Luca, a gray wolf, stood at Dawson Cliff
Below, sunlight bathed the valley like a wave slowly washing up the beach.
He knew a meal was nearby.
Like a moth to a candle, Luca was drawn to this site by a voracious appetite in his eat-or-be-eaten world.
Two buzzards circling overhead made him lick his chops.
The wolf forgot hunger when a squeaking sound down the trail became louder.
His hundred-and-fifty pound frame moved swiftly toward safety in the woods nearby.
Crouching low, Luca stared through a slit in a mesquite bush at two strange human creatures on a vehicle drawn by horses coming up the trail.
Instinct told him to fear humans with the thunderstick. He recoiled at the smell of smoldering cigar butts ground into the soil next to shell casings and moved a few feet further into the woods.
The wagon stopped by the cliff.
“See them buzzards circlin’ Janie?” Frank Walker muttered.
“Sure do, Pa.” “Thar’s something down there.”
He pointed to the cliff. “Ain’t dead yet or them birds’d be eatin’ not flyin’.” “Think it’s a person?” “I woke to two shots at sunrise…seem to come from somewhere close…could be someone got bushwhacked again at Dawson Cliff. Take a look. I’ll wait here.”
He raised his Winchester rifle, pointed it toward the woods and quickly scanned the horizon.
Janie jumped to the ground and crouched at the cliff edge. “There are wolf tracks here, Pa. Maybe a rancher shot a wolf.”
“Could be. Can you see what the buzzards are keeping an eye on?”
She narrowed her eyes and peered at evergreen trees ten feet below. “There’s a scuffed boot stuck on a stump halfway down the cliff…no sign of life down there.
After the man tied the reins to a tree he handed his Winchester to Janie.
“You know what to do if there’s trouble… shoot first…ask questions later. There’s bad hombres about Dawson…some of the worst in Indian Territory.”
She nodded. He tied a rope to the wagon and tossed the free end over the cliff
“If I’m not back in twenty minutes get the sheriff.” “
Be careful of rattlers, Pa…especially the human kind!”
From behind an oak tree, Luca watched the large man disappear over the edge of the cliff. The wolf sighted a rabbit crawl from a hole behind the mesquite bush.
As the rabbit bounded off, he sprang on it. It was an easier breakfast than what was at the bottom of a cliff.
When breakfast was over, Luca sauntered off in search of lunch
“I found him, Janie,” Frank yelled. “A youngster’s down here…hurt bad…unconscious. Got him tied under the arms. Use the wagon to haul him up.”
She readied the horses and signaled her father with a whistle.
“I’ve got him propped up backwards,” he yelled. “Start the horses moving slowly. After you get him up, untie the kid and toss me the rope. I’ll put the youngster in the wagon and we’ll take him to Doc Savage.
“Yell if you want me to slow down. Here we go!” The rope strained as the horses walked toward the woods. When the body bounced over the edge of the cliff, she pried her rifle barrel into the knot to untie it. Then, she tossed the rope down again to her father.
She stared at the kid’s blood-streaked blond hair. His eyes opened and he smiled weakly. His torn shirt, worn-out jeans, and empty holsters were caked with mud. He wasn’t much taller than her, but when she tried to pull him off the rocks it was like lifting iron
“Pa!” she yelled. “He’s alive! Bring up his boots and guns!”
. * * *
“He’ll live,” Doc Savage shrugged. “Someone back shot him…a flesh wound near the left shoulder. A second shot creased his skull…left a ridge like a plowed field. He’s mumbling something about a horse.”
“Is the kid awake?” Frank asked. “Can I speak with him?”
“Yeah. I had to give the kid a couple of shots of whisky before I cut out the lead. It hurt, but not a whimper out of him. I’ll wait outside with Janie."
”“Where are we going, Pa?” Janie asked, an hour later. “Back to where we found the kid. Keep your eyes open for a brown horse with a white streak between the eyes. His name’s burned into the saddle with a branding iron.”
“What’s that fellow’s name?”
“MacKenzie. Steve MacKenzie, but he says friends call him Mac or Yellow Kid. Mac says he was ambushed. Someone waylaid him…shot him from the saddle. His horse ran off after he fell and rolled off the cliff. That’s all the kid remembers
* * *
Janie slowly approached Mac’s horse. It was happily eating in a clover field. She took the bridle, patted and spoke to the horse gently. A moment later she mounted the roan and followed her father’s wagon back to their ranch.
“Did you see Mac’s eyes, Pa?” Janie asked, during supper. “He has a beautiful smile, too.”
“The kid’s probably a gunslinger. Don’t get sweet on anyone with the eyes of a tiger. Gunfighters like him have a short life expectancy. There’s always someone faster than they are…and they never find out who’s faster on the draw until it’s too late …when they’re filled with more buckshot than a lead soldier.”
“He has the brightest yellow eyes I’ve ever seen.”
“You’re a grown woman of eighteen who makes her own decisions, Janie. Watch out for this youngster. Remember that Billy the Kid never made it to twenty-two. He attracted trouble from other gunslingers wherever he rode. Even if Pat Garrett didn’t kill Billy with a lucky shot, someone would have shot him in the back. It’s an unwritten law of the west. When a man’s too fast on the draw, a rival will usually try to bushwhack him. If I had two-bits for every lightning-fast gunslinger back shot in the past twenty years, I’d be the richest man in Dawson.”
She laughed. “Richer than Big Bob Siegfried?”
“Maybe. But if I wasn’t as rich as Big Bob, I’d be mighty close.”
FRIDAY MORNING, Two Weeks Later
Janie watched two men dismount by the barn. She rushed to shove biscuits in the oven when the door opened.
“Pa, what’re you doing getting Mac out of his sickbed?” she joked. “I thought he liked getting waited on like royalty...”
“It’s my fault,” Mac interrupted. “A traveling man gets restless just lying around…so I asked your Pa for advice.” He adjusted the sling on his left arm.
“We’ve just come from Dawson Cliff,” Frank added. After I located Mac’s cartridge belt, we shot a couple of rattlers while doing a bit of lawmen’s work…found a few clues
” “Like the trail of the ambusher?”
“No, but almost as good. We found two eleven-millimeter shell casings. Each is bigger than my thumb. The sheriff can tell us the make and model.”
“So all you have to do is find someone with the rifle and you’ll have your back shooter?”
“It’ll be easier than that,” Mac chuckled. “The bushwhacker smokes the stinkingest cigars I ever sniffed.”
“How do you know that?” Janie asked.
Mac walked up and opened an envelope. “Smell these and you’ll never forget ‘em.”
She stared at the brown cigar butts and gagged. “You men know how to ruin a good meal! Now sit down and have a rancher’s breakfast.”
* * *
When Mac and Frank walked into the Dawson store that afternoon, four old timers were playing penny poker at a table by the Franklin stove.
