Benito then crushed his cigarette out on the pavement. I noticed it was half lit and still smoking. "When someone steals my property, I get very agitated. I can't sleep, break out in a rash and then I am uncomfortable. When I become uncomfortable I become unreasonable and you don't want me to be unreasonable." "No, I don't." I said. "Good just let me know what State he is in and I will find him. You will be off the hook. I know he is your friend but he is a rat and a low life. Now what State is he in!" He was now digging his hand into my left shoulder. I felt his grip, he was very strong. I loved Cliff like a brother but this was not my battle. "He is in New Jersey" I screeched. "Okay let's go Dobbs, have a nice day kid." I watched them walk across the street and get into a gray Corvette. As they drove away I felt my hands sweating. I got off easy. It wasn't me they wanted but I was the weak link. I also tried to convince myself that I didn't give up Cliff because I didn't pinpoint his location. I really did not know where he was and I think they knew that. They knew Cliff was smart. I told them he was in New Jersey but New Jersey is a big state. I must admit I was still frightened but I was more frightened for Cliff. I did not want anything to happen to him. I really believed these guys would hurt him.
"Hey Johnny, this is my only phone call so listen up. I have been arrested. I have killed Dobbs and Marquez." "What!" I said. "Yeah they came after me like you said they would. They worked me over pretty good. They beat me up but I was able to crawl over to my truck as they were leaving and pulled my dad's rifle out of the truck. I shot and killed them both as they were walking away."
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AFRICA. Where corruption often rules and human life can be the most worthless commodity. Read the story of Sierra Leone and its people in this bloody, harrowing, and heart breaking suspense thriller.
This is a work of fiction, except for the parts that really happened.
Vast deposits of diamonds and oil are found in land overlapping both Sierra Leone and Liberia. A scramble ensues to secure the mining and drilling rights of both commodities. Leading the race is the Mining Earth & Ocean Corp. (MEO).
To amass and control this wealth, the creation of an illegal state called Salonga is proposed. The nominated ruler, backed and supported by the MEO, is a former RUF commander - General Icechi Walker, known as 'Body Chop' - a suspected mass murderer involved in countless atrocities.
As the battle for control of the land unravels, stories spread of horrific bloody massacres and mutilations in towns and villages, many of them by child soldiers. The capital, Freetown, is threatened by a full-blown mindless rebellion led by the RUF.
To secure power, Body Chop, with the help of the MEO, engages the protection of a private mercenary army. But control will not be handed to him so easily.
Disgraced, virtually bankrupt, ex-Sgt. Alex Dalloway, is a major part of the mercenary brigade. He has a personal quest to locate the Army officer who tortured him and killed his men years ago in the jungles of Sierra Leone. He begins to suspect the former RUF commander's involvement.
His personal life in shambles, Dalloway and his troop goes against Body Chop and his supporters, to avenge the death of his men and all the innocent lives lost at the hands of the RUF.
The roiling action of Ernest Brawley’s novel The Rap takes place in and around a penitentiary much like San Quentin. The time is the early 70s, when George Jackson, Angela Davis and others were agitating for prison reform, and the authorities were doing everything they could do to thwart them. A young, sympathetic guard, Arvin Weed, attends night classes at a local college in pursuit of a dream to break away from his worst nightmare: working at the prison forever, like his father. But his reputation as a Vietnam vet rifle marksman draws him unwittingly into a conspiracy to murder revolutionary, black militant leader, William Galliot, who’s just been sent to prison. Arvin’s evil cousin, Wasco Weed, also a recent arrival to the prison, fancies himself a criminal genius, and has, in fact, been directly tapped by conservative political eminences to assassinate Galliot, the revolutionary. Wasco shrewdly manipulates everyone in his orbit, including his voluptuous wife, Moke, an almost supernatural creature given to midnight swims in the ocean and driven by a ferocious craving for money and power; Fast-Walking Miniver, a young guard and the warden’s scapegrace son; Big Arv, Arvin’s loutish father; Lobo Miniver, the urbane and opportunistic warden; and even Wasco’s own mother, Evie, the bawdy proprietress of a whorehouse. Moving from the tragic to the comic, the obscene to the exalted, the real to the surreal, The Rap is the ultimate American saga.
“He was the fastest man in the entire State Slam. Clocked by Arv at true time doing sixteen seconds crossing the Big Yard—a hundred yards—his limber wobbling legs seeming to float in space. Still a young man, only seven or eight years older than Arv, with a handsome face and bright blue eyes and a hawklike curved nose and a high pale brow and straight pretty teeth and a strong forthright jaw like his father's and a thin dry mouth, the mouth of an aristocrat of the Joint, and all of that laid over that tiny head atop that impossible body, Fast-Walking seemed at once as young and old as creation." ~
Not long before my mother died, she told me a story I’d never heard before. It was 1965, the year before she married my father. Spring had come to the Northeast nearly a season ahead of itself. By May, the fields rippled with thigh deep, green-gold grasses: sweet timothy, birdsfoot trefoil, clovers, reed canarygrass, ryegrass, and tall fescue. All the kids along Sweet Milk Road knew the species names; they were weaned on the sweat of haying, and my mother and her brother Morgan were no different.
