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.
||Falling in Fiji
“Oh, honey, we're fine. Your dad is watching TV with Emily. I'm working on another blanket for Carol. Since my son isn't doing his part to give me more grandbabies.”
Less than a minute on the phone and already she’d managed to chastise him for not having kids. The woman was diabolical. “Mom—”
“Everett, the shower is all yours—oh! Sorry.” Corrine stopped when she noticed him on the phone.
But not before his mother heard her voice. “Oh, honey, did I hear a woman in the background?”
“Yeah, Mom, but—”
“Who is she? Are you dating? Do you have a girlfriend I don't know about?”
“She's…” He glanced up to her. She mouthed an apology. She glowed with freshly scrubbed pink skin while rubbing her hair with a towel. Her trim legs were showcased in short yoga shorts, a tank top, and no bra. He cleared his throat “…a friend.” He winked at her.
“What friend, honey? You didn't tell me about bringing a friend on your trip.”
“I wasn't aware at thirty-three I still had to clear my friends with you,” he said before he could think about how his words sounded.
Now, curled onto the love seat, Corrine choked on a sip of wine.
“Don't take that tone with me, young man.”
“Mom, I’m sorry. I didn't mean—”
“You've always been a good boy.”
“Well, other than the time you ordered three hundred dollars of porn on pay-per-view.”
He winced. Now he and Corrine were even with the embarrassing stories. When he dared to meet her eyes, he found her with her mouth agape, eyes wide. Could a hole just open up and swallow him now. “Mom! Listen!”
“You're on speaker. Say hello to Corrine Anderson. Corrine, meet my mother Barbara Harden.”
“Oh, hello, sweetheart! I'm Everett's proud mama.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Harden.”
“None of that Mrs. Harden business. Call me Barbara. I insist. I apologize for the porn talk. I hope you won't think any less of my son. He was fourteen, after all, and fourteen-year-old boys have one hand in the fridge and the other in their underwear. My son was no diff—”
Everett scrambled for the end button, and for the first time ever in his life, he hung up on his mother. He braced his elbows on his knees, holding his head in his hands, and heard Corrine try to suppress a giggle.
“It wasn't that bad.”
“How nice of you to lie to make me feel better, but we both know that was the equivalent of having your breasts out at the water park.”
Fate has dealt me a mortal blow. I know it. Never in my life have I done anything I am destined to regret more. William the Bastard has gotten the better of me, and has forced me to give an oath to support his claim to the throne. He trapped me in a golden cage of my own making.
It seemed a hundred years ago when I left Bosham with my hunting dogs and my falcon. I may have pretended I was going on a hunt, but my real aim was to ransom my little brother Wulfnoth and my nephew Hakon. They had been hostages in Normandy long enough. I was so proud of myself back then—so sure I was ready for anything. And just as soon as I set foot on land, my world went to pieces. I could still be languishing in Count Guy's dungeon if it weren't for Duke William's timely intervention. And so, like Scylla and Charybdis, I was caught between the rocky shoal and the whirlpool.
For a while I became William's hostage, as sure as Wulfnoth was. How was I to know that the duke thought himself King Edward's heir, duped by that wily Robert of Jumièges? Who would have thought the archbishop would take such a far-sighted revenge on my family—no, on our whole country—because of his feud with father? I never would have ventured to Normandy if I had known about William's expectations. And once I was caught in his power, I had no choice but to do his bidding. I would have done anything to get away from there.
As soon as William got what he wanted, he let me fly away. But not Wulfnoth. Poor Wulfnoth. The duke of Normandy kept my brother as surety for my wretched oath. Sick at heart for leaving Wulfnoth behind—wondering if I was doing the right thing—I watched the Norman coast recede along with my brother's hopes. What else could I have done? I listened to the boat creak and the water splash in that comforting way which tells us all is well; though in my case this was an illusion. I put my arm around my nephew Hakon's shoulders, chiding myself for wishing it was Wulfnoth standing beside me and not him. But I never had any feelings for Swegn's son and it was too late to change that now. It wasn't Hakon's fault Duke William saw fit to retain my little brother as hostage. Ironically, it was Hakon's good fortune that he had no particular value to anybody.
I should have felt some relief that my mission wasn't a total failure. But I didn't. I may have gained freedom for my nephew, but I may have lost my soul in the process. And my self-respect. How could things have gone so wrong?
