An Untapped Field of Endeavor

Untapped 180There were probably twenty other people in the bar, scattered in twos and threes at various tables. The three main corner tables were taken out front, and there were people at probably four other tables on the floor. The six fans suspended from the ceiling turned slowly in the dim light, mixing the aromas of beer, cologne and whiskey with smoke, mostly from cigars.

The polished cedar-plank walls and bar complemented the mahogany floor and imbued the room with a quiet atmosphere. The walls seemed squat in the large room, as if barely containing it.

At the large round corner table in the back beyond one end of the bar, Big Joey Barbosa shifted and leaned forward in his chair. His off-white linen suit coat made him look even larger than he was. It hung open over a blood-red shirt with a neat linen tie that matched the coat.

As if in slow motion, he reached his cigar steadily across the table, seeming to measure the distance in inches. He stopped reaching, let his hand hover for a moment. Then he tapped an inch of ash off his cigar.

The fractured grey ash was a fitting contrast in the polished center of the black marble ashtray.

He mumbled, “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

Then he purposely retracted his arm, like a robot with the beginnings of rust in all the wrong places. He rested both elbows on the table and grimaced, then glanced up over the heavy black frame of his glasses. He locked Nick Leonisi in his gaze, regarded him for a moment, then leaned back in his chair again. “Hey listen, Nick, you’re a good friend. I mean that.”

“Sure, Joey. Hey, whatever I can do.” He shrugged slightly. “But hey, you know, anybody would’a—”

Bringing his cigar to his mouth, Barbosa waved it side to side. “No no. C’mon, don’t do that. You know better. I know better.” He puffed the cigar. “Most’a these mooks are just like a broad. Would’n’ gimme the time’a day if their middle finger was a fuckin’ watch.”

Despite himself, Nick allowed a laugh to escape.

Barbosa arched his eyebrows. “You like that? Yeah, I wish it was mine. Buddy’a mine, Steve Wedel. That was his. Guy’s some kind’a writer, that guy. Look him up. ‘Specially if you like weird stuff. You know, vampires, werewolves, shit like that. An’ all’a way out in Okladamnhoma too, y’know?”

He leaned forward again. “I mean, think about it. You think they got vampires out there?”

He leaned back and answered his own question. “A’course they don’t. I mean, they got what, like one person every eighteen square miles or somethin’? How’s a vampire s’posed to live on that?” He wagged the cigar in the air. “Well, you know what I mean.” He shook his head. “Hell, I don’t even know how people live out there. Dry, y’know? Arid even. No real trees. No real rain ‘cept when it comes all at once. But wind? Hey, they got lots’a fuckin’ wind.” He swirled one finger in the air. “Trouble is, it’s all round an’ stretched out, cloud to ground.” He laughed.

Nick laughed too and nodded. “Yeah yeah, I get it. Tornadoes, right?”

Barbosa shrugged. “Yeah. But what I was sayin’, most’a these guys are like a broad. Would’n give you the time’a day. You know, unless they smelled money.” He raised the cigar for emphasis. “Ah, but when there’s money, they’re like sharks in a blood pool with a fresh-faced white guy flailin’ his arms.” He laughed again, then looked away and gestured toward the bartender. “Hey Mickey, two more, eh?”

Some thirty feet away near the end of the bar, the bartender nodded. “Right away, Joey.”

Barbosa turned his attention back to Nick. He wagged his head and quietly mimicked the bartender. “Right away Joey, he says. Like he knows me or somethin’, am I right?” He moved the cigar in circle in the air and focused his attention on Nick again. “Hey, but look. I like your style, y’know? I like the way you took care’a that thing for me. So—”

Nick watched the cigar closely, and thought about money. He wondered whether Barbosa would mind if he lit a cigarette. “Hey, Joey, like I said, it wasn’t no prob—” He felt the big man’s gaze on him and refocused. It was as if the words had piled up in his throat. He looked at Barbosa. “Sorry, Joey. I didn’t mean’a in’erupt.”

Barbosa looked at him for an instant longer than necessary. “Yeah, hey, no problem. So what I wanted’a say, how ‘bout you join up with me an’—”

The bartender bustled up. “Here you go, Mr. Barbosa.” He set the first glass down a bit too hard. The glass thumped dully on the table. “Sorry it took a minute.” He glared at the first glass as if it were at fault.  He was careful to put the second drink on the table more gently. But he was focusing on Barbosa, and he sloshed a little liquid out of the glass he set in front of Nick. “Ah jeez, Mr. Barbosa, I’m sor—”

Nick forgot himself. He jerked his hands back. “Hey, what is it witchu, eh? Ain’t you never served no drinks before?”

Mickey took a quick step backward. “I’m really sorry, sir. I guess I was bein’ too careful.”

Too careful? He couldn’t keep himself from continuing. “Yeah? Well how ‘bout you go be careful somewheres else, eh? Maybe where they ain’t wearin’ five-hundred dollar suits.”

Barbosa snapped his gaze up to the bartender. He hesitated, allowing the look to sink in. Then he said quietly, with an air of patience, “Mickey. Mickey, hey… can you not see we’re tryin’a have a conversation here? Eh?” He put the cigar in one corner of his mouth and spread his arms, palms up. “An’ as if the in’eruption ain’t enough, you’re pourin’ drinks all over my friend? You lookin’a wake up deep somewheres? Eh?” Barbosa moved his left hand across toward the right side of his dress jacket.

Even in the dim light, Mickey visibly paled. He straightened quickly, then took another step back. “Oh, no. No, Mr. Barbosa. Sorry.” He took another frantic step back and raised both hands in front of himself. He fairly screeched, “S-sorry, Mr. Barbosa! Sorry!”

His gaze still on the man, Barbosa pulled a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his jacket. He reached the handkerchief across to Nick as he frowned at the bartender. “So what, I’m gonna shoot you now? Here, in my own place?”

“N-no, Mr. Barbosa. Of course not. I just— I’ll get a towel.” And he spun on the ball of one foot and disappeared.

Quietly, Nick said, “Hey, Joey, I didn’t mean’a overstep there. The guy’s your employee, so—”

Barbosa said, “Hey, don’t worry about it.” He grinned, then gestured toward the retreating bartender with his chin. “This guy, eh?”

Nick thought Barbosa was about to shoot Mickey too. But he grinned. “Yeah. What was that all about?”

“Y’never know with these guys. Look, I’d like you to think about—”

Mickey hurried up again, almost running into the table. “Here it is, Mr. Barbosa. And a fresh drink for both of you. On the house.”

Barbosa looked at him and frowned. “What is goin’ on witchu today? An’ I am the house, you moron. Get the fuck outta here.”

Mickey set both drinks on the edge of the table, then turned back so fast he almost tripped himself.

Barbosa watched for a moment as the man retreated, then looked at Nick again. “As I was sayin’, I want you to come in with me an’ Johnny Red.” He put up both hands, palms out. “It ain’t nothin’ big, at least at first. But later on it can be as big as you want.”

Nick waited, not wanting to risk interrupting again. When Barbosa didn’t say anymore, Nick said, “So, ‘scuse me for asking—come in as what? An’ do I know this Johnny Red? I don’t recall the name.”

“Yeah, no, you don’t know him. I mean, you might’a met him at the place a time or two. He’s been there when you was there. My daughter’s wedding, an’ the reception after Ballsy Mac’s funeral. Maybe one other time. But that don’t mean you’d remember.”

With his right hand, he took the cigar from his mouth and gestured toward Nick with that hand. “He remembers you, though. It was his idea, bringin’ you in, I mean.”

“Yeah? So what’s the deal?”

“What you did for me, knockin’ off that piece’a trouble? That’s the deal.”

Nick frowned. “Sorry, but I don’t follow.” He followed the cigar with his gaze as Barbosa moved it to the ashtray again, tapped off the ash, and moved it back to his mouth. “Hey, you mind if I smoke?” He reached into his coat pocket and brought out a pack of cigarettes.

Barbosa said, “Nah, hey, a’course I don’t mind. But you don’t want one’a them things. Them thing’s’ll kill you. I should’a offered you a cigar.” He reached into his inside coat pocket and produced a five-cigar case. He opened it and extended it. “Here y’go. Take one. Your choice.”

“Nah, really Joey, I don’t mind just a cigarette.”

Barbosa gestured with the case. “I insist. C’mon, we’re celebratin’ here.”

Nick looked at the case. There were four cigars, two longer at about seven inches, one at about six inches, and one at about five. All were close to an inch in diameter. He finally nodded. “Yeah, a’right. Thanks.” He took the shortest cigar and looked at it closely.

Barbosa closed the case and slipped it back into his pocket. “Here.” He put a double-blade guillotine cutter on the table and slid it across. “Just take off the top eight of an inch or so.”

Nick did, then looked at the cutter. “I never seen one’a these up close before. Is that gold?”

“Yeah. Got my initials on the other side too.”

Nick nodded. “Nice.” He handed the cutter back to Barbosa, who slipped it into his pocket.

Barbosa struck a match and reached the flame across the table. “Allow me. You just draw on it. I’ll move the flame.”

When the cigar was lighted, he shook out the cedar stick, dropped it into the ashtray and sat back again. He drew on his own cigar, then said, “So anyways, what you did for me on this last job. That’s what you’ll do in this new deal we got goin’. You know, if you want in.”

Nick frowned. “So I’ll be knockin’ off broads?”

Barbosa studied him for a moment. “Let’s not be crass, Nick. Let’s look at it as solvin’ problems, see. Solvin’ problems for guys who deserve it. An’ who can’t solve ‘em on their own.” Again he leaned forward. “An’ are willin’ to pay.”

He snuffed out the stub of his cigar in the ashtray, then slid it to the left across the table. “This is what business people call an untapped field of endeavor, Nick.” He laughed. “Ain’t that a mouthful?”

He held up the fingers on his left hand and ticked them off one by one. “Look, we got the drugs. We got construction an’ the teamsters. We got the numbers. An’ that’s good, but it’s all divided up. We got our little piece of New York, along with the other four families.

“Johnny Red’s got Cincinnati an’ Cleveland. Bologna’s got Chicago. Somebody else’s got Atlantic City an’ New Orleans an’ Phoenix. Couple others on the west coast, plus Vegas, right? So everything’s all divided up. An’ ‘at’s okay. We all get a slice’a the pie, see.

“But this new deal, it’s all ours. What I mean, no matter what area you’re in, this is a service nobody provides.

“This book I seen awhile back, there was a guy named Charlie Task. Fiction, you know. He advertised ‘Real-Time Solutions for Real-Word Problems’ see. An’ what’s the one thing most real-world problems have in common?” He held up his hands. “No, wait. First, lemme narrow it down. What’s the one big problem most real men have in common? That’s what we’re talkin’ about here. What’s the biggest common cause of their problems?”

Nick frowned again as he puffed his cigar, then gestured with it. “Women?”

Barbosa slapped the table. “Women! Sure!” He grinned and spread his hands.

Again, Nick gestured with the cigar. “Yeah, maybe. But whaddya gonna do? Like the man said, y’can’t live with ‘em, y’can’t can’t shoot ‘em.”

