KISS OF DEATH
My girlfriend's son was seeing a girl and one of her friends was out with a group of five of her girlfriends one night. They were at a club when a guy came up to her friend and they began talking and having a good time together. She was really attracted to him and eventually he gave her a kiss. They began to kiss off and on during the night. Late into the night, he asked her to leave with him and go to his place. He continued to try to get her to leave with him. She thought about it and decided she would go with him because she really liked him. She went over to her friends to tell them she was going to go home with him. They said, "No, you shouldn't go home with him! Don't do it!" They kept trying to talk her out of it. She finally agreed with them that it wasn't a good idea. She didn't go.
A couple of days later, she began to break out with sores on her lips. At first she thought that it was a fever blister she must have caught from him. But then she broke out with more sores on her lips and all around her mouth too. Then it started spreading up the side of her face. She knew she had to get to a doctor as soon as possible.
She went to the doctor and the doctor ran some tests on the sores. She was sitting in the doctor's office waiting for the results to come back. Finally, the doctor came back in to talk to her. He had a person with the Infectious Disease Control with him and also the POLICE!
Her doctor told her that the particular type of bacteria she had can only be contracted from someone who eats HUMAN FLESH! She was horrified. They began to ask her questions and determined that she had met and kissed a guy that the police have been after for a long time. He was wanted for murdering his wife and eating her body parts! They told her he was a CANNIBAL! He had been on the run and avoiding the law by moving from state to state. The police knew he was in the area but hadn't been able to find him.
With her help, the police located him and arrested him.
No telling what would have happened to her if she had left the club with him that night. She might have become another one of his victims. He might have murdered her and eaten her just like he did his wife!
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The Russian state of Sverdlosk was the Soviet Union’s center of fringe military research during the cold war. There, terrifying biological weapons, capable of inflicting unspeakable horror, were intensively researched and developed. Every single medium and long range armament in the Soviet arsenal was repurposed to deliver these lethal agents to anywhere on the globe. The cold war eventually ended. The research did not.
Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
Sun Tzu – "THE ART OF WAR"
They dragged him from the boot of the car, down an embankment to the shore; gagged, bound and blindfolded. His feet scraped grass and stones; a shoe came off and was left behind. At the jetty, Kevin Rafferty waited in the boat. In a long career of violent persuasion this guy had been the hardest to break. But it wouldn’t last. When the blindfold came off he’d realise the loch was to be his grave. Then the begging would begin because pain and death weren’t the same. And he’d tell. Everything. It never failed. Plastic ties fastened the victim’s wrists to hooks hammered into either side of the gun-wale, holding him upright. His head moved, blindly drawn to every sound. With what he’d been through – the beating, the burns, the loss of blood – it was a miracle he was still breathing.
Rafferty turned up his collar, dipped the oars in the water and started to row.
After a while he stopped. Late afternoon drizzle falling from a grey sky stippled the calm surface, they would drift, but not much. He released the blindfold. They stared at each other. Rafferty broke the spell. He opened a canvas bag that lay across his knees, slowly, so the man could see the knives, the screwdrivers, the pliers: his tools. On top he placed a bolt cutter and patted it as he would a faithful dog. The thief moaned and fought against the restraints, wild terror in his eyes. The cutter trapped the first finger of his right hand between the blades. He began to cry.
‘Last chance,’ Rafferty said.
The blades tightened, a muffled wail came from behind the gag.
A thin red line appeared at the joint. Rafferty sighed fake regret.
‘This little piggy went to market...’
An opal moon hung above the loch, it had stopped raining and the night sky was clear. The thief was slumped forward, passed out. They’d been at it for hours - or five fingers - he should be pleading for his life. Better yet he should be dead. In Glasgow, Rafferty understood it wasn’t going to be easy. Something wasn’t right about this guy. He didn’t get it. Kevin’s job was to make him get it.
He peeled the sock from the shoeless foot, bleached like a corpse in the moonlight, and lifted it into position. For the moment the gag was unnecessary, he ripped it away and waited for his victim to come round; when he did it would continue. A noise took him by surprise. He tensed. At the other end of the boat the head came up, eyes blazed in the gloom and the madman grinned at him through broken teeth.
‘I’m starving,’ he said.
‘Could murder a curry.’
Rafferty’s voice cracked with desperation. ‘What did you do with the money?’
This was insane.
‘The money! Where is it?’
The thief spat blood and sniggered. ‘Fuck off.’
Rafferty snapped. He grabbed a knife and buried it in the crazy bastard’s heart.
No,’ he said, ‘you fuck off.’
The body rolled over the side and disappeared into the dark water, Rafferty gathered the severed fingers and threw them after it; food for the fish. At the jetty, he got out and stood for a long time watching the untethered boat float away. He had been so confident, so sure. But it hadn’t worked out. He was going back with nothing. The thought of telling his father made Rafferty sick with fear – more afraid than the man he had just killed had ever been.
Jimmy would go mental.
When billionaire Virginia Ann "Peep" Holler dies, a battle for her estate begins. However, she leaves all of her wealth and Jodi’s Place – a popular Oklahoma ranch dedicated to helping wayward kids – to Abigail Brennan. Abby, a young single mother and favored protege, is elated. But her enthusiasm does not match her experience. After a few bad choices, the ranch becomes embroiled in financial turmoil causing some board members to vie for its ownership. In the meantime, Abby discovers a plot by a local oil baron who wants to seize control of Jodi’s Place, for its rich oil reserves, and end its usefulness to troubled youth. Just when she thinks the inevitable is about to happen, Abby meets an attractive newcomer in town who may hold the key to saving the ranch and helping her out of her dilemma...but not without a price. In spite of the cost, can Abby trust this newcomer to aid her in saving Jodi's Place? Or will Peep's fortune and good name be ruined by forces she cannot control or tame?
What most impressed Calder but also rankled the most was that these conspirators had chosen the weakest point in the electoral process. They were relying on the apathy and ignorance of normal citizens. At precisely the time when no one thought to look at what was going on—indeed when most thought the election was already settled—a small group had struck at the very heart of the process.
Fear ebbed slightly, as he was overwhelmed by indignation at the hubris of the criminals. Politics was a dirty pursuit, of course. Everyone knew that politicians twist the truth even when they’re not telling outright lies. But this wasn’t some cynical exchange of rhetoric and trumped up statistics to do with denying unemployment assistance in favor of funding something else; it wasn’t about gutting environmental law for private gain. Those debates, however full of trickery and spin, were nevertheless just that—debates—and they were more or less overt, carried out before the public and in the public’s name.
This plot, though, was covert, a nationally organized threat to the integrity of the office of the President. It was secret, precise in its economy, and deadly in pursuit of its goal. If the plot succeeded, the government would not legitimately derive its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Calder had spent more than twenty years studying and teaching about elections; and while his primary interest was academic, and despite his stated ambivalence about the “real world,” that theory and practice was underpinned by an abiding, visceral connection to what was it was all for—people: their rights, their lives and livelihoods; the just, lawful application and use of power. He found himself filled with outrage.
He wondered again about who the conspirators were. Calder couldn’t see the either party’s leadership doing something like this. It was too risky, far beyond the normal kinds of “dirty tricks” a party would be likely to countenance.
Did they know at the top level, like Watergate, and so would neither help nor hinder the conspirators? Or had some private, well-heeled and well-connected set of ideologues seen this dirty plot as a means to get their way, abetted by the confusion wealth in American politics affords?
Hours later, Calder was no nearer figuring out who was doing the killing and manipulation than when he sat down.
Ellie pulled the gun out of a shoulder holster that was just a touch too big for her. Its heft calmed her nerves. That lump of cold metal helped to ground her. She couldn't help the hope that lit up like a spark. The chances of Edward being in there were slim; still, she missed him so much. Ellie wanted him to be. She wanted this to be the one. Ellie thought back counting the labs like this they’d hit. The total was much higher than she ever wanted to admit.
She glanced across the seat at Reese. The truck sputtered as it idled. He stared up at the building, searching for anyone moving inside. She didn't bother. Ellie could barely see it. Only a few floors lit up by the streetlights. The building rose high into the sky, a veritable wall of glass. The upper floors lost to darkness. The parking lot was all but empty. The moon hung high and fat in the velvet black of the night sky.