It was a clear, bright Sunday morning—a perfect day for the first cut of the season. The fields around the farm were filled with the buzz and clang of sicklebar mowers and balers while my mother and Morgan stood toe-to-toe in a field of egg-yolk colored mustard blooms. They scrapped with one another on the strip of land between their farm and the Deitman property where no one could hear them. At first my mother laughed at her brother’s suggestion, like a late-comer for Sunday dinner who asks for the platter of fried chicken to be passed, only the plate is empty and the laughter trickles into awkward silence. She pleaded with Morgan, but he was of no mind to hear her. His decision, he claimed, was best for the family: She would marry Michael Deitman on her eighteenth birthday, and their families and land would be united, an isthmus to wealth and stability.
All of that changed when a bullet ripped through the leaves, shearing the air. Before either of them heard the sound of the report, it shattered Morgan’s breastbone and sprayed bright red blood onto my mother Lydia’s face and hair. Morgan looked at her, his eyes filled with terror, as he fell dead into the yellow mustard blossoms.
“Who did this?” I asked.
“Well.” She stammered, of course it was an accident. You have to know that, Joss. Someone was in the high birch grove shooting at the birds . . .”
I didn’t challenge her, but I wondered how she came to believe this. And who could have fired from nearly a quarter of a mile and struck down Morgan with such precision?
During those first three days before anyone else knew what had happened, my adrenaline-driven mother dragged Morgan’s body to the cottage in back of the farmhouse, and hid him in a macabre game of hide and seek—first in the closet, then under the stairwell to the cottage, and finally behind the old woodstove—all their favorite childhood hiding places. While the crows sat in the trees above and watched. On the third day she carried him to the river and washed him in the cool running water, then laid him in the tall grass.
Even when the coroner came to take him later that afternoon, she still refused to believe he was dead. She sat on the back porch all that summer rocking, worrying the floorboards for days that lingered into weeks. She did not cry or speak for months and only bathed in the river.
I think about this story as an April wind blows my red Mini Cooper along I-84 West, then tracks north along the Taconic Parkway. I try to distract myself, turning up the radio, flipping through the FM stations, but still I hear her voice.
“I had no one,” my mother told me. “My brother was the only one left, and then he was gone, too. I convinced myself that he was sitting on Heaven’s back porch. That if I waited on our rear balcony, he’d be back. I don’t know why, but I washed and ironed all of his pajamas and packed them in a suitcase. You do crazy things when you lose someone. I think that suitcase is still in one of the upstairs’ closets.”
She said she’d look for it but never did. I wonder if it’s still there. I try to push away these thoughts by doing what I always do: measure the day by road signs, or how many times I pass the same truck. An attachment from girlhood and those hopscotch counting rhymes from my school days—one-ery, two-ery, zigger-zoll, zan. . . . But on this morning I gauge my time, tapping out the minutes by heartbeat, dropped lanes, or the whirl of the car’s cozy heater and classic rock tunes buzzing in my heart like a lullaby.
It’s what my dad always did back when we all lived in the city—crank up the radio while he drove. He’d holler, “Hey, Paulie-girl! Get in the van.” With my mother scolding, “Paul! Her name is Joss Ellen—not ‘Paulie-girl!’ Not ‘Boy-o’ either!” But that name, ‘Paulie-girl,’ was lassoed around everything I knew myself to be. As a six year old, I was always ready for an adventure with my father, Big Paul.
We’d fly in that rattletrap van with the tunes blaring. He’d bring me to his tailor shop on East Forty Second between Lexington and Third. I’d jump out before the vehicle stopped, and ran through the jangling back door, hollering, “Liam, where are you?”
Liam Michaels was my father’s apprentice and an occasional guest at the farm. He’d drive upstate to play with my father’s jazz group that met there on Friday nights. I’d steal into the millhouse where they played to hear Liam’s melancholy Irish tunes flow across his fiddle strings. I used to beg him to bring his violin to the tailor shop, but he never would. He always said it wouldn’t be proper in a gent’s shop. I’d nod though I didn’t understand why, or what a ‘gents’ shop’ was.
“Liam!” I’d holler again.
“Is that you, Jossy?” he’d ask.
I could never answer fast enough. He’d scoop me up and lift me onto his shoulders, and then stand in front of the tall mirrors. I’d laugh and screech, terrified of being up so high, and hang onto his hair or squeeze my arms around his neck.
He’d cough and choke. “Tell the truth, girl! Are ya trying to kill me, or do you just like me that much?” He’d pull my hands away and grab me around my waist. “Oh my God!” he’d say. “Look at that two-headed thing in the mirror.
“It’s me, Liam,” I giggled, all the while reeling in woozy panic. My dark red curls, just like my mothers, bounced in the mirror images, and stared back at me with my father’s same grey eyes.
“There you are!” he’d point, with a goofy smile plastered across his face and a shock of black hair falling into his eyes. “How’s my girl? What are ya—on a ladder? Come down from there. I got a little bit of ribbon in my pocket I saved for ya.”
My father would barrel through the back door, yelling, “What’s going on in here? Paulie-girl, don’t bother the help!” He’d wink at me and disappear into his office.
