Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 37

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

Our six-man squad was issued a map, compass, flashlight, and a canteen of water then dropped off in the middle of nowhere. We had to travel ten klicks, undetected, through woods, swamp, and river, all crawling with the enemy. If caught, we’d be sent to a P.O.W. camp, where we would be questioned and tortured. The torture part, I hoped, was added to scare us, but we couldn’t be too sure since our Vietnamese buddies helped construct an authentic NVA prison and would be undergoing all the questioning.

We huddled in the dark around the map, I had laid out flat on the ground. I risked turning on the flashlight so we could plot our course. The woods were too wide to go around, but we might be able to skirt the swamp. Crossing the single bridge over the river at the finish line was where we stood the greatest chance of getting nabbed–if we managed to make it that far.

I checked the compass, turned off the flashlight, folded the map, and stuffed it inside my shirt. Without the moon, we strained to see as we moved single file through the forest with Sam on point. We tried to be quiet, but a twig cracked or leaves rustled, with practically every step. The night air smelled musty and mysterious.

I whispered up the line. “Keep alert for anything that moves.”

Every shadow contained a potential ambush. We strained to hear anything that might give us a few seconds warning. Forty meters to our right, bright lights mounted in the trees came on, turning night into day. Simultaneously, lots of shouting and AK-47s being fired broke out all around us. We froze–then dropped to the ground, hoping we hadn’t been seen.

Several of the training cadre dressed as Viet Cong had their weapons pointed at two other six-man squads. They yelled, “Put your hands behind your head and drop to the ground.” When one of our guys moved too slowly, he got hit with the butt of a rifle in the middle of his back. The man cried out in pain. Shit, I thought, these guys aren’t messing around.

The trainers put a thick stick through each prisoner’s arms, tied their hands with rope and threw them in the back of a truck. Two of the armed VC jumped in as guards. As soon as the truck drove out of sight, the remaining Viet Cong cadre turned off the bright lights and once again plunged us into darkness.

We remained perfectly still until I figured it was safe, luckily missing the first capture point. I low crawled over to Sam. “Let’s go.”

Twenty minutes later, I halted the team to check the map again. “It looks like they are herding us into established ambushes that have been set up along the easiest route to safety. That’s why those guys following the road got nailed back there.”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “They hit that guy hard.”

I replied, “Exactly. So, unless we want the same treatment, we need to go where they least expect it …which means through the swamp and swimming the river.”

Sam looked at me askance. “You want to go through a swamp at night with no lights?”

“You want to be caught?” Nobody did.

I led the team away from the path that circled the swamp to the west. Just as we reached the edge of the large quagmire, more bright lights, shooting and shouting happened right where we would have been, had we not changed direction. “Good call, Eli,” said Sam.

Looking at the creepy morass ahead of us, I didn’t exactly relish going into the goop, but couldn’t think of a safe alternative. “Anybody know if there are alligators in this part of Georgia?”

One team member said, “Oh yeah, and lots of poisonous snakes too.”

I shook my head. “There has to be a better way. Spread out and find another trail.”

Sam returned in a few minutes. “Come over here. I think I found something.” He pushed aside a pile of sticks and brush covering a flat bottom skiff, complete with oars. When a teammate started to climb in, I grabbed him by the arm. “Wait. Check for booby traps.”

We found and disconnected two trip wires attached to the boat oars. One wire had been hooked to a power switch and a series of four lights mounted in a nearby cypress tree. The second wire disappeared into the dirt. We carefully dug up a buried satchel charge and took it along in case we needed it later.

The swamp, thick with vegetation, contained a myriad of twists, turns, and dead ends. Animal cries in the dark didn’t sound very friendly and the many swirls in the water next to the boat likely hid unwanted slimy creatures making their way through the water just below the plant life on the surface. We would never have made it through on foot. Finally, after a lot of rowing, and use of our faithful compass, the cypress trees started to thin. Up ahead I could make out the bridge from the several bright lights mounted on the structure. A dirt road lay between the edge of the swamp and a six-foot high levee that ran parallel to the river. Three enemy soldiers were posted on the bridge making it impossible to cross from the swamp to the river without being spotted.

We sat in the safety of the swamp shadows and pondered our fate. “What are we going to do Eli?” asked Sam. The others looked my way as well. “I don’t know. Anybody have any ideas, besides suicide or surrender? We could try a diversion, but that means one of us would have to be sacrificed.”

The image of the gun-butted officer candidate remained fresh in my mind. If capture got that rough, what would prison camp be like? Nobody spoke for several minutes. I sighed. “You talked me into it. Give me the explosives and a ten-minute head start. When you hear a big bang, pick up the boat, scale the levee, and into the river as fast as you can, then row like hell.”

“Are you sure, Eli?” asked Sam.

“No, but before I chicken out…hand me the satchel charge. Wait for my signal before you scale the levee.”

I worked my way along the dark edge of the swamp. My plan was to blow the explosive, distract the lookouts, give my team a chance to escape, and by some miracle run across the bridge to safety. It could work.

The soldiers never took their eyes off the path or the road. So, I grabbed a good-sized rock and gave it a heave into some heavy brush near the swamp path. The distraction gave me enough time to scurry unseen across the road and under the bridge. I held my breath.

No reaction, so I hooked up the satchel charge wires to a detonator, stood as far away as I could and pushed down the plunger–BOOM! A soldier yelled and there was the clatter of boots running overhead. I wondered which side the enemy would pick to come after me. When the first soldier rounded the bridge support to the west, I ran the opposite way. When I got to the top, one of the soldiers had remained. But, he was leaning over the rail, looking at the action below and didn’t hear me coming. I shoved him off the bridge, waiting until he safely splashed into the river below and then started running toward the far side at top speed. It looked like I was going to make it when three new soldiers appeared on the bridge in front of me. The trainers I had eluded previously had already recovered and were now standing behind me. I was trapped.

I braced myself for a beating, as the tallest enemy soldier walked up to me. “Are you the one who set off the explosion?” I cautiously lowered my arms protecting my head and nodded. “That was really cool, man. You scared the shit out of those guys. They must have jumped a foot. Where’s the rest of your squad?”

“Safe and sound, I hope. They were crossing the river while you were chasing me.”

“No shit! You guys found the boat and disarmed the trip wires? So, that’s where you got the explosives. You’re the first squad to ever make it this far.”

“You mean nobody wins?”

“The course is designed to catch the candidates and send them to the prison camp. And I’m afraid that’s where I have to take your squad, even if you did successfully complete the assignment. But, I’m going to make sure you receive top marks, maybe even a weekend pass.”

They escorted me to a waiting truck. I climbed in the back with the training staff. They told me the other five candidate squads had already been caught, so they were shutting things down on the course. They found my squad hiding in the bushes a hundred yards from the bridge. “Did we make it?” Sam asked hopefully.

I answered. “The good news is we made it further than any other candidate team and might earn a weekend pass.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“We are still going to be tortured.”

#

We rode in silence for twenty minutes over bumpy roads, until we reached the compound, a twenty-foot, wooden stockade wall with sharpened points, intertwined with barbed wire. The place was ablaze with lights with mounted guns in each corner guard tower. The tall VC soldier warned us before got out of the truck. “We all have to play our part here, so just along with it, okay?”