“Check the clip,” he told her, tongue dancing over his full bottom lip. Reese hadn’t taken his eyes the building.
Ellie smirked and pulled back on the slide. The bullet popped out. Her hands shook so hard it rolled over the side of her palm onto her lap. She narrowed her eyes angry at her own clumsiness. Ellie moved to grab it, and it slipped between her thighs. She shook her head, awkwardly reaching for it. He laughed at her. Ellie did her best not to take it personally.
The bullet in her left fist, she hit the button. The clip shot out into her hand. Ellie stared down at the first bullet. It was full. She knew it was. The lesson Reese was trying to push was that you should always check your sidearm. Ellie pressed the bullet into the top of the clip rolling the gun up. The firing pin was difficult to see in the darkness of the cab. She had to look hard for it.
Satisfied that it was straight, Ellie slipped the clip back inside the bottom of the Glock 26, giving it a hard slap. Listening for the click, she pulled back on the slide to chamber the top bullet. Lastly, she checked the safety. That made Reese smile. She was finally getting to the point where he didn't have to drill it into her every time. Maybe she could learn after all.
He turned his head to look at her, long black hair falling into his handsome face. A sharp breath out the side of his mouth blew his bangs out of his gray eyes. A smile pulled up at the corners of his sensual lips. Eyebrows dragging inward, he sighed. His eyes danced over her heart shaped face.
“I don't suppose I could talk ya into staying in the car?”
“Not a chance. You go in, I go in.”
“Can't blame a guy for trying,” he mumbled. Ellie got the distinct impression that he wasn't talking to her. It was mostly because his eyes slid past her, looking over her shoulder into the shadows of the backseat. She caught herself turning to look. His eyes slid back over her face. “Ya stay behind me. No stupid heroics this time.”
Ellie frowned. She popped the latch on the passenger side door. It groaned loudly as she forced it open. The side of the Chevy was dented severely above the wheel well on her side. The craters and scratches spilled across her door almost to the edge of the cab. She hopped down and pulled her navy pea coat in close against the cutting wind that tore at her long, blond hair.
Ellie shoved the door closed and had to try a second time putting her shoulder into it to get it to stick. She was so ready to ditch this truck and get a new one. Ellie was surprised after the last time the thing still ran. She came around the front end her Glock held close to her thigh. Her fingers kept tightening around the grip, trying to get the perfect hold. It eluded her. The fear she refused to admit to had hold of her second and third thoughts.
She heard Reese's door shut and he just appeared next to her. Ellie took in a dragging breath. She was sure she would never get used to that. There were so many things she was sure she would never get used to. He was so damn fast she couldn't even see him move. Ellie had to jog to keep up with him when he was just walking regularly. His stride was much longer than hers. Reese stood at a tall and lean six foot two, where she was fighting to make five foot even.
“Leave the guards to me. Ya go straight for the…whatever they call it.”
“Serum. Miller called it the Serum.”
Reese gave her a noncommittal shrug that irritated the hell out of her. Ellie took in a deep breath just to blow it back out again, tilting her head to one side sharply. The parking lot felt much larger than it really was. The closer they got, the building seemed that much farther away. Her eyes were wide, showing too much white. Ellie glared down at her hand trying to get it to stop shaking. People were about to die, and Ellie knew that some of them would be at her hand.
She looked up at Reese. His expression was calculating. He was concentrating hard, and Ellie thought she knew why. “Thank you,” she blurted out.
“Thank you for doing this. I know what it takes out of you, Reese. I'm grateful.”
His boyish grin melted her to her very core. “Hey, anything for ya, sweetheart. Ya know that.”
“Yeah, I know that.” Ellie bit down on the corner of her bottom lip. “Ready?”
“Guess we're about to find out.”
I never guessed buying an engagement ring would be so tough.
“Still trying to decide which one?” the saleswoman asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I narrowed it down to these two.”
“I’m sure she’ll like whichever one you pick. I’ll give you some more time.”
I thought any ring would make a statement when I decided to propose to Angela, but now I realized the choice came with some serious thought. The couple next to me talked with another saleswoman, using the industry lingo as if it were part of their childhood vocabulary. I felt like the odd one out.
Two minutes later the saleswoman came back. “I’ll take the round one,” I said.
“I like that one, and your girlfriend will love it.” She took the box from the case.
“She’s worth it.” I paid for the ring, tucked it into my jacket and left the store.
I jogged down the subway stairs and caught the downtown Q train. The car was empty during the ride, so I had no audience if I felt like breaking into a song-and-dance number. I headed upstairs to the station exit on Broadway and waltzed up the block while people who didn’t care about my happiness flooded the sidewalk.
Our fourth-floor office had dark gray carpet, which needed a vacuuming. To my left were the bathrooms and two couches making up the waiting area. Ida sat at her desk with a mirror, putting on lipstick. “Did you get it?” she asked, looking up.
“You bet I did.” I showed her the ring.
Everyone gathered around Ida’s desk as if the ring magnetically drew them to itself. Jim Braverman, our boss, looked over the crowd and shot me such a dirty look that I almost didn’t recognize him. “So when will you ask her?” Donna asked.
“Uh–um, during tonight’s Mets game,” I stammered. “She’ll never expect it.” I put the ring away as everyone congratulated me.
At my desk, which was a foldaway table hidden from everyone else, I hung my jacket on the chair, turned on the radio and set up the firm’s June cash disbursement report on specially ruled paper. The music broke the thick silence, and five cabinets of accordion files kept me company. During tax season everyone ran back here to either get clients’ files or put them away, but now it was just me and whatever work Jim scraped up. For a change I could ignore the isolation with something to look forward to.
Suddenly Jim’s name popped up on the caller ID when he rang me–something else he never did before. “I need to speak to you,” he said, then hung up.
In his office he typed on his keyboard, eyes fixed on the monitor. “I’ll come back when you’re done,” I said.
“I’m just about done. Shut the door and sit down.”
I sat across from him, searching his face for a clue about what he wanted from me. Framed certificates and shelves holding textbooks and tax law books were perched on the walls around his desk. Although Jim and I were alone, I felt outnumbered.
He sat back in his chair and said, “I think it’s time you moved on.”
I flinched. “Moved on? You mean you’re firing me?”
He nodded slowly with his eyes closed.
I felt like I was hit by lightning. “Without warning or reason…?”
“Actually, I have plenty of reason.” Jim pulled out two highlighted work sheets dated “6/9/95” and showed me one with Donna’s name on it. “Donna finished a trial balance in a half hour and a bank reconciliation in forty-five minutes.” He showed me my sheet from the same week. “You took longer to do the same tasks for different clients, so I had to charge them more. You have serious and possibly costly limitations.”
“You only realized that after I got back from the Jewelry District?” I howled.
“I resent what you’re implying,” Jim said. “This decision was hard enough.”
“You dug up two month-old sheets to help you make ‘this decision’ in ten minutes.” I inflated my cheeks and exhaled loudly. “You could take a free moment–”
“I don’t have a free moment!” After a long pause he added, “I risk losing clients by giving you the attention I’m supposed to give them. They’re so sensitive to every aspect of our being, they’ll fire us if my shoelace is untied. You have more to learn than managers can teach, and I’m too busy to hold your hand.”
“Wait a minute. I never said–”
“Excuse me, please. Hiring even one new employee gives clients the impression we need more help keeping their books than before. We can’t appear incompetent after working hard for years to earn their trust and goodwill.”
“Now how do you suppose I missed that memo?”
“It never fails,” Jim groaned. “Graduates learn to do the job, but not how to adjust to corporate life. So they come in with unrealistic expectations, dodge responsibility for their mistakes, and blame their failures on stupid things like where they sit.”
“That’s a broad statement,” I said.
“Be glad I hired you at all,” Jim went on. “Graduates usually have longer job hunts, and the lucky ones start by doing what nobody else has time to do.”
“My professors would be proud to know I can use a copier,” I muttered.