He’d check his stock and special order sheets, and then we’d pile back into the van and charge off to the garment district. There my looming father, nearly six feet tall and wide in the shoulders, would haggle with some witless slob over the best gabardine. Daddy would reiterate his secret every time: Look them in the eye and smile, but walk away before you back down. Just be soft with every step. Once he’d get his price, he’d buy remnants of cerise or saffron taffeta to make my sister and me something for school. For Naomi, it would be a blouse with pearl buttons or a crinoline skirt, but for me he’d always fashion something man-tailored: a vest or jacket spit in my father’s image. “Stand still,” he’d say while he’d mark the fabric with chalk and pins that scratched my skin. Back then I never winced.
I’d turn slowly while my father stood, scrutinizing his work, commanding me to stop, or turn, or walk across the room as he’d watch the garment move in the swing of my arms. What emerged would be flawless: pale gray herringbone with pockets piped in apricot, a vivid lining at the pleat. In the mirror, I only saw my father’s eyes, his smile.
Back then, I thought I was special.
On Friday nights, we’d go to the Floridian on Flatbush Avenue for sweet fried smelts with lemony rémoulade sauce. The same diner he used to go to with his own Pops. “Here he comes,” some waitress named Dolores or Ronnie would shout above the din: “The dapper tailor dressed to the nines with his little one.” We’d sashay down the aisle between the tables, he in his striped shirt and red braces, a vest or jacket, shoe-shined and natty. Me in a replica—never a skirt or a bit of lace. Big Paul, square-jawed, with smoke-grey eyes that could darken instantly. would smile at the other diners as if they were his guests, always with the witty comments, tipping his fedora or porkpie, or whatever was perched on his head that evening.
We’d slip into a booth and order drinks: cherry soda for me and Cutty Sark straight up for Big Paul. Before the first sip, we’d clink our glasses while I stared in awe at the myth that was my father. And when our hot plates came out, we’d slather on that tart sauce and slide those sugary fish down our throats, barking like penguins for more. We were hungry. We were the boys out for all we could get.
His terminal path was irreversible and had been certain from the moment he palmed the cash at the blackjack table. The greedy moment was his second chance. Once before, he had attempted to steal from them. It was only a small amount that would not be missed, or so he thought. But they caught him, and later in an isolated shed deep in the woods, he experienced what they called awareness training…and he suffered. He survived the test only to gain a renewed, but baseless, confidence.
Greed can blind the goodness of a soul. Its selfish nature ignores those things important to the rest of humanity, consumes more than its share, and discards its rubble. Greed cultivates only that which feeds its insatiable appetite.
As time passed, the fear and pain dissolved with the distance of the memory. He learned from the experience and now believed that he knew the unwritten rules crucial to his survival. He settled back into the routine of his job and yearned for acceptance into the family. His desire to be one of them was fueled by an internal fiery ambition, which caused him to forsake all who had loved him before, and this temptation for easy money made him a different man.
He had underestimated the pertinacious spirit and the tenacity of their stewardship regarding family money. The lesson they taught him that night in the shed had faded, giving way to the undeniable force of addictive greed, which romanced him and enticed him to take the short stack of hundreds left on the table by a distracted, inebriated gambler. He palmed it with a swift practiced motion; no one would know. The drunk was barely conscious and unaware, but the ever-watchful eyes had seen the quick hustle. They showed him the camera replay before his trip to this final place to endure their wrath.
Scars are etched and spoils discarded along greed’s ugly trail. Greed is a cancer that tangles its suffocating tentacles to all it can reach and eats away the foundation of its subsistence. Greed devours and moves on to its next host. Greed teaches greed.
They tied him by his wrist to pilings under a dilapidated industrial dock on the Sampit River. The river branched and flowed in a deep channel previously used by ships that had served the Georgetown steel mill. The mill was closed and forgotten. Greed had converted this life-giving estuary into an abandoned, rust-colored wasteland. The murky channel was a frequent path for large bull sharks cruising upstream from the bay in search of schooling mullet and trout. Sharks would not overlook this tempting morsel for long.
Before the big predator arrived, the thief hung in the changing tides for two days with his mouth taped shut and his castrated loins slowly seeping his bodily fluids to mingle with the secretions of bloody chum bags secured about his waist. He was the anointed temptation and the warning. The water rose to his chin and receded to his waist in a slow, consistent, tidal cycle. He had guessed what might finally happen, but did not know how long before death would come. Anxious, but resigned to his fate, he wished the end to be now. He craved the satisfaction of relief, but there was no answer to his false prayer offered to a feigned religion.
The beast circled, moving faster as it sensed the source of the blood trail and tested the defenseless nature of the prey. It became more aggressive. He felt the first tearing punctures of the powerful, predatory attack as the hidden beast surged and ripped away the lower half of his body in one crushing bite. The attack was painful at first but ultimately delivered anticipated relief from his tortured trial. For a few short moments, he remained alive and conscious and watched as his life’s blood drained away. He saw the mortal wound but did not dwell on the implication. The attack was fueled by hungry, gluttonous greed.
Greed is often without mercy.
He had lived a short, highly charged life on the edge, with all that a young single man could want, but he had wanted more. While seeking more than his due, he had crossed the avarice boundary patrolled by a greater greed, and then he paid. His termination was the justice dispensed by an unmerciful, pestilent force, a force he had once nourished, but never allied.
