers, telecommunications trade magazines, and books. He is the Managing Editor of the magazine.

 

Laura A. Alston: lives and writes in Inez, North Carolina. Her first book, My Pet Rocky Renee, was published in June 2010. In addition she has published Too Many Goodbyes, You Gave me Wings and a book of her collected poems, From My Heart to Yours

 

Rita Berman: was born in London, England and now lives in Mebane, N.C. Her business, travel, and writing advice articles have been published in more than 500 diverse newspapers and magazines in the United States and Gt. Britain. Her reference book, The A-Z of Writing and Selling,  was a Writer's Digest Book Club selection for September 1981.  Her other books, available on Amazon.com are Still Hopping, Still Hoping, (2012), The Dating Adventures of a Widow, (2013), The Key, (2014), Parallel Lives, (2016), Ariana Mangum's Books and Columns (2017),and Military Wives and Widows Tell Their Stories, (2018).

 

Randy Bittle: is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.

 

John Burns:As a graduate student I could not afford to run the electric baseboard heater furnished by my landlord. Fortunately, my death was never recorded and I was able to earn my degree once I thawed out.”

 

Brad Carver: was a regular columnist. His book, Daddyhood, was published in 2007. Brad was a humorist, and friend who lived in Semora, North Carolina.  This is a reprint from November 2012. He is now deceased and I still miss him.

 

Peggy Lovelace Ellis, has been a freelance editor for 48 years, and a published author for considerably less. Over the past 25 years, she has published regularly in such magazines as Good Old Days, Reminisce, Reminisce Extra, Rock and Gem, Aquarium, True Story, Splickety, Woman’s World, Highlights, and Righter Monthly/Quarterly Review. She publishes in the Divine Moments series, Merry Christmas Moments (November 2017) and The Right Words at the Right Time (forthcoming). She has compiled and edited three anthologies for her writers’ group: Challenges on the Home Front World War II (Chapel Hill Press, 2004), Lest the Colors Fade (Righter Books, 2008), and A Beautiful Life and Other Stories (Righter Books, 2010). Each contains her short fiction, memoirs, and research.

 

Diana Goldsmith: Diana has been attending and now runs a shared learner’s ‘Writing for pleasure’ group for the past 8 years.  She is an avid reader especially historical crime and loves Anne Perry’s books about Victorian England. She lives in Chard, Somerset, UK.

 

Howard A Goodman: A veteran of corporate society his entire working life, Howard discovered his passion for writing—an occupation that had lurked subliminally in his subconscious—thanks to the grim reality of suddenly being forced to make a major mid-life career transition. Though he didn’t grow up in the South and is not particularly partial to grits, Howard considers himself a Southern author of sorts. In contrast to those who spin tales of being raised dirt-poor on a tobacco farm, Howard's focus is on the lives of corporate professionals and their families—the thousands who flocked to the upscale cities and towns surrounding North Carolina’s high-tech Research Triangle Park—the Neo-Southerners. Howard resides with his wife in Cary, North Carolina.

 

Sybil Austin Skakle: grew up in Hatteras, NC, born January 10, 1926, was a hospital pharmacist for 23 years, has published poetry, Searchings, 2001; a memoir, Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly, 2002; another memoir Valley of the Shadow, 2009. Her work has appeared in periodicals and numerous poetry and prose anthologies, four of which were published by The Chapel Hill Writers’ Discussion Group. She has been a member of Friday Noon Poets for more than thirty years.    

 

Tim Whealton: writes a regular column from New Bern, NC. He is a gunsmith whose shop is in Cove City, North Carolina. His book, According to Tim was published in 2013.

 

Marry Williamson: lives in Chard, Somerset, England. She was born in the Netherlands and moved to Britain in 1966. She worked for an Anglo-Dutch company in London. In 1999, Marry and her husband retired and moved to Chard, Somerset. Her hobbies ar