No matter whom the witan elects as next king, Edward's successor will have to face Duke William and his remorseless claim. But there was something more that bothered me. Archbishop Robert was friends with King Edward. He had served the king for years, and only left the country because he was forced out of power—by my father, of course. His first act of revenge was to snatch away poor Wulfnoth and Hakon as hostages. His second act was to promise the throne to William. It's possible that he and Edward planned my family's outlawry all along; could it also be that the king really did offer the crown to Duke William? I shuddered to think on it.
And how was I going to ask him? I would have enough trouble explaining myself when I got back to England without seeming to accuse him. What would be the point? As king, Edward could do whatever he pleased. But to give away his country to a foreign ruler? I just didn't see how that was possible. Even Edward had some loyalty toward his subjects. I hope.
Looking back, I would say my troubles with Harold started after he returned from Normandy, back in the late summer of 1064. While Harold was gone, things were so much better. King Edward and I spent a lot of time together, and I'm proud to say he treated me like a close companion. Without my brother's presence, Edward was quite another man; he was more relaxed, he would laugh more and even jest on occasion. Anyway, when Harold returned—already stinging from the trouble his pride had brought him—he made a quiet entrance into the great hall. He took one look at the king and I, drinking together and laughing, and his face turned three shades of red. My sister the queen told me about it later, because at the time I was turned away from him. What I would have given to see my brother's face!
The king looked up and saw Harold, and the change that came over him was immediate. His smile faded, his eyes took on that old guarded expression; his manner turned formal as he stood with a hand out for Harold to kiss. "Welcome back to court," the king said sadly. "You have been sorely missed."
Everyone except Harold could tell that Edward said the exact opposite of what he meant. But of course my brother chose to take him literally. "I am relieved to be back, Sire," he said. "Although I'm sorry to say my mission was only half-accomplished."
Harold had gone to Normandy to retrieve my brother Wulfnoth and our nephew Hakon, held there as hostages for the last twelve years. Edward had advised him against going, but my brother had to play hero, no matter what the cost.
I sat up at his admission. "What happened?" I exclaimed. "Where is our brother?"
I expected some sort of retort from Harold, but he actually hung his head. "Duke William allowed me to bring back Hakon, though he insisted on keeping Wulfnoth. He wanted security against certain promises he extorted from me..."
He trailed off. I jumped to my feet, angrily. "What's that! You left Wulfnoth behind in Normandy?"
That got a reaction from him. "You weren't there, Tostig. I tried my best." He was angry, but something was holding him back.
"And your best wasn't good enough. Poor Wulfnoth! We'll never get him back now."
King Edward put a hand on my arm, nodding for me to contain myself. I turned away.
"Was it such a difficulty, then," he asked Harold, "getting my cousin William to cooperate?" William was more of a second or third cousin to Edward, but our king spoke of the duke with great regard.
"Sire," Harold blurted, rushing his words together, "I must speak to you alone on this matter."
My brother's manner radiated desperation. Despite myself, I watched curiously as he followed the king from the room. My sister and I exchanged glances, and she slipped out after them. Edward never excluded her from his presence—nor indeed, do I think he could have.
Tostig was right. My husband never forgave himself for exiling me to a nunnery when he banished my father back in 1051, even though I think he was glad when father died two years later. Still, there was no denying the injustice of my imprisonment, and ever since then, Edward attempted to atone by admitting me to his presence on any occasion I desired. That is how I was able to witness the emotional scene between Harold and the king, when he confessed to his foul oath to support William's claim to the English throne... Editha
My sister was gone a long time, and the great hall gradually emptied out. When Editha came back she was very pale. She sat down on the throne and I moved to her side, taking her usual chair. She put a hand to her forehead.
"Prepare yourself," she said to me. "I have some very disturbing news."
"He's gone. There is nothing more for him to say right now."
I took her hand. "Tell me."
Editha gave a great sigh. "Edward had warned him not to go. But mayhap it is better this way. At least we know."
She was trying my patience. I forced myself to stay calm.
"About William's designs on the throne. He sees himself as Edward's heir."
I gasped. What was she talking about?
"From what Harold just admitted, Archbishop Robert of Jumièges told him Edward promised the throne, way back after our father's exile. Robert delivered Wulfnoth and Hakon into William's hands as hostages for this promise. All this time, William has schemed for the throne of England."
I was shocked. But then I was puzzled.
"What has this to do with Harold?"