He no longer felt pain, released his apathetic grip on life, and floated, rising above the body that was once him, watching the shark attack again and again in a ravenous feeding frenzy that would not stop until the prey was consumed. His soul was already gone, maybe to his final paradise.
The setting sun illuminated the clouds in a peaceful orange-and-blue sky. His violent death did little to disturb nature’s beauty at the end of this fine summer day.
Greed will prune the fresh buds of nature’s spring and sour the taste of its life’s stream.
A young hitchhiker stood on a high bridge that crossed the Sampit River. He was tired and hungry, but he stopped to watch the sunset over the vast stretch of pine forest that swallowed the winding river to the west. Without concern he looked down the river channel to see thrashing water under an abandoned pier. The dim light and the distance to the pier conspired to obnubilate his view of the prey and the predator. The water settled to a calm, black surface. He quickly lost interest and looked back at the distant sunset, picked up his bag, and moved on. He was going to Myrtle Beach, and he was sure that life would be better.
Battleship gray merged to powder blue as the eastern sky met the new day. Pelicans flying in a disciplined flight formation skimmed the glassy, rolling surf. Sandpipers raced along the seafoam cast to shore on the edge of each wave.
“I love this time of day. It’s just so perfect.” Edna sighed.
“Me too. I just wish it didn’t come so early.” Evelyn yawned and rubbed her eyes.
Each morning Edna and Evelyn walked a half block west from their apartment and crossed four lanes of asphalt, known as the Kings Highway, to purchase one of their little decadent pleasures: coffee and a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut. With the treats, they returned east two blocks, kicked off their flip-flops, and walked on the cool beach sand, to their favorite morning rendezvous off First Avenue South.
They enjoyed commanding views of the surf from this spot in front of the Swamp Fox Roller Coaster and Amusement Park. The two thirty-something friends relaxed on seats attached to either side of a lifeguard stand positioned near a high-tide beach drain know as the swash. While watching the calming turmoil of the surf, they savored each bite of the scrumptious, hot doughnuts. Both had a habit of dipping the sugared, caloric bombs into their coffee prior to each bite.
The early-morning salt air, the ocean’s constant music, the sand creatures scampering for their morning meal, and the new beachcombers’ bounty of shells left on the high tide were all things precious to these aging, but not old, former beach babes.
They had come to the beach during the most impressionable time of their young lives to experience the joy of the glitter and lights of Myrtle Beach in the summertime. At first, to stay or leave was an easy choice, but time rerouted the path to any other place. Each swore to the other she would never leave, and the promises had been kept, so far.
As friends since elementary school, Edna and Evelyn had enjoyed the summer beach vacations of their youth. They had played all the Pavilion games, shared cotton-candy swirls, ridden go-carts and all the amusement park rides. Each had swooned over a beach romance, falling in love for a week with a guy they would never see again.
Edna and Evelyn lived in an affordable two-bedroom apartment over Eddie and Vera Rondell’s garage. The girls had been renting this beach apartment from the Rondells for over ten years, and they had all grown to be like family.
Evelyn was Twiggy-cute, anorexic thin, and wore thick, black-rimmed glasses. She had straight black hair that she trimmed when the bangs hung over her eyes and had an uncanny ability to select unflattering fashion styles that hid her natural beauty. She was a prime candidate for a professional makeover.
With each of the many minimum-wage jobs on her Myrtle Beach resume, she left when the breaks were cut back, the boss was too bossy, or she just needed a change as a reminder that her dream was still possible. That new job would surely provide the bridge to greener grass and a path to her dream. She typically found the new patch of green grass to be maintained by similar gardeners.
For now Evelyn worked the two-to-ten shift at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. The shift was too late for breakfast and too early for the late-night pot-toker’s feast. But someone was needed to tend the counter for that late-afternoon sugar urge and for those who craved the hot, sweet appetizer that Krispy Kreme had delivered in the South since 1937. While the Krispy Kreme was short on bridges, it provided rare opportunities to pick up extra cash tips to supplement her hourly minimum wage.
Evelyn lived for the coffee, her cigarette breaks, and the occasional big tipper, the guy who dropped by more for conversation and a break from loneliness than a doughnut. For a few minutes, they met each other’s needs—a caffeine, sugary, afternoon high, mixed with a no-brain, incoherent conversation about the latest government-induced gripe, the sports report, or the weather. The tippers left thinking someone cared, and Evelyn left with a tip.
She held holy her ten-minute break allowed each hour by store management. The only smoke break location was out back on a concrete step, but in the heat or in the rain, Evelyn was there. For nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds, every hour, she sat on the back step thinking about her future and occasionally what her soul mate might be like when she finally found him. The available candidates were rare visitors at this job.
She wondered how long she would work the counter at this joint. Was she trapped in a life gradually morphing into someone she had never wanted to be? For now this beach resort was her place, her inescapable island of life.
She punched out at exactly ten every evening, a cigarette in her lips and a tired dream in her heart. When she left, she walked across Highway 17, the Kings Highway, to “her” happy hour at the Frisky Rabbit. She had a seat at the end of the bar that was always open for her. Each night Evelyn met her friend and soul mate, Edna, at the end of the bar, in the middle of life.