Our captor banged on the gate. “Open up, we’ve got more prisoners.” As soon as we were inside, more training cadre guards in VC costumes started shoving us around, while cursing, “Swine Americans,” and “dirty imperialists.”

The Vietnamese officer candidates added a certain realism to the exercise, but our buddies at the moment did not look too friendly. Le Huu Duc, a quiet, introspective candidate, now wearing an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) uniform, turned loud and mean. “Why are these prisoners not bound?” He demanded.

The capturing officer explained. “They were the last ones caught, sir, and we did not want to delay longer than necessary getting them to you for questioning.” Officer Duc, seemed to accept this answer. “Put them in the holding pen.”

We were shoved into a fenced area with several other candidates, including my buddy, Steve, who apparently had been assigned to pick blades of grass while on his hands and knees. “Steve,” I called out and promptly received a rifle butt from one of the guards. “No talking.” I restrained from taking a swing at the guy.

Facing away from the guards, I whispered, “Why in the hell are you picking grass?” Steve, without looking up, answered, “It’s part of the punishment. Whatever you do don’t tell them anything when they interrogate you.” I leaned down. “Thanks for the tip.” The same nasty VC threatened me again with his rifle butt. “Get away from the other prisoner, he is being punished.” I backed off.

Sam covered his mouth as if coughing. “Can you believe this shit?”

Before long a new guard approached. “Follow me.” As we walked, I noted the compound was divided into four main areas of activity with screams coming from everywhere except the holding pen. Armed guards roamed everywhere. Escape looked impossible.

We reached the command tent located in the center of the prison. The guard shoved me inside. With only a small lamp as a light source, it took a second for my eyes to adjust. Commander Le Huu Duc sat behind a table appearing very authentic dressed in an NVA cream-colored officer’s uniform, complete with medals pinned over the right breast pocket and gold braids on both shoulders. Guard on both sides, each held a rifle and stared straight ahead.

My cadre companion pushed down on my shoulder and told me to kneel in front of the supreme commander. When I resisted, he hit me with his rifle behind the knees, catching me off guard, and down I went. “Watch it, asshole.” For my remark, he slapped the back of my head hard enough to knock me on my face.

Duc said, “Enough! We’re not barbarians. Answer questions, then we give you a hot meal and sleep.” I realized how late it had become and how tired I felt, so what Le Huu proposed sounded tempting. “We know you are a spy and we can shoot you anytime. Understood?”

I was in no mood to dick around. “Whatever, pal.”

“What is your unit and where are you based?”

“Mickey Mouse and Disneyland…in that order.”

“How many men are in your company and types of weapons?”

“Well, me, Goofy, Donald, and Minnie, oh wait, she’s a girl…you only wanted men. Weapons-wise, I think Goofy has a slingshot, but I’m not sure.”

“Think you funny, spy? Maybe need convincing?”

“Hit me with your best shot, doorman, and then call me a cab, so I can get the hell out of this place.” I got rewarded with another smack to the back of the head.

Commander Duc, red in the face, leaped to his feet and shouted. “Take this filthy pig to the triangle!” The “triangle” didn’t sound too bad; maybe they wanted me in their orchestra?

The cadre guard grabbed my collar and dragged me backward to an odd device consisting of two poles, a rope between them, as well as a triangular metal bar connected to a handle, so it could be rotated. I was ordered to roll up my pant legs and kneel on the bar while holding onto the overhead rope. But the rope had been mounted so high that you had to practically do a chin-up if you didn’t want your body weight resting on the bar. Starting on the flat side, the guard rotated the instrument to a point right against my shins where the bone is closest to the skin’s surface. I held my weight as long as I could, while the guard spit on me, threw dirt in my face and said nasty things about my mother.

Finally, with my arms aching, I had to relax. Most of my weight now rested on the point of the triangle. What started out as extremely painful got worse when they rotated the handle. The triangular bar alternated between point and flat working its way down my shin from the knee to the ankle. My eyes were tearing, but I refused to cry out. When he reached the ankle, the guard began rolling the triangle back toward the knee. I tried to pull myself up again, but no strength remained in my arms. After the guard reversed his direction for the third time, I’d had it and told him so. He helped me down. Both my legs were bleeding. I hobbled into the command tent and faced Commander Duc. He gave me a creepy smile. “You ready to cooperate?”

“I’ve always thought of myself as cooperative.” I wanted to keep him talking to allow the pain in my shins to subside.

“Good. Now, name of unit, how many men and where is located? No one will think less of you for giving me such unimportant information.”

“No problem, doc. My unit is Loony Toons, with Elmer Fudd, Tasmanian Devil, Roadrunner, Wiley E. Coyote, and a few others. We all hang out at Warner Brothers in L.A.”

“What is this nonsense? Think you can mess with me? Guards, take him to apache pole and then the pit.”

“Couldn’t I just go pick grass? I’ll make you a nice green salad. Remember pal, this is just training.”

Once again they dragged me out after another smack in the head. The guard took a second swing at me, but I ducked and laughed, and then paid for my insolence with a rifle butt to the ribs. I was becoming really pissed off.

He ordered me to hug the Apache pole “backward,” while lashing my wrists and ankles with braided ropes until I resembled a human sail. I don’t normally bend that way, which strained my sore muscles even further. The guard smiled as he walked behind me and suddenly shoved down on my shoulders. I let out an involuntary cry and swore my back crack.

“Now do you have something to say?”

I bit down on my lip. “Yeah, check if my cab is here yet. I’m ready to leave.” He punched me in the gut. “You wouldn’t try that if my hands were untied.”

“Oh yeah,” said the big guy, freeing me. I struggled to my feet. He got right in my face, “So, what are you going to do about it, punk?”

This “training” exercise had gone too far and I didn’t want to play anymore. I brought my knee up into the man’s groin. When he doubled over in pain, I grabbed his hair and slammed his head into my other upcoming knee, hearing the satisfying crunch of his nose breaking. As he bounced off my knee, I doubled both fists and with all my remaining strength hit him with a huge uppercut. He landed with a thud on his back in the dirt–out cold. I ran toward the gate and had it half opened when four more guards grabbed me and dragged back inside.

They carried me kicking and cursing to the pit, which turned out to be full-length wall locker buried three feet in the ground. They threw me in unceremoniously on my back, which still smarted from the apache pole. I cried out in pain, but they slammed the metal door shut and locked it with a loud click.

My narrow container didn’t allow me to turn over, even if I wanted to. The only light came from three slits in the door near my face. Squinting through the opening, I could just make out the angry guards standing around the hole, staring down at me. Commander Duc gave an order in Vietnamese. Had I done something to offend him back at 62nd Company?

Next I heard a scraping sound, and then a soft thud on the locker door. The sound repeated itself, followed by another. Dirt trickled through the slits and landed on my face. I’m not normally claustrophobic but started to sweat. I yelled. “Hey guys, we’re on the same team here.”

Before long total darkness enveloped me and I found it difficult to breathe. Pressed up against the cold, hard metal, my back started to throb. My last conscious thought before passing out, “I’ve been buried alive.”