"Our brother fell into William's trap. The duke would not let him leave until he swore an oath to support William's claim. A frightful oath. An oath on the relics of Normandy's saints."
I crossed myself, twice. This was indeed dreadful news. For all of us.
"Harold was lucky to get away," she added. "Hakon was lucky to get away. William kept Wulfnoth as hostage against Harold's promise. Now our brother needs to expiate his sin, for we all know he made that oath in vain. What will happen to poor Wulfnoth?"
No wonder he couldn't face me. We could only hope that Edward would outlive William, which would make Harold's oath moot. Otherwise...well, there was nothing to be done now.
My meeting with the king was just as distressing as I expected it to be. At least he let me tell him alone, with just my sister in tow. I wasn't strong enough to confront Tostig just yet; the few words that passed between us were almost more than I could bear. He has a way of making me uneasy; ever since we were boys, he has always been on the verge of fighting with me, and his sarcasm can be biting.
Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling much better around Edward, but for different reasons. We both remembered his warning when I originally announced my plans. And now I couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling that even back then, he knew much more than I did about William's secret ambition.
The king offered me a seat; I was glad of it, for my emotions were exhausting me. I looked at the floor, waiting for him to speak. But of course, I was the supplicant here.
"Tell me, Harold," he said finally. His voice was not friendly.
I raised my head.
"Sire, had I known William desired the throne, I never would have crossed the Channel."
That was as close as I dared to make an accusation. I waited for a reaction.
Edward was much better at hiding his feelings since our outlawry. He rubbed his cheek, looking into the distance.
"The throne," he said quietly. "What about the throne?"
Could it be possible he didn't know? I looked at my sister but she shrugged her shoulders.
"Wulfnoth told me," I went on, "that Archbishop Robert made the announcement directly after he left England. With my brother." This was shaky ground, for I don't think Edward ever forgave our victorious return from exile. Many of his Norman friends left the country and never came back. Including Robert, who died a couple of years later. I'm sure Edward was thinking about this as well, but his face betrayed no emotion. I took a deep breath.
"The archbishop told William you wanted him to be your heir. That you sent Wulfnoth and Hakon as hostages to secure your promise."
I stared at the king. He blinked back.
"Do you believe that?" he said finally.
I didn't know. I took a deep breath. "Wulfnoth said Robert told the duke that my father and the other great earls agreed. I certainly don’t believe that!" His question was only half answered. I waited. He didn’t move a muscle. "He said Robert made it all up to wreak revenge on us," I added.
After a moment, Edward nodded as if in agreement. "I will tell you this, Harold. When your father was in exile, Archbishop Robert and I spent a lot of time together, much of it in idle conversation."
He paused so long I thought he was finished. Editha bent over his shoulder.
"No, my dear, Harold deserves to know. You deserve to know. There was a time I mentioned William's name, more as wistful musing than any desire to act on it. I know the witan. William would not be popular in this country. He would understand your customs less than I did."
I didn't know what to say. Where was the truth in this?
"And the hostages?"
He looked away. "They were in Archbishop Robert's charge. I was not involved."
I frowned despite myself. As I suspected, Edward took no responsibility for my brother at all.
"He was so brave." My voice shook. "I hated to leave him behind."
"What exactly happened?"
It was hard to look back at those months. "William treated me well, but I was never left alone. He set guards outside my door at night. He kept me at his side nearly every day. He took me on campaign with him. He even knighted me..." Those words were hard to say and I had to swallow. "When I finally tried to take my leave, he insisted that I do so in front of a grand assembly of nobles and ecclesiastics."
The king pursed his lips but said nothing.
"Sire, he made me swear an oath that I would be his man in England and support his claim to the throne." I put my hands over my face. "He made me swear that I would give him Dover castle so he could garrison it with his own men." Edward gasped.
"There was no other way." My voice was almost pleading with him to understand. "I swore that oath on the bones of his saints, though I did not know it until too late. And I don't even know which saints!"
Edward probably crossed himself, for I heard the swish of his sleeves though I could not bear to uncover my face.
"I forswore myself to gain my freedom," I said, still trying to control my voice. "I took that oath under duress."
Those last words served to calm me, for I truly believed I could stand behind this defense. But when I finally looked at Edward, I was not reassured.
"Your actions will have grave consequences, Harold. I fear for you."
I gasped. He sounded like a reproachful prophet. Or was it my own guilt ringing in my ears?
