“Honey, did you see this story in the Los Angeles Dispatch?” Margo asked. “Southminster Retirement Center has expanded…opened a new wing with one-and-two-bedroom apartments.”
“Are they the old-age home where residents kept getting up at the microphone repeating the same joke during lunch?” Joe replied, putting down the Dispatch Crossword Puzzle.
The joke was: How many alligators does it take to change a light bulb?”
“That was Hollywood Village. When we visited them in 2002, a high percentage of dementia patients lived there. After four residents repeated the same joke, the administrator stopped the comedy act. The punch line of NONE didn’t make sense. ”
“Yeah,” Joe laughed. “I remember now that the food was good at Hollywood Village but the entertainment sucked. ”
“The entertainment’s supposed to be terrific at Southminster Retirement Center. They’re holding a Valentine’s Day Party at 9 P.M. on Friday. Want to go?”
“What’s the cost?”
“It’s free to Senior Citizens,” she replied. “They give you a tour of the apartments at 7:30 P.M. and the party starts an hour later. My bridge partner attended last year. She told me about a movie star from the 1930s who lives at Southminster… says he’s a wonderful singer.”
“What’s his name?”
“Never heard of him.” Joe muttered, picking up the crossword puzzle.
“He was a song and dance man like Fred Astaire. Johnny Adair’s hit song was My Lovely Valentine. We danced to that song at the Palladium Ballroom in the 1950s.”
“Well, I recall the song, but not the guy. Maybe if Adair was a good-looking gal, I’d remember.”
“Joe, you’re the funniest eighty-year-old husband I know.” She kissed him on the cheek. “It’s been a wonderful sixty years as your wife.”
“Sweetie, it’s been great for me, too.” A tear rolled down his cheek.
“Let’s call Southminster Retirement Center and make a reservation for their tour and party. The kids and grandkids have been after us to start thinking about moving out of this big house. Are you game?”
Joe put down his puzzle and stared outside at the uncut lawn. “Sure. Sign us up, Margo. We need to get out on the town more often.” He blew her a kiss.
Johnny Adair shuffled down the street, his cane tapping The Blue Danube Waltzin ¾ time on the sidewalk. He could still hear laughter from Southminster Retirement Center fading in the distance. No one would miss me during the start of the Valentine’s Day Party. He glanced at his watch. I better be back early. Might turn into a pumpkin like Cinderella’s carriage if I don’t.
Johnny stopped, stared at an intersection clogged with rush-hour traffic and laughed. He hadn’t laughed much since Julie was killed by a drunken driver…and that was long ago.
Los Angeles Dispatch
What’s new on the police beat?” the editor asked.
“We’re still looking for the Valentine’s Day killer,” the reporter explained. “It took the L.A. cops over fifty years to discover the Black Dahlia murderer. Maybe they’ll get lucky and find this serial killer.”
“When did he start?”
“Valentine’s Day 1956. Every victim was a drunk…killed with a long knife.”
“Thousands of phone calls from the public… but nothing came of them. The murderer is smart. He prowls only on February 14th , has never been sighted by a witness and is addicted to killing heavy drinkers. The cops are stumped.”
“You don’t have to be Einstein when you outwit the L.A.P.D. Look what those dummies did with doped-up Rodney King.”
“Yeah. The cops were dumb enough to get videotaped beating the snotout of him in a politically-correct state. In California, bums and junkies seem to have more rights in court and get better social services than tax-paying citizens.”
Duffy’s Tavern, Los Angeles
Johnny Adair sat in a small corner booth with his back to the wall. The sixty-watt light bulb hanging from the ceiling and candles on the tables gave a romantic glow to the room.
“You new here?” the waitress asked, glancing at his shabby clothing.
“Yes,” Johnny replied, holding the cane tightly with his left hand. “What beer do you have?”
“You name it, Mister. We’ve got it.”
Johnny noticed a red-faced man stagger to the bar with an empty beer mug. The man weaved his way back to a booth nearby.
“I’ll have what he’s drinking,” Johnny said, pointing.
“That’s MacGregor,” she explained. “I’m new here, but the bartender told me he’s one mean SOB when drunk. Duffy said that he usually throws him out before nine. MacGregor drinks Coors with a shot of bourbon.”
“Bring me just a Coors, please.”
“That’ll be four dollars.”
“Here’s five, Ma’am. Keep the change.”
* * *
“Are you staring at me, old man?” MacGregor growled, clenching his fists. He rose with such force that his chair tipped over.
Johnny shrugged. “No, I was thinking about my wife, Julie.”
“The hell with her! The hell with you, too! I don’t like jerks staring at me…especially old jerks!”
“I want another beer!” MacGregor cried, grabbing his chair from the floor. He glared at Johnny.
“It’s your last one!” Duffy muttered from behind the bar.
MacGregor pointed at the waitress as he sang : “In L.A.’s fair city, where girls are all pretty, MacGregor first set eyes on you, Molly…….”
“How’d you know my name was Molly?” the waitress interrupted.
“Anyone as pretty as you, lass, had to be named Molly.” MacGregor slumped into his chair as she handed him the drink. He sipped it slowly.
Johnny finished his beer and slipped out the side door. He walked through the parking lot until he came to a pickup truck with red lettering on the cab, MacGregor Roofing.
He twisted the silver handle on the cane, as he had done every Valentine’s Day Eve for the past fifty years. It unlocked perfectly
. He thought of Julie and her favorite song, My Lovely Valentine as the sun began to set. He hummed the lyrics: My lovely valentine, Sweet lovely valentine, You make me melt in my heart. Your beauty is…
“You old fart!” a voice screamed. “Get away from my truck!”
“Screw you, Buster!” Johnny cried.
“I’ll smash you smaller than a f###ing ant!” MacGregor grunted as he charged like an enraged bull.
Johnny sidestepped like a matador, using a dance step he’d learned from M.G.M. director Busby Berkeley.
Bracing himself against the pickup he whipped out a sword from the cane and plunged it into MacGregor’s side as skillfully as Johnny Depp did in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’
He watched the drunk gasp and fall to the ground.
“Tonight is payback time,” Johnny whispered as he stabbed MacGregor again. “Years ago, someone like you took the life of my beloved! I’m an avenging angel…your worst nightmare!”
He wiped the sword slashing the pickup’s tires. Calmly, he placed the blade inside the cane and screwed on the handle.
* * *
A chair was still outside his bedroom window.
Johnny placed the cane inside and climbed in. His shoes touched the floor as gently as when he’d parachuted onto a wooden bridge in Normandy with the 82ndAirborne Division before midnight on June 5, 1944.
He pulled the chair into his room and replaced the screen.
Johnny removed his surgical gloves and cut another notch in the cane before showering.
He dressed in his Sunday suit after he’d scrubbed the sword with bleach, and placed his clothes in the washing machine.
* * *
Johnny walked briskly into the Valentine’s Day Party radiating a Bob Hope smile and sat on the piano bench.
“That’s Johnny Adair,” a silver-haired lady explained to Margo and Joe. “He and his wife Julie starred on Broadway in The Ziegfeld Follies and after that in the movies.
She died tragically years ago on Valentine’s Day. I’ll bet he’s going to sing her favorite song.”
Senior citizens crowded around the piano as Johnny’s rich baritone voice rang out:
My lovely valentine
Sweet lovely valentine
You make me melt in my heart.
Drunks are laughable, unphotographable
They’re my favorite work of art…
Julie, don’t change a bit for me
Not if you care for me
Stay lovely Valentine stay
Sing to you next Valentine’s Day!
“He has a wonderful voice,” Margo whispered to Joe.
“Johnny Adair sings this song for his wife every February 14th,” the silver-haired lady added. “He’s the most romantic ninety-year-old at Westminster. Julie and I appeared in a few M.G.M. musicals together. She was a lovely lady.”
“He looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world,” Margo exclaimed. “For some reason, Johnny comes alive every Valentine’s Day. He has the spring in his feet of a thirty-year-old dancer on February 14th. This shows what love for a departed spouse can do. It’s too bad that the residents of Southminster Retirement Center don’t act just like Johnny! He’s an example we all should follow.”
This 1,594-word story took 5th place in a statewide Oklahoma writing contest in 2006 with about 120 contestants.
Art Youmans , “CASSIDY, OKLAHOMA,” (2007)
Cassidy lies in a valley south of Enid, Oklahoma. Its fertile soil supports several thousand farms.
Mayor Jack Sullivan had just finished reading a 2007 agriculture report in his City Hall office. He leaned back in a chair, gulped his tenth cup of coffee that day and muttered, “Tough day, it was,” Jack checked his watch. “It’s after 6 P.M.,” he announced to the office staff. “If anyone wants to see me, I’ll be at O’Leary’s Pub.”
The secretary nodded as he removed his Stetson and ducked under the door jamb. Jack’s six-foot six-inch frame still moved gracefully like the All-American tight-end he was on the Sooner’s national championship football teams in 1974-75. He sprinted across the street through the pub’s swinging doors.
The Pub bartender, Ryan O’Leary finished serving drinks and was straightening a life-sized portrait of a Jersey Cow over the bar when Jack Sullivan took his regular back-to-the-wall seat.
“I hope I’m as good looking when I’m 136 years old,” Jack joked, pointing at the portrait. “Could you tell us the story, again, of how your grandparents founded this town?”
“It started on a Sunday night in 1871,” O’Leary began, as twenty men crowded around the bar to listen. “After Grandma’s cow kicked over a kerosene lantern in Chicago, Grandpa Patrick O’Leary’s luck changed from bad to worse.” “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow burned Chicago to the ground,” a voice explained to a first-time visitor. “It was the second-most famous cow in history.”
“Absolutely! During the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, a daughter of Grandma’s Chicago cow, a more-famous Jersey named Cassidy, discovered a fertile valley south of Enid. This cow wandered off by herself and disappeared. A search through a tunnel, hidden by thick brush, found Cassidy happily-eating the greenest grass that Grandpa had ever seen. Grandpa O’Leary and forty relatives in his wagon train planted stakes bearing their names and location on each of the 160-acre sites. A week later, they registered these homesteads at the Guthrie land office and named the town after the cow. The valley was a Garden of Eden.”
“I’m happy your grandpa wrote my Granddad Sullivan, in Texas,” Jack interrupted. “He brought all his friends to Cassidy, too. If it wasn’t for Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, I’d still be a Texan and would have missed playing football for Barry Switzer!”
“Aye. Like Will Rogers would say, the average I.Q.in Oklahoma rose when the Sullivans crossed the Red River.”
“It was the best move he ever made. This valley is paradise.”
“Damn right, Jack Sullivan! If he never came here, you might be the mayor of Houston.”
“How come you haven’t started an argument with me, tonight…you ornery Irishman?” Jack learned over the bar and pointed a finger at the bartender.
“You want an argument?” O’Leary growled. “Here’s one. Nothin’ can keep a bad guy out. If a crazy nut wants to get into Oklahoma bad enough he’ll figure out a way to do it. Whatchathink?”
Mayor Jack Sullivan slammed his beer mug on the bar and snorted. “Huh? You talking about illegal aliens, again?”
“Naw! Look at that weirdo Hitler. The Frogs tried to keep him out of France so they built the 195-mile Maginot line facing the French-German border. Crazy like a fox Hitler was. What did that psycho do? He outflanked French defenses at the border and invaded the Frogs through neutral Belgium.”
“Yeah,” Jack added. “The Frogs were one-dimensional thinkers. Their Maginot line guns were set in concrete facing Germany. My dad was a kid in 1940 when the Frogs appeared on the streets of Paris waving white flags, as Nazis tanks rumbled into the city. He told me it took about four weeks to conquer France. If anyone wants to get into a country, state or city bad enough he’ll find a way. Persistent people always succeed.”
“Jack, you agree with me tonight. You’re the Mayor and smartest man in Cassidy. Can you answer this question?”
“Sure. What do you have in mind?”
“Have the Frogs ever won a war? Every time I see a newsreel, a Frenchie is waving a white flag.”
“The Frogs have won a few battles but I don’t believe they’ve won any wars. Napoleon did okay until he met the Russians near Moscow and the English at Waterloo. The Gauls got lucky and beat one of Julius Caesar’s generals in a battle once, when Gauls violated a free-passage truce. Besides those, their defeats prove that Frogs are lovers, not fighters.”
“Didn’t the Chinese build a wall for safety purposes like the Frogs did?”
“Unlike the Maginot line,” Jack explained as the patrons crowded around him to listen. “The Great Wall of China protected the northern frontier until Mongols broke through in 1449.”
“How long did it take China to build it?” a man with a pipe asked.
“How big is the Wall?” another interrupted.
“Both are good questions, gentlemen. The Wall was started in the Third Century BC and construction was stopped after the fall of the last Ming emperor in 1644. By then, the Wall was 4,000 miles long. That’s about 1,200 miles longer than the distance from Los Angeles to New York City.
” “I’ll bet lots of Chinese got sore backs building that wall,” a voice chuckled.
“You know,” Jack laughed, “after a couple of drinks that’s all I remember from engineering courses at OU.”
“Like a refill?” O’Leary asked, six hours later.
Jack’s head rose slowly from the bar, eyes opened like a newborn puppy. He stared ahead, blinking at the light. “What’s that you said?” he muttered
. “Like another Guinness?”
“Absolutely. Put it on my bill. How many have I had tonight?”
O’Leary answered, glancing at his notepad. “Give me another. I can hold my liquor as well as any man here.”
“Whatcha starin’ at,.Mayor Jack Sullivan?” O’Leary asked, an hour later. “Pubs close in Cassidy at two. You gotta go home to your wife.”
Jack looked at his watch. “Damn, it’s 2 A.M. Give me a drink for the road!”
“Can’t do that. You already had twenty. Any more and you’d float away.”
“You better take my car keys.” Jack removed the rabbit’s foot from the chain. The bartender placed the keys in the cash register.
Jack staggered to the door. “See you when you open the Pub at six,” he said
. “Yeah. The night air should sober you up on the way home.”
“Sure. It’s only a mile through the woods.”
“Do ye believe in fairies?” a voice cried, ten minutes later.
A small figure, dressed in green and brown, jumped from behind a tree.
Jack Sullivan froze like a statue in the moonlight.
“Do ye believe in fairies?” the leprechaun repeated, waving his green hat in Jack’s face. “Answer me question honestly!”
“I do not believe in them, when sober,” Jack stammered, relaxing his clenched fists. “I’m not that superstitious, Sir, However, when I’m drinking at O’Leary’s, I often see them…pink and green fairies dancing on the floor and floating over the bar.”
"“Indeed,” the leprechaun replied. “This is the first time any politician has ever told me the truth.
” * * *
“I’d like to deposit this in my checking account,” Jack said, the next day at Cassidy bank. He dropped a heavy pot of gold on the counter.
The banker’s eyes widened. “How’d you acquire all this wealth, Jack Sullivan? You didn’t steal it from taxpayers, like Oklahoma’s County Commissioners did up through 1981?”
“You know as well as I that Irish politicians are the only bureaucrats who don’t regularly steal from the public treasury. How could you think that of a fellow Irishman?”
“I apologize. I’ve never seen such wealth before. With gold worth over $800 an ounce, this pot is worth a fortune. It’ll make you an Oklahoma King Midas.” The banker leaned forward and cupped his hand. “Tell me where you got the gold,” he whispered. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“A leprechaun gave it to me after I drank twenty mugs of Guinness at O’Leary’s Pub,” Jack admitted.
Word got around. That night, O’Leary’s Pub ran out of Guinness before 7 P.M.
THE GRINGO by Art Youmans 1,802 words, 2007
“Are you George MacArthur?” I asked the tall, gray-haired man in the Armani suit.
“Do I know you?” He eyed me like a jeweler examining flaws in a diamond.
“If you’re MacArthur, we took a business law course together in ’52 at University of Tulsa.”
“Yes, that’s me.” He stared curiously at my blue jeans and work shirt. “Who are you?”
“I’m Jim Jensen,” I said. “My seat was behind yours in business law.
” I invited him to join me, across the street, in The Coffee Shoppe. He glanced at his watch. “It’s only ten. I don’t meet my wife at Southern Hills Country Club until twelve.” He shrugged.
“Sure, let’s go.”
I paid for two cups of cappuccino and brought them to our table. We chatted for a few minutes
. When MacArthur saw that I wasn’t a down-on-his-luck classmate about to ask for a loan, he warmed up.
We reminisced about college days, including Professor Constanopolous, a Greek who earned his doctorate in Brazil and a law degree from Harvard.