“You should’ve known how your presence impacts where you work.”
“So should you!”
Jim sat back again, frowning. “The bottom line is I can’t keep you on my staff.”
“The bottom line…interesting way to put it.” I drifted out of his office.
My coworkers, who cheered for me minutes ago, were now so busy with their work they didn’t look up when I walked past them. At my desk I put on my jacket and left through the back exit, leaving the unfinished report behind. The next time Jim wanted to update his books, someone would waste even more time working on them.
Downstairs on Broadway, among well-groomed and neatly dressed pedestrians, I felt like a fake. The ring felt heavy in my jacket pocket, the subway station seemed twenty miles away, and everyone scowled at me like they heard Jim tell me off.
Laurel stood in the rain at the side of a busy two-lane highway. She looked slowly, methodically, up and down the long stretch of each lane. Her frame was dripping wet, unsteady, floundering. Her place at this desolate spot, far from a store, or a crosswalk, or a sidewalk, had no purpose or explanation, but no one noticed.
She looked to the sky with outstretched arms. Her body swayed. She looked at the ground and again at the sky. Crying now, crying so hard that her shoulders heaved, and her body quivered, and then she threw herself prostrate in front of a large truck. The truck driver reacted in an instant, and steered around her without slowing as if she were a pile of trash on the road. She had failed; her frustration compounded her pain.
Cars swerved as their tires skidded on the slick road and on the wet, grassy shoulder, all drivers working as desperately to miss her as she was desperate for them to run her down. Even now with her moment of decision past, with all the conviction she could muster, she still wanted to die, and end the suffering. She was searching for death with the same tenacity that most humans clung to life.
The highway traffic had stopped in both directions, and she lay in the road crying, humiliated. Horns honked. People yelled and cursed at her.
“Get out of the road!”
“What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy?”
What was wrong with her? Was she crazy? Or did she suffer with a pain that no one but she could know? Did anyone care?
With all the cars and trucks warned, and their lethal force muted, she just stood up and casually brushed the loose asphalt and pebbles from her arms. An eerie calm took over her face. She wiped off her dress and stepped casually back to her spot to wait again for death.
Cars began to move along now. Drivers passed, staring with an array of expressions. Some shouted for the inconvenience she had caused them; a shout of anger for the five minutes that she had delayed their lives while seeking to end her own. But they all drove by, carefully, with their windows rolled up, the air conditioners on high, windshield wipers swishing back and forth, and radios playing. The public moved on, and the individuals who were recognizable and unique in their cars while stopped, were now just another soulless mass of anonymous traffic. She could use the anonymity as a tool to achieve her goal, her quest for death, but if she knew them, maybe not.
If anything, she had empathy for others. She could reach into the soul of anyone she met if given a few minutes of quiet conversation; that was her talent. She could feel their pain, anxieties, frustrations, sadness, or she could dance with their joy, but not today. She did not want to know the person who would be required to take on the burden of her death. But someone would carry the weight this day; she could no longer bear the pain.
Vines of depression had inched their way through the cracks of her psyche, and had grown heavy like kudzu on an old, abandoned farmhouse. The vines had grown fast and destructive in the fertile holes of her soul, and the weight brought her down.
Cars began to speed up now. The traffic was back to normal running slightly above the speed limit. A few traveled too fast swerving in and out, cheating their own deaths. If anyone noticed the woman, wet in the rain, they chose not to stop, they chose not to help her; they were too busy to care.
She stood on the edge of the road, staring straight ahead, waiting for the karma of the right moment. She teetered in one spot. She was not afraid of doing it, she was not afraid of dying, she was afraid of living.
The rain eased and the road steamed. She was at peace. The air seemed fresh and the breeze warm. It had been a beautiful day before this summer storm arrived. She looked up as the clouds parted, and the sun blazed through hotter than before. She could hear the splatter of another rain shower coming. She stood motionless and stared back at the pavement as her long black hair hung straight and dripped on her shoulders. Her dress was molded to her frame. Her hands were balled up into fists held firmly at her sides. She would end it, but just a few more breaths to breathe, a moment more to live.
A horn piped a harsh warning. She looked up, and saw that it was the forceful herald of a moving van, barreling towards her at full speed. She watched the oncoming traffic with the caution of a pedestrian waiting to cross the busy road. The heavy truck careened forward with all of its force and noise and weight. Perfect.
On the edge, at the last moment, she cast herself prone directly under the huge front wheels of the van. One wheel rolled over her legs crushing the bones beneath the knees. The force moved her more parallel than perpendicular. The remainder of the truck rumbled harmlessly over her body.
The truck driver immediately applied his brakes, brought his truck to a rapid stop, jumped out, and ran back to her. The rain came again and poured down.
“Why didn’t you kill me, you son of a bitch? Why didn’t you just kill me? Why? Oh God, just kill me!” She screamed, and cried, and rolled on the ground propelled by an agony beyond her physical wounds.
The driver looked into her anguished eyes and fell to his knees. He put his hands to his thighs to brace his unnerved body. “I’m sorry, lady, I…” he stammered.
“You should have killed me.” She draped both arms across her face and cried. “I want to die…would someone just kill me?” She screamed, and then began to sob uncontrollably, unconcerned with her injuries.
The driver took off his shirt, folded it, and put it behind her head. She screamed. He looked at her grotesquely mangled and bleeding legs; a bone was exposed through her skin.
“Why didn’t you kill me? Why? Why?” She wailed and held her hands up to the sky. “Oh, God just please kill me.” She dropped her arms to the ground, twisted in pain and sobbed.
Other drivers were now helping. A man proclaimed himself as a doctor, and worked to stop the bleeding. The driver looked into her eyes again, but they were blank as if her soul had escaped and left her body to deal with this disaster. On his hands and knees in the road, he too started to sob. Finally, he sat beside her, wrapped his arms around his knees, and looked up to the heavens. Sirens wailed in the distance and a crowd formed an inquisitive circle around the two pained souls.
“Why did you hit her, Hank? Were you drunk again?” Bubba tossed a clipboard onto his desk. “They didn’t put anything on the accident report, but I think the cops cut you a break. I bet you told them you were a veteran. You’re always leaning on that excuse.”
“No, sir, I was not drunk. It all happened so quick, there was nothing I could do, Boss.”
“Why did you get so involved? After the ambulance left, you could have just got back in the truck and drove away like most people would’a done, but not you. No, you leave my truck with a whole houseful of furniture on the side of the road, and ride with that lady to the hospital.”
“Somebody had to go with her. She didn’t have anybody.”
“She had the ambulance EMTs and the police. She didn’t need you. What the hell good did you do her?”
“I was there for her, sir. Somebody needed to be.”
“Yeah, yeah. We’ll be lucky if she don’t sue us.”
“I don’t think she will. She said she wanted to die. She was screaming at me, asking why didn’t I kill her. Everybody heard it.”
“Well that’s just great. Some ambulance-chasing lawyer might just sue us because you didn’t kill her. Do you know how much that accident cost me?”
“No, sir, I don’t. It was a terrible and unavoidable accident, and I’m sorry.”
“Well sorry don’t pay the bills, Hank. I’m not paying you for the time you were off the job, and I’m docking you two days wages for the downtime on the truck. Now get back to work.”
Hank’s boss, Bubba Jaborski, was a wide, fat man with thick fingers and a large belly that protruded with a look that mimicked a late stage pregnancy. His neck had two rolls of fat and his body looked as if he might explode at any moment. Diminishing strands of hair combed over his baldhead and held in place by some repulsively aromatic adhesive jell was the only feature well tended. The strands never moved, even when he sweated as he did today.
“Remember, I’ve got your monthly job report and it’s due to your parole officer next week. I know he wouldn’t want to hear bad things about your performance.”
“But, Boss, you know I’ve done all you’ve asked, everyday, all the time.”
“Yeah, well I didn’t tell you to run over nobody.” Bubba mopped his forehead with a dirty handkerchief and stuffed the cloth back into his pants pocket as he struggled up the stairs to his office. Hank hung his head in frustration and went back to work. He was anxious to finish his day of drudgery.