Barbosa’s grin drained from his eyes, then disappeared as he leaned forward again. “But that’s the thing. Most people can’t shoot ‘em, Nick. Most people.” He leaned back again. “Then again, they got no problem takin’ us out. Or more likely, usin’ some other poor sap to do it for ‘em. Hey, you got insurance? Fuggidaboudit. So what I’m talkin’ about here is kind of a pre-emptive strike.”

Nick said, “Oh, yeah yeah. I see what you’re sayin’. When you see ‘em comin’, get them before they can get you.”

Barbosa snapped his fingers, then pointed the index finger at Nick. “Exactly. An’ after you took care’a that little problem for me, it started me thinkin’. There’s a lotta guys out there who can’t solve their own problems. An’ I talked with Johnny Red. He thought it was a good idea, an’ he suggested you.”

Nick nodded. “So these guys, you mean they can’t do for themselves what I did for you.”

“Right, right. Too much publicity or whatever. An’ chances are, the problem will solve them first. ‘Cause I tell you, Nick, women fight dirty. A lot dirtier than we do.”

Nick held up one hand and grinned. “Hey, you don’t gotta tell me.”

Barbosa nodded and laughed lightly. “Yeah. Hey, they’re even dirtier than us pros, eh? An’ they’re everywhere, Nick. An’ they’ll come after us for whatever reasons, you know. Just like that one was comin’ after me, there are others out there, an’ they’re comin’ after other men like me. Like us.

“An’ it don’t even hafta be a wife with an insurance policy on ‘er mind. Maybe a guy’s the head of a corporation, an’ maybe his mistress gets greedy. Or maybe he’s a CFO with a dirty till and a secretary who has file access. Or politicians.” Again, he snapped his fingers. “Hey, our new endeavor could stay busy 24/7 working for nobody but politicians.

“You think about it, Clinton wouldn’a been impeached if this service was available when he came across Lewinsky. Heh heh, you know, so to speak. An’ ‘at Tripp broad, she’d’a took a trip all right. Heh heh heh.”

He leaned forward again. “What I’m sayin’ here, we can do a lotta good, see. An’ make’a lotta money in the process.”

Nick nodded and took a puff off the cigar. “So we identify women who are headed toward knockin’ off some guy, only we knock off the woman before she can get it done. Is that it?”

“Well, yeah. Sort’a. Only the guys—” He held up his hands again. “The clients, I mean—they do the identifyin’. We got no moral judgments to make, you know, who’s doin’ what or any’a that. We just get paid for doin’ a job. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

“Okay, so you an’ Johnny Red, you’re bosses. An’ I’m what, the button?”

Barbosa nodded, his gaze steady on Nick. “At first. At first. But as we grow, you’re a boss too. That’s why I said I wanted you t’come in with us. You know, instead’a sayin’ I got another job for you.”

A red flag went up. “Me? A boss?”

Barbosa already had run through all the territories. All of them already had bosses. What kind of boss would Nick be?

Again, Barbosa leaned forward. “Here, what I’m sayin’ is this. I want you to be Charlie Task. Only you’ll be in charge of how you do what you do. You’ll be the boss of that.” He shrugged and his voice changed like it always did when he slipped off his prepared speech and started ad-libbing. “You know, maybe you even bring in other guys, train ‘em to do what you do. All’a that. You’re the boss of that.”

That clarified it. He wouldn’t really a boss. He’d be a glorified capo with a specialized crew. Just another stooge lined up to take the fall. “An’ you an’ Johnny Red—”

“Me an’ Johnny Red are puttin’ up the dough. You figure out what you need, we supply it. Three-way split. Me an’ Johnny Red get 40 an’ you get 20. But we supply whatever you need: cars, guns, drugs—whatever. Plus we pay you your full split, an’ we pay whoever you get. We also find the clients an’ make the deals.”

“So my 20 is all profit?”

“All profit.”

“Okay. What else? Oh, so do I know up front how much the client is payin’ us?”

Barbosa sat back and frowned. He spread his hands before him. “Hey Nick, ain’t I always treated you right?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m just sayin’, you know. It’s not personal. It’s just business. I mean, if I’m gonna be a boss, like you an’ Johnny Red only with a smaller cut—

“Yeah, but I explained the smaller cut, right?”

Nick nodded. “Yeah, sure. I got no problem with that. Only if I’m a partner, you know, another boss, I ought’a know how much the job is worth, right?”

Barbosa eyed him carefully. “Yeah. Yeah, you’ll know. Hey, we’ll work it out, right? I’m sure Johnny Red won’t have a problem with that. So we’ll work it out. You’ll know.”

“Okay, good. ‘Cause it’s just good business, right? I mean, for all the bosses to know what’s goin’ on.”

“Yeah, sure.” Barbosa seemed relieved, but also dismissive. “So you got any other questions or what?”

“You don’t mind?”

“What?”

“You don’t mind if I got other questions? I mean, it’s business, right? An’ this is a big step for me.”

“Yeah. No, I don’t mind.”

“A’right. Just one more. The broad from the other night. Just for example, I mean. If you was the client an’ Johnny Red made the deal, how much would we bring in total an’ how much would I make? You know, just for example.”

“Just for example?”

“Yeah. You know. So I can see it in my head. So I can get if firm in my head.”

Barbosa nodded. “A’right, just for example. An’ we’ll use round figures, you know, to make it easy.

“Say I get a call from a guy, an’—”

“No, but you’re bein’ the client.”

Barbosa frowned. “Oh, yeah. Right. A’right, say Johnny Red gets a call. From me, right? An’ say I want this broad—”

“What’s her name?”

“What? What difference does that make?”

“I dunno. Maybe some, maybe none.”

“A’right. Maybe it’s Sue or Roberta or somethin’. Whatever. The guy—I want ‘er whacked for whatever reason. So maybe Johnny Red tells me it’ll cost me fifty large.”

“If he’s you, though?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, I mean, that’s the example, right? You’re the client. Or somebody equal to you.”

“Sure, okay. Then maybe he tells me a hunnerd grand. Okay? Easier to figure anyways.”

Nick waited.

“So we tell the guy it’ll run him a hunnerd grand an’ then we get you the info an’ you hit the broad, right? Then I get forty grand, Johnny Red gets forty grand, an’ you get twenty grand.” He held up one index finger. “But again, me an’ Johnny Red pay all expenses, pay off any heat, an’ so on. All you gotta do is pull the actual trigger. You know, or whatever. Maybe it’s better if it looks like an accident.”

Nick nodded. “Right, right. An’ my twenty grand is clear, right? All profit?”

“Absolutely. Like I said, your twenty percent is all profit.”

Nick’s cigar wasn’t quite half gone. He nodded as he puffed on it a final time, then put it in the ashtray with the tip toward the center. “Hey, good cigar, Joey. An’ thanks. But I guess I’ll have to stick with my cigarettes. You know.”

“Yeah, yeah. What you’re used to. I get that.”

“Yeah, stick with what I’m used to.”

Barbosa hesitated for a moment as he watched Nick tap the rounded end of the cigar so that it slipped farther into the ashtray. The burning end. Then he frowned. “So what’s this all about, Nick? I mean, I asked you here to hand you a golden ring. But you don’t seem all that excited at the opportunity. Plus you’re still talkin’ about the broad from the other night.”

“No, I appreciate it, Joey. I just wanted some particulars, that’s all.”

“And?”

“An’ I got ‘em. An’ I guess I gotta decline. I mean, you’re payin’ me what, five grand for the broad the other night? I mean, I guess that’s the standard, right?”

Barbosa’s eyebrows arched. “What? Have you not been listenin’?” He sat forward in his chair. “Hey, Nick, the other deal ain’t done yet. That was just you pushin’ a button for me, right? So yeah, five Gs. You know, if you need a little more all you gotta do is say somethin’. But then plus this opportunity.” He frowned and sat back. “What’s got into you?”

Nick shrugged. “Nothin’. You know. Only a guy’s gotta watch out for himself, am I right? I learned that from you, Joey.”

Joey frowned. “Why you talkin’ like this? You don’t want in, just say you don’t want in, that’s all. You an’ me, we go on like before an’ I’ll find somebody else to—”

“But I do want in, Joey. Or I would if it was real. I mean, it sounds like it’d be a sweet deal.”

Barbosa frowned. “It is a sweet deal. You kiddin’ me? Wait— Whaddayou mean, ‘if it was real’?”

“So you didn’t hear the news about Johnny Red?”

“News? What news?”

“He’s dead, Joey.”

Joey gripped the arms of his chair and sat up. “What? How?” From force of habit, he glanced around, then shifted his attention back to Nick. Almost in a whisper, he said, “What happened?”

Nick reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboros. He tapped one out of the pack, then slipped the pack back into his coat pocket. “Gunned down. He was gettin’ out of his car at a sports bar.”

Joey sat back. He paled slightly and reached for his wine glass. As he brought it to his lips, he said, “So when did this happen? An’ how’d you come to know about it?”

Nick put the cigarette between his lips as he reached for his lighter. He kept his attention on Joey the whole time. “Happened last night about nine p.m. Karen told me.”

“Karen? Karen who?”

Nick lit his cigarette. A thin blue trail of smoke curled up past his left eye and he moved his head slightly to avoid it. “You know. Karen. I guess she arranged it.”

“Karen DiMarco?”

With his cigarette between his index and middle finger of his left hand, Nick pointed at him. “Yeah, that’s the one.” A slight smirk tugged at one corner of his mouth.

“You lied to me? But you—”

“Nah, now come on, Joey. You know me. I never lie.”

Again, Barbosa glanced around, then leaned forward and pointed at Nick. “You said you popped that lousy broad!”

Nick smirked. “No, I said she wouldn’t bother you no more.” He raised a pistol from beneath the table and fired once.

After the explosion, the world was silent for a moment. Then everyone else in the place rushed out through the front door.

A red spot appeared on Barbosa’s tie.

His shoulders arched, and then he raised one hand to cover the hole.

He looked at Nick, his mouth hanging open. “What?”

“An’ she won’t. Guaranteed.”

“What?”

“An’ she’s payin’ me fifteen grand. ‘Bye Joey.” He fired again and the bullet struck Barbosa just above the inside of the left eyebrow. His mouth retained a perfect O shape.

Nick calmly slipped his pistol back into his coat pocket. “See, Karen had this idea. Seems there’s a lotta women feel a need to knock off the jerk they’re with.” He pushed his chair away from the table, then stood and repositioned the chair. “Not for money, though. Just because.” He laughed. “That’s the beautiful part.”

As he turned away, he said, “Like you said, Joey, it’s an untapped field of endeavor.”

* * * * * * *

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Hi Folks,

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Memory

Note: Because this story is posting today, the next nonfiction, pro writers post will be on May 26.

Memory 180It was just shy of 3 p.m., very much the slow part of the day and almost the end of mine. And there came that car, slicing around the corner and leaning hard, complete with squealing tires. I expected to hear a wheel cover go tinning off across the sidewalk and clunk against the rock front of J. Alexander and Company, the local five and dime.