“Who’s the youngster with the bad arm, Frank?” a bald-headed man asked, placing his cards facedown on the table.
“He’s a friend from back east. Name’s Mac.”
The man nodded and continued the game.
“Any news lately?” Frank asked. “Been out of touch for a while.”
“Same type of news only the names are changed,” the bald man replied. “Big Bob’s trying to buy out Clyde Booder’s ranch again. Made him another offer a few days ago. Last month Big Bob bought out Sam Cloud’s widow…mighty respectable offer he made. Maybe Bob ain’t all bad!”
“Why’s Big Bob buying ranches around here?” Mac asked
. “Says he needs the water for his cattle. You know how it is with a rich man…he can never get enough money, and money in Indian Territory is a four-letter word, L-A-N-D. Rumor has it that Big Bob’s Dad, Heinrich, fled Germany one-step ahead of the lynch mob. Half the population of Heidelberg claimed he’d swindled them.
When old man Siegfried died in ’70, he owned the largest cattle ranch around. Even that wasn’t enough for Big Bob.”
“Nothing’ll ever be big enough for him,” an old farmer grunted. “Big Bob won’t stop buying land ‘til he owns water rights for the whole territory! It ain’t healthy to stand up to him or his no-good son. Bad luck happens to the few that do.”
His friends nodded.
The bald man snorted and stared out the window. He rose and walked to the hitching rail in front of the store. “I saw you ride in. It’s curious but this roan with the white spot between his eyes is a ringer for Clyde Booder’s horse.
” He turned to Mac, staring at his matching guns carried low and tied down. “You ain’t no horse thief, are you, Son?”
Mac opened his cartridge belt and flashed a badge. “I’m a Deputy Sheriff,” he explained, “working Indian Territory for Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith. Got some questions for you.”
He showed him the cigar butts after they’d spoken for a few minutes. The bald-headed man grimaced nervously and his face froze like he’d nearly stepped on a rattler.
“If anyone knows where you could buy these stinkin’ cigars, the storekeeper would know,” he whispered. “He special-orders stuff like this from St. Louis all the time. If anyone asks, I didn’t tell you nothing’ ” The oldtimer turned and hobbled back inside
The old men placed their cards face down on the table. They stared into space and each seemed to be holding his breath as Frank and Mac questioned the storekeeper.
When Frank and Mac were walking out, the bald man turned to his companions. “Big Bob’s too fast for that kid with the bad arm,” he whispered. “I’ll give two-to-one odds up to a dollar. Any takers?
There was silence until Mac turned from the doorway and walked to their table. “Here’s four-bits,” he grinned, slapping it on the table with his right hand. “I’ll be back for my dollar soon.”
“Mister, you’d be the first to do it. I’d be happy to lose this bet. I’ll be here at eight tomorrow morning. Hope you are too! This town’d be lots better off without the Siegfrieds.”
Afterwards, Frank and Mac led their horses down the main street to a small red- brick building.
Swinging like a flag in the breeze was a small, wooden sign above the door, Dawson Jail, Bill Ryan, Sheriff.
Lightning flashed in the eastern sky while tumbleweed rolled down the street in world-record time. Frank and Mac double-tied their horses to the hitching rail and dashed into the jail as a sheet of rain blanketed the town.
A deputy glanced up as the force of the wind slammed the door behind them.
“Hi Frank,” he said. “How do you like the weather?”
“It’s not what I would have ordered.”
He scanned the back cells. They were empty.
“Is Sheriff Ryan in?”
“Nope.” He took out his watch. “Right about now he’s at Lily’s Saloon, at the north end of town by the cottonwood tree. Bill’s sweet on Lily and drops in on her about this time every day. When Bill’s keeping drunk cowpokes from shootin’ up the town, Mr. Colt and I keep the troublemakers in jail under control.
He patted his holster and smiled at Mac. “Who’s your friend?”
“Deputy, meet a fellow lawman…Steve MacKenzie…friends call him Mac. ”
“Pleased to meet you, Mac.” He held out his hand. “Been expectin’ you since Ft. Smith telegraphed you were comin’. You should have been here yesterday. It was a big event. We hung a rustler named Ed Wheeler from that cottonwood tree behind the saloon. It was our third hangin’ this month. The best seats are at the bar near the picture window. Lily always has a big crowd at her saloon on the day of a hangin’ ” He paused to roll a cigarette. ”Are you trackin’ someone?”
“I was looking for Wheeler and a varmint named Joe Sims. They killed a deputy in Arkansas.”
“Sims was killed in the shootout with the same posse that captured Wheeler. Sims and Wheeler tried to rustle calves from Big Bob’s spread. If they knew the territory better, that would have been the last place they’d steal from.”
“You Dawson folks did my job for me,” Mac said softly. “Thanks. Now, I’m looking for the man who back shot me at Dawson Cliff…put my left arm out of commission temporarily. The dry-gulcher may have been after Clyde Booder. I’m told that our horses are twins.”
The door opened and Sheriff Ryan staggered in dead drunk. He picked out a cell and collapsed on the bunk. Moments later he was snoring.
“Why did you want to see the sheriff?” the deputy asked with a shrug. “Maybe I can help.”
Frank made eye contact with Mac and nodded.
Mac explained how he’d been ambushed. Then, he reached into a pocket and removed two brown envelopes. “The back shooter left these behind. “He dumped the first envelope on the desk. “Any idea about the varmint that smokes Turkish cigars like this?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“What’s in the other envelope?”
Both men watched Mac remove the shell casings. The deputy shook his head and paused before speaking. “You don’t want to mess with anyone named Siegfried in Dawson.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ask Frank. He’ll tell you that Big Bob runs this town.”
“Does Big Bob smoke Turkish cigars?”
“Nope, but his no-good son, Little Bob, does.”
“That confirms what the storekeeper told me. What kind of rifle does Little Bob use?”
“A 1871 single-shot Mauser…uses eleven millimeter cartridges just like those.” He pointed at the desk. “Little Bob stinks up Lily’s Saloon with those cigars every Friday night. He’s got a hair-trigger temper and ain’t anyone to turn your back on. Many a cowpoke’s got a gun-butt headache messin’ with him. Get a few drinks in Little Bob and he may whack anyone on the back-of-the-head with a bottle of whisky. Just look at him crosswise and you’ve made an enemy.
" Big Bob’s a square shooter, but keep back-to-the-wall when you meet his son.”
“Do the Siegfrieds wear guns?” “Both stopped wearing them in ’75, after Judge Parker was appointed judge for the territory. Lots of folks changed their habits when a tough judge was sworn in.
Sheriff Ryan tells me that Big and Little Bob each carry a .44 Colt hidden in a shoulder holster. One of the dance hall girls, who Little Bob used to be sweet on, told the sheriff that her ex is a trick-shot artist with a Derringer strapped to his wrist.