It had been a two weeks since the accident, and Hank thought maybe tomorrow evening he would go to the hospital to see if she would agree to accept a visitor. He hadn’t had a drink in two days and planned to make it three. If he could leave the bottle for three days, maybe he could leave it alone for four. The last time he had gone more than five days without a drink, he had had no choice. The correction officers had frowned on drinking in prison. Two years behind bars had helped him kick the pain pill habit, but slowly he had drifted back to alcohol and the calming influence of marijuana. He needed something for the pain.
His time in prison, and now still on probation, had put severe limits on his job prospects. He meant to keep this job despite his boss. He needed the work. The meager veterans’ benefits were not sufficient for financial survival, and he was determined to improve his life. Prison had been a warning, and a discipline that had brought him out of his cycle of sorrow, self-pity, remembering, and getting high. He wanted and needed something else or someone to help break him out. He had prayed for it, and thought maybe this accident had been the answer. He needed to go to the hospital tomorrow.
Hank stood at the doorway for ten minutes unsure of what to say. Finally he stepped forward with no better plan than when he had arrived. “May I come in?”
“Who are you?” She propped herself up on her elbows.
“I, uh, I’m the guy who hit you. I, I, just wanted to see how you’re doing and to…well, to apologize.”
“Oh…no need to apologize. I wanted someone to kill me.”
“Ma’am, I’m real sorry to hear you say that again.” Hank moved further into the room and stopped at the foot of her bed.
“Yes, ma’am, that’s what you said before, when I hit you, and I’m real sorry for that. Maybe if I had been more alert, maybe if I had not had a drink before I started driving.”
“Please stop. I jumped in front of you, that’s it. So stop apologizing.”
Hank was quiet for a moment. “Mind if I sit awhile?” His shy gaze turned to the floor. “I ain’t got nothing else to do, and I thought I’d keep you company this evening.”
“Oh great, you have nothing to do so you just came to the hospital to see poor me.” She lay down on her pillow and stared at the ceiling. “Don’t put yourself out.”
Hank sat in the visitor’s chair next to the window. “I’m sorry, ma’am, that ain’t how I meant it to sound. I meant, I wanted to come say I was sorry, but it was…damn, I ain’t no good at this. I don’t have the words, but I know what I feel, and you’ve been a picture in my mind since the accident. I just had to come see you, and tell you I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t an accident.” She continued to stare at the ceiling.
“Well it was to me, and I can’t get your face out of my mind. I see you crying on that road and yelling at me like it was my fault you weren’t dead, and I can’t get nothing right.” He dropped his face into his hands and started to sob. “I can’t do nothing right, even when it comes to accidentally killing someone.”
She turned her head to look at him. “What’s your name?”
After a moment, he said, “Hank.” He did not look up.
“Hank, it’s okay. It was me who jumped in front of you. I wanted someone to kill me, but I guess I don’t want that now. It wasn’t right for me to blame you. I was at the end of my rope, and I’m pretty much still there. Except now my legs are broken to add to my troubles.”
Hank wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, stood up, put his hands in the pockets of his blue jeans and looked out the window.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Laurel. But didn’t you know? How did you find my room?”
“I knew your last name. It was on the accident report the cops gave me.”
“I keep telling you, it wasn’t an accident.”
He turned. “Well, that’s what you say, but the police gave me an accident report so that’s what I’m calling it.” His palms were sweaty. He rubbed the side of his jeans a couple times and briefly looked at her, the room was silent for an uncomfortable period.
Hank finally asked, “You got anybody to help look after you?”
“No. Why do you care?”
“Well, I didn’t want to cause no trouble with your husband, or boyfriend, or whatever.”
“Umpphh. You don’t need to worry about that.”
“Who’s helping you? You got family to help?”
“No.” She bit her lip, and looked at the blank TV through another awkward silence.
A nurse walked in with a dinner tray, set it on her overbed table, and rolled it into place. “You need anything, hon?”
“How about the TV? Here’s the remote, just press this button to turn it on and this button is the channel selector. You can also raise and lower the bed with these buttons right here.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve mastered it already after a short two weeks in this hospital.”
“Okay, but you’re new to this room, just trying to help.” She checked Laurel’s blood pressure, and gave her a small plastic cup with medications. She stood beside the bed waiting for Laurel to swallow the pills.
“Okay, okay, Nurse Ratched, I’ll take the meds.”
The smiling nurse left.
The two sat in silence as she ate her fruit cup and picked at beans and meatloaf.
“Why did you want to die?”
“Who are you, my shrink?”
“No, I’m just interested in what could be so bad that a person like you would do something like that.”
“A person like me? You don’t know what kind of a person I am.”
He unbuttoned a shirtsleeve and very methodically folded the sleeve over and over stopping just short of his elbow, and then did the same to the other sleeve.
Finally he said, “No, ma’am, I don’t know you, but you’re a nice looking lady, you seem smart, and I think I’d like to get to know you.”
“Why? Why would someone want to know me? Why would you, especially you?”
Hank finally looked into her dark brown eyes. “Cause I saw something in your eyes that day when it happened. When you were looking at me, and yelling at me, it was like I could see into your soul. I’ve never had that kinda feeling before, it was weird. I’ve never felt that close to anyone, except maybe once.”
“What did you see?”
He placed a leg over his knee and picked at the laces on his heavy leather shoe. “I saw pain, and a soul with no love, like an empty hole, in outer space. And I saw frustration; it was something you couldn’t fix… And I felt like I was looking in a mirror.”
Laurel looked down at her dinner and pushed beans around, but didn’t eat. She moved the table away from her bed and lay back. She was silent for a time.
“Maybe you’re seeing things.” She looked at him curiously.
“Well, maybe I was or maybe not.” Again, Hank searched for the right words. “You would be the one to know.”
She closed her eyes. After a few moments, she pressed buttons on the remote. They sat for a long while and watched TV. No words were spoken until a nurse came in to check on her, and told Hank that visiting hours were over.
“Can I come back tomorrow, Laurel?”
“Yes.” She pressed a button and the bed reclined. “Please close the door when you leave.”
“Good morning, Laurel. I’m Doctor Harrell. How are you feeling today?”
Without a glance, Laurel asked, “What kind of doctor are you?”
“I’m a psychiatrist. Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?”
Laurel looked out the window, and said nothing.
“Do you mind if we talk awhile? I’d like to see if we could help you.”
“Laurel, I’d like to find out what’s going on in your life. It appears you’ve had a difficult time recently.” The doctor moved to the side of her bed. “I’d like to discuss what happened the day the truck ran over your legs.” She flipped open a notepad and pulled an ink pen from her pocket. “Were you having a bad day?”
“No one cares.” They both sat silent for a few moments. “That bad day you’re talking about was the best day I’ve had for a long time.” Laurel spoke flatly while she looked around the room, and avoided eye contact.
“We do care. Can you tell me why you jumped in front of that truck…why you wanted to kill yourself?”
Laurel hugged a pillow to her chest and stared at her toes peeking out of the white cast covering her broken legs.
“Laurel, I can only help you if you share with me. I understand that you may not trust me now. But you are a beautiful lady with a lot to live for. I’m sure we can help resolve the issues that have made you want to hurt yourself.” The doctor paused waiting for a response, but none came. “You can have a wonderful life.”
“No, I can’t,” Laurel snapped. She closed her eyes and lay back in her bed.
“I’m going to prescribe some additional medication for you. We’ll have you continue with an anti-depressant. I’ll come by again tomorrow, and maybe we can talk some more.”
Laurel lay motionless and said nothing.
At the moving company warehouse, Hank pulled his time card from a gray metal cardholder and punched-in at the company’s antiquated time clock. He put his lunch box in the small, cluttered break room. A long, rectangular window high on the wall revealed an orange glow as the sun lit the eastern sky. Another positive day, he thought and then walked to the rear loading dock.
“Hank, I’ve got a delivery for you. Get two men from the warehouse to help you. This is a good customer, and I need you to get it right. If I find out you’ve been drinking, or that load doesn’t get delivered on time, then you’re done. Remember, your monthly performance report is submitted tomorrow.”