“The professor’s English was so bad,” MacArthur laughed, “that I almost dropped out of law school. His first quiz had five true/false questions. Each included double negatives that were confusing in English.
” “I remember the first test question to this day,” I interrupted. ‘Is it not true that fish in Mr. A’s stream do not belong to Mr. A if Mr. A leases the land through which the stream runs from Mr. B?’ ”
“Yeah. That’s it. Maybe his questions made sense in Greek or Portuguese but not in our language. After each ambiguous test or quiz, I complained to the college President about him. At semester’s end TU canned Constanopolous.”
“Did you pass his course, George?” “ Business Law was the only subject in which I didn’t score an A. I got a B. How about you, Jim?”
“I was lucky to receive a C,” I admitted. “Constanopolous was the worst professor I ever had.
Instead of following the textbook, all he talked about were the pristine lakes and streams of the Amazon. I learned more about fishing from the guy than business law.
” I lit a cigarette. “That’s a nasty habit,” he grunted, waving his napkin to deflect the smoke. “Could you put it out? I’m allergic to the fumes.”
“Sorry. It’s an old habit I’ve not yet been able to control.”
“It’ll shorten your life.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“You retired?” he asked, as I crushed the cigarette in an ash tray.
“Yep” I joked. “If you lined up all the reports I’ve written for financial institutions end to end…you’d be arrested for littering. I’ve been drawing a pension from the Heartland Bank for eight years. The check isn’t much…but it pays the bills.
How about you?”
“Remember the Exxon Valdez supertanker oil spill in ’89?
“Sure. The litigation dragged on for years. I read that Alaskan fishermen received only a small percentage of the settlement. Were you involved in it?”
“My law firm earned over two billion dollars from that litigation, and a couple of hundred million from Union Carbide, a few years earlier.” MacArthur boasted. “I retired the day the billion-dollar check cleared.
I’m an expert at cross-examining people. I learned that questions not asked could be fatal in litigation. ”
“What have you done since?”
“My wife, Sally, and I travel the world. Like Hemingway, we moved to Key West, fished for days in the Caribbean and spent time in Cuba. Unfortunately, the only marlin we caught in the Gulf Stream off Havana were small ones…not as large as Hemingway’s fisherman caught in The Old Man and The Sea. ”
“What brings you to Tulsa?”
“My son lives in Tulsa. George Jr. is a travel agent for International Tours. He’s sending Sally and me on a fishing trip to South America for our fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Fishing is my most-relaxing sport. We leave tomorrow for Brazil.” He checked his watch, threw a five on the table and rose.
“Nice to see you again.”
After we shook hands, I gave MacArthur one of my old business cards, which he slipped into his wallet.
“Bon voyage,” I murmured, but I didn’t really care if he had a pleasant voyage. It bothered me whenever I met a successful classmate. When he smiled and walked out of The Coffee Shoppe, I felt like a loser.
The cappuccino left a bitter taste in my throat as I reflected on the financial failure my life had been, compared to George MacArthur.
Three months later, a private investigator knocked on my door.
“Mr. Jensen, we’re investigating the disappearance of George MacArthur,” he explained. “I found your card in his wallet. When did you see him last?”
He handed me a business card.
I told him about our chance meeting in Tulsa, and the fishing trip George MacArthur was taking to South America.
Does the name Constanopolous mean something to you?”
“Sure,” I replied. “He was George’s and my professor of business law in the ‘50s.
George had him fired over fifty years ago. Why do you ask?” “
Mr. MacArthur visited him in Brazil. The professor recommended that he hire a local fishing guide named Santiago. George MacArthur disappeared a short time later.”
“Do you think Constanopolous or Santiago had something to do with George’s disappearance?”
“I plan to find out. Mr. MacArthur’s wife hired me as soon as she returned from Brazil. I’m flying there, tomorrow, to see if a crime’s been committed.”
“Good luck. When you return, keep me in the loop.”
After he’d left, I opened the Atlas Of The World and traced my finger down South America’s eastern coastline until I came to San Paulo. That’s where the best fishing is, I thought. Dead or alive, George MacArthur has to be there.
I was cleaning my desk, a few months later, when the private investigator’s business card fell to the floor. He’d never called about MacArthur. My curiosity got the best of me
. The investigator answered on the first ring and acted surprised to hear from me. All he’d say was that he interviewed Professor Constanopolous, Santiago, the San Paulo police and American Embassy officials in Rio and would present his findings to Mrs. MacArthur, tomorrow.
A week later, the phone rang. “ This is Sally MacArthur calling, Mr. Jensen.
” “Call me Jim,” I replied. “Jim, I believe you were George’s friend.
” “Yes. We were classmates, years ago.”
“If you’d like to hear what happened to George, meet me at 4 P.M., tomorrow.” She gave me the address of International Tours. I said that I’d meet her there.
Mrs. MacArthur was dressed in black. She read from the investigator’s report. “George hired Santiago as a fishing guide on the recommendation of the professor. Always the skilled interrogator, George asked, ‘Are you sure there are no crocodiles here?’
“ ‘Si, senor,’ Santiago replied, ‘no crocodiles.’ “ ‘This is paradise with a slowly-moving stream running through it… like the Garden of Eden…’ “ ‘Too many sounds, Senor. Monkeys chatter and birds shriek…give Santiago headache.’ “
‘You’re a good guide, Santiago. Let’s get back to San Paulo.’
“That night,” she continued, “George walked into our hotel and said, ‘Honey, I found the perfect fishing stream, yesterday.’
“ ‘George,” I countered, ‘ you’d rather fish than eat. You’ve got a one-track mind.’
“ ‘Sure, we’re a partnership; I catch ‘em, and you cook ‘em.’
“ ‘Where’s this stream?’
‘Twenty miles west of town. I’m going back alone, tomorrow. Get your frying pan ready. Be home about five.’
“I never saw George again,” she added. “The private investigator reported that local police found George’s rod and reel in the stream, but no trace of him. We know that he arrived at the stream since his car was found by it. George’s wallet was locked inside.
After a light rain, only his footprints were in the area. George loved to wade knee-deep in streams when he fished. He often told me that the cool water relaxed him
.” “George told me the same thing when we met last,” I interrupted. Nice figure, great legs for a grandmother. Might call Sally in a month or two. Dating a rich woman always beats romancing a poor one! “
At first, we thought that George might have had a seizure and drowned,” she continued. “Then, the investigator talked with Santiago’s wife, Conchita. This is the conversation she had with her husband the night before George disappeared:
“ ‘Conchita, here’s the money the Gringo gave me for guiding him to the sacred stream.’
“ ‘Why did he want to go there, Santiago?’ “
‘Who knows? He was a stupid Gringo. He asked if there were any crocodiles. Everyone knows the piranha chased them away long ago.’ “
Did you tell him about the piranhas?’ “ ‘The Gringo never asked.’ ”
The next day, I parked my car near South Peoria Avenue and walked into The Coffee Shoppe. The table where George and I drank cappuccino was vacant
. I ordered two cups and set one across from me. “George,” I said, staring at the empty chair, “when Union Carbide poisoned the air in 1984 and killed 3,800 people, you flew to hopal, India to sign up survivors and beneficiaries for a class-action lawsuit.
When Exxon’s supertanker polluted the sea off the Alaskan coast you were there getting fishermen’s signatures for another class action lawsuit. You did well suing big fish with deep pockets like Union Carbide for $600 million and Exxon-Mobil for $4.5 billion.”
I sipped my cappuccino before continuing. “You made a few mistakes, George,” I muttered. “First, you forgot that enemies have memories like elephants…they never forget
. You had a bulls-eye on your back from the moment Professor Constanopolous recommended Santiago as a guide. “
Second, you asked Santiago the wrong question.” I finished my cappuccino. George’s cup was still steaming across the table. I lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at it. “You did well fighting the corporate battles against the big fish,” I continued. “You were out of your league with the little fishin Brazil. As Professor Constanopolous would say, ‘Is it not true that many little fish in a Brazilian stream can be as dangerous to the public as one shark in a court of law in Houston?’ ”
George may have been the king of the courtroom in Texas, but in Brazil he was just another breakfast for piranhas
. I tossed a five on the table. “It was nice to meet you, George. Goodbye, you pompous son of a bitch!”
I snuffed out my cigarette in his cappuccino.
A smile was on my lips as I walked out of the Coffee Shoppe.
The cappuccino left a pleasant taste, when I reflected on the great success my life had been, compared to the Gringo.
REVENGE OF THE FROGS by Art Youmans, 1580 words, 2006
“Bayou High School classmates voted me least-likely to succeed because I was short and fat,” Pierre Poulet snorted, combing his Charlie Chaplin mustache before a full-length mirror.
‘You are the most successful man in Bayou County,” the butler interrupted. “Your 5-star seafood restaurant is one of the best in Louisiana.”
“It is the best!”
“Of course, Sir,” the butler continued. You are known as a master chef in every Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. When gourmets think of frogs legs, they think of Pierre Poulet.”
“I knew you were smart when I hired you. Are my clothes ready?”
“Yes. I came in to tell you that. The fishing outfit’s in the bedroom.”
After breakfast, Pierre checked his watch as the wall clock struck nine. He adjusted the white chef’s hat he wore as a badge of success. He was amused that townspeople called him the Pillsbury Doughboy behind his back. The hell with them! Achievers like Napoleon and Alexander the Great were undersized like me.
“I’ll be back about four!” Pierre yelled, before he slammed the front door behind him. He strolled confidently to his Cadillac SUV. In addition to a large net, he carried an empty five-gallon can, a bottle of white wine and lunch in his ice chest. Pierre hooked a rowboat and trailer to the SUV and drove north to Bayou County Lake.
Minutes after he launched his boat, he cast a net into the water. Pierre waved when a Red Cross helicopter passed overhead on its way south to the Gulf of Mexico. He smiled when the pilot saluted back. Must still be looking for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. I was lucky. My restaurant wasn’t badly damaged. It will reopen, tomorrow, on Halloween.
Pierre was tired and hungry after a fruitless morning searching for frogs, so he rowed to shore. “This is weird,” he muttered, as he placed his ice chest under a magnolia tree and removed his chef’s hat. “It’s almost like the amphibians know I’m here and are avoiding me. I usually have at least three gallons of frogs by now.” He narrowed his eyes, held his breath and listened. I wonder why no frogs are croaking? Normally, a chorus of thousands of voices fill Bayou County Lake. I’ve caught frogs for my restaurant here for years. This is bizarre!
Pierre shrugged as he removed the cork and poured a glass of wine. He set the glass behind his ice chest and reopened the chest.
Lunch began with shrimp cocktail appetizer, followed by frogs legs covered with creamy, onion-mushroom gravy. He sipped wine before devouring a large wedge of chocolate cake. Pierre relaxed in the shade of the tree and fell asleep.
* * *
“Ribbit!” the bailiff cried, the next day. “All amphibians rise – Federal Court of Bayou County is now in session. The honorable Spadefoot Toad presiding.”
Spectators stood at attention as the judge hopped into the courtroom and lifted a gavel from his desk.
“Be seated,” the bailiff ordered.
French Chef Pierre Poulet pinched himself as he stared at the giant toad dressed in a judge’s black robe. This can’t be happening. I must be going mad or someone’s playing a Halloween prank on me.
“How do you plead?” the judge croaked. “If you remain silent, your attorney will admit your guilt to first-degree murder.”
“I am innocent,” Pierre pleaded, staring at the thick rope of water lilies binding his ankles and wrists. “I’ve never harmed anyone. I haven’t even jaywalked or cheated on my taxes. Why am I here? This must be a bad dream.” He thought back to what he had eaten for lunch. It must have been the mixture of chocolate cake and wine causing this nightmare.
“Murderer!” a female frog cried. “You grilled my husband!” Other spectators spit pebbles at him. “Frog Killer!” they chanted
. A one-legged frog, steadying himself on a crutch, shouted, “Pierre Poulet sliced my leg off, yesterday, when he tried to gig me! Death to this murderer!”
The judge signaled the bailiff. “Clear the courtroom of all spectators!” he croaked “If amphibians can’t control their emotions, get them out of here! We’ll conduct this trial with only the jury, attorneys, courtroom employees and representatives of the press.
” The bailiff quickly pushed all rowdy frogs into the hallway and locked the courtroom door.
Pierre shook pebbles from his chef’s hat and sat down facing the judge.
The prosecution will present its case first,” the judge said.
A California, red-legged frog rose from his chair and jumped toward the jury box. He established eye contact with the twelve jurors and began speaking. “Since my ancestor, Calaveras the First, was immortalized by Mark Twain in his short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, we red-legged frogs have always supported law and order.” The prosecutor smiled at a pretty, female tree frog juror when he said, “Last week, the International Frog Constitution was ratified by representatives of 3,438 species of frogs. Our Constitution is based on the premise of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, which our founding fathers called Payback. They felt that the punishment should fit the crime. Do you believe that, too?
” The jurors nodded.
“This French Chef,” he continued, pointing at the defendant, “has trapped frogs at Bayou County Lake for many years. We were at his mercy until Hurricane Katrina accelerated our development into reasoning creatures. Pierre Poulet was careless, yesterday, trying to snare frogs for his restaurant. We had an opportunity to capture him, by slipping chloral hydrate…a Mickey Finn, into his wine. Your sons and daughters might be this chef’s future victims! We ask for the extreme penalty in this case.” The prosecutor glared at the defendant for a moment and then hopped back to his seat.
The judge signaled the defense attorney, a brown American toad, who rose on his short hind limbs. His dark throat vibrated as he cried, “I make a motion for a mistrial!”
“What prejudice do you claim occurred to the defendant?” the judge inquired.
“Three prejudices, Your Honor. The first is prosecutorial misconduct. Quoting the word Payback in this courtroom severely prejudices the jury against the defendant. The second prejudice is that there is insufficiency of evidence in this case. My client, Pierre Poulet, should have been charged with misdemeanor trespassing rather than felony murder. The third prejudice is holding a trial on Halloween, when every juror would rather be trick or treating rather than sitting in a jury box. They will take out their frustrations on the plaintiff.”
The judge glanced at the courtroom clock. “We’ll resume this trial, tomorrow. I’ll consider the defense’s request for a mistrial in chambers and will give my ruling in the morning.”
“How do you think the judge will rule in the Pierre Poulet case?” a young reporter asked. “I’ve never attended a jury trial before.”
“This is the third trial of a French Chef that I’ve covered in the past two weeks,” the Frog Times newsman said. “The jury’s verdict is always the same, but judges’ sentences differ. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The following day, the California red-legged frog looked up at the visitor and placed his legal brief on a table. “Good to see you again,” he said.
“Congratulations,” the bailiff answered, shaking hands. “You were the perfect prosecutor, parrying every thrust from the defendant’s attorney like a master swordsman. The jury found the chef guilty in ten minutes. Their murder-in-the-first-degree verdict confirmed that you’re a modern-day Clarence Darrow. ”
“Well,” the prosecutor replied modestly, “after Judge Spadefoot Toad ruled against a mistrial, the outcome of this trial was a slam-dunk.When he glared at the defendant and croaked, ‘Do Unto Others As You Would Like Them To Do To You,’ I knew we’d have a favorable ruling. Even a salamander could have gained a first-degree-murder verdict with this jury.”
“Want to hear the latest dumb salamander joke?
“How many salamanders does it take to change a light bulb?”
“It takes seven according to salamander union records. One buys the bulb, another types the paperwork, a third salamander delivers the order to the foreman, a fourth holds the ladder, a fifth salamander changes the bulb, a sixth stores the old bulb until someone tells him what to do with it and finally the last one files the purchase order after the bulb is changed a month later.
I’ll bet the salamanders’ union is as inept as bureaucrats evacuating New Orleans.”
“Not so,” the bailiff chuckled. “It only takes five New Orleans bureaucrats to change a light bulb.”
After the laughter subsided, the bailiff asked, “What sentence did the judge select after the jury found the French Chef guilty of first-degree homicide?”
“It was a surprising ruling,” the prosecutor replied. “I thought the defendant would be either fried or roasted on a platter with an apple in his mouth like the last two French Chefs we tried in Federal Court… but the judge showed creativity in his ruling. Chef Pierre Poulet will be poached and served at the 1st Annual Bayou County State Fair, tomorrow. He’ll be basted with butter and dipped in creamy, onion-mushroom gravy.”
“I love onion-mushroom gravy on food. My mouth is already watering. I’ll tell friends to be sure and come. French Chef is our favorite dish…tastes just like chicken!”