“Which wrist?” The deputy shrugged.
“She couldn’t remember.” He smiled. “Whatever you do, Mac, Little Bob ain’t the kind of folk you want to shake hands with or have behind you. If I were you I’d forget about being back shot and vamoose out of town before Little Bob comes after you. He’s not as fast a gunslinger as Big Bob…but mighty close with a rifle, and twice as mean. Little Bob reloads his Mauser and shoots as fast as any man with a repeating rifle
" Many an Injun has learned this fact the hard way! “Both men are a head taller than you. I’d advise you to wait until you’re healed before you go lookin’ for trouble with the Siegfrieds.”
“Remember what Doc Savage said before hanging up his six-shooter in ’71,” Frank interrupted. “It ain’t the size of the gunfighter in the fight, but the size of the fight in the gunfighter."'
Frank noted Mac’s cat-like stride as they left the jail. He’s a coon dog scenting a Siegfried coon in Lily’s Saloon. Hope he’s slick with a gun. I like the Kid.
* * *
It was early evening and two elk were fighting. Luca knew that in hours they’d be tired and perhaps have their antlers intertwined. It would be a feast to remember. He loped through the woods like he did in the cool of the day and sniffed the air. The wolf stopped behind a bush at the edge of the woods and stared curiously at two men walking in his direction. He sniffed.
The man with his arm in a sling seemed familiar.
Minutes later, when darkness came, Luca crept a few steps to the cottonwood tree where he blended into the shadows. It was Luca’s nightly ritual to watch these strange two-legged creatures through the saloon’s picture window.
He feared them but curiosity had a magnetic effect and drew him there Luca froze when he heard the sharp crack of a shot, then bolted into the woods.
* * *
Sheriff Bill Ryan rubbed his head about midnight, groaned and stood.
“Anybody around?” he yelled.
“I’m holding down the fort for you,” the deputy replied.
“Thanks,” he chuckled. “One day when I drink myself to death you’ll be sheriff. This is good practice for you.”
“You missed the gun play tonight.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Yep. Little Bob provoked another gunfight at Lily’s Saloon.”
“Did his Daddy protect him again…and out-shoot some feller?”
“Nope. He could have but didn’t.” Briefly the deputy explained what happened.
Sheriff Ryan shook his head, “Big Bob coldcocked his own son? I don’t believe it.”
“I saw it myself. Judge Parker’s deputy, Mac the Yellow Kid, moved like a panther and stood solid as an oak when he faced Little Bob. Mac’s yellow eyes glowed like he meant business. When Little Bob grabbed for his Derringer, Mac’s six-gun unholstered in a flash…probably a bit slower ‘cause of a sore shoulder.
" Big Bob’s gun was already drawn. Instead of shooting Mac, he backhanded Little Bob with his Colt, which discharged into the ceiling.”
“Did Big Bob say why he didn’t shoot Parker’s deputy?”
“Yeah. He looked at his son lying on the floor and apologized to the town…said he was tired of getting Little Bob out of trouble. He admitted that a few months in the Fort Smith jail might give Little Bob time to think about mending his wild ways.
“Big Bob told Mac, ‘Yellow Kid, I always give a man an even break in a stand-up fight. I’ll not take advantage of an injured man. Will you treat my son fairly on the ride to Fort Smith and at his trial?
" Mac nodded and they shook on it. Then, Big Bob ordered a round of drinks for the crowd and told Lily to send him a bill for the damage. Mac confiscated Little Bob’s guns. The Colt and Derringer are in the bottom drawer of your desk.
" Little Bob’ll pick ‘em up from you when he gets out of jail. “In the morning, Little Bob’ll be on his way to Arkansas. Mac said he had to talk to Janie Walker before he left town and collect on a bet he’d made."
"Doc Savage patched up Little Bob’s head a few hours ago.”
Sheriff Bill Ryan poured a cup of hot coffee. He blew the heat away and then drank it in one gulp. “Strong coffee’ll sober a man fast.” The sheriff was still thinking of Big Bob outdrawing Mac the Yellow Kid when he poured his fifth cup a few minutes later.
“You’ve got to be lucky to survive in Dawson,” he laughed, rapping knuckles on the table.
The deputy did the same. “Knock on wood!”
Both men grinned.
* * *
In the morning the elk had moved on, so Luca was eating another rabbit breakfast at Dawson Cliff. He heard horses coming, dropped the rabbit in the woods and crouched behind an oak tree.
Two men and a woman rode toward him. One rider sat tall in the saddle with arms-tied at the wrist and puffed a brown cigar..
Luca could smell gunpowder in the air. The wolf looked curiously at the man with the yellow eyes who spoke softly to the woman. When the man handed the woman a sparkling ring. Luca didn’t understand what this meant, with her answering pressure on the man’s arm and kiss to his cheek, but Janie Walker did.
Adventures of a Parrot Named Capt’n Jack by Art Youmans, 2,662 words, written in 1999
Lightning crashed through the sky, but I felt safe and warm when I opened the door of my old Junior High School. “My name is Sally Meadows.” .
“Glad you came, Sally,” said the lady at the Information Desk. Here’s your name tag. Please sign the registration list. Then go into the gym and meet your former classmates. Some of the teachers are here, too.”
The most remarkable teacher I’d ever had was William Ryan - known to Rogers Junior High English students as The Professor. I hadn’t seen him in two years, but I hoped to meet him at this party. I stared at the banner, Rogers J.H.S., smoothed the wrinkles from my blue linen dress and stepped inside. I was proud of this dress, which Mother bought for me a year ago when I was fifteen. It was the same color as my blue eyes and contrasted with my long blonde hair. It was a grown-up dress, my mother had told me, and I felt grown-up whenever I wore it.
I edged through the crowd to the refreshment table, poured a diet soda into a paper cup and tried to locate a familiar face. I noticed The Professor standing alone in a empty corner of the room. He was wearing slacks and a tweed jacket with his shirt buttoned at the collar.
I had never seen him wear a tie. His red hair was unruly and he looked like he had slept in his clothes. The rumor at school had been that he wrote late at night and often fell asleep sprawled over his typewriter. Like novelist James A. Michener, the professor resisted entering the technology age. He continued to write his books pecking away with two fingers on his Remington manual typewriter. “I’m fifty,” he told us one day. “That’s too old to learn word processing on the computer." We laughed when he said it because we knew it was easy for anyone at any age to work on a computer.
I walked up to him. “Hi, Professor,” I said. “What new book are you writing these days?”
He peered at my name tag. “Hello, Sally. I’m writing about Capt’n Jack, Britain’s greatest naval hero.”
“Never heard of him, Professor.”
“ Most remember the names of pirates like Drake, Hawkins, Raleigh, and Frobisher. It’s a mystery to me why Capt’n Jack isn’t given the same war hero status as his contemporaries Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.”