“Okay, Boss. I promise I’ll do my best.”
“Well, you better.”
Hank went to the warehouse and announced the job opportunity to the crews sitting on the loading dock waiting for work. The crews didn’t get paid if they weren’t on a job, and most were eager for the chance. Hank picked two reliable men that had previously worked with him. Those not chosen, grumbled or threw verbal insults toward Hank as he walked away. The trio climbed into a twenty-five-foot diesel-powered truck, perfect for the job, and drove out of the lot.
Occasionally as they worked, Hank’s hands quivered, but when he wasn’t carrying furniture, he shoved them in his pockets so no one could see. He needed a drink, but he needed to be sober more. To stave off the craving, he smoked a chain of Marlboro cigarettes and guzzled water. Driven by the work and a new strength in his will, he fought the urge and completed the job without relenting to his alcoholic demons.
His crew finished a good hard day’s work, and they were satisfied. The customer paid and tipped generously for their efforts, and they returned to the warehouse tired but proud.
“Boss, we got it done, and the customer’s happy. He gave us double the normal tip.”
“Why, what did you say to him?”
“Nothing, sir. We worked our asses off and he saw it.”
“Let me see the tip money.”
“But, sir, I really need that extra cash.”
“Yeah, well I need to withhold taxes on tips, so let me see it.”
Hank handed him the two hundred dollar tip. The boss took five twenties and gave Hank the remainder.
“That should cover federal, state, social security, unemployment and any other taxes I’ll have to pay.”
“Don’t want to hear no more about it. Now get outta here if you want to keep this job. I’ll call you when I need you.”
“Any time, sir. I need the extra work.”
Hank had trouble getting full-time work or better conditions. After jail time, few companies would hire a man, and if they did, it was usually only part-time. The work was hard, the owners were harsh, and the treatment of former felons didn’t always follow the law. There were few complaints from parolees; it was the job or back to prison.
Bubba used the situation to his advantage. Hank’s parole officer was one of Bubba’s special friends, and Bubba was generous to his special friends.
Today, Hank took his money and went home. He showered, dressed, and ate a sandwich. On his way to the hospital, he stopped at a convenience store for smokes and chewing gum. He stared at the beer cooler. It held him, it called him, but he didn’t move. His hand moved to the glass door handle and he held it, he squeezed it. A young man stepped up looking at the beer, but hesitated.
“Excuse me, sir.”
Hank moved back, broke the strong grip of desire, and walked to the cashier.
“Anything else for you today, buddy? We’ve got all our Budweiser products on sale.”
“No, no. I’ve got what I need,” Hank said and left with his hands and his will shaking.
Hank knocked on the partially closed door.
“Hello? Laurel? May I come in?”
He heard a toilet flush and moved back into the hallway. After a few minutes, a nurse came out of the room.
“May I go in?”
“I think so.” She stepped back into the room. “Laurel, you have a visitor.” She held the door open for Hank. He shuffled in hanging his head and looking at his feet. Even at his age, he was still shy, especially around unfamiliar women.
“Hi,” she said as he moved to the visitor’s chair by the window.
“Hi. How are you today?”
“Like I was yesterday. Why?”
“How are your legs feeling?”
“Like a truck ran over them.”
“With a morbid sense of humor like that, you must be feeling better.”
“Mystified?” He chuckled.
“You don’t give up, do you?” Laurel looked him over. “Did you shave today?”
“Shave?” Hank rubbed his face and his chin. Was it that bad?
“Yes, shave. You know with a razor on your face. Looks like you’ve gone a couple of days without. Is that the way you normally keep yourself?”
“No, well sometimes. It depends.” Hank was embarrassed.
“Depends on what? Either a man shaves everyday or he doesn’t.” Laurel took a drink of ice water and crunched on the ice in one side of her mouth.
“Why are you so sad?” he asked.
“Hmmm. That’s a long story.” She shook her head back and forth.
“I got time.”
“I won’t be in this hospital long enough to tell you.”
“How long before you get out?”
“They say in another week, maybe two, but I don’t have anywhere to go, so for the sadness question, maybe that’s reason number uno.” She raised the bed a little higher.
“Don’t you have a home?” Hank looked perplexed.
“I did once, a nice one, but I’ve been living in shelters off and on for the last two years. With these legs, I won’t be able to get there, so right now I don’t have a plan.”
“Oh.” Hank looked at the floor. Now he was really at a loss for the right words.
“They can’t just put you out on the street with your legs like this. You can’t walk. What’s the use of fixing you just to put you out on the street?”
“I don’t know, but that’s how the system works. I guess Medicaid will only pay for two more weeks, and somebody has to pay.”
“Maybe I can help. You could, you could, maybe stay at my place until you can arrange something else,” Hank spoke the words – my place – so softly, he wasn’t sure that she had heard him.
“Arrange something? How the hell am I gonna get a place? I’ve got nothing.”
“We’ll work something out. There’s an agency or welfare or something to help. There’s gotta be something.”
“I’ve tried before and there’s nothing.” Laurel answered with a voice of resignation.
“Well, like I said, what about staying at my place for a while, maybe till you get back on your feet.”
This time she heard him. “Your place? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“No, I’m serious. I want to help. I need to help.” Hank stood and moved to the side of her bed.
“I don’t know, man. I mean I just met you. I don’t know who you are. You could be an ex-con or some serial-murderer preying on injured, helpless women.” Laurel looked past him, and stared out her window.
Hank moved to intercept her gaze. “I have two bedrooms. We can share.”
“I’ll think about it. Seems kinda strange. Me and you sharing a place, too weird.” She moved her eyes away from his and to the end of the bed. She was shaking her head no.
“We can get to know each other while you’re here in the hospital, and you can decide later.” Hank moved to the window and looked down into the parking lot. They were both quiet for a while, contemplating their path.
“Why did you do it?” Hank asked.
“Why do you care?”
“I told you. When I saw your eyes, something changed; something was different. I can’t explain it, but it got inside me. I need something to care about. You’re that something that just came to me outta nowhere. It’s like fate, or God, or something put you in front of me as the answer to my prayers.”
“You prayed for this to happen?” Laurel’s mouth hung open bewildered.
“Not like what happened. I prayed for something to change my life. I prayed hard. I think this changed me. I think this was my answer.”
“I’m on some pretty powerful pain medication so that sounds weird to me right now. They also gave me something for depression. Duh. So I’m a little more cordial than my normal self. Don’t take my carefree attitude for the real me, or one day if you hang around, you may be disappointed.”
“Why are you so sad?”
“You asked me that before.”
“Did I?” Hank turned to look at Laurel and smiled.
“I tell you what, Hank, you tell me a story, and then I’ll tell you one.”
“What kind of story?”
“A story about what makes you want to hang out with me, about why you thought my eyes were a mirror to your soul. By the way, that’s pretty heavy.”
Hank hesitated, arched his back and seemed to be struggling with a thought. He put his hands in his back pockets. “That’s hard, I don’t know…maybe.”
“Maybe? I’m sorry, but that’s the deal, Hank. I’ll show you my soul if you show me yours.” Now Laurel was watching him intently, looking for clues of insincerity in his body language. Was this guy for real? “I don’t need any more trouble in my life, and I’m thinking what I see is trouble. So if I don’t know who you really are, then I can’t decide if I want you to keep coming around.”
“Okay, I suppose that’s fair. What do you wanna know first?”
“Your choice, cowboy, but it’s got to be something that tells me who you are, not some normal run-of-the-mill tale about you, and your buddies out drinking or hunting. Something real.”
“Well, okay, but it won’t be pretty, I promise.”
Hank worked another difficult shift at the moving company. He had only smoked five cigarettes today. When happy hour arrived, instead of heading for his favorite bar on upper King Street, he went to the hospital. As he entered Laurel’s room, a nurse was giving her medications for the evening.
“How y’all doin’ today?” Hank asked cheerfully.
“Afternoon, cowboy. We all are doing fine, all things considered. My day has been just swell. Used a bed pan, had a sponge bath, got a shot in my butt that still hurts, and watched Jerry Springer because I couldn’t get the remote to work, just swell. How about you?”
