Part Twenty-Seven of Angel Maker: The Visit by Barry B. Wright

Ahead, twenty-nine Edgestone Road loomed. Once, its grounds had stood alone; reluctantly, over time, it had been forced into the lesser company of others. A caste within a framework of its own making, the grandiose dwelling’s pores had once oozed with majesty and pomp. Its lustre vanquished, the building’s chinked outer skin was now snarled in unkempt vine. The elites who had played, lived and eaten behind its walls would have become, for the most part, invisible scratches in footnotes to history had it not been for coin paying curious who walked in their past.

The Wolseley came to a stop in front of the museum. A woman who was weeding and planting in one of the front flower beds stopped what she was doing and looked up.

It had been a very long time since he had either spoken to or seen her. Still, Collier knew that the woman was her. Taking in a deep breath, he let it out slowly and sat back in his seat.

To say the surroundings had changed would have been an understatement. The long, winding, tree-lined drive to her home no longer existed. In its place was a residential neighbourhood packed with housing.

Collier had been aware of the financial short-falls that had short-circuited the rising star of the Moodie household. Except for the patch of land where the home stood, the City of Bournemouth had expropriated the remainder for an undisclosed amount.

Exuberant sounds of children from the nearby school grounds were refreshing to his ears as he exited the vehicle. There’s something soulfully cleansing and hopeful about their sound, he thought, while he waited for the others to join him.

“Inspector?”

“Ah? Yes, Captain Hall?” he replied, distracted. His gaze attended the route along which they had just travelled.

“Is there something wrong?” she enquired.

Collier’s reply was hesitant and thoughtful. “I hope not…but…I think we may have been followed. The car at the far corner, it parked shortly after we arrived and no one has exited.” The troubled expression on Captain Hall’s face forced him to look at her in an askance manner.

“Sorry, it’s not like me to mess up like this. Quite honestly, I did spot it when we exited the pub. But, I never much gave it thought,” she lied.

“Should I check it out, Gov?” Sergeant Snowden volunteered, moving in the direction of the vehicle.

Captain Hall’s outstretched hand stopped him. “I think it better we carry on with our business,” she interjected. “Don’t you agree, Inspector?”

“Can I assist you with anything?” Louise called out through the iron-rod fence. Tilting her head toward the sign on the gate she continued. “As you can read, we’re closed today.”

Collier glanced at Captain Hall and whispered. “Do you have any idea why Klaus Becker would have left the package here?” She shrugged. “We’re here on official business, Miss Moodie,” he shouted back before returning his attention to Captain Hall. “Don’t you think…considering the uninvited visitors…it might be wise to give me the rest of the code?”

“Planning for the worse, are you?”

“I recognize that voice. Official business, is it? And, what kind of official business would you be up after all these years, Sandy Collier?” chortled Louise, opening the gate and waiting for his arrival.

About to turn away, Captain Hall grabbed Collier’s arm. “The first five lockers touched only twice. That is, prime numbered lockers touched only twice.”

Collier smiled. “Got it. You don’t trust many, do you?”

“I don’t trust anyone?” she retorted with a cold stare. “The Sergeant here should stand guard.”

Collier nodded and he could see that the Sergeant agreed.

“Nothing’s changed,” commented Louise as she ushered them through the opened gate.

Astonished by her remark, Collier replied: “Louise, everything’s changed.”

“I meant…” Quickly, she dropped what she was about to say. “Follow me, then.” She led them along a path to a nicely appointed patio at the rear of the building and encouraged them to sit at one of the wicker seating ensembles that had an umbrella. “If the sun’s bothersome don’t hesitate, “she encouraged, indicating the closed umbrella. “I’ll tidy up and join you. I won’t be long.”

Collier watched her as she entered through a door that at one time only servants had used. Life takes curious twists and turns, he mused. He couldn’t deny, there was a part of him that wished he had stayed in touch. A tinge of sadness grabbed him when the door closed behind her.

Twenty minutes later she joined them carrying a tray of tea and goodies. She wore sandals and a flowered summer dress that rippled in the gentle breeze. This was in stark contrast to the boots, cover-all and headscarf under a wide rimmed hat she had worn earlier.

As she approached, the sun’s rays danced off the golden sheen in her freshly groomed hair. Barely a wrinkle creased the delicately formed features of her face. A pearl beaded necklace adorned her neck.

For a surreal moment, time stretched backwards for Collier. He could not take his eyes off her.

Placing the tray on the table in front of them, she sat in the wicker loveseat opposite. “I made those,” she said proudly, pointing to the cakes on the plate. “I guess a lot has changed, wouldn’t you say, Sandy?”

He smiled and nodded. “Gardening, too, I thought you’d be the last…”

“I know,” she interjected, “the last to be caught dead doing such a thing. Me too. But, my gardener got up and quit before Christmas.”

“Who was he? Maybe I can have a wee chat with him,” Collier replied. He could feel her eyes scrutinizing him.