He hit it again and again. Each time he made contact, Ethan’s ears wished he could drown out the chilling, blood-curdling, cringing sound of each bone breaking, like snapping chicken legs with pliers, echoing in the pit. The cobra’s face was pulverized. Its blood spurted like a fountain, hitting Ethan in the chest and neck. The flesh on the cobra’s face had split, exposing its smashed in skull. The mouth had separated from its jaw. Its two fangs just dangled outward, bent at an awkward angle.
||Field Mouse: The Fooder
Charles Willoughby’s youth was an ordeal of beatings by his God-fearing father and seductions by his grossly obese mother. A warped and cruel man, he marries a woman who is willing to submit to his jaded sexual demands. However, when she bears a child not of his loin, he holds her and the child captive on his isolated farm and severs all ties with the nearby town. Then when his wife is killed, he is left with the girl. Although his religious beliefs preclude him from killing her, he doesn’t feel obligated to treat her humanely.
The girl, Taffeta Moonrose, is treated like a dog under Charles’ care. But one day, she finds herself free when Charles has a heart attack. Now, weak with hunger and on her own, she ventures forth into an unknown, hostile world in a desperate search for food. After stealing from the towns people all summer, she becomes known as the wild girl of Ashville.
When Matt and Toby Claybourne arrive at a nearby cabin on vacation, they learn of the “wild girl” and become determined to find and adopt her. When they finally do find her, their relationship with her becomes one that will change each of their lives in ways unforeseen.
This is a story that will grab your attention right from the prologue and won’t let you go until you’ve finished the very last page. It will take you on a rocket ride of emotions that will allow you to hate, entice you to love, tease you with hope, and leave you crying with a smile on your lips.
What Charles Willoughby does to his wife and her bastard child begins you on a journey filled with fear and humor, suffering and joy, sorrow and redemption.
||Finding Billy Battles
My full name is William Fitzroy Raglan Battles, but most folks call me Billy Battles. My good friends call me Billy 'Rags' Battles. More on that later.
Let me begin by owning up to some pretty terrible things I did during my life. That way you can make up your mind right now if you want to read further.
I have killed people. And I am sad to say the first person I killed was a woman. It was entirely unintentional and to this day the incident haunts me. The next person I killed was that woman's grown son, and that was intentional. If you decide to read on you will learn more about these two people and how they came to die at my hands.
You will also learn about other things I did--some of which I am not proud of, some of which I am. In the course of my life I got into a lot of brawls and found myself having to defend myself and others in a variety of ways. I did so without regret, because in each case someone was trying to do me or someone else harm.
Now, I know the Christian Bible says it is a sin to kill and in some of these imbroglios I probably could have walked away and avoided the ensuing violence. I chose not to because I learned early in my life that walking away from a scrap is too often seen as a sign of weakness or cowardice and simply incites bullies and thugs to molest you later on. There were a few individuals who tried their damndest to put an end to me, but fortunately I was able to dispatch or incapacitate those malefactors before they could apply the coup de grâce.
So there you have it--a forewarning about me and my sometimes turbulent life. As the Romans used to say: 'caveat emptor' if you decide to continue reading.
I don’t know if anybody will ever read what I am putting to paper here, but I figure I should do it anyway. A few folks have told me my experiences are fascinating because they show what it was like in Kansas and a lot of other places in the last century when life could turn violent and capricious without warning.
As I am writing this I am 88 years old and the year is 1948. I am not sure how much longer I will be on this earth, so I figure I had better write pretty fast before I join the Great Majority. I have been fortunate in that my memory still serves me quite well, but I must admit that for much of my life I kept several journals and it’s those journals that have kept my mind on the trail when it was inclined to wander off into the brush.
It was also those journals that helped me make sense, now that I am an old man, of some of the things I saw and did during my life. It’s a funny thing, but as you grow older and you have time to look back on your life, things begin to make more sense to you. I guess that’s what they call wisdom—not that I’m necessarily a wise man. I’m just somebody who had the good fortune to see and do a lot of things—some pretty awful, some pretty wonderful—and the good Lord has blessed me, or cursed me, with the capacity to remember most of it.
There are some things I wish I could forget--things other people did and things that I did. But I cannot. Consequently, I have lived for decades with many ghosts; not the kind that appear as apparitions in the night, but the kind that grab hold of your mind and force you to remember even when you don't want to.