Edna still had the same curvaceous figure of her early twenties, with all the right parts in the perfect places. She dressed in a modest style but accentuated her positives and could still turn a few heads. Since her early teenage years, she had pampered her waist-length blond hair with expensive shampoos and one hundred brushes each and every night.
From the first week of her arrival at the beach, Edna had worked in a gift shop touted as the world-famous One-Eyed Flounder. She had worked her way up through the employment ranks of the Flounder, learning the retailing tricks required to succeed in the extremely competitive business of selling tourist trinkets in a coastal resort market.
She had toiled faithfully through the growth years to see each new addition to the One-Eyed Flounder as it slowly expanded upward and outward into a multilevel tourist bazaar. She was one of the few who could navigate the many aisles, rooms, and stairways without getting lost. She knew where every item in the store was supposed to be located.
On occasion and more often recently, she hinted to her supervisor, her supervisor’s manager, and the storeowner that she felt capable and deserving of the opportunity to move into a management position or at least a floor supervisor position. Unfortunately, all of these growth opportunities were currently filled and were likely to remain that way, as the owner had overstocked the positions with relatives. Most were lazy, clueless, unmotivated, and overpaid. Edna continued to labor silently under the supervision of the owner’s twenty-eight-year-old son, Darrell Jr.
All too quickly their morning routine was done, the sun was surprisingly hot in the early morning sky, the doughnuts were eaten, and the last sip of coffee emptied from their mugs.
“Ready to go?” Edna asked with an obvious reluctance to leave.
“No. But I guess it’s time. You know I could sit here all day and play on the beach. The tourists aren’t here yet, and the beach is so fresh and clean with all of the trash gone, but it won’t be long. I see ’em coming already, one by one.”
“Yep, the confused and thankless horde will be along directly. Look at that guy over there at the edge of the water already digging a hole in the sand, and for what? What is he thinking? The guy gets up at seven a.m., puts on a swimsuit, and starts diggin’ a hole in the wet sand. Has that particular urge ever hit you—to go out and dig a hole in the sand before dawn? I mean…what the hell?”
“Well, now that you ask—like, ah, nope, haven’t had that urge—but then I get to see this masterpiece of nature everyday, so I suppose I’m just spoiled. I’ve never been able to figure out what goes through the minds of most tourists anyway. They almost seem like an alien breed of some sort. It’s freaky, ’cause they look like the rest of us, except with a sunburn.”
“Hey, you know, you might be right. Maybe it’s just a disguise or something to fake us out!”
“Oh, Edna, you’re crazy, girl. Let’s get our fat butts moving. We got things to do.”
“Speak for yourself, fat butt. I’m gonna waltz my fine, tight, young stuff on back to the house. Maybe some redneck stud in a jacked-up pickup truck will whistle at me when I cross Ocean Boulevard! Woo-hoo! You know how I love that kind of intellectual love call,” Edna teased with sarcasm.
“You will just never grow up, you silly thing.”
They both laughed and trudged through the sand, flip-flopped over the hotel parking lot, and trotted across the asphalt of Ocean Boulevard. No studs of any type were out this early, but a large four-door Buick with Quebec licenses plates almost hit them.
The driver, with oblivious concentration, guided the car forward in the wrong lane, ignored the pedestrian crossing, turned sharply across four lanes without even a glance in his side mirror, clipped a stop sign, and continued weaving down a side street as if nothing had happened. Ahh, another day in paradise had begun. Summer was coming fast, and the Canadians were migrating back to their northern habitats.
The girls decided to reroute their path home, giving the main road and the unpredictable morning traffic a wide berth. They cut through the amusement park, taking a boardwalk trail that passed near the base of a large wooden and steel guy-wire structure, the world-famous Swamp Fox Roller Coaster.
“Edna, is that the kiddie train I hear running at this ungodly hour?”
“It sounds like it, but it’s too early. They never run that noisy thing much before noon. If it’s not against the city noise ordinance, it should be.”
The kiddie train was a small-scale replica of a passenger train and served as an amusement-park ride, normally complete with a properly attired engineer to drive kids and their attentive parents on a twisted route through the amusement park. They could hear the signature whistle of the engine making its way along its railed path beneath the massive trusses. The park was closed, and the girls were curious.
The miniature engine rounded a curve from behind a manicured Ligustrum hedge.
“Oh my God! What the—” Edna and Evelyn stood paralyzed with shock, their mouths agape as they stared at a naked young man with hands and feet tied and lashed across the engine. His head and upper torso were positioned over the front of the train and appeared like a figurehead on a ship’s bowsprit. A plastic bag filled with a small quantity of a greenish-brown substance was stuffed in his mouth and secured with duct tape. He seemed to be alive, but frozen in place.
“Call nine-one-one, call nine-one-one, call nine-one-one! Oh shit. Oh shit.” Evelyn trotted around in a small circle, her arms tucked at her sides and her hands flapping up and down on her limp wrist. She was not sure what to do, so she vacillated in place.
“No, I have not been drinking, ma’am!” Edna barked with extreme irritation to the emergency operator. “You tell the emergency boys to get here and get here quick. This boy doesn’t look so good.”