“Your civility is insulting to me. And from what I know about you, and it’s quite a lot, demeaning to you. So, enough of your small talk, let’s get to why you are here,” she insisted. “You said earlier it was official business.”

Captain Hall, sensing Collier’s sudden discomfort, shifted forward in her chair and asked, “Klaus Becker, how do you know him?”

For a moment, Louise said nothing as her gaze shifted between them. “It’s best that I show you. Come inside.”

They followed her along a narrow hallway, past the washroom and bedroom, to an open area that contained both living-room and kitchen.

“Did you see where she went?” he asked.

Collier and Captain Hall glanced at each other in disbelief as they surveyed the room.

“I’d ask you to sit,” Louise called out, “but I think you’d need a map to find your way in and out of this labyrinth of furniture and what-nots. Stay where you are, I won’t be long.”

“I think…her voice came from somewhere over there,” Captain Hall chuckled, pointing in the direction she thought it came from. “Did you know she was a hoarder?”

“Not a sausage,” he replied. “I just hope you’ll have easy access to the vault.”

Louise’s hand appeared from behind a wall of mahogany furniture and Indian rugs waving some papers. “Got it!”

When she joined them, she handed Collier a dog-eared old photo. “As you can see that’s me and my brother, Reginald. Do you recognize the person beside him in uniform?”

Collier took the photo for closer scrutiny. Shaking his head, he handed it back.

“I’m not surprised. Quite dashing, don’t you think? I had a big crush on him, then. That’s Klaus Becker except I knew him as Peter Townsend. Before my brother, Reginald, passed away, he visited a lot. I guess that’s why Reginald did this.” She handed Collier a deed to the property in which Reginald had signed over ownership to Townsend. “The week before Klaus…I mean Peter…died in that explosion he signed it back to me.” She handed him the second document. “Now that surprised me. Mind you, our home had long since been turned into a museum and not much of the original property remained. As you can see,” she continued, sheepishly, “I attempted to save as much as I thought prudent to preserve the Moodie legacy.”

“Is there a vault or safe on your premises?” Collier enquired.

“In the museum section there is,” Louise replied. “Why?”

“Do you have access?” Captain Hall asked.

“Not to the safe but I do to the museum. It’s in the Co-ordinator’s Office. My key opens both.”

“Would you mind getting it and giving it to Captain Hall?”

A mischievous smirk appeared on her face and she said: “It’s right here tucked warmly and safely between my peaks.” She undid her necklace and handed the key over.

When Captain Hall left, Louise turned to Collier holding out her necklace. “Do you mind?”

“I’ve never been very good at doing this,” he said as he fumbled a few times before successfully placing it around her neck and closing the clasp.

“What happened to us?” she asked.

“Me. Lila. Everything. Do you remember telling me “focus on what you love doing, the rest will follow”?”

“I do. It was out on that patio in the loveseat where I was just sitting.”

“What I wanted to do wasn’t what you or your family wanted me to do.” He took her hands in his. “And, you didn’t see it. Or, didn’t want to see it. How could I have expected anything different?” He sighed and let go of her. “Like all youth, you were rebellious against your family. As was I against mine. We were just instruments in each others flight to independence. Our love…our infatuation…was its vehicle.” Movement outside the window distracted him. “Are you expecting someone?”

She shook her head.

Collier ran down the hall and outside onto the patio. Captain Hall’s voice yelled his name from inside the house. He had no time to react. The pain in his head was crippling. And he fell, uncontrollably, into a dark, inky deep well.

 

 

Part Twenty-Four of Angel Maker: Ringwood Pub by Barry B. Wright

The afternoon edition of The Echo’s banner headline blared out at him:

‘Queenie’ Found Murdered

“Your ‘boat,’ Jock,” chortled Quentin Hogg, observing Jock’s facial expression from the end of the bar. Quentin turned and alerted the others to take notice.

Nothing about Jock Mahoney was small. He was massive in everyway. His eyes were piercing and intelligent on a canvass shaped by an earlier life in bare-knuckle boxing.

“What about it?!” growled Jock, owner of the Ringwood Pub, taking up his position behind the bar and still immersed in reading the front page of the paper.

“It looks like it’s been to the ‘deadly nevergreen’ and back, don’t it boys?”

Low muffled “ayes” and nods to the reference of “gallows” rumbled in unison from the patrons.

“Cheese it!” Jock bellowed as he slammed The Echo down. The room went still. “Now that you’ve stopped your ‘cackle,’ get off your ‘bottle and glass’ and gather round.” He pointed at the headline. “Read and weep. Crime’s takin’ us over, boys. Our Bournemouth’s goin’ to hell in a handbasket.”

The cook, Patrick O’Grady, a burly red-faced man, emerged from along the hallway that led to the kitchen. Above his shoulder, he carried a large circular brown tray. On it was a traditional full British breakfast of bacon, sausages, black pudding, hash browns, bubble and squeak, baked beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, scrambled eggs and coffee. Patrick placed the heavy load on an empty table and served the customer. Once he was satisfied that all was well, he joined the others.