“Was he a small man like Admiral Nelson or Napoleon?”
“ Capt’n Jack was a parrot.”
“A parrot,” I gasped as I set down my cup. “How could a parrot become a war hero?”
“Capt’n Jack’s story begins in Madrid,” continued the Professor. “He lived in a cage at the Spanish Naval Admiralty. Every night, he opened his cage and had the run of the building. He read every naval text on strategy and became an expert on the Spanish navy.”
“Amazing that he could read.”
The Professor smiled. “Capt’n Jack was a genius. Years later, he was given to Queen Elizabeth I of England by King Phillip II of Spain as a gift of friendship. King Phillip was one of many suitors for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage.”
“So the Spanish never discovered how bright Capt’n Jack was.”
“True. They believed that parrots were lacking in wisdom.
The British, in contrast, listened to Capt’n Jack when he advised Queen Elizabeth to arm English ships with long-range guns to battle the Spanish fleet with its short-range cannons.
This decision, plus storms along the Scottish coast, decimated the Spanish Armada in 1588.
A year later, Capt’n Jack commanded one of the Queen’s galleons.”
I raised my cup. “Toast to Capt’n Jack, naval hero,” I cried. “May his name be never forgotten.”
“Hear, hear,” echoed the professor. “Capt’n Jack’s fame came from his adventures in 1589. It began in London on June 1, 1589. Would you like to hear about it?”
“Yes,” I said eagerly. A crowd formed around the Professor and we listened intently as he began his tale.
ST. JAMES PALACE, LONDON, ENGLAND, June 1, 1589
Queen Elizabeth I laughed. “How can you suggest such things, Lord Burghley. Capt’n Jack is the best naval strategist in England.”
“Your Majesty, he is a naval genius, but how can you be sure he is not a spy for Spain?”
“Absurd. Would a spy help destroy Spain’s entire Armada? Of course not.”
Lord Burghley shrugged. “I propose a test of his loyalty.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Send Capt’n Jack to assist Francis Drake in capturing Spanish treasure ships bound for Panama. If successful, he will prove his loyalty as an Englishman.”
“It shall be done.”
A grin was on Burghley’s face. Now I will be the chief advisor in court, he thought.
LONDON, June 2, 1589
Capt’n Jack gently kissed his bride. “Gwyn, your red plumage is the same color as the Queen’s hair. You look especially beautiful this morning.”
“I’m so happy that the Queen introduced us,” she trilled. “She had told me tales of a blue parrot with a purple stripe who helped save England. I asked Good Queen Bess for an introduction, and it was love at first sight.”
Capt’n Jack smiled. “It’s been a marvelous honeymoon, but I must leave, soon. The Queen has commissioned me Captain of her new galleon. Sir Francis Drake and I will make the oceans safe for England.”
“What’s your ship’s name?”
“It is named after you, Gwyn… The Red Parrot and it’ll be ready to sail in a fortnight.”
“Bring glory to England, Capt’n Jack. Good fortune be with ye.”
BRISTOL SEAPORT, ENGLAND, June 16, 1589 The Red Parrot
“We cast off, today, matey?” asked a sailor.
“Aye. ‘ave to finish mopping the deck before the capt’n arrives,” said the second sailor.
“Pass me the mop bucket.”
“Here. Take care, There’s the signal the capt’n’s about to board.”
“We’re almost finished. Throw the soapy water overboard.”
“Aye,” replied the second sailor.
“Did you see that?”
“A blue parrot with a purple stripe flew into the capt’n’s cabin,” exclaimed the sailor.
“That wasn’t just any bird. That was the capt’n.”
“It’s Capt’n Jack, the hero of the victory over the Spanish Armada. The Queen has commissioned him a privateer in the Royal Navy.”
“Is he a fighter?”
The second sailor nodded. “He’s as brave as any good Englishman.”
VERACRUZ, MEXICO , September 20 (Early Morning), 1589 Governor’s Mansion
The admiral dashed into the breakfast room. “Don Pedro, there is a ship on the horizon.”
“It is longer and sails lower in the water than a Spanish ship. Its four masts carry square
fore and aft sails, and it has only two tiers of cannons.”
“English pirates,” gasped Don Pedro. “Those English dogs have returned. Can you see if it’s Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind?”
The admiral paused as he adjusted his telescope. “It’s The Red Parrot, your Excellency.”
Don Pedro’s jaw set firmly. “The traitor Capt’n Jack is commander of that ship. Sixty pieces of gold to any crewman who kills or captures him.”
“We will engage Capt’n Jack in battle and bring honor to Spain,” replied the admiral, “I would rather die than surrender. We shall fight until victory. I will lead the attack, myself.” He saluted and marched from the Governor’s Mansion toward the seaport.
VERACRUZ, September 21 (Late Evening), 1589 Governor’s Mansion
Don Pedro de Valdez paced around the room. “Let me know as soon as our galleons return.”
“Si, Excellency. They will return victorious,” replied the aide.
GULF OF MEXICO, September 22, 1589 The Red Parrot 7 a.m.
Capt’n Jack paced nervously across the deck as the first mate stared through his telescope. “There are two Spanish galleons, Capt’n Jack!” he cried. “Take a look, yourself.”
“This is the moment we have been waiting for,” Capt’n Jack said as he focused the tele
scope on the horizon. He counted the masts and cannons on each galleon and wrote some figures on an envelope.
“Shall we flee, Capt’n?”
“Certainly not. We shall fight for Queen and country!” The light breeze from the west will favor us, he thought. “But they outnumber us two to one.”
Capt’n Jack glanced at the waves sharply brushing aside, as the bow of his ship cut through them like a hot knife though butter. He breathed deeply of the salty, sea air.
“Assemble the crew for battle!” he commanded.
The first mate saluted. “Yes, immediately.”
He blew his whistle.
The Red Parrot 7:15 a.m.
The wind gently propelled the ship toward the Spanish fleet, which sailed blindly toward The Red Parrot like an enraged bull charging a red cape.
Capt’n Jack noted the Spanish tactics as he perched on the first mate’s shoulder and stared at the crew.
“To the west are two Spanish galleons sailing to engage us in battle!” cried Capt’n Jack. “They are slow and each heavily weighted with three tiers of cannons. Like The Red Parrot they have four masts and eight sails, but we have the advantage.”
Capt’n Jack paused. “The Red Parrot sails lower in the water, and our arrow-shaped bow has less wind resistance than the Spanish; so we can move faster and sail into the wind easier.
The British Admiralty has equipped us with long-range guns, which should neutralize the Spanish short-range cannons. The Spanish are devious, but we are more cunning
. England expects that every man will do his duty!” Capt’n Jack whispered to the first mate: “Give the men battle orders.” “Yessir!” “The honor of victory will be ours, today!” shouted the first mate. “We’ll see how long Spanish oak takes to crumble from British broadsides. Aim first for the masts and sails! Man your guns, mates!”