****

Want to read more? #amazon reviews welcome

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Identity Check – Excerpt

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s a scene with Scott and Jessie trying to find his true father…

Jessie parked the BMW in front of 4417 Westbrook Road. Scott stared up at the two-story, shotgun-style home that shared a covered porch with its paint-peeling twin next door. A few feet of calf-high grass separated the duplex from the other deteriorating homes on the block. A single FHA tree provided shade for the uneven broken sidewalk, and a brightly painted ceramic gnome family occupied a corner of the tiny front lawn.

“Are you going to sit there all day, or go knock on the door?” Jessie asked.

“Look at the time. We should come back tomorrow.”

“My watch says five o’clock.”

“They might be eating supper.”

“Or be in the living room half-naked, playing strip dominoes,” she said.

He shrugged. “Possible.”

Jessie got out of the car, grabbed Scott by the hand, and dragged him up the three steps leading to the porch. “Close your fingers into a fist, and bang it against the screen door frame–exactly three times.”

“What am I going to say–hi, I’m the bastard grandson you never met?”

“For an ice breaker I’d suggest, hello, I’m Scott Harold, Jr.”

“No wonder mom always liked you best.” He took a deep breath and rapped loudly on the door. No response. “Nobody’s home, let’s go.”

Scott turned to leave, but Jessie rotated him back. “Knock louder. I hear a TV.”

A few seconds later, the inside door swung open. A pleasant-looking elderly man, wearing leather slippers, smiled at them from behind a torn screen door. He wore a white t-shirt tucked into dress slacks held up by suspenders. The Cincinnati Enquirer sports section rested in his right hand. “May I help you?” he said, looking over his reading glasses.

Scott stood there with his mouth open, but no words came out. Jessie came to his rescue.

“We are looking for a Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Harold. Is this where they live?”

The man said. “You got the right address, but they don’t live here anymore. Are you family?”

“Could be,” said Scott.

The man said, “Either you are or you’re not.”

“If we could speak to them, I could give you a better answer.”

The man frowned. “That makes no sense.”

“Can you tell us where they moved?” Jessie interrupted.

“Sure.”

A couple minutes of silence went by. Scott finally asked, “Well?”

“Sorry, it won’t help.”

Scott said, “Why not?”

“Are you two selling insurance?”

“No,” said Jessie, “we need to ask them something very important.”

“I’d like to help, but you still can’t speak to them.”

“Please?” Jessie said.

“They’re dead.”

“Jesus, is everybody dead?” Scott said, throwing his hands up in desperation.

“I’m feeling okay,” the man offered.

“You don’t understand,” said Jessie, “We’re trying to find out if their son is Scott’s father.”

The man said, “Why don’t you ask him?”

“Who?” Jessie asked.

“Arthur’s son.”

“We can’t,” said Scott, “He died in Vietnam.”

The man shook his head. “Not him, the other one, Billy. He’s the one who sold us this house.”

Jessie said, “Scott Sr. had a brother?”

“The Harold family have been friends for years. Billy took it bad when he lost his kid brother.”

Scott said, “Any chance you have Billy’s address?”

The man nodded. “Sure, he lives in the other half of this duplex.”

*********************************************

Check it out on amazon.com. Honest reviews welcomed!

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Menehune Twins – “Day at the Beach”

 

I’ve never done this before, my friends (no, not that), but I need your help/opinion. I have drafted a children’s story to be read by parents to kids age 6 and under as a fun, exotic adventure to amuse the little ankle bitters and maybe share interesting facts and stories about a mix between an ancient Hawaiian legend and a Road Runner cartoon. I would compare this story to the popular children’s book, “But, No Elephants” (although I have been delusional before). I have no one to illustrate the story yet, so fill in with your imagination.

What I need from you is an honest opinion (You are my writers’ feedback group):

  1. Is it an interesting story kids would enjoy hearing?
  2. Does it in any way insult, denigrate, or appear offensive to the Hawaiian people or their culture?

Okay, enough setup here’s the story…

The Menehune Twins

“Day at the Beach”

by Rich Allan

Jake Menehune woke early, leaned over from his top bunk, and yelled at his six-year-old twin sister, Jessie. “Wake up sleepy head. It’s Saturday morning.”

“I’m already awake, goofball,” she said, standing on her bed, pushing up with both hands, launching her brother’s tiny body in a high arc where he bounced off the ceiling, landed on the overhead fan, swung around until he got dizzy, laughing like crazy, shouting “Whee-e-e!” before falling to the floor.

He stood up, shook his head and checked over his body. “Head okay, arms okay, fingers okay, chest okay, legs okay, feet okay, toes okay…” He looked over his shoulder and said, “Uh-Oh, no-o-o-o butt.”

Jessie Menehune giggled as she watched Jake hold his nose, stick his thumb in his mouth, and blow hard enough until his flattened butt popped out to its normal bubble shape.

The twins, shoulder to shoulder, rushed the three-foot round opening to their room, barely squeezing through at the same time. They then raced out to the water-filled Kikiaola ditch in front of their home and in perfect sync, leaped into the air and splashed down in matching cannonballs. Dunking their head and body in the cool water, they rinsed off, climbed out and shook off the excess water like a dog who has just finished a bath.

Mother Kiana called from the kitchen, “Breakfast!”

Arriving at the table, Father Kane sat in front of a stalk of apple bananas. “Dig in, kids!” he said. Jake and Jessie climbed up into their chairs and started stuffing the bananas into their mouths…skin and all! Mother Kiana smiled, sat down and joined in the feast.

Some important information about the Menehune…who are a bit different than you and me. They are little people, only three feet tall when fully grown, living in the Hawaiian Islands, mainly on the island of Kauai. They are busy, happy people, building dams, ditches, fish ponds and stone temples.

Not only are Menehune small and magical, they are good at hiding, living in out of the way places and rarely seen by full-sized folks. They love to dance, sing, cliff-dive and shoot their little bows and arrows. Some say one arrow can change an angry man’s heart to love.

Oh, they are full of mischief, especially with the other islanders, like moving things around when people aren’t looking and trading lava rocks for necessities.

The Menehune wear only a loin cloth, although some of the older folks have flip-flops. On special occasions, the women put on colorful feathered Hawaiian headbands and the men may grow mustaches or beards. They cover up when they sleep with their thick, black, waist-long, curly hair or when the trade winds turn chilly.

Nobody knows how long the Menehune live, but the twins’ grandfather, Kamaka, recently celebrated his 200th birthday. As the Menehune grow older they tend to grow a pot belly, their hair turns gray and is reduced to a strip on the crown of their heads and fringe over each ear.

Now back to our story…

After they finished off all the bananas, Mother Kiana said, “Today, we are going to the beach.”

“Right,” said Father Kane, “…and we are stopping by the fish pond on the way back to gather more food before the winter monsoons.”

“Can we go cliff diving, father?” asked Jake Menehune.

“And swim in the ocean?” said Jessie Menehune.

“Yes,” said Mother Kiana, “but only if the waves aren’t too big or the cliff too high.”

“YAY!!” The twins shouted.

(Remember,  Jake and Jessie are only 18 inches tall, so what seems like a small ocean ripple is a giant wave to them and jumping off a five-foot pile of rocks would be so scary!)

The Kane and Kiana Menehune family live on Kauai with twelve other extended Menehune families deep in the forest near Nawiliwili Harbor and the Alekoko fish pond. Because they are so small, today’s trip to the beach will take them a long time, even though it isn’t that far.