“Not as good as I’d like, but better than some.”
“Tell me a story, Hank. I’ve been waiting all day to hear it.”
Hank took off his hat, moved the visitor’s chair closer to her bed and sat. “Well, I reckon I been thinking about what to tell you, where to start and all. Like what part of my life would tell you who I am, and there really ain’t no place to start but at the beginning with me and my wife.”
“I was married.” Hank stopped for a moment and looked down. “But we done skipped ahead, so I got to tell it straight through or I can’t tell it at all. Otherwise it don’t make no sense.”
“Okay, sorry. If I’ve got anything, I’ve got time so please just keep going anyway you like.”
Hank paused, gazed at the floor with a blank stare and then snapped back to the moment.
“Grew up in a small town in west Texas. At eighteen, I married my childhood sweetheart, Angel. And, man I’m here to tell you, she was my angel back then; cute as a bug’s ear and sweet as sugar on peaches. We were in love, hot and heavy, couldn’t keep our hands off each other for the first couple years. Angel couldn’t wait to have babies; that’s all she talked about. We had a child about four months after we was married. Had another a year later. The two kids were great, and I loved being a daddy, but two little ones will sure slow down the romance.
“I worked at a rancher’s feed store. It was hard living for us, but we had young love to cloud that reality. Wanted something better for my family, but to make more than minimum wage in those parts, you had to work on an oil drillin’ rig or mining. Both jobs were hard work, long hours, and dangerous, and I might not be able to come home every night. I couldn’t stand the thought of that, not being home with my Angel and our two little ones. I mean they were the reason I worked. Hell, back then, they was everything to me.”
Laurel looked at Hank more closely now. For a moment, he had a sparkle in his eye as he smiled with the good memories, when he talked about his kids. She noticed a red tint in his short-cropped hair and on his cheeks, the fading freckles from his youth. In the memory he told, she could envision him as a young married man, cowboy hat tipped back on his head, and beaming as his kids played outside a house trailer.
“So I kept looking around and finally found a chance to get a little extra money and to earn some free college by joining the army reserves. A lot of guys did that out there in our county. No big deal, military drill once a month and two weeks in the summer. And then the Iraq War and Afghanistan came along. Got called up and had to train and go overseas for eighteen months in all. Lost my job at the feed store cause they had to have someone work it while I was deployed.
“We had been married five years the first time I went to war. Came back on leave after nine months and I was so anxious to see my Angel and the kids, I thought I would bust. But when I arrived at the airport, she wasn’t there to meet me. I had been travelin’ for twenty-four hours, came straight from the desert, and I had to catch a cab and wait outside my trailer for four hours. It was late when she got home.”
A dark mood erased his smile. Laurel sensed the change.
“I sat in the dark on a picnic table and watched. She stumbled around like she wasn’t sure what to do, and then started fiddling around in her purse for a cigarette, lit it and finally walked to a neighbor’s trailer. The kids came bustin’ out that trailer door, crying, upset. ‘Where you been, Mama? Where you been?’ They were grabbing her dress. The little one had his arms up begging to be held. But she didn’t answer them, didn’t hug them or nothin’. Just looked down on them like she was put out with the whole thing. The neighbor was pissed, they argued and the lady just turned around disgusted and slammed the door.
“Angel yelled at ‘em, told the kids to ‘shut the hell up’ and then drug ‘em by their hands back over to our place. Before I was deployed, she had never talked to our kids like that. She had never treated them like that. I was shocked and mad, but I didn’t say nothin’; just sat there.
“When she got to our yard, I stepped out of the dark and under the front door light so they could see me. My oldest, a sweet little girl, ran to me. The younger one, a tough little four-year old boy, he wasn’t so sure. My wife shoved him towards me. ‘Go say hi to your daddy, son.’ She reached in her purse for some gum and took another drag on her cigarette while watching the kids hug me. I looked at her and she just stood there with a hand on her hip.
“I didn’t want to fight or fuss at her. I mean, I had just got home after nine months where all I could do was think about her and those two kids. They had been my whole life, really the only people I knew and loved. They were my family.
“Although I had only been gone about nine months, it seemed like we had both aged fifty years. Young love weren’t there no more.” Hank picked on a loose thread on his jeans and let out a sigh.
Laurel sat still and quiet, studying the sad memory hanging on his face.
“My Dad had run off when I was ten and my momma died from lung cancer when she was fifty-two, the year before I got called up to go to war. My wife’s parents had moved to Washington State, and we didn’t hardly ever hear from them. They wandered around a lot; sometimes we didn’t know where they were for months at a time. So we were pretty much on our own.
“The last we heard from them was when they called us collect, just before I deployed to Afghanistan. Normally when they called, Angel would never want to tell me what they said, but somehow it always ended up about money. Angel would always send them a hundred dollars cash; cash that we couldn’t spare. So this time, I was secretly listening on our bedroom extension. The last thing they asked was if I was killed how much insurance money would the government payout, said they could use a little if that were to happen. Now ain’t that some in-laws for you. I get so mad every time I think about it; I just try not to. It don’t help.
“I guess Angel was bored setting out there in the high plains with no job, no family, nothing much to do but raise the kids. I’d like to say I couldn’t blame her, but hell, I was fighting a war for us…not just for my family, but for our country, and she couldn’t keep her pants on for nine months.”
Hank paused, looked at the floor with a blank stare. A moment later he continued. “I thought she loved me, but when it came down to it, maybe after the thrill of teenage marriage and all, maybe it was just lust, it sure as hell wasn’t love no more.
“We kinda made up while I was home, but she acted like being my wife, and my lover was more her duty than something she wanted. She said she was sorry for not meeting me at the airport. She said she got mixed up, thought I was coming the next day. But when I left to go back to the war, I could see she was just waiting for me to leave. She dropped me off at the airport four hours early. Said she had things to do, and she didn’t want me to miss my flight.
“Sure ‘nough about six months after I left, I got a letter from her. She said that she had sold the trailer and had moved to South Carolina. Said that she wanted a divorce. Then she said the kids were fine. She told me she hadn’t heard from her parents in months and then tells me what the kids have been doing and writing about everyday stuff that I would normally love to hear. But she had said she wanted a divorce, like it was just something that happens every day, like ‘Oh, by the way, I want a divorce.’ God Almighty.”
Hank paused again. He was shaking his head back and forth and his knee was bouncing rapidly like a nervous twitch. Laurel did not move. She searched his blank face. An announcement from the nurse’s station broke the spell.
“So there I was in Afghanistan with no way to do nothin’ about it, and my wife sells everything we own, and moves my kids out of the state, halfway across the country, and is living with a man she met in some bar. I don’t care how you slice it or dice it or try to reconcile it, that whole deal is just wrong. But there was nothin’ I could do.
“I thought about it for a long time. Hell, I didn’t have nothin’ else to do sitting in a sandbag bunker on top of a hill in that Godforsaken, shithole country. I’d look out over the village in the valley and see families living in mud huts and they were happy or at least it seemed that way.
“Their kids came outside and played every day with rocks and sticks and splashed in the creek. They loved soccer. We gave the kids a couple soccer balls that some company had donated to help us improve moral and to help get the local people to maybe like us better. Not sure it worked, but it was better than if we just ignored them. We would go out on patrol and visit them. The kids played with those soccer balls every day and they thanked us. They were all smiles. Kids are like that everywhere in the world until they get older, and someone teaches them to hate. I guess we all start out that way; innocent, I mean.
“At night, someone would shoot at us from that village and from the mountains surrounding us. Funny, those villagers that talked with us and let their kids play with us; those same people would try to kill us at night. They were good at playing for both sides. I reckoned their lives depended on it.
“So like I said, I had a lot of time to think about my marriage and my wife and my kids. I was hurt and mad and frustrated, but none of that would make a hill of beans to my situation. I reckoned my deal was a lot like the village. No matter what we had done or said, nothin’ would change, and we could just sit there and watch ‘em, or we could kill them all, or we could just pack it up and leave, and nothing would change that place, just like nothin’ I did was gonna change the situation with my family.