Pavel Sudoplatov placed some bacon and a section of scrambled egg on a slice of his toast as he listened to the men gathered at the bar. As he ate, his trained eyes slowly scanned each nook and cranny of the tavern.

“She was no straight-cut, Jock. She got what she deserved.” Phil piped in making no bones about hiding his malice toward ‘Queenie.’

“She did, did she? And the two children too?” retorted Patrick.

On either side of the main entrance, tables and chairs each fronted a large window. Deep seated booths lined the side and back walls. Opposite the long wall of booths, the bar stretched from the front to the hallway opposite Pavel. Freedom of movement in front of the bar was afforded by an open space that was free of tables and chairs, while sawdust on the floor’s surface ensured an easier cleanup following the usual assortment of patron mishaps.

Three-quarters of the pub’s area was cast in a grey hue. Pavel thought that a mirror positioned behind the bar could have made better use of the natural light that flooded through the front windows. Though from his vantage point, the resulting shadow casted him in the proper light.

The darkened hallway opposite him, narrowed considerably by a variety of boxes precariously stacked to the ceiling along one side, led to the exit, washroom and kitchen. At the corner to this passageway was the sign: Wobbling Topples, Keep Your Wee Johnny in Line. Scrawled above Johnny, which had been crossed out, was Wee. Below the sign was a bucket of soapy water with a mop in it.

Patrick noticed Phil purloining Quentin Hogg’s whiskey glass and downing its contents. “You fockin’ burarco.” And he shoved Phil. “Guard your drinks boys,” he warned, his index finger pointing downwards and hovering above Phil’s head.

Quentin noticed his whiskey glass was empty and, clearly understanding Patrick’s siren complaint, turned to pummel Phil.

Jock stretched his muscular arm across the counter and grabbed Quentin by the shirt. “Pull back, Quentin, if you want two on the house.” Assured he had Quentin under control, he locked eyes with Phil. “Get the fock out! Now!”

Phil stumbled back, raised his hand to contend his forced expulsion, quickly thought better of it, and exited.

“Is he ever sober?” Patrick asked rhetorically, turning his attention to The Echo unfazed by what had just occurred.

“Uh?” Jock replied, distracted as he filled two whiskey glasses and placed them in front of Quentin.

“No matter. Here, did you see this, Jock? Three ‘bolshie’ murdered in their car. Shooter at large. Isn’t ‘tat on the same street where the Inspector lives?”

Shocked by this news, Pavel’s ears perked up and he stopped eating.

“Aye, so it is,” replied Quentin and Jock in unison as the others pressed in to read the article.

Pavel had no doubts that this was retribution for the explosion that killed Klaus Becker at the Cricketer’s Arms. His mind churned as he rethought his options. Now, only he and Anatoli remained. He noticed a black Wolseley pulling up outside. Reflexively, his hand pressed against the .32 automatic in his jacket. Dropping a guinea on the table, he surreptitiously slid out of his booth and along the hallway to the exit.

The sun’s brightness momentarily blinded him. Teary streams smeared his cheeks as he eased along the wall toward the sidewalk. Wiping his eyes clear with his shirt sleeves, he peered around the corner. Sergeant Snowden and Inspector Collier were waiting for Captain Hall to exit the Wolseley. After she joined them, a brief discussion ensued before they entered the pub.

Wishing he had overheard their conversation, Pavel earnestly began to scan the largely vacant street for Anatoli’s vehicle. He must have followed them, he mused. Unless he too…His eye twitched in a rare display of nervousness. He shook off the thought. But, where is he? A horn beeped. Too preoccupied in his surveillance, he ignored it. But, when two halting beeps followed in succession, it gathered his attention.

Part Twenty-Three of Angel Maker: The Stoddards by Barry B. Wright

At the beginning of 1939, the English south coastal resort of Bournemouth proudly proclaimed a population of one hundred thirty thousand. The natural beauty of its cliffs and the wide sweep of its bay embraced a magic carpet of sand while the Bourne River—fringed with parkland and public gardens—stretched into the heart of the coastal community. Bournemouth’s outstanding characteristic and attraction was its breadth of view and openness. The ideal vacation destination, it attracted all types of tourists searching for a place of respite.

Vacationers wanted something different, exciting and unique that contrasted sharply with the commonality of their usual daily existence. That’s what drew the Stoddards to Bournemouth in 1934; they had a service that fitted the bill. And they had no qualms about relieving their clients from the burden of carrying too much coin.

When they found a house suitable for their business and had it suitably furnished, Mary Elizabeth proudly hung out her shingle displaying her shtick: a psychic, medium, spiritualist, mental healer, psychic-analyst, and folklorist. While her husband, Lawrence, advertised his prowess in the local newspaper, The Echo, as a “powerful deep-trance medium.” They did not have to wait long before the clients flooded in. Within the first six months of setting up shop, so-to-speak, their business had surpassed their wildest expectations.