When they reached the shore, Jake and Jessie were tired but excited. The waves appeared mild, so with Mother’s approval, Jessie threw off her loin cloth, ran across the sand, and plunged into the ocean, with brother Jake close behind.

Mother and Father watched as the twins body surfed and paddled about in the blue water inside the protected reef.

When Jake first spotted ‘Opelu Mama or what most Hawaiians call The Great Barracuda, he shouted “Kaku” to his sister. They immediately started swimming as fast as they could toward the shore with the silver submarine-shaped fish with two rows of razor sharp teeth close behind.

“Swim, kids, swim!” yelled Father.

“Snap,” the barracuda bit down. “Snap” the barracuda stuck a second time.

The twins flew out of the surf, big grins on their faces, landing with a thud on the sand. They looked at each other, shook off the sea water, and in unison said, “Let’s do it again!” followed by “Head okay, arms okay, fingers okay, chest okay, legs okay, feet okay, toes okay…” Looking behind, they smiled…”Uh-Oh, no-o-o-o butt.”

Jake and Jessie giggled as they held their nose, put their thumb in their mouth, and blew hard enough until magically their bit off butt resumed its normal shape.

Kane and Kiana Menehune chuckled and Mother said, “Well that’s enough fun at the beach for one day, let’s go to the fish pond.”

Arriving, Father Kane said with some pride, “Legend has it our ancestors overnight built the Alekoko fish pond over 1000 years ago by passing stones hand-by-hand from the village of Makaweli, 25 miles away, and damming up the Hulei’a Stream with a 900-foot long by five-feet high lava rock wall, so the Menehune people would never go hungry.”

Father then pulled a lasso from his pocket and looking deep into the clear water spied a thirty-inch Ono just below the surface. Carefully dropping the loop down, he slipped it over the fish’s head until the strong fiber caught on the top dorsal fin, and then Kane jumped on the back of the Ono and pulled the loop tight.

“Ride ’em, Daddy,” said Jake, as the startled fish took off at full speed. The Kane Menehune family cheered him on as he tightened the loop to keep the Ono from doing a deep dive. The fight between Father and fish went on for so long, the twins got bored and asked if they could do at least one jump while they waited and Mother agreed.

Jake and Jessie climbed the nearby giant pile of rocks and stared down at the pond far below. Father was still racing back and forth across the five-acre pond, but the Ono appeared to be tiring.

“Ready?” Jake asked his sister.

“Ready,” said Jessie.

The twins joined hands and leaped off the rocks aiming for the pond. Unfortunately, they lost their grip with Jake reaching the water, but Jessie falling short, bouncing across the stone rocks until she finally skidded to a halt.

Jake watched as Jessie got up, shook herself off and announced, “Head okay, arms okay, fingers okay, chest okay, legs okay, feet okay, toes okay…but, Uh-Oh, no-o-o-o butt.” She grinned, held her nose, blew hard on her thumb and returned to her normal self.

Meanwhile, Kane Menehune was making one final run across the fish pond aiming for the stone wall, waiting until the very last moment to pull up hard on the lasso, causing the fish to clear the edge and flop onto the bank.

The family joined together to lift the large fish onto a skateboard, a useful tool the Menehune village had acquired for this very purpose from nearby Lihue by trading lava rocks for it (at night and unseen, of course).

Once loaded, the family rolled their Father’s catch all the way back home, safely arriving as the sun set with enough food to last them through the winter.

The twins, Jake and Jessie, exhausted, fell asleep in their daddy’s arms, as Father Kane Menehune carried them to their room and tucked them into bed, the day’s adventure complete.

–The End–

Looking forward to your slings and arrows….Rich Allan

Identity Check – Excerpt

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s a scene with Scott and Jessie meeting Scott’s mother for the first time…

They pulled up in front of a three-story Victorian mansion that would have cost a fortune located anywhere else in the world. Scott told Jessie how the house had been constructed in the late 1800’s by a railroad tycoon, and that his mother had been able to keep most of the antique furnishings and decorations originally imported from Europe.

Jessie stared at the impressive structure. “You didn’t tell me you lived with the Adams Family. Who do you keep locked up in the tower?”

“Mother reserved that room for you.”

She gave him an indignant look. “Well, don’t expect me to weave any straw into gold.”

Scott tried to find a place to park, but cars lined the street on both sides for three blocks in each direction. All the lights in the house blazed away, illuminating the neighborhood like a Cincinnati Reds night game.

 

“What the heck’s going on?” Jessie asked.

Scott shook his head. “Mother must be entertaining again.”

He squeezed the MGB into a spot half on the driveway, half on the lawn, and turned off the engine.

Jessie snorted. “Look at the size of this place. You guys must be dripping with dough.”

“We do all right.”

“Just you and the Royal Family.”

They climbed the steps to the wrap-around front porch. Scott pushed down on the latch at the top of the s-curved handle and the elaborately-carved, seven-foot high, oak door swung open. A cacophony of conversations, music, and light spilled out into the night.

Jessie grinned. “Sounds like a party.”

Scott led the way through his home. Guests, dressed in their finest, drank champagne and held monogrammed plates loaded with bite-sized cucumber sandwiches, scallops wrapped in bacon, and goose liver on crackers that they had purloined off silver trays carried by an endless number of penguin-like waiters. Other invitees, clustered about in groups of three and four, were busily exchanging liberal opinions or spouting political half-truths.

They arrived at the ballroom–a huge space, with a soaring ceiling, illuminated by a pale blue crystal chandelier. An antique Steinway grand piano sat in the corner, its majestic notes supported an accomplished jazz octet attempting one of Dave Brubeck’s more accessible compositions. A few couples were trying to dance to the tune on the highly polished Carrera marble floor.

“Are you sure we got the right house?” Jessie asked.

Scott’s mother, Christina Harold, swept into the room, wearing the latest designer frock, with a “Kendall for President” button that nearly covered her entire left breast. She immediately descended upon Scott and smothered him in hugs and kisses.

Jessie answered her own question. “Yep, must be the right place, or else people are really friendly in Middletown.”

Several of the nearby guests turned to acknowledge the newcomers for the first time–frowning at their casual attire. Jessie announced with a queenly wave of her hand, “My Paris original didn’t arrive as planned, but they’re flying it over on the Concorde as we speak.” She whispered to Scott, “Should I flash ’em?”

“And you must be Jessica Sterling,” said Christina, extending her hand. “Scott has told me so much about you.”

Jessie did a once over of the attractive, shapely lady in front of her. She stood about five-foot-five, with dark brown hair, and appeared way too young to be the mother of a college junior. But something about her style commanded attention and Jessie found it hard to believe she had remained single all these years.

Scott complained. “Mom, you didn’t say anything about a fundraiser this weekend. I thought we’d spend some quiet time together for you to meet and get to know Jessie.”

“I’m so sorry, darling, but campaign funds for President Kendall are dangerously low, so I had to do it. The primaries are only weeks away. Don’t worry; by eleven at the latest, these people will consume all the alcohol and food, and then simply drift away. Go amuse yourselves for a few hours. I’m sure Jessie can come up with something for you two to do together for that long.”

She winked at Jessie, and then turned away as quickly as she had appeared; floating off to the next group of partygoers, who judging from Christina’s charm and panache, wouldn’t even blink if she asked them to hand over all their cash and jewelry.