At least that boy was trying to turn the car. If he hadn’t tried at all he would’a jumped the curb right there at the corner, smashed through the ticket window and parked in the lobby of the Bijou theater. So good for him that he was climbing that steering wheel.

But no way was the boy gonna make that turn. He would hit the curb with his right front tire. He would bound up over that and end up high centered on a freshly busted fire hydrant.

And that would make ol’ Bose Morrison fit to be tied.

Bose’s been the fire chief since I was a boy myself, and that fire hydrant was only a little over a year old. He was none too happy when the state boys came through almost five years ago, nitpicking this, complaining about that, and worrying him about the other. When they left they were still riding him hard about our outdated fire hydrants.

‘Course, with Bose also being the mayor for the past twenty-some years, he was fretting on two fronts. The fire chief side of him didn’t like the state telling him what to do, even though he knew they were right about the fire hydrants. And the mayor side didn’t like having to figure out a way to come up with the money his fire chief would need to replace them.

He held the state boys off for over three years, but in the end he finally had to pony up the money to replace those hydrants. The point is, he was not gonna be pleased that this kid parked a ’72 Lincoln on the most visible one in town.

I could almost hear the crash and the hiss of the ruptured radiator. I could almost smell the ugliness of that nasty radiator steam mixing with the burned oil gushing out of the oil pan. And it was humid today anyway, so all of that would really hang up in the air for awhile.

Man, that was gonna be a mess to clean up. Ol’ Bose and his boys’d probably get stuck doing that too. That’d be an unpleasant few hours to say the least.

I wondered if the engine would lock up before anyone could get over there to turn off the key.

That or the kid might miss the fire hydrant by inches and slap himself into a  head-on with Ol’ Sweetgum, the oldest tree in the county. I could almost hear the steel rending and the motor tearing loose of the mounts and the windshield glass shattering. I could almost see that kid shooting out through the windshield. Maybe the radiator steam would hide some of the goo.

If he hit that tree head-on through the windshield after he hit it with the car, at least that would be a quicker, kinder end than having to meet up with Ol’ Bose later. If Bose got in a mood, that old man could barely twitch and make you look like you’d been hit by a train.

That ol’ sweetgum tree, it’s anchored the city park since at least sixty years before there was a city park. Or a city, for that matter. Not that it was much of a city, with a population that fluctuated between 2550 and 2600, depending on deaths and births.

Still, the sign—barely visible white block letters on a faded, institutional-green, three-foot slip of base metal—read City Park. It was streaked with pigeon stuff, and you’d say, “Well, sure,” if you happened to see it. And it was mounted on an ancient pine four by four that was painted barn red to look more like redwood.

But it wasn’t treated, and it rocked at the base in a light breeze. That despite the fact the city fathers had voted unanimously to pay Caleb Jackson the price of two green steel T posts with spades attached and an hour’s labor to shore up that four by four. He even wrapped the new combination sign support with baling wire, top, bottom and center. But it still moved in the breeze.

‘Course it would move a lot farther than that, and faster too, if that boy didn’t manage the corner. And no way was he gonna make that corner.

All that was left to see was whether he’d center himself on that fire hydrant, miss to the right and ram that tree, or miss to the left and snip off that sign and its three-masted post. And if he did that, no way would he pull that Lincoln to a stop before he submarined into that duck pond.

That’d mean some dead ducks for sure. I mean, ducks generally don’t pay attention to anything outside their immediate vicinity anyway. And our ducks are particularly clueless, or at least they seem like it. Some ornery boys fed a few of ‘em some jalapeno bread last weekend. Those ducks were obviously in pain, but they just kept coming back and lining up.

So if the kid takes out those ducks in particular, that would almost be some of that natural selection thing. If they’re stupid enough to keep coming back for jalapeno bread, there’s a good chance they’ll be on the shallow end of that pond when that Lincoln hits.

Now I’m no mechanic, but I’d bet that hot engine hitting that almost frozen water would also mean a cracked block in the Lincoln. And it would mean some water damage too. That’s a sure bet. One thing an old boat like that isn’t, is waterproof. And plus, it’s a Lincoln, so the seats almost have to be leather. Either that or really good cloth. So the boy could just write those things a note goodbye. Well, except he was probably occupied trying to negotiate that corner.

I could just see his eyes. I’ll bet they were the size of saucers, his eyebrows arched and “Oh crap!” welling up in his throat. And that curb coming closer. I could just see it.

But then just in the nick of time, I mean at the absolute last possible instant, he saved ol’ Bose a headache on that showcase fire hydrant and himself a headache of a very short duration on the bark of that ol’ sweetgum tree. He also saved the city fathers the expense of hiring ol’ Caleb again to replace that sign.

He saved those ducks too, not that they would ever know it.

Somehow, through God’s own grace—or maybe he was runnin’ high on somethin’—he missed that curb.

If that Lincoln wasn’t on two wheels it was only because it didn’t have enough sense to teeter that far. He came around that corner doing a level sixty-five miles per hour if he was doin’ a mile, and his brake lights glowing all the way. I can still smell the rubber cooking on that asphalt.

But he made it. And that should’a been that.

Only it wasn’t.

All of that took the better part of, I don’t know, maybe one, two seconds? Just long enough for me to process the shock and suddenness of it all. I clipped my reports together with my ballpoint and slapped the whole thing onto the passenger seat, then reached to turn on my overheads.

I guess I was glad he made the corner, but a tiny part of me sagged. I felt tired all over that I was gonna have to chase that kid down. And unless he had a really good story, I’d have to run him in and set up the video camera and book him. Then that was one more report to do when I finished the ones I was already working on.

Well, that’s my job, so it’s okay. But it really was the slow time of day and I was looking forward to a cup of Blanch’s horrible coffee back at the station before I headed home.

So with my reports and my ballpoint in the passenger seat, I hit the toggle for the overheads. Then I glanced through the windshield to follow the kid’s progress as I reached for the gear shift and—

Wham!

It was over before I could put my cruiser in gear.

I put it in gear anyway, pulled out of my favorite place next to Jan’s Garage and Towing, and drove the three blocks up the street to park behind that quivering Lincoln.

And there was ol’ Bose, sitting in the driver’s seat of the fire engine, eyes wide, gaping down at the hood of that Lincoln. The front half of the car was smashed against the left front quarter of his fire engine. The motor on the Lincoln was racing hard and the back tires were resurfacing the roadway with melted rubber.

I came out of my cruiser and ran the few steps to the car.

The boy had slumped right in the seat, probably after slapping against the steering wheel. Somehow his right foot was still on the gas.

I glanced at the boy as I reached through the window for the gearshift lever. He had a good-sized lump growing across his forehead. I put the gearshift lever into park, then turned off the key and grabbed the right leg of the boy’s jeans to pull his foot away from the gas pedal.

As I backed out of the drivers’ side window, I noticed the door was jammed back into the frame. I’d have to get the boy out through the other side. Maybe Bose would help me.

As I turned to look up at him, a wall of that stinky steam hit me full in the face.

But it cleared when he came through it across the hood of the Lincoln. He dropped to the ground beside me and pointed. “That’s my car!”

I frowned. “Your car?” Then I started around the back of the car. “Come on, we have to get him out.”

He followed me, talking as he went. “Yes sir. A ’72 Lincoln. I bought it a week ago, had it settin’ around back until I got time to clean it up a little, maybe work on the brakes. I was gonna give it to my boy when he gets back. He likes these big ol’ sedans, God only knows why. I tried to talk him into a pickup truck.”

I hooked my fingers in the passenger side door handle, put my thumb on the button and pressed.

Bose was right behind me. “What the hell are these kids thinkin’ anyway, stealin’ a man’s car, joyridin’ through town?”

“I don’t know.” I pulled open the door. “Come on, Bose. Grab an arm.”

He did and we lifted.

The kid’s head rocked to one side.

Bose dropped the kid’s arm and quickly stepped back. “Randy?”

I kept pulling. “Bose, what’re you—” Then I looked over my left shoulder and frowned. “Who’s Randy?”

“My kid. Randy. You know Randy.” He pointed at the kid. “That. That’s Randy.”

“Yeah? Well help me pull him out.”

But Bose took another step back, put his hands on his hips. “Randall G. Morrison, you get your ass up or I’ll whip you where you lay.”

I kept tugging. “Bose, help me. He’s knocked out.”

Again he yelled, “Randy! Randall, you’re embarrassin’ me. Get the hell up.”

“Bose, damn it, gimme a hand here.”

“No sir, he got himself into this mess, and he’s damn sure gonna—”

And there was a massive explosion.

The hood blew straight up off the car. It came down somewhere on the back of the fire engine.

I found myself resting on my backside in the corner formed by the sidewalk and the smooth brick façade of JayRee’s Nail Salon.

The car rocked side to side only once. Good shocks, I guess. But it rocked just hard enough to slam the passenger side door shut. Good thing I hadn’t gotten the kid any farther out than I had.

Bose was far enough back that he was shielded from the blast by the roof of the car.

With the ringing in my ears, I couldn’t hear much, but Bose pointed and yelled, “The engine!” just loud enough that it got through.

He tore around the back of the Lincoln, then up along the driver’s side. The paint was already blistering on the driver’s side door of the fire engine.

He must have clambered up through the door on the passenger side. By the time I got up and was reaching for the door handle on the Lincoln, the fire engine lurched hard. It tore what was left of the front bumper off the Lincoln and drove north on Main.

Bose stopped a quarter-block away or so, and when he came running back he had a CO2 fire extinguisher with him.

I jerked open the passenger side door and started pulling on the kid again. When his pelvis slipped past the edge of the seat, I twisted his arms to roll him over, then dragged him across the sidewalk and up into the doorway of JayRee’s under the shade of the awning.

As I leaned down to see whether he was breathing, the ambulance pulled up. The paramedics took over, which was fine with me.

I walked back over toward the front of the car where Bose was still threatening the engine of that Lincoln with a little black hose leading from a silver canister.

“Bose, you all right?”

Still watching the engine for any signs of fire flaring up, he said, “What? Sure I’m all right. Why?”

“Well, for starters, you kept calling that boy back there Randy.”

He was still watching the engine of the Lincoln. “Did I? Randy who?”

I nodded. “Said he was your son.”

Finally he looked at me. “Don’t talk like that, Nick. I only had one boy. He died in ’73 in Vietnam.”

“I know, Bose. I remember.” Randy Morrison and I had joined the Marine Corps together. We were in the same squad. We were both two weeks from rotating back to the world when a sniper’s round took him.

Bose frowned. More quietly, he said, “You sure I said all that?”

I nodded again, then jerked one thumb over my shoulder. “Think you ought’a have a look? Maybe you know this kid. Maybe you got confused.”

He looked at me, then leaned slightly to his right and glanced past me. “Yeah, I don’t know him.” He turned his attention back to the Lincoln, hose still at the ready. There was no way he could have seen the kid’s face from that vantage point. “Ought’a be prosecuted, though. Stealin’ a man’s car an’ all. One he bought for his only son.”

“Why don’t you put away your equipment, Bose. I’ll take care of the rest of this.”

He looked at me and nodded. “What’d you say that boy’s name was?”