Finally, after thirty minutes, the Myrtle Beach Police arrived in their normal, less-than-rapid response to strange tourist sightings. The miniature train with its naked patron made ten more trips around the track before the first police car rolled into the parking lot. The officer eased one leg out of the car, and the rest of him struggled to follow. He carefully cradled a hot Krispy Kreme between his thumb and index finger. He reached back in the car to retrieve his coffee before moving his attention to this early-morning emergency.
Thirty minutes later the park manager arrived to turn off the ride. Lights were flashing, and sporadic sirens broke what was left of the early-morning calm. A small command post had been set up to support all the rescue teams, including policemen, fire trucks, firemen, an ambulance, and three EMTs. Two-dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a coffee thermos, and a small tarp were brought to the scene, while police gathered evidence.
The process was slow, and the mild enthusiasm decreased as the doughnuts disappeared. Sea gulls hovered, squawked, and looked for crumbs. Bored with the official disinterest and lack of progress, Edna went home to get ready for work. Evelyn went to take a nap before her weekly grocery-shopping duties.
The victimized young man, a first-year summer worker, was employed at the park. He had only been on the job for three weeks. He was confident, cocky, and considered a cool dude in his western Kentucky hometown. The teenager’s prayers had been answered with a summer job at the beach and a chance to get out of his nothing town for the summer. He was in heaven with girls, the beach, girls, pot, and girls. He relished the nightly parties that were easier to find in this town than a hamburger. He loved the crowded bars.
His small beach pad was a room in the Hutches Apartments located behind his new favorite bar, the Frisky Rabbit. All of these things created his perfect domain. He had met a pot dealer staking out new turf and had negotiated the rights for a small franchise to supplement his meager, ride-operator income. It was all good.
The young man had a bag of pot stuffed in his mouth and a note written with indelible black marker ink across his chest and duplicated on his back, saying, “Go Home.” The next day, he did.
The victim could not identify the assailant who perpetrated this weird crime of assault and harassment. The police report recorded the description of a thick, muscular man with a ski mask and gloves. The young man did not want to talk. He was scared, close-lipped, extremely anxious to go home, and of course, he did not claim the pot; it must have belonged to the attacker. At least, that was his story. He told the police he had no idea what the message was about, but he was not sticking around to help find the guy. His adventure in paradise was over.
From his front porch, Eddie watched the morning activity at the Swamp Fox Amusement Part with mixed feelings of disdain, regret, and satisfaction. He was weary of the unrelenting surge of unruly summer workers and overwhelmed by the continuous, unabated onslaught of tourism.
Eddie and Vera Rondell were lifelong residents of Myrtle Beach. They lived in the same house where Vera had grown up. For many years they had lived in an apartment over the detached garage, but after her parents died, the couple moved into the main house. Sixty years ago the modest white two-story frame house with gingerbread trim had been built on a quiet street near an isolated stretch of beach. It had been a quaint beach cottage.
Eddie had worked for thirty years at the Georgetown paper mill. Five days a week, he had endured the thirty-mile drive each way, first to save on rent and later to care for Vera’s parents. Moving from this paradise had never been an option. The resort town had grown up around them without their concurrence.
The vacationers were like an infected wound that healed during the winter months, only to have the scab scraped away each spring and the wound grow deeper. Tourists would blow into town, raise hell for a week, and then go home. The arrogance of each year’s crop of summer workers was overwhelming and caustic. These punks thought they owned the place for the summer season. To Eddie, these unwanted trespassers were infuriating, and he weathered each year’s crop with an increased anger and boiling anxiety.
The Frisky Rabbit bar was less than one hundred yards down the street from Eddie and Vera’s house. Cottages rented exclusively to summer workers were nestled between the bar and Eddie’s property. A scattered row of palmetto trees mixed with an eight-foot-high waxed-leaf Ligustrum hedge to visually isolate the co-ed cottages that were filled with loud, rambunctious, college-aged summer workers.
And if the bar and the cottages weren’t enough, a fast-growing lifeguard business had built an office and lifeguard dormitory across the street. The guards raced to check in at the office each morning before eight o’clock and raced out again two minutes later to set up their stands, tires squealing on both entry and exit. The same loud chaotic process took place around six o’clock, but with music, drinking, and loud profanities added to the irritating mix. Some guards who lived in the guardhouse raised the noise level late into the night.
Eddie and Vera had a clear view of all of this activity as they attempted to enjoy the summer evenings on their porch. The loudest and most obnoxious, late-night party hounds of all summer workers surrounded the couple’s quaint beach cottage.
Each summer developers discovered new space to squeeze more hotels on beachfront lots. Each new business required more workers. Eddie wished all workers could be handled like many hotel maids and maintenance workers, who were collected each morning from surrounding communities, transported into Myrtle Beach, and shuttled back to their homes at night.
Eddie saw the hotels, tourist trinket shops, fast-food restaurants, and arcades as an overgrown forest sorely in need of a vigorous thinning. He could relate to the words of a Joni Mitchell tune, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” But in his version, they put up another tourist trap. The last big hurricane to hit Myrtle Beach was Hazel in ’58. Eddie thought it was time for another one. Too bad Hugo hit so far south; another fifty miles north, and he would have had his wish.