Jessie remained looking in the direction Christina had disappeared. “What was that?”

Scott looked at the floor. “Ahh…my mother can be a bit overwhelming when you first meet her, but she’s really quite nice–almost shy.”

Jessie chuckled. “Yeah right, like Attila the Hun. Where’s the food at this party? I’m starving.”

Scott offered his arm and escorted Jessie to the buffet table, where she filled up two plates with slices of chicken, assorted dim sum, stuffed mushrooms, and jumbo shrimp drizzled with cocktail sauce, while he absconded a chilled bottle of vintage white Burgundy and two wine glasses.

Scott said, “Let’s go upstairs for a little privacy and to escape all the noise.”

“I think she liked me,” Jessie shouted over the band, as they climbed the staircase to the second floor, “But hard to tell from–you must be Jessica.”

“Give her a chance. She only acts like that in front of an audience.”

“What’s the big deal about President Kendall anyway? He’s a creep who’s done a lousy job for the country.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that. Mom loves the guy. He’s the reason she got into politics in the first place.”

“I thought all rich people were Republicans.”

“That’s a dirty word in this house.”

“Rich or Republican?” Jessie asked.

“If you mention Republicans, my mother will wash your mouth out with soap.”

Jessie folded her arms. “I’d like to see her try.”

When they arrived at the study, Scott opened a set of French doors and switched on the lights. Antique furniture filled the room, including a roll-top desk and a stuffed empire sofa. Several leather bound books rested on the polished mahogany bookshelves, along with a matched set of deep-blue Venetian vases, and a scattering of family photographs in ornate gold frames. A boxed out semi-circular window seat with a flowered cushion enhanced the alcove on the south wall.

“How do you like this room?” he asked.

“I love it.” Jessie nodded toward the alcove. “Let’s eat by the window.”

The two sat down, overlooking a sleepy row of houses along a tree-lined street below. In the distance, the faint glow of Cincinnati illuminated the evening clouds.

“As a kid, I would play in here, while mom worked at the desk.”

Jessie said, “I can see why you liked growing up here.”

“Yep, this little berg is crime-free and all the neighbors are friendly. We can even claim a celebrity singing group.”

“Who’s that?”

“Middletown is the birthplace of the McGuire Sisters. Remember Sincerely, or Sugartime, big hits back in the 1950s?”

Jessie shrugged. “Sorry.”

Scott said, “Well, they were pretty famous around here.”

Jessie perked up. “You’d like my town too. Venice is one huge beach, the Pacific Ocean, and babes in bikinis skating up and down the boardwalk, dodging a steady parade of local characters and tourists. I’ll bet you can’t find medical marijuana in your town at midnight.”

Scott smiled. “You can’t do anything in Middletown after ten p.m., they’ve rolled up the sidewalks and gone home.”

“Hey, how about giving me a tour of this place? I need to pee like a banshee after all that wine.”

“I’ll make a bathroom our first stop.”

Several rooms later, they returned to the study. From below, Scott could hear a steady stream of guests making loud inebriated farewells and the front door kept slamming. “Sound like the party is ending. My mother should be up soon.”

Jessie walked over to the bookcase and picked up a frame with a picture of a beautiful young woman holding a baby. “Is this you and your mom?”

Scott looked over her shoulder. “Yep, ever see a cuter baby?”

She picked up another. “And your high school graduation?”

“Right again. I’m the one wearing the cap and gown.”

Jessie moved on to the next photo…a soldier standing in a jungle clearing with his shirt off, wearing a red bandana around his neck, and surrounded by ten other young smiling Marines.

“Scott’s father was a Marine,” Christina announced, as she entered the room. “Sorry, it took me so long to clear out the place.”

“No problem, mother,” said Scott.

Christina turned to Jessica. “Has my son been boring you with our ancient history?”

Jessie placed her arm through Scott’s. “I find his life story utterly fascinating.”

Christina smirked. “Of course you do.”

Jessie handed the picture to Christina. “Mrs. Harold, your guy was quite the stud muffin.”

“I prefer to remember Lieutenant Scott Harold as a wonderful husband, soldier, and patriot–not a stud muffin.”

“Sorry, I meant no disrespect, but he’s awfully cute.”

Christina smiled but didn’t respond.

“How did he die?” Jessie asked.

“He was killed in a firefight somewhere near the Cambodian border, but not before saving the lives of three of his men. Scott, Sr. was only twenty-two at the time.” Christina put her hand to her mouth and turned partially away.

“You must be very proud,” Jessie said, “He made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.”

Christina sighed. “I am…but regret that Scott Jr. grew up without a father.”

“It had to be hard on you too.”

“We managed.” After a long awkward silence, Christina asked, “So…how did you two meet–Laundromat, bowling alley…brothel?”

Scott frowned. “You know how we met, mother.”

“Oh, Scott, I don’t really care. Lust is natural in a boy, of course, but girls today; with their loose morals and provocative manner of dress. No wonder there are so many unwanted children. I suppose you two will want to sleep together.”

Scott restrained Jessie.

“First of all, I am not sleeping with your son–and even if I were, it’s none of your damn business. Where do you get off making snap judgments of people? I’ve half-a-mind to…”

“I don’t doubt the half-a-mind part, but Scott is my only son and I want what’s best for him.”

Jessie said, “He can make his own decisions.”

Scott interrupted. “Can I say something about this?”

Both women turned and yelled at the same time, “No!”

Christina addressed Jessie again. “You may think I’m an overprotective mother, but I don’t want Scott to climb on the first cute bus that comes along.”

Jessie clenched her fists. “He hasn’t climbed on anything yet.”

“All right, that’s enough,” Scott said. “Mother, you are being very rude to Jessie, and although she can be hot headed at times…”

Jessie shoved him. “Who’s hot headed?”

“…as I was saying, even though her temper flairs occasionally, I love her.”

Jessie said, “Sweet,” to Scott, and then got up into Christina’s face and stuck out her jaw. “See, he loves me.”

Scott forced his way between the women. “You both are acting like children. I expect it from Jessie, but mom you’re the adult here. Now either you two make up, or we’re leaving right now.”

The ladies stood their ground. Scott started for the door.

Christina grabbed his arm. “No, don’t go, I haven’t seen you in weeks.” She paused. “I might have been a bit harsh…”

“You got that right,” Jessie replied.

“Jessie…” Scott warned.

Jessie nodded toward Christina. “I’ll play nice if she will.”

Christina composed herself. “I’m sorry I spoke so bluntly. How about we start over?”

“Please, Jessie,” said Scott.

Jessie went silent for a moment. “Oh, all right. What the hell.”

Christina smiled. “Splendid. Let’s go downstairs for a cup of tea. You can tell me all about yourself, and I can share some of Scott’s little quirks.”

“Quirks, mother?” Scott asked.

“Yes, dear, she’s entitled to all the facts.”

Scott observed in amazement as his mother and Jessie walked off, chatting away like old friends as if nothing had happened. “Don’t worry about me,” he shouted after them, but neither one looked back. Scott would never understand women. He shook his head, had second thoughts about the whole “meet the mom” idea, and then went off to bed–alone again.