“I didn’t. Hadn’t checked for ID yet.”

He handed me the CO2 canister and stepped past me. “Maybe I’ll have a look.”

I set the canister on the curb next to the right front tire of the Lincoln and moved up alongside him.

He was staring down at the young man.

Quietly, I said, “Bose, you all right?”

He nodded. Without looking up he said, “That ain’t my car, is it?”

“No.”

“Yeah, well… I hope the boy’s all right.”

And he turned and walked toward the fire engine.

* * * * * * *

 

Writers’ Resources

Hi Folks,

Every now and then I offer a post about writers’ resources. Most of the ones I use are in the left sidebar on my website. I add to them often, and I change one every now and then. So it’s a good idea to check them out from time to time to see what’s new.

Awhile back I added a Readers’ Resources section too. The Writers’ Resources are below that.

Also, Dean Wesley Smith, on his website, is now offering his Originality workshop free of charge. (It used to cost $300.) To access it, simply visit his site, click on the You Tube Videos tab near the top of the page, and then click on the Originality workshop dropdown list.

Each week contains five or six videos, and each video is around five to ten minutes long.

He also is starting a new online workshop titled Teams in Fiction. I signed up for this one as soon as he listed it. If you’re serious about your writing career, I strongly recommend this investment.

You can find information on this and other online workshops at the same website under the Online Workshops tab. I also recommend many of his Classic workshops (downgraded to $150) and his lectures (most are $50).

Finally, I recommend signing up for my own Daily Journal. I offer a great deal more writing advice there than I ever will on this website, plus links to items of interest to writers.

To visit the Journal, click HEStanbrough.com. To sign up for a free subscription, click The Daily Journal in the right side of the header on that website or on this one.

That’s it for today. Until next time, happy writing.

Harvey

We Feed Them

We Feed Them 180Seven stories beneath the surface, a b’jillion bodies lay naked in rows on stainless steel tables.

Well, maybe not a b’jillion, but a lot. They seemed to fill the room.

I was certain the guy ran in here. There was nowhere else to go.

I scanned the room, sighting over my Kimber .45.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the walls to the left, right or front. Tell you what, that’ll raise the hair on the back of your neck. But it was what it was. Dim light emanated only from two rows of bare bulbs that dangled a few inches below the ceiling. They rendered the room in blurred shades of gray. The rows of bulbs were about sixty feet apart. With twenty feet between bulbs, they marched away toward the back of the room and were swallowed in the darkness.

A wide aisle, maybe five feet across, split the tables directly in front of me and was lost in the back of the room. Probably the perp had run straight down that aisle.

I shifted my attention to the tables. The first row was about ten feet from me. Then there was an aisle that looked to be about three feet wide, but it’s hard to judge when you’re looking across it from the side. Then the next row  A quick estimate rang up maybe forty rows of tables from that first one to the last one that I could see beneath the dim bulbs.

To the left and right, the darkness closed in more quickly.

From the wide aisle that began at the base of the stairs, twenty-two tables stretched away to the left before the rest were shrouded in darkness. The same held true to the right.

Why only the two rows of bulbs? Were there more farther out to the sides that simply weren’t working?

I got my head back on the situation. The guy I was after had ducked in here. I was certain of it.

At least he wasn’t armed. Probably. If he had been, wouldn’t he have shot me by now?

I looked at the tables again.

Did the guy have something to do with this or was his presence here coincidental?

Then again, in all my years as a detective, I’d never seen a coincidence. Not really.

The surface of each table rocked slowly toward me—so to its right—to about thirty degrees. Then it rocked away, back through the center and to the left to thirty degrees. The cycle completed every ten seconds or so.

When the bodies were angled toward me, they stopped for an instant.

I glanced over them as best I could.

In perfect synchronization, the chests raised and lowered. There were some nice chests among the women. Some ugly guts among the men. No pool boys in this room. Unless he kept them in the back.

The tables began their ascent to center.

As I watched, they passed through the center and continued toward the other side.

There they paused, then began the journey back toward me.

Every head lay to the left end of the table. Each was devoid of hair, each turned to face away from the entrance to the room. They hadn’t moved even when the tables were tilted toward me.

And here they come.

Tilting back to papa.

What a strange thought.

There’s the pause again and— Nope, the heads didn’t move.

A frown creased my brow. What are they all doing here? Or why were they brought here?

One problem at a time. I returned to studying them while I had the opportunity.

Every right arm lay palm down on the table alongside the body. A tube ran from a port on the back of the right hand into a machine affixed to the bottom of the table. Is this guy maybe a vampire or something? Or maybe selling black market blood?

But the machines were affixed to the bottom of tables, not set beneath them. So they rocked with the tables.

Back toward me again.

Every left elbow was bent, every left hand resting palm down on the upper left thigh. And a tube ran from the machine into a port on the back of the left hand.

Some sort of dialysis maybe? Some sort of cleansing process? Out with the bad, in with the good?

The ones I could see appeared to be young. Or youngish. If there was anybody older than forty in here, they were in the back with the pool boys.

Today’s supposed to be my day off. But my days off usually depend on the bad guys taking a day off too, and that doesn’t happen very often.

I planned a cookout at my place. Just a few neighborhood friends. But I had to get some beer because— well, a cookout without suds is a just a lonely guy eating in the back yard by himself.

So I drove to the local corner grocery. J5 it was called. Because it was on the corner of Avenue J and 5th Street. I kid you not.

I pulled my Ford sedan into the parking lot, then got out and headed for the front door. Mickey liked me coming it—kept the customers honest he said—so he always gave me twenty percent off whatever I bought. But I had to pay tax for the whole amount. Mickey’s no fool.

Mickey, yeah, his name’s actually Mickey Spilane. Only one L, but still. Pretty cool.

Almost every time I went in I told him we ought’a change jobs. He always laughed like he’d never heard it before. But he also always said, “I don’t think so.” I think he just likes to remind me he’s smarter than I am.

He is, too.

Just as I reached for that big vertical door handle, there was a scream down the street.

I stopped and looked around, but J5 is set back about 30 feet off the street so I couldn’t see anything.

I let go of the door handle, pulled my Kimber and raced back past my car.

There he was. Bad guy on the sidewalk almost two blocks away, trying to pull a woman into a plain white Chevy van.

This is a residential area on a weekday, so there was nobody else on the street.

I ran toward him, being as quiet as I could. But at six-two and two hundred and twenty pounds, I don’t do anything quietly.

Slight build, five-nine to five-eleven, jeans and some kind of sneakers, a white short-sleeved shirt. Tee shirt? He looked around as if he heard me thinking. Probably at the sound of my footfalls. No, a button down shirt. Dark hair and complexion, judging from his arms. Maybe Hispanic.

And the guy was wearing a ski mask. So maybe not dark hair. But either dark skin or really well-tanned.

He turned back to the woman and shoved her away hard so she almost fell against a rough brick wall. Then he ran around the front of the van.

So he was by himself. Stupid is as stupid does.

The van had no back windows. The plate was in-state, JRC—

I couldn’t quite make out the numbers.

And he was gonna split before I could get there.

I tried to run faster but I didn’t have any faster left. Not with four eggs, a quarter-pound of ham and a half-plate of hash browns churning around in my gut.

Only the van didn’t start. It didn’t move.

My lucky day. Guy decided to do the smart thing and give himself up. JRC-495. Got it.

I raced up to the back of the van and stopped, turning my back to it. I winces as I accidentally slammed my back against it. If he didn’t know I was here before, he knew now.

I glanced at the woman, but she raised her left hand to indicate she was all right. Then she frowned and raised her right hand to point farther down the block. “He’s getting away!”

Or maybe she was his accomplice.

I nodded, then tried the back door, hoping she wouldn’t notice. It was locked.

She frowned again. “Did you hear me?”

I nodded, then crouched down, my Kimber raised before me in both hands. I took a deep breath.

Then, still crouched, I turned the corner of the van and worked my way along the driver’s side to the door.

I reached up, pressed the button and swung the door open.

Nobody inside.

I stepped on the inset running board and glanced quickly past the bucket seat. Nobody in the back either. She would have been his first, at least for the day.

I stepped out, holstered the Kimber and moved across in front of the van. “You’re all right?”

She was all but jumping up and down. Cute, about five-six, brunette, long hair in a pony tail and a losse jogging suit. I wondered whether she was wearing one of those boob-flattening jogging bras under her Huskies tee shirt. I wondered whether she’d like to attend a neighborhood cookout with her personal hero presiding.

But she assumed that stance. Hands on her hips, she leaned forward slightly and glared at me. Then she said slowly, maybe so I’d understand, “I am fine. And he is getting away!” Again she flung up her right arm. Like she was telling a cur to “git.”

Okay, so not as cute as I thought. I slipped out what I hoped was a withering, “Yes ma’am.” I thought about flashing a one-finger salute, but the department frowns on that. Instead I turned to see for myself.

The guy was nowhere in sight. Maybe my luck was changing.

I wish I had one of those cars you can call with a whistle. Or that I knew Batman personally. Or something. It just wasn’t my day.

I set off at an easy lope toward the next corner. Obviously not fast enough.

From behind me came, “Um, if you make it to the corner, he turned right.”

I nodded. Maybe the department would make an exception about that finger thing. Probably not. I raised my left hand to let her know I’d heard her.

Now I almost wish I hadn’t.

I figured for sure he’d be gone. I’d get to the corner, see nothing, and go back to interview the viper. I mean, woman. I’d get a description from her. Maybe the guy had tattoos or scars or something that I couldn’t see from a distance. I’d  combine her description with mine and put out an all-points BOLO for the guy.

Of course, I’d have to get home first. My mobile was laying on the pass-through counter between my kitchen and the dining room area of my living room. Hey, I was just going for beers.

The uniforms would find him. It was a win-win. I’d get to have my cookout today, albeit sans female company. And he could wait in a cell until I got around to chatting with him.

But that isn’t how it worked out.

As I rounded the corner and glanced half-heartedly down the street, he was ducking into another building almost three blocks down. Crap.

I glanced around. Civilians are right. There’s never a uniformed cop around when you need one. Especially one with a car.

With both Batman and the Lone Ranger laughing in my mind, I set off again. Not a big deal. There was no doubt the guy was gone. I just had to verify it. Then I could get back to the victim, if she was still there, get her description of the guy and put out that BOLO.

Probably he ducked into that building and out the back, then into another one. From there he would take a leisurely elevator ride to the roof. Then he would romp across a rooftop or two and come down in Paris or some other place where I could never find him. Good for him.

But that isn’t how it worked out either.

The building he’d ducked into was on the corner of 2nd and Main, right downtown. I stopped outside for a moment to gather my breath and nodded at a couple of women who looked curiously at me as they passed going the other direction.

Then I stepped inside and drew my Kimber again.

There was a door to my immediate left. I looked in. The place had been a warehouse or maybe a factory, judging from the dust and the dim light filtering through the oil film on the windows. A quick glance around proved there was nobody inside now. The only other passageway was a flight of stairs. The only other light was a bare bulb dangling above the landing some eight steps below.

Well, maybe Mr. Would-Be Kidnapper had screwed up. I already knew he was a rat. Maybe now he was a trapped rat.