Mary Elizabeth had been known only as ‘Elizabeth’ in the many towns she had visited. Though rarely her choice, she had never stayed long in any town she visited. More often, than not, she had been unceremoniously ushered out of town by the local constabulary.

The line between law and outlaw in her business was razor thin. But, as in any business, experience finally paid dividends. The key to her success was learning how to stay out of reach of those who would have preferred her jailed.

As her business flourished, overtime a comfortable coexistence developed between the Stoddards and the local community of Bournemouth. As far as the community was concerned if she stayed within the letter of the law, the occasional grey areas could be ignored. The Stoddards attracted commerce to Bournemouth during the high season. And, when all was said and done, that, by itself, made everything tickety-boo.

On December 11, 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite. He was reluctantly succeeded by his brother, Albert, who became King George VI. His wife, Elizabeth, became the queen consort.

Mary Elizabeth and her husband, Lawrence, were gregarious, convivial individuals. People easily succumbed to their charming, warm and inviting ways. So, it was, though not without reservation, that they eventually became an integral part of the landscape that defined Bournemouth. And, Mary Elizabeth became fondly known in the community by the nickname, ‘Queenie,’ after the queen consort.

Mary Elizabeth’s ‘special gifts’ unexpectedly expanded in 1937. Haste was a virtue to her way of thinking. The very thought that haste made waste was outside her immediate experience. And, when Lawrence encouraged her to slow down and had pointed out that she had become more accident prone, she dismissed it as a ridiculous observation. That is, until she fell down the flight of stairs in her two-story home. Rushed to hospital, she remained unconscious for two months.

During her convalescence, her usual dream-scape changed. She discovered that within days of her dreams, the events she dreamt about showed up in the news. The frequency of occurrence convinced her that this was no lucky coincidence. Turning this newly found gift into a monetary venture was never in question for Mary Elizabeth or Lawrence. What was in question was how to safe-guard it since they had no idea how long lasting her ability would be.

When Inspector Collier phoned her shortly after Kristallnacht, she was genuinely taken by surprise. Not an ardent fan of hers, she was suspicious of his request for an early morning visit. Still, it could not have been timelier. Her most recent nightmare necessitated that they meet. Witness to the horrific murder of a young child and experiencing it through the eyes and mind of her killer had left her discombobulated and chilled to the bone. So, she easily acquiesced to their rendezvous.

Lawrence poured two glasses of Port and handed one to Mary Elizabeth. They sat opposite each other in silence in front of the unlit fireplace.

“So…What are you going to tell him?” He crossed one leg over the other.

“The Inspector?” He nodded. “The truth. There’s no need to be concerned, Lawrence. So, wipe that look off your face. I have to tell him about what I dreamt.”

“I guess I understand…But…don’t you think he’ll think you’ve gone crackers? He’s well respected in the community. I’d hate to lose what we worked so hard to create.” He got up and poured himself another glass of Port. She refused when he proffered to refill her glass.

She let out a long sigh. “It’s a chance I must take,” she continued. “You didn’t experience the horror I lived through the other night. It was a child…The son-of-bitch murdered a child.” She pulled a hanky from her sleeve and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I may be the only one who’s got the goods on that bastard.”

“Maybe so…I’ve learned on too many occasions never to cross you when your mind is made up, Mary Elizabeth.” There were playful undertones in his comment. He took a sip from his glass and scrutinized her long and hard. “And his son?” He asked raising an eyebrow. “What are you going to tell him about his son?”

She bit down hard on her lower lip and, with a slight shrug, replied: “I’ll have that worked out before the mornin’. But, I can assure you that whatever’s said about his son the Inspector will leave with lots of hope and promise.”

Lawrence returned to the side table and poured another Port.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Lawrence?”

“I feel I’m on the verge of quicksand,” he replied, ignoring her question. “Is playing him a good idea?”

“I would never do that.” Joining him, she wrapped her arms around him. “I will never forget that for such a brief time, we, too, were parents. I can feel what he feels. No, I only want to allay his pain until I can learn more, nothing else. I’ll be careful about how tell him.” She took his hand and led him back to sit down.

“Are you alright, Mary Elizabeth? Since the night our wee Robbie passed, I’ve never seen such a forlorn expression.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Whatever for?”

“These new powers or abilities, whatever you call them…they’re growing. And, the murderer of that little girl has them too.”

The Water Falls by Barry B. Wright

waterfalls-in-the-woodsThunder! The storm clouds gather.

A grosbeak valiantly circles overhead.

When this journey began, my hope was painted against an azure sky when the sun was high and the scent of pine and meadow flowers copiously filled the air.

Many times I have stood at the forest’s edge and let the sweetness and magic of its promise draw me in.

But, today, I hear distant drums heralding a coming storm, it marches across the glen. Have I languished too long? Will my peaceful tranquility feel the coldness of its blade?

My pace quickens, not outward but inward to the sanctuary of the camaraderie of the woods.