“I figured, even if Angel saw the error of her ways and came back to me, I could never trust her again. The only upside would be my kids; they were still young enough to love their daddy, and they would come back to me with smiles and love. Unless she had tried to teach them something else bad or wrong about me to try to make it okay to do what she’d done. I didn’t want her to teach them to hate. So I just sucked it up, and did my duty, and sat in that sand-bagged bunker for another few months until my tour was up.”
Hank was looking down at the beige-and-brown-flecked tile floor. He wiped his eyes with the back of his arm just as a nurse walked in to check on Laurel and take her dinner tray away. She came in with a smile, but immediately sensed the mood in the room. Laurel sat with a somber face looking at Hank. No words were spoken until the nurse asked, “Do you need anything?”
“No, ma’am. Thanks.”
“Sir, visiting hours will be up in another thirty minutes, but take your time, no hurry. Just press your call button if you need something, Laurel.” She walked out.
“Hank, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault. I reckon it was mine.”
“I don’t really know you well enough to be the judge, but I’m not so sure of that. That was an intense story. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I haven’t told anyone that story since I got back.”
“I guess I owe you one now.”
“Yeah, I reckon you do.”
“But it’s kinda sad, too.” Laurel hung her head as she thought about it.
“Well, I thought that was what we were doing, getting to know each other and attempting to purge our demons.”
“Yeah, I suppose we are.” She paused and looked at Hank with compassion. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want to wait to hear my story another night?”
“No. Might as well keep going. I’ve just finished the easy part. I reckon I got more to tell another time.”
“Oh my, that was easy?” She composed herself, took a drink of water, lay back on her pillow, and looked at the ceiling.
“When I was six years old my family went on a picnic to our favorite mountain lake. We loved it up there. It was a deep, spring-fed lake with crystal-clear blue water, surrounded by mountains and a beautiful field of wildflowers. The park was remote, but a few people came up on the weekends. My mother was still okay then, at least as far as I could tell. I mean her mental state seemed normal. My dad, he was like the mountains, big and strong and always there to take care of us. He loved us more than anything in the world. He told us so every night when he tucked us in, and we said prayers together.
“That day, my older sister, Trish, and I were sitting on a flat rock with our dolls having a tea party. I was getting a little old for that and so was my sister, but she played with me anyway. She called the shots, and I looked up to her to help me sort things out, and show me the way. You know how it is with kids; she was my big sister. She knew everything. But now that I look back on it, I think I was overly dependent on her. She even talked for me when we were around strangers. I was just too shy, I guess.
“Mom and Dad were sitting on our picnic blanket with our younger brother, Blake. He was almost nine months old and cute as a button. Sometimes Trish and I played with him like one of our baby dolls. We’d dress him up and feed him. We loved him.
“My older brother, Frank, had climbed to the top of a high rock ledge. He was fifteen, almost sixteen, and we both had idolized him, but he didn’t want us around much, especially that year.
“That year had been hard for him. He had started to hang out with some boys that Dad didn’t like. They were snarly, rude delinquents that would tear things up, shoplift, smoke, and cause general trouble around town. I don’t know why my brother would go around with them, maybe because they were older and seemed cool to him.
“He changed a lot that year. He argued with our parents, and stayed in his room when he was home. The skin underneath his eyes turned a little darker, like an older person’s might do. Trish and I, even at our age, we noticed the change, and we also noticed that sometimes he was higher than a kite, full of energy, and other times, nothing made him happy. I didn’t know about that condition back then, but later we were pretty sure he struggled with a bi-polar disorder at an early age.
“That’s odd and hard to know or understand with a kid. We, or society, usually write the behavior off to being young and having too much energy or hormonal changes. It’s easy to ignore with a young teenager.
“We saw him smoking and drinking a beer once behind a neighbor’s garage, and he threatened us, and told us not to tell. The older boys laughed at us, and at him too. My sister told Mom, but she didn’t do anything. I think she was scared of my brother. But my bother heard Trish telling Mom, and the next day, she found her favorite doll hanging upside down from a small tree in our backyard with its head cut off.
“A week later my brother came in late, and my dad met him at the door. My brother had been drinking. Oh boy, did they have a blowout. Two mornings later, my dad found the tires on his truck slashed.
“After that, my brother would just sit or sleep in his room all day. My sister and I knew he was sneaking out late at night, and coming in before dawn. He would tell us about bad people that he had seen riding around in the neighborhood. He had taken one of Daddy’s guns out a couple nights. He told us he was gonna kill those people he had seen because they were checking out our house to maybe rob us or hurt us. We were scared of him and of those people. We never saw the people he thought were stalking us, but at our age that made things more mysterious and scary. We told Daddy about the bad men and he said not to worry, but of course we did.
“We discovered later these people were only in my brother’s imagination. He was so paranoid about a lot of things. He thought everyone was out to get him. It’s sad, but you could not convince him any different. He was so sure about it; he had proof he said.
“One night Daddy smelled something odd coming through the venting system. He walked in our brother’s bedroom, and Frank was smoking pot. He had a full bag right there on his bed.
“Daddy called the cops. Frank got off easy ‘cause he was a minor, but he was put on probation for two years and had to stay at home or with the family all the time. He got even weirder after that.
“With all that trouble, he was still beautiful. He had Mom’s blue eyes and a perfectly cut face. He was slim and well built and could have been a good athlete, but he had never seemed to care about that, at least not after he started hanging out with those older boys.
“And there he stood, on that bright, sunny, summer day, high up on that rock in all of his youthful glory. Mom and Daddy were sitting on the picnic blanket watching him, smiling, thinking maybe this was just the thing. Our family was all together, happy, perfect.
“The climb to the top had been difficult, and they seemed proud of him, watching him make his way up that steep rocky climb. Me and Trish were watching too, proud of how strong our big brother was and how happy he looked.
“We had been praying for this, because that’s what the preacher told us to do. I know Daddy had hoped that the bad days were behind us, and he had faith that things would be okay. But that’s how it goes, at least for me, just when you think everything is going to be okay, and you let your guard down, then life slaps you in the face with all it’s got.
“My dad waved at Frank, and took out a camera to get a shot. That’s when my brother pulled a joint out of his pocket and lit up so everyone could see. He smoked it with exaggerated antics to make sure everyone could see what he was doing. He drew in deeply on the joint and blew it out as a show. My dad started yelling at him, and my Mom was pleading for my brother to just come down. ‘Be careful,’ she said. ‘Be careful.’ My dad yelled, ‘you little son-of-a-bitch, what do you think you’re doing?’ Frank looked at them and smiled. He held his arms out wide and then looked to the sky. He stepped to the edge of the cliff and fell backwards into the lake. He landed flat on his back. The splash was huge.
“The drop was easily a hundred feet, maybe more. I’m not sure. When you’re a little kid, some things seem so much bigger. Well, it was high enough, I guess. The lake was really deep. It took a couple of days for the sheriff to get divers up there to find his body.”
The room was quiet. Hank sat motionless and Laurel wiped a tear away. She sighed heavily.
“There was a sad mood and rhythm at our place for a long time. My mom went into a sort of trance through the period while we were waiting to find his body, and the funeral, and for a few weeks after that. She and Daddy didn’t talk much for a long time; maybe they never did talk much afterwards. It was like Frank’s death killed our family’s spirit.
“I guess the hardest thing for us was leaving the lake that night. We were pretty much on our own. People dove in and looked, but could find nothing. The spot where he hit the water was hard to swim to, and dangerous for people. My mom kept looking at the water and crying like any minute he was gonna just pop right up, and shake his head and say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m good.’ My dad went at it every way he could, swimming, diving down deep until we thought he had drowned too. He climbed that dangerous rock to try to look down into that clear water, but saw nothing. I felt so helpless. I held onto my doll that whole night.
“As I got older, and had my own child, I was stymied by the thought of that moment, and how hard it would be as a parent to quit looking. How do you give up the search with something like that? How can you decide to walk away, get in your car, and drive home leaving your child in a deep, cold grave. ‘Don’t worry, son, we’ll be back tomorrow with help. Just hang in there.’ That was a long drive home and the start of a long slide down.”