The men cheered as they scrambled to their battle stations.
“Be ready to turnabout on my command,” Capt’n Jack called to first mate. “We’ll soon discover how Spanish sailors deal with British firepower.”
“Yessir! On your command. "
“Change course to the north!”
Capt’n Jack raised his right wing above his head. He brought his wing down in a chopping motion, a moment later. “Fire port guns!” he cried.
Ocean spray covered the deck as The Red Parrot’s long-range guns tore into the Spanish galleons.
“How’d you like the smell of gunpowder, Capt’n?” asked the first mate.
“I like it,” replied Capt’n Jack as he deeply inhaled the charcoal-coated smoke covering the deck like a cloud. “Keep circling and firing until the Spanish hoist a white flag.”
ST. JAMES PALACE, LONDON, December 25, 1589
Lord Burghley bowed. “Your Majesty, Capt’n Jack has arrived in Bristol and is on his way to see you with his gifts of silver and gold taken from Spanish ships.”
The Queen sighed. “I knew in my heart he was a loyal Englishman. Bring him to me as soon as he arrives. I will give him a Knighthood and make his bride a Countess.”
Lord Burghley shrugged. “My Queen, you are generous and wise. England will always prosper with your Tudor wisdom. I regret that I doubted the loyalty of Capt’n Jack.”
“He has much to teach us all. We should listen to him with an open mind,” replied the Queen.
“Professor, what happened to Capt’n Jack when he returned to London?” I asked.
“He became an Earl and lived on an estate in Devonshire for the rest of his life. When he died, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. He and Gwyn had eight sons.”
“What booty did Capt’n Jack capture from the Spanish?” I asked wide-eyed.
“After the Queen took her half of the gold and silver, Capt’n Jack split the remainder with his crew. He gave the Queen the prisoners and two damaged Spanish galleons. Through the diplomacy of Lord Burghley, a handsome ransom was received for the captured Spanish admiral.”
“Didn’t the Spanish admiral tell Don Pedro he would rather die than surrender? Why did he surrender?” “The British long-range broadsides toppled the masts of the Spanish galleons,” replied the professor. “Both Spanish ships bobbed in the sea helplessly like corks in a bathtub. The Red Parrot circled, firing accurately. When the Spanish cannons were silenced Capt’n Jack signaled for surrender.”
“What happened next?”
“The Spanish admiral signaled that he would never surrender, but would meet with Capt’n Jack to discuss a truce. They met on the deck of a Spanish supply ship, which had come from Veracruz. It was there that the admiral surrendered.”
“But he said he would never surrender!”
“After he told this to Capt’n Jack for the third time, Capt’n Jack became angered and bit the Spanish admiral’s nose. The admiral shrieked and fell to the floor as the first mate shouted in Spanish that Capt’n Jack would never let go of his nose until the admiral surrendered unconditionally
.” The professor smiled. “Have you ever been bitten on the nose by a parrot? It is almost as painful as being sat upon by a bull elephant. The admiral admitted it was the worst experience of his life. He was a brave man, and endured the pain as long as possible. After fifteen minutes the Spanish admiral signaled his sailors to surrender.”
I recalled a saying we had learned in school; It’s not the size of the parrot in the fight, but the size of the fight in the parrot. “Whatever happened to Capt’n Jack’s children?” I asked.
“With the exception of a son named Battlecreek, they’re resting in cemeteries in all parts of Great Britain.”
“What happened to Battlecreek?”
“He emigrated to the state of Michigan in the United States. He was an innovator and entrepreneur and believed in building the better mousetrap. He spent his life trying to invent the perfect breakfast cereal.”
“Did he succeed, Professor?”
“No, but many years later one of his grandchildren patented a cereal they felt was perfect. You may have seen the box with a picture of Capt’n Jack on it.”
. I thought for a moment. “I remember a blue parrot on a cereal box in the supermarket.”
“The cereal has made Capt’n Jack as famous today as he was in 1589. Great men and women who helped to shape the world are always with us, in history books, in our memories…”
“And on cereal boxes,” I interrupted.
The professor opened his wallet and removed a one and a five-dollar bill. “We see faces of great men printed on our currency…Washington and Lincoln for example.”
“The Post Office had a picture of a blue parrot on a thirty-two cent stamp,” I said. I opened my purse and showed a letter with the parrot stamp to the professor. “Is this Capt’n Jack?”
The professor smiled. “It certainly could be. Capt’n Jack may have changed the course of history. If the stamp is not a picture of him, it should be. He was the most famous and influential parrot of all time.”
“I’d like to finish high school, get a college degree and try to change the world, just like Capt’n Jack.”
“Sally, if anyone works intelligently toward a worthwhile goal they may, indeed, change the world and have their face appear on boxes of cereal, currency and postage stamps some day. Do you feel you can do it?”
“Absolutely, Professor,” I replied. I knew that if I worked as hard as Capt’n Jack, anything was possible. “If a blue parrot can do it,” I said laughing, “Sally Meadows in her blue dress can do it, too.
Twenty Years Later
The professor sat before a roaring fire, typing on his Remington manual typewriter. The morning newspaper lay on the floor at his feet. He glanced at the newspaper headline: Sally Meadows Elected to Congress
. He chuckled as he recalled what she had said to him twenty years before. “Sally did it!” he exclaimed. “By gosh, she really did it! She wanted to change the world…and she’s on her way!”
Art Youmans, “THE BUNNY CAPER,” 2005
“Hey Einstein!” Detective Sam Mulligan shouted. “Give me a hand!” He leaned his six-foot seven-inch frame over my desk.
I put my sandwich down and looked up. “Whatcha need, Kid?” I asked.
“You were a math teacher before you joined the cops. Right?”
“Can you solve this problem? It’s too tough a struggle for me. He shoved a sheet of paper across the desk.
I stared at equation x –1 = 2.
“That’s easy,” I muttered. “The answer is three.”
“How’d you do that?”
“In algebra it’s called the Rule of Transposition. Whenever you move or transpose a number or letter from one side of an equal sign to the other, you change it. For example -1 on the left side of the equation becomes + 1 if you move that number to the opposite side.”
Sam scratched his head. “My GED test is next month and I’m gonna flunk the math. Maybe I’m too dumb to be a cop.”
“Nobody’s that dumb,” I joked. “Think of math like you do detective work, Sam. If you get a call to check out a house on the east side of the street and the suspect’s not there, you might cross the street to the west side and see if he’s there. You’re transposing yourself from one side of the street to the other.”
“So the street’s like the equal sign in an algebraic equation?”
“Exactly! You’ve got the concept. Math can help solve crimes. Have you ever watched the TV show NUMBERS with the reversed E?”