Briefly, the path is sprinkled with dabbled sunlight that spotlights a yellow-black spider spinning its web between milkweeds.  An arduous task filled with purpose and hope in advance of the storm.

An ozone scent slides into me. I inhale deeply. In the innocence of my youth, I celebrated the normalcy of its breath but now I only feel sadness and fear.

The die is cast. How long will it last? While the once proud Northern Holy Fern, Walking Fern, Maidenhair Spleenwort Fern and orchids are compelled to hide in its inky bloom.

The gentle breeze lulled my senses; illusions in sunshine blinded my ears while my mind chose what was and not what is among my peers.

Tree trunks cry out; their struggle barely audible above the bellowing noise of the angry wind; their limbs scratch furiously at the sky; strongly with purpose they fight against their bully.

My hypothalamus drives me in earnest to my haven hidden in the hollow round the bend. The tumultuous journey of a storyteller, its story not easily told, arrived long before I was born. I had to see beyond its beauty and be disposed to undertake a promise never to refrain from learning its message riding full rein.

Everything begins one day, that’s just the way it is. Where it starts is rarely where it is. Tomorrow bleeds into tomorrow. If you take notice, pay attention, bear witness and commit, today does not have to be a cellophane footnote as part of the compass in your kit. Choices form the North Star to the future that fits.

Unimaginable yesterdays brought me to the rock where I sit. Before me the stalwart waterfall’s music flows. Though its majestic structure may have been decreed, adjudicated and arranged by forces beyond its control, its conclusion has not been clinched.

Voices and outstretched hands not emptied of hope ride with anguished arrow to my home.

And the falling water asks me as it has done so many times before: Will you stand against the storm?

Joan Sledge: The Mucky Duck by Barry B. Wright

mucky-duck

V

Ouch! It was totally unexpected. Her home form lockers should not have been anywhere near mine. Yet, there she was, five lockers down from me. I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be an ugly school year.

She smiled. I smiled back. She spoke to me but I neither remember what she said nor what I said to her. The exchange was cordial enough but awkward, similar to strangers forced together in a social setting out of their control. But, we were far from being strangers. Or was I wrong?

When Chris was present, he became the center of Joan’s attention.  As for me, I became nothing more than cellophane. I did not exist. Passing each other in the hall, as we frequently did each school day, I wondered: Do you know I’m there?

Growing up is darn right painful.

My feet dragged academically. Hurt had turned into anger. I had become consumed with thoughts of revenge. I found no solace in my brother Ron’s carelessly doted out wisdom: “Suck it up buttercup…plenty more yet to come.” Did he not know I felt diminished? That my heart was broken? That my life was in tatters?

Did Joan even care about the depths of my despair?

I’ve been told too often that time reveals all to those who are patient. But, I’m a kid. Isn’t that in part why I’m called a kid and not an adult? Being patient takes the fun out of things. Doesn’t it? Hmm…I felt as if I had followed the rabbit down the hole into a scary horror show of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being late for a very important date escapes me because my life was at a standstill.

Life is full of surprises.

The school year trudged on and so did I. Then one day Joan approached me out of the blue. I was dumbstruck. Blood coursed through my veins so quickly that words were washed cleanout of my brain. I could only listen. During those precious moments together space and time stood still. There were no recriminations, no rancor, only clarity. By the time she had said what she wanted to say, I knew there was nothing I needed to add. A quick reminisce drew laughter and we parted as friends.

Though she was with Chris, a quick glance and a knowing smile as we passed in the hall, assured me that she knew I was there. I still loved her; I guess that was the saddest part: loving someone who used to love you.

Two weeks later, everything changed.

I had just exited Sam’s, the neighborhood variety store, when I noticed Joan walking toward me. Her head was slung low. I called out to her and waited. She barely glanced up as she scurried by me. “Joan,” I called out. “Are you okay? What’s the…?” She had already disappeared down the walkway at the side of the strip mall.

Why did I not follow her? It’s something I’ve always regretted.

Toward the end of the week I went around to her house. There was a For Sale sign on the front lawn. And the house was empty.

I never saw her again.

Time passed like tumbling tumbleweed in a strong northwest wind.

I had become an adult. I now could vote.

As a sophomore at a prestigious university, I had become, according to my parents, the proverbial know-it-all. I’m sure they would have frowned on my regular late night debates over pizza and beer. My defense: it was a yummy experience for fertile minds that provided fresh perspectives and clarity to the world’s problems. The debates were coed. Now that would have raised an eyebrow or two in my family. Mum’s the word was decided by me right from the start especially since I was interested in one of the participants. As of late, my active participation in the learning experience had waned. It leaned toward more lascivious endeavors. My daily state of being groggy and bleary eyed did not add to my hopes of remaining on the Dean’s List.

The lecture I was trying to follow was exceedingly boring. The professor contributed greatly to lulling my brain to sleep. The attention span of a gnat had suddenly become my norm. Not good, when the content of the class—thermodynamics—was a must go to in order to achieve my degree in chemical engineering. Glancing around the hall it was easy to deduce that I wasn’t alone in my struggle. But that was scant solace.