An announcement came softly through a speaker outside the door. “Visiting hours are now over. All visitors are asked to exit quietly.”
“I’m sorry, Laurel. I’m so sorry about your brother, about your family.”
“Well thanks, Hank. It’s been a long time.”
“You said a long slide. Has the pain of losing your brother been what’s got you so down?”
“Well, like I said, it began a long slide. I’m kinda tired now. I guess the pain medicine is taking effect.”
“Did you say that you had a child?”
“Hank, I’m tired, please.” Her eyes were red, and a tear was running down her cheek.
“Shall I come see you tomorrow?”
“I’d like that.”
A few days ago, I was watching the Weather Channel on TV, and a weatherman was asking some people on the street some very simple questions. One question was "in which direction does the sun rise and set?" A few people could not answer this question. Another question was “can you name the four seasons?” Several people could not answer this question either! Now I thought to myself, "damn, those are some really dumb people!" In my opinion, there should not be a single person on this planet who cannot answer these basic questions, but the fact is, there are probably a lot of people who cannot answer these and many, many more very simple questions. These are important things everyone should learn as they grow up. These people were walking down the street, and appeared to be ordinary people, functioning in life like everyone else, putting one foot in front of the other, but in reality maybe their brains were in overload just getting one foot in front of the other, and they were, in fact, on the verge of literally falling flat on their faces. Can these people learn more and function better? I think yes. That is what gave me the idea of writing this book.
Why the SOB in the title of this book? Well, mainly to catch your eye, but also because for too many people I'm sure, the title SOB fits me very well, especially if you happen to work in any form of government, and especially the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TP&WD). If you read my last book, Dangerous Waters, you will know why I say this. It really doesn’t matter if you read that book though, what matters is that you read this book. Dangerous Waters was written to help me; this book is to help you.
If you don’t think I’m an SOB now, I’m sure many of you will certainly think so by the time you finish this book; maybe long before you finish. Some of you may get so pissed off at me before you get to the end, you don’t even finish the book. That will hurt you, not me. I may say some things which will offend you, but remember I am trying to help you. Do I care what you think about me? No, certainly not. I really don’t care what other people think about me, and you should not care what other people think about you either. I am what I am, I am who I am, and if you don’t like it, well then, you can kiss my fat ass! I don’t care what you think. If you care what other people think about you, then other people will change you. You will not change me. Even if you slam this book shut right now and throw it away, you will have at least experienced lesson #1. Don’t care about the other 347 lessons? That’s your choice.
If I don’t fit your profile of what a normal person should be, then screw you. First of all, I have never claimed to be normal. In fact, I don’t think I have ever considered myself as normal, and that has never been a goal of mine. I have always strived to be just me, whatever that may be, but normal, no! I am an individual and unique, and think I have always been so. I will never conform to what you think is normal and I will never be a card carrying member of A Nation of Sheep. This was one of the few books I read while in High School that influenced my life. I am constantly evolving, but in a direction which suits me, not you. I don’t think I’m crazy or nuts, but will not entirely rule that out either.
I was taught by my parents when I was young, that I should not tell anyone everything I know. I was told that would make them smarter than me, as they would then know everything they know and everything I know. Now, I don't think this makes any sense, and it certainly doesn’t make any difference to me. Frankly, I just don’t care how smart you are or can become. I just hope I can avoid being killed or injured, by some stupid person doing something really stupid. If I can help make more people less stupid, maybe I will have a better chance of living a little bit longer. I may be able to help you become a little smarter, but probably not less stupid. I’ve heard stupid is for forever, and this is probably true. But maybe if you are a little smarter, which I can help you with, you will think a little more before you act. This, in turn, will hopefully make you do less stupid things. Try it and see if it works. There are way too many stupid people out there. I know; I see them on the highway every time I go somewhere.
I do not know why my parents told me not to tell people too much. Maybe they were just trying to shut me up. Kids learn very early to ask “why?” Maybe I was always telling them stuff and asking too many questions, and they just wanted to get rid of me. Kids really do ask a lot of seemingly silly questions, but this is the way they learn. I didn’t get all the answers, but I did ask. Maybe some or even a lot of kids don’t, or can’t, ask all that many questions. That’s just too bad, as this is how you have to learn when you are too young to read well, and you can’t really do much else.
Learning to walk is a challenge, and learning to get around the house, yard and then the neighborhood can be challenging too when you are young. There always has to be some help from parents, relatives and siblings, or you will not learn what you need to learn before you get into school. Maybe some parents are not smart enough to answer the questions the kids are asking, or are too busy to raise the kids who are their responsibility to rear to the best of their ability. This can be a serious problem. If you are a parent, take the time to teach your kids all you can. This is your job; your responsibility. If kids do not ask questions and get answers, they cannot learn. Parents should know this. Parents must be willing to answer the questions. If your life is so busy, why do you have kids? You must make time for them. I suspect too many people have not made time for their kids, and this is really sad, as now there are a lot of dumb people as a result.
What will the next generation of kids be like? This can create a vicious cycle for perpetuating dumb people. It doesn’t have to be this way though. I found other ways of learning. How about you? Considering all the dumb people around, someone needs to help these poor souls. I cannot replace your parents, but I am going to try to tell you everything I know, though this will be impossible, and you may already know some of the things I will cover, but it never hurts to repeat. I will also tell some pretty good stories about my life as I go, and share my beliefs and frustrations, all with a good measure of sarcasm and a little humor too. You will get some insight into my life and why I do things. I will also try to give you the strength you need to make better decisions, and get you started down a path which will lead to better finances, more happiness and hopefully to a better life, which will lead you to a greater respect for yourself and those around you. I will try to motivate you, and show you there is hope despite your parents, and it is never too late to learn, but you have to be willing to learn. I will help as much as I can, and maybe, just maybe, helping some dumbass to smarten up a bit, will save me from one of his or her stupid mistakes. That is my goal.
If you have a college degree, are living a good life and are happy with your life, this book is probably not for you. If you are mentally stable, know what you want out of life and are working in the direction of improving your life, then you probably do not need this book, but maybe this book can still help you a little anyway. I expect you will learn a few things you did not know before, and you might also find an interesting story or two along the way, as this book is also an autobiography of my life, with a lot of pretty good stories about as much of my life I can remember. I believe you will be glad you read the book, even if you really did not need it. I’m also sure you probably know someone this book can help, and maybe you might want to buy a copy to help him or her out a little. Maybe this book will save you from your dumb friends, and the stupid things they do. Think about that.
If on the other hand, you are not happy, if you are not moving forward with your life, if you do not know where your life is headed, you may really need a helping hand, and that is what this book is, a helping hand. Maybe your kids do not listen to you, as few teenagers do. Maybe you need to try to get them to read this book, if you can. This book is for anyone stuck in a rut and needing direction. Everyone knows someone like this, and even if this book cannot help you, give a copy to someone you care about, so you can help them. You will be glad you did.
Mystery dinner parties usually require guests to learn parts and risk getting embarrassed by their own bad acting. The worst might happen to a host if a guest assigned an important part simply does not show up. This book offers three different process-of-elimination games designed to be played by 2 – 4 players, 4 – 8 players, or a party of 41 to 57 players. The solution is different each time any of the games is played. Game pieces, game boards, and instructions are included for buyers to copy and print for use at their own party. Have more fun at your next fund-raiser, group pot-luck dinner, or simply play the games with friends and family at home.
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
A lifetime ago, a young naval aviator took the Oath. Tom McGuire, now a San Francisco PD Homicide Inspector, hadn’t thought about the Oath in years. That was all about to change.
A famous San Francisco newspaper columnist has been murdered. Some would say “executed”. Shot through the head, her arms tied behind her, knotted together from shoulder to wrist.
McGuire feels an eerie chill of recognition. After being shot down over North Vietnam, he suffered seven years as a Prisoner of War in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, enduring rope torture many times – his arms tied in exactly the same way.
A lifetime ago, another young naval aviator took that Oath. He also was shot down over North Vietnam, and joined McGuire as a POW in Hanoi. Almost forty years later, their lives were about to intersect once again.
This time with explosive consequences.
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