YOUR ENEMY YESTERDAY MAY BE YOUR CUSTOMER TOMORROW
By Art Youmans (2007) 1,471 words
The war drum beat softly in 1876, as Sioux and Cheyenne tribal chiefs filed into the council tepee. They sat in a circle, shoulder-to-shoulder with former rivals.
These chiefs were now brothers, united against a common enemy…the
Six thousand warriors surrounded the tepee. Their bodies were
painted for war.
The drum increased its intensity, and then stopped.
“He is here,” Teton Sioux chief Black Rock whispered.
“Yes, he is the wisest Sioux,” Crazy Horse, chief of the Oglala Sioux nodded,
shifting his gaze toward the tepee entrance.
A broad-shouldered man with a wind-burnt face entered silently like a
shadow. There was a dignified quality about him. His movements were graceful and confident.
He glanced at the assembled chiefs with his gray-steel eyes, sat in the empty center space and crossed his arms over a rifle.
Black Rock was first to speak. “We welcome our brother from the north. His
wisdom will guide us in the future, as it has done in the past. Hail Sitting Bull.”
“Hail Chief of the Hunkpapa Sioux!”++
the chiefs shouted in chorus.
Sitting Bull pointed his Winchester carbine toward the sky. “As long
as the moon shall rise, as long as the rivers shall flow, as long as the sun shall shine, as long as the grass shall grow, I shall fight the invaders!”
The chiefs cried their traditional call to battle, “Hoka hey! It’s a good day to
“The white man is like a rain drop,” Sitting Bull continued. “Rain drops flow
downhill until they are joined by other rain drops to make a brook. Brooks merge to form streams. Streams broaden into creeks. Creeks grow until they become rivers about to sweep our people away.”
“We kill ten invaders,” Cheyenne Chief White Bear interrupted, “and a hundred come in their place.”
“Settlers outnumber us twenty-five to one,” Crazy Horse said. “More than eight million palefaces have streamed through our land in the last twenty years. They kill buffalo, steal land, shoot our women and children, and bring disease.”
Crazy Horse jumped to his feet. “What should we do, Sitting Bull?”
Sitting Bull’s eyes flashed, his lips curled with scorn. “We must stand together or the Bluecoats will kill us, separately. They want war. We’ll give it to them. But first, we must win the sun god’s blessing. The Sun Dance starts at sunset.”
* * *
“Sitting Bull danced and meditated for three days,” Kill Eagle,
Blackfoot Sioux chief reported to the council chiefs. “After dancing, Sitting Bull fell into a trance. When he awakens he will tell us what the Great Spirit commands.”
The men continued dancing, awaiting Sitting Bull’s revelations
. When he awoke, Sitting Bull spoke to his people:
“In my vision I heard a voice crying to me. It said,‘I give you these because they have no ears. I looked into the sky and saw Bluecoats falling like grasshoppers into our camp.
The soldiers had no ears and wouldn’t listen to our people. Wakanantanka, the Great Spirit was giving us these soldiers to be killed.”
Sitting Bull pointed to Crazy Horse. “I appoint this brave warrior my War Chief
He’s studied the Bluecoats and their way of fighting. I’ll pray to the Great Spirit in the Bighorn Mountains for your success.”
In the early morning of June 25th, young women digging turnips on the
crest of a tall hill were startled by sunlight reflecting off gun barrels and sabers.
One of the women ran to the tepee of Sitting Bull’s lieutenant, Chief Gall.
“Two hundred Bluecoats are riding toward our camp!” she warned him.
Major Marcus Reno’s pony soldiers commenced firing at four hundred
yards. The Sioux under Gall’s command fell back slowly to give women and
children time to get to safety.
Gall stamped his feet for attention, jumped on his horse and raised a rifle high.
“Hoka hey! It’s a good day to die!” he cried.
Four hundred Sioux followed him as he rode toward the weak side of Reno’s column and forced the soldiers to flee into the woods.
Chief Gall circled back to camp. This victory frees my warriors for battle,
when Yellow-Hair Custer and his Bluecoats arrive.
Gall smiled as he led his warriors to meet Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn
* * *
Indian children huddled around the campfire, that evening, as Sitting Bull raised both hands above his head and gave a double victory salute toward the Little Bighorn River.
“Hoka hey? It’s a good day to die!” the children chanted, and repeated his salute.
Sitting Bull smiled as he spoke slowly. “I watched from the mountain. The
movement of our warriors toward Yellow Hair’s Seventh Cavalry was like an angry hive of bees.
They swarmed from tepees as the enemy charged. The air was full of smoke an dust as Gall’s braves staged a frontal attack, coordinated with Crazy Horse and Two Moons’ warriors striking the Bluecoat flank and rear.”
“Were any prisoners taken?” a young child asked.
“No. We killed two-hundred-and-sixty-one of the enemy,” Sitting Bull explained. “They tried to surround six thousand braves with just a few hundred
Bluecoats. Yellow Hair wasn’t smart enough to realize that the odds were stacked against him.”
The children watched respectfully as Sitting Bull sat on the ground and said, “Wakanantanka, the Great Spirit has a message for the youth of our tribes
” Then, he fel into a trance.
.When he awoke, a young child asked, “What did Wakanantanka say?”
“A wonderful future awaits our people,” Sitting Bull answered. “In my dream, I
saw thousands of proud Bluecoats tumbling like fat grasshoppers into our tepees
. When they left, the white men were thin and downtrodden. People in the tepees were fat and proud.
” * * *
One hundred-and-thirty-one years later, Samuel Crazy Horse VI rapped his gavel on the lectern. “The annual stockholders’ meeting of the Native American Bingo and Gambling Association will come to order. Chief Financial Officer, George Armstrong Custer V, will summarize our 2007 financial report.”
Six thousand Indians in the audience silently waited for the Chief Financial Officer to speak.
A blond-haired man in a Brooks Brothers suit rose, and walked across the stage to the lectern. “For the fifth fiscal year,” he read into the microphone, “profits from Indian casinos have increased fifty percent.
Soon, our Casino association will be as successful as WalMart and Exxon combined, thanks to the efforts of our legal counsel, Joe Sitting
Bull VII, who will speak next.”
“My great, great, great grandfather would be proud of us,” Joe said. “Indian tribes, as sovereign nations, pay no state taxes. Our smoke shops and gas stations can undercut prices of white man’s convenience stores and gas stations. Before many moons have passed, tribes’ lower prices for cigarettes and gasoline will drive competitors out of
Competition is good for America!
“Every Indian battle before the United States Supreme Court has turned out like our Little Bighorn victory of 1876
As a result, we pay no state property taxes on our vast land holdings throughout this nation. Tribes also enjoy every advantage that they were denied by Congress, more than one hundred-and- thirty-two years ago.
“Indians thank Wakanantanka, the Great Spirit for inventing bingo, card games, slot machines and the lottery. Tribes have benefited from the black-and-white men’s desire to gamble and lose their money, when odds are stacked against them.
They enter Indian casinos like the Seventh Cavalry charging our ancestors at the Little Bighor River. Many gamblers leave with heads bowed and empty wallets.”
The audience stamped their feet in approval.
“The descendents of the tribes of yesterday are gambling entrepreneurs, today,” he continued. “Indian cartels control gambling in America as firmly as OPEC and the Russians fix oil prices everywhere. One day, if Middle East and Chinese Sovereign Funds don’t beat us to it, tribes will possess most of the money supply in the United States.
“Indian casinos in the U.S. are now located in more than half the states. We dream of the day when all fifty states welcome us.
“Anywhere in the world, when money talks, people stop and listen. A billion
dollars donated wisely by our Cayman Island bankers to politicians’ retirement accounts should help us reach this goal within twenty years.
After we saturate the United States
with Indian casinos, we build them in Canada and Mexico. The world is our oyster!”
Joe Sitting Bull VII stood in front of the lectern. He smiled at Indians in the
audience, raised both hands above his head and flashed the same salute that Sitting Bull used in 1876.
Six thousand Indians stamped their feet and repeated his victory salute.
“Hoka hey! It’s a good day to gamble!” they cheered, dressed in their Giorgio Armani suits and French evening gowns.
Art Youmans, “TV Evangelist Charley Johnson,” 2005
Reverend Charley Johnson waited three days at Meridian Cemetery. He didn’t mind the funeral being delayed by Hurricane Katrina. This was quality time for him in his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi. It’s better being here than stoking fires in Hell, he thought.
“You can’t stay here much longer,” Lucifer told him. “What will other TV Evangelists say? They’d feel you’re getting extra privileges while they’re shoveling coal.”
“Church members adored me,” Charley reflected. “From Houston to Charleston, southern folks loved Reverend Charley Johnson. They’ll show up at my burial. I always drew a crowd. My TV show was number 1 on ABC in Mississippi. People don’t forget.”
“Another twelve hours of freedom is all you get!” Lucifer grunted, pointing his pitchfork toward him. “Understood? You know the road back.”
Charley nodded. He remembered 1960 when it all began. I was a hobo with a gift of gab, he thought. Sneaked into the Meridian Cinema through an exit door. There on the screen were Richard Brooks and Burt Lancaster, Evangelist Simmons and Elmer Gantry. Lancaster was mesmerizing as preacher Elmer Gantry. It hit me like a lightning bolt. I finally knew where my future lay. That evening, I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “ From now on, you smooth-talking scoundrel, your name is Reverend Charley Johnson.”
* * *
Sheriff Billy Bob Jones leaned back in a swivel chair, resting his cowboy boots on the desk. He shut his eyes and dozed off.
“Billy Bob! Are you there?” a voice cried.
Jones eyes snapped open. “Is that you, Cyrus?” he cried. “If it is come in!”
Cyrus Vance opened the door and walked in. “The Reverend’s funeral is at three. The burial’s right after it. Are you going?”
“Sure. The working press has to be there. Might dig up another story.”
“Your newspaper article killed him,” Sheriff Jones said casually. “It broke his heart.”
“It just reported the facts. Reverend Charley Johnson was a charlatan. He requested money from his TV audience to help the needy but he spent millions on himself… high living...flashy cars and beautiful women…yachts and a corporate Learjet.
His homes in Bermuda, The Cayman Islands and The French Riviera cost millions. My newspaper’s accountants could find only one entry of donated money spent on assisting needy people. That was a fifty-dollar check to the Biafra Hunger Drive in the 1980s…and it bounced!”
“Until you published your story, the Reverend was the biggest industry in Mississippi. Took in forty million dollars a year from TV viewers. Hundreds of locals worked for him. Now, they’re collecting unemployment benefits.”
“If I didn’t publish the expose, someone else would. The IRS was about to indict him for income tax evasion and fraud. My story was printed the day the FBI arrested him. I don’t mean to denigrate the dead, but a con man like Charley Johnson attracted gullible folks who sent him money like a skunk’s carcass attracts flies.”
“Every business maximizes profits. Who isn’t a creative accountant around April 15th? I agree that Reverend Charley Johnson stretched the truth. Who doesn’t fudge a bit on his finances?”
“I don’t!” the newsman replied, indignantly.
“You may be the only honest man in America at income tax time!” Sheriff Jones laughed. “I’m not going to Charley Johnson’s funeral. I have a town to protect. Looters from Hurricane Katrima might journey northeast from New Orleans to visit us.” He patted the holster on his right hip. “This semi-automatic pistol and I will be looking for them. Two deputies will be at the funeral to maintain order. Enjoy yourself, Cyrus!”
* * *
“Hurry, Grandma Beverly, the funeral starts soon!”
“I’ll be there in a minute, Sally. I want to get my hair right. This isn’t just any funeral, you know. Reverend Johnson was a saint. He preached the gospel with the voice of an angel. He’s giving God a hand in heaven right now!”
“Didn’t the government convict him of fraud and sentence him to twenty years in prison?”
“Yes. When Reverend Johnson heard the sentence read by the jury foreman, he keeled over and died. God took him right in the courtroom.”
“Daddy told me you sent Reverend Johnson every spare dime you earned for over forty years.”
“I took a second job scrubbing floors in the Meridian Bank building. This gave me enough to send his ministry fifty dollars a month. Most of the other cleaning women did the same. After forty years of donations, a group of us met with him. He showed great kindness by granting us an audience in his private cathedral. According to Reverend Johnson, these donations guarantee our family a passage into heaven.”
“Didn’t the newspaper report that Reverend Johnson spent millions on himself?
“It was a lie, Sally. TV evangelists are honest men. If they weren’t, God would strike them down in the pulpit, wouldn’t he?”
* * *
Two motorcycle policemen came first, escorting a black-limousine hearse.
The Reverend Charley Johnson smiled at the line of cars and busses stretched behind them on Interstate 59 as far as he could see. He watched vehicles fill the cemetery parking lot as full as a tin of sardines. Last arrivals parked on city streets miles from the cemetery. Thousand of weeping mourners surrounded his grave for the interment ceremony.
“They didn’t forget me,” Charley muttered. “There must be twenty-five thousand supporters down there. It’s my legacy.” He focused his eyes on the headstone by the open grave. He read the inscription aloud. “Reverend Charley Johnson, 1935-2005, Now Serving As God’s Right-Hand Man.”
“At least they spelled my name right and have the correct dates,” Reverend Johnson laughed. “Two out of three ain’t bad.” His spirit floated to the edge of the cemetery where he saw the sign on a door, Road To Hell…open here..
He twisted the doorknob and stepped inside.
* * *
An hour later, Reverend Charley Johnson petted Cerberus’s three heads before he crossed the river Styx in the underground kingdom of Hades.
“Lucifer is waiting for you in the building with the smokestack!” Cerberus barked. “The Boss will be glad to see you!”
Reverend Charley Johnson increased his speed. He knew that Lucifer had a full-schedule of events planned for him. He felt honored to be selected as the Devil’s right-hand man.
Everyone retires, someday, Charley thought. When Lucifer does, I’ll throw my hat in the ring. Campaigning to air-condition this place, the Reverend Charley Johnson will be a shoe-in winner for the election.
I've written several hundred short stories from 1997 to 2010. This possible award-winning 1,091-word story must have fallen through the cracks & I never entered it in a writing contest. I patterned Charley Johnson on an amoral & evil retired one-star Air Force general, who screwed 2 friends of mine out of a commodities finder fee of over $100,000 in 1973 or 1974.
Art Youmans, “FATHER’S DAY,” (2005) 1,412 words
My Dad, Sergeant Howard Lawson, was one of 33,000 GIs captured by the
Japanese during World War II
They interred him in a concentration camp near Cabanatuan in the Philippines.
Like Patton’s third Army smashed through the German’s left flank at Bastogne
on the day after Christmas 1944, a month later, the 6th Ranger Battalion and Filipino
guerillas slashed 30 miles behind enemy lines and liberated Dad and other prisoners of
I was five when Mother took me to visit Dad at a San Diego military
All I can remember was how thin he looked. When Mother
walked into his hospital room she gasped. “Howard, you look like a scarecrow!”
“Honey,” he laughed, “if you think I look bad now, you should have seen me six
weeks ago at the hospital in Leyte! I barely weighed a hundred pounds.”
When we hugged it felt like a skeleton from the grave had grabbed me. I saw a
man as close to death as anyone could be and still survive. Hair stood up on the back of
my neck when our hands touched.
Ever since that day in San Diego, I’ve never felt comfortable in a hospital.
When Dad came home on Father’s Day, he’d gained sixty pounds on his six-foot four-inch frame. He looked like Sergeant York, in his uniform, with a chest full of ribbons and medals.
I was proud of this stranger in my house, and invited friends from kindergarten
over to meet him.
They were impressed, too, especially Sammy Williams who told me,
“Your Dad looks like Gary Cooper and is a lot bigger than my Pop. Gosh, you’re lucky!”
“Yeah,” I replied, “my Dad’s a tough guy…killed a bunch of Japs in the
Philippines. General MacArthur said so himself.”
I was glad my friends didn’t see Dad in the hospital a few months earlier.
Since then, it’s been a tradition in my family to honor Dad every Father’s Day
with an unusual gift along with his favorite desert, homemade pumpkin pie.
When I was a kid, this was easy. Mom bought a card and we all signed it. She
also baked a pie. My little sister, Amy, and I each ate a slice a la mode.
After college, we kept celebrating Dad’s return home from the Army on Father’s
Day. Our gifts were always different but more than six decades have passed since then.
After Amy won the $200 million Powerball Lottery in 2001, our spending
patterns on Father’s Day changed abruptly.
Mother passed away the year before, and Dad was feeling lonely as Father’s Day
We sent him on an all-expense seven-day trip to Reno.
Charlie, my former college roommate, was a lawyer there. He owned an escort service.
Charlie made sure that Dad had a different lady dinner companion every night.