I took in a deep breath and attempted to refocus when a ball of paper ricocheted off my head, landing on the floor at my feet. A quick scan of the lecture hall turned up empty-handed. Bending down, I picked up the paper-shot and unfolded it. A drawing of a female stick-figure and the words “Do you remember me?” was scrawled on it. I must admit, it did not ring a bell. I took a cursory glance around the hall. There was no obvious source of the projectile. Unable to stifle a yawn or two, my attention refocused on the chalkboard several rows down.

Another balled-up paper careened off my head and onto the floor. But it disappeared from view under the feet of the exiting mass of people at the end of the lecture.

Gathering my textbook and binder, I began the steep climb to the exit. In the very back row, in the middle, a very attractive girl smiled at me. She beckoned me to join her.

I sat on the seat beside her. Though there was a familiarity about her, facial recognition eluded me.  “Do I know you? I have a sense that we have met before.”  The corner of her lip curled up slightly but she did not reply. There was playfulness in her eyes that could not go unnoticed. I held up the crumpled paper. “Was that you?”

She nodded. “Not a bad shot…eh? The second one would have solved the mystery I can see swimming around in your head. Though the student stampede may have put you in danger,” she chortled. “Put that down to bad timing on my part…like… in Mister Roberts’s class.”

That hint hit my memory banks like a lead balloon. “Alison!? Gee…It’s great to see you…but…but…”

“If your jaw drops any lower you’re going to hurt yourself.” She glanced at her watch. “When’s your next class?”

“Who cares…the rest of the day’s yours. Lunch? It’s on me.”

“Well, when you put that way…You got a place in mind?”

“The Mucky Duck.”

I’m not big on nostalgia but our walk across campus to the pub was most pleasant. When she mentioned Joan’s name my ears perked up. Unable to get a word in edgewise, Joan somehow got lost in the many twists and turns of Alison’s catch up tales.

As we sat across from each other waiting for lunch and nursing our drafts, I brought up Joan’s name again. I learned that she and her dad had moved to Montreal, Canada. Unexpectedly she and Alison had corresponded by letter for a short time.

“Do you still write each other?” I asked, hopefully.

She stared at me long and hard, took a swig of her draft and cleared her throat. “She stopped writing after… the baby was born.”

I could feel my whole body deflate like a punctured inner tube. The pain on my face must have been obvious because Allison hesitantly continued.

“Chris Brannon…as you knew at the time …Well…She was head over heels in love with him…and…She trusted him implicitly. Misplaced trust…” She took in a deep breath. “It’s the only kind way I can describe it.”

“Then… Chris… was the father?”  I reluctantly asked.

“One day while she and Chris were at Ted Lacey’s…No…She… never knew who the father was from that day. Her father, wanting to protect her, pulled up stakes and took her with him. He had a sister who lived outside of Montreal.”

We sat in silence for what for me felt like an eternity.

Finally, I asked: “Does she still live there?” When my meal was placed in front of me, I had lost my appetite.

Alison’s gaze skirted away from me. I could see that a teardrop had formed at the corner of her eye. She pushed her plate aside and reached across the table to hold my hands. Her grasp tightened. Her words did not come easily; they carried much pain. “About a year after the baby was born, I received a letter from her father. In it, I was informed that …she…had committed suicide.”

When Alison and I parted, it was dusk. We promised to see each other again.

Beside the entrance to my residence was a small copse of trees. Standing in front of them was a young girl smiling and waving at me. She was radiant and beautiful. She appeared to shimmer from the overhead light above the door. My pace picked up from a lumbering gait. But, by the time I got there, she was gone. I could have sworn it was Joan.

Joan Sledge: New Realities by Barry B. Wright

martin-45

iv

Some people are alive only because it’s illegal to kill them. In my book, Chris Brannon fell into that category. So, when I turned to face him and saw the way he looked at Joan and her at him, I couldn’t help myself.  My fist slammed squarely into his mocking face. It was with great satisfaction that I watched him hit the floor like a ton of bricks. Up until then, I prided myself in having a handle on life; now, that handle was broken. And I feared my hand was as well. From Joan’s expression, I saying “I’m sorry” just wouldn’t cut it. Anyway, it would have been one whopper of a lie. She’d have every right to scream “liar liar pants on fire, nose is long as a telephone wire.”

“As soon as his eyes are uncrossed he’ll be just fine,” I blurted out.

Now that was a dumb statement, I thought. The wiser choice would have been to have said nothing and hung my head in shame. If earth is the insane asylum for the universe, I had just become its most favored inmate.

Joan elbowed me aside and knelt beside Chris. Needless to say, I didn’t protest. Damn it! How could I? I had ruined her birthday party before it had even got started.

She peered up at me. It was apparent to me that any love I thought she had for me had been washed away. Her face had turned a cherry red. It was as though she were being boiled. Her eyes shot arrows that her lips silently enunciated.