*********************************************

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Theatre Review — Hamilton (National Tour)

Instructions: Read out loud in a “rap” style; white people pretend it’s a poem (except for EMINEM and Vanilla Ice). With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda…

Last night I took a trip to the Pantages, bought a ticket to a show; handed over half my wages

took a seat inside, excitement was contagious, as I flipped through my program’s pages

The lights went down, audience started to stir when out on the stage walked Aaron Burr

We listened closely as he started rappin, didn’t want to miss a thing, about what was happenin

then he introduced us to a native son, a man called Alexander Hamilton

From the Carribean, a bastard clear, daddy walked out, mama died holding him near

Had to escape, use his charms, in New York City, he heard the call to arms

Freedom was the cry from Laurens and Lafayette, joined by Burr and Mulligan, against the British threat

Washington with Hamilton by his side fought the bloody British and turned the tide

Born a new nation, like an infant it cried, as the founding fathers looked on with pride.

…and that was only Act One.

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The costumes were great, the set inspiring, the orchestra top notch, the dancers never tiring

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choreography on its toes, (who knows how they moved so gracefully in those heavy clothes)

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Too many actors to name them all by name, so I pick out a few who brought their A game

Rory O’Malley as King George always made us laugh…

Jordon Donica (Lafayette and Jefferson), tall as a giraffe, brought his characters to life with aplomb and panache…

Rubin Carbajal (John/Philip) got to die in Act One and Act Two, he played it so real we all got blue…

Joshua Henry (Aaron Burr) started the show, hero, and a villain, he rapped a different tune, then spent most of the show, envious of Hamilton and wanting to be “in the room”…

Isaiah Johnson (Washington), played frustrated but strong, defeated the British and became the father of our country where he belonged…

Ah, the ladies, Amber Iman (Peggy/Maria) and Solea Pfeiffer (Eliza Hamilton) brought sympathy, sophistication, and class, rapping with the best of them, and beat boxing with sass…

Finally, Michael Luwoye played with intensity/layers the star of the show, my recommendation? If you get a chance, I’d go…

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Richard Allan Jones is an actor, musician, and author from Los Angeles, California.

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Identity Check -Chapter Two

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s the second chapter…

College junior Scott Harold, dressed in bleached-out jeans, a scarlet and gray varsity sweater, and brown penny loafers, looked at his watch–late again. He promised to meet Jessie for lunch but had run into some friends near the Natatorium and time had simply slipped away.

He picked up the pace, passing the William Oxley Thomas Memorial Library, weaving in and out of the hundreds of Ohio State students hurrying to class on the many sidewalks that crisscrossed the Oval. Chimes in nearby Orton Hall rang out the three-quarter hour as the powder blue spring sky started to cloud up. A few drops of rain fell on his face. Now he wished he’d listened to the WCOL weather report this morning before heading out to his six AM swim practice.

Covering his head with the campus newspaper, The Lantern, Scott waited for the light at Fifteenth and High Street to change. He smiled as he thought back to how he and Jessie had first met only a few months ago.

#

His fraternity, the Lambda Chi’s, wearing their traditional blue blazers, with matching striped ties, and tan chinos, had walked over to serenade the Delta Gammas. After the brothers finished the first song, instead of the girls coming outside to respond, the housemother stuck her head out the door, smiled mysteriously, and invited them inside the sorority house.

There, like a Busby Berkeley movie, poised on each step of a curving grand staircase, stood a bevy of the most beautiful women Scott had ever seen. On cue, the ladies slowly descended, each holding a flickering candle while singing a lilting ditty from Brigadoon. Although each girl appeared as beautiful as the next, he focused his attention on one particularly stunning young woman, who easily outshone the others, with her flashing eyes, high cheekbones, and international mystique.

Scott watched in fascination as this intriguing young lady, dressed in a flowing chiffon gown, got closer and closer, and then he broke out laughing when he spotted, just below the hem, a slip poking out imprinted with tiny Minnie Mouse figures. Black army boots adorned with polka dot laces completed the outfit.

Curious to meet this fashion diva, he worked his way through the boisterous crowd to her side. “Hi,” he shouted over the noise. “I’m Scott Harold. Love your boots.”

She looked him up and down, and then asked, “Are you wearing any underwear?”

Scott checked his zipper, relieved to see it remained closed. “Ah, yes, why do you ask?”

“You strike me as the kind of guy who might go commando to one of these shindigs.”

Scott blushed. “Thanks…I think…and you are?”

“Thirsty,” she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him toward the dining room. “Buy me a drink, and if you’re lucky, I’ll tell you my fascinating life story.”

They stood in line forever for a half-filled paper cup of chilled fruit punch, plus the last of the coveted chocolate-covered mint cookies and then found space to sit down on one of the living room couches.

She faced him, her brown eyes open full…their knees touching. “OK, you’ve got one shot–so, impress me.”

Scott thought, be bold, don’t hesitate, and don’t be clichéd. No, wait, what if she talks brash, but is really shy? Oh crap, I can’t screw this up. What should I say?

Jessie raised an eyebrow. “You with the zombie stare–did I put you to sleep, or is the pressure too great to carry on a normal conversation?”

He blurted out, “You are the most beautiful woman in the world–and I can lick my own eyebrows.”

She laughed so hard punch came out her nose. “Good one–and as a token of good faith in this negotiation, I am not wearing any underwear.”

“Would you go out with me?” he said.

“You’re cute, but a little dense. I’m giving off such a positive signal that I could be mistaken for a lighthouse. I think I’ll call you, Pookie.”

Scott frowned. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“What if I called you, Snookums?”

“Would it help with the Pookie thing?”

Scott shook his head. “Not really.”

“Okay, no nicknames, until we get to know each other better. Pick me up Friday night at eight.” She stood up to go.

Scott touched her arm. “Wait, what’s your name.”

She turned and smiled. “Jessie.”

#

That wonderful beginning had led to a series of incredible dates. Now Scott thought only of Jessie…his former girlfriends left far behind. His fraternity brothers had grown fond of her too. She had become a house favorite after showing up for the Hell’s Angels party on a Harley Fat Boy Classic, wearing nothing but combat boots, a red bikini, and a German World War Two helmet.

Today, Scott intended to take their relationship to the next level.

He entered the Char Bar and scanned the packed restaurant. It didn’t take long to spot Jessie because at five-foot-seven she easily stood out amongst the crowd. Wearing an open bolero-length leather jacket and jeans, she leaned against a high-backed booth, chatting away with Pam, one of her sorority sisters.

Jessie saw him approaching and loudly announced to the entire restaurant, “Mr. Scott Harold, here you are at last. I feared you had abandoned me. I’m pregnant and you won’t pay for an abortion. I’m ruined–ruined, I tell you.” She broke into tears and covered her face with her hands.

Several students within earshot gave him a disgusted look–including sister Pam, whose eyes grew so large she almost popped a blood vessel.

“Very funny, Jessie,” he said. “That’s not true…and please lower your voice, people are staring.”

Jessie took his hands but continued speaking at top volume. “When you left me that morning, ravaged from a torrid night of savage sex, you promised to love me forever. But by the next weekend, you couldn’t remember my name. Now I’m a gal in trouble, and you won’t return my phone calls.”

Pam’s jaw fell to her chest.

Scott whispered. “Tell Pam we haven’t done…it yet before she has a kitten.”

Jessie gave a clear, no holds barred laugh, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed the end of his nose. He loved that laugh–one of her many wonderful attributes, along with her trademark scent that smelled like a blend of fresh flowers and the lusty month of May. Whenever he got a whiff, he would flashback to their last make out session.