When I met Dad’s flight at the airport, he winked at me, when Amy was checking
on his missing luggage.
“If you’d arranged a two-week instead of a one-week trip to Reno,” he
whispered, “I’d be returning in a pine box.
Since then, we sent Dad to several Father’s Day Texas Hold’em Strategy Poker
Forums in Reno, where he practiced against the best poker minds in America. Dad ended
the forum in the top third of his class, which was quite an achievement for anyone over
A few years ago, Amy paid the $50,000 entry fee in an online poker
If Dad could increase his stake, she explained, then next year she’d back him in
future poker events.
When Dad netted $60,000 in winnings, he was ready for the big time, the World
Although Dad was aware that his memory was failing, he wanted one last
shot at going out a winner.
. Amy paid the entrance fee in the 2005 World Poker Tour. Along with over 300 other players in Las Vegas, Dad competed in the biggest poker game in history- more than $8,000,000 in prizes, a week before Fathers’ Day.
It took five grueling days of qualifying to narrow the field down to six. Dad didn’t
make the final cut.
“If that lucky Texan hadn’t drawn two cards to a straight flush,” Dad
griped, “I’d have been in the championship round. My four nines would win 99.99%
of the time.”
Dad stayed home for the next month recovering from the poker tournament. He
told Amy that the pressure was too much of a strain on him, and that he was retiring from
2006 was the first year Amy and I had difficulty picking out a suitable gift for Dad.
I suggested a subscription to “Playboy,” but Amy disagreed. “Dad’s
eight-five, for gosh sakes,” she sneered. “He’s beyond that sexy stuff…beautiful women
draped in lingerie.”
I silently chuckled for I knew that any man with an imagination never gets beyond
thinking of that sexy stuff.
“What do you suggest?” I asked her.
I should have expected what she would reply. Amy’s an engineering
geek…spends hours before a monitor at a computer-consulting firm every day.
She opened her purse and pulled out an issue of Time magazine. “Know who this
is?” she asked, pointing to Bill Gates on the cover.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m better looking, but he’s richer. You gonnaget Dad a date
with Bill Gates for Father’s Day?”
“Of course not, silly. Bill Gates and Microsoft spent billions of dollars developing
the Xbox. It has terrific games.”
“Dad’s never played something like this in his life. Video games are just action
movies for kids--”
“Absolutely not,” Amy interrupted. “According to a game magazine, roughly
half of Americans age 12 to 55 spend three hours a week playing some sort of electronic
“No wonder we’re an overweight nation,” I joked. “In place of competing in
sports, kids sit on their fannies gaining weight. What’d the magazine say about guys
“I tested Microsoft’s Xbox,” she continued, ignoring my question. “The
games are in high definition, wide screen with surround sound. Dad will love it!”
Since Amy was paying for the Father’s Day gift, I agreed with her.
To my surprise, Dad took to the Xbox like a kid to candy.
When I questioned him about it at Christmas, he said, “It was great to re-create
the chaos of World War II in Call of Duty 2. That’s a terrific video game!”
Dad still lives in the same home. I phone him every week on Monday to check on
how he’s feeling. Amy calls on Thursday to see if he needed anything.
When we met at his house on Father’s Day 2007, Dad said he had a surprise for
us. He opened the kitchen door and called, “Ruthie, I’d like you to meet my son and
The aroma of warm pumpkin pie drifted through the room. Amy placed the
frozen pie she bought at Wal-Mart on the table and stared toward the kitchen.
Dad emerged, holding the hand of a silver-haired lady with a broad smile. “Glad
to finally meet both of you,” she gushed. “Howie has told me so much about his son and
daughter. My name is Ruthie. Let’s sit down, have some pie and chat.”
Amy tasted the pie and looked Ruthie in the eye. “This is the best pumpkin pie
I’ve ever had. Where’d you get the recipe?”
“At the Cordon Blue School in Paris,” Ruthie said. “Since I graduated, I’ve
worked as a desert chef for several four-star casinos in Reno. That’s where I met Howie.”
“Dad’s been holding out on us,” I chuckled, afterwards.
“Not really,” Amy explained. “Every poker player should play the cards close to
his vest. With Ruthie around, we won’t have to worry about him so much.”
“We still need to be sure Dad’s alright. How about changing our routine?”
“Sure. You call him next Monday. I’ll check on him a week later. We alternate
each Monday. Okay?”
I nodded. “Do you believe Dad would be as interested in Ruthie if she didn’t
bake a dynamite pumpkin pie?”
. “I doubt it,” Amy replied as she walked to her car. “When men get that old, good
food is important for them. Sex is something from the distant past.”
I chuckled silently as I thought of Ruthie’s slender ankles, ample bosom and
hourglass figure. There’s still life in the old guy yet
. If a little lovin’ doesn’t kill Dad, it’ll make him stronger.
I whistled all the way home.
Art Youmans. “BOBBY TAYLOR’S GHOST,” 30 April 2007
A handgun pointed at my head. That the last thing I saw before my life ended, on a chilly New Year’s Eve, outside Bobby Taylor’s Liquor Store.
Business had been heavy all night. Everyone has the bubbly they need by now, I thought, as the large hand on the clock edged toward twelve. My sales clerks left at midnight. I locked the front door, pulled out the cash drawer, and closed the register. I scanned the near-empty parking lot and saw only my car parked under a street light.
After I make the night deposit I’ll celebrate with Hazel. I quickly totaled the three payroll checks I’d cashed with the hundreds, fifties, tens, fives and one-dollar bills. “Five thousand, eight hundred and twelve cents,” I muttered. “Not bad for December 31st .”
I stuffed the cash and checks with the deposit slip in a night deposit bag and shoved a snub-nose .38-caliber into my shoulder holster. I laughed the first time Hazel asked me to carry a revolver, but she insisted…said drug addicts were the vampires of the 20thCentury, taking over the streets after dark, looking for tomorrow’s drug money.
After I double-locked the front door from the outside and slipped the Master padlock on the metal screen over the glass windows, I heard footsteps behind me. I wheeled around and saw a man in a ski mask inches from my face. “Drop the bag, Taylor!” he growled. The robber waved a huge revolver in my face. “Do it fast, asshole, or you’ll get it in the gut!”
Hazel often said I was hard-headed, and I guess she was right. I tossed the night deposit bag a few feet away and inched my hand toward the hidden holster.
“Freeze!” the crook yelled as he reached down to pick up the bag.
I gotcha, I thought, when he took his eyes off me. I felt the cold steel of my .38- caliber and squeezed off three quick shots before his gun exploded in my ear.
I was knocked backward against the metal screen. Like a torpedoed ship, I shuddered at the moment of impact. I tried to breathe but the slug had smashed into my side. A collapsed lung filled with blood instead of air. I gasped for breath and spit blood instead, sinking slowly to the earth. A curtain of darkness closed over me.
* * *
EMSA paramedics had called ahead to St. John Medical Center.
The ER staff was waiting at the Utica Avenue entrance. “Wheel him into Trauma Room three!” a nurse shouted.
“High caliber, close-range shot to the ribs!” a paramedic yelled above the clamor. “It’s Bobby Taylor! He’s hemorrhaging!”
“The pitcher who won the MVP for the Yankees in ’88?” an orderly asked
. “Yeah. Same guy.”
* * *
I watched the surgeon stare into my unblinking eyes. “ Electric defibrillator paddles failed,” he admitted, sadly. “Stop cardiac compression! There’s still no pulse. Taylor’s pupils are fixed and dilated. Call the Medical Examiner, the police and the morgue.”
Like a medical crew on the battlefield, nurses moved my damaged body out and wheeled another wounded soul in. I sat on the surgical cart with my body waiting for transportation to the morgue.
A Tulsa homicide detective put down the phone. “It’s the ER calling,” he explained. “Bobby Taylor’s dead. Have they identified the killer?”
“Not yet,” a supervisor answered. “The shooter’s prints are being run through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Puncture marks on his arms indicate the killer’s a junkie. The Medical Examiner will do an autopsy at the morgue.”
“One less junkie to worry about…thanks to Bobby Taylor.” “Too bad the killer wore a flak jacket. Taylor’s first two shots hit the jacket. The third severed the left carotid artery. The crook bled out, fast.”
“When the area’s secure, we’ll canvass for witnesses. Maybe someone saw something.”
“Mrs. Taylor, your husband died courageously,” the policeman explained, a few hours later.
“Here’s the night deposit bag we recovered. There were no witnesses to his shooting.”
“Who shot Bobby?” Hazel asked.
“The FBI gave us the ID on him. It was an illegal immigrant named Emilio Sanchez, who’s served jail time in both Texas and Oklahoma.”
“Is he the same Sanchez that the parole board released from prison last month?”
“Yeah. The jury gave him twenty-to-life for his fifth Oklahoma bank robbery, but the Tulsa judge cut the sentence to ten years. With time off for good behavior, Sanchez was back on the street in only four years. Authorities released him at the Mexican border, but he sneaked back in.”
“Judges make a mockery of the judicial system in America!” Hazel wailed.
“They’re making our job tougher, too, Ma’am. Too many gullible judges bend over backwards assisting the defense, whenever a crook tells them a sob story. Defense lawyers often assist felons to make up these tall tales. ”
“That’s why former defense lawyers, like John Grisham, become best-selling authors of fiction.
* * *
Autopsies always fascinated me, since I watched the first episode of that popular television show Quincy, about a Los Angeles Medical Examiner. When Quincy autopsied one corpse on this show, one-by-one, police officers watching the procedure passed out like a line of falling dominos.
However, this time, at the morgue, the policemen paid attention as Dr. McCants turned me over and discussed the trajectory of the bullet, which entered my left side above the pelvis and exited the right shoulder.
“The hold-up man must have been a midget or he fired the fatal shot from the ground,” Dr. McCants summarized. “It’s an extreme angle unless the victim was in a tree.”
“The forensic team gave this scenario,” the sergeant replied. “Mr. Taylor closes the liquor store and walks toward his car. Sanchez jumps from behind a dumpster. He confronts Taylor and demands money. A crack pistol shot, Taylor draws his .38-caliber and fires two rounds into Sanchez’s bullet-proof vest. Sanchez is knocked to the ground by the impact, but manages to fire a bullet from his “Dirty Harry” .44-magnum. Simultaneously, Taylor fires a third shot. Like a double knockout in the ring, both men are out of commission.”
“That makes sense to me.”
“When are you doing Sanchez’s autopsy?”
“His body’s in cold storage and today’s a holiday. Unless there’s a rush, I’ll autopsy Sanchez, Monday.”
“That’s okay, Doc. He’s not going anywhere.
The next twenty-four hours were frustrating. I’d never felt like a fly on the wall before. The toughest moment was when Hazel was brought in to ID me. She began to cry. I tried to hug and comfort her, but she could neither feel nor see me. I learned that ghosts were in a different world than the living…even from those they love.
Later, they wheeled in Sanchez. If it were possible I’d have smashed my fists against his ugly skull. My attempt to talk with him failed. He was stiff as a statue in the morgue while Dr. McCants autopsied him, on the same stainless steel table I laid on the day before
. If I’m ever reincarnated, I’d like to be a Medical Examiner like Quincy and McCants, instead of a former baseball player who owned the biggest liquor store in town.
I’ll stay here and observe the Medical Examiner until an angel comes for me. Today I learned that, of all mammals, a pig’s heart and circulation system is closest to man’s.
Medicine is exciting! Isn’t it ironic that many of us don’t know what we want to do with our lives until it’s too late?
Art Youmans. “JAZZ AND FREDDIE,” (2004) 1,583 words
I knocked on the gate to heaven.
When an angel named Cerberus opened it, the eyes in his three heads blinked in disbelief.
.Cerberus’ laughter turned into a roar as hundreds of others in line behind me joined in.
“Can’t you read?” the bull terrier gatekeeper growled, jerking his paw toward the
Doggie Heaven sign on the gate.
“This place is reserved for dogs who’ve never bitten postmen and led productive lives on Earth. YOU'RE A CAT!!!!!!!!!!"
I stuck my paw inside the gate, in case the angel decided to slam it.
“Here are my papers,” I said pleasantly, handing him an envelope.
Cerberus opened it and slowly read each page. This craziness started
on earth in the 1980s, he thought. Lady sportswriters were allowed in male athletes’
locker rooms to interview them. Now, an equal rights judge wants to send a cat to
“Your papers are in order,” Cerberus groaned. “However, you’ll be our first
feline. Before I assign you living quarters, tell me about yourself. ”
“My mother was Siamese, with an IQ that would qualify her for
Mensa,” I explained. “She lived on trumpeter Miles Davis’ ranch with a dozen dogs.”
“Canines don’t like cats!”
“Well, they treated her like a little sister. Mother watched dogs rewarded for
learning tricks. She taught me that the only way for a cat to stand out from other felines
and dogs was to be different. So I learned to dance.”
“I never heard of cats dancing.”
“Miles Davis was a world-famous jazz musician. It was easy to dance to his
music. I swayed back-and-forth in a shuffle like Cedric-the-Entertainer. I tried teaching
the shuffle to the dogs but they didn’t have rhythm. They had the coordination of a
“Are you looking for a fight?” Cerberus growled, showing his canines. “No one
insults a dog here.”
“No disrespect meant,” I added swiftly. “Some of my biggest fans on TV were
“You appeared on television?”
“Uh-huh. For ten years I appeared on TV, dancing to the music of Miles Davis’
quintet. They billed me as Jazz, The Dancing Cat.”
Cerberus stared into my eyes like a bank teller examining a three-dollar bill.
“Your name is Jazz?” he growled.
“Prove it. Let’s see you dance.”
A group of dogs formed a circle around me and stared curiously
. “What’s wrong?” a Norwegian elkhound barked. “Forgot how to dance in your old age?”
Two French poodles chuckled at the joke.
A dozen others watched Cerberus for a signal to chase an imposter out the gate.
“I need music if I’m going to dance.” I started to hum a tune:
Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go, singing low: Bye, bye, blackbird
“Hey, that cat knows how to dance,” a British bulldog commented, watching my feet move to the music.
Cerberus nodded and smiled as my humming was joined by the
bulldog who sang the first verse with me:
“ Blackbird, blackbird singing the blues all day Right outside my door, Blackbird, blackbird why do you sit and say…”
“Okay,” Cerberus interrupted. “You’re definitely whom you say you are. You’re
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Can I have your autograph?” an Australian terrier
begged, holding his autograph book. “So few celebrities come here, anymore. Please sign
below Lassie’s signature.”
While I signed autographs that afternoon, Cerberus interviewed and admitted
hundreds of dogs. When finished, he stared out the gate. Seeing no more dogs
awaiting entrance, the angel started to lock up for the night when a squeaky voice cried,
“Aureo hamo piscari!”
An Airedale stared over Cerberus’ shoulder. “It’s a flea!” he howled. “Don’t let
I rushed to the gate. “Don’t panic,” I advised the restless dogs. “This visitor is
Freddie the Flea…a confidant to Romeo, Chief Justice of Dog’s Supreme Court.”
“Audi alteram partem,” the flea said softly, as he stepped through the open gate to
. He unfolded a piece of paper he took from his hat, and handed it to
After studying the permit with a magnifying glass, Cerberus shrugged and
returned the paper. “Remember the rules here, Freddie. No biting allowed in Doggie
“Volente Deo,” Freddie said cheerfully. He recognized me and waved.
Cerberus scratched his head and looked at me. “What language is he speaking?”
“It’s flea talk…a bit like Latin,” I told him. “Cats are natural linguists so I’ll
translate for Freddie. So far he’s told you that there are two sides to every question and
that he’ll abide by the no biting ordinance.”
“We dogs are curious creatures,” the Airedale barked. “What makes this flea so
important that Romeo allows him to enter our paradise?”
“I’ll find out.” I signaled Freddie to follow me to an open field surrounded by
hundreds of fire hydrants.
“Freddie spent four years at college,” I told them later.
“Wow!” the Airedale exclaimed. “I’m impressed.”
“Never heard of a flea going to college,” a bulldog growled. “Tell us about it.
Dogs crowded around me as I narrated the story of Freddie’s life.
“As the resident flea on a golden retriever named Romeo,” I began, “Freddie
learned many things. While at college he learned that the dog flea, ctenocephalides
canis, is the best known of about five hundred species of fleas. How proud this made him
feel. It was better than being a bird in the sky, he felt.
“One day, Freddie noticed a lady flea jumping by. He followed her and
discovered she was the resident flea on a French poodle named Juliet.
Freddie felt a primal urge. It was the same instinct that compelled Romeo to howl at the moon. He was in love.”