I know what it is like to be a hunter of men and I know what it is like to be hunted. I can tell you, I much prefer the former than the latter. I have known and caused terrible fear. I have experienced and inflicted dreadful pain. I have loved and been loved and I have been, without doubt, hated by some.
But I have always tried to live my life as my mother taught me--with uprightness, reliability and consequence. I wasn't always successful. Sometimes my disposition turned dark and I did things I truly regret today. I am, after all, one of God's wretched creatures--a simple mortal with all of the imperfections and deficiencies of that species.
Now I don’t claim that my life was any more important than anybody else’s. Most folks who lived in the 19th Century had their share of adventures—some more than others. But what I think is important is that the truth about certain things be told—or at least the truth as I witnessed it in those days. There has been so much fiction and fabrication passed along as fact about things that happened in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado and so on that people today have no real idea of what really went on back then.
For example, the moving picture people have gotten it almost all wrong—not that they were ever trying to get it right. After all, they are in the entertainment business—not the truth telling business. They have made some folks so much bigger than life that I have trouble figuring out if they are talking about the same people I used to know or had some acquaintance with. And some folks have been either forgotten or turned into the worst kind of villains—I am not sure which is worse.
Hell, they even got a lot of our history wrong. The Spanish-American War for example. A lot of that was fought in the Far East and most Americans don't even know it. I know it because I was there fighting in The Philippines. That is a dark chapter in our history, I can tell you. I was also privileged to have spent time in other parts of the Orient at a time when that part of the world was still pretty exotic and mysterious to most Americans.
And that's not all. There was a lot of skirmishing later on down in Mexico that we were mixed up in after Doroteo Arango, alias Pancho Villa, and his little army invaded the United States back in 1915. He led the U.S. Army on a merry chase throughout Mexico and leveled an American town in New Mexico. The late General George S. Patton (in those days just a shave tail lieutenant) even brought back the body of the commander of Villa's bodyguards tied to the hood of his car like a big buck deer. I know that, because I was there. But I wager students today don't read anything about any of that in school.
The folks in Hollywood and those who write books and radio programs have added so much twaddle and claptrap to things that happened that I sometimes have to ask myself if I missed something. Because what they are depicting is so far away from the truth as to be mythology. I never thought much about that until now when I realized that all the rubbish `coming out of Hollywood and over the radio and in books and magazines and on these new contraptions called televisions is being passed off or least being accepted, as fact.
Sometimes we just don’t see things the way they really are until we can stand back from them and look at them with the viewpoint of time and distance. That’s what a professor at the University of Kansas once told me when I was a student there for a while back in the 1870s. I never finished my college education—a fact which troubled my mother until her dying day. Nevertheless, I learned just enough at that place to be a modest man of letters, but not enough to be a danger to anyone or myself—except on a few singular occasions. My time at college may have been the two most important years of my life because it gave me a leg up on a lot of folks back then who couldn’t read or write or study things out in a logical way.
I was no warrior. Never wanted to be. Nevertheless, I got pushed or pulled into some regretful scraps. I did serve a hitch in the Army and that was a true adventure. In fact, I was a scribbler, a newspaperman for most of my life. But in those days there were no precise lines between journalists and the people they were writing about. I was just fortunate that I was able to write about what I saw and what I experienced. Not many men or, for that matter, women, in those days had that opportunity. I consider myself most fortunate in that regard.
Now that my life is drawing to a close I am eager to put as much of it to paper as I can. Maybe someday my descendants will be able to pass it on to their children and they to their children. Even better would be if a larger audience might read it, but I am not an author of great literary works so I cannot expect that to happen. I guess my modest wish is that I be able to share what I humbly regard as an eventful life with those who follow me and anybody else who might pick up these pages. But mostly, I want to set the record straight on a few things and about some of the people I got to know when I was much younger.
My life started off pretty slow--like most lives do. There was nothing special about my childhood years except for the fact that I had no father and it was up to my mother to keep me on a short lead. But about the time I hit 18 or 19 things got to moving pretty fast--faster in fact than I ever thought possible. It was around that time that I met some folks, some good and some not so good, who would re-enter my life many times over the next several decades. And it was around that time that I began my journey down the owl hoot trail.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I had best start from the beginning.
||Fixed: Dope sacks, dye packs and the long welcome back
When thinkin’ to myself, “what’s the perfect getaway vehicle?” I imagined
something fast: maybe a Beemer, a Porsche, or even something less flashy like a Camry. I never really considered having to settle for the raw power and pinpoint maneuverability of a Winnebago. But there you have it. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
This beast was owned by Herb, a divorced, retired mechanic and the current husband of Pam. Pam was a workin’ girl whose stage name now escapes me. Pam had pimped Herb out, she steered him from social crack dabbler to full-blown addict. He had cashed in his white picket fence and followed her down the rabbit hole.