The rest of the Char Bar patrons went back to their meals, as the couple slid into the booth opposite Pam. Jessie said, “So, where have you been, dummy?”

“Sorry–unavoidably delayed.”

“Well, don’t let it happen again, or I’ll tie you down and spank you–oh wait, I already did that!” She laughed again.

Pam shook her head.

A waitress, in matching white apron and cap, took their orders. He selected the usual huge amount of food required to fill his six-foot frame, while the girls chose a salad, accompanied by the Char Bar’s famous double-thick milk shake. It amazed Scott that he could eat as much as he wanted and never weigh more than one-eighty-five–thanks to the four hours a day he spent in the pool as a member of the OSU swim team.

Jessie said, “Okay, we’ve ordered. What’s the secret you wanted to tell me?” Both girls leaned in for his answer.

He loved the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled. She was a wonderful, complex, intelligent woman who kept him constantly on his toes. And although she liked to shock people with her brazen sex talk, they had waited to sleep together because she wanted the moment to be right. Who could guess that Jessie would turn out to be a Romantic?

He swallowed hard, turned toward her, and held out a gold twin heart promise ring in his open hand. “Jessie, would you wear my ring?”

Across the table, Pam squealed and nodded yes faster than a bobble head mounted in a speeding car on a bumpy road.

Jessie remained silent; her eyes guarding her thoughts, for what seemed an eternity. Finally, she said, “I don’t know, Scott. First, I agree to go out with you–and now you want me to wear a promise ring. People will say we’re in love.”

“Well…aren’t we?”

Pam’s head started bobbing up and down again.

“This is a giant first step, followed by engagement, marriage, and a baby carriage. Do you want lots of children, Scott Harold?”

He stammered. “I…I…uh…didn’t think that far ahead…well, ah…we might, uh, maybe…”

She laughed. “Don’t panic, I have no desire to march down the aisle quite yet either.”

Scott let out a sigh of relief. “So, what do you think?”

“Of course, I will, silly.” Jessie slipped the ring on her finger. “Now kiss me.” She pushed him against the back of the booth, pressing her body against his. Fortunately, she stopped after a few seconds or he might have burst. Jessie demurely brushed back her hair and took another sip of her milkshake.

“I should give out promise rings more often,” Scott said, mopping his brow with a napkin.

Jessie punched him in the arm. “Not if you want to live.”

“You two should be arrested for making out like that in public,” said Pam.

“Well then, we’d better keep it private.” Under the table, Jessie slipped her hand between Scott’s thighs.

“No w-way,” Scott’s voice broke, as he put Jessie’s hand back on her side of the booth. “I want to tell everybody that you’re my girl.”

“Let’s take out an ad in the campus paper.”

“Come on, I’m serious…and I want you to meet my mother.”

Jessie shook her head. “Not after what you told me.”

“Why, what’s wrong with his mother?” Pam asked.

“She can be a little intimidating,” Scott admitted.

Jessie twirled several of the dark brown hairs on the back of his neck around her finger. “Must I go?”

“Only for a couple of days. We’ll stay over Saturday night, eat a home-cooked meal, and then drive back to campus on Sunday. I can give you your choice of accommodation in our twelve room historic home.”

“So, where in this giant residence is your room?”

“Sorry, Mom’s an old fashioned kind of lady with a very strict Catholic upbringing. I had to learn about the birds and the bees from the neighborhood kids.”

“So asking her to join us is pretty much out?”

He gave her a look. “What do you think?”

“I get the picture–your mom’s legs are glued together, and no hanky panky for us on the schedule either.”

“I didn’t say that–we always could go watch the submarine races on the Miami River.”

Jessie kissed him on the cheek. “Now you’re talking. Who knows, you might get your periscope wet this weekend. ”

Scott chuckled. “Whatever am I going to do with you?”

Jessie smiled like the Cheshire Cat. “How much time before your next class?”