“Vera…honey…oh, Veeeerrraaa! I’m going fishing for a while down at the pier. You need anything before I go?” Eddie set two surf rods and a bait bucket in the back of his pickup truck.
“No, darlin’. What’s all the noise over at the park? My goodness, there’s police cars and everything. Was someone hurt? Do we need to help?” Vera stepped out from behind the screen door and onto the front porch.
“No, sweetie, if Myrtle Beach police officers, EMTs, and firemen with all their vehicles and gear can’t help ’em, we sure as hell can’t.”
“Now, Eddie, no need for you to be swearing. You just go on and fish a spell, and forget about all that. Don’t be gettin’ all worked up. I love you. Now get along, or those fish are all going to be done with their breakfast.”
Vernon was a tall, lanky, chain-smoking, nearsighted, hip mountain man with a bad haircut. He was pissed. With this kiddie train catastrophe, he had lost three bags of pot and a new salesman who had been located in a prime sales location. It had taken two weeks to recruit the right guy to put on the job. The kid was new in town, young, and not extremely perceptive. The temptations of the promised reward of money and girls attracted more potential sales agents to build this marketing pyramid than a free recruitment breakfast at a Mary Kay Pink Cadillac Convention in South Florida.
Vernon was the new self-proclaimed pot sultan for the summer in south Myrtle Beach, a territory stretching from Central Avenue south to Garden City and twenty miles inland to the town of Conway. He had worked hard to establish this position, and he would not relinquish this claimed turf easily. And someone was messing in his business.
During the previous summer, Vernon halfheartedly stumbled through numerous jobs but had learned the ways of Myrtle Beach, the hot nightspots, the restaurants, the amusement parks, and the way of the summer worker. He was really not all that smart, but his subconscious was a keen observer of the facade.
Vernon had worked jobs in three amusement parks, the go-cart track, two restaurants, two bars, three hotels, a T-shirt shop, a gift shop, and a water park, and was typically fired from each job shortly after he was hired. He was lazy and a natural screw-up, showed up late, spent more time trying to pick up female customers than selling, took a little cash for himself, came to work stoned, and once got caught having sex with a questionably young girl while riding the Tilt-a-Whirl. Vernon was not what you would describe as a model employee, but during the summer, few employers checked resumes for work history or references. If you could walk and talk, not necessarily at the same time, you could get a low-wage job serving the tourist industry.
Vernon and his two undaunted thugs stood in front of the Frisky Rabbit waiting impatiently on Booney, the bar owner, to arrive. While the trio waited, they watched the emergency response team help Vernon’s mentally tortured young dealer recover from his naked night ride on the small train.
“Son of a bitch! Harley, I thought I told you to keep an eye on that boy! What the hell, man?” Vernon barked, exasperated with his young thug.
“I was watching him, boss. I watched him almost all night, and I was getting bored, man, and then this bodacious hot girl with gigantic hooters sort of distracted me. It wasn’t my fault, man.”
“Did you get any?” Vernon asked sarcastically with obvious rhetorical intent.
“Naw, she ran when I tried to talk to her, started yelling for the cops or something, but then when I came back, the guy was gone, so like, you know, it wasn’t really my fault or anything.”
“You dumb ass, you just don’t get it, do you? David, what about you? I mean, dammit, there was two of you idiots to watch one guy selling dope. How friggin’ hard can that be?”
“Yeah, like, it wasn’t me, man. I was on break, man. I tested some weed from one of the other new dudes we hired, you know, just checkin’ to make sure he wasn’t cuttin’ the stuff too much, and then I sorta jumped a ride on the roller coaster ’cause a guy I knew was running the ticket booth, and—”
“Shut the hell up! You losers have got to be two of the biggest idiots ever. Jesus H. Christ! What were you thinking? Never mind, I don’t want to know. All I know is you assholes owe me three bags of weed.”
Vernon turned away from the rescue and pointed at a disheveled, troubled, young dude staring out through a small barred window on the front of the Frisky Rabbit bar.
“And this idiot, when we get his ass out of here, no more beer chuggin’ for him. Jesus, you turds are more trouble than you are worth.”
With a disgusted look on his face, Booney pulled into a reserved parking spot next to the front door of the Frisky Rabbit. Last night Vernon had misplaced another one of his new lifeguard pot dealers; Shoots McCoy. At the time no one cared where he was.
Shoots’ cell-phone alarm had roused him to an early-morning consciousness. He had opened his red eyes to find himself lying under a pool table next to a naked girl he didn’t know but maybe should have remembered. It took him a few minutes to figure out where he was and more time to find his clothes and then finally to discover his dilemma of being locked in the bar.
The owners always bolted the doors of the Frisky Rabbit from the outside. Shoots had thirty minutes to be on the beach, or he would be fired. The guard had already been warned twice about late arrivals. He called Vernon for help.
Shoots now had five minutes to hit the beach, or Vernon would lose another well-placed dealer. Booney opened the four padlocks securing metal bars and unlocked the two dead bolts. The liberated lifeguard emerged on a run, heading back to the guardhouse to get his gear before making his way to the beach.