“Yep. I like that math professor who uses numbers to solve crimes on the show.”
I watched Sam begin writing on a sheet of paper:
x - 1 = 2 x = 2 + 1 x = 3
After lunch, the lieutenant waved us into his office. “The Chief faxed this file to us,” he said, handing it to me. “A gang is smuggling diamonds into the country and custom agents are pointing the finger at Tulsa. Some local perp is flooding the market with stolen Russian diamonds. Read the faxes and check your sources.”
“I thumbed through the file and handed it to Sam. “How much time do we have?” I asked.
“All I can give you both is forty-eight hours. If you can get a good lead on the smugglers we’ll call in the Feds.”
* * *
After we examined the file Sam turned to me. “You’re the senior detective. What do you suggest?”
“We’ll investigate the major ways a large shipment of diamonds could arrive. Check the bus, train, truck and Port of Catoosa terminals. Look for anything out of the ordinary. See what unusual merchandise they’re importing now that they didn’t haul a year ago.”
“What will you do?”
“Informers trust me more, since I’m older and have been around longer,” I answered. “I’ll check our snitches. We’ll meet back at headquarters at five to compare notes.”
“Did the snitches have any leads?” Sam asked. “I came up empty.”
“They told me that someone’s flooding the Tulsa market with chocolate Easter bunnies…and a new gang of hijackers has moved into town from Chicago.”
“That’s interesting. A truckload of sixty thousand chocolate bunnies was hijacked last week. We arrested the crooks the next day and recovered most of the shipment. Some of the cartons had been opened. The truck is being dusted for fingerprints at the Forensic lab.”
“I’ll call the lab and tell them we’re on our way.”
Tulsa Forensic Laboratory Garage 6 P.M.
“We’ve lifted a dozen prints from the cab of the truck,” the forensic technician explained. “The hijackers probably wore gloves when they opened the merchandise in this truck. About half the cartons were ripped open and the boxes inside dumped out.”
“I wonder why the perps didn’t preserve the shipment after they found out what was in the hijacked truck?” I asked. “Sixty thousand chocolate bunnies are valuable merchandise at Easter time. They might bring twenty thousand dollars or more on the black market.”
“Maybe they hijacked the wrong truck,” Sam added, “and destroyed half the cargo out of spite.”
“What if they hijacked the right truck, and the police arrested them before they found what they were after.”
Sam’s eyes lit up like a light bulb had gone off in his head. “You mean….”
* * *
We spent the next hour inside the truck. I turned to Sam. “Do you see anything strange about the opened cartons?” I asked. “We’re looking for anomalies.”
“Some of the chocolate bunnies are missing a left ear,” Sam replied. “Perhaps the perps got hungry.”
“Did you check the boxes?”
“Yeah. All the individual boxes looked the same to me. Do you see any variations?”
“Nope. Next let’s open the remaining cartons and examine the individual boxes inside. Stack them carefully in the east corner. Any cartons or boxes with different markings go to the west corner.”
* * *
An hour later the east corner was piled with chocolate Easter bunny boxes six feet high. The chocolate smell filled the bed of the truck when Sam cried, “Bring the flashlight! This carton on the bottom row is different.”
I shone the light on the side of the carton where Sam was pointing. “See how chocolate is misspelled as Chocolat.”
We checked the remaining cartons and isolated two more that had the French spelling for chocolate stenciled on them. We pushed them into the west corner.
“Open the first carton, Sam,” I suggested. “We’ll take the boxes of chocolate Easter bunnies out one at a time.”
It took a few minutes to unload the carton. “Do you notice any difference between these bunnies and the first ones we examined in the boxes opened by the hijackers?” I asked.
Sam hesitated before replying. “Those bunnies were lying on their left side in the hijackers’ boxes. However, the bunnies in the carton marked Chocolat are all in a reverse position on their right side.”
“What does this tell you?”
“It couldn’t have anything to do with transposing terms in an equation,” he laughed. “Transposing the bunnies’ position in the boxes must mean something.”
“Have you checked their ears?”
He picked up a bunny and closely examined it in the light. “There’s a grove in the left ear,” he said. He shone the flashlight at two more boxes. “Each chocolate bunny has an indentation in his left ear.”
“What’s that tell you?” I questioned.
“Someone probably shoved something into the chocolate when it was cooling.”
“What do you think it was?”
“I think we ought to call the Feds,” he chuckled, “but let’s check this bunny first.” He gently broke off its left ear. A clear stone fell out and bounced on the bed of the truck.
“Your Dad would be proud of you,” I said sincerely. “He was the finest Police Chief that Tulsa ever had.”
“Dad was only fifty when he had his last coronary,” Sam groaned. “I still miss the guy.”
* * *
Due to our success on The Bunny Caper, the Chief of Police promoted me to Detective First Class and Sam became Detective Second Class. In his speech, the Mayor pointed out that ninety million chocolate bunnies were sold each Easter in the U.S.A. and only Tulsa’s detectives were smart enough to figure out how diamonds were smuggled over the state line in these bunnies’ left ears.
* * *
Sam passed his G.E.D. test with flying colors and attended college after work for eight years. I attended his graduation ceremony as Tulsa’s new Chief of Police.
. * * *
Fifteen years later, when I retired, I recommended that Sam take my place. By then, he was the Deputy Chief of the Investigations & Resource Bureau in charge of the Detective, Special Investigations and the Computer Information Divisions.
* * *
Why were we so successful in police work? It was because we thought out of the box. We transposed ourselves, the evidence and suspects in our minds. This allowed us to develop unique hypotheses and solutions to our cases.
* * *
The day after my seventieth birthday I received a phone call from a courthouse reporter. He told me that Sam awoke in the middle of the night with severe chest pain and shortness of breath. On the way to Hillcrest Medical Center he died of a heart attack caused by coronary artery disease.
* * *
After Sam’s funeral at Rose Hill Cemetery, his attorney handed me an envelope. “Sam wanted you to know,” he confided, “that he carried the contents of this envelope with him every day of his life. Sam said it sharpened his thinking and made him into the great detective that he became.”
I opened the envelope and stared at the wrinkled sheet inside. The algebraic equation that I helped him solve thirty years before was written on it:
x - 1 = 2 x = 2 + 1 x = 3
Ten Years Later
Sam was like a son to me. On his birthday I always placed a chocolate Easter bunny on his grave. Whenever I visited Rose Hill Cemetery, I said a silent prayer ending in “keep the door to the Pearly Gates open for me, Sam!”
Did my visits matter to him? I don’t know, but they mattered to me. If Sam was strumming a harp somewhere within sight of his grave, he knew that a friend is thinking of him. What more could anyone want?
On Sam’s birthday in 2005, I felt severe chest pains in the middle of the night. I grabbed an object from my bedside table before I fell to the floor. “Sam,” I gasped, “since I won’t be able to place this chocolate bunny on your grave this year, you won’t mind if I bring it with me and deliver it in person.”