I had fallen down my own rabbit hole, a detour I had taken on the way home after the summer salmon season of 1990. In a rare moment of trying to pull myself together I returned to Alaska to fish and made some good money. I had big plans on returning home a conquering hero. On the way, I stopped for one drink and it was one too many. The days blurred together, the Benjamin Franklins disappeared and I became a member of Herb and Pam’s traveling road show. My last glimmer of normalcy was definitely in the rearview mirror. The next three years would become my thousand-day nightmare.
My newfound companions had an open marriage. The Winnebago was their happy home and traveling bordello. Among her tricks, she claimed the ability to suck a golf ball through a garden hose before losing a lung to crack. Though a formidable feat, I could not see the value in it, being a service that few requested.
In the wheelhouse, Captain Herb was stiff with fear while navigating the mean streets. The stress of signaling on every turn so as not to break the law took its toll, while in the back, Pam, a journeyman hooker, serviced her johns. I was not one of them. I didn’t want to be bothered with a distraction like sex for money while smoking crack, nor could I had I wanted to. I just wanted some company, folks equally pathetic as I upon whom I could unleash my tale of woe, people who would acknowledge what a scumbag I had become and affirm my lowly self-image. The happy newlyweds were eager to help. My association with them would prove to be an expensive counseling session.
We had logged forty-eight hours and five hundred miles within a five-mile radius when I realized I needed to take care of some business.
“Pull over, I’ve got to cash a check,” I said.
“No problem,” they said in stereo, boring holes in me with their crack-hungry eyes.
For two days they had helped me burn through a sizeable bankroll, so they believed there really was a check to cash.
“I’ll be back in a flash,” I said.
It’s a sinking feeling when you play tug of war with a bank teller, especially over the holdup note. This particular one was written on a legitimate check stub that had my name on it. I had to give her and the surveillance camera the stink eye to get it back and avert disaster.
Upon my return to Hell on Wheels with a fist full of dollars, the honeymooners had a momentary freak-out at the realization that they were unsuspecting accomplices in a bank robbery and thus, really breaking the law. They went through the five stages of greed: greed, envy, rage, forgiveness, euphoria, and greed. Their discomfort was neutralized by the promise of drug bounty. And the crack angels sang.
Like dogs returning to their own vomit, we were off to Highway 99, Seattle’s Aurora Avenue North. Urban decay had turned a once vibrant business community into a thoroughfare of dealers, junkies, prostitutes, cheap motels and worst of all, used-car salesmen. We got what we came for. With curtains drawn, stash replenished, and our hippocampi flooded with dopamine, we decided to hit the road to see America from the inside of a smoke-filled aluminum box.
The normal two-and-a-half hour trip to Yakima over the mountains into Eastern Washington took about ten hours, seven and a half of which was tweak time. We picked up a fellow traveler along the way. C.Z. was an old gangster who claimed to be the seventh son of a seventh son, a variety of life coach, prophet or some such shit. Everything about this guy was phony except for the fact that, like me, at this point in his life he was a real loser. Prior to joining our circus, he had been high on the mountaintop fasting on malt liquor and menthol cigarettes. His intention was to gain access to my crack.
Clarification: the drug, not my orifice.
We stayed up all night and burned the pipe at both ends.
Like putting quarters in a jukebox, this trio sang my praises as long as the crack
nuggets flowed. After we had shoveled the remainder of the bank money into the glass pipe incinerator and moved on to wine-in-a box, I ditched the crack whisperers and their mobile snatch unit in Yakima.
Emptied of every thought in the aftermath of my binge, I was both clueless and ride-less. I stuck out my thumb and hitchhiked west, back across the mountains. A Good Samaritan who picked me up asked if I had broken down.
I nodded and proclaimed “On a massive scale.”
He too was a little clueless and figured I was a trucker in need of a mechanic. Then his light bulb came on, which put the brakes on any further conversation. I welcomed the silence.
Good Sam deposited me back in the Emerald City where I called my lifelong buddy J.P. Much to my consternation, J.P. had gotten sober a year earlier. Through blistered lips and an addled brain, I told him what I had done at the bank.