After a quick check for damage in the bar, Booney emerged from a back poolroom with a young girl who squinted at the bright light of day, buttoned her shirt, and staggered to her car. She opened the door and crashed down in the front seat. Booney pushed her feet in and shut the door. Complaining to himself, he locked the front door to the bar and walked over to Vernon.
“Hey, man, you and your boys are going to get busted, or somebody is going to get hurt. You might want to stifle the crazy shit for a while, dude, or it ain’t gonna be cool around here, you know what I mean, man. And Murph, he’s pissed too, man, so you need to chill.”
“Sorry, Booney. I’ll talk to the boys, see what I can do. Here, dude, take this for your trouble.” Vernon slipped Booney a plastic bag with four fat joints, and then he looked down the street at the running guard, who caught his flip-flop on the curb and fell headlong into an eight-foot camellia bush in Eddie’s front yard.
“Jeessuss H…get in the van, boys, he’s never gonna make it in time. See ya, Booney. We gotta get that sorry asshole to the beach. Stay cool, man, stay cool.”
IN THE WOODS ACROSS THE HIGHWAY AT THE TUCKER RESIDENCE - AN EXTREMELY DETERIORATED HOME - HALF-HOUR LATER
Lars pulls up to within fifty feet of the Tucker’s house and hits the horn.
Lars hits the horn again.
Are you sure this is the right place?
It doesn’t look like anyone lives here, does it?
If anyone lives here, they have to be living like animals.
The front door to the house opens and a large man steps out with a rifle across his arm, but not pointing at the truck.
RICHARD TUCKER (50’s) a large man with a big belly. Dressed in ragged clothes and a dirty appearance.
Lars Lindgren here.
(whispers to Reggie)
I see a couple guns sticking out of the windows.
Lars steps out of the truck and lays his pistol on the seat where he can reach it.
Lars Lindgren and Reggie Carston here. I’m Lars. I would like to have a little talk.
Well, well, well, if it ain’t the rich neighbors from across the way. What you wanna talk about?
Food. And intruders.
We have plenty of food.
That’s good to hear. How about intruders?
We don’t got intruders. We send them all over to yore place.
That might explain things then. We seem to be having a lot of intruders, including your boys. Your boys seem to be doing a little poaching on our side of the highway.
My boys hunt where the food is. It ain’t poaching.
Does that include my garden and smokehouse?
Richard doesn’t reply.
(to Reggie, just above a whisper)
Don’t you have deer around here?
Maybe we’d have more if you don’t plant so much damn corn.
How do you know how much corn I plant?
(to Lars, again just above a whisper)
This doesn’t seem to be going very well.
No it’s not.
Okay, Richard, we’re going to leave now. Try to keep your boys on your side of the highway, will ya?
Richard doesn’t answer.
Lars gets into the truck to leave and Richard goes back inside. Immediately, shots are fired from the house.
Where do the Banned go when home’s no longer home?
The lyrics of the old village tune haunt Astrea, who wants nothing more than to feel like she belongs in the redhead Rudan tribe. To prove it, she captures a unicorn who has wandered into the Mist, the first hope of meat for a while in the famine-ridden land.
But unicorns are magical creatures, and anyone who kills or eats one will become cursed.
When the tribe council votes to eat him anyway, Astrea fears the worst. She’s determined to figure out a way to fix it before the tribe pays for her actions.
This is part one of Running Toward Illumia, which will be released in three parts over the next few months.
John Arnold and Lily Smoot sat on a bench in the Santa Fe Plaza early that evening....
He looked at her in the dim light. “What are you doing running around with guys like Cummings and Damours, Lily?”
“Cummings is a U.S. Marshal, John. And I wasn’t running around with Damours. We were chasing him. What’s your point?”
“Cummings is not much of a Marshal and you know it, Lil. Is it true you worked in the Nevada brothels?”
She looked up at his face. Clearly his feelings had been hurt.
“Yes, John. When I left Utah, I looked into all the political and military and business management jobs open to teenage girls, but they were all filled. I didn’t meet any guys like you who were single and sitting around that I could safely live off, so I got a job where I could save some money.”
She looked closely and caught his scowl. “John, you're married, and unless you’re offering to adopt me or to start taking care of me, I have to look out for myself. And for my ranch.”
He looked down at her. For the first time ever, he hugged her. “I’m sorry, Lil. You’re right. It might not be appropriate, but I care about you and want to see you succeed.”
She stood up. Bent down to him and kissed him gently.
“Appropriate,” she said, “Is overrated.”
Space Resources, Inc. (SRI) mines asteroids for the riches a populated Earth needs without degrading the planet. Yet there are those opposed to progress in whatever its form such as the Gaia Alliance, a front group for eco-terrorists. During a violent attack on the Moon, the terrorists steal an exploration ship, arm it, and rename it the Rock Killer. Charlene "Charlie" Jones of SRI security is trying to infiltrate the Gaia Alliance's cabal to find evidence linking them to the murder of her fiancé. But a run-in with the law threatens to reveal her identity to the dangerous men of the Alliance. Simultaneously, SRI Director Alexander Chun is traveling to the asteroid belt to bring a kilometer-long nickel-iron rock back to Earth orbit to mine for its valuable metals. Following him and his multi-national team is the Rock Killer. Without armaments, millions of miles from help, Chun must stop those who threaten him and the lives of his crew.
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