While I stared at the ceiling I visualized a wooden plank as tall as me. Eighty years ago it had been a tree, then part of a roof, and now it was fuel. I was an eighty-year-old man, once part of the police department and I was dying. Would I end up, like the plank, burning as fuel or in a better place strumming the harp?
As I struggled with my last breath, a hand gently lifted me off the floor.
“Hey, Einstein!” an angel who looked like Sam said, “we’re transposing you from one universe to another. Get moving! Where we’re going, there’s a harp with your name on it waiting for you! “
A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR WHO CAN FIND ANYTHING by ART YOUMANS, 2007, 2580 words
When the stun gun’s fifty-thousand volts hit me, both legs turned to putty. I collapsed like a rag doll on the backyard patio. I neither heard the robber walk through the back door into my house nor felt him lift my wallet.
The roar of the lawnmower masked my cries for help. I never saw the man who entered my backyard at dusk, yelled, “Freeze,” fired a Taser from a few feet away and sprayed my face with pepper spray.
When I got to my feet, I staggered into the house, and stuck my head in the shower. My eyes were burning. Minutes later, I dialed 9-1-1.
“My name is Tony Russo,” I mumbled. “I’ve been mugged.”
After I hung up, I noticed a poodle wearing a pink bow, staring at me from the hallway.
“Get out of here!” I yelled, and lunged for it. I watched the dog streak out of the house through the open front door and disappear behind Siegfried’s Sausage Shoppe.
I slammed the door and went into the living room. Contents of my desk were spilled on the floor. I did a quick inventory of what was missing.
A young patrolman arrived first at the scene. I explained what happened and outlined the items stolen. I showed him how the shooter entered through the back of my house and exited by the front door. He was taking notes when he turned to me.
“Are you sure the perp used a stun gun and pepper spray?” he questioned.
“Hey! Take a look at my back and eyes. The S.O.B. sneaked up on me.” I took off my shirt to show him Taser marks next to the surgical scars. “It’s sore as hell! I never got a good look at him.”
“How did he get in your house?”
“It was my fault,” I admitted. “Left the gate open and didn’t lock my back door when I came outside to mow. That was dumb! Never do that again.”
“Do you have registration numbers of the stolen guns, Mr. Russo?”
“What’s your name, Son?”
“Dolan, Officer John Dolan.”
“Well, Officer John Dolan, before retiring, I was Tulsa police detective Tony Russo. Of course I have registration numbers. I’m an ex-cop, not a fool!”
“I’ve only been on the force for nine months. You must have retired before then.”
“Yeah. When I hurt my back, the department retired me on a disability pension. I’ve been a private investigator ever since. Here’s my P.I. card.”
Dolan smiled and repeated the question.
“I had three guns inside … two .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolvers and a .32-caliber Beretta semiautomatic. I’d just finished cleaning them. The guns were in plain sight on my desk, next to the coin collection. Registration numbers for the guns and dates on the coins are on a sheet of paper in my safe deposit box. I’ll bring the paper to headquarters tomorrow.”
From the shadows a third man emerged. “Hey, Russo!” he yelled.
Detective Joe Kennedy was short and stocky and wore a badge on his belt. He sported an Alfred E. Neuman grin
. “I heard you say you got bushwhacked, big guy,” Kennedy said, laughing. “Russo, you’re getting’ too old to mow the grass, buddy! If you were smart you’d hire a young stud to do your work. Then you could save energy and supervise from a rocking chair.”
Before Officer Dolan drove off in his patrol car, he chatted briefly with Detective Kennedy.
When Kennedy found that I’d left a backyard gate and a back door open for the perp to enter, he roared with laughter.
I glared at my former co-worker. All six-foot-five-inches of me hated Kennedy’s sarcasm and lack of empathy for the general population. In his world, dumb crooks always robbed dumber victims.
Life was a joke to this pint-sized detective with a Don Rickles personality.
I grabbed Kennedy by his suit jacket and slammed him into the side of the house. “One more wise remark,” I growled, “and we’ll need a homicide detective here. Do you want that?” I lowered the smaller man to the ground. “Capisca?”
“Hey,” Kennedy said. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to offend anyone…much less an ex-cop.” He brushed off his suit. “Let’s check inside and see what else is missing from your house. Okay?”
When the forensic technician finished dusting for fingerprints, Detective Kennedy completed writing notes on a pad
,“Tony,” he asked, “is this accurate? The perp stole your wallet with twenty dollars and credit cards, three guns, a laptop computer and ten Morgan silver dollars?”
“Yeah,” I groaned. “What’s the total value?”
“About two grand. The silver dollars were in mint condition.”
“Could you come down to headquarters tomorrow to check the crime report?”
“Sure. How about 11 A.M.?”
“Okay. See ya.”
That night, I remembered an incident involving another private investigator in the college town of Oberlin, Ohio. A student stole the P.I.’s sign, which hung over the sidewalk in front of the investigator’s office. In place of the sign, ‘Confidential Detective Agency, We Can Find Anything,’ the thief left this note taped to the office door: ‘IF YOU CAN FIND ANYTHING, find your sign.’
A local newspaper publicized the theft and the student newspaper ridiculed it. Both publications printed the resume of the P.I. and featured the name of the correspondence school from which he gained a diploma as an investigator
. For two weeks, the theft was front-page news
The P.I.’s sign hung forty-feet above the floor in the student activity building and would probably still be there but for another student sending an anonymous note to the college president naming Tony Russo, the football team quarterback, as ringleader of the prank.
When the college president interrogated me, I brought the football coach with me to vouch for my good character. Two days before the last game of the season, it was easy for the school’s star athlete to deny any role in the mischief that I, and the rest of the team, had orchestrated.
After I showed up at the police station with the coach’s wife, a lawyer, the investigation lost steam and was old news a month later.
Shortly thereafter, the P.I. shuttered his office and disappeared.
The same fate isn’t going to befall me, I thought. It was a sick joke we pulled on that P.I. in Ohio, but what the hell…I was a twenty-year-old kid then and didn’t know beans about life. I’ll show the world what a real P.I. is like. I’ll find the perp, myself.
The next day, on the way to police headquarters, I stopped at a nearby McDonalds, which my cousin managed
. “My silver dollar collection was stolen last night,” I told him. “Would the order clerks and cashiers keep a lookout for anyone paying with old silver dollars like this one?” I handed him a photo of a 1921 Morgan silver dollar.
“We’ll do it right away,” he answered, taking the photo with him. “I’ll focus the video cameras on the counter and drive-in window for the next few days.”
Budget cuts in Tulsa had decimated the detective ranks. The police and fire department were managed with skeleton crews.
If I don’t find the perp, no one will.