“You can’t tell anyone, we can get through this,” he said.
I agreed, then immediately turned myself in to the Seattle Police Department. This wasn’t the first time I had turned myself in for a crime I had committed. I
was practically an honorary detective. I hoped being a crime fighter and criminal all rolled into one would appeal to the judge and have a positive effect on my sentencing. Such hope was short lived. So I opted not to address the court on sentencing day with “Afternoon, Your Honor, I’ve solved another crime.” I exercised my right to remain silent.
“Mr. Piotter, you can’t keep committing crimes and turning yourself in expecting leniency from the court,” the judge said.
Thus began what would be a long slog and intimate relationship with the penal system.
I felt I had dodged a bullet by turning myself in. I was charged with second- degree robbery, my first prison sentence: state time, nineteen months. This would be considerably less time than the feds were handing out for the same thing, as I would learn in a few short years. Brilliant.
Some people join the military; I joined prison. I thought a little discipline and exercise in my life might do me some good.
I didn’t occur to me that I could have just joined a gym.
||Flipping: An Uplifting Novel of Love
Life can flip in the blink of an eye, but love and passion will find a way to make it right.
Flipping is an award winning romance novel that highlights the power of love to move us forward and the strength of the human spirit to overcome life's challenges.
Be Inspired. Fall in Love.
JonSun and SuAnn are an unlikely couple. But despite their different social backgrounds, they fall in love. From the start, the odds were against them. SuAnn's family has other plans for her future, but their love cannot be dismissed so easily. Defying everything, the couple gets married in secret and moves to California. Good fortune blesses the couple while flipping houses. Their success marred only by JonSun's sudden need for revenge.
The second story is about Christa and her struggles with her disabilities. At a young age, it was discovered that she was profoundly deaf. A cochlear implant gave her a new perspective and she fell in love with Gymnastics. Flipping in the air made her feel alive, and nothing will stop her from achieving her dream of a gold medal. These two stories intersect when JonSun and SuAnn's son, Wynson, meets Christa. They became good friends for many years, and their friendship turns into something more. But a lot of problems stand in their way. Christa receives devastating news which could be a game changer, and Wynson has to deal with his own troubles at home. The question is whether their love for each other will survive these trials.
What gives this novel depth are the parallel themes running throughout. The characters' struggle with their self-esteem are prevalent throughout the book. This creates a richly layered and more interesting novel as the reader recognizes the threads that weaves the book together.
||Following Good Food Around the World
Paul De Lancey will take you on a safari around the world with 180 recipes, including photos, beginning with Albanian fare to Zimbabwean. Nothing brings family together like food. Gather your clan around the kitchen table for a bit of humor and historical tidbits included at the end of each recipe. The new. The strange. The daring. And utterly, utterly edible and delicious. Such is the fabulous culinary masterpiece by Paul De Lancey.
Not everyone is a football fan. Some people can’t stand it. Put Laura at the top of that list. But she wants a night out at the ballet with her husband so badly that she agrees to go to a football party with him. She drinks a little too much wine, and the results aren’t pretty.
Captain Olly Johnson has twice used his stolen Bussard ram jet, the Longboat, to blackmail human colonies into giving him large amounts of gold. That makes him humanity's first interstellar pirate, even though his ship travels slower than light. One more profitable raid, and Johnson thinks he, his family, and his First Mate John Larsen can retire, and never have to worry about money again. Approaching a third star system after an eight-year (ship's time) journey, the pirates have found mysteries they cannot solve: an entire population of a human colony missing and an unknown, alien-looking ship in orbit. When the alien ship comes after them and they can't outrun its superior technology, they have to decide to fight or surrender. And Johnson isn't the type to surrender. Have they stumbled into a galactic war, or are they about to start one?
||Forget Me Not
Noted Psychologist Sebastian Cork has lived a life full of zest and splendour. At the pinnacle of his career, all should be well, but he finds himself at a loss with no explanation and no desire to fight his way out of it. With his enthusiasm lost and his vitality lacking, Sebastian is unwittingly ejected from his melancholy and at the centre of a murder investigation. Ripped from the safe confines of the place he calls home. Sebastian is surrounded by the slum and the detritus of a life so far removed from his own. Now, he must find a killer before the killer strikes again or worse, finds him. Can Sebastian outwit and outrun a sadistic killer or is he completely out of his element?