“Love makes the world go round,” a bulldog interrupted.
“As was the custom with his species,” I continued, “Freddie made a social call on
The lady flea’s Mother. He trembled as he approached his prospective mother-in-law.
Freddie’s knees knocked when he asked, ‘May I have permission to call on your
“ ‘ No! Never!’ she shouted.
“Freddie stiffened and managed to croak weakly, ‘Why not?’
“ ‘My daughter has just spent two years at The Harvard Business School as the
resident flea on Juliet, a French poodle. The French poodle is an aristocratic dog. A
golden retriever, on the other hand, is an ordinary middle-class dog. Juliet’s mistress has
graduated from Harvard. My daughter will not marry just any flea. We have plans for her
to marry someone of her social class… a flea who has the upbringing and Ivy-League
breeding that will make her father and me proud.’ ”
“What a snob she was,” a Dachshund said indignantly. “The same thing happened
“Shut up!” Cerberus shouted. “I want to hear about Freddie.”
“Yeah,” the Airedale agreed. “Let Jazz finish the story.”
I stood on a fire hydrant and continued speaking. “Freddie emphasized that he
learned many things at college. He mentioned that he even studied poet Ogden Nash,
author of `The Cow’.
“Freddie knelt on one knee and visualized Al Jolson singing Mammy. He spoke
these words like a Shakespearean actor:
‘The cow is of the bovine ilk; One end is moo; the other milk.’
“Freddie recited this poem with such feeling and emotion that his future mother-
“As she wiped tears from her eyes, she motioned to Freddie and said,
‘You are a flea of great knowledge and culture. You have permission to call on my
“Freddie married the daughter and they lived happily thereafter.”
“I love a happy ending,” Cerberus sobbed, wiping a tear from his cheek. He
turned to Freddie and smiled.
“Tell Freddie that he’s a celebrity,” the Airedale said, shoving an autograph book
at Jazz. “I’d like his signature and the others would too.”
“Come to our cookout, tonight at seven,” a schnauzer barked. “It’s in honor of
Martin Luther’s birthday. You and Jazz will love the bratwurst.”
“Try to come.” A German shepherd named Bismarck added. “It’s the German
Society’s event of the year.”
“Yeah! Yeah!” A chorus of dogs chanted. “Be there or be square”
I turned to Freddie. “Aura popularis,” I chuckled.
“What did you tell him?” Cerberus asked, while Freddie patiently stepped into a
drop of ink and hopped onto the autograph pages, for every dog requesting his signature.
“I told him that he was a temporary celebrity. Neither fame nor life is ever more
than a fleeting memory. Freddie understands that. We both are pleased to reside here.
Thanks for the opportunity and invite to the cookout.”
“You’re the first cat and Freddie the first flea allowed in Doggie Heaven,”
Cerberus declared. “When President Harry Truman desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces
in 1948, I doubt if he realized Executive Order 9981 would have such far-reaching
“Precedent is important in a court of law,” I philosophized. “Truman opened the
door of opportunity for millions. It’s my hope that cats, dogs and fleas can also live in
“Cheers for cats and fleas!” a dog shouted.
The chant was taken up by the crowd.
Jazz and Freddie were lifted high above the canines by a Himalayan mastiff.
Freddie winked at me and shouted Harry Truman’s favorite phrase, respondeat
superior, the buck stops here.”
Before we walked off, I checked with Freddie.
“See you guys at seven,” I told the dogs. “German cuisine is one of our
favorites.” “Macte virtute Freddie, well done. We are celebrities here.” I
knew we’d both found the perfect home.
Art Youmans, “FUTURE ALL-AMERICAN,” (2007) 1,583 words
“Franklin, have you picked your college major?” his Mother asked.
“Mom,” Franklin laughed, “I just passed my high school finals yesterday. You’re thinking too far ahead. Long range planning for a teenager like me is 60 days!”
“Your 4.5 grade-point-average should get you admitted to Harvard. When I was a teenager I studied every free minute, like you do. Harvard gave me a full scholarship. Instead of wasting time playing sports and video games, I studied…learned…and excelled.”
“If my scholarship to Harvard is approved, I’ll consider the college.”
“Do you think you might become a tutor when you graduate?”
“I don’t know, Mom. You did a terrific job home-schooling me. After I showed up for kindergarten, the principal recommended I be home-schooled. With your help I learned enough to ace the SAT with a 1600.”
“I remember the day when he told me, ‘Mrs. Frankenstein, you have the ideal student to be home-schooled’. In those times, kindergarten kids were easily scared by people who look different than they do. When you walked into class that first day with me, half the children screamed and hid under their desks. The other half either ran out of the room or jumped out the window in a panic. It’s a miracle no youngsters were seriously hurt.”
“Remember Seneca’s quotation, non scholae sed vitae discimus. It means ‘we learn not for school but for life.’ All knowledge helps a person in the present and prepares him for the future.”
“I greatly admire teachers like you,” Franklin said, touching his mother affectionately. “You dedicate your lives to cram knowledge into the skulls of the young. Many students resist the effort but most benefit from teaching. Often it takes years for kids to realize this. Teachers create a better world for us Americans. Few other professions can make that claim.”
“Teaching and nursing were the main occupations open to women when I was in school. Today, women are encouraged to enter all professions. Dad hopes you’ll become a Tulsa doctor like him. He plans to discuss it with you when he returns from Romania.”
“It’s too soon to choose. By my sophomore year in college I’ll select a major. Maybe it’ll be pre-med or something else medically-oriented like pharmacy. Until then, I’ll keep an open mind
“How could you turn down a four-year scholarship to Harvard?” his mother gasped, a month later. “They were so impressed with your SAT score and the top research paper in the Westinghouse science competition that Harvard didn’t even ask for an interview.
” “I’m going to University of Oklahoma,” Franklin insisted. “I met with football coach Bob Stoops and the offensive line coaches yesterday. I want to be a football player like Refrigerator Perry on the Chicago Bears, when they won the Super Bowl in 1985.”
“I wondered why you had disappeared. I looked in your room thinking you’d be studying but you were gone all day.”
“Although I’ve never played football, when Stoops heard that I bench pressed eight-hundred pounds and could run forty yards in 4.4 seconds he contacted me by e-mail.”
“Was he startled by your appearance?” “When we met at Union Stadium, his offensive line coaches took one look at me and started running toward the opposite goal post. Stoops froze in place, not sure what to do. I admire that. Did you know that he flew as a passenger on a Blue Angels’ jet, last year? This shows that coach Stoops has courage.”
“What happened next?”
“When the line coaches saw that I was harmless, they slowly walked back and stood behind the head coach. Stoops asked me how much I weighed and what my height was. When I told him 520-pounds and eight-foot-three, he gasped.”
“That’s probably because you’re too big for football.”
Franklin laughed. “Mom, everyone knows that there’s no weight or height limit in football. The coaches seemed pleased when they timed me in the forty-yard dash. I explained that I’d dropped a hundred-pound barbell, last week, smashing my right toenail. Then, they understood why I limped while I ran the dash in only 4.6 seconds.” “Is that when he offered you a football scholarship?”
“No, Mom. It was after I bench pressed eight-hundred pounds. Since I was so slow in the dash, I wanted to impress Coach Stoops…so I bench-pressed that weight twenty times. His eyes bulged when he saw me do that. He turned to the line coaches and said, “Wait ‘til Franklin lines up against Texas in Dallas, this October.”
“I didn’t understand what he meant, but I didn’t want him to think I was dumb, so I smiled like the coaches were doing.”
“You’ve never played football before, Franklin. Why did you decide to join Coach Stoops’ Oklahoma team?
” “Mom, I often wondered what I could do in competition. Why didn’t you let me play games with other kids?” “
"Son, your father and I worried that you might get hurt. We may have overprotected you. This could have been a mistake because you were always big for your age.
“Coach Stoops predicted I could become an All-American in my freshman year like Adrian Peterson. He told me I’d play nose guard on defense and fullback on offense.”
“But you’re a butterfingers, son. You couldn’t catch a cold, much less a football.”
“That’s okay, Mom. I admit I’m too clumsy to run with the ball. Coach said my job on offense would be to clear the way for halfbacks and protect the quarterback. That should be easy. He said I’d be a one-man flying wedge, especially when Oklahoma had the ball near the opponent’s goal line.”
“I promise that your father and I will come to every game. He’s expected home on August 30th and was excited when I phoned him you’d be playing football for the Sooners. When does their season start?”
“The first game is against North Texas State on September 1. A week later we play University of Miami.”
“Just remember, Son, just do your best. Abe Lincoln failed several times running for office before he became America’s 16th President. Few people experience instant success.”
“I won’t forget, Mom. I’m moving to Norman, tomorrow…but I’ll be back to see you when Dad returns. We’ll keep in touch by phone. Coach Stoops has assigned the defensive line coach to work with me for two weeks at Memorial Stadium…that’s where we’ll play our home games. Next, I’ll be trained by the offensive backfield coach. This way, by early August I’ll know enough about the game of football to practice with the team.”
“Remember that all work and no play makes Franklin a dull boy.”
“Okay, Mom,” Frank replied, walking away with a smile on his face. “With my memory, I’ll learn all the football plays and formations as easily as Calculus 4. Don’t worry about your boy. He can handle himself.”
* * * “
"Isn’t it exciting, Mom?” Frank exclaimed, two months later. “In a few hours, Dad will walk through our front door.”
“He specifically asked that we not meet him because of the increased security at the airport. When Dad gets home he’ll want to hear about your summer. Was football a difficult game to learn?”
“Have you ever ridden a bicycle?” “Sure,” she laughed. “That was a long time ago.
“You could ride one today, couldn’t you?”
“Probably.” “That’s because,” he continued, “once you’ve ridden a bike you never forget how. Football’s the same. Once you learn the fundamentals and study the plays and formations with the players, it’s a piece of cake. “Football is like a game of chess. The quarterback is the king and the halfback’s the queen. A good chess player will always protect his king and queen.
" My job on offense is to ensure the quarterback remains untouched by opponents when he passes the ball. On running plays, I block for the quarterback and halfback and protect both from injury.
“On defense it’s just the reverse. I tackle the opponent’s quarterback or deflect the ball when he tries to pass. On running plays, I stop them when they try to move the football for a first down.”
“Franklin, are you actually going to play both offense and defense?"
“Coach Stoops believes that the best athletes should play. Since he selected me as the best blocker, I’ll play fullback on offense. As the best tackler on the team, I’ll line up as nose guard on defense.
Coach told me that I metamorphosed from an ugly duckling on the football field in June to a graceful swan in August. “Since I can kick a football thirty yards longer than last year’s punter, I’ll handle both punting and kick offs. I have good endurance, Mom. You and Dad will be proud of me. With my toenail healed, my 4.3 speed has returned. Teammates voted me the defensive captain.”
She sat next to Franklin on the couch and kissed him on the cheek. “Son, you’re mature enough to select your own path in life. We’ll always be proud of you. ”
Franklin knew that after dinner he would play chess with his Father as usual. I’ll attack Dad’s king, he thought, with the misdirection I learned going after the quarterback.
He placed the chessboard on the table near the porch and arranged the white and black ivory pieces in their proper places. His Father won both games the night before he left for Europe.
Franklin was confident that tonight the outcome would be decidedly different
He was right.
Art Youmans, “A DYING BREED,” 16 April 2007
“I thought Liberty Gardner was strumming a harp years ago!” I stammered.
“Only the good die young,” my editor laughed. “Some think he’s a mad-dog killer. Gardner claims to have shot hundreds of scoundrels on both sides of the law. Today is the old guy’s birthday. I want you to interview him, this afternoon.”
” “Charley, you’re our best reporter. Liberty Gardner used a Colt .45 to fight a private war, mostly against bad guys, and won every battle. We need a man of your talents to interview a hundred-and-five-year-old gunfighter, before he takes his final ride to Boot Hill. Gardner’s cardiologist told him he’ll probably kick the bucket before the year ends.”
“Today’s December 29th. He doesn’t have long.
” “Get moving! Gardner’s expecting you at Dodge City Hospice, Room 6, at two. Here’s a transcript of Gardner’s comments.” He also handed me a folder of newspaper clippings from the 1890s. I read them during lunch
. Two hours later, I walked through the front door of the hospice. I flashed my Police Gazette press pass and grinned at the nurse blocking my way. She stood, arms folded before the door marked Room 6. Except for the white dress and cap she wore, the old gal could have passed for a defensive end on the Green Bay Packers.
“I’m here to see Mr. Gardner,” I muttered, breaking the wall of silence. “Don’t you magazine vultures have respect for the dying?” she grunted, curling her fingers into softball-sized fists. “What do you want to do…write Liberty Gardner’s obituary before he’s dead? You scallywag reporters, looking for a front page story, have hounded many residents to their graves.” She waved a fist in my face. “Over my dead body will you ever get in this room!”
“Ma’am,” I replied, “I’m here for only one reason. Mr. Gardner called my editor, this morning…asked him to send a reporter at two.”
“You’re a half-hour early,” she grunted, checking her watch. “Stay here! I’ll be right back.
” I watched her slip into Room 6 and lock the door.
Ten minutes later, the nurse stuck her head out. “He remembered calling the Gazette,” she shrugged. “It’s strange, because he normally can’t recall anything but the distant past. Mr. Gardner’s ready to see you. He’s sitting in a rocker, like he normally does… back to the wall.”
He wore a typical cowboy outfit - jeans, moccasins, Stetson, buckskin jacket and a smile. It was the smile that made him distinctive from the other gunfighters. His was a happy smile, never a grim one like villains flashed in the movies.
“Mr. Gardner,” I said, sticking out my hand, “I’m Charley Jones from the Police Gazette. We’d like to write a story about you for the February issue..”
“I ain’t done nothin’ spectacular,” he chuckled, shaking my hand firmly. “Thanks for coming. I’ve been a gunfighter or lawman all my life. Any gunslinger, deputy, marshal or sheriff, in the late 1800s, was a soldier on a battlefield. If he didn’t shoot the enemy, the bad guys would have killed him. Our motto was: ‘You get them before they get you.’ My tombstone epitaph will read, ‘Liberty Gardner, Gunfighter, Every Murderer He Killed Never Backshot Anyone Again.’ Before meeting my maker, I wanted to set the record straight that I was an honorable gent.”
I could smell the faint odor of whisky on his breath. “When you’re gone, no one will know the good you did in your lifetime as a lawman, unless you explain it to the Police Gazette, Mr. Gardner.” His green eyes never blinked as he stared at the pen in my hand.
The old man’s left hand swiftly moved to his belt, where a Colt.45 used to be. He looked up at me and said, “Young man, always fire away when you charge ahead.”
Those were the same words he spoke to Sioux war leader Crazy Horse, I remembered.
“Mr. Gardner.” I said, “you told my editor about a dream where God asked you to remove weeds from his garden on Earth. The next day you strapped on a .45-caliber revolver, left Illinois and headed west.”
“Yep! God must have been looking after me. Because of him, I never lost a gunfight.. Every bullet fired at me with bad intentions missed…some came mighty close. Since I was five-foot-two, there was less of me for lawbreakers to hit. See this Stetson?”
He handed me his battered Stetson. I examined the hat carefully.
“Those five bullet holes in the Stetson creased my scalp,” he continued, “and convinced me I was protected by a higher power. I gave frontier justice to scoundrels who needed killing...jailing wouldn’t have done any good with them. A slick lawyer or crooked judge would probably have them back on the streets…just like today. I helped weak folks fight the strong. Whenever a big gang fought a small one, I often joined the small group to help even-up the odds.”
“Is that why you advised Lakota Sioux war leader, Crazy Horse?”
“Hell, yeah! The Sioux had to change tactics if they were going to survive. Courage and fine horsemanship gave the Indians a chance for victory in every battle before 1867. Then, the new breech-loading Springfield rifle was shipped to the Bluecoats. Soldiers could, now, reload in about 3 seconds, six to seven times faster than old muzzleloaders used by Indians. I suggested that the Sioux change tactics. Instead of fleeing to regroup, when attacked, I recommended they charge boldly through the soldiers’ ranks. The Army wouldn’t expect Indians to depart from their normal battle tactics and meet a Bluecoat charge head-on.”
His slow drawl allowed me to write every word on my notepad.