*********************************************

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Identity Check -Chapter One

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s the first chapter…

Calvin Mills, the senior Democratic Senator from Maryland, relaxed in his favorite leather chair, watching the latest CNN news summary. He’d spent a long day on the hill fighting for his water conservation bill and felt as drained as a rock star after a three-hour concert at JFK Stadium. After shutting down the big screen TV, he headed to the kitchen where he found Danny sitting at the table, eating a late-night meal. “You find everything you need?” The startled Secret Service agent jumped to his feet, his mouth stuffed with a man-sized bite of a turkey sandwich, and mumbled, “Yes, sir, appreciate your hospitality.” “This protection is a waste of taxpayer money,” Calvin said, as he grabbed a soda from the magnet-covered refrigerator. Danny, his white shirt opened at the neck and his striped tie pulled aside for comfort, discretely wiped mustard off his chin with his finger. “No matter how much you complain, sir, we’re not going away.” Calvin nodded. “Now sit down and finish your sandwich, I’m going to bed.” The senator climbed the stairs toward the second-floor master bedroom, paused at the midpoint landing to catch his breath, and then entered the bathroom to brush his teeth. Judy, his wife and best friend for more than thirty years, clad in a white silk nightgown, sat up in bed, leaning against the headboard, but remaining so engrossed in her latest romance novel, she didn’t notice him enter the room. The sounds of running water, gargling and spitting, however, broke her concentration. “Calvin Mills, is that you?” He stuck his head out. “No, dear, some stranger is using your sink. Honestly, if I can’t get your attention, how do you expect me to win the nomination next month?”
“Don’t pout because I fail to dote on your every move. Look, you are a shoo-in. You have a sizable lead in the polls, and Walter doesn’t stand a chance in the general election.” Calvin put the toothbrush back in its silver holder, crossed to the antique four-poster oak bed, and slipped under the covers. “I can’t remember when an incumbent President didn’t win the nomination, and by the way, today’s Washington Post editorial agrees with me. Maybe I should have accepted his offer to be Vice President.” Judy laid down her book. “Absolutely not…why play second fiddle when you can lead the orchestra?” He held her hand and looked at her slightly wrinkled, but still lovely face. “We’ve been down this trail many times. You think I can walk on water, but it would take an even bigger miracle for me to become President.” “Don’t sell yourself short. Who knows what will happen? If you can’t line up enough votes, we’ll strike a deal. Walter’s will need his own deus ex machina to stay in office, but no matter what happens between you two, we can’t let the Republicans move back into the White House.” He kissed his wife on the forehead. “Now I remember why I’ve kept you around all these years.” Judy swung a pillow at his head, but he ducked, and playfully pinned her on the bed. “Besides, if everything else falls through, my old law firm would take me back in a heartbeat.” Judy wiggled under his weight. “It’ll work out for the best. It always does. Now get off me, you big horse.” Calvin rolled over to his side of the bed, smiling, as his wife performed her evening ritual–turning the nightstand clock radio to light jazz from WJZW-FM, setting the sleep timer for thirty minutes, and kissing the ornate, silver-framed picture of their son, daughter-in-law, and three wonderful grandchildren. Judy sighed, settled under the covers and leaned over to give Calvin a peck on the cheek, “Goodnight, sweetheart.”
“Goodnight, dear.” He switched off the Tiffany lamp, and cuddled behind her, spooning like newlyweds. The moonlight through the bedroom windows projected a diffused tick-tack-toe pattern on the polished mahogany floor as they drifted off to sleep. # A tall figure, nearly invisible in his hooded black sweats, waited deep in the shadows within a stand of birch trees, his breath crystallizing in the cold night air. Through powerful infrared binoculars, Frank Tate observed the activities at the Mill’s large colonial home, nestled safely in the upscale community of Chevy Chase, Maryland. He checked his watch and smiled with satisfaction as the agent, like every other night, finished circling the house, punched in the home security code, and opened the back door–trading places with a second agent, who now stood under the porch light enjoying his last smoke of the evening. Nasty habit, Frank thought, doesn’t he know those things can kill you. Pulling a titanium compound hunting crossbow from his bag, he cocked the heavy gauge Dacron synthetic string, placed an aluminum shaft, four-bladed arrowhead into position, and took careful aim through the ATN Mars6x Gen.2 scope. His adrenaline surged as he squeezed the sensitive trigger and the arrow flew true to its mark. The agent could only gurgle as he tried in vain to shout a warning to his partner and the sleeping couple he had been assigned to protect. Before the injured man could pull his gun, Frank quickly crossed the perfectly-manicured lawn and pinned the agent against the house. While covering the man’s mouth with one hand, Frank plunged his hunting knife just below the ribs. He stared into the man’s eyes, watching him blink several times before the agent fell to his knees and toppled face-first to the cement. Frank retrieved his arrow by pushing it the rest of the way through the neck.
Frank’s head throbbed after another successful kill. He tried to rub it out, but the unrelenting pain and intense flashes of blinding light behind his eyes made relief impossible. He fumbled out a homemade briar pipe from his jacket pocket and filled the bowl with a pungent-smelling mixture of marijuana and tobacco. After tapping the crushed leaves down with his finger, he raised the pipe to his lips and held a match to the potent concoction until it began to glow. Taking several deep drags, his headache subsided to a tolerable level. Frank put out the pipe, broke down his crossbow and tucked it away along with his arrow, and then advanced to the still open doorway. He peered into the empty kitchen and then inched his way forward into the home. He lowered his bag silently onto the kitchen table and stole a bite of a mostly-eaten sandwich lying there. Grabbing some paper napkins from an antique holder, he wiped clean the freshly-coagulated blood along the blade’s serrated edges but chose the back of his sleeve to brush away a few bread crumbs from the corner of his mouth. One down, one to go, he thought. Hearing a TV playing in the den, Frank bent low and crept across the carpet until he reached a spot behind the second agent. With the only light coming from the flickering screen, he rose, silent as a specter, knife in hand, and ended the man’s life with one slashing stroke, while a late night comedian made jokes about President Kendall’s latest ineptness. Crossing to the stairs, Frank looked up into the darkness and listened for any noise coming from his primary target. The blinding flashes returned, so he lit his pipe again, and then step-by-step climbed toward the master bedroom, hugging the wall as he went, so the stairs wouldn’t creak and provide any advance warning, although he wasn’t too concerned about the sleeping couple putting up much of a struggle. # Jazz still played on the clock radio, but discordant free-form improvisation didn’t cause Mrs. Mills to jerk awake–it was her keen sense of smell. She wrinkled her nose and shook her husband. “Calvin, get up. Something’s burning on the stove.” He moaned and replied without turning over. “Why does your imagination go into overdrive the minute I fall asleep? We never cook, so there can’t be anything burning–unless one of the agents decided to surprise us with a Sunday roast.” But then he picked up the scent too. Now a non-smoker, he could still recognize–and briefly crave–burning tobacco, but the familiar aroma was mixed with a sweetness he hadn’t smelled since his undergraduate days at Yale. Now wide awake, Calvin sat straight up in bed, put on his glasses and scanned the room for the source of the odd scent. He stopped at the bedroom door when he came upon a red glow, like a demonic eye, staring back at him. “Who’s there?” He shouted. But his words had barely left his lips before the stranger took three quick strides to the astonished senator’s side, pinned him to the headboard, and sliced a jagged trench just below his distinguished chin. Calvin turned toward his wife with a look of astonishment before sliding down to his pillow; coming to rest in an expanding pool of blood. Judy stared up at the man, trembling, crying. She tried to speak, but nothing came out until one pleading word emerged. “Why?” Frank shrugged. “It’s j-just some-thin’ I g-gotta do.” He moved toward her, and she screamed, “Danny…John,” but no one answered. Frank hated to do this, especially to a sweet old lady, but his orders were clear–no witnesses. As he reached for her, she picked up a silver picture frame from the nightstand and threw it at his head. He ducked and saw the missile shatter against the wall, sending shards of glass flying everywhere. Judy scrambled across her dead husband and ran out the bedroom door screaming. He caught her at the top of the stairs, his strong fingers snapping one of the thin straps of her nightgown, causing the woman to ricochet off the banister, half falling, half tumbling down the steps–collapsing in a heap at the bottom. Taking three stairs at a time, Frank hauled the dazed woman to her feet and held her tightly from behind. His head next to hers, he picked up the faint scent of her lily-of-the-valley perfume. Judy’s eyes opened in terror as he whispered into her ear, “S-S-Sorry ma’am.” With a gloved hand, he drew the knife across the woman’s delicate white throat, simultaneously severing another scream and the carotid artery. He scooped up her crumpled body in his arms, cradling the woman like a small child, and carried her back upstairs-carefully placing her beside her dead husband. He watched her lacy pillowcase turn dark red, the sticky blood making a mess of what used to be her immaculately-styled, mostly gray hair. After wiping his weapon on the bedspread, he put it back in its sheath and knelt down beside Mrs. Mills. He drew close, gently stroked her pale cheek, and wept–such a waste. Shaking off the sadness, Frank picked up his pipe from where he had dropped it during the attack and relit it. The drug, along with a moment of meditation, helped reduce the pounding in his head long enough for him to finish his assigned task. He opened a jewelry box on the dresser, stuffed a handful of rings, bracelets, and necklaces into his jacket pocket and threw the box on the floor. In a quick turn around the bedroom, Frank knocked over a lamp, trashed some books, and for good measure kicked a hole in small TV sitting on a wheeled stand in the corner. Pushing aside the clothes in the closet, he ran his hand along the floor looking for a seam, until he found and removed a small square of Velcroed carpet. Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, he dialed the in-floor safe combination, opened the heavy metal door, and removed several documents and a banded stack of cash. Frank flipped off the light, bounded down the stairs, and swept up his equipment bag on his way out the door. Producing a cell phone, he hit a pre-programmed number on the pad.
After three rings, a thin male voice answered, “Yes?” “I d-d-done it…like you t-t-told me.” “Good. I’ll send the money to your regular account, Frank.” “I d-don’t d-do this for the m-m-money.” “Whatever.” “Why d-d-did that woman have to d-die?” “Don’t worry about it, Frank. Just go home.” Frank walked to an unlocked gray Ford Taurus station wagon and threw his gear into the backseat. He had parked three blocks away in case any of the neighbors might be watching. Probably not a necessary precaution, because these days neighbors barely spoke, let alone looked out for each other. Nobody had ever cared about him or his sisters. He sighed, climbed in behind the wheel, took another deep drag on his pipe, and drove off into the night.

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