“We’ll do our best to find the shooter,” Detective Joe Kennedy said when he signed the papers at police headquarters after I okayed them.
“I won’t hold my breath,” I muttered. “Any problem if I investigate on my own?”
“Be my guest…but keep us in the loop. If you find the perp, let us arrest him.”
I called every pawnshop within fifty miles of Tulsa, but the police had already faxed serial numbers with descriptions of the stolen weapons, laptop and silver dollars.
At five P.M., I returned to my office and reviewed old case files. I pulled a yellowed sheet from the file and smiled. Harry the Horse was my best snitch three years ago, Maybe he can help me now.
I punched in his cell phone number.
“Harry speakin’, a gravely voice answered.
“This is a voice from the past,” I said. ” I’m…”
“Detective Russo? Is that you?”
“It’s ex-Detective now. I had to retire. Harry, I need a favor.”
“Hey! I owe you one. Don’t know how you fixed it with the judge, but I got probation the last time they caught me takin’ bets.”
“It evened out, Harry. You helped the police, so we helped you.”
“I appreciate it. Sorry to hear about your accident. That’s tough.”
“You get used to it, Harry.” I told him about my last twenty-four hours.
“I’ve got contacts on the street,” Harry muttered. “They’ll spread the word. If the shooter’s still around, we’ll find him.”
“Remember it the next time I’m in the slammer.”
“A youngster just came in to buy fries and two big Macs,” my cousin whispered over the phone, the next day. “He paid for his order with old silver dollars. Want to come down and see if they’re yours?”
“Did you get the kid on tape?”
“Yep. He looks about twelve. It’s Detective Joe Kennedy’s youngest son, Joshua.”
“Cheezis! I’ll be right there.”
After I identified the coins as mine, I gave my cousin six dollars in exchange for the silver dollars. After thanking him, I took his videotape and went home to think about my next step.
I was drinking my second beer when the phone rang.
“There’s a punk at the bus station trying to sell a couple of guns,” Harry growled. “Two .38-calibers and a .32-caliber semiautomatic.”
“Is the punk twelve-years old?”
“Naw! He’s about twenty. You can’t miss him. He’s carrying a backpack… wearing blue gang colors, rings in his ears and nose. The kid’s head is shaved like Mr. Clean. Better hurry! He’s hyper. The punk may not stick around long.”
“Thanks, Harry. I’m on my way. It’s only a couple of blocks from here.”
Joe Kennedy Jr. tried to run when he saw me, but tripped on the curb. I was on top of him before he could escape. The hand-to-hand training I learned in the Police Academy came in handy.
After a short attitude-adjustment sessionin the alley behind the bus station, young Joe apologized for shooting me with his Dad’s Taser and using pepper spray. I didn’t hurt the kid, but gave him the verbal abuse he deserved. His face turned pale when I described what could happen to young people in jail.
I still held his right hand in an arm lock when Joe motioned toward the backpack. “Your guns are in there,” he admitted. “My brother, Joshua, hid your things in our attic.”
“Call Joshua!” I demanded, pulling out my cell phone. “Tell him to bring my stuff! We’ll wait here for him.”
“Okay” he mumbled hesitantly. “Please don’t tell my father, Sir!”
The laptop was working and my credit cards were in the otherwise empty wallet. I checked the silver dollars and found five more missing.
“These Morgan dollars are worth thirty-six bucks each.,” I said. “You owe me two-hundred-and-six dollars, fellows, including the twenty missing from my wallet and what you bought at McDonalds.
How’re you gonna pay me back?”
“We’re broke,” the oldest brother groaned. “I spent your dough on a video game.” He began sniffling.
“Tell you what. Do you guys know how to mow a lawn?”
“Okay. Here’s my plan.” I explained it to the boys. They stared at each other for a moment and both nodded.
I called the police chief and told him that everything was returned, anonymously. The case was closed.
* * *
A month later, Detective Joe Kennedy phoned me
“Tony, I appreciate you giving Joe Jr. and Joshua a job cutting your lawn this summer. Both boys have grown up a lot since they’ve been working for you. Joe Jr. used to be a lazy kid looking for an easy buck. Now he’s thinking of studying criminal justice in college and becoming a cop, like his old man. Joshua also wants to be in law enforcement. Whatever you said to my kids shaped them up. My oldest even ditched the body piercing. Thanks, Tony!”
“When I was twenty and a college student, Joe,” I admitted, “I did a few things wrong. That’s when I decided to become a cop. I wanted to keep people from making the same mistakes I did. Glad your sons are on a path to success. Good luck to the boys.”
* * *
. That night before going to sleep, I looked into a full-length mirror in the bedroom. “When I knock on the Pearly Gates,” I chuckled, “and tell them about helping Joe Jr., Joshua and Harry the Horse… St. Peter will have to let me in.”
When I awoke in the morning, I felt like a twenty-year-old, again.
After breakfast, I walked to my office. The sign, ‘Tony Russo, Private Investigator, I Can Find Anything,’hung over the front door.
I was smiling when a platinum blonde walked in at ten
. “Can you really find anything?” she asked sweetly.
I nodded. The blonde was the type of woman I’d fantasized about in my dreams. She was gorgeous and bulged in all the right places.
She slapped five Benjamin Franklins on my desk.
“A detective named Kennedy told me you’re Tulsa’s best private investigator. Mr. Russo, find my dog! His name is Max.”
She handed me a color photo of the forty-pound male poodle, adorned with a large pink bow on its head.
No wonder the mutt ran away, I chuckled silently. If anyone put a pink bow on my head when I was a kid, I’d have taken off, too.
“Ma’am, call me Tony. You’ve already paid my five-hundred-dollar retainer. I also charge $250-a-day plus expenses. Is a dog named Max worth that much to you?
”That mutt’s probably still hanging around the dumpster behind Siegfried’s Sausage Shoppe.
“That poodle’s a millionaire,” she explained. “I nearly passed out when the lawyer explained the disposition of assets in my boyfriend’s living trust. He left half his estate to me when he died. The mansion and other half went to Max.
If that dog disappears for more than a month, or dies from anything but natural causes, Max’s income to run the estate goes to charity and the mansion is sold. I wouldn’t have a roof over my head, then
. I’d do anything to get him back.”.
I stared at her green eyes, sparkling like emeralds.
After I find the poodle and collect my expenses, I’m asking the blonde for a date. Maybe she really meant that she’d do anything for the guy who got Max back.
“I understand your problem,” I replied, trying to look as confident as Humphrey Bogart did as private eye Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. “If the poodle is still in Tulsa, I’ll track him down. Tony Russo can find anything… even a millionaire dog named Max.”
NOTE: This story appeared in a paperback collection of short stories, “Shades of Tulsa,” in 2007, published by AWOC.COM Publishing, Denton, Texas, pages 152-159.