“Crazy Horse conferred with Sitting Bull and the Sioux’ Cheyenne allies who approved my new tactics. After the Rosebud Canyon Indian victory over General George Crook back in 1876, and a week later defeat of George Armstrong Custer in the valley of the Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse summoned me to Sitting Bull’s camp. ‘Liberty Gardner,’ he said, placing his lance on my shoulder, ‘we owe you a great debt. Your tactics brought great victories. Henceforth, you’ll be known by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors as Wahktageli, Gallant Warrior.’ After we smoked a peace pipe, I rode away. My job was done. I’d evened-up the odds.”
“Did you feel guilty when you heard of Custer’s crushing defeat?” I asked.
“Nope. He was a fool. Custer attacked 6,000 Indians warriors with only a few hundred Bluecoats. Yellowhair, as he was known by the Sioux, got what he deserved, for killing so many unarmed Indian women and children in past battles.”
“Was it right after that you went to work for Hanging Judge Parker?” I asked.
“Nope. After my advising the Sioux was completed, I hung around the Dakotas for over fifteen years as a lawman…shot a bunch of horse thieves, bank robbers and gunfighters wanting to test me. After the kids were grown and my wife died, I needed a change of scenery. I heard about a new Federal Judge named Isaac Parker, who was hiring men like me in the Western District of Arkansas. When I arrived in Fort Smith, Parker hired me as a deputy to the U.S. Marshal. Deputies were ordered to weed out all robbers, murderers and thieves we could find. Arkansas and Oklahoma Territory were untamed hornet’s nests of lawlessness in the 1890s.
“Soon, the Fort Smith jail was jammed with bad guys, including crooked Oklahoma Territory bureaucrats and politicians,” he chuckled. “Today, if we jailed every political hack on the take, there wouldn’t be anyone left to run the country. Eisenhower would be governing the U.S.A. by himself!”
He took a sip of water and stared at me. His eyes were half-closed and veins bulged from bony hands. Liberty Gardner’s fragile body sagged like a dehydrated marathon runner when he tried to stand. He sank back into the chair. “Sorry, Mr. Jones, I’m showing my age. I need a long nap.” His eyes slowly shut.
“You and Hanging Judge Isaac Parker,” I said, “are a dying breed. I doubt if we’ll see anyone like you both, again, Mr. Gardner. ”
Liberty Gardner’s smile turned grim and his eyes snapped open. “No murderer we hung ever backshot anyone, again. Now-a-days, mad-dog killers are back on the streets in less than twenty years to kill once more. It’s dangerous for the nation!” Mr. Gardner groaned, slumped in his chair, and stared wide-eyed at the ceiling.
I caught him before he slipped to the floor, and checked for a pulse. I couldn’t find one
. Then, I said a silent prayer for his soul, placed the Stetson back on his head and yelled for the nurse.
The End (1,477 words)
GENERAL PATTON-CHURCHILL By Art Youmans, 1,832 words, 2007
A Pit Bull named Bruno rose to his feet in the Tulsa Animal Shelter and stretched.
“Anyone else awake?” he growled at midnight
In the next cage a Rottweiler opened an eye. “Just because you’re the toughest dog here it doesn’t mean you can push us around,” he said indignantly. “Go back to sleep!”
“Yeah, shut up,” a German shepherd echoed. “You think you’re tough? I’ve bitten as many mailmen as any dog in this shelter.”
At the far end of the room a 120-pound Presa Canario dog named Hercules rattled his cage. When Hercules was agitated, other dogs sensed something important was about to occur.
“Bruno’s the leader here,” Hercules barked, like a Marine drill sergeant. “When he says jump, ya better do it!. When he talks…or rattles his cage, listen!”
One hundred dogs jumped to their feet and stood at attention like soldiers. They stared admiringly at Bruno, whose steel-trapped jaws, they’d heard, had clamped on a mail carrier’s leg with nearly 1,500 pounds of pressure, more than twice the power of the German shepherd’s bite.
“Tomorrow we break outta this joint,” Bruno grunted. “Any dog that wants to spend the rest of his life here, speak up now.”
After a moment of silence, he continued. “At exactly this time tomorrow we make a dash for freedom.”
“I hate to rain on this parade,” a Beagle interjected, “but our cages are locked. How can we taste freedom when we’re trapped behind bars like criminals?”
“I’m glad you brought that up,” Bruno replied. “We have help on the inside. Hercules will explain.”
“Ya remember my fiancée, Sweetie?” Hercules asked.
“The pretty Chihuahua with the pink bow around an ear?” a golden lab questioned. “The dog catcher’s pet?”
“Yep, that’s Sweetie,” Hercules continued. “She found a skeleton key that will open every cage at this dog and cat shelter. This morning, when the dogcatcher makes his rounds with water and food, Sweetie will accompany him. When she passes me, she’ll stick her head in my cage and drop the key on my sleeping mat. No talking to her. She’ll be hiding the key in her mouth. Don’t want her to swallow it if she forgets, and tries to bark back at you. ”
“We’ll keep quiet,” a Dachshund promised.
“It’ll be wonderful to be free again,” a black lab sighed. “Is it every dog for himself…or do you have a plan for the next twenty-four hours?”
“All I can tell you now is that we won’t do what British General Hunter-Wesson did at Gallipoli in 1915,” Hercules growled. “Hunter-Wesson’s 29thDivision landed from the sea and instead of advancing inland to pursue the fleeing Turkish troops who had deserted their coastline positions in panic, the general decided it was time for morning tea on the beach. The next day, when he finally ordered his troops to advance inland, this human found that Turks had regrouped their artillery and infantry regiments overnight and now held all the high ground. Stupid decision-making like this led to the British defeat, months later.”
He paused and raised a paw toward Bruno. “This dog has the strategic talent and leadership ability of America’s best WWII general, George S. Patton Jr. In a few hours Bruno will reveal his plan of attack and escape.”
“I don’t get it,” a Collie muttered, scratching his head. “I understand that we’re escaping but who are we going to attack?”
“You’ll find the answer to that question, soon. Remember that loose lips sink ships! I’m going to sleep,” Hercules concluded, “and so should you.”
“Keep cool, ladies and gentlemen,” Bruno barked at 10 A.M. “In fifteen hours we’ll be free. Trust Hercules and me, and this will be the last time you’ll ever find yourself behind bars.”
A murmur of approval resounded throughout the room.
Hercules rattled his cage when the small hand on the wall clock stopped at six. “Keep quiet,” he advised. “This place is now closed for the night. When the dogcatcher makes his check at 6:30, Bruno and I will be ready for him.”
All eyes focused on Hercules as he opened his cage using powerful jaws to turn the key in the lock. He walked the length of the room to Bruno’s cage, inserted a key and the lock clicked open. Bruno stepped out and faced the cages. “Fellow dogs,” he said, “years from now you’ll be revered for participating in the largest escape plan ever devised and executed by four-legged creatures. Hercules and I plan to attack the dogcatcher when he makes his final rounds tonight and lock him in a cage. After that occurs, we’ll open your cages, regroup and escape together to Mohawk Park at 1 A.M. We’ll meet at the southeast end of Lake Yahola at 1:30 A.M. At that time I’ll give further instructions. Any questions?
” “I have one,” a mongrel asked. “Why are we going to Mohawk Park instead of running southwest to Mexico and sanctuary?”
“That’s an excellent question. Mohawk Park is a sprawling 2,800-acre park filled with a lake, deer and other wildlife. It’s about a mile north of here and should be deserted that early in the morning. Since the Tulsa Zoo is also located there, it would be difficult for bloodhounds to track us. If the Mexican border wasn’t more than six hundred miles south we’d likely head directly there instead of Mohawk Park.”
“Someone’s coming,” a Schnauzer warned. “It’s probably the dogcatcher.” Bruno eyed the dogcatcher as he walked by his cage like he owned the place. Sweetie trailed silently behind him.
Bruno stepped from his cage and raised his ears, a signal that Hercules returned. The dogcatcher stopped in his tracks when Hercules jumped out of his cage. The trembling man dropped a set of keys on the floor as he backed up. He continued to backpedal until he came to the open door of Bruno’s empty cage. Wide-eyed, the dogcatcher glanced at Bruno behind him and Hercules in front. He was breathing hard when he jumped into the cage, slammed the door shut and passed out on the concrete floor. Hercules locked him in.
Bruno retrieved the set of keys and turned to Hercules. “I’ll open the cat cages. The thirty cats know not to leave until after the dogs have gone. They’ll run southwest through the downtown area to find sanctuary in Chandler Park across the river. All dogs go north. You and Sweetie open the dog cages. It’s now too light outside to escape. At one A.M. we’ll stage the greatest prison break that America has ever seen!”
The dogs watched Hercules nervously pace back and forth before Lake Yahola at Mohawk Park at one-thirty A.M. Sweetie was by his side.
“What going on?” a German shepherd demanded. “Where’s Bruno? He said that he’d tell us the next step in his plan when we got to this lake.”
“Yeah, what gives?” an Airedale echoed. “Where’s Bruno?”
“He’ll be here shortly. Bruno’s double-checking some facts with his brother, Fidel. Just relax and keep quiet until he arrives.”
“What’s so special about Fidel?” a Bulldog asked.
“He’s top dog in the security patrols at Union Railroad Terminal downtown.”
“Are we traveling somewhere by train?”
“Whatever the plan is,” Hercules explained, “you’ll hear it from Bruno.”
A few lay down to doze, but most dogs nervously milled around the southeast edge of the lake.
“He’s back!” someone barked, an hour later.
Bruno ambled toward Lake Yahola, turned to face the dogs and began speaking. ”It’s set!” he growled. “The shipment from Tulsa Dog Food Company to El Paso, Texas leaves Union Railroad Terminal at four A.M. We’ll board boxcar 88 at five A.M. near Sands Springs.”
“That’s twenty miles away,” a Fox Terrier complained.
“It’s closer to fifteen,” Bruno corrected. “Fidel will leave the boxcar north door open. When the train slows to climb the steep hill near 65th West Avenue, we jump aboard.
A day later we’ll arrive in El Paso, swim the Rio Grande and escape into Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains. The boxcar is half-filled with bags of dry dog food.”
“What about water?” a dog questioned.
Bruno pointed ahead. “There’s the lake. Drink as much water as possible now. It’ll be a long time until we get to the Rio Grande.”
“Here it comes,” Bruno warned at 5 A.M., as the engine slowly groaned up the hill in West Tulsa. “Gentlemen, assist the ladies, then jump aboard yourself.”
Hercules boosted Sweetie into boxcar 88 and helped the others climb up. Bruno and Hercules made it just before the engine picked up speed at the top of the hill.
“We’re all here!” a mongrel cheered. “Hooray for Bruno and Hercules!”
“It wasn’t me,” Hercules said modestly. “Bruno planned the escape. He’ll move us rapidly like Patton’s tank column rushing to Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge
. I don’t know where he got the idea of escaping by train. Maybe he’ll tell us.” He turned to Bruno and smiled.
“Anyone remember Winston Churchill?” Bruno questioned.
“The British Prime Minister during World War II?” Sweetie asked.
“Yeah, you know your history. Back in 1899, Churchill was a war correspondent during the Boer War in South Africa. Captured and imprisoned by the Boers in Pretoria, he escaped and rode to freedom in a boxcar. He crept aboard the freight train when it slowed climbing a steep hill and escaped to Portuguese territory. As a result of publicity from his escape, Churchill became a national celebrity, entered British politics and ended up one of best-known men of the twentieth century.”
“Thanks for your leadership,” Sweetie summarized. “Anyone who profits by the experience of Patton and Churchill is wise. You’re the smartest dog I know.” .
“It saves time to benefit from the experience of others,” Bruno replied modestly. “Let dummies, like cats, re-invent the wheel. We dogs weren’t behind the barn door when brains were handed out.”
“Hear! Hear!” an English springer spaniel cheered. The others joined in the joviality for the next twenty-four hours.
It was dark when the train pulled into El Paso
. Hercules slid open the door with a shoulder and sniffed. “I smell water ahead,” he whispered. “Should I investigate?” Bruno nodded and watched the huge dog disappear into the shadows.
When he reappeared, the dogs congregated at the boxcar door. “The Rio Grande River’s to the south,” he informed them, pointing with a paw.
“Okay, guys,” Bruno whispered, “you know what the procedure is. Ladies first. Then, follow me across the river to freedom. If there aren’t any questions, let’s get started.
Sweetie was the first dog to swim ashore in Mexico. She smiled at Hercules and winked. “It’s time to start a family.” She barked seductively, as she placed a love bite on his cheek.
Seeing the mountains in the distance, she jumped for joy and ran toward them as fast as her tiny legs would go.
Ninety-nine other dogs followed her example.
Guarding the rear was their beloved leader, Bruno, who the English springer spaniel nicknamed General Patton-Churchill.
SOURCES: 1. “By Their Deeds Alone – America’s Combat Commanders on the Art of War,” edited by Lt. Colonel Richard Hooker Jr., Ballantine Books 2003, pp. 8-9. 2. “Great Escapes,” edited by Basil Davenport, Pocket Books Inc. 1952, pp. 329-342.
T’was the Day Before Christmas.
And at the North Pole,
Scores of Small Elves were Working,
Busier than Trolls.
Art Youmans, “A NIGHT TO REMEMBER,” 2007 1.115 words
Years after Betty Grable exposed her legs and Britney Spears pierced her navel, a jolly old man named Santa Claus celebrated his 1,000th anniversary at the North Pole.
Santa, and his elf neighbors, worked year-round in Santa’s Workshop.
He was assisted by Mrs. Claus, who continually chided Santa about seven-day work weeks and fifteen-hour days, a habit which had started (as she often pointed out to him), when Adam and Eve were living in The Garden of Eden.
“You need to slow down and relax a bit,” she’d tell him.
“Don’t want the neighbors to think of me as a loafer,” Santa would reply. “There are three times more children on Earth, now, than one hundred years ago.
That means the elves and I must work three times harder to keep pace.”
She rolled her eyes and continued knitting pink baby bonnets.
Mrs. John Elf worked alongside her knitting blue baby ones.
Both women knew they had to hurry since it was nearly Christmas Eve.
The ladies just finished their last bonnet, when Santa summoned all workers before the fire for his annual Christmas story, as the sun began to set.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Santa began. “It has been one of my habits on Christmas Eve to tell a story before I take a midnight ride with my eight reindeer friends. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen smiled as they nodded their antlers toward the elves to reward them for a job well done.
The elves nodded back, exhausted but happy they had completed their chores for another year.
“We are a happy family in Santa’s Workshop,” Santa continued. “What kind of a tale would you like to hear? Last year, the elves selected the story. Now it’s the reindeers’ turn.”
“We took a vote,” Dasher interrupted. “All year you, Mrs. Claus and the elves make presents for the people in the world and we help deliver them. We reindeer would like to hear the story of how people were created.”
“That’s an excellent question, Dasher,” Santa replied, scratching his head. “I’ll look it up in my Encyclopedia of the Universe.” He walked to the bookcase and selected a book as large as he was. With great effort he carried it to his workbench.
All eyes focused on him as he opened the huge volume, and thumbed through pages until he reached the heading, People
“I found it,” Santa said. He began to read
. “Once upon a time, Thor lived on a golden cloud, miles up in the sky. Whenever he was bored, he would slip on iron gloves and a girdle that doubled his strength. Feeling all-powerful, Thor threw lightning bolts in all directions through the sky.’
“Tired of the continuous noise from the accompanying thunder, Mrs. Thor suggested, ‘Dear, why not start a hobby?’
“ ‘What kind of hobby? All I know is how to throw lightning bolts.’
“ ‘Does a tree falling in the wilderness make a noise if nobody hears it fall?’
“ ‘I don’t understand.’
“ ‘Currently, no one but you and I can hear thunder from your lightning bolts. Wouldn’t it be more fun if others could also hear the noise?’
“ ‘Sure! It’d be fun to scare them,’ Thor agreed. ‘Too bad that no one else is around to hear the racket I make. If I knew how, I’d create a few people to impress with my power.’
“ ‘Take a look at this book, Dear,’ she said, handing him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy. ‘This is a book that Henry Gray will publish in 1858.’
“ ‘That’s not for another five million years!’ he stammered. ‘How’d you get a copy?’
“ ‘It’s a special pre-publication edition,’ she replied, opening the book. ‘Never underestimate the power of a woman. Take a look at how a person is built. The muscles imbricate like scales of a pine cone. Do you see, in figure 169, how the psoas and iliacusmuscles overlap from the pelvis to the thigh?’
“ ‘I like this book,’ he said, thumbing through the pages. ‘As architect of the universe, I can use these illustrations as a guide to create people. What must I do first, Darling?’
“ ‘Give them a pleasant place to live.’