I needed no translator.

“Get my dad!” she screamed, venomously.

“You don’t understand,” I shouted, “Chris’s …” I stopped mid-sentence. I felt as if I’d been hit by a Mac truck. This was how she had spent her evenings. WITH HIM. Like a hurricane across an unprotected flat plain, my new reality swept in cruelly.

She glared at me. And I recoiled.

Love had lured me here. I was hooked in hopeless battle. How was I not aware?

Escape. Now! Gather your thoughts.

My mind churned with panicked possibilities.

A wall of pursed lips of saucer eyed guests gasped.

When had they arrived? How long had they been there? Had they witnessed my strife and persecution?

She continued to scream for her dad.

But, her dad had gone AWOL.

I glanced back at Joan and thought: we had been in a time and space separate from the rest.

No more.

I cleaved my way through the startled onlookers. I did not care who I knocked aside. My mind did not need to dwell on their faces. I knew them all.

“Where is my guitar?” I demanded. “Where is my FUCKIN’ guitar?”

“Here asshole,” Ted Lacey bellowed, holding it up threateningly like a wood splitter.

Chris and Ted belonged to a gang known as the Lacey Gang. They had bullied me and others since kindergarten.

Ron? Were my eyes deceiving me? No!

 I never felt so happy to see my brother’s face.

Like a bear trap, Ron clamped down on Ted’s arm with his grip

“Put it down or I’ll break your wrist. Now! And carefully,” Ron threatened.

Ted did what he commanded without hesitation.

Ron waved me over. He stared at me long and hard before speaking. “Take the guitar and get the hell home. Dad’s waiting for you. Oh, and one more thing nerd-head. Your language… I think I’d better wash your mouth out with soap later.”

I was about to ask why he was there when out of the corner of my eye I saw Chris making his way toward us. Ron had seen him too. Grabbing me by my shirt sleeve, he positioned me behind him. “Scram! I’ve got some business to take care of here.” I cringed when I saw him pull out a set of brass knuckles. An attitude of tangle with me at your own risk, my brother always had this scary aura of invincibility. Now I knew why.

To say I ran home was an understatement. I flew. Faster I bet than Jesse Owens. That journey was filled with no small degree of trepidation. Every moment I expected members of the Lacey Gang to pop out to exact revenge.

Dad met me at the door. Relieving me of the guitar, he allowed time for me to catch my breath. Then the harangue began. Boy, did he chew my ear off. I was grounded for two weeks. Based on how I felt at that moment, two weeks for taking his old guitar was no big deal. Stupidly, I told him so. Anyway, Joan had hurt me more deeply than he ever could. Silence hung over us like a heavily soaked blanket. I dared not breathe. He had a strange habit of curling over his tongue when angry. Vexed, his stare cut straight through me. I waited.

“Bill, leave the boy alone. Talk later when all’s cooled down,” my mother encouraged from the kitchen.

Like turning off a switch, my dad mellowed.

“What happened to your hand? You’ll need ice on it.” Gently he examined it.

After he had put together an ice pack and wrapped it around my hand, he gave me stern instructions not to remove it and sent me to my room.

Two hours later I was called down to supper. I had just reached the bottom step when there was a heavy knock at the front door. A chair scraped along the floor in the kitchen and dad appeared. With a quick nod of his head, he directed me to take my seat at the table, while he answered the door.

Curious, I decided to linger.

Two policemen met my dad at the open door. Between them was my brother.

“Jesus…” I murmured under my breath.

A bulging piece of liver for a nose and slits for eyes, Ron quietly listened to the conversation, nodding occasionally. Whatever they were agreeing to seemed to be going well. The three of them shook hands as my brother brushed passed me on his way upstairs.

“They won’t bother you anymore,” he whispered through swollen lips. His painful smile revealed a bloody hole where teeth once securely sat.

Supper was tensely quiet. After a very brief exchange of words between my parents, mom won out and took a supper tray up to Ron’s room. By the time she had started down empty handed, dad had already banned me to my bedroom.

My parents had never raised voices at each other until that night. Nor did they ever do it again. Lying in my bed, above the kitchen, I heard the angry muffled tones of my dad, punctuated by my mom’s crying.

Clasping my hands behind my head I reflected on events leading up to today. I felt cast away on a stormy sea where not even the shore wanted part of me. There were too many questions still to be asked and answered.

The night was long.

Haunting shadows became my nightmare.

How do I mend a broken heart?

Joan Sledge: Brother’s Advice by Barry B. Wright

Holding Hands Silhouette

ii

There is nothing like the first love. I remember reading something about it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the book. I do wish I’d paid closer attention.  Never felt feelings like these before. When I’m with her my senses are so charged up I think I will explode. Who knows about stuff like this? I’d ask my closest bud, Tony, but he still thinks girls are yucky. I can’t imagine that my parents would know the slightest thing about it. It’s too personal to share that kind’a stuff with them anyway.