I moved down the stairs.

At the landing, I didn’t stop. There was another flight of stairs, another landing, another bulb.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Same thing twelve more times. I counted. That’s how I know this place is seven stories down.

And there were no doors off any of the landings. All roads lead to zombie land, or whatever this place was.

Toward where I thought the back left corner of the room might be, a light flashed.

At least I think so.

There it was again. Definitely a flash of something.

I crouched and moved quickly to the left along the first row of tables, trying to concentrate on the back left corner of the place. It wasn’t easy. As I said, some of the women were very well endowed. Fortunately, my hands were currently busy with my Kimber .45 caliber bad guy disposal delivery system.

But only once I stopped cold. At the edge of the area lighted by the nearest 40 watt bulb, a small pole flash past in my right periphery. I wish I hadn’t stopped.

Apparently the guy was having a very good dream. I’m only glad he wasn’t rocked the full thirty degrees to his right. Guy might’ve knocked me over.

I briefly wondered whether that moved with the rocking motion. But to my credit, I didn’t wait around to check it out. Besides, some things a guy would just rather forget. It was probably a trick of the light anyway. You know.

Then the flash came again.

Was the guy taking pictures so he’d have something to stare at while he was in prison?

Maybe that corner is where he kept the pool boys.

But seriously, what the hell is he doing with all these people?

Another flash.

Out of the dark, a wall suddenly rose up in front of me. Fortunately, when I left the circle of light, I had shifted my Kimber to my right hand and had my left out in front of me. I jammed the pinkie on my left hand. I also probably bruised my left shoulder when I jerked my hand back and fell against the wall. I couldn’t know for sure until I got home and took off my shirt.

Still, it hurt.

I rested there for a moment, my attention riveted along that wall toward the back corner.

Another flash.

What in the hell is he doing?

I shifted the Kimber to my left hand and moved forward, duck walking. After a few feet, I realized I had passed the last table. So there was an aisle back here along the wall. Good.

I turned toward the back corner and started duck walking again.

When I passed the twelfth row of tables, another thought hit me. Having a clear aisle back here with the wall to one side was both good and bad.

If he knew where I was, and if he had a gun back there somewhere, all he’d have to do is shoot along the wall. And if he had a Mac10 or some other demon from hell like that, I was done for.

But I didn’t think he had a gun. If my desires mattered out there in the universe, I certainly didn’t want him to have a gun. Then again I thought if he had a gun, he’d have used it when I was at the base of the stairs, silhouetted in light.

Then I was passing the twenty-seventh table on my right. The twenty-seventh row. So about thirteen to go, at least of the ones I had been able to see from the front of the room.

Maybe he had a shotgun.

Maybe he was just waiting for me to get closer.

I’m known down at the department for my sense of humor, but seriously, that would not be funny.

I shifted and then stood for a quick moment, just to stretch out my knees. Then I crouched. No more duck walking. I mean, I’m six-two. How low can I get?

Another flash.

I continued forward.

What the hell was that? What was he doing?

Only a few rows to go of my original forty, and the back wall was still hidden somewhere in the distance.

Then something else dawned on me. Even though I’d gotten closer, the flashes hadn’t gotten any larger. And they hadn’t moved laterally at all.

I thought maybe the guy was unplugging the evidence.

Another flash.

Jeez, that one was right in front of me.

A strobe? It’s a lousy—

“You will please put your hands in the air and disrobe.”

I’d make a lousy prisoner. I never do what I’m told. That’s one of the reasons I’m not still married. It’s also one of the reasons I’m not still in the Army.

The Kimber was in my right hand. To be sure I kept it as far from him as possible, I would spin to my left. It would take longer to bring it to bear, but he’d have less chance of knocking it loose from my grip.

Good plan, but I misjudged the distance to the wall.

I spun to the left, and the plaintive clink of the barrel of my Kimber against the concrete wall sent a painful shiver from the center of my hand up my arm. Both of which went numb.

The Kimber dropped to the floor.

Something stung the left side of my throat.

When I awoke, if you can call it that, I was lying naked on a stainless steel table.

There’s a tube coming out of my right hand, a tube going into my left hand.

The motion is gentle. It breathes for us, circulates us.

An easy tilting to the right, a pause, an easy tilting back to the left.

In me, it’s waves lapping lazily up on a beach, then stretching, yawning and receding. Not the worst way to spend my time.

Oh, and there’s a filament. If I’d seen that— well, I didn’t. It’s thin as a thread of silk. It comes from my left temple and up to the ceiling. It connects me to my friends. Connects us to each other. Connects us to them.

We feed them, and it doesn’t hurt at all.

* * * * * * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update to Brave New World of Publishing

Hi Folks,

This morning as I emailed a friend, I had occasion to revisit an old blog post, one I wrote here back in October, 2015. The information in it bears repeating, especially in light of recent posts over at Dean Wesley Smith’s website. I recommend you read my older blog post before continuing with this one, even if you think you remember everything about it. To do so, click Brave New World of Publishing.

After that, to read one of the more important posts to come along in awhile in the way of advice for writers from a guy who’s been doing it successfully for decades, read Dean’s Blaming the Reader (for no sales).

His post includes a list of reasons your books don’t sell even a few copies. It was so good I copied/pasted it into a Word document, mostly so I could re-read it in the future and also to share it with others.

But back to this post. This is an update on the information I shared in the October 17, 2015 post.

First, I no longer use Pronoun. They don’t allow the author to select the venues to which they distribute the author’s work. For me, that’s a deal killer.

As for XinXii I have sold one copy of one short story collection through them (as far as I can tell) for a grand total royalty of $1.10. That’s in well over a year. So I’m not pushing them anymore either. Then again, $1.10 is a minuscule price to pay for a lesson.

I also had some problems interfacing with OmniLit’s website (they’re also All Romance Ebooks). I found the website clunky at best and unresponsive at times. Soon I decided the few sales I might get through them wasn’t worth the hassle. But that might have just been me. I recommend you check them for yourself, especially if you write romance or erotica.

So today, my titles are distributed through Amazon, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and through direct sales at StoneThread Publishing.

Yes, Amazon remains the biggest seller.

Draft2Digital remains by far the easiest distribution venue to use, and they pay fair royalties.

I still despise Smashwords’ extremely clunky interface. If you have only a few titles to manage, it isn’t a big deal and it isn’t bad. But if you But with 200 titles in my account, using the channel manager or anything else is a nightmare. Still, the number of big-deal sales venues they offer makes the aggravation acceptable.

Back in the Iron Age (2011) I didn’t mind the clunkiness at Smashwords so much. It was pretty much state of the art. But today, all you have to do is compare the submission process at Smashwords with D2D to see what I mean. If D2D had the venues Smashwords has, I’d drop the latter in a heartbeat.

I haven’t mentioned CreateSpace. They are by far the best choice for do-it-yourself print production and distribution. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you’ll need to look around and select a print-layout and cover design service. Because loyalty and honesty are important to me, I cannot in good conscience recommend any service in particular.

If anyone out there knows of any that you recommend or if you do your own layout and spine and back cover AND ENJOY IT, please let me know.

Of course, if you aren’t writing and producing new work, none of the above matters in the slightest. Ahem.

That’s it for this time. ‘Til next time, keep writing.
Harvey

Whish Way

WhishWay180Yeah, hey, I’ll tell you what happened. I ain’t got nothin’a hide. But I’m getting’ out, see. I’m done.

Why? ‘Cause I seen things. I mean, I seen a lotta things over the years, but today I seen things.

Tell you what, you judge for yourself. I mean, that’s what you’re gonna do anyways, right? Either way, it’s good enough for me. But either way, I’m out.

Before I start, you gotta unnerstan’, this ain’t no fairytale, a’right? I ain’t on no drugs, an’ I ain’t makin’ none’a this up. This is straight from the gut. An’ maybe straight into your gut if you listen. You know, if you know what’s good for you.

What? Nah, that ain’t no threat. One thing I ain’t no more, it’s a threat. Not to nobody.

I was in the Freona, right? You know that place over on 33rd and Fifth?

Yeah, yeah, where you picked me up. Right there. That’s the one.

You know how the corner of the bar is close to the front door there, right? Yeah, closer than in most places.

I was in there, an’ I was sittin’ just past the corner. I don’t know, maybe three, four stools down from the corner, right? On the long side.

An’ you know Mike Forenza, right? I mean, you know how he is, right?

Yeah, exactly. Crazy Mikey Forenza an’ his crew. Well, sayin’ they’re a crew stretches it. Them guys that hang around him an’ laugh like morons every time he says anything.

Anyways, this is about Crazy Mikey so it’s good you know ‘im.

A’right, so I gotta start sort’a in the middle, a’right? So it’ll make sense.

A’right?

Okay.

So first, I got slammed into by this old drunk guy who’s comin’ down the sidewalk. Yeah, just like I’m blind or somethin’. Only it wasn’t really his fault.

I mean, I got my pride, right? So you know, I’d like to say the old buzzard staggered into me, but that wouldn’t be exactly right. I mean, I was the one coming out of a bar. I mean, you know, I could’a stopped to see what’s what before I barged out onto the sidewalk, right? But I didn’t.

Ah, I was pissed off about a lot of stuff that was going on inside the bar. That’s where that idiot Crazy Mikey Forenza comes in.

Crazy Mikey, he just don’t know when to shut up, you know? He don’t know when to quit. And when he gets started on me, the three guys who hang out with him grin like morons as long as he keeps going. Apparently Mikey likes to make ‘em grin. The rest of us—I mean, some of us, you know—we know the foursome as Mikey and his monkeys. Some crew, eh? Yeah.

But anyway, I finally had enough. I just stopped in for a drink, you know?

But I’m gettin’ ahead of my story.

So I stop in for a drink, right?

And then Mikey an’ his monkeys come in. Mikey parks on the stool two away from mine, right? Goin’ toward the door. So he’s on the long end of the bar, but right at the corner. An’ his monkeys, they perch on the short end of the bar around that corner.

An’ then right away Mikey starts in with his crap. “Hey Nicky,” he says to me. “You goin’a church today?”

See, the guy knew I was studyin’ for the priesthood before I was innerduced as an associate. An’ at’s what, like six years ago? Yeah, or maybe even seven.

An’ just so you know, it was a pretty hard decision for me to walk away from all that, you know? I mean, me bein’ a pious kind’a guy an’ all that.

Hey, but guys like Mikey, they don’t get that. Mikey never had no hard decision to make about nothin’. He wasn’t the boss’s kid or anything like that, but the old man’s daughter was sweet on ‘im, so you know. Whaddyou gonna do? I mean, set in cement is set in cement.

Yeah, yeah. That’s funny, right? Like maybe he ought’a be set in cement. But don’t make me laugh. I mean, this is serious, a’right?

So Mikey’s bein’ a jerk ‘cause he knows he’s got it all, right? An’ then plus, he was made just two weeks ago. An’a thing is, everybody expected me to be picked in that round, you know? Even Mikey prob’ly. So he was still feelin’ his oats, so to speak. An’ he prob’ly knew I wasn’t feelin’ so hot. So you know, he rode me for awhile.