“ ‘Excellent. But, the universe is dark since a meteor hit earth. With debris blocking the sun, a person couldn’t read without light.’ “ ‘And you want people to be well-educated, Dear.’
‘Clear the debris, and let there be light!’ Thor commanded. ‘What should I do next?’
‘They need a cheerful place in which to live.’
“ ‘A new Earth shall be created,” he cried, pointing through the clouds. “It shall have fresh water for people to drink, mountains for them to climb, and thick forests covered with moss. Gardens will overflow with flowers and trees filled with fruit. All that people need would be at their fingertips.’ He turned to his wife. ‘Have I forgotten anything?’
“ ‘Everything is down there, now,’ she said, staring into space. ‘It’s a beautiful paradise you’ve made for them, Dear. All you need to do now is to construct a man and a woman. You can do it in either of two ways; The first is to use Gray’s Anatomy. The second way is to follow the instructions in this song, Dry Bones.’
She handed him the lyrics, written on dinosaur hide.
“ ‘Gray’s Anatomy is over seven-hundred pages and this song is one page,’ Thor muttered. ‘I believe in taking short cuts whenever possible.’
“And so, he and Mrs. Thor sang the verses of Dry Bones,” Santa concluded, “until a man and a woman were created. That was a long time ago!”
Santa closed the encyclopedia and turned toward his audience. “Do you elves and reindeer know the lyrics?” “Yes!” they cried in unison. “Bears and penguins know them, too.”
That Christmas Eve, polar bears emerged from their dens at the North Pole and penguins stood on icebergs at the South Pole to join the harmonizing as they sang:
The foot bone connected to the leg bone,
The leg bone connected to the thigh bone
, The thigh bone connected to the back bone,
The back bone connected to the neck bone,
The neck bone connected to the head bone…………
It was a special Christmas Eve for the elves, reindeer, polar bears and penguins.
The whole world was brought together in fellowship
. Singing continued for hours, while Santa and his reindeer visited little boys and girls from Alabama to Zanzibar.
It was a night to remember.
Art Youmans, “ALLIE THE BULL,” 2004, 1,562 words
Over five hundred of Allie’s relatives stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the warehouse.
Inflatable Christmas Santas, decorated with tinsel and bells, hung from the twenty-foot ceiling. Giant candy canes stood by each door, alongside burly security guards.
Outside, men wearing tuxedos, with 40-caliber Glock pistols tucked in shoulder holsters, checked invitations to the 2006 Christmas Eve celebration.
Like the Academy Awards, this was an invitation-only event. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas blared over loudspeakers when Alexander “Allie the Bull” Bulla signaled he didn’t need help.
He glanced at his grandson, Vinnie, gave a thumbs-up, and left the second-floor office in a wheelchair.
Although the distance from the office to the microphone was only a few feet, it took all of his strength to propel himself forward. Allie was out of breath when he grabbed iron bars on the balcony rail in a death grip and raised himself upright.
He smiled and watched those below, shaking hands and hugging long-lost relatives.
The scene was a dream come true…something Allie had wished for during that stormy voyage from Sicily in 1921
. “When I become a success in America,” he yelled into the wind, one stormy night at sea, “we will have a Christmas Party, bigger than the Pope’s, where every Bulla from Sicily to Timbuktu will receive my blessings.
” “Everything’s ready, Grandpa Alexander!” Vinnie shouted. “The sound equipment is A-OK. Want I should cut off Der Bingle?”
“Yeah. Crosby won’t mind. He’s dead anyways. I’ll explain it to him when we meet inside the Pearly Gates."
” “Only the good die young, Gramps,” Vinnie laughed “Ornery guys like you and me live forever. Methuselah must have been ornery, and he lived to be over 800! You’re only ninety. Gramps. You have a long way to go!”
He handed Allie a live microphone and flipped the cutoff switch to the cassette player.
People looked up to the balcony when the music stopped. It was as silent as a library when Allie began to speak
“Merry Christmas!” he shouted weakly. “Welcome to the First Annual Bulla Enterprises’ Christmas Party! Give a hand for our friends at The Teamsters’ Union.”
After the applause ended, he continued. “Our family now numbers over one-thousand members, which is too many for my estate on the Hudson to accommodate. The Teamsters offered to decorate this warehouse for our Christmas party.”
He pointed to a heavyset man wearing an Armani suit. “We’d like to thank Jack Mulligan, Teamster president, for the use of his establishment.”
The heavyset man smiled and waved acknowledgement.
“Teamsters and the Bullas is family!” he shouted. When the cheers ended, Allie resumed speaking. “
This may be my last Christmas with you.” He stared sadly at the paper-thin skin on his hands, yellowed from the chemotherapy
. The audience moaned. “No, the Feds ain’t sending me up the river, like Gotti and Capone,” he chuckled. “I’m stepping down, tonight, as head of Bulla Enterprises.
The successor will be my oldest grandson, Vinnie Bulla. Enjoy the party, have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.
Here’s Vinnie who has some words for you.”
Vinnie gently helped his grandfather back into the wheelchair. He took the microphone from Allie’s trembling fingers. “Grandpa Alexander has friends in high places,” he explained holding a stack of telegrams in his fist. “Here’s one from President Adams, another from Senators Clantin and Shoeer and Vice President Gomez in Washington.
All wish Grandpa Alexander good health and happiness in 2007.” He paused.
“They musta all had the same speechwriter.”
Allie pointed to his watch as the audience chuckled.
Vinnie nodded. “Would members of the Bulla Enterprises Family Council please meet for a brief meeting, now, with Grandpa and me in the upstairs offfice?”
He waved to the crowd. “Enjoy the party, folks!”
Crosby began singing again over the loudspeakers as Vinnie helped Allie back in the wheelchair and pushed him back into the second-floor office.
When the last council member was seated, a bodyguard shut and locked the door. He stood guard outside.
Vinnie turned down the lights and put the transparency, The Mafia’s 2007 Ten Commandments, on the overhead projector. Underneath the heading was this mission statement:
By the end of 2008, we shall increase our control of shipping, gambling, unions and government contracts, like we had thirty years ago. T
welve men stared at the twenty-word statement projected on the white wall.
Allie broke the silence. “The only thing you can say about the future is that it’ll be different than the past,” he philosophized. “When I met J. Edgar Hoover at one of our Havana casinos in 1957, he told me things were changing and more attention was being directed toward organized crime…so the Mafia went legit like Bugsy Siegel did in Las Vegas a few years earlier
. We invested profits in construction firms, bars, pizza and massage parlors, real estate, hired sharp lawyers and CPAs to keep us from going up-the-river like Capone, for income tax evasion.
We skimmed less of the profits, paid more taxes and the Feds were happy.”
“Why are we going back so heavily into the rackets?” Frank Bulla, head of the Cleveland Mafia asked. “We’re doing okay as legit citizens. If it ain’t broke, don’t change it.”
“The Mafia is still evolving,” Allie interrupted. “After J. Edgar’s death in ’73, we directed our interests in another direction: influencing public policy and restricting the power of the police and FBI. Our lobbying efforts strengthened the American Civil Liberties Union in fighting hate crimes against Italians and the Mafia.
Our political donations resulted in the Senate’s Church Committee cutting funding to the FBI, and friendly judges passing laws like the Exclusionary Rule where we can challenge every arrest of our drug carriers as an illegal detainment and search
. It’s tougher for cops to get a conviction now compared to the seventies, eighties and nineties. It’s a tradition for the Bullas to obstruct justice whenever people like us get arrested!
” “In addition,” he continued, “most of the FBI’s resources, since 9/11, are directed against terrorists on our soil, the Russian Mafia, Hispanic drug gangs, and bank robbers. Local cops have their hands full with blue-collar crime. Newspapers report that about one out of every 90 adults in our country is in a U.S. prison or jail
." We’re a nation of crooks. The Mafia no longer stands out in a crowd, like it did in 1957. Now is the time to expand our power base.”
He gestured toward Vinnie. “Listen to what he has to say. He developed this expansion plan. I fully endorse it.”
A light went on by the podium, as Vinnie read aloud The Mafia’s Ten Commandments:
1. A good squealer is a dead one.
2. A good politician is a bought one.
3. A good judge accepts our plain manila envelopes filled with cash after (not before) rendering a favorable verdict.
4. A good policeman has his back to the street in a doughnut shop drinkingcoffee when we’re conducting an illegal activity on his beat.
5. A good FBI agent protects the country against Islamic terrorists and doesn’t harass hard-working Bulla-family members.
6. What’s good for the Bullas is good for America.
7. America is the land of opportunity for the Mafia.
8. A sharp criminal lawyer is worth his weight in gold and often earns it.
9. A smart Bulla family member is one whose wife never catches him with his girl friends . 10. When a male IRS agent audits you, always keep an attractive secretary in a low-cut blouse and mini-skirt at the next desk.
The agent will spend more time looking at her than at your tax statements. It works every time.
“Remember these Commandments,” Vinnie advised, “and your success will be assured.
Since the U.S.A. has 7,000 miles of land borders and 95,000 miles of shoreline, it’s easy to have merchandise shipped here from South America or the Middle East.
“Nah. We’ll go high-tech like terrorists do. About eight-million, forty-foot maritime containers arrive in the states every year. Less than five percent of them are ever inspected. We ship 100 containers from Rotterdam to New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, for example. A few might be opened, but over 90% of the merchandise would arrive safely in our warehouses.
” “Did you learn that at Harvard Business School, Vinnie?” someone asked.
“Yeah. Harvard professors taught me how a business plans for the future. The Mafia is a profitable business, but, with better planning, we can maximize profits and expand earnings geometrically. Don’t you Bullas want to earn more dough? Would you want to double profits in 2008 and then double net income again in 2009?”
“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” the crowd cheered.
This is just like a Wal-Mart sales meeting, Allie thought, staring at the excited Mafia bosses clapping their hands, stamping their feet and yelling enthusiastically.
The half-a-million I spent sending Vinnie to Harvard and its business school was well-worth it. I’ll make it back in added profits by the first week of 2008.
Education is a good thing. Allie leaned back in the wheelchair and shut his eyes.
He imagined the day when Bulla Enterprises would overtake Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil to become the largest Fortune 500 company.
If he he’d lived another ten years, Allie would have seen his dream come true.
NOTE: Bulla in Latin means boss. NOTE: Data on land borders, shoreline and maritime shipping containers comes from a 2004 HarperCollins hardcover book (available at my public library), “America the Vulnerable-How our Government is Failing to Protect us from Terrorism” by Stephen Flynn.
Art Youmans, “DETECTIVE THIRD-GRADE PATRICK MURPHY,” 2007, 1,496 words
“Murphy drove into the parking lot so fast, last night, that we could hear his police car bouncing over the speed bumps,” the bartender chuckled. “He’s Chicago’s version of Inspector Clousseau, The Pink Panther and Andre the Giant.
” “Yeah,” Charley agreed, scratching his head. “He’s also a retard. Any cop that big can be dangerous to your health. How Murphy got to be a detective is beyond me. That flatfoot’s a scatterbrain…always in a hurry…like a chicken with its head cut off! You can hear him coming a mile away.”
“He wasn’t always like that when he was a cop on the beat. I heard it started after Murphy took a time management course at the precinct…and learned there were 86,400 seconds in a day…and these seconds were like dollars in a bank account…once you spent them, they were lost, forever.
Just goes to show…a little knowledge can get you into trouble. Everything Murphy does now is at warp speed. He’s like a gorilla in a China shop.”
“Uh, oh,” Charley muttered, cupping a hand to his ear. “Did you hear a screech of tires, outside? The Pink Panther’s back, again.”
A customer jumped out of a booth and ran toward the restrooms.
Seconds later, Murphy charged into the bar like a bull entering the Plaza de Toros bull ring in Mexico City.
“Careful, you big son-of-a-bitch!” the bartender cried. “You’ll break the freaking door!”
Detective Patrick Murphy didn’t like being yelled at. He was six-feet-five-inches tall and weighed two-hundred-and-eighty pounds.
Murphy flexed his powerful chest muscles and slammed a fist down on the bar. “Do you know who you’re speaking to, Buster?” he growled, imitating actor Jack Palance’s scowl.
“Sure. You’re Detective Murphy of the Chicago police, and you owe me five-hundred bucks if that new door’s busted.”
“Screw you!” Murphy put his hand back on the bar, and following police procedure, flipped his wallet open to show a shield.
“Ever see this guy?” he grunted. The detective leaned over and shoved a photo across the polished wood.”
The bartender could see the brown butt of Murphy’s .357 Magnum revolver protruding from a shoulder holster under his jacket. He lowered his eyes before the detective’s steady glare and glanced at the photo. “What’s the guy wanted for?”
“Ever see him?” Murphy repeated. “Naw,” the bartender joked, smiling at Charley. “We wouldn’t allow anyone that ugly in this joint…it’d be bad for business. You take that photo at the zoo?”
“Anyone ever tell you you’re a wise guy?”
“Naw, Detective, you’re the first one. Never saw him. What’s his name in case I bump into the guy.”
“Willie the Wasp Fillini. A judge issued a warrant for him. A little bird told me he hangs out here.”
“The bird is wrong...must be some other bar. I’d remember an ugly guy like the one in your photo ever coming in here.”
“Call me if you see him,” Murphy growled, shoving a plastic business card across the bar.
He wheeled around, and slammed the door on his way out.
The bartender waited until he heard screeching tires, again.
“Charley, tell me if the front door’s broken. Check the hinges!” Charley nodded and walked to the metal door. He examined it carefully and gave a thumbs-up signal.
“The jamb and hinges are loose,” he explained. “Put three-inch screws into the door jamb and hinges. Then, even two clowns like Murphy couldn’t bust off the door.”
“Check outside to make sure the copper ain’t coming back. Then give The Wasp an all-clear. He’s holed up in the Ladies Room closet. It’s the last place those dummies would think to search.
A few minutes after Charley gave the all-clear, the Ladies Room door swung open and Willie the Wasp Fellini stepped out. He brushed lint off his size 32-short Armani suit and walked to the bar
. “I could hear what you said to the cop,” he said softly, his black eyes flashing daggers. “You got a big mouth! You think I’m ugly?”
His head barely reached the bar as he whipped out his 9mm and pointed the pistol at the bartender’s head.
“Mr. Fellini,” the bartender replied, his lips trembling, “you’re better looking than Al Capone and John Dillinger combined. I only told the copper what he wanted to hear. I didn’t mean any of it. Honest!”
Charley hunkered down in a chair behind the jukebox and held his breath. “That’s better,’ Fellini said, drawing his body to its full five-foot height. He stood on his tiptoes and pointed over the bar. “I don’t want to hear nobody ever call me ugly, again!” he screamed.with a high-pitched voice. “I’ll kill the next guy who says that!. Capisca?”
“Yes, Sir!” the bartender and Charley cried in unison, like WWII soldiers caught running from battle, answering an enraged five-foot General Patton. Fellini glared at them, muttered under his breath, spit on the floor and slammed his 9mm angrily into a belt holster. He stared at them, again, started to reach for his 9mm and laughed.
“Your freaking hides ain’t worth the price of a bullet, right now,” Fellini growled. He walked away, opened the back alley door and stepped outside. Both men were still sweating when shots echoed from the alley
. Like soldiers in a combat zone, they threw themselves on the floor, like they’d done several times during the gang wars last year, and prayed.
“I’m taking off,” Charley gasped, ten minutes later. He wiped his forehead with a sleeve. “I’ve got the shakes. You stay here. I’ll find out who Fellini shot.”
Charley pulled himself upright, lurched out the front door, past a squad car that just screeched to a stop, and disappeared around the corner. When the shakes stopped, he walked back to the alley and listened to cops talking by the Medical Examiner’s van.
“Fellini won’t bother us again,” Charley said, an hour later, as he walked through the front door, with a smile on his face.
“There’s a chalked outline of The Wasp’s body and a pool of blood in the alley. The M.E. just hauled the stiff to the morgue. “Are you going to Fellini’s funeral?”
“Hell, no!” the bartender replied. “The Wasp wasn’t my friend. He was a psycho hit man. One sting from his 9mm and you’re toast. There’s a rumor in town that this hair-triggered bastard was part of every big Chicago hit for the past twenty years…even Sam Giancana’s.
Fellini would kill you for just looking the wrong way at him. That midget was a pint-sized pit bull. I didn’t realize Fellini could hear me from the Ladies Room.”
The bartender hesitated before continuing. “He killed a guy, last year, just for blowing smoke in his face at a Calumet bar…shot him in the face. The guy was probably not paying attention where he blew cigarette smoke. That runt scared the hell out of me when he was drinking.”