Whom do I go to, my brother, Ron? Until recently, his social interactions with me were an unequal mixture of grunts and beatings, the latter being favored. He told me I wasn’t worth spit. It was something about not standing up to him, and earning my right of passage.

A guy can only take so much before reaching the end of the road. I reached it about a week ago. Boy! Did I get pummeled! At least now I only receive grunts. But, I keep my guard up nevertheless.

Still, our truce is timely. Six years older than me, surely my brother must know something about such matters?

Standing outside his closed bedroom door about to knock, old memories came to the fore. I broke out in a cold sweat.

Here goes nothing, I thought.

“Is that you runt?” he called out.

“How did you know it was me?”

“Are you kidding? Wimpy knock, wimpy brother. So bugger off.” His command was punctuated with a resounding fart.

The pit of my stomach churned in ways I had never felt before.

He must have heard my heart pounding in my chest because he yelled out: “Well, are you coming in or not?”

“I’m thinking about it. Anyway, you told me to bugger off.”

Unexpectedly, his door swung open and we were face to face. Hooking his fingers inside the front of my T-shirt, he pulled me in.

Silence reigned for several minutes. Feeling captured, I sat obediently anchored on his bed.

Drawing up his chair, he turned it around, sat down and rested his arms across its back and stared at me.  “What d’ya want?” he asked, continuing to scrutinize me.

My mouth moved but nothing stepped out.

“Hey!  Give it here!”

Reluctantly, I followed his direction to make eye contact.

“That’s better. I just want’a see if I’m right.”

“Right? Right about what?” I asked, somewhat confused.

“Pull my finger and I’ll tell you.”

“Must I?” I hated doing this.

“Yipe.”

The pungency of his fart was worst than any outhouse I’d ever been in. “What the heck, Ron…That’s awful! “ I complained while waving my hands in front of my face. I would have left right then and there but my legs were wedged between his chair and the bed.

Once he stopped laughing, he took on a more serious demeanor. “How’s it goin’ between you and Joan, anyway?”

“I love her. What can I say? She’s perfect.”

“Oh…I see. She’s your first.” He shrugged. “Watch your backside.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s a pretty piece of stuff; other guys are going to want her.” He straightened up in the chair. “Have you…you know?”

“Kissed her? Of course I have…many times.”

His forlorn askance glance told me that I had completely missed the target of his query.

“Move it,” he said, removing the chair and gruffly sweeping me off the bed with his arm. Reaching under the mattress, he pulled out a Playboy magazine and handed it to me. “Mom and dad can’t know. Do you hear me?”

I nodded.

“Okay then, read and enjoy. It will tell you all you’ll need to know. But, I want it back in clean condition. Oh, another thing…” He pulled out his wallet from his back pocket and retrieved a small square package and handed it to me.

It felt squishy and I could feel the outline of something circular contained in it. “Aww…?”

“It’s a condom. It’s for your banana.”

“My banana?”

“It’s for your hard-on, nitwit. Once you’ve figured out what to do with it, you’ll need it.”

I shoved it into my pocket.

Ron left the bedroom, stood in the hall listening, then returned. “Strange. I thought I heard… dad. What I’m going to tell you is super hush, hush. Mum’s the word. Got it?”

I pinched my forefinger and thumb together and drew it across my mouth.

“I’ve got a film. Just knock if you need it. A little word of wisdom: first love’s no big deal. You’ll be over it by summer’s end. Just remember nerd-head, that there’s plenty of fish in the sea. Now get out!”

 

A few minutes later I was practicing grounders by throwing my Indian rubber ball off the back wall of the house. My first League game was tomorrow and I had managed to secure the position of Short Stop on the team.

I was surprised to see dad’s Ford Fairlane pulling into the drive. He has never been home this early. I called out but he didn’t hear me and entered the house directly.

Until my tête–à–tête with Ron I never thought of the possibility of Joan and me breaking up. Why would I? It’s never happened to me before. What does Ron know anyway? Why did I take that damn Playboy? It’s probably a setup. If mom and dad find out, I’ll be up a creek without a paddle. I can see it now: baby brother caught red-handed in the act of a taboo ritual. “Shit!  I’ve got gel all over the inside of my pocket. Why did I squeeze it so hard?”

Anger can sure change the intent of an action because when I released that ball I knew immediately that I shouldn’tve. I was already in flight when it crashed through the dining room window; four yards away, I was well hidden behind a bush.

Boy! Dad was pissed!  Scared, I huddled lower and watched as he surveyed the damage. Under the circumstances, the last thing I expected to feel was giddiness. Nevertheless, I did. I think it came about when I foolishly marveled at the break neck speed with which I had hopped over those fences. The reality of my situation soon brought me to my senses. The promise and optimism of my summer had… well…to say the least…definitely gone sideways.

Punishment of some kind was a certainty. Only its severity was in question. So, I settled down to wait. My chances would be better, I thought, once my mother came home.

Dusk was beginning to settle in when the worried calls from my parents and hunger pangs drew me home like a magnet.