An’ it wasn’t like he didn’t know where to find me, you know? I mean, that bar is my place, right? Hey, everybody knows that. I mean, I ain’t no lush or nothin’ like that, but I enjoy a couple’a drinks pretty much every day. An’ maybe a few more than a couple for the past couple weeks. Hey, just sayin’, I had some things to get over, right?

So like I said, Mikey rode me for awhile, him knowin’ I was gonna be a priest.

Yeah, you know the kind of stuff. Like he’d say, “Hey Nicky, I forgot. When was the first Easter Egg hunt in the bible?”

An’ I’d just like laugh it off, you know.

Or he’d say, “Hey Nicky, how many pieces’a silver did you get for switchin’ teams, eh?” an’ he’d laugh.

You know, an’ maybe I’d say, quiet like, “Hey, c’mon Mikey, you know, that’s a little rough.” ‘Cause you know, it was. I mean, there ain’t no reason’a be like that. Am I right? I mean, I know he was jokin’, but that don’t mean everybody else in the place knew, right?

Or sometimes he’d even make the sign of the cross, only backwards—‘cause even Crazy Mikey don’t take no unnecessary chances, you know—an’ he’d say, “Hey Nicky, dominoes, monopoly, cat feces, ahmen, eh?” An’ then he’d bust out laughin’.

An’ his monkeys all laughin’ right along with him.

An’ real quiet, I’d say, “Hey, Mikey, c’mon.”

You know. Like that.

An’ he’d just laugh louder an’ harder.

But what really got me was those monkeys’a his.

I mean, Mikey wants’a laugh at me, that’s his business, you know? He’s a made guy. He wants’a be a jerk, you know, that’s his business. But those others, see, that ain’t right. An’ Mikey knew it wasn’t right too. When all’a this started, I was surprised Mikey himself didn’t tell ‘em to shut up. But the surprise wore off pretty soon. Mikey’s just a jerk, made guy or not.

Yeah, an’ it wasn’t just Mikey. I hadda put up with the four of ‘em. Like brayin’ jackasses, the four’a them guys.

Mikey’s done stuff like that before, right? An’ no biggie, you know, not really.

But today it got personal, you know. Today after he derided my earlier chosen profession, which I passed up so I could be like Mikey an’ all’a these other mooks, Mikey asked to see my watch.

So I say, “Why,” you know.

An’ he says he wants it so he can show me a trick. An’ the thing is, I knew better. But I wanted’a finish my drink, so like a mook myself, I gave it to him. An’ I said somethin’ like, “But hey Mikey, just don’t do nothin’ crazy, a’right?” ‘Cause that’s an expensive freakin’ watch, that’s why. It’s a freakin’ Rolex, an’ not one’a them cheap ripoffs, you know? I got it in a heist awhile back off a genuine jewelry store up on 53rd Street.

A’course, before I could blink, he wrapped it in a handkerchief. Then one’a his monkeys handed him a loafer. Guy already had it off an’ was hidin’ it behind the corner of the bar.

An’ right away, Mikey dropped the handkerchief on the bar and smashed that watch into a million pieces.

Then he opens the handkerchief an’ he grins real big. “Oops,” he says. An’ he goes, “Ooh, look. I forgot to sneak the watch out first. Hey Nicky, mea culpa, eh? You didn’t know better, you might think your time’s up or somethin’.”

Yeah, hey, I wouln’t BS you. He said it just like that. An’ then him an’ his apes busted out laughin’ again.

That was more than enough already, right? But I couldn’t do nothin’, see. I mean, even if the guy’s a jerk, he’s still a made guy, right? An’ he got his four witnesses right there.

So I put my hands up so they can see they’re clean. An’ then I step back off the bar stool, right? An’ I give him a look that’d melt steel.

An’ the jerk reads my eyes close an’ that stupid grin goes away. An’ you know what he done? He takes out a couple’a bills, an’ he tosses ‘em at me, right? “Here,” he says. “This ought’a cover your Timex, altar boy.” An’ then he turns his back on me, an’ him an’ the monkeys go back to laughin’.

For a second, all I wanted was to feel my fingers tightening around that weasel’s throat, you know?

But like I said, he’s a made guy. An’ that’s when I turned away an’ shoved open the door.

Well, I shoved it hard enough that the door slammed hard against the brick wall on the left side, see, an’ I stomped out like I owned the place. In this case, the place bein’ the sidewalk.

I didn’t look left or right. In fact, I made sure I just looked straight ahead like some big shot, with my nose in the air. I wanted to let the morons behind me see that they were slippin’ away like water off a duck’s back. You know, somethin’ like that. ‘Cause “made” don’t mean “classy,” right? An’ not made yet don’t mean lower class neither. It’s all just a thing.

So anyways, then there was the little drunk guy. The door’s still hangin’ wide open, an’ bam! I walked right out in front of him.

So like I said, technically I guess the guy staggered into me, but that was only because he couldn’t stop. You know, in his condition. Which was completely plastered.

At least that’s what I thought.

The little guy plowed into me with a full head of steam. And I gotta tell you, no bigger than he was, the guy was plenty stout.

I guess he was lookin’ at the sidewalk or somethin’. Like maybe he was watchin’ his steps like a drunk does sometimes, you know. Or maybe ‘cause it was just unusual to him.

Anyways, his head was down, an’ the top of his head caught me on the right arm just above the elbow. An’ I did a kind of stutter step to the left. It was pretty funny to watch, prob’ly. You know, at the time. I mean, for somebody else.

I think I skipped prob’ly three or four times on my left foot before I got stopped.

An’ there was this woman there.

A’course there was a lot of people on the sidewalk, right? Like always at that time of day. Just getting’ off work or runnin’ errands or whatever. They’re all over the place, you know, like normal.

But this woman, she looked like someone’s grandma. An’ for a second, all I could see was the guy who ran into me an’ her. That’s it. I mean, how did I not bump into any of those other people?

But anyways, I didn’t.

But that woman, I remember I almost made her spill her coffee.

Now I didn’t thump into her or nothin’ like that, but I almost did. I think I got within the thickness of her coat or somethin’. An’ that made her flinch, an’ she jerked her arms up an’ her coffee almost went all over the place.

Anyways, I twisted back toward him, the guy who ran into me, an’ I put my hands on him solid. That kept me from falling over, an’ it also made it so I could steady him and keep him from falling any farther against me.

Anyways, all the people on the sidewalk, an’ I didn’t see hardly any of ‘em. But I heard ‘em. I mean, a few of ‘em complained. I guess they had to innerupt their routine, like their normal pace, for a second or two to step around us. Too much to ask these days, right?

An’ then everything flashed like into a little bowl or somethin’. Like nothin’ else before that mattered an’ nothin’ that would happen afterward mattered neither. I mean, one second there was just me an’ the little drunk an’ the grandma, see. An’ then the next second, this guy came outta the crowd an’ bumped me. You know, pretty hard. I mean, not the same guy, but one’a the people on the sidewalk.

Hey, I almost went for my gun. For just that instant I thought it was a hit, right? With the drunk guy bein’ the decoy. You know.

But the guy who bumped me just stepped around me an’ went on. But he was there for a purpose. I din’t know how I knew, but I just knew.

I mean, he didn’t look at me or look back at me or even say nothin’ nasty. You know, that I could hear.

Anyways, when he didn’t look back, I knew it wasn’t a hit. So I stopped thinking like that and checked for my wallet instead. It was still there, so then I’m thinkin’ maybe it was all a false alarm or somethin’ like that.

An’ there wasn’t nobody in the world but me an’ the little drunk guy, an’ then the guy who bumped me an’ was headed down the sidewalk an’ the grandma. An’ that door, still standin’ open. ‘Cause all’a this took like five seconds max.

Well the grandma, she was off to one side, close to the wall of the bar. Like gatherin’ herself, you know.

An’ me an the little guy, we was facin’ each other. I got a hold of his shoulders an’ I’m pullin’ myself back away from the grandma. Only I know she didn’t spill her coffee. That’s important.

An’ the guy who bumped me was several steps away.

An’ in the corner of my eye, Crazy Mikey gets up off his bar stool, ‘cause he seen everything. An’ he takes a step toward the door.

An’ then the little guy, he looks up at me with these real watery blue eyes. Guy was a good foot shorter than me, an’ he had a round, pimple-scarred nose. An’ a hat set at an angle on his head. Though you couldn’t tell if somethin’ knocked it that way or if he wore it like that.

I check on Mikey. He’s in the middle of a second step away from the stool. He’s comin’ out to give me more grief, see. An’ now his monkeys are up and comin’ along behind him.

An’ I got leverage on the little guy’s shoulders an’ I’m pullin’ away from the granny.

An’ the little guy, he needed a shave. I remember that. He had a grey stubble that looked like it was about three days old. Guy looked like a rummy, which is what he was. Or what he was supposed to be. An’ the guy reeked too, right? Like body odor, but it wasn’t as bad as his breath.

An’ in the corner of my eye, the grandma’s arms are almost back down to normal again. Mikey’s only a step away from the door an’ he’s liftin’ his foot for that step.

The little guy’s right under my face an’ lookin’ up at me. He grabs the lapels of my coat, hard, an’ he says, “Whoa man.” You know, like he was surprised to see me there, an’ me holdin’ his shoulders an’ everything.

Only in his eyes, just for a second, it was like he knew me. Like he reco’nized me or somethin’.

An’ in that instant, the grandma was no longer at risk from me and the little guy was steady an’ I was steady.

An’ Mikey stepped through the door.

An’ then the little guy—now get this—he says, “Whish way you goin’?”

And the grandma’s coffee flew out of her cup and splashed across Crazy Mikey’s eyes.

The little guy’s breath nearly buckles my knees. An’ I says, “What?” ‘Cause I ain’t got time for this.

An’ I start to turn toward Mikey, ‘cause I’m gonna nip it in the bud, see. I’m gonna tell Mikey to go back in an’ sit down, that I got this an’ it ain’t none’a his stupid business. An’ I decided, he gives me any crap, I’ll blow him away. Even if his monkeys get me, which I doubt, at least the world will have one less jerk in it.

But the little guy, he jerks at the lapels of my coat, hard. I mean, this guy’s grip is like steel or somethin’. I couldn’t believe it. An’ he blows at my face, like on purpose, like to get my attention. An’ then he says real quiet, “All things work to the glory of the lord.”

An’ I looked down at his watery eyes an’ they were clear.

A smile curled the left corner of his mouth, and behind me to the right something exploded.

I jerked free of the little guy as the second explosion went off.

An’ there was Crazy Mikey Forenza, layin’ on his back, starin’ at the sky. Only he wasn’t seein’ nothin’.

The monkeys that were about to follow Mikey out the door were nowhere in sight.

The grandma dropped a shotgun so it landed across Mikey’s waist. She looked at me an’ smiled, then started up the street.

I jerked my head around. “Hey,” I says, “did you see that?”

But the little drunk guy wasn’t there either.

I looked up the street for the grandma again, but she was gone.

So all of ‘em from that second was gone. None of ‘em had time to get even to the next corner, but they was all gone.