“Scared me, too. It was good for us that Murphy shot him.”
“Murphy? The Pink Panther?” “
Yeah, the detective who gave you his business card. That card has a listening device embedded in it. I overheard the Fuzz talking about it.”
“So that’s why the cop on the beat came back and wanted that card. Maybe Murphy’s smarter than he looks. How’d he get Fellini to draw?”
“I got this from a bum who was asleep in the alley,” Charlie whispered. “Murphy sneaked into the alley a minute before Fellini came outside…told the bum to keep his trap shut. When Fellini walked out, the cop jumped from behind a dumpster and yelled, ‘Freeze, you ugly ape!’ ”
“Fellini doesn’t take that from anyone,” the bartender interrupted. “He almost whacked me for calling him ugly...and I’m a friend.”
“Right. Fellini whips out his 9mm, but Murphy’s as fast as Wyatt Earp and fills him with lead.
Murphy got one in the arm, but Fellini took one in the forehead and five in the chest.”
“Murphy probably saved our lives. Fellini was crazy enough to come gunning for us after he sobered up and remembered we disrespected him.”
“Buy Murphy a drink when he gets out of the hospital. It’s the least you can do for the man who saved your hide.”
“Okay. And I’ll ask Murphy what time management course he took, and tell him how it changed him from a dumb Pink Panther to a smart cop,overnight.”
He’ll like to hear that,” Charley said, smiling. “I have to admit, you have a way with words. You and Don Rickles both could have been diplomats with Venezuela’s State Department.”
“Maybe. I don’t know about Rickles, but I’d rather be just a bartender.”
“You’re living dangerously whenever you speak to people… like you talked about Willie The Wasp Fellini and Patrick The Pink Panther Murphy. I’d suggest you change your working attire.”
“What should I add to my cowboy shirt, boots and jeans? A tie or Stetson?”
“No. A bulletproof vest!”
Art Youmans, “WHY THE DEVIL LEFT THE EMERALD ISLE,” 2007 1,182 words
Freckles McNuckles took a deep swallow.
“Leave some Thunderbird for me!” Frank cried. “I paid half the booze bill.”
Freckles held the wine bottle to the light and smiled. “Perfect. I drank exactly half. My eyesight’s still the same as when I was a kid. Did I ever tell you I was a contender?”
“Yeah. Every time you get a buzz on you talk about the sweet science of boxing.”
Ain’t no sweet science! Its mano a mano…one pro trying to beat the crap out of another. While fighters are in the ring trying to kill each other, some managers are doing everything they can to steal their boxer’s money.”
“Did this happen to you?” Frank asked.
“Uh-huh. My manager was also my lawyer. When he died, I found he’d put my dough in his bank account. The same thing happened to boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson. My manager’s wife also told me to take a hike.”
“Didn’t you get a lawyer, Freckles?”
“Yeah. He told me I was cheated out of a couple of million pounds. Legally, I couldn’t prove the moola belonged to me…something about possession being nine-tenth of the law.”
“Ever thought of getting back in the ring?”
“No. However, if my manager was still alive Id love to fight him. I doubt that he’d last twelve seconds with me. In ten years of boxing I earned four million. My former manager and his wife stole most of it. I’ve lost my motivation to fight! Since then, I’ve been riding the Irish rails like you.”
“Did you see that?” Frank asked, staring ahead. “Never saw a rainbow before.”
“It’s coming down behind that boulder on the hill near Dublin,” Freckles said, pointing. “Let’s follow it. Bring the bottle with you.”
* * *
“We must have gone a mile,” Frank muttered when they reached the top of the hill. “I’m out of shape…got to sit down.” He finished off the wine, tossed the bottle toward a clump of trees and slumped to the ground.
“TRESPASSERS!” a high-pitched voice echoed from the trees. “LITTERERS!”
“Get behind me, Frank,” Freckles whispered, ducking the bottle thrown back at them. He clenched fists and assumed a boxer’s stance. “Looks like we’re in trouble.”
“WHO ARE YOU?”
“Freckles McNuckles and his friend, Frank.”
“FRECKLES McNUCKLES, FORMER IRISH HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION?”
“WAIT. I’M COMING OUT.”
“That looks like a pink elf,” Frank gasped, eyes focused on a figure walking toward them. “ Maybe I had too much to drink.”
“It’s a female Leprechaun, Dummy!” Freckles laughed, staring at her pink outfit.“ Watch your language. There’s a lady present.”
She evaluated the men staring wide-eyed at her. I wonder if they’re sober enough to understand me, she thought. “My name is Molly, Queen of Ireland’s Leprechauns,” she began. “I have a proposition for you.”
* * *
“That’s the craziest request I ever heard,” Freckles murmured. “She wanted to make me an honorary Leprechaun for one fight. I quit the ring once. Why should I start again?”
“It’s the way Irishmen and Leprechauns settle disputes,” Frank replied.
“Let the Leprechauns, Banshees and Fairies fight their own battles. The hell with ‘em!”
“That’s where Lucifer lives. He outboxed a Fairy, last St. Patrick’s Day…roughed him up badly. The Devil must be a fierce fighter. He’s undefeated in the ring.”
“I told her NO! The queen smiled and told me to think it over tonight.”
“After she blindfolded us and led us to the Leprechaun world we got lucky.”
“How?” Freckles asked.
“We get free room and board, tonight. What’s for supper?”
“Baked meat loaf stuffed with green peppers and onions…my favorite dinner and the national dish of Leprechaunland.”
“Sounds good. Did the lady say how much the winning fighter would earn?”
“Even if it was a pot of gold I’d say NO! I’ve lost my desire to box.”
* * *
“The Devil’s curse must be broken,” Oberon, king of the Fairies said. “Leprechauns, Fairies and Banshees cannot endure another year of slavery to Lucifer.”
“I believe I have a solution,” Molly suggested. “We reached a dead-end with Freckles, yesterday. However, his friend Frank gave me an idea to convince Freckles to fight for our freedom. All Leprechauns and Banshees in the kingdom are behind me.”
“Good luck! We Fairies also pledge full support for our Leprechaun allies.”
* * *
“A knockout in eleven seconds!” the ring announcer yelled, two weeks later on St. Patrick’s Day.
He hoisted Freckles’ right hand in the air. “The fastest KO in Leprechaun history. The new champion wearing the shamrock-studded trunks is Irishman Freckles McNuckles! “
Fairies danced in the aisles, and Banshees screamed as two Leprechauns hoisted Freckles on their shoulders and paraded around the ring. An aide administered smelling salts to Lucifer who sat groggily against the ropes on the ring canvas.
“Amazing,” King Oberon muttered to Molly. “How did you get the human to change his mind? No one’s as stubborn as a hard-headed Irishman.”
“Once Frank revealed the story of Freckles’ life … the rest was easy.”
“Whatever you told him made Freckles charge from his corner like an enraged bull. Lightning from his left jab and thunder from a right cross and the Devil crumbled on the canvas like shattered glass.”
“I spoke the truth,” Molly admitted. “Freckles didn’t know that Lucifer advised his manager how to cheat him. I also told him that Lucifer advised Sugar Ray Robinson’s manager on the best ways to steal a fighter’s money. Freckles was incensed. By then, he would have fought the Devil for nothing.
When he looked across the ring and saw the manager, who cheated him, working as Lucifer’s aide, the veins in Freckles neck bulged like they would explode. It took two Leprechauns and Frank to restrain Freckles in his corner before the bell rang for round one.”
“Did you mention that a pot of gold was the winner’s purse?”
“Yes, but riches didn’t interest him … revenge did. Freckles trained hard in the Leprechaun gym and ran six miles of hills every day. Frank helped him prepare for the fight.”
“It worked out well,” King Oberon reflected. “By defeating the Devil, we won our freedom. No longer will Fairies, Leprechauns and Banshees be forced to say How High? when Lucifer yells Jump!” Freckles earned a pot of gold and Frank received a bag of silver. All the Devil got for his efforts was a headache!”
“After the fight was over,” Molly explained, “Freckles’ former manager escaped to the underworld through the Dublin sewers. Frank told me that if Freckles was younger, he might have caught him. He tried, but the manager was a former marathon runner.
“We hired Freckles to train a new generation of Leprechaun fighters. In a few years we’ll have hundreds of fighters as fierce as Freckles. When Lucifer learns this, neither he nor his aide will ever return to Ireland!”
Legend has it that if you want to find the Devil & the snakes he took with him in 2007, look for him & his pet snakes anywhere but on the Emerald Isle.
Art Youmans, “CURSE OF THE RED WOLF,” 1547 words
Joe BrownBear was filled with rage when he walked, into the meeting., fist clenched.
Joe slumped his six-foot-five inch frame into a padded chair in the council room and listened, as he did in training camp, five years earlier, as an all-star defensive end with the Oakland Raiders.
Instead of a football coach’s positive comments, Joe heard prattle from four old men with no hope of success, convinced they’d lost another battle with the white man.
He patiently pushed their negative comments into an open box in his mind.
An hour later, when they finished speaking, Joe BrownBear, Apache medicine man, slammed the box shut and jumped to his feet.
. “Cowards!” Joe shouted, pacing around the room.
“Chief Thunderstick, and you three tribal elders feel sorry for yourselves like old squaws, while the white man keeps Geronimo’s spirit roaming the earth, instead of finding peace in the Happy Hunting Grounds.
" First, Yale’s Skull and Bones Society steals his skeleton from Fort Sill, nearly a century ago.
"Our people did nothing! Now, we sit on our hands without thought of retaliation! As a prank, these Ivy League hooligans then hid our great leader in the basement of a Tucson bawdy house.”
“Geronimo would still be there except for urban renewal,” Chief Thunderstick explained. “When a demolition team removed a brick wall, his skull and bones were found in a pine coffin. A Yale University emblem and Geronimo’s name was stenciled on the wood.”
“This discovery is a sign that the Great Spirit wants Geronimo to rest in peace in Arizona’s Dragoon Mountains, where he spent so many years fighting Bluecoats!” Joe cried.
“It may be the Great Spirit’s wish,” an elder agreed, “but our people have tribal sovereignty only over bones found on Apache land. Lawyers tell us that the Historical Society has a legal right to display him.”
“So you won’t do anything about this miscarriage of justice?” Joe growled.
The elder shook his head. “Sorry, we must follow white man’s law, whether or not we agree with it. A judge has already ruled in the Historical Society’s favor.”
He nodded as Joe marched from the council room and slammed a door behind him.
Chief Thunderstick looked at the three elders and shrugged.
They raised their hands, palm upward. “We’ve done all that can be done,” one muttered, stamping his foot on the carpet. “It’s up to the Great Spirit, now.
” No one spoke for a few minutes. Then, Chief Thunderstick rose and shuffled from the council room. Three elders followed, their moccasins beating a synchronized war dance on the floor..
The smell of Indian fry bread drifted from the kitchen when Joe BrownBear opened the front door of his house, an hour later.
“Daddy!” Little Joe cried, jumping into his arms. “Can we go to the zoo and see the red wolf they trapped in the Dragoon Mountains? My teacher said it’s as large as wolves used to be in caveman days.”
Joe returned the hug and nodded. “Son, you’re getting heavy. One day, you’ll be a defensive end too, just like Papa.” Little Joe grinned. “I want to be an all-star, too.”
“Keep eating your spinach, and get plenty of sleep. That’s what I did.”
Joe recalled an article in the Arizona Republic. The animal was the first crimson wolf ever trapped in Arizona and was on display at the zoo. It had the darkest, red fur ever seen in the state and was almost as large as a pony.
“Did you know that your great-great grandfather, Cochise, maintained a camp in the Dragoon Mountains and eluded capture there for more than ten years?” Joe asked his eight-year-old. “After Cochise died in 1874, Geronimo led the Apache defense of their New Mexico-Arizona homeland, until he was the last western Indian leader to surrender in 1886.”
A slender woman emerged from the kitchen. “As medicine man, you must visit the zoo,” Mary BrownBear said softly. “This special wolf appeared as soon as Geronimo’s bones were discovered. It could be an omen since Geronimo was also a medicine man.
Little Joe and I will come, too.” Joe smiled. “You’re an understanding woman. I am a lucky man. We’ll go in the truck after lunch. He slung his buckskin bag over a shoulder.”
At the zoo, Mary BrownBear held Little Joe’s hand firmly, and pressed a finger to her lips.
“Quiet,” she whispered. “Your father speaks to the Great Spirit.” Joe opened the buckskin bag, and took out a headdress. He walked toward the wolf enclosure, adjusting the furry marabou trim so the eagle feathers touched both shoulders. The red wolf made eye contact, ambled toward Joe and stopped at the chain-link fence, two feet away.
“Oh, Spirit of Happy Hunting,” Joe chanted, “Spirit of the Sky and Moon, direct me in a prayer for a dead Apache spiritual leader. Geronimo’s bones can never rest until he receives an Indian burial. This last defender of our homeland is held captive by white men in the Historical Society Museum. What path must I take to set him free?”
The wolf howled three times and moved closer.
Joe felt the wolf’s eyes penetrating his brain like arrows. A minute later he nodded, and turned toward his wife and child.
“I have spoken with the Great Spirit. He told me what to do.”
“What did he say?” Mary asked.
“It’s between the Great Spirit and me. All I can tell you is that I must wear this headdress until Geronimo’s bones are safely buried in the Dragoon Mountains…let’s go home. I will rest. There is much work ahead.”
“Can I ride in the back of the pickup?” Little Joe asked, hopefully.
“No,” Joe laughed. “A future medicine man rides in front with his father and mother. Spirits ride in the back.”
A ringing alarm clock startled Joe, early the next day. His eyes focused on the luminous dial.
“What time is it?” Mary asked, stretching.
“It’s two A.M. Go back to sleep.
I have work to do.”
“Can I help?” “Thanks, but the Great Spirit wants me to do this job alone.”
Joe adjusted the headdress, buttoned his shirt and jeans and pulled on his boots. “Got to go,” he muttered, kissing Mary on the lips.
“Will you be back for breakfast?”
“I will return when the Great Spirit is finished with me.”
He turned and grabbed a shovel and padlock, before he walked out the door.
At 2:50 A.M. Joe drove behind the Historical Society Museum, stopped by the rear entrance, turned off the headlights and waited.
At 3 A.M. a large, red wolf approached the rear entrance, and the door opened. White mist clouded the security camera by the door. Three smaller red wolves joined him and turned their heads, signaling Joe to follow.
A security guard shone his flashlight at four pairs of eyes and shouted in surprise. The wolves growled fiercely, and chased him into a basement closet.
Joe locked the closet hasp with a padlock, after which he followed the wolves to a Geronimo Exhibit in the main exhibition room, where a white mist clouded other security cameras.
Wearing cotton gloves, Joe pried open a man-sized glass case. He wrapped Geronimo’s skull and bones with surgical gauze and placed them in his buckskin bag. Joe swiftly walked out the back door and started his pickup truck. He gently placed the bag on the passenger seat and strapped a seat belt securely around it.
The large, red wolf, followed by the three others, marched to the parking lot, in step like soldiers. The wolves stood at attention, as the pickup truck pulled onto a deserted street. Joe headed southwest on Interstate 10, and then south on State Route 191 toward the Dragoon Mountains.
The District Attorney arrived before sunset. “I came as soon as you called,” he muttered, glancing at the overturned tables and chairs in the museum dining room. “What happened?”
“The Curse of the Red Wolf plagued Arizona, today,” Sheriff Sequoia replied, glancing at his report.
“All six board members of the Historical Society are dead. Their luncheon was nearly over when the doors burst open and a heavy mist spread through the room. Minutes later, the air cleared and a large red wolf, wearing an eagle-feather collar, stood defiantly facing the men.
Seconds later, it was joined by three smaller red wolves. That’s all we know. The security camera stopped, then.”
“How did the board members die?”
“The Medical Examiner said there were no marks on the dead men. Their faces were twisted, mouths agape and wide-eyed. Maybe, they died of fright. The local medicine man, Joe BrownBear, told me that the red wolf at the zoo stole their souls for disturbing Geronimo’s burial crypt.
This reminds me of the mummy curse that killed six of those who excavated King Tut’s tomb. That wolf probably stole the souls of the Yale pranksters, too.”
“I’d like to have a look at that wolf.”
“You’re too late,” the sheriff answered. “It escaped. The animal and its companions may be in the Dragoon Mountains, surrounding six lost souls. I can’t arrest a supernatural creature, so I’ll leave red wolves alone. .
they don’t bother me. This laissez-faire arrangement works just fine in Arizona!”