The drunk guy was gone. The grandma was gone. The guy who bumped me was gone.

Oh, nah, the crowd was still there, but they’re just the crowd, that’s all. They was still passin’ by on their way to wherever they were goin’. Most of ‘em passed right between me an’ Crazy Mikey. A few stepped off the curb to pass behind me. An’ then a few stepped over Mikey’s legs.

Hey, that’s just who they are. Drones, see. Nothin’ happened specifically to them so nothin’ happened.

But the others—the grandma, the guy who bumped me, the drunk—they was angels, see. All of ‘em. They come to take care of me. Me, like I’m somebody.

How do I know?

‘Cause I know what the little man was askin’ me. When he asked which way I was goin’, it didn’t have nothin’ to do with directions, see. It had to do with like methods. An’ what I do with the time I got.

It’s like, when you kick, how are you gonna buy it? An’ then before that, how you gonna lead up to it?

See? Which way you goin’? You goin’ like Crazy Mikey? You goin’ like one’a his monkeys?

Which way you goin’?

* * * * * * *

Announcement: Two Titles in BundleRabbit

Hi Folks,

This will be of interest if you enjoy my fiction, or if you haven’t read any of it yet and would like to try it.

Beginning on Sunday, May 1, I will have novels in two separate bundles.

If you aren’t familiar with bundles, it works like this: You pretty much pay what you want. 🙂 It’s a great deal, and it’s a good way to discover new favorite authors.

The Science Fiction May Day Bundle features work by yours truly as well as works by nine other authors. This bundle ends on May 13.

For that bundle, if you pay at least $5, you get the first five books in the bundle, including my SF novel, The Advent of Simon Stark. If you pay at least $9, you get all ten books in the bundle.

The Chills, Thrills and Spills Bundle includes one novel by me as well as one by USA Today best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith and ten other authors. This bundle ends on May 20.

For that bundle, if you pay at least $5, you get the first six books in the bundle, including my Confessions of a Professional Psychopath. If you pay at least $12, you get all twelve books in the bundle.

That’s it for this time. Thanks for listening, and happy reading and writing!

Harvey

Good Stuff for Writers

Hey Folks,

I almost forgot to post something for today. This probably will be brief.

First, my apologies for allowing two short stories to post yesterday. On the home page of my website at HarveyStanbrough.com you can scroll down to see both of them below this post. Or you can click the Free Short Story tab and see both of them there.

I’m finally on the verge of writing again after a very long (for me) layoff of two weeks. I’ll try to pay attention to this blog. I enjoy sharing with you guys what knowledge I’ve been able to glean.

But my main effort with writing will be in fiction and in posting to my Daily Journal over at HEStanbrough.com. I often post writing tidbits over there, and almost every day I post links to other pointed sources of information. Come join me at HEStanbrough.com. The next post will go out at about 6 p.m. tonight.

Here are a couple of items of interest you’ll find over there in today’s post:

BookExpo America (BEA) Embraces Self-Publishing

Blaming the Reader (for no sales)—This includes a list of reasons your books don’t sell even a few copies. It was so good I copied/pasted it into a Word document, mostly so I could share it with others in the future.

Of course, not everyone will be interested. (You can read about those folks in the “Blaming the Reader” piece above.)

Recently I received an adamant note from a woman who said she would “never” publish her work as ebooks because she “hates” ebooks.

When I finished laughing, I told her maybe she was confusing her desires as a reader for her business practices as a writer. (Yes, I own this flooring store, but I HATE laminate so I’ll never make it available to others.)

I’ve also had people tell me (again, adamantly—why are they always so angry?) that they will “never” attempt to follow Heinlein’s Rules because they don’t write science fiction.

Sigh. Really? Anyone who reads them can tell they aren’t only about SF. They’re simply a set of business habits for people who want to be successful professional writers.

But sure. Crossing your arms and steadfastly refusing to read anything at all that might help improve your craft is a good tactic too. I guess.

Of course, despite the fact they’re simple, Heinlein’s Rules are also extremely difficult to follow. In fact, I have failed on Rules 1 and 2 for the past two weeks, as I alluded to earlier. And I pride myself on being a Heinlein’s Rules adherent.

So I’m gonna start adhering again now. Oh, and here’s an annotated copy of Heinlein’s Rules. You know, just in case you think learning from someone like Robert A. Heinlein might actually be wise.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

An Incident at First and Fifth

Incident 180H. Clement Moore, his umbrella hooked over his left forearm and his grey wool fedora in his left hand, stood in the back of the elevator. He fished the plane tickets from the inside breast pocket of his jacket and looked at them for a moment, just to be sure he had them. It was the first vacation he had taken in ten years. Well, since their honeymoon.

He grinned and slipped the tickets back into his jacket pocket, then watched as the numbers on the elevator wall lit up and extinguished one by one: 64, 63, 62, 61.

Odd. Why didn’t 65 light up first after he got in the elevator and the door closed?

As if someone else were with him and had asked the question, he shrugged.

Maybe it didn’t light up because it was the current floor. After all, did the L button light up when he stepped into the car first thing in the morning for the ride up to his office?

Interesting point. He honestly hadn’t noticed. He’d have to watch for that tomorrow morning.

He looked at the wall panel again: 59, 58, 57, 56.

Round buttons on a square pad. What was the sense in that? And why had they bothered to put all sixty-five numbers on the pad at all? This was the keycard-only express elevator. Could it even be called to other floors?

He thought not. But then, anything was possible.

Perhaps if another holder of the coveted keycard inserted it on, say, 50, the elevator would pass-up that denizen on the current trip. Then it would return for him when it had delivered its previous charge to his destination.

He watched 50 with particular interest, as if perhaps someone had inserted a keycard on that floor and were waiting, at this moment, for the car to stop and the door on 50 to open.

But were there even access doors on other floors? Was there an access door on a floor as low as 50?

He watched as 55, 54, 53 illuminated and dimmed.

There was the access door in the lobby, plainly marked Keycard Access Only. He braced himself for the sudden stop. But he didn’t know whether there were any others: 52, 51, 50!

What? No: 49, 48, 47, 46.

He released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

Anyway, he had never had occasion to press any of the other buttons. And this was the keycard-only express elevator, so it would do no good to press a button now. Even in this bizarre world where to some people the word forever meant unless you don’t pay enough attention to me or unless someone better comes along or unless I tire of you first, surely express still meant express, didn’t it? And 45, 44, 43.

He would have to put all such thoughts aside, that’s all.

His bride was only human, as was he. That’s simply the way things are. Humans with human foibles. Human frailties. Human flaws.

Jesus, how many F words applied to humans anyway? Keeping it clean, of course.

It didn’t matter. Both of them had made mistakes.

Of course, hers were indiscretions and his merely comprised a reaction to those indiscretions. If hers hadn’t happened in the first place, then his wouldn’t have happened either: 42, 41, 40, 39.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and wondered briefly whether that could affect the speed of the elevator.

Yes, all right, he could have reacted differently to her indiscretion. Especially since she had come to him, told him about it. Of course. That could be said of any reaction at any time down through history.

And she had come not to rub his face in it. Not vindictively, but to begin setting things right.

Still, happened is happened. It wasn’t something that could be erased or forgotten. Only shoved back into a corner and never—never—brought forth again. Never. Not if anything afterward were to be successful.

A wayward thought outflanked his reason and raced around the corner: But if there had been nothing to which he had felt compelled to react, then—

He frowned at his reason, silently chastising it for letting down its guard. No, put that aside. Set it off to one side if you want things to work. Shove it back into that corner and tell it Sit! Stay!

Situations are not equal. That’s the whole thing.

Situations between human beings are never equal, even in reality. Always the wrong is weighted to one side more than the other.

Sure. Especially per the unique perception of one party or the other.

For example, her unilateral perception was that he was spending too many hours pursuing advancement in his career. He saw it as a necessary sacrifice on his part of their time together, and one that he assumed surely she would understand.

But she didn’t understand, or said she didn’t.

She saw it as a wholly unnecessary sacrifice by him of herself and her happiness, on a very personal level. She saw it as an attack of sorts.

He saw it as himself placing their security and their ensuing future happiness ahead of being together every second at present.

She saw it as himself placing his career ahead of her in importance.

Damn it! How could she not see that his attention to his career was his way of placing her more important needs above even himself and his own petty desire to be with her?

And so he sacrificed some of his time with her to ensure her future happiness.

And so she found someone else with whom to pursue the happiness in the shallow end of the pool while her loving, devoted husband was slowly filling the deep end with things that truly mattered: 38, 37, 36.

And it was true that he might have reacted more calmly, less stringently. Less harshly.

One simple fact remained: Had there been nothing for him to react to, his reaction wouldn’t have occurred at all, stringent or otherwise.

Of course, she would say his decade-long devotion to chasing the almightly dollar had forced her to do what she did. Ridiculous: 35, 34, 33, 32.

Who cares? Give it to her for the sake of argument.

Even if you were only trying to make things better for both of you, so what?

And even if she chose to use her painfully erroneous perception of you making things better as a personal slight, so what?

Even if she chose to use that seriously skewed perception as a self-serving catalyst for such a severe indiscretion on her part, so damn what?

Of course, she had actually committed and freely admitted that indiscretion. And that indiscretion was still far more severe than what she imagined he had done.

And yes, so what or not, severity was trump.

The level of severity of her action, in a way, erased anything that had come before it, didn’t it? So it could then be said that her own indiscretion, owing to the level of its severity, actually had erased the imagined slight that ostensibly, allegedly, supposedly caused it.

And that same level of severity would naturally and rightfully negate the strength of any ill perceptions of other, albeit much lesser, wrongs that followed from the other side of the equation: 31, 30, 29, 28.

That was the whole of the matter, in reality. It was simply a fact that when a severe wrong on one side forces another, albeit much lesser, wrong on the other side to happen in the first place— Well, certainly the perpetrator of the lesser wrong, acting as he was from the center of a suddenly and unexpectedly devastated life, could and should be forgiven.

But he could be the bigger person. He would set it all aside, beginning today. He would set aside, without prejudice, which personal slight came first, second or third.

Because it simply didn’t matter.

Did it?

Well go on, be honest. You must finish thinking it out before this thing gets to the lobby, because—

But why? Why the time limit?

Because you already decided, that’s why. And even if you must revisit it, certainly you don’t owe it any more time than that. The time it takes this keycard-only express elevator to get from your office to the lobby.

He glanced at the wall pad. The ridiculously square wall pad.

Or was the fact that the buttons were round that was actually ridiculous?

Maybe it was both. Maybe both the pad and the buttons should be triangular or something: 27, 26, 25. Oof, 24 already.

Only 23 floors to go. Well, the time it takes to pass by 23 floors actually. Well, 22 now. And this situation doesn’t deserve more time even than this. From here to the lobby.

Does it?

No. After all, seriously, weighting either side and assigning the level of severity or the lack thereof might serve as an interesting mental exercise. But in the final analysis, does who did what, either with whom or to whom, matter more than putting things back together? And going on together?

Of course not.

And if it doesn’t matter more, then it doesn’t matter at all. So set it aside and shut up about it.

She did what she did, that’s all. And then you said what you said in response to what she did. So what if hers was an action—an unconscionable action, even—and yours consisted only of words, albeit hurtful words? So what?

Yes, your words were hurtful only because they came from great pain. And yes, that pain was caused in the first place by her own unconscionable, even reprehensible act.

The 21, 20, 19 lit up and dimmed.

All right. That’s too far, really. Reprehensible? It wasn’t reprehensible. It wasn’t even unconscionable. It was just what she felt she needed to do at the time. That’s all: 18, 17, 16, 15.

It wasn’t something she planned or thought or even felt in advance. There was no malice aforethought, as they might say if this were part of a murder investigation instead of a mental exercise regarding an indiscretion. It was just something that happened: 14, 13, 12, 11.

Just like the foolish words that flew from your own silly mouth. The words you hardly recognized even as they left your lips: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6.

But at least it’s all out there. Her action and your words.

They can’t be revoked or removed or erased or turned around, but neither must either of them ever happen again. Set them in the corner and never speak of them again, that’s all: 5, 4, 3, 2.

The elevator slowed, slowed, settled. It seemed to sigh.

Set them in the corner and get on with it. And let her see that you’ve set them in the corner.

That’s why he had decided to leave work early for the first time in their ten-year marriage.

If everything went as planned, the florist would arrive at 2 p.m. sharp with both vans. Probably it would take no more than ten minutes or so for Philipe and his assistant to unload both vans and fill the living room with the meager offerings of a forlorn man to the love of his life.

And the confectioner would arrive at 2:15 with the candy, a small, heart-shaped box of filled chocolate candies. But all of them would be filled with the light cream caramel. That was the candy she had identified twelve years earlier as her true favorite when he had bought her candy for the first time.

She would be impressed. She would be impressed indeed.

All would be forgiven in both directions, and they would continue in their life together.

The elevator doors sluiced open.

  1. Clement Moore cut quite the figure at a trim six feet two inches and dressed in his best grey three-piece suit. He had come to work in a brown suit that morning. His secretary had picked this one up for him from the cleaners on her way back from lunch. It was the suit in which his wife found him the most appealing.

He stepped out, a broad, genuinely happy smile on his face.

And almost stepped on the toe of a young woman in a business skirt and jacket. She had an express keycard in her hand and was looking down to put it back in her clutch after the door opened.

When he put his right hand on her left shoulder to keep her from walking into him, she stopped and looked up. Her eyebrows arched. “Oh. Sorry, Mr. Moore. I didn’t see you there.”

Still smiling broadly, he nodded. “Yes, it’s easier when you actually look. Susan, isn’t it? From accounting?”

“Yes sir. Susan Dramon. Sorry sir,” she said. She flicked a look at the elevator. “I really ought to—”

And he quickly stepped aside. “Of course, of course.”

She flicked a polite half-smile at him and hurried into the elevator.

He started to turn away, then stopped. He stuck his umbrella into the elevator doors to keep them from closing.

They opened again.

“Ah Miss Dramon, just a moment. Accounting— that’s on 54, isn’t it?”

She canted her head slightly. Was she in trouble? “Yes sir. Well, 55 actually.”

“Ah, okay. And this elevator stops there?”

“Oh. Yes sir.”

He nodded. “Very well. I had wondered. Thank you. Have a good day.” He withdrew the umbrella and started to turn away.

“Thank you, sir. I mean, you’re welcome and thank you.” Mercifully, the doors began closing again. “And you too sir,” she quickly added. “I mean, a good day,” squeezed through just before the doors sighed shut.

He turned around again, still smiling.

The impressive lobby of the H. C. Moore Building was bustling with black and brown and grey suits and dark-blue and forest-green and maroon pantsuits, all hurrying to or from one place or another.

He started across the floor and all but disappeared. The floor was grey marble, the same shade as his suit. It was divided into three-foot squares by precise brass lines that were one-eighth of an inch thick.

The walls, too, were grey marble up to a height of eight feet. From there to the eighteen-foot ceiling above the mezzanine, white marble took over.

He had envisioned having to thread his way among all the suits and pantsuits, but they seemed to thread their way around him. A few glanced at him, then quickly looked away. Most didn’t look at him at all that he could tell.

It was an interesting paradox. If they saw him in his office, or in theirs, they would look him in the eyes to display their confidence in whatever they were saying. Yet to become invisible, all he had to do was walk among them.

As he neard the security and information desk at the center of the lobby, he noted that Simon was not on duty. Then he remembered it was only 1:40-something in the afternoon. Simon wouldn’t come on until 5.

He slowed as he passed the desk. When he got to the front, he glanced at the placard. He looked up and smiled at the man seated there.

The man raised his eyebrows. He had seldom seen the boss at all, and he had never seen him smiling like this. “Something wrong, Mr. Moore?”

“No no. Not at all. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“Oh. Yes sir. I suppose it is.”

“Good afternoon, George.”

The guard grinned and touched the brim of his service cap. “Afternoon, sir.”

Mr. Moore turned away and headed for the glass double doors.

A moment later he put on his fedora and pushed open the large door. He stopped for a moment to get his bearings, then stepped out onto the sidewalk on First Street. It was different, leaving at this time of day. Everything was bright and, like the lobby, the sidewalk was busy with people going about their own errands.

Most often a taxi was waiting out front to take him home, but today he would catch one at the corner.

He looked up the street to his left toward Fourth Avenue, then stepped slightly back and touched the brim of his fedora as a young woman passed walking toward Fifth.

She smiled back and allowed her gaze to linger for a moment. Her smile increased and seeped into her eyes before she was past him.

He watched as she receded toward Fifth Avenue. He had noticed the two top buttons on her light pink button down shirt were open. The two bottom buttons were unfastened too, and the tail was knotted at her tummy.

That was over a wide white belt she had fed through the loops of a hot pink skirt. The whole thing appeared to be shrink-wrapped to her hips. The skirt wasn’t much more than a belt itself, and her long, slender legs were made to look longer by the four-inch spike heels on her feet.

He’d seen her in the area before. Marilyn, if he remembered correctly. Poor kid. He hoped someday she would get out of the life and get herself together.

Maybe he could even help. Maybe tomorrow he could have one of his security people talk with her. See whether maybe she would be amenable to attending a clinic. One of those places where they cleaned people up and set them on a better path. All due to an anonymous benefactor, of course. Yes, he would have to look into that.

But for now, he had to get himself and his own life together. This was the first day of the rest of his life with the most beautiful woman on Earth. A woman who had made a mistake and needed only his forgiveness to make it all right again.

She would be surprised when the flowers arrived. Especially when Philipe and his assistant kept coming back with more.

He grinned. After all that, she would be a bit annoyed when the doorbell rang for the second time only minutes later and the confectioner handed her the special box of chocolates and delivered her husband’s special message.

She would realize it was his way of telling her he loved her. But she would think he was “throwing money” at a problem to solve it instead of getting involved himself. She would think he was giving her “only” flowers and chocolates in lieu of his most precious commodity. His time.

And she would never expect him home early. It simply wasn’t what he did. It wasn’t who he was.

But when the cab pulled up and he got out and walked through the front door in the middle of the afternoon, she would be tickled.

In fact, instead of simply walking in, he would ring the doorbell too. And he would wait off to one side, so she couldn’t see him through the peep hole.

And when she opened the door, he would extend his right hand. And in that hand would be two tickets to the Bahamas. She would take them and she would gawk at them. She would see plainly that the return date was two weeks away.

How could he show her more plainly and more forcefully that he was absolutely serious about spending more time with her. That he was serious about her, period, and about their marriage.

It would be a wonderful day. It would be a wonderful moment. Possibly the most wonderful moment of the past ten years. Probably for either of them.

Still, she wouldn’t be surprised at all if he didn’t get a move on.

Marilyn unexpectedly stopped in front of him and turned left, as if to cross the street.

He almost ran into her. He said, “Sorry. Excuse me,” and brushed past, almost running.

He was unable to get the scene out of his head, but it was delighful so he let it replay.

Him ringing the doorbell.

Doris opening it, a frown on her face.

She would say something like, “Now look, you can’t just—”

And he would proffer the tickets.

She would only barely register his face before shifting her attention to the tickets. She would take them from his hand, tentatively, as if certain they couldn’t be for her.

Only her raised eyebrows would indicate that she recognized him at all. Well, that and her saying, “Harold, what’s going on?”

But she would say that while still ogling the tickets. She would look away to the right, then back at the tickets to make sure they were real.

He laughed. She would do that at least three times before she finally looked up at him and smiled.

“Harold!” she would say. “How wonderful!” And she would say something silly, like, “Are these for us? I mean, you and me?”

As if he would have tried to send her away without him.

And he would say something gallant, like, “I’m so sorry, Doris. I know I haven’t done right by you, but I’m back.”

He wouldn’t even say, “All is forgiven” or anything else she might take as demeaning.

In fact, he wouldn’t make the slightest reference to her indiscretion. There would be time enough later to mention quietly that he hoped she would never feel the need to wander off again.

And when that moment happened, she would answer him by simply squeezing his hand and allowing him to see the love seeping from her eyes. And that would settle that.

He raised his right hand to hail a taxi and—

Something popped in his head. On the right side. Something popped.

His hand and arm dropped as if they had been lopped off, and he staggered.

Dizzy. Something tickled his nose. He reached for it.

Something warm on his hand. What?

He pulled his hand away and looked.

Blood? He frowned. A stupid nosebleed? Now?

But it would get on his suit. And Doris loved that suit.

He staggered again, shook his head. For a moment, everything went black. His knees sagged.

Then he caught himself and straightened.

Oh man. He grinned, almost laughed. He was fine. He was fine.

He slipped into the cab, and the cabbie grinned at him. “Early today, eh Mr. M?” Then he shut the door, walked around the front and climbed in behind the wheel.

He drove to the house in record time. Another difference in the time of day, no doubt. Though Mr. Moore thought the trip would have taken more time, not less.

But as the taxi stopped at the curb in front of his house, he checked his watch.

It was 2:30 on the nose. Perfect.

“Thanks, Walter.” He passed the cabbie a fifty dollar bill. “Listen, keep the change, my friend. This is a wonderful day.”

The cabbie said, “Thanks, Mr. M.” He tugged on his door handle, about to get out. Walter was so good that way.

Mr. Moore said, “I’ve got it, Walter. Thanks. See you in a couple weeks.”

“Yes sir.”

And Mr. Moore got out and walked across the lawn. He was pleased to see a few petals from Philipe’s delivery on the lawn and the walkway.

He approached the stoop, and there was the front door. It was closed, as it should be. He grinned.

She was going to be so tickled. She was going to be so damn tickled. At long last, he had come to his senses. He would show her how much she mattered. He would show her.

He reached for his inside jacket pocket to withdraw the tickets and—

His head slapped hard on the sidewalk.

A moment later, unbeknownst to H. Clement Moore, the EMS looked at his partner and shook his head. “Aneurism.”

“Look at that. The guy’s smiling.”

“Yeah. Let’s load him up.”